Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lefty Latin America

I've railed against Hugo Chavez's leftward power grab in South America. In the wake of one of his proteges being elected in Bolivia, Ralph Peters (subscription req'd) says not to fear, let 'em fail and be there to pick up.
Looks like the voters of Bolivia have chosen Evo Morales as their next presidente. Evo's a pro-narco pal of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. His campaign included a pledge to become "America's nightmare."

What on earth should we do?

Nothing. The dumbest thing Washington could do would be to overreact and make yet another populist demagogue a hero. Bluster and threats only help our enemies.

Anti-Americanism is dying — it just happens to be a loud, slow death. The old blame-America excuses are growing thin. Left alone, the latest wave of Yanqui-go-homers will fade after they fail to live up to their promises. But with enough attention from Washington, they could hang on indefinitely. We made Fidel Castro a giant through our clumsiness. And we didn't learn. We did the same thing with Hugo Chavez, threatening to huff and puff and blow his casa down. The effect was to give him a hemispheric stage on which to strut.

Now there's a third amigo. Let's not do this one any favors by calling him names.

In Washington, it's tough to do nothing, since there's a lobby for everything. But sometimes nothing is exactly what we should do. Any signs of administration hysteria will play into Morales' hands.
Interesting point.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Roundup

Is the idea of multiculturalism finally undermining mass media.

The Weekly Standard's Robert Kagan and William Kristol offer one explanation for why the Iraqi elections could be a turning point.

Meanwhile, their colleague Stephen Barbara looks at the world's enmity toward's U.S. .....soccer.

Pope Benedict XVI is going to "reinterpret" Vatican II according to some, though he would say he's going to finally tell the real story. Meanwhile, is the U.S. Supreme Court too Catholic?

Here are the 10 Most Conservative colleges in the U.S., according to the Young America Foundation.

With a War on Terror, what is the future of the U.S. Navy?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A little Roundup

Arnold Kling writes that Americans don't like real health insurance--say a $10,000 deductible before any insurance kicks in--because they think what they're getting now is "free."

An Israeli general believes Saddam moved his WMD to Syria, and so do many Iraqis.

Lee Harris turns to Thomas Hobbes to supply an answer to the question of "What next?" in Iraq.

Can Europe become a melting pot?

Friday, December 09, 2005

About the Economy

Brian Wesbury's comments last week about the ominipresent pessimism that seems to surround any and all economic news was a "Gee, I thought that too" moment for me. Here is what he said:
During a quarter century of analyzing and forecasting the economy, I have never seen anything like this. No matter what happens, no matter what data are released, no matter which way markets move, a pall of pessimism hangs over the economy.

It is amazing. Everything is negative. When bond yields rise, it is considered bad for the housing market and the consumer. But if bond yields fall and the yield curve narrows toward inversion, that is bad too, because an inverted yield curve could signal a recession.

If housing data weaken, as they did on Monday when existing home sales fell, well that is a sign of a bursting housing bubble. If housing data strengthen, as they did on Tuesday when new home sales rose, that is negative because the Fed may raise rates further. If foreigners buy our bonds, we are not saving for ourselves. If foreigners do not buy our bonds, interest rates could rise. If wages go up, inflation is coming. If wages go down, the economy is in trouble.
Read the rest of his essay for just one list of the good economic news.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Against illegal immigration

explains that Americans aren't against immigration, but illegal immigration. She offers this personal anecdote:
I recently found out through one of her daughters that my grandmother spent her first night in America on a park bench in downtown Manhattan. She had made her way from Ireland to Ellis Island, and a cousin was to meet the ship. It was about 1920. The cousin didn't show. So Mary Dorian, age roughly 20, all alone, with no connections and no relatives interested enough to remember her arrival in the new world, spent her first night in America alone on a bench, in the dark, in a strange country. Later she found her way to Brooklyn and became a bathroom attendant at the big Abraham & Straus department store on Fulton Street. (It's now a Macy's. I buy Christmas gifts there.)

Two generations after my grandmother arrived, I was in the Oval Office of the American president saying, "I think you oughta." And amazingly enough he was listening.

In two generations. Two.

What a country.
She also explains here philosophical opposition to illegal immigration.
The questions I bring to the subject are not about the flow of capital, the imminence of globalism, or the implications of uncontrolled immigration on the size and cost of the welfare state. They just have to do with what it is to be human.

What does it mean that your first act on entering a country--your first act on that soil--is the breaking of that country's laws? What does it suggest to you when that country does nothing about your lawbreaking because it cannot, or chooses not to? What does that tell you? Will that make you a better future citizen, or worse? More respecting of the rule of law in your new home, or less?

If you assume or come to believe that that nation will not enforce its own laws for reasons that are essentially cynical, that have to do with the needs of big business or the needs of politicians, will that assumption or belief make you more or less likely to be moved by that country, proud of that country, eager to ally yourself with it emotionally, psychologically and spiritually?

When you don't earn something or suffer to get it, do you value it less highly? If you value it less highly, will you bother to know it, understand it, study it? Will you bother truly to become part of it? When you are allowed to join a nation for free, as it were, and without the commitment of years of above-board effort, do you experience your joining that country as a blessing or as a successful con? If the latter, what was the first lesson America taught you?

These are questions that I think are behind a lot of the more passionate opposition to illegal immigration.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Walk the Line

I hope to catch "Walk the Line" sometime, if nothing else than because one of my favorite cult-musicians has a starring role. More about him here and, further back, here (or here for a real flavor). And, by the way, he had a hand in helping this guy's career. (Yes, I'm being purposefully "mysterious," he likes it that way.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

President Bush's Veterans Day Speech '05

The President on Iraq:
This progress is not easy, but it is steady. And no fair-minded person should ignore, deny or dismiss the achievements of the Iraqi people.

And our debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war.

When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support. I also recognize that some of our fellow citizens and elected officials didn't support the liberation of Iraq, and that is their right, and I respect it. As president and commander in chief, I (accept ?) the responsibilities and the criticisms and the consequences that come with such a solemn decision. While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decisions or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.

Some Democrats and antiwar critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs. They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hand is a threat and a grave threat to our security."

That's why more then a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.

The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send to them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that when -- whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less then victory.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Absolute Final Post About Why Bush Didn't Lie About Iraq

Well, probably not. Anyway, Norman Podhoretz wraps it all up rather nicely by explaining how everyone thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, though even the President didn't think it was an imminent one (my, how that got all turned around, huh?). But Kevin Drum thinks Podhoretz wraps it up too soon and conveniently glosses over the few intelligence agencies that refuted the spook CW. However, Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics reminds us all that President Bush put the onus on Saddam to prove his compliance--heck, even Hans Blix kept offering South Africa as a model--and Saddam failed to spill the beans. (And now we know why, what, with Oil for Food and all) .Only then did we "rush to war" after a couple years worth of warnings.

Friday, November 04, 2005

'Evangelical Pruning' Ahead?

Imagine. The Pope actually thinks that traditionally Catholic universities and colleges should get back to their roots:
Ever since Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, educators at Roman Catholic colleges in the United States have been trying to figure out what his agenda would be for their institutions.

In a speech at the University of Notre Dame Monday, a senior Vatican official offered some predictions about what to expect: a strong emphasis on Catholic identity on their campuses and an increased role in reaching out to Catholic institutions in other countries. Archbishop Michael Miller, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, told a packed audience at Notre Dame that the pope might favor “evangelical pruning,” rather than maintaining ties to institutions that have become too secular. . .

Michael J. James, executive vice president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. . .[believed] that the Vatican is taking a broad view of the ideals of Catholic higher education, and not focusing on any one single question. James said that this was appropriate, but he acknowledged that there could be controversies ahead. Many Catholic colleges are embroiled in debates over whether to recognize gay student groups or to allow speakers on campus who disagree with Catholic teachings. College presidents dealing with such situations tend to face criticism on all sides — with students and many faculty members pushing for greater tolerance, especially on issues of sexuality, while traditionalist groups attack colleges that appear to deviate in any way from official teachings.

One “possible negative outcome” of the archbishop’s talk, James said, was that “it could bolster conservative groups that are relatively small and isolated, but they will take this and say, ‘we think you are not living up to your Catholic identity.’

. . .Rev. Charles L. Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit College and Universities, agreed. “He’s making the point that these schools should be serious about their Catholic identity and the folks I work with — Jesuit and non-Jesuit — are serious. So we accept that challenge, and our schools are very actively pursuing their Catholic identity.”

Inspired Genius

Ian McEwan writes of how some examples of genius is merely "inspired guesswork" and give Einstein's theory of relativity as such an example. Interestingly, the Big Bang is another instance of such inspired guesswork. Did you know it was first proposed by a Catholic priest? Bet you thought all religious people went for that Intelligent Design stuff, huh?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Instapundit Setting the Record on Iraq Straight...again

I'll let him do it so I don't have to, again! Instapundit writes:
One of the things I've noticed in the Judy Miller / Scooter Libby coverage is the development of a new history that's very convenient for a lot of the people peddling it. The new story is that:

1. We only went to war because of WMDs -- that was the only reason ever given.

2. Bush lied about those.

3. He told his lies to Judy Miller, who acted like a stenographer and reported them.

4. Everyone else gullibly went along.
He also points to earlier posts here, here and here. He also adds:
Democratic politicians who supported the war want an excuse to tack closer to their antiwar base. Shouting "It's not my fault --I'm easily fooled!" would seem a substandard response, but it is a way of changing position while pretending it's not politically motivated. Meanwhile, journalists, most of whom were reporting the same kind of WMD stories that Miller did (because that's what pretty much everyone thought -- including the antiwar folks who were arguing that an invasion was a bad idea because it would provoke Saddam into using his weapons of mass destruction), now want to focus on her so that people won't pay much attention to what they were reporting themselves. This makes Judy Miller a handy scapegoat.

But, as I say, the biggest problem with this revisionism is that it's not true. I guess we'll just have to keep pointing that out.
And then he continues:
J.D. Johannes notes that what people were saying in the 1990s seems to raise problems with the revisionist history. "The final authorization for use of force in 2002 cited the legislation from 1998. But what was conventional wisdom and uncontroversial in 1998, became hotly debated in 2002 and beyond." Especially "beyond."
And he links to this from Dean Esmay:
Having been part of those debates when they were happening, I am utterly appalled at people I used to think of as intelligent and well-informed who keep repeating falsehood after falsehood after falsehood about it. And I am utterly exhausted with having to, at least once a month or so, go back and rehash the same arguments because some people are not simply honest enough, diligent enough, or caring enough to go back and look at the historical record and just be honest about it.

I find having to rehash it all about as pleasant and satisfying as chewing on aluminum foil. It's not disagreement I can't stand, it's the constant repetition of falsehoods that makes me want to scream.
Like I said, I reposted most of it so I wouldn't have too dig it all up myself.

UPDATE: Glenn has also posted on how the Democrats under Bill Clinton were more than willing to proceed under the assumption that Saddam did indeed have WMD.

Friday, October 28, 2005

What Plame is Really About

With indictments handed down against Scooter Libby, and with the media obsessing over how the investigation may uncover Bush Administration "lies" in the "run up to war" (never mind the incident ocurred after the war started!), Roger Simon lays it out plain as day: we all knew what was going on when it was going on:
As the for the run-up to the war, in looking back I think it was a big game of charades that everybody understood. Despite what was said, the obvious US motivation was geo-political. We wanted the despot Saddam out of the Middle East and replaced by a democracy. The French and the Russians - never particularly interested in democracy in the first place - desperately wanted to keep their cash cow in office. Everybody knew this, so the dreaded WMDs had to be emphasized in front of the UN. Never mind that whether Saddam had nuclear and other such weapons now or later was essentially irrelevant as long as he was in power and able to use them, never mind the supposedly missing weapons could be hidden at this moment in Syria, Lebanon or Iran (or even Iraq of course), never mind that there actually is a fledgling democracy in Iraq seemingly applauded by a vast majority of Iraqis, the weapons have been pronounced non-existent and the war a mistake.

Of course the real mistake was this emphasis on WMDs instead of a more honest declaration of the what the war was really about - democracy. On that score it hasn't fared that badly, all things considered. But still the focus must be kept on missing WMDs.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Motives Behind "Soft" Power

Anti-war activists accused the U.S. of invading Iraq for oil. Well, it appears that some countries were interested in Iraq's oil, and tried to use their "soft" power to protect those interests.
More than 2,000 companies taking part in the United Nations oil-for-food programme paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, an inquiry has found.

Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has delivered a fifth and final report, which details how thousands of companies and individuals around the world were involved in illegal transactions to circumvent the UN programme. . . "the country with the most companies involved was Russia, followed by France."

The 500-page report said companies in 66 countries paid kickbacks on selling Iraq humanitarian goods and companies from 40 countries paid surcharges on oil contracts but the UN Security Council took little action.

The program, which began in December 1996 and ended in 2003, was aimed at easing the impact of UN sanctions imposed in 1990 after Baghdad's troops invaded Kuwait. It achieved considerable success in feeding Iraqis, and allowed Iraq to sell oil in order to pay for food, medicine and other goods.

Preferential treatment was given to companies from France, Russia and China, the report says, all permanent members of the Security Council, who were more favorable to lifting the 1990 sanctions than the America and Britain.

My take on the Plame thing...

...is the same as Mark Levin's:
And in an Alice In Wonderland-like storyline, the same media that demand confidentiality for their sources as a First Amendment right, also demand the identity of Bob Novak’s sources and the names of administration officials who’ve spoken to the media. They cheer the very criminal investigation they once claimed endangered their profession. Meanwhile, who’s under investigation? Not Plame and Wilson, who appear to have hatched this scandal, but those truly victimized by it — administration officials who, it appears, sought to correct Wilson’s lies. Their phone conversations with reporters and e-mails to colleagues are now scrutinized by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his grand jury as if they’re war criminals. No wonder Plame is the toast of the Washington establishment and appears in publicity shots in Vanity Fair with a big grin. Look what she’s wrought.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

National Guard on the Border?

Allan Wall asks a question I've asked before: Why can't the National Guard be deployed, or rotated through, our nations borders. I know some people with ties to the Border Patrol, and they're not crazy with the idea of people not trained in such work. But as Wall points out, perhaps our National Guard has had a crash course after all: in Iraq.
Some say it's impossible to secure our borders. I don't believe it. Here in Iraq I've seen what a determined national policy can accomplish in a short time. Back home, borders could be secured, if the political will existed. The technical means exist already. We have the resources. We have the personnel. Some have suggested we use the National Guard to secure the borders. . .

Many of the tasks necessary to secure the U.S. border are the same tasks we are already performing here in Iraq. They could be carried out just as easily (and less expensively) on our own borders. Here in Iraq, National Guardsmen are patrolling 24/7, logging thousands of miles in armored humvees. Why can't they do the same on our own borders ?

In Iraq, Guardsmen secure defensive perimeters, they man guard towers, they operate UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). They do surveillance in the dark with night-vision equipment. Why can't they do the same on the borders of their own country?

Currently, Guard units are being called up on 18-month deployments to Iraq and other places. Why can't they be deployed the same length of time to guard the border? When a Guard unit is not deployed, guardsmen train a total of about 40 days a year, one weekend a month and a two-week "annual training" period. Why not rotate National Guard units in and out of border duty for their yearly "training" period?

. . . Under current federal law, the U.S. military can't physically detain illegal aliens, and leaves it to the border patrol to do it. But the military can still do patrolling, reconnaissance, and surveillance on the border. We're doing it in Iraq right now. To support these operations, permanent bases could be constructed along the border, to house troops and store equipment. Putting the Guard on the borders would send a message that we are finally serious about controlling our own borders.
It also doesn't preclude introducing Border Patrol training as part of the rotation. I suspect part of the fears expressed by those in the Border Patrol over such ideas has to do with protecting their institutional turf. They are all for increasing the number of Border Patrol agents. I am too, but there is probably a role to be had for some more muscle, don't you think?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Adult Stem Cells Get Results

Michael Fumento:
I have frequently written on the gulf between the promise of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and the reality of therapy from adult stem cells (ASCs) -- those already in our bodies and umbilical cord blood. ESCs get publicity; ASCs get results.
He provides details and explains why we don't hear the MSM trumpeting such remarkable progress.
It's still true that, as I wrote two years ago, "When an ESC hiccups it makes page one, but reports of ASCs actually saving human lives are often ignored." A search of the Lexis-Nexis database reveals that the incredible liver breakthrough was picked up by two lesser British newspapers and UPI. BBC.com also mentioned it. That's it. No U.S. newspaper seems to have mentioned it.

Lexis-Nexis also indicates no English-language publication thought that such an incredible breakthrough as allowing a paraplegic to walk again was newsworthy -- at least not if it involved the politically incorrect kind of stem cell.

Therapeutic progress with adult stem cells will continue to come fast and furious. Just when the public will be allowed to hear about it is another thing entirely.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Conservative Against Miers: The Process is as Important as the Result

George Will writes about the Miers mess and explains that, for conservatives, it's about more than just HOW she votes:
Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path that the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Miers Mess

The Wall Street Journal (sign-up required) editorializes on the Miers imbroglio and Byron York offers some insight into the problems the White House is having "selling" Miers. Charles Krauthammer is the latest to call for a do-over. From the Journal's piece:
Senate Republicans now find themselves caught between their loyalty to the President and their entirely legitimate concerns about Ms. Miers's philosophy and qualifications. For their part, Democrats have so far largely been content to watch their opposition squirm and shout. But they will certainly play the opportunists, jumping on any opening on ethics or ideology to defeat her and embarrass the President.

The liberal base may even demand it, given that one of the White House's private selling points to religious conservatives has been that she is both an evangelical and is personally opposed to abortion rights. (Hint: She'd vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.) These assurances, if that's what they were, may turn out to have been doubly counterproductive, given that they also undercut Republican claims to believe in process- rather than results-oriented jurisprudence.

Perhaps Ms. Miers will prove to be such a sterling Senate witness that she can still win confirmation. But so far the lesson we draw from this nomination is this: Bad things happen when a President decides that "diversity," personal loyalty and stealth are more important credentials for the Supreme Court than knowledge of the Constitution and battle-hardened experience fighting the judicial wars of the past 30 years.
Conservatives simply expected better.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Stossel on "Myths About Gun Control"

Look, I'm not a member of the NRA or a hunter or anything, but the gun control debate has always seemed to me to be based upon a facile premise: restricting the ability to legally (and conveniently) purchase of guns will reduce crime. Like I said, I'm not a gun enthusiast, so I've never really had a problem with waiting periods or background checks. But for those who thought such laws as the Brady Bill would be the "silver bullet" that would help to reduce gun related violence, John Stossel offers some evidence that such is not the case.
The Centers for Disease Control did an extensive review of various types of gun control: waiting periods, registration and licensing, and bans on certain firearms. It found that the idea that gun control laws have reduced violent crime is simply a myth.

I wanted to know why the laws weren't working, so I asked the experts. "I'm not going in the store to buy no gun," said one maximum-security inmate in New Jersey. "So, I could care less if they had a background check or not."

"There's guns everywhere," said another inmate. "If you got money, you can get a gun."

Talking to prisoners about guns emphasizes a few key lessons. First, criminals don't obey the law. (That's why we call them "criminals.") Second, no law can repeal the law of supply and demand. If there's money to be made selling something, someone will sell it.

A study funded by the Department of Justice confirmed what the prisoners said. Criminals buy their guns illegally and easily. The study found that what felons fear most is not the police or the prison system, but their fellow citizens, who might be armed. One inmate told me, "When you gonna rob somebody you don't know, it makes it harder because you don't know what to expect out of them."
What's that saying? "It's not guns that kill people, it's people that kill people." Counting on laws to prevent those who already break them from breaking more is naive.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have

Patricia E. Bauer alludes to the outrage engendered by Bill Bennett's recent comments, but notes that there is another abortion debate that noone wants to have.
If it's unacceptable for William Bennett to link abortion even conversationally with a whole class of people (and, of course, it is), why then do we as a society view abortion as justified and unremarkable in the case of another class of people: children with disabilities?
She relates her experience bringing up her daughter Margaret, who has Downs Syndrome. According to Bauer, and despite what we hear from "pro-choice" people, raising Margaret has not been a burden at all. The only burden has been caused by the attitudes of those they encounter in day to day life.
Whenever I am out with Margaret, I'm conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion. I don't know how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, but some studies estimate 80 to 90 percent.

Imagine. As Margaret bounces through life, especially out here in the land of the perfect body, I see the way people look at her: curious, surprised, sometimes wary, occasionally disapproving or alarmed. I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter have judged her and her cohort, and have found their lives to be not worth living.

To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering. At best, a tragic mistake. At worst, a living embodiment of the pro-life movement. Less than human. A drain on society. That someone I love is regarded this way is unspeakably painful to me.

This view is probably particularly pronounced here in blue-state California, but I keep finding it everywhere, from academia on down. At a dinner party not long ago, I was seated next to the director of an Ivy League ethics program. In answer to another guest's question, he said he believes that prospective parents have a moral obligation to undergo prenatal testing and to terminate their pregnancy to avoid bringing forth a child with a disability, because it was immoral to subject a child to the kind of suffering he or she would have to endure. (When I started to pipe up about our family's experience, he smiled politely and turned to the lady on his left.)

Margaret does not view her life as unremitting human suffering (although she is angry that I haven't bought her an iPod). She's consumed with more important things, like the performance of the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs and the dance she's going to this weekend. Oh sure, she wishes she could learn faster and had better math skills. So do I. But it doesn't ruin our day, much less our lives. It's the negative social attitudes that cause us to suffer.

Many young women, upon meeting us, have asked whether I had "the test." I interpret the question as a get-home-free card. If I say no, they figure, that means I'm a victim of circumstance, and therefore not implicitly repudiating the decision they may make to abort if they think there are disabilities involved. If yes, then it means I'm a right-wing antiabortion nut whose choices aren't relevant to their lives.

Either way, they win.
Again, it's just another way that the "me-first" attitude implicit in the pro-choice mindset is manifested. The potential child is less important than the potential consequences--the life-altering changes in-waiting--experienced by the would-be mother.
What I don't understand is how we as a society can tacitly write off a whole group of people as having no value. I'd like to think that it's time to put that particular piece of baggage on the table and talk about it, but I'm not optimistic. People want what they want: a perfect baby, a perfect life. To which I say: Good luck. Or maybe, dream on.

And here's one more piece of un-discussable baggage: This question is a small but nonetheless significant part of what's driving the abortion discussion in this country. I have to think that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families. The abortion debate is not just about a woman's right to choose whether to have a baby; it's also about a woman's right to choose which baby she wants to have.
Even so, as Bauer argues, the perception, in her experience, is not reality. There is no "perfect" baby--except in the eyes of loving parents.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Diverse Ruminations

More on the Miers nomination: Ramesh Ponurru on why it's caused such debate within conservative ranks and Rush Limbaugh on why the debate isn't a bad thing.

Steven Schwartz on how the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum shows how the U.S. "won again."

Barbara J. King reviews The Singing Neanderthals. What? Didn't you ever wonder why humans started making music?

History Carnival #18 is up.


Norman Levitt describes that a new "coy euphemism" has hit the academic world, "cultural competence." After reading Levitt's description of how it's defined, I fear I shan't aspire to such lofty heights.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Soldier Speaks Up

One of the soldiers at the "staged" press conference yesterday speaks up and has this to say about tomorrow's referendum in Iraq.
Tomorrow morning, the Iraqi people will vote on their constitution. The success of our mission or the mission of the Iraqi security forces is not defined by the outcome of that vote. If the people of Iraq vote this constitution down, that only means that the FREE, DEMOCRATIC PROCESS is at work in Iraq. They are learning to voice their opinions in the polling stations, not through violence. If it is voted down, they will have the chance to draft an even better version; One that may better serve the people of Iraq. This is up to them. It is history in the making and I will not let the media or anyone else (who has not spent more than two weeks here) tell me otherwise. I have been here for almost a year. I have seen the progress made in so many ways from January's elections to this referendum. Don't tell me what the Iraqi people can or can't do. They will tell you with their VOTES![emphasis in original]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bloggers 'Probably Not' Considered Journalists

Richard Lugar, co-sponsor of a proposed shield law for journalists, has said that Bloggers would 'probably not' be considered journalists according to Publishers Weekly.
Lugar emphasized, however, that debate is not yet closed on how to define a journalist under the proposed law.

'As to who is a reporter, this will be a subject of debate as this bill goes farther along,' he said in response to a question from Washington Post Deputy Managing Editor Milton Coleman. 'Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?'"
Hm. Am I a journalist? I never really considered it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Kern: Intelligent Design Is Going to Win

Douglas Kern offers five reasons why he thinks that so-called Intelligent Design "theory" is going to prevail over Darwinism in the 21st Century.

1) ID will win because it's a religion-friendly, conservative-friendly, red-state kind of theory, and no one will lose money betting on the success of red-state theories in the next fifty to one hundred years.

2) ID will win because the pro-Darwin crowd is acting like a bunch of losers.

3) ID will win because it can be reconciled with any advance that takes place in biology, whereas Darwinism cannot yield even an inch of ground to ID.

4) ID will win because it can piggyback on the growth of information theory, which will attract the best minds in the world over the next fifty years.

5) ID will win because ID assumes that man will find design in life -- and, as the mind of man is hard-wired to detect design, man will likely find what he seeks.
Read the whole piece for Kern's reasoning. It seems to me that Kern is arguing is what ID opponents view as its fundamental flaw--it's too vague or broad and ill-defined to be a real scientific theory--is exactly what makes it (ahem) more "adaptable" than Darwinian theory. We'll see.

UPDATE: Robert McHenry offers a rebuttal:
The ID party pretend that a commitment to the scientific method is just another blind ideology. They pretend to be the victims of a scientific establishment that cannot brook contradiction. This merely shows either that they do not understand science, which lives by informed criticism, or that knowledge is not, in fact, what they are about.

After several readings I honestly could not decide whether the tone of Mr. Kern's article is the triumphalism of a partisan who believes that his side is justly winning or the enthusiasm of the late convert in the service of a new master. Perhaps it was neither of these. I do know that he confuses the product, a theory, with the method, science; that he confuses pattern with design; that he doesn't understand randomness; that he idly invokes a "metaphysics of information"; that he believes, on no evidence, in "memes"; and that he thinks that allowing appeals to the supernatural will have no ill effects on the practice of science and that adulterating their science classes will not cripple the education of our youth.

But let me clear about one thing. I am aware of no evidence that he is a poopy-head.
OOOOO.K. Max Boot also has problems with Kern's analysis and offers a point-by-point rebuttal.

Then there is Kurt Anderesen, who blames relativism.
For several decades the philosophical ground has been softened up by the relativism and political correctness of the secular left, which succeeded in undermining the very idea of objective reality and of calling a spade a spade—so now, in the resulting marsh, fantasies like intelligent design (or Scientology or feng shui or 9/11 as a CIA plot) take root and spread like weeds. Liberals pioneered squishy-minded indulgence of their key constituencies’ unfortunate new ideas, like reparations and criminalized hate speech; now it’s the right’s turn.
Indeed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

We Interrupt the Miers debate for some Marriage Debate

As I recall, the Netherlands has served as a same-sex marriage panacea. Well, I found this on the Family Scholars Blog:
Last Friday the first civil union of three partners was registered. Victor de Bruijn (46) from Roosendaal “married” both Bianca (31) and Mirjam (35) in a ceremony before a notary who duly registered their civil union.

“I love both Bianca and Mirjam, so I am marrying them both,” Victor said…“A marriage between three persons is not possible in the Netherlands, but a civil union is. We went to the notary in our marriage costume and exchanged rings. We consider this to be just an ordinary marriage.”

BOOM! Oh, excuse me while I pick myself up. My, that slope was SO slippery!!!
Heh.

Moderates for Miers

Perhaps President Bushes nomination of Harriet Miers has gained him some fans in one area: moderates. The moderate-to-right editorial staff of the Providence Journal approves of the pick, as does the liberal "Republican" Froma Harrop. Here's a snippet from the Journal's editorial.
President Bush has kicked up another political dust storm in Washington this week with his choice of longtime colleague Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Lost in the cloud is exactly what Ms. Miers believes, and what kind of justice she would make.

This time, Mr. Bush's political base seems as upset about the nomination as the administration's left-leaning critics, chiding the president for choosing a "crony," rather than someone with a proven record of conservatism as a sitting judge. Republicans are fearful that Ms. Miers -- a former Democrat, who has managed to charm Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid -- could turn out to be "another David Souter," the justice appointed by the first President Bush who has tended to side with the liberals on the court.

Others maintain that Mr. Bush may be demonstrating, for the umpteenth time, that he is not as dumb as his critics make out. Ms. Miers, they say, has no apparent "paper trail" that would provide opponents with the means to bring her down. Also, whereas Mr. Souter was a stranger to the first President Bush, Ms. Miers is someone with whom the current president has worked closely, and whose political philosophy he knows well. And as a single woman who has thrived in the male-dominated legal profession, she may make a difficult target for feminist interest groups. . .

Any ultimate judgment on Ms. Miers will, of course, have to be formed in the weeks ahead, as her record is scrutinized and the Senate begins to hold hearings on her nomination.

But those who know her well regard her as smart, tough but reasonable, and a team player. She has wide experience in working with others: as a lawyer who rose to the head of a large firm; as president of the Texas Bar Association; as a Dallas City Council member; as head of the Texas Lottery Commission; as a Sunday-school teacher. Although regarded as conservative, she seems inclined to be practical and moderate, rather than ideological, in performing her duties. This suggests that she could be a fitting successor to Justice O'Connor.

As for her lack of bench experience, there is something to be said for drawing Supreme Court justices from a variety of backgrounds. Ms. Miers, 60, knows much about politics, practicing law, running a business, and meeting a payroll. Such a background could help the Supreme Court better reflect on the real-world implications of its rulings.
Harrop writes that she'd like to go out to lunch and a movie with Miers.
Despite the dearth of hard information, movement conservatives have declared her nomination a defeat for them. That Miers is President Bush's White House lawyer offers little comfort. Bush, everyone knows, is damaged goods. He's been weakened by the Katrina mess, the inconclusive Iraq war, spreading government scandals, and budget deficits that no true conservative would tolerate. He can't afford to fight on another front. He needs a relatively peaceful Supreme Court nominating process.

The conservatives' problem with Miers isn't how she thinks, because they have no idea. It's that she's not like them. Miers is not an energizer-conservative beating the drums under the windows of the liberal enemy.

Liberals do seem to be sleeping well over the Miers choice. No less a left-leaner than Sen. Charles Schumer has responded to her nomination with "it could have been a lot worse." That's New York-ese for "what a nice surprise."

All this pains the right-wing warriors as their delusions of permanent power continue to crack. Their batteries badly needed recharging with an in-your-face conservative along the lines of an Antonin Scalia or a Clarence Thomas.

"It really disappointed us," a right-wing friend told me. "We were looking forward to a filibuster by liberals against a qualified black woman candidate."

He was speaking of Janice Rogers Brown, one of the women on the conservatives' short list. His assumption that conservatives could successfully repackage opposition to Brown as racism is rather dated. The trick of finding a minority to represent the right wing's most outrageous views is pretty shopworn. Liberals didn't give Clarence Thomas a free pass because he was black, and that was 14 years ago. (Only the public revulsion at Anita Hill's opportunistic sexual-harassment charges against Thomas caused them to cave.)

I'm no big fan of affirmative action, but I do like the idea of a female justice replacing another pioneer, Sandra Day O'Connor. At age 60, Miers remembers the days when law firms asked women applicants whether they were on birth control. As she rose to power in the Texas legal establishment, Miers became the first woman this and the first woman that. She knows how things were for women with ambition.

She also knows how things were for women without legal access to abortion. Third parties tell us that Miers personally opposes abortion. That could be true or not. But there are lots of people who are against abortion but want it kept legal. O'Connor seems to be one.

Nor should we read anything into Miers's resistance to the American Bar Association's policy supporting abortion rights. As president of the Texas Bar in the early '90s, she thought the ABA should be neutral on the subject, or at least base its position on a vote by the association's members. That was a principled stance, which had the support of some pro-choice members.

So while conservatives describe themselves as "depressed" over the Miers nomination, I declare myself initially impressed. I would love to share these feelings with Harriet over a tuna salad.
Look, I'm a conservative, maybe I'm even a "movement" conservative, but I don't agree with Harrop's friend about looking for a fight with a purposedly controversial nomination. Nonetheless, I still think there were other potential nominees, with track records, who would have been initially better received by conservatives. And if there was a partisan battle, so be it.

To my mind, the main reason there is so much concern among conservatives is because Miers is an unknown: they fear another Souter, as Harrop explains. But, as she also points out, while George H.W. Bush didn't know Souter, Bush knows Miers. He himself has said he "know(s) her heart." Are conservatives willing to trust him, or not? I think that many simply didn't want to be put in the position of having to trust him, they wanted to "know" right off whether the nominee was one they could "count on."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Musings of Pro-Miers Conservatives

Patrick Ruffini says to conservatives:
This is not the time to act like preening Ivory Tower elitists, but to call Harry Reid's bluff. Miers will cast the votes that O'Connor wouldn't. And that's all that matters.
Beldar is thinking along the same line.
My blogospheric friend Prof. Stephen Bainbridge, who's another early critic of the Miers nomination, quoted today the famous and still very funny comment by Sen. Roman Hruska on Nixon nominee Harold Carswell: "Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?" Well, I'm not arguing in favor of mediocre nominees. What I am arguing is that a nominee is not mediocre, or unfit, or likely to be a disaster on the Court, simply because he or she comes from a career spent mostly in private practice! We in private practice tend to spend less time worrying about the meaning of life and the universe and how that guides and informs the evolution of substantive due process under the Constitution. But that's exactly the kind of — forgive, again, my bluntness — metaphysical crap you get in Supreme Court opinions written by lawyers who've spent most of their careers as academics.
Well, I'm willing to bet they're right, but I just don't think the President needed to go with a stealth candidate on this one.

UPDATE: Jeff Goldstein offers this take on the "anti-academic" argument.
I do think Republican strategists—who have been sent out to push Miers’ “real world,” anti-"academic" credentials on the political talk shows—are taking the wrong tack: many legal conservatives on the right want a brilliant legal theorist and thinker precisely because we believe that such a nominee would naturally support our view of how the judiciary should function, and of how the Constitution ought be read.

As I noted yesterday, I’m far less interested in someone bringing a unique perspective to the Bench than I am with someone bringing a proper perspective to the role of Judge.

Miers might be that person, I don’t know. But I think the strategy of pushing her as a “judicial outsider” is shortsighted; after all, we just got done hearing about all of John Roberts’ qualities, which proceeded from the very kind of background this current PR campaign seems to be offhandedly criticizing.
Jonah Goldberg is also skeptical of this defense of Miers. On the other hand, Thomas Lifson trusts the President's Harvard Business School honed political acumen and also thinks conservative "doom and gloomers" should calm down (or be ignored).

Monday, October 03, 2005

New SCOTUS Nominee may indicate a larger problem

David Frum isn't too keen on Harriet Miers, but more troubling is his general observation of what is hindering George W. Bush's "vision thing."
Again and again, George Bush has announced bold visionary policies - and again and again he has entrusted the execution of those policies to people who do not believe in them or even understand them. This is most conspicuously true in foreign policy, but it has been true in domestic policy as well. The result: the voice is the voice of Reagan, but too often the hands are the hands of George HW Bush.

Or worse. George HW Bush made his bad appointments in the name of replacing Reaganite "ideology" with moderate Republican "competence." He didn't live up to his own billing, but you can understand his intentions. But the younger Bush has based his personnel decisions upon a network of personal connections in which competence plays no very large part.
I don't know enough about Miers to begin to presume to make a judgement, though many others are (and it doesn't look good). However, what Frum has observed certainly does ring true. The President's high-flying rhetoric and ideals will remain grounded unless he begins to appoint right people to implement and foster them.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Noonan: Authority not = to Responsibility

Peggy Noonan:
David Brooks on "Meet the Press" Sunday said he thought Katrina had given rise to a greater public desire for "authority" and "order." I found what he was saying typically thoughtful, but I differ with him. That difference gives rise to this piece.

I don't think Americans are or have been, by nature, lovers of authority. When we think of the old America we think of house-raisings on the prairie and teeming cities full of immigrants, but a big part of the American nature can also be found in the story of Jeremiah Johnson, the mountain man who just wanted to live off by himself, unbothered and unmolested by people and their churches and clubs and rules. He didn't like authority. He wanted to be left alone.

We live in the age of emergency, however, and in that age we hunger for someone to take responsibility. Not authority, but a sense of "I'll lead you out of this." On 9/11 the firemen took responsibility: I will go into the fire. So did the mayor: This is how we'll get through, this is how we'll triumph.

In New Orleans, by contrast, the mayor seemed panicked, the governor seemed medicated, and the airborne wasn't there until it was there and peace was restored. Until then no one took responsibility. There was a vacuum. But nature abhors a vacuum, so rumors and chaos came in to fill it. Which made things worse.

No one took charge. Thus the postgame commentary in which everyone blamed someone else: The mayor fumbled the ball, the governor didn't call the play, the president didn't have a ground game.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Is It Time to Shut Down Engineering Colleges?

I've said before that something is wrong with engineering education in America, so I agree with Dominic Grasso that our engineering training in the U.S. needs to change:
Do we gain anything by educating engineers in the United States?

I would argue that, with a few exceptions, we really don’t. As they are currently trained, American engineers are at relative parity with their foreign-born counterparts, are more expensive, and offer no competitive advantage. But there is a way out of this predicament, one that would provide a raison d’etre for American engineering programs, and make for the kind of design the planet now so urgently needs.

Faced with the increasingly complex design challenges of the 21st century — an era where resources of every kind are reaching their limit, human populations are exploding, and global-warming related environmental catastrophe beckons — engineers need to grow beyond their traditional roles as problem-solvers to become problem-definers.

To catalyze this shift, our engineering curriculum, now packed with technical courses, needs a fresh start. Today’s engineers must be educated to think broadly in fundamental and integrative ways about the basic tenets of engineering. If we define engineering as the application of math and science in service to humanity, these tenets must include study of the human condition, the human experience, the human record.

How do we make room in the crowded undergraduate engineering curriculum for students to explore disciplines outside math and science – literature and economics, history and music, philosophy and languages – that are vital if we are to create a competitive new generation of engineering leaders? By scaling back the number of increasingly narrow, and quickly outmoded technical courses students are now required to take — leaving only those that teach them to think like engineers and to gain knowledge to solve problems. Students need to have room to in their schedules for wide ranging elective study.

There is a need for advanced engineering training, to be sure, but the place for that is at the graduate level — in one of the growing number of nine-month masters programs, perhaps.

Teaching engineers to think, in the broadest, cross-disciplinary sense, is critical. Consider two examples of the failures of the old way.
But those two examples, the only given, seem to betray a deeper motivation.
The breach of the levees in New Orleans, which has unleashed a torrent of human suffering, came about not solely because engineers designed for a category 3, rather than a category 4, hurricane. It was caused by decades of engineering and technical hubris, which resulted in loss of wetlands and overbuilding on a grand scale. Would engineers who had studied economics, ecology, anthropology, or history have acted the same?

Or consider Love Canal (or any of a thousand other environmental debacles of the last 50 years). Would designers who had read Thoreau’s Walden, studied Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, or admired Monet’s poppies have allowed toxic chemicals to be dumped into the environment so remorselessly?
From this I infer an environmentalist agenda that may be clouding Grasso's analysis. I think blaming Love Canal on the lack of well-rounded engineering education is simply off the mark. As to the more contemporary example of the New Orleans levy, it seems that their failure had less to do with engineering "hubris" and more to do with good old-fashioned corruption and mismanagement (IE: "low-bidder").

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Catherine Seipp on "Everybody Hates Chris" on NRO

She likes it.

When to Plan and when to Improvise

Arnold Kling observes that we are too enamored of "central planning" when sometimes, like during big disasters, improvisation will lead to better, quicker solutions.
Critics of the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans tend to focus on the need to formulate and implement better plans. I suspect that a more sober assessment might instead identify poor improvisation as the main problem. That is, if officials close to the scene had assumed more responsibility and been granted more leeway to focus on results, rather than waiting for instructions or assistance, then some of them would have taken more initiative and averted some of the worst problems.

I think that people have a tendency to put too much faith in centralized planning, and they do not have sufficient regard for decentralized improvisation. The more ambiguity that exists in a situation--because of its novelty, uncertainty, and the absence of critical information--the more that it favors improvisation over planning.

In my previous essay, I pointed out that large organizations necessarily must lean on planning, while small organizations necessarily must rely on improvisation. I also pointed out that there are many problems which require both planning and improvisation, and that such challenges make it quite difficult to come up with an optimal organizational design.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Confessions of an Engineering Washout

I didn't wash out, but Doug Kern has hit the nail on the head in his "Confessions of an Engineering Washout." His four-month experience can be extrapolated to describe my four-year experience, except my school had no TA's (which made it even worse) but it did have many hands-on type of instructors who WERE good teachers. It was the theory side of engineering that was so bogus. This particular bit hit home:
I nearly fainted when I learned that I received a 43% on the Physics final. I nearly fainted again when I learned that the class average was 38%. A sub-50% grade on a science test is a curious creature, as much the product of grader whim as academic achievement. "Hmmm…looks like he understood a tiny bit of this question. I'll give three points out of ten. Or should I give four? Whoops…tummy rumbling…better make it three." Having allegedly mastered 43% of the course material, I was now deemed fit to take even harder Physics classes. I wondered: at the highest levels of physics, could you get a passing grade with a 5% score on a test? A 3% score? A zero? Could drinking from a fire hose actually slake your thirst?
In my Physics class, 35% was passing. (Incidentally, I didn't...the first time ;) Anyway, here's the bottom line:
The United States contains a finite number of smart people, most of whom have options in life besides engineering. You will not produce thronging bevies of pocket-protector-wearing number-jockeys simply by handing out spiffy Space Shuttle patches at the local Science Fair. If you want more engineers in the United States, you must find a way for America's engineering programs to retain students like, well, me: people smart enough to do the math and motivated enough to at least take a bite at the engineering apple, but turned off by the overwhelming coursework, low grades, and abysmal teaching. Find a way to teach engineering to verbally oriented students who can't learn math by sense of smell. Demand from (and give to) students an actual mastery of the material, rather than relying on bogus on-the-curve pseudo-grades that hinge upon the amount of partial credit that bored T.A.s choose to dole out. Write textbooks that are more than just glorified problem set manuals. Give grades that will make engineering majors competitive in a grade-inflated environment. Don't let T.A.s teach unless they can actually teach.

None of these things will happen, of course. Engineering professors are perfectly happy weeding out undesirables with absurd boot-camp courses that conceal the inability of said professors to communicate with words. Fewer students will pursue science and engineering majors, and the United States will grow ever more reliant upon foreign brainpower to design its scientific and manufacturing endeavors. I did my part to fight this problem, and for my trouble I got four months of humiliation and a semester's worth of shabby grades that I had to explain to law schools and employers for years. Thousands of college students will have a similar experience this fall.
It's an old engineering joke that "I went to School X to be an Engineer and now I are one." This reflects the general acknowledgement that many engineers aren't very agile with their communication skills. Yet, as Kern points out, we need to expect more, especially of those who are supposed to teach the succeeding generations. We shouldn't gear all of our engineering schools toward the prodigies. Instead, a bit of the practical needs to be "engineered" into the system so that smart kids can be nurtured and not scared away.

Don't Get Stuck on Stupid

Doing my part to spread a meme.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Iran is in Iraq

It seems that the British have been fighting Iranian supplied "insurgents" in southeastern Iraq. The reason given is that Iran is increasingly frustrated by the current European Union driven nuclear talks.
British officials are convinced that Iran is implicated in the upsurge in violence and suspect it may be connected to Britain’s hardening position against Tehran’s nuclear programme. Britain has been working closely with Iran over the past two years to reach a compromise. But with the victory last month of the hawkish President Ahmadinejad, Iran has hardened its position.

Britain is now actively lobbying to have Tehran referred to the UN Security Council, where it could face sanctions.

Iran’s policy in Iraq is co-ordinated by the Supreme National Security Council — the body responsible for running its atomic industry. “The Iranians are careful not to be caught,” a British official said. “But they like to stoke up the temperature in Iraq when it suits them.”
Hm. Does this mean that the fact that negotiations exist doesn't guarantee that both parties will deal openly? That the diplomatic process, in and of itself, doesn't guarantee success? Wow, whoda thunk?

BEWARE Global Cooling...er...Warming

Remember when there was a big fear about Global Cooling? I had and now I have proof. The article is an interesting little piece, but two particular paragraphs struck me. First, that climatologists
are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.
To that, I'd say it's a good thing the political leaders didn't heed the warnings of the leading climatologists in 1975, what, with global warming and all (heh). The second paragraph hits the mark squarely:
Just what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery. “Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,” concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. “Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.”
I suppose that, 30 years later, our scientists have gotten better. Especially with all of that research money they've had at their disposal. For instance, it appears that they may have been right after all, as it seems that global warming can actually cause global cooling. Makes sense to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A conservative responds to Ferguson

Edward Feser makes some good points about the selectivity of Andrew Ferguson's examples of current "mainstream" conservative thought:
Ferguson makes some good points in his article about the corrupting effects on conservative activists of ten years in power. But this particular passage is just silly. Granted, the contemporary writers and works he mentions are, shall we say, not of the highest intellectual quality. But why take these as representative of “conservative books”? Why not cite instead the sorts of books produced by authors associated with publications like City Journal, Commentary, First Things, The New Criterion, or any of a number of other intellectually serious conservative journals? It’s not as if people like Theodore Dalrymple, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Roger Kimball, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel stopped writing after 1994.

Or why not cite the many important works produced by conservative philosophers like Roger Scruton and John Kekes, several of which have been published within the last decade or so? Scruton’s many books on modern politics, sexual morality, aesthetics and architecture, globalization, and a host of other issues constitute as wide-ranging, systematic, and powerful a critique of liberal moral, political and cultural assumptions as has ever been produced. Kekes’s trilogy Against Liberalism, A Case for Conservatism, and The Illusions of Egalitarianism comprise a sustained challenge to the prevailing orthodoxies in contemporary political philosophy. And there are many other important authors and works in philosophy that could be cited, such as Anthony O’Hear’s Beyond Evolution and After Progress, or David Oderberg’s Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach and Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach, a pair of volumes that represent the most thorough and vigorous defense of traditional morality to have appeared within mainstream philosophy in decades.

I emphasize such philosophical works not only because this is a blog devoted to philosophy, but also because their existence shows that there are writers within the conservative movement who are capable not only of producing clever analyses of current policy questions, but also of taking things down to first principles in a way that meets the highest standards of rigor. Of course, there are many conservative authors and books in academic disciplines outside of philosophy that could also be mentioned, many of them much better known to mainstream conservative writers like Ferguson than the philosophers just mentioned probably are. Hadley Arkes, Robert P. George, John Lukacs, Thomas Sowell, Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, and James Q. Wilson would be a few examples, and they have all written serious books within the last decade. And then there are libertarian scholars like Richard Epstein, Randy Barnett, and many others, who have also published substantial works over the last ten years.

Yet the only authors Ferguson can think to cite are the likes of Michael Savage and Sean Hannity? This is the kind of thing I would sooner expect from the sort of ignorant academic leftist who seriously thinks that conservatives who call for a more balanced curriculum want to put Ann Coulter’s latest tome on the political philosophy reading list. Ferguson should know better.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Another asks, "What the heck happened to conservatism?"

Andrew Ferguson at the Weekly Standard looks back at the last ten years (when the WS was founded) and doesn't like what he sees.
I suppose any philosophical tendency, as it acquires power and popularity, will simplify itself, define itself downward. That's democratic politics for you. But something more corrosive is also at work. Marshall McLuhan was righter than anyone ever would have guessed. The medium really is the message. Conservatism nowadays is increasingly a creature of its technology. It is shaped--if I were a Marxist I might even say determined--by cable television and talk radio, with their absurd promotion of caricature and conflict, and by blogs, where the content ranges from Jesuitical disputes among hollow-cheeked obsessives to feats of self-advertisement and professional narcissism (Everyone's been asking what I think about . . . You won't want to miss my appearance tonight on . . . Be sure to click here for my latest . . . ) that would have been unthinkable in polite company as recently as a decade ago. Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the "author" on the cover. What a tumble! From The Conservative Mind to Savage Nation; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman--all in little more than a generation's time. Whatever this is, it isn't progress.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is the U.S. a failing state?

Greg Scoblete has a piece up at Tech Central Station in which, recalling Thomas Hobbes' description of the essential functions of a modern nation-state, he questions whether the modern U.S. government qualifies as a failed state.
Katrina's aftermath was, at the end of the day, a testament to just how unmoored the government has become from its fundamental purpose. This unmooring, this failure to properly establish a limited set of priorities and execute them with a high degree of competence springs from two complimentary impulses. As we have channeled the "war of all against all" into constructive political and social outlets, the government has expanded the definition of what "protection" entails. No longer is the Leviathan responsible for our physical security, but our medical security, our retirement security, even our mental health. It's concerned that we smoke and that we're too fat.

But we are not in Hobbes' desired monarchy, where decisions are subject to the arbitrary whims of an unelected crown. We have endorsed this expansive concept of security at the ballot box. This is not the place to debate the merits of specific entitlements only to suggest that a government that continuously assigns itself ever expansive mandates will, by necessity, become more attenuated. Federal officials that should spend time on core issues that only government can tackle, spend time denouncing Mark McGuire and McDonald's.

Republicans of an increasingly rare variety used to endorse the principle of a limited, prioritized government that assigned itself those tasks that only the Leviathan could accomplish, letting other agencies -- local, civil and private -- grapple with the rest. Yet with entitlement spending ballooning and egregious pork barrel spending at unprecedented highs, it's clear setting priorities and making difficult "either/or" decisions is out of fashion.
In short, our government has become a mile wide and an inch deep in effectiveness. Perhaps. As Rush Limbaugh and others have noted, however, there is one government "agency" above all others that has performed well: the U.S. Military. Once called upon, they executed. Similarly, the Red Cross, itself not a government agency, has done its usual above-and-beyond service. No, it was the bureaucrats who failed, not the people in the field. But I've been over that already.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Preventive Measures Could Have Saved More from Katrina

As DRUDGE reminds us, there were warnings before Katrina hit telling people they'd be on ther own if they didn't leave now. Of course, as has been pointed out, both the city government of New Orleans and the state government of Louisiana were slow in implementing their own evacuation plans. Why? Was it because they feared that if they implemented said plan--and if Katrina wasn't as bad as had been feared--they would be portrayed as contemporary boys-crying-wolf? Did they themselves not take it seriously enough?

As an engineer involved in managing and implementing preventive and predictive maintenance policies in industry, I am well-acquainted with the idea that if you pay a little up front, you will probably forestall paying a lot--usually unexpectedly--down the line. Planning ahead and paying $200 in labor and parts and losing a few hours to machinery downtime is much better than a catastrophic and unexpected loss that could necessitate replacing the equipment entirely and losing valuable time in production. This common sense approach could have been implemented by the bureaucrats of New Orleans and Louisianna--and thousands of lives could have been saved--but it wasn't.

Instead they whine about the (inevitably) slow reaction of one red-tape laden bureaucracy (FEMA), and try to hide the fact that they, the bureaucrats closer to the situation, should have proactively put into action an adequate evacuation plan, thereby lessening the need for such reliance upon federal aid.

It should have been obvious that the existing plan failed to account for those who could not independently get out of the area. It should have been obvious that, given this last, the people stuck in New Orleans shouldn't have been left to bring their own food and supplies into the Superdome. These are just some of the problems that should have been foreseen. Instead, too many waited for someone else to make the call. Now, when it is too late, they cast about, looking for someone other than themselves to blame for the tragedy. What a shame. If they had done an adequate job of saving the skins of their citizens, they wouldn't have to worry about saving their own.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pres. Clinton on the speed of response to Katrina

The attempts to play partisan politics amidst disaster continue, but even a skilled partisan politician like former President Bill Clinton realizes there is a time and place for everything. So, to those of you who praise the good ol' days of he '90s, and by extension laud the man to whom you give so much credit for "presiding" over the era, pay heed to what he has to say regarding the speed of the government's response to Katrina. [via Captain Ed and A.J. Strata]
MALVEAUX: Let me ask you this: There are some people at the New Orleans Convention Center who say that they have been living like animals -- no food, no water, no power. And they are the ones who are saying: Where are the buses? Where are the planes? Why did it take three days to see a real federal response here? Mr. Bush, you, whether it's fair or not, had gone through some administration criticism about your handling of Hurricane Andrew.

G.H.W. BUSH: I sure did.

MALVEAUX: Do you believe that this is legitimate?

G.H.W. BUSH: Yes, I do. What happened? We all sighed with -- not legitimate. I believe that they ought not to be as upset, but I can understand why they are. We thought, a lot of people thought, that when the hurricane went to the right a little bit, New Orleans was going to be spared. And it was only the next day that, you know, there were these horrible problems with the levee. But, look, if I were sitting there with no shower, no ability to use bathroom facilities, worried about my family, not knowing where they were, I'd blame anybody and so you have to expect that.

MALVEAUX: But do you think this administration responded quickly enough?

G.H.W. BUSH: Of course I do.

CLINTON: Let me answer this. The people in the Superdome are in a special position. And let me say, I've been going to New Orleans for over 50 years. There's no place on earth I love more. They went into the Superdome, not because of the flooding, but because we thought the hurricane was going to hit New Orleans smack dab and they'd be safe in there if they didn't leave town.

What happened was, when the levee broke and the town flooded, what did it do? It knocked out the electricity and it knocked out the sewage. They're living in hellacious conditions. They would be better off under a tree than being stuck there. You can't even breathe in that place now.

So I understand why they're so anxiety-ridden. But they have to understand, by the time it became obvious that they were in the fix they were in, there were a lot of other problems, too. There were people -- they were worried about people drowning that had to be taken off roofs.

MALVEAUX: So you two believe that the federal response was fast enough?

CLINTON: All I'm saying is what I know the facts are today. There are hundreds of buses now engaged in the act of taking people from New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston. And you and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren't there.

All I'm saying is the way they got stuck there, I see why they feel the way they do. But the people that put them there did it because they thought they were saving their lives. And then when the problems showed up, they had a lot of other people to save. Now they've got hundreds of buses. We just need to get them out. I think they'll all be out by tomorrow. Didn't they say they would all be out by tomorrow morning?

G.H.W. BUSH: Yes.

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, thank you very much. I'm sorry. We've run out of time. Thank you.

G.H.W. BUSH: Let me -- I just to want finish. I believe the administration is doing the right thing, and I believe they have acted in a timely fashion. And I understand people being critical. That happens all the time. And I understand some people wanted to make, you know, a little difficulty by criticizing the president and the team. But I don't want to sit here and not defend the administration which, in my view, has taken all the right steps. And they're facing problems that nobody could foresee: breaking of the levees and the whole dome thing over in New Orleans coming apart. People couldn't foresee that.

CLINTON: Yes, I think that's important to point out. Because when you say that they should have done this, that or the other thing first, you can look at that problem in isolation, and you can say that.

But look at all the other things they had to deal with. I'm telling you, nobody thought this was going to happen like this. But what happened here is they escaped -- New Orleans escaped Katrina. But it brought all the water up the Mississippi River and all in the Pontchartrain, and then when it started running and that levee broke, they had problems they never could have foreseen.

And so I just think that we need to recognize right now there's a confident effort under way. People are doing the best they can. And I just don't think it's the time to worry about that. We need to keep people alive and get them back to life -- normal life.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Political Opportunism during Tragedy

With Katrina's devastation plain to see, ideologues (mostly on the left) have gone to great lengths to blame their opponents for the contingency of nature. James Glassman has a poignant and personal response. Additionally, via The Corner on National Review Online
Benny Peiser, whose work on catastrophe deserves much more attention than, say, Jared Diamond's, has this to say to readers of his Cambridge Conference email network:
On behalf of CCNet, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to all our American friends and members who have been affected by the tragic events wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Notwithstanding continuing rescue and support efforts, the calamity has triggered a rather opportunistic and cynical reaction by opponents of the current US Administration. In an eerie development that echoes the political exploitation of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster last December, environmental campaigners, Green journalists and European officials are blaming (once again) the U.S. and its people for the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Instead of supporting the rescue efforts, demagogues are using the human tragedy in a futile attempt to score points. At a time of utter desolation and misfortune, propagandists in high office and parts of the media are abandoning America and its victims for purely political goals.

Europeans in particular, who have been rescued and liberated from themselves by the U.S. no less than three times in the course of the 20th century, should feel ashamed for kicking a friend and ally when he is down. Let me re-assure our American friends and colleagues that this pitiless mind-set of environmental activists is not representative for the vast majority of Europeans who are following the heartbreaking events with great concern and empathy.

There is quite a lot CCNet readers can do to support the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina - which is why I have posted below relevant information by the American Red Cross. As each of us ponders our response, let us all keep in our prayers those who have lost so much.
I am sure Benny is right. Burke's comment about the grasshoppers and the cows is appropriate here.
Here's the quote from Edmund Burke he refers to:
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle... chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
More here and here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not only in Rhode Island: "Why Teacher’s Unions Are Hurting Education" in Michigan

From Positive Liberty
Over the last few years, a bizarre situation has been going on here in Michigan. In 2003, a philanthropist named Robert Thompson offered to spend $200 million to build 15 charter schools in the city of Detroit, each serving 500 students, with a guarantee that each one would graduate at least 90% of its students. That plan required approval of the state legislature and in late 2003 they had reached a deal to pass a bill that allowed this to happen, but the Detroit teacher’s union called a one-day strike and marched on the state capitol to protest this plan. As a result, the Detroit mayor and Governor Granholm both pulled their support of the bill and it collapsed.

Detroit public schools are among the worst imaginable. Jack McHugh of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy gives some of the shocking facts, quoting the Standard and Poor’s School Evaluation Service report on Detroit schools:
“Detroit Public Schools generates well below-average student results with well above-average spending per student. Statewide, only 2.3 percent of Michigan’s school districts report a smaller proportion of MEAP test scores that meet or exceed state standards. Statewide, only 3.4 percent of Michigan’s school districts graduate a smaller proportion of students. Statewide, only 2.5 percent of Michigan’s school districts report a greater dropout rate. Statewide, only 9 percent of Michigan’s school districts spend more per student. Statewide, only 2.5 percent of Michigan’s school districts spend more per student on administration. When costs are adjusted for student circumstances … only 5.3 percent of Michigan’s school districts have less favorable … average amount[s] of money spent per unit of measured achievement.”
One would think that a school district with this poor a record would welcome a $200 million gift that would dramatically affect the educational opportunities for thousands of Detroit schoolchildren, but there’s one problem with that: it would compete with the public schools and if successful at reaching its goal of graduating 90% of its students, it would show that it’s possible to do much better than the public schools are currently doing. And that would put egg on the face of the educational establishment.

Now the Thompson Foundation has put its offer back on the table, along with the Skillman Foundation. And Grand Valley State University is offering to sponsor the schools (state law allows universities in the state to sponsor a certain number of charter schools). The Skillman Foundation has already donated millions to Detroit public schools that show success, including giving $1.5 million to keep the Communication & Media Arts High School, a quasi-magnet school in the city that has had great success with its educational model, open for the next 3 years.

This is not the first time the Thompson Foundation has given huge sums of money to give opportunities to students in Detroit. Their mission is to help lower income people rise out of poverty and to that end they have funded 1000 private school scholarships for Detroit city students, 500 junior college scholarships and 70 undergraduate and graduate scholarships at Michigan Tech and Michigan State. In a city with a dropout rate near 50%, you would think that they would be thrilled that someone is offering to do so much for at-risk students in that city.

But the Detroit Federation of Teachers doesn’t want the competition from charter schools. Successful charter schools, you see, would make their schools look very, very bad. And apparently covering up their lack of success is more important than providing opportunities for poor students to achieve academically. Now that Thompson’s offer is back on the table, the teacher’s union must be pressured to end their protests and stop trying to prevent the very thing they should be cheering for.
Thus, Rhode Island is not unique, though it may sometimes feel like it. This is not about slamming the union again: it is about providing opportunity for our children. They are the priority, not holding "power" in the education system.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Fact-Checking the NY Times on Body Armor Story

Jack Kelly writes
Colonel Thomas Spoehr is annoyed with New York Times reporter Michael Moss, for what I think is a good reason.

Spoehr is the director of materiel for the Army staff. He had a good news story to tell Moss, which Moss converted into a bad news story.

Last year, senior leaders of the Army became aware of technological developments which make it possible to improve the "Interceptor" body armor worn by our troops.`

The "Interceptor" consists of a vest, two SAPI (small arms protective insert) plates worn in the front and the back, and "backing" material around the plates. The plates are made of boronic carbide, the second hardest substance known to man (only diamonds are harder) but fairly light weight.

The plates will shatter a standard rifle bullet, and the backing catches the bullet fragments to prevent injuries from shrapnel.

The "Interceptor" is the best body armor manufactured in the world today, and represents a remarkable improvement over the protective vests worn by our troops in the first Gulf War, and Somalia in 1993. Those vests could protect against shrapnel, but a rifle bullet would cut right through them.

Those vests weighed 24 lbs each. The interceptor ensemble — which can stop an AK-47 bullet fired from just 10 feet away — weighs just 16 lbs. But the best isn't perfect. There are some special types of ammunition that can penetrate the boronic carbide plates. Last year Army leaders became aware of improvements that could be made to the SAPI plates that would protect against most (though not all) of these special types of ammunition.

There is little evidence insurgents in Iraq are using the special types of ammunition that can defeat the "Interceptor." But the Army wanted to be proactive, to defeat a potential threat before it emerged.

"We're taking what we think is a prudent step to guard against a step (the insurgents) could take, but that's a step that really hasn't developed yet," Spoehr said.

Altering the formula by which the SAPI plates are manufactured is not a simple process, since these plates must be manufactured to extremely precise (1,000ths of an inch) dimensions.

"Making one of these plates is like making one of those tiles that protects the (space) shuttle from heat," Spoehr said.

Yet though the specifications weren't set until early in January, new plates were being manufactured — and delivery begun to U.S. troops — in March. Those familiar with the Pentagon's procurement process recognize this as lightning speed. . .

Here's how the story was presented by Moss in the New York Times Aug. 14th: "For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks of insurgents.

"The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use. But more than a year after military officials initiated an effort to replace the armor with thicker, more resistant plates, tens of thousands of soldiers are still without the stronger protection because of a string of delays in the Pentagon's procurement system."

Spoehr told Moss all the things he told me, but there is not a single positive quote in his story.

"You would get the impression that our soldiers were in harm's way or at risk," Spoehr said. "That is not true."

Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the war in Iraq, because all news about Iraq is presented as bad news, even when it isn't.
Makes you wonder what other "positives" are being spun the other way, doesn't it?

[via Instapundit]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Academic Reassurance...Tempered

It's nice to see that the school from which I will be receiving an MA in History has a good reputation, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Providence College’s rankings among 572 universities nationwide offering full range of undergraduate and master’s programs:

1st nationally in average graduation rate
2nd overall in North region
Among North region’s top 15 institutions recognized in “Great schools, great prices” category
Ranked among top 20 schools nationally in “peer assessment” survey


Providence, RI – The 2006 edition of U.S. News’ popular college guide, America’s Best Colleges, once again finds Providence College in familiar and prestigious company. Providence is ranked #2 in the north region’s “Best Universities – Master’s” category – the designation for 572 universities nationwide offering a full range of undergraduate and master’s programs.

In one “key criteria in judging schools” – graduation rate – Providence ranks highest among its peer institutions nationwide, with an average graduation rate of 85 percent. Villanova University of Pennsylvania also reported an 85 percent graduation rate.

This ranking in the popular annual college guide marks the tenth consecutive year Providence has been ranked as one of the top two universities in the north region. Providence shared the #1 position with Villanova University of Pennsylvania in 1998 and was ranked #2 in the eight other annual editions of the guide from 1997-2005.

This year’s “peer assessment” ranking places Providence College among the top 20 in the group of 572 “best universities – master’s” institutions nationwide. “We’re pleased to know that our peer institutions have consistently recognized Providence College ’s commitment to academic excellence,” notes Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. He adds, “We’ve always believed in the transforming nature of our Catholic, liberal arts education. We’re gratified when external sources trusted by students and their parents independently validate that mission.”

According to U.S. News, “the peer assessment survey allows the top academics we contact – presidents, provosts, and deans of admission – to account for intangibles such as faculty dedication to teaching.” Providence has consistently maintained a score of 3.7 on a 1.0 (marginal) – 5.0 (distinguished) scale.

Providence ’s #2 ranking among the 165 schools in the north region is a combination of several weighted factors that U.S. News uses to evaluate more than 1,400 colleges and universities and rank them among their peers. These include analysis of peer assessment scores, average freshman retention rate, average graduation rate, percentage of classes under 20, the student/faculty ratio, SAT/ACT scores, freshmen high school class standings, acceptance rate, and average alumni giving rate.

Providence also is listed among the top 15 schools in its category offering the “best value” which relates a school’s academic quality to the net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of financial aid. “The higher the quality of the program and the lower the cost, the better the deal,” explain guide editors.
I can personally vouch for the quality of the education, the lack of overt politicization in the History Department and the cost/benefit ratio! Of course, for the younger student, there is also good news of a different variety as PC ranks #2 in another important college category that is inherently important in the social education of our young adults: Beer Consumption!