Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

New site for old book review

Last year, I wrote a review of Anne Norton’s Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, which was posted on a website that has recently fallen into disuetude. Thanks to the good offices of Ashbrook’s Ben Kunkel, my orphan book review has a new home.

Alito Confirmed as 110th Supreme

The final vote was 58-42:
CNN Wire Report.

SOTU tonight

Take the quiz. Win valuable prizes.

Conservative editorial pages

These folks are compiling a list. Drop them a line if they’ve missed a paper.

Cloture on Alito

72 - 25. Reuters can’t bring itself to mention the actual tally. Here and here are the most complete stories I can find.

Update: Here’s the roll call, courtesy of Southern Appeal. Democrats voting for cloture include all the "red staters" (except Reid), Lieberman, Kohl of Wisconsin, both Senators from Hawaii, Salazar of Colorado, Carper of Delaware, and Cantwell of Washington. If I’m not mistaken, Kohl is the only SJC Democrat to vote for cloture. All the Democratic members of the "Gang of 14" voted for cloture (which explains Inouye and Salazar). There’s more analysis here.

Blackwell ahead in Ohio

Sometimes it’s not the facts that makes a story interesting. We have known the facts in this story for a while. It’s the publication of it that is interesting. Timing is everything. An Ohio GOP Poll "in the race for governor shows that Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has opened a 10-point lead over Attorney General Jim Petro among likely GOP primary-election voters," according to the Columbus Dispatch. Read the article and tell me that you don’t get the feeling that the Petro camp is in a bad way (in a free fall, panic, slow moving train, as you please). Look, they spent about a million and half bucks running TV ads trying to show the conservative side of Petro. Did these ads work, do Petro’s numbers go up? Then Montgomery pulls out. Do Petro’s numbers go up now? What do you do if the answer is "no" to each question. Now, if you look at the article with a bit more care than you normally might, tell me if Petro is not beginning to attack Blackwell for being a (social) conservative, and even calls himself a moderate? Now that’s a sign of desperation, is it not? And then Bob Bennett, the chairman of the Ohio GOP, says that he did not ask either man at this meeting of the GOP Central Committee to quit the campaign? Would he ask someone who is leading in the polls? On the other hand, Bennett says that he wants to avoid "costly and rancorous battle between two of his party’s stars," as the article puts it.

Add all that up, and I will say you conclude that Petro’s train has a hard time leaving the station, or, if it’s left, is already stopping at every station along the way. Huckleberry trains are too slow. I think Petro’s finished, and at their next meeting the CEO of the Ohio GOP, Bob Bennett, will ask him to pull out.

Abusive Feminism

Much could be said about this piece by Maggie Gallagher concerning the two extremes that result from a culture ladeled in the orthodoxies of feminism. It reminds me of a Wall Street Journal editorial--more than a decade old--lamenting the removal of moral "guard-rails" and the devastating effects this sort of libertine ethic had on the poor. Read the article and comment if you wish. I find it all too sad. We can only hope that Gallagher’s favorable juxtaposition of Kate O’Bierne to Kate Michelman proves lasting and true.

Confirming the Obvious

Yet another study does exactly that.

Denmark and Muslims

Good morning. Because the Danish government will not act against a newspaper, or apologize for the satirical cartoon it published, Libya has closed its embassy in Copenhagen. Some other Muslims are deeply offended. Boycotts are talked about. This is serious. Main news for this Monday morning.

Reeves on Reagan

Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist kindly mentions my book on the rise of Reagan in his New York Times Book Review piece on Richard Reeves’ new book, President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination.

Both the review and Reeves’ book are pretty good. (I read Reeves’ book over the Christmas holidays.) Reeves is an old liberal of the New Deal variety, and though he makes clear he doesn’t agree with Reagan’s ideology, he says he shares Reagan’s attachment to American exceptionalism, which is the key dividing line between right and left today, as most liberals today are uncomfortable with American exceptionalism. It says a lot in favor of Reeves that he has raised his overall estimation of Reagan. In 1979 he wrote in Esquire magazine an article called "Why Reagan Won’t Make It," and then in 1983 he published a book called The Reagan Detour, arguing Reagan was a mere interlude between liberal hegemony in American politics.

I debated Reeves back in 1994 in Santa Barbara, and twitted him about these two publications, but overall I found him enormously likeable and fair-minded, which comes out for the most part in his new and more favorable revision of Reagan.

The page before the Wooldridge review (if you have the dead-tree version of the book review) contains a nasty and unfair hack job of a review of Don Critchlow’s fine book on Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly ranks up next to Joe McCarthy for the ability to make liberals start frothing at the mouth. Good for Don for getting reviewed in the Times, I suppose, but despite Sam Tanenhaus’s worthy efforts to balance the book review, it still fall short now and then as this review makes clear.


David Warren thinks that the victory of Hamas, "the openly terrorist party" is kind of clarifying: The vast majority of Palestinians want Israel driven into the sea. Probably true. Yet, Warren doesn’t tell us what to do now. Inj a soft piece, Fareed Zakaria thinks we shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were. He thinks we will be surprised again, unless we start supporting the liberal, secular groups. That sort of goes without saying, but in the case of the Palestinians, what has become clear is that they are less interested inh having their own state than in ending the state of Israel.

The Belmont Club says that following the money will not necessarily make you into an optimist. Sixty percent of the Palestinian Authority’s money comes from foreign donors (see his chart), with $368 million coming from the U.S. and $ 338 from the European Union. He notes that since November ’05, the European Union has witheld
$42 million in aid payments to the PA as punishment for missed fiscal targets. That, combined with Fatah having padded its payroll with young militants to win their votes ahead of the polls, and you are at the start of a bankrupt "government." Read the whole of it to see what they he is driving at. Is it possible that Bush will hold fast on not deal with Hamas and be able to hold the Europeans, the U.N., as well as Jordan and Egypt, with him? Can they support Israel, and demand that the government ruled by Hamas accept the prior Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements? Hard decisions will have to be made. The hard distinctions between democracy and justice, still have to be worked out. We can incline them in a certain direction based on their interests, but they will--somehaow--have to walk the last miles by themselves, in their own way. I hope that walk will not include a civil war. Khaled Meshal, speaking from Damscus, said
asked the world to respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people -- which he called an example for the Arab and Muslim world. And then, this:

"The world raised the slogan of democracy, and now it should respect the results of democracy. If you want to punish the Palestinian people for practicing democracy, then the American administration should punish Americans for choosing President Bush." Hard work, all this, but I haven’t thrown in the towel yet. Also note this.

Politics as positioning

The Dems’ Left is pushing and shoving everyone around, by of preparing their party to lose in 2008. So Hillary will vote in favor of a filibuster against Alito tomorrow to show everyone that she is a woman of the Left. This is a good move on her part because, of course, her vote is meaningless, and she knows it. But today she is in San Francisco trying explain why she voted in favor of the war, a more meaningful vote than the one she will cast tomorrow. Code Pink may still not be impressed. Meanwhile, also in California, the famous and serious and articulate peace activist (is that what I should call her?) Cindy Sheehan is threatening to run against Dianne Feinstein because she voted for the war: "She voted for the war. She continues to vote for the funding. She won’t call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops...I think our senator needs to be held accountable for her support of George Bush and his war policies." (But note that Sheehan can be critical of Clinton, as well.) A spokesman for Feinstein said she "doesn’t support George Bush and his war policies." And Bush, according to some, has latched unto the NSA issue and made it his own, so far to his advantage.

A book on France?

I’m not a Garrison Keillor fan by any means (actually, haven’t heard him in over ten years, didn’t know he is still around), but this review of Bernard-Henry Levy’s American Vertigo is very funny, and judging by the Atlantic articles I read that became the book, on the money. 

Ivan’s War

A review of two books on the Red Army in the Times Literary Supplement.

Good Goliath

Rich Lowry reviews Michael Mandelbaum’s, The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the 21st Century. Mandelbaum is a liberal, who might overstate some aspects of U.S. internationalism. Example, we provide "public goods", security, economic stability, etc., to the world in much the same way a government provides these things to its citizens. Yet, Lowry writes that the book is important and even wise for it reminds everyone (should be required reading in France and Germany?) how important U.S. power is, and how good it is to have a bipartisan consensus in favor of it.

"But the core of Mandelbaum’s case -- that U.S. power is so important to the world that the international order would badly fray without it -- is provocative and valuable, given how pervasive the notion has become at home and abroad that the United States is the world’s parasite, or predator, or both. Strained analogies aside, Mandelbaum’s analysis is generally sure-footed and often original."

Tunnels and dangers

The discovery of a 2,400 yard tunnel from a warehouse in Mexico to one in the U.S. a few days ago was dramatic. Although this half-mile tunnel is not the first that has been discovered, it is the longest. This was not made by a couple of guys with spoons. Then add the incident of men in military type uniforms (said to be Mexican military, by some observers and reporters) unloading marijuana from an SUV in broad daylight within the U.S., and the mind begins to focus. Border security and illegal immigration will become political issues for the 2006 elections and beyond.

The boring Left

Sam Graham-Felsen writes a long and boring article in The Nation titled, "The New Face of the Campus Left." Kind of a rah-rah-rah, we’re finally getting organized, by something called Campusprogress, from the living-wage campaign (cleverly renamed the 1 John 3 Campaign when it wasn’t getting anywhere; it still isn’t), to anti-war, to guilt-free caffeine. It’s all kind of pathetic, really. This sentence near the start of the story amused me; they really want to pretend that university campuses are not overwhelmingly liberal: "The assumption that America’s campuses are impenetrable bastions of liberalism--where left-leaning faculty predominate, progressive student activism flourishes and conservatism is fiercely marginalized--still rules the day. But in reality, since the 1970s the conservative movement has become the dominant political force on many American campuses." Since the 1970’s? Are you kidding? I could help figure out their meaning with the following example. The day we went into Iraq a dozen or so Ashland faculty (all my age, have been on the Left their whole life, I am betting) picketed against the war on the corner of Claremont and College. The next day a dozen or so students were picketing in favor of the war. Still no students on the anti-war side. What is most irritating to the Left professors--the ones that dominate the humanities and social sciences--and The Nation mag, is that they are not persuading the youth. They are there, but they can’t reproduce themselves. Frustration sets in and the result is a focus on guilt-free coffee and other such serious causes.

IPod degree from iTunes U?

Apple has launched something called iTunes U. Not sure I like it, but we have crossed another line. We know you can get a degree on-line, but now your degree will be portable; get it on an iPod. You can now listen to lectures on your iPod, and, I suppose, the degree will be an iBA. Not that I don’t like my iPod; I just finished listening to Huck Finn, and it was either lighting out for the Territory or listening to Tom Sawyer. I chose the latter. Listen to this, as Tom reflects on his captivity:

"Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged."

Propositions and axioms

Alexander Hamilton starts Federalist 31 like this:

"IN DISQUISITIONS of every kind there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend. These contain an internal evidence which, antecedent to all reflection or combination, commands the assent of the mind."

And he continues by noting this:

"Of this nature are the maxims in geometry that the whole is greater than its part; that things equal to the same are equal to one another; that two straight lines cannot enclose a space; and that all right angles are equal to each other."

More could be said on self-evident truths, but note Lincoln’s use of Euclid in a letter to H.L. Pierce, just before he famously writes "All honor to Jefferson."

"But soberly, it is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.

One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. And yet they are denied, and evaded, with no small show of success. One dashingly calls them "glittering generalities" another bluntly calls them ’self evident lies’ and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to ’superior races.’"

All this brought to mind by this short article on Pythagoras. Why do I read Physicsweb? Playing cath-up, flunked physics a couple of times in college. Along with Lincoln, I also regret my want of education, and do what I can to supply the want. Also see this.

Podcast advice

A reader sends this advice on how to connect to our Podcasts, for those who don’t fully understand. I quote him in full, hoping this helps.

When clicking on the "subscribe" link for the podcasts on the
Ashbrook website, a page comes up
with XML code (which is basically a bunch of
gibberish), and the following directions are

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST, then please copy the URL from the address bar
window above, and paste it into the subscription function of your podcast

However, some people might not know what to do after copying the URL from
the address bar. Here are the step-by-step instructions of what to do

1.) Open iTunes
2.) On the left hand side of iTunes, click on the tab entitled "Podcasts"
3.) At the top of the window (iTunes), click on the tab called "Advanced"
4.) Scroll down to the button called "Subscribe to Podcast..."
5.) Paste the URL from the address bar into the window which comes up. There
are two ways to paste something: push and hold the "control" key on the
keyboard, and then hit "v"; or just right click with the mouse and click on
6.) The podcast will then be put into your list of podcasts within iTunes.
Double click on the podcast, and iTunes will download it. The longer the
podcast, the more time it will take to download. However, that time is
virtually insubstantial.
7.) This should be all that is needed to be done. Enjoy!

Military chaplains

Get Religion calls our attention to this story about military chaplains and the free exercise of religion.

The temptation is to regard military and legislative chaplaincy as somehow equivalent, but they’re not. The latter can readily be assimilated under the somewhat problematical rubric of "ceremonial deism." The former is essential to provide for the free exercise of religion for soldiers who serve their country in places where they don’t readily have access to their own churches. Calling for purely "sectarian" prayer is a harder (but not impossible) case to make in the first instance. In the second, while a chaplain signs on to minister to people of all faiths, he or she also plays a traditional pastoral and ministerial role. Praying in Jesus’ name is part and parcel of that for those who feel called to do so. Prohibiting or discouraging that limits their free exercise of religion. Accommodating it doesn’t amount to an establishment by any reasonable definition.

Filibustering Alito

HRC has joined John Kerry’s posse, demonstrating the importance of the Kos-sack base to presidential aspirants. We need to remember this in 2008, and to remember, as well, that Kerry and Clinton seem not to be overly concerned with the prospect of winning a Senate majority in 2006. They’re willing to trade the adulation of that base for the possibility of commanding enough votes in the Senate to prevent in ’07 and ’08 all the damage that they now say President Bush can do to the country and the Constitution. These are not serious human beings; they’re poseurs.

Robert Kagan is not a Straussian

Contrary to what a lot of people say, including the execrable Anne Norton, who should know better, Robert Kagan persuasively affirms that he is not a Straussian. I still like his writing and many of his opinions, which seem to me more incisive and better informed than his opinions about Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom, and Straussianism.

Hat tip: Scott Johnson at Power Line.

Statements of faith

I was reminded this week of the story of Joshua Hochschild, the erstwhile Wheaton College professor, who was terminated when he converted to Roman Catholicism. Wheaton, an evangelical school, says that Roman Catholicism is inconsistent with its statement of faith. Hochschild begs to differ, not because he thinks Wheaton should be tolerant, but because as he understands Roman Catholicism, he could in good conscience have continued to sign the statement of faith.

I read a bit of the early commentary on the Hochschild kerfuffle, but didn’t have the energy then, in the early stages of my recovery, to write anything.

The more common, and essentially uninteresting, response to Hochschild’s termination is to invoke the shade of academic freedom, identifying liberal education simply with untrammeled inquiry and arguing that any statement of faith is illiberal, retrogressive, intolerant, and hence contrary to the goals of education, properly understood. This conventional wisdom reflexively and uncritically identifies the goals of education with the goals of progressivism. It denies the possibility that an educational community could be organized around the preservation and exploration of a truth revealed in the past.

A rather more interesting line of argument begins from the claim that statements of faith like Wheaton’s may well serve to exclude Catholics, but has a harder time ruling out liberalizing and ultimately secularizing tendencies within evangelicalism. An exclusive reliance on Scripture, so the argument goes, isn’t necessarily proof against "creative" interpretations of Scripture. A statement of faith that accommodates Jim Wallis but excludes J.R.R. Tolkien isn’t a good guardian of orthodoxy.

The current issue of the AAUP’s journal Academe has several articles devoted to this theme. One simply identifies liberal democratic citizenship with tolerance and denies that communities that make faith demands of their members can cultivate it. I’d like a little more nuance, please. Another defends a pluralism of academic communities against the hegemony of liberal tolerance.

Most interesting, however, is this piece, written by a Calvin College philosophy professor:

A religious community is formed by a creed that affirms what that community takes to be the best distillation we have to date of the truth that has been delivered to us about ourselves and the world in which we live. In it, we derive a sense of our origin and destiny, our condition before God, our status in the universe, the virtues that befit a human being, and the basis of human hope and solidarity. We do not take this body of belief to be the simple product of human reflection, poetic invention, psychological need, or social interests. Rather, we take it to be a response to God’s self-disclosure, delivered to us through the agency of the church, so that our ignorance about fundamental matters might be overcome. We receive it gratefully, as one would receive a map and compass in the wilderness.

Clearly, the acceptance of a creed is not irrelevant to the aims of the academy. The academy is dedicated to the pursuit of truth. In expressing and aligning our beliefs about fundamental matters, the creeds—if they are right—can enhance our ability to track the truth about the rest of the world. That is, they can enhance our positive freedom to know the truth by removing a key internal constraint: our striking ignorance of how things stand concerning the ultimate status of God, ourselves, and the world we inhabit. The creeds can therefore be seen as an academic asset, not a liability, as an intellectual resource, not a restriction.

There’s more in the article and in the issue. I have additional reflections about this general issue that I’ll save for another post.

Von Heyking’s fifteen seconds

Peter and I have both noted Al Gore’s characteristically intemperate comments about the Canadian election. So has the WSJ’s James Taranto, as you’ll see if you scroll to the last item. And if you look at his acknowledgements below that, you’ll find JvH’s name. This puts JvH in the quite rarefied company of David Foster, whose post on Mark Twain and the Middle East attracted similar attention from the master of the snark.

All hail von Heyking and Foster!

Update: In the comments, we’ve moved from congratulating JvH and DF to debating the role of intellectuals in Canadian politics. Inquiring minds want to know: is Michael Ignatieff a potential philosopher-king?

There He Goes Again...

While attending the Sundance Film Festival yesterday, Al Gore accused Canadian Prime Minister-elect Stephen Harper of being "an ultra-conservative" who won the election because the oil industry "poured a lot of money and support behind" Harper. This despite the fact that Canadian law prevents corporations from donating more than $1000 per year to a political party and holds individuals to $5000 per year. Furthermore, Gore asserts that the issue of the oil companies’ influence didn’t get much press during the election because "media concentration has taken a toll on democratic principles around the world, and Canada is no exception."

Senate elections

Larry Sabato on the upcoming
Senate races. "It will be a surprise if 2006 is not a Democratic year, with the only question being how Democratic." His details are more interesting than such an overly careful statement considering the history of the "six year itch" in the the Senate, but file it and we’ll talk about it later. An L.A. Times Poll finds Bush’s popularity sinking to 43% and "he faces widespread discontent over his job performance and the nation’s direction that could threaten his party in the 2006 election." Sure, just note that Ron Brownstein is the writer. More later. Tough day.

Breyer on the First Amendment

Howard Friedman calls our attention to this report of Justice Stephen Breyer’s view of the First Amendment religion clauses. Two telling snippets:

Author of Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution, published last fall, Breyer said that justices have “six possible places to look” when deciding on a case.

He then cited the text of the Constitution, the history, the tradition, precedent, the purpose or values that underlie the text and the consequences to those values. He said that some justices emphasize the first four more than the latter two, and vice versa.

“One of the things that is very difficult to me,” Breyer said, is determining “what precisely are the values that underlie” the Establishment Clause, which states that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.

The idea behind the language “comes out of the wars of religion” between Catholics and Protestants in 17th-century Europe, he said, noting that the writers of the Constitution wanted only to ensure that Americans could practice their religion and teach it to their children.

Of course, those, er, values have lost their mooring, such as it ever was, in history:

The interpretation of the Establishment Clause has evolved in the 20th century, as the country changed and immigrants introduced dozens of new religions into the United States.

“The Founders did engage in a lot of activities that would be forbidden today under … current interpretations of the Establishment Clause,” said Breyer, because they lived in a generally homogenous nation.

As the nation has changed, the court’s view of the Establishment Clause has changed, but Breyer believes it has still stayed true to the original values that the Founders intended.

It sounds to me like, for Breyer, values and consequences overshadow text, history, and tradition by a wide margin, with precedent serving as an authority so long as it squares with one’s contextual assessment of those wonderfully plastic values.

Rosie and Al and Michael on Canada

Our friends at The Politic have a delicious post about the reactions of the American Left to the Canadian election.

Our other Canadian friend, John von Heyking, sends along this link and asks, "Who is this person, ’Al Gore’?" An interesting example of Gore’s mindset from the article is here:

Gore believes the issue of the oilsands and the sway he contends the industry holds with Harper didn’t garner news coverage during the election because "media concentration has taken a toll on democratic principles around the world, and Canada is no exception."

Now let me get this straight. The Tories won because of media concentration? Huh? Had it not been for the efforts of bloggers--one in particular, if Glenn Reynolds is to be believed--the Canadian MSM would likely have given the Liberals a free pass on their scandals.

Podcast, You Americans!

To my delight, I recently discovered that I can listen to books on my iPod while I walk with my dog. I then discovered that I can listen to lectures, talks, news programs, and other such stuff. Well, because there are so many benefits and uses to which Podcasts can be put, we decided to do it. The Ashbrook Center’s podcasting takes three forms. First, there is my weekly You Americans podcast. I will have a short conversation with someone interesting at least once a week. Conversations with Robert Alt and Bill Kristol are now up. Second, we are making available Ashbrook Events, lectures and seminars, in podcast form. We will add new ones each week. Talks by Karl Rove and Steve Hayward are now up. Third, we also have the Teaching American History Podcast in which we make available seminars conducted with high school teachers. Ones by James McPherson and David Hackett Fischer are now up. One of the great benefits of all this is that unlike with streaming audio, you can burn these talks onto a CD, and, you can play it on your MP3 player as you swagger down the street with your handsome lab. If you get it, you can access all three poscasts here. And if you don’t know what podcasts are, go here first.

Japanese internment

Ken Masugi has a very good paragraph on the Japanese relocation question that brought to my attention a worthy book on the question by Brian Hayashi (follow Ken’s good links). The Niihau island incident is especially interesting.

Hillary’s problem

This is the new Gallup Poll that I don’t hear anyone talking about. I wonder why? Because 51% of the respondents said that they would never vote for her. Now, if I were a Democrat interested in running for the presidency (say a former governor of Virginia, whom even George Allen praises) this poll would become my battle cry: Hillary can’t be elected, we must stop her from winning the primary, vote for me. It might work. Yet the money and the MSM attention will (is) flow to her.

Churchill and War

Geoffrey Best’s Churchill and War just landed on my desk. Just the kind of interruptions I like!

Noonan on Bush

Peggy Noonan admires President Bush, but wishes he’d be a little more like (dare I say it?) Richard Nixon on a good day.

In the course of her column, she also calls attention to a few things he said in this speech. He twice uses the expression "natural rights" in a way that is intelligible and intelligent. So far as I can tell, he has only used this expression once before, in his speech at Goree Island, Senegal. Am I right about this?

The man bleeds ink

I am, and have always been, in awe of Peter Lawler’s productivity. Here’s a piece on "Tocqueville at 200," on which you can comment here.


If Hamas has won, it is bad news indeed. The Belmont Club thinks that this will make it more likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will become Israel’s next prime minister. Also see Oxblog. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Everyone was talking about how to deal with Hamas as a large minority after the elections. That was problem enough. Now, a party who thinks that Islam (as they understand it, i.e., no Muslim can believe in the existence of Israel) is the solution will govern. Is it possible that they will moderate themslves? Probably not.

NSA roundup again

The President visited the NSA headquarters yesterday and made this speech.

Democrats are increasingly critical of the program, maneuvering to hold multiple hearings in the House and Senate. I think the winner here will be the Bush Administration.

It Was Only a Matter of Time

The reductio ad absurdam of the culture war was reached with this AP headline today:

"Bush Says He Hasn’t Seen ’Brokeback Mountain.’"

Stay tuned for equally compelling and important news stories, such as: "Bush Hasn’t Seen ’The Vagina Monologues." Subhed: "But He Once Snuck Into ’Last Tango in Paris’ as a Youth."

U.S. and India

This article is interesting.

Promoting democracy abroad

Despite the efforts of the WaPo reporter, the glass looks half-full to me.

NSA round-up

I didn’t get to this yesterday, but the Bush Administration is making an exceptional effort to promote its side of the argument in the warrantless wiretapping brouhaha. You can read about it here, here, here, and here.

Update: There’s more about Alberto Gonzales’ speech at Georgetown here and here. You can listen to it here.

Lawler on Roe

Over at TAE Online, Peter Lawler and I are on the same page. He works his way through a comparison of Roe, Brown, and Dred Scott, concluding as follows:

Roe settled nothing because its result finds so little resonance in our nation’s political and philosophical currents (speculating on whether Washington or Jefferson or Lincoln would be pro-choice or pro-life just doesn’t get us very far). Roe remains controversial because abortion is genuinely and fundamentally controversial for us in a way that no Court decision could resolve. And the only way to keep the Court from becoming overly politicized by that controversy, from continuing to lose the legitimacy that comes from appearing merely to interpret the Constitution, as Scalia writes, is for it to get out of the abortion business.

But the American people and their elected representatives should, as result of Roe’s reversal, be politicized by our controversy over abortion. They, under our Constitution, have no choice but to decide for themselves whether and to what extent the life of an unborn baby (or fetus, to remain impartial) trumps the women’s right to choose an abortion. For the other branches of government, the state legislatures, and the people themselves to let the Court get away with Roe would be a massive evasion of moral and political responsibility. It’s a tribute to our people that they elected a President whom they knew would appoint justices who would vote to return that responsibility to them.

Read the whole thing.

Gay marriage in Maryland again

I couldn’t resist picking at the Maryland gay marriage decision in this week’s TAE Online column.

Update: Michael DeBow takes note of this WaPo article detailing political upheavals in Maryland occasioned by Judge Murdock’s decision.

Update #2: Virginia will have a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot this fall as a proposed constitutional amendment, while Republicans in Maryland are still maneuvering to put the issue before the voters.

The hockey mom’s and Canada

John von Heyking reflects on the elections in Canada. While it is not a regime change, it means this:

"Canadians can expect changes in the ways government is held accountable and minor changes in taxes and healthcare, but no changes to social policy including same-sex marriage and abortion. With the Bloc, the Conservatives will try to decentralize some powers to the provinces. Positive changes will occur in foreign and defense policy, as the Conservatives will attempt to repair Canada-US relations and to start the process of returning the once world-class Canadian military to international prominence."

John’s essay is the most clear and most comprehensive article on the meaning of the election avaliable. Please read all of it.   


Fred Baumann writes, profoundly and compellingly, about Mozart, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of his birth. A taste:

[L]istening to Mozart calls to mind (and in some ways turns you into) a certain kind of person, a more complicated sort than we mostly go in for today. Not a redemptive Wagnerian hero or cynical slacker, not a high-minded virtuoso of compassion and/or righteous indignation, not a "realist" or an "idealist," but someone who both acknowledges, lives in, accepts the viewpoint of, and participates in, all human feelings--even the ugly ones, as we see in the marvelous revenge arias given to the Count, Dr. Bartolo, and Figaro--but who also, in the end, maintains as sovereign the viewpoint of rationality and order. (That is why, in their own ways, all three of those arias are come-dic, even the Count’s, which is also partly genuinely scary.)

In invoking, and to some degree creating, such a person, Mozart implicitly makes a kind of moral case, a case for how we should live. It is not "aesthetic" in the sense of replacing the moral with formal beauty; it is much closer to what we find in Shakespeare’s Tempest or Measure for Measure; i.e., models of a kind of control of the passions that gives them their due. Yet it is presented aesthetically, not through argument or exhortation.


For more on Mozart, go here and here.

Harvard’s gen ed reforms

You can join an on-line conversation about Harvard’s proposed gen ed reforms, about which I fulminated here. It’s highly unlikely that we outsiders can affect Harvard’s plans, but we can perhaps prevent them from being widely influential.

Ohio as the holy grail for Dems, and then there is Ken

Joe Klein thinks that the Democratic primary battle in Ohio for the right to try to defeat Republican U.S. Senator Mike DeWine is the most interesting thing he could talk about. It is a race between Paul Hackett, the new darling of the hopeful Dems who fall flat on his face, and the "a traditional lunch-pail-liberal Congressman named Sherrod Brown," who will win the primary. O.K., but the real story is in the Ohio GOP, and how it will maintain power in the state by re-grouping and becoming more conservative. It will do that with Ken Blackwell (running for governor), whom Steven Malanga calls "Ronald Reagan’s unlikely heir." For Malanga, Blackwell "represents a new political calculus with the power to shake up American politics." Read the article, please.   

Intelligent Design Debate

For folks in the Atlanta metro area, this program, featuring, among others, William Dembski and Michael Ruse, may be of interest.

Old fashioned racial pandering

Shelby Steele considers Hillary’s "plantation" speech. I hope she reads it.

Canada’s West and the election

Yesterday I said that if Harper is elected in Canada he would be the first Westerner. I was wrong, as a number of readers (thanks John and Tom, for example) have pointed out. Here is one e-mail:

"Stephen Harper would be Canada’s 6th PM from Western
Canada and second from Calgary, Alberta (Richard Bennett was PM from

However, you’re right to hypothesize that he may very well be the 1st PM
from the West of any consequence in Canadian history. The last three,
John Turner (from Vancouver, 1984), Kim Campbell (Vancouver, 1993), and
Joe Clark (rural Alberta, 1979-80), held minority governments that
failed to last longer than 18 months while the other one, John
Diefenbaker (from Saskatchewan, 1957-63) is considered more of a blip in
a century of mostly Liberal (and eastern) rule."

Von Heyking on NPR

For those who are interested, John von Heyking will be appearing on the Cleveland NPR radio station at 9:00am this morning. For those in the Cleveland area, it is 90.3 on your radio. For the rest of you, you can listen live from their website.

Save the date

The annual Oglethorpe-Berry conference will be held at Oglethorpe on Thursday, March 2nd. The centerpiece of the day will be a debate, held in the late afternoon, between Jerry Weinberger and Jim Stoner. Other details will follow.

Y’all come.


Kathleen Parker writes that Hillary’s "soul-sister moment" was "like watching a whiffed high-five, embarrassing as watching middle-aged white guys playing air guitar. Stop it." Read it all. I like Parker. A pretty woman who writes! Know wuddumsayin?

Morocco: Progress through Piety?

This Der Spiegel article on Morocco is worth a read. "Morocco’s 42-year-old King Mohammed VI has discovered religion as a means of modernizing his society -- and progress through piety seems to be the order of the day. By granting new rights to women and strengthening civil liberties, the ruler of this country of 30 million on Africa’s northern edge, which is 99 percent Muslim, plans to democratize Morocco through a tolerant interpretation of the Koran." (via Arts and Letters Daily). This short BBC piece is on one of the Berber languages. The Arabs call the Amazigh people Berbers. Berber means barbarian in Arabic, but Amazigh means free or noble in their own language. Berber is making a comeback and the ancient script of Tifinagh is being used to write a language that has been an oral tradition, mainly spoken by some Tuareg nomads. The Amazighs are now allowed (even encouraged) by Morocco’s laws to learn Tifinagh in schools. Progress.


This favorable book review of Sherwin B. Nuland’s Maimonides reminds me to say that I have read the book and also think it is a good introduction to the man and the endlessly fascinating times (and places) in which he lived. While Nuland’s book is not an attempt to understand Maimonides’s difficult mind, he touches on some core issues raised by him (as well as Averroes, Avicenna, and then Aquinas) regarding the connection between faith and reason. At least part of the three centuries represented by these minds came alive for me in reading Nuland’s book. And some passing facts stand out: There were 20,000 people in Marseilles in the first half of the fourteenth century and only five percent of them were Jewish. There were 23 physicians in the city, and 10 of them were Jewish. Why? Nuland (also a physician, as was Maimonides) explains. The reviewer says this is his favorite paragraph from Maimonides:

"There is a group of human beings who consider it a grievous thing that causes should be given for any law; what would please them most is that the intellect would not find a meaning for the commandments and prohibitions. What compels them to feel thus is a sickness that they find in their souls, a sickness to which they are unable to give utterance and of which they cannot furnish a satisfactory account. For they think that if those laws were useful in this existence and had been given to us for this or that reason, it would be as if they derived from the reflection and the understanding of some intelligent being. If, however, there is a thing for which the intellect could not find any meaning at all and that does not lead to something useful, it indubitably derives from God; for the reflection of man would not lead to such a thing. It is as if, according to these people of weak intellects, man were more perfect than his Maker; for man speaks and acts in a manner that leads to some intended end, whereas the Deity does not act thus but commands us to do things that are not useful to us and forbids us to do things that are not harmful to us."

Canadian elections

The polls in Canada seem to show that the Liberals might lose in a big way in tomorrow’s elections. The Conservative Stephen Harper, I believe, would be the first Prime Minister from the Canadian West. Harper is confident of victory. John von Heyking will explain it to us all once the votes are counted.

New mood in Old Europe?

New immigration policies, including the taking of examinations at the country of origin, are in place in the Netherlands. Other measures are being considered that would prevent "French situations": "One of these might be to establish military camps to discipline troublesome youths. There are 40,000 jobless youths in the Netherlands, who have left school without degrees. The majority of them is of foreign origin. Many become involved in criminal activities." Denmark is also tackling third world immigration. (Thanks to NRO).

They’re not just illiterate, they’re innumerate

If this article is any indication, many journalists are incapable of even the simplest math.

Boy problems again

Here’s an excellent article on why boys are often left behind in school.

Update: Newsweek has a big package on this issue, which, among other things, points out the importance of fathers (for whom uncles, mentors, Big Brothers, etc. are only imperfect substitutes).

Winning judicial script

Cass Sunstein reflects on the Roberts and Alito hearings and doesn’t like what he sees. The new "script" emphasizes "fidelity to law," which might get future Democratic nominees in trouble. Of course, he says, everything is much, much more complicated than that, but here’s the bottom line, as he sees it:

That process has been successfully un-Borked. If President Bush is able to fill other vacancies on the Supreme Court, the right script is firmly in place. And if Democratic presidents are able to fill future vacancies, their nominees may well run into trouble, because it will be easy to characterize them as wanting to "add to the Constitution or subtract from the Constitution."

I shed no tears for Sunstein.

Daniel C. Dennett’s profession of faith(lessness)

One of America’s leading apostles of Darwinism shows that he’s a village atheist at heart. This is not profound or thought-provoking stuff.

Cold War

Rich Lowry on Gaddis’s The Cold War. He calls it a "crackling-good" book. Mark Almond, on the other hand, doesn’t really think that the Cold War is over and it is the West (i.e., America) that continues to beat up on the Russians. See what happened when the Russkies tried to cut off the flow of gas to Ukraine. Funny stuff, old habits.

America as a mystery and scandal

Joe brought to our attention Bernard-Henry Levy’s new book, and quoted from some of his interviews. I have read Levy; parts, maybe all, of the book appeared in The Atlantic over the past year or so. What I read only turned out to be mildly interesting, to my regret. The book still might be worth reading, but let me warn you that it is a not an untypical attempt by a European to instruct us, rather than learn about us or from us. I have written on these matters (not all of it is yet published) and will continue to write and publish more, but here is a short essay that I happen to like from a few years ago, The Ugly European. Certainly, I don’t mean to suggest that it is the comprehensive and true writing on the matter, nor that it is as finespun as Levy’s stuff. But it does note one big point that Levy doesn’t seem to get. Levy says that the mystery and scandal of America is that it is not based on blood and soil. Interesting way of putting it, don’t you think? I’d like to see him push and shove this around a bit more. In fact, the universal creed of the country is a self-evident truth (or at least a proposition). This is a mystery? Let us be clear that everyone from the beginning (including George III, in his insane kind of way) understood this. They may have mocked it and thought it wrong, but they understood that this was indeed a new world, a new way of life, that these Americans were creating. And the offense taken (by even Frenchmen! think of how the Germans or the Russians or the Albanians....feel and think) is that this principle may well be applicable (as it really is) to them! Is the scandal the rolling together of the mystery, and will, as he calls it, for a person like Bernard-Henry Levy? America is in fact the only alternative to organic nations. Push on this for a bit, Mr. Levy, will you? Can you? The fact that Levy thinks in America Muslims (or any other nation, meant in the French sense of birth, that is, organic) are not asked to give up all aspects of their past identity (as they must in France) is the secondary point. That is, the nations are only asked to give up the most important--the critical--aspect of their former identity to become Americans and American citizens: Give up whatever allegiance you have had to foreign princes and potentates; the rest you can keep. Note that you choose to do this. You don’t grow into it, the way my mother loves palacsinta, or sheds tears on hearing Hungarian verse, or could take pride in Joe Namath throwing a football. That’s all fine. But it has nothing to do with the moral, the natural, the American thing. I am not sure whether Levy has learned anything from his travels. I’ll read the book, just in case. I don’t want to miss anything.

DiIulio on Republicans

John J. DiIulio, Jr. analyzes Republican challenges and offers the following predictions:

When in political trouble, Bush has a proven presidential knack for binding an intraparty conservative coalition, finding the public center, and occupying it with novel policy ideas and actions that leave Democrats either divided or nonplussed. His 2006 State of the Union Address will begin to reverse his 2005 political slide.

Unified Republican government will continue to split conservatives, but most political media mavens will continue to peddle the usual pat stories about left-right, red-blue partisan warfare and miss the more interesting intraparty stories.

A New Democrat will win the presidency in 2008, but not by much, not with coattails that carry Democrats into majority status in Congress, and not for reasons reflecting any new realities or fundamental shifts in the body politic.

And finally, the pundits will nonetheless dress the next Democratic presidential victory in some silly new conventional wisdom ("New Blue Nation"? "The Bush Backlash"?) that will be widely forgotten, save by academic nerds or curmudgeons like me, before the decade is out.

Which New Democrat? Mark Warner? Any other suggestions?

Gay marriage in Maryland

A judge has struck down Maryland’s ban on gay marriage. She had the good sense, however, to stay the effect of her ruling, pending an appeal.

The largest immediate impact of the decision will likely be political, as it will galvanize the Republican base and help Governor Robert Ehrlich (R) win reelection and perhaps even Michael Steele. While Republicans would like to put a constitutional amendment before the voters this fall, the Democrats who control the state legislature are unlikely to permit it.

Here’s the opinion, along with other relevant information.

Hearts and minds

This is not a hide-bound bureaucracy incapable of change.

Bernard-Henry Levy on America

I first encountered Bernard-Henry Levy as the author of Barbarism with a Human Face, a nouvelle philosophe who discovered, flamboyantly albeit belatedly, that Marxism produced immense human suffering. He was once on a panel in Toronto with Allan Bloom, who caught his attention by declaring that there was but a short distance between asserting a "Jewish Question" and devising a "final solution."

Well, never far from the limelight, Mr. Levy (BHL, as everyone calls him apparently), is at it again, this time self-consciously following in Tocqueville’s footsteps to write American Vertigo. The book sounds interesting, at least if these interviews are to be believed. Here are a couple of telling snippets from the WSJ interview (the more substantive of the two):

"In France, with the nation based on roots, on the idea of soil, on a common memory . . . the very existence of America is a mystery and a scandal." This is a particular source of pain, Mr. Lévy says, for "the right." Contrary to what is thought generally, he insists, anti-Americanism "migrated to the left, to the Communist Party, but its origins are on the extreme right." America gives the French right "nightmares," as the country is based on "a social contract. America proves that people can gather at a given moment and decide to form a nation, even if they come from different places." The "ghost that has haunted Europe for two centuries"--and which gives fuel, to this day, to anti-Americanism there--"is America’s coming together as an act of will, of creed. It shows that there is an alternative to organic nations."

These are important insights, and surely gratifying to an American. But is this the whole picture, I ask. Isn’t today’s French gauche--and the European left as embodied by Gerhard Schröder and Spain’s Zapatero, to name but two leading offenders--more than just a passive inheritor of a right-wing anti-Americanism? Why this insistence--and Mr. Lévy does, sometimes, protest too much--on anti-Americanism as a sort of rightist Original Sin? Here, Mr. Lévy is evasive: "It is true of the left," he concedes, nodding his head in accord, but then checks himself: "It is partly true. . . . But you must see that in France you have the Gaullist tradition, which is strongly anti-American."

Would he say that Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist, is anti-American? "Chirac is pragmatic. When he plays chess, he plays with both black and white. He thinks two things at the same time, constantly. Mitterrand was like that, too." Ideology, suggests Mr. Lévy with more than a hint of lament, has given way to "pragmatism" in French politics, to cynicism. "The reign of ideologies in France was linked to the concept of revolution. As long as some believed in revolution, you had a distribution of ideologies." The moment when "the dream of revolution collapsed" --a dream of which Mr. Lévy once partook--ideology decamped from the battleground of French politics.


Mr. Lévy regards his own criticism of America not as anti-Americanism, but as tough love. He is an assiduous believer in America’s "manifest destiny," and expects this country, clearly, to uphold the highest standards--as he sees them. Some of these standards he would prescribe to France, in particular the American approach to citizenship. He contrasts the "model of Dearborn"--the Detroit suburb, home to significant numbers of contented Arab-Americans--with the "model of St. Denis," the Parisian banlieu where discontented Arab immigrants (never referred to as Arab-Frenchman) ran riot late last year. "What is good about America is that in order to be a citizen, you are not asked to resign from your former identity. You cannot tell Varadarajan or Lévy, ’You have to erase from your mind the ancestors you had.’ In France, we erase."

Here’s hoping that Jim Ceaser, author of Reconstructing America, will review it somewhere.

Reagan, Again

My take on Reagan’s First Inaugural Address, excerpted from my work-in-progress (The Age of Reagan (Vol. 2): Lion at the Gate, 1980-1989) is up over at The Corner.

Hopefully I’m still in time to ruin Fung’s dinner tonight.

Phonics Help!?

David’s post about teaching and jargon reminds me of my own immediate problem with my 1st grade daughter. We have reading contracts (which means that I have to sign off on the fact that she has done at least 15 minutes of reading each night). This is fine and we have been plodding along in the assigned readers without any real problem for months now. But because of her dilligence we are now at a level of reader that is beyond her phonics abilities and it is taking too long and getting frustrating for her. So I began combing my files for phonics programs or worksheets to help her over the bump. Nothing that is readily available is very good or what I’m looking for (blending sounds, word families, etc.). I don’t want a game or a gimmick--just plain old worksheets with lessons about the way letters work.

So I sought counsel from teachers. I’m telling you that I have a Master’s degree in political philosophy and I’d say that I’m reasonably competent in the English language. What kind of language are teachers using in their literature for each other? I have a catalog from a company that is supposed to be "fantastic" but I can’t read it. I tell them that I want to buy something to help my kid with reading and I’m willing to pay good money for it--but apparently you have to have a decoder ring or know the secret handshake! If anyone is a good teacher out there who knows something about this and can speak/write normal English, please guide me! Thanks!

Why Teachers Can’t Teach

Picking up the theme of our educational failures, George Will recently wrote this column on this oldish but still very fresh piece by Heather MacDonald, "Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach". MacDonald attended some classes in the nation’s top teacher education schools, where most of our teachers ultimately get their ideas about learning and teaching. MacDonald’s thesis is nicely summed by the slogan, “Anything but Knowledge”- as in multicultural sensitivity, metacognition, “critical thinking”, community building – anything but knowledge. Particularly good is MacDonald’s description of the vacuity of the classroom in which teachers don’t convey knowledge, but rather facilitate collaborative groups in constructing their own knowledge, and then share their feelings about what they have constructed in order to create trust and community. The essay is also a good guide to the awful jargon that now passes for thought about education. If this essay is accurate, the wonder is not that some students can’t perform complex literacy tasks, but that any of them can.

Kleinerman on necessity and the Constitution

Ben Kleinerman, whose work I discussed here, was kind enough to provide us with an extended reflection on how to apply the Civil War analogy to our current affairs. His piece is replete with interesting observations about necessity and the limits of law, and thus can productively be read in conjunction with Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s essay, discussed here.

A taste:

[W]e must seek a constitutional framework within the new ordinary politics, characterized by a permanent threat from asymmetric warfare, that preserves the executive discretionary powers necessary to secure us from such threats without either giving up too many rights for the sake of such security or allowing the discretionary activity to descend into a legal right to take any actions the president chooses. And I submit that we can find such a constitutional framework precisely by thinking of our Constitution as permitting a discretionary executive branch, watched over by a Congress that asks the question not whether the President has violated the law but whether the President has acted as necessity demands and no further. Such a framework empowers the President to take actions necessary for our preservation while preventing the abuse of such powers. It also prevents the legalization of such powers, a legalization with which we would not be comfortable were it not for the threat to our security.

Read the whole thing. 

And You Thought It Was Bad in College

Maybe this has something to do with it. California has a new exit exam requirement for all graduating seniors. The exam does not ask students to perform at grade level. The exam does not require what is commonly thought of as a "passing" grade for credit. Just 50% on a test that is about 2 or 3 grade levels below the mark! Students may take the test several times. Superintendent of Public Education in Los Angeles, Roy Romer, is bragging that now 80% of LA high school seniors have now passed both parts of the test! But that means 20% or 1 in 5 have NOT--CANNOT! This is from the LA Times story--sorry, the link requires registration: Overall, 80% of the district’s high school seniors have passed both parts of the test, up from 75% last fall. Nearly 6,000 Los Angeles seniors have yet to clear the exam hurdle." Incredibly, there are shrieks and howls from all the usual suspects about making the exam easier! Further, this is what gets top billing at the Times. Is it any wonder that the kids can’t pass a test with people like this running things?

Literacy on campuses

The bad news continues. Most college students "most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.

Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks."

Oh Happy Day Remembered

Today is the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, in which he declared that "in this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem."

The Wall Street Journal reminisces.

This Is Good News

I didn’t know Dave Barry has a blog! He does. And he is blogging about "24." Life is good.


DoJ on Presidential authority

The White Paper, which I haven’t yet had a chance to read, is here. Many other relevant documents are here. You can also read the NYT and WaPo stories on the White Paper.

Impeachable offense?

Ken Masugi calls our attention to this article, where the editing makes it seem like John Eastman is channeling Alexander Hamilton.

SCOTUS abortion decision

Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion for a unanimous Court is here (10 page pdf). WaPo story here. Commentary here.

Lincoln and Bush

My latest oped, on TAE Online, deals with "Lessons from Lincoln" and follows from Benjamin Kleinerman’s piece in the APSA’s Perspectives on Politics.

Update: Ben Kleinerman (with whom I had a drink at the last APSA, as we discovered as we exchanged emails) responds:

As a response to the article, I have two substantive points. First,
concerns the manner in which it is introduced: "Because such actions
weren’t uniformly popular, Lincoln was compelled to respond to his
critics." I would say that because such actions were outside the
typical bounds of the Constitution, Lincoln felt the Constitution
compelled their justification. Even if his actions had been uniformly
popular, Lincoln would still have felt that the Constitution compels
their public justification. This is what I was getting at in the
conclusion of my article: ’Lincoln did more than merely take those
actions necessary for the preservation of the Constitution; he also
publicly announced his reasons behind the constitutionally questionable
actions he took. In fact, it is only because of this that we can
discern the three lessons that I have drawn. Lincoln attempted to avert
the danger, suggested by the medicine metaphor, that the public will
become ’addicts’ of executive power, by trying to teach the public that
his questionable actions were acceptable only within the limits imposed
by the Constitution’s preservation’ (p.808-809). In other words,
precisely because of the people’s insufficient attachment to the
Constitution, it becomes the constitutional responsibility of a
prudential executive acting outside its bounds to preserve, through his
rhetoric, the superiority of the Constitution during the crisis.

As for the point that "The novelty of our current situation is that our
crisis seems to be open-ended", this seems exactly right and, I would
argue, requires us to beware of using the old notion of extraordinary
executive power as a response to an extraordinary situation as our
standard. In other words, the distinction between the ordinary and the
extraordinary so essential to Lincoln’s justification of his actions no
longer applies given the open-ended threat from asymmetric warfare. It
seems that continuing to use such a distinction leads to a permanently
extraordinary executive. Perhaps a permanently discretionary (as
opposed to extraordinary) executive is necessary, but, if so, we, as a
constitutional people, should at the same time insist that such
discretionary powers come into existence only when necessary and that
the executive does not have an inherent legal right to such powers. In
other words, in exercising his powers, the executive must always expect
to show and we should expect him to show the public why they were
necessary; it is insufficient simply to assert as a species of legal
defense that he has an inherent right to use them whenever he
chooses--this is why neither the founders nor Lincoln assert that the
executive possesses a "prerogative" power which would imply a legal
right to act outside the Constitution. In other words, while the
executive has the discretion to act outside the Constitution, the public
should remain the rightful judge of the necessity of such action.

Knippenberg responds: Ben’s second point is the crucial one, to my mind. We can’t simply leave it at assertions of prerogative or "national security." There has to be an argument about the nature of the threat we face and the necessity of the discretionary powers. This argument is, of course a political one, not "merely" a legal or constitutional one.

Update #2: You can read Ben Kleinerman’s initial op-ed criticism of GWB’s early response to his critics here.

Gore’s rage

Joe brought to your attention the Al Gore talk of two days ago. I saw it. I got home late, couldn’t sleep. I think it was just past midnight when I turned on C-Span. Al Gore was talking. I was transfixed for the next thirty minutes or so (I don’t know how long he’d been on when I caught it). At first I focused on this automaton of man, without heart and blood. Then I noticed the anger. Again the anger. Nothing but rage and loud rage. I haven’t seen Gore for about a year, I guess. The last time I saw him, he was also beside himself about something or other. What does he do with himself the rest of the time? He comes up for air once a year, growling, showing us his teeth. Each time I see him talk, it is only to reveal his indignation at something. Now it is at the NSA wiretapping issue; the cause doesn’t matter, it is only anger that moves him, he is only enlivened by his own steam. This is awful and depressing and I regret it. It took me hours to fall asleep. A former vice-president going insane in public for all of us to see and lose sleep over. I am sorry for him.

California evolution controversy "defused"?

The California school district, which had offered a somewhat problematical course, called (a little misleadingly) "Philosophy of Design," has settled the lawsuit, promising never again to offer such a course.

You can read the settlement statement here and more from Americans United here.

The folks at the Discovery Institute note a certain AU doublespeak here and put the best face on the settlement here.

Talk radio in Iraq

Read about it here.

Al Gore speaks out

Al Gore says that the President broke the law in ordering warrantless wiretapping.

For some perspective on what Gore’s boss thought during his time in the White House, go here and here, as well as (for an even longer perspective) here.

Update: Paul Mirengoff at Power Line has more.

Update #2: Byron York was there.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lucas Morel’s short take on MLK from a few years ago still reads well. Carolyn Garris notes King’s conservative legacy. A poll shows that the MLK holiday is less succesful than are his dreams (via Booker Rising). Here is his I Have a Dream speech, and the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Lucas Morel wrote another short essay on race back in ’98 that I have always liked. It is, of course, relevant on this day.

Women rule

Mrs. Bush and Condi Rice both attended the swearing in ceremonies of Liberia’s (and Africa’s) first female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Here is a short outline of Liberia’s recent messy history. Can you imagine, by the way, the security net that had to be placed over the area where Bush and Rice were? Clearly, the security couldn’t be left to the UN troops. And my only other point is that this event, inevitably, brings up Rice’s name regarding her own possible run to be a head of state. Stanley Crouch has a few thoughts on the possibility of a Rice-Clinton contest. Also note that Chile has elected a woman. The BBC story calls her a "center-left" candidate; she is a socialist and a child of the (USA) Sixties. Cool.

Hamilton’s strategic sobriety

Another paean to Alexander Hamilton from Mac Owens. Mac is trying to take advantage of the January 11th birthday. That’s fine. Keep them coming Mac. I’ve been working on Andrew Jackson, and am, therefore, often inclined to dislike Jefferson. And when I do, I turn toward Hamilton.

Canada’s Court Party vs. democratic realism

I took a moment the other night and listened to a few words of Canadian PM Paul Martin the on C-Span. It was an unpleasant moment. I don’t much like him, although I claim to understand nothing about Canadian politics, except that I regret that there is such an anti-American undertone to it. There is more to Canadian politics than that, of course. I’m glad that John von Heyking is paying attention to the upcoming election in Canada. This is his third article on it, and arguably the most serious. It concerns article 33 of the Canadian Charter, and why Martin is willing to have it changed, and why his conservative challenger Stephen Harper wants to keep it. It goes to some fundamental issues of Canadians’ ability to govern themselves.

China discovers everything circa 1420

The Economist reports on an 18th century copy of a map originally made in the early 15th century that shows "that the world and all its continents were discovered by a Chinese admiral named Zheng He." All this is, somehow, related to the book 1421: The Year China Discovered America. I guess we’ll hear more. This is the Economist’s last paragraph:

"The consequences of the discovery of this map could be considerable. If it does indeed prove to be the first map of the world, ’the history of New World discovery will have to be rewritten,’ claims Mr Menzies. How much does this matter? Showing that the world was first explored by Chinese rather than European seamen would be a major piece of historical revisionism. But there is more to history than that. It is no less interesting that the Chinese, having discovered the extent of the world, did not exploit it, politically or commercially. After all, Columbus’s discovery of America led to exploitation and then development by Europeans which, 500 years later, made the United States more powerful than China had ever been."

Genetic footprints

You can amuse yourself by glancing at this report: Roughly one out ten Irish men are related to the Irish warlord Niall who lived circa 500 A.D. If that’s not interesting enough, then how about this tidbit:
About 16 million men between Afghanistan and northernern China (almost one of every 200 men alive) are directly related to Ghengis Khan. (Thanks to Jonah at The Corner).

Democracy and peace?

Mark Helprin (in an op-ed version of this)
is critical of Bush’s attempt to democratize every country in the world that would have the effect of bringing everlasting peace everywhere for always for ever. For the pleasure of displaying our virtue, as he puts it, we will suffer because foreign policy has to be run according to common sense and history. O.K., we get it. Let’s be clear: Those of us who seem a bit idealistic (as it used to be called among the Left) are not necessarily impractical. We know the difference between what is good and what is possible, and what is true and what sounds good, just as we know the difference between good writing and good thinking. Helprin writes.

The Three Greats and the escape from determinism

This banal Michael Beschloss review of John Lewis Gaddis’s The Cold War reminds me to suggest that you read Gaddis; I have been at it, off and on, for a few weeks. First, it is a good read. Well written, clear, flowing. Not the standard dry-as-dust volume on the period (arguably, as some of even Gaddis’s previous books have been). It is a well told tale of a dangerous time. Second, he sees (almost perfectly clearly?) in this retrospective verdict on the Cold War, that the "visionaries" (or, "saboteurs of the status quo") were John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. How shall I put this? Not everyone at the time thought these three were statesmen. Third, I believe our great-grand children will study this severe period and will conclude that the three greats merited the honor that they will have already received. They will see that the utter darkness that could have been, was prevented by the purpose and the prudence of the two men and the lady. This is an fine tale, told by a convert, and while you or I might have told it differently, it is an excellent start. Gaddis also sees the horror (evil empire) of the regimes that died, and knows that they justly died. He notes at the end of his book that "there was no trial for crimes against humanity." Pol Pot died in 1998, "and was unceremoniously cremated on a heap of junk and old tires." No mausoleum for this devil. This was a man who had a fifth of his own people executed in the 1970’s, and "hardly anyone outside of Cambodia noticed at the time." But human beings act, facts are stubborn, historians work, Gaddis re-thinks, and now we know.

Scary scenario

Niall Ferguson on the origins of the "Great War of 2007."

Hat tip: The Corner.

Prediction Vindicated

A number of good readers chided me for this post ten days ago in which I predicted that "The Democratic attack on Alito will get no traction, and he will end up getting confirmed readily, after lots of delays and huff-puffing. The Bork-Thomas phenomena is receding, and we are slowly returning to a more normal and sane confirmation process."

Well, today’s New York Times carries a front-page story about "glum Democrats" admitting that their strategy for blocking Bush’s judicial nominees has failed. With the likes of Biden and Kennedy saying that maybe confirmation hearings should be abandoned in favor of straight-up floor debate, I think I was right to say we are slowly returning to a more normal confirmation process, and that "Borking" is as dead as disco.

Let Me Put it Another Way

I’ve heard liberals complaining alot about how Alito defined his role as a judge (i.e., to be an impartial interpreter of the law) and dismiss that as alot of bologna. Some have even gone so far as to imply that the hearings are a waste of time because we should know that conservatives will appoint conservatives and liberals will appoint liberals--that’s just the way it is. If you want your guys in, win the election. Well, there’s a certain amount of truth in that. And you’ve got to admire the libs who have the gumption to say that. It’s factual, anyway. But there is more to the whole truth than a simple recitation of the facts.

Many liberals don’t buy that Alito is serious about his job description not because they think he is a liar (though some may think that as well) but because they have a distorted understanding about the nature of politics that breeds cynicism and does not permit it. Politics, to them, is a power struggle only. It’s not about an attempt at impartial application of justice. They do not really believe that impartiality is possible because they think that judicial philosophy is nothing more than your positions on the issues. A confirmation hearing to them should be about spouting your positions on the issues and garnering the votes you need for confirmation based on whether enough people agree with your positions. They do not see that Alito really does believe that his personal positions on the issues do not matter. He can’t argue them from the bench unless the law calls for it. If you tell them that Roe v. Wade is bad law, they look at you with a blank face. You must be "pro-life" then. That can be the only reason you have that opinion. These libs think politics is only a power struggle because they do not believe that people are capable of reasoning from a point that is not tied up in their own self-interest. They certainly do not respect the constitution as that starting point--because they think it was meant to change as tastes in hairstyles change. To them, American politics is just interest combating interest until someone ends up on top.

That’s why liberals think they’re the better people all the time. They think they are "championing" the little guy in this tug-o-war of interests. We argue that we are only interested in "championing" justice--we don’t wish to play the game. Because they assume that ignoring the game is impossible, they say we’re engaged in nothing more than a covert operation to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful. There is no such thing as true impartial "justice," they argue. As evidence, they cite one of the hundreds of ways justice has failed some particular group or person. "Whose justice are you talking about anyway?" they always ask. But this proves nothing except (now, I know this is going to be a shocker!) life and politics are hard--and sometimes unfair. But that doesn’t mean fairness is impossible. It only means we have to keep plugging along and working harder to achieve it. We don’t get it by devising schemes to screw the over-dog half the time and screw the under-dog the rest of the time.

But I digress . . . the long and short of it is that I wonder if it is even possible sometimes to engage in conversation with these folks because we’re not speaking the same language or coming at the conversation with anything like the same assumptions about politics. We say one thing and they hear another--and vice versa. Maybe the hearings are a waste of time on some level. We can only hope they were useful to those watching/listening to them (especially the young). One thing is certain, it will not be to the Democrats’ benefit to keep this thing on the front page another week! That’s what I mean about being beholden to interests--they have to try this in order to satisfy their way-left base of donors. It will fail and they will be exposed even more.

Yet another evolution lawsuit

This one (complaint here) has been filed against a course being taught in Lebec, California.

Given the course’s history, the folks at the Discovery Institute think that the the case is a loser from their point of view. The issue here appears to be as much young earth creationism as it is Intelligent Design, and the precedents clearly favor AU.

Playing politics

Despite their agreement to a timetable last November, the Democrats want to delay a committee vote on Samuel Alito. Since the outcome--at the committee level and even in the Senate as a whole--is a foregone conclusion, this seems to be the pettiest sort of politics. The groups that couldn’t lay a glove on Judge Alito all week still want their pound of flesh.

What the Hearings Displayed

Democrats do not have big thinkers. As Peter mentioned, it appears that all they care about is abortion. That’s part of the story. It’s certainly their biggest issue. But what I think they are really afraid of is how powerful and persuasive and serious people like Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas are. Of course they looked silly and juvenile--even purile. But that’s really not the issue. Republicans have their hacks as well.

I think I have come around to the belief now that these guys no longer have faith in their own roots. They don’t even take themselves seriously--on an intellectual level. They have so lost their capacity to respect reason that they are in a total malaise. Anything could be true. That’s why they cower in the face of the radicals among them. When anything can be true the guys with the biggest stick or the thickest wallets win. They certainly don’t put forward very many serious people who can argue from the old-line Democratic beliefs. They do not have the equivalent of the conservative movement, with thinkers and scholars who inspire people. The are beyond post-modern. They are inspired by nothing and they really don’t believe in much beyond a lazy adolescent cry for "freedom" and "rights." They can’t articulate what that means in any sensible way.

We are in the position now of arguing with people who have no argument. It’s almost not even fun. Maybe that’s why I’ve been much more interested in international politics lately!

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for December

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Andrew Kinney

Deanna Ducher

Wes Cannon

Robert Baker

Katy Arnn

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter January’s drawing.

Mansfield on executive power

Don’t miss Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s latest, a characteristically elegant and incisive look at the novelty and importance of the American executive against the backdrop of the NSA kerfuffle.   

Hat tip: Tom Cerber.

Update: The comments call out attention to this exceedingly hostile response by David Luban. I don’t yet have the energy to engage in a point-by-point response to Luban’s nastiness, but I’ll give you a taste of his argument and of how I’d respond on Mansfield’s behalf. (I hasten to add that HCM is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.)

Here’s Mansfield’s statement:

A republic like ours is always more at ease in dealing with criminals than with enemies. Criminals violate the law, and the law can be vindicated with police, prosecutors, juries, and judges who stay within the law: At least for the most part, the law vindicates itself. Enemies, however, not merely violate but oppose the law. They oppose our law and want to replace it with theirs. To counter enemies, a republic must have and use force adequate to a greater threat than comes from criminals, who may be quite patriotic if not public-spirited, and have nothing against the law when applied to others besides themselves. But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force.

Here’s what Luban says:

"But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force." A total non sequitur. Worse: mere games with words. A pickpocket is extra-legal, but it in no way follows that he needs to be faced with extra-legal force.

Mansfield begins with an overarching distinction between criminals and enemies, the former generally containable within the rule of law, the latter not self-evidently so. A criminal doesn’t aim to destroy a government, merely to break the rules for his own benefit. An enemy obviously aims to destroy the entire system of law. Must a government use only "lawful" means to deal with such a threat? Mansfield doesn’t think so. Neither does Abraham Lincoln who asked Congess on July 4, 1861, "are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?" And if to define by law is to delimit, what are we to make of this statement by Alexander Hamilton?

The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, and the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite, and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be coextensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

Mansfield, Lincoln, and Hamilton are all grappling with serious issues of national defense and national self-preservation. Luban is the one playing games with words.

Bush and the wiretaps

John Eastman, in brief, vindicates Bush’s wiretap decision.

Thoughts on the Dems and Alito

A couple of things have become clear from the Alito hearings. First, the Democrats cannot stop the nomination from going forward. Just as with Chief Justice Roberts’ hearings, they have no argument against Alito. And, Alito has been able to show the world that he is a very smart guy, and has given the Chief a run for his money. So the deed is done. Good for Bush, good for the country, good for the Constitution. Which brings me to my second point.

The Democrats have revealed (once again) that all they care about is the abortion issue, and what they call a woman’s right to choose, or, so called privacy. And this is a problem for them. A big problem. While the Republicans--including their nominees to federal courts--can talk about upholding the Constitution, interpreting it according to the original intent of the framers, the difference between legislating and judging, and so on, the Democrats are relegated to talking about the necessity of upholding precedent (read, saving Roe v. Wade). You must admit that this is a little weird considering that they have poured what intellectual capital they had since the Progressive Era into something called "the living Constitution" (read, interpreting the thing as you please). They really can’t allow a Republican dominated Supreme Court to agree that the Constitution is a living, breathing, changing thing now can they? The Democrats are in a bind for sure and the political effects are that these hearings do not give them the opportunity to put forward their view of how to interpret the Constitution, or what the real work of the Supreme Court should be. In fact, all they can do (read, Kennedy) is bark and bray and howl and distort and make good wives cry. I bet they are praying (read, hoping) that there are no other retirements from the Court because the same thing will happen.

Alito and Democratic impotence

Tom Bevan has a few things to say on the tantrum Ted Kennedy threw yesterday. His screeds and distortions against Robert Bork in 1983 worked, but he is now a defanged old lion relegated to watching Alito take a seat on the Supremes. Robert Novak agrees that Kennedy was "shooting blanks." Peggy Noonan sums it all up:

"But this one is all kind of over, isn’t it? It definitively ended when Mrs. Alito walked out in tears. But to me it seemed over on day one. The Democrats on the committee seemed forlorn in a way, as if they knew deep in their hearts that nobody’s listening. Two decades ago they could make their speeches and fake their indignation and accuse a Robert Bork of being a racist chauvinist woman hater and their accusations would ring throughout the country. But now the media they relied on have lost their monopoly. Everyone who’s fired at gets to fire back, shot for shot."

Iran’s nukes

The Russians have announced that they will not block our attempt to take Tehran’s nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council. While this is a bit of good news, and the only bit of good news in a while, it will not make

John Keegan happy. He thinks that
diplomacy must be tried and all peaceful methods--economic and political ostracism, sanctions, and so on--must be pursued, but

what will happen when the diplomacy fails? "This is a bad and worrying time in world affairs," he concludes. Read it.  

His mouth as his Achilles heel

Richard Cohen at his best. "The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth." He elaborates.  

The tears and the smiles

The extraordinarily shrill attempts to discredit Sam Alito as a racist, sexist, liar, etc., has not worked. The Dems are grasping. If you are a GOP partisan you just love Kennedy! It’s over. Alito is in. Do you doubt this? Well, that doubt should have left when Mrs. Alito left the room in tears.

The Dems’ chances of stopping this nomination walked out the door with her. That’s why she came back smiling.

The Goldwater myth

Was Barry Goldwater a conservative? Was he a different kind of conservative than Reagan, or Bush? Was he always a libertarian on social issues, or only in his old age? Andrew Busch has the answers. And those liberals who liked the old Goldwater, but not the one that ran for president, will not be happy with Andy’s answer.

The "disposition" of teachers

George Will is hard hitting in this Newsweek column: "The surest, quickest way to add quality to primary and secondary education would be addition by subtraction: Close all the schools of education." Harsh, but worth reading. 

Lieberman vs. Weicker

A Quinnipiac University poll just released finds that Connecticut voters approve of Sen. Joseph Lieberman 62% to 24%, and Lieberman would beat former Gov. Lowell Weicker (I), 65% to 21%. Lieberman would get 67% of the Democratic vote, 72% of the Republican vote and 60% of the independent vote.

Photo from the hearings

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution has made an appearance at the Judiciary Committee hearings. I regret that a Rules of Civility was not to be found in the room.

Blogging is bad for your health

First Schramm, then Knippenberg (in a very minor key). Who’s next?

My uncharacteristic silence of late (welcome, I’m sure, to some) was caused by an unexpected hospital stay, which was caused by unexpected surgeries. I’m on the road to recovery, having lost a week to something that I thought was going to cost me a day, but so far out of the loop (well, I did catch a few minutes of the hearings now and again, but couldn’t tell if what I was seeing was real or the effect of my medications) as to have nothing to add to the ongoing conversation. But I’ll get the wheelchair up to speed as soon as my drug-addled mind permits.

Alexander Hamilton

Mac Owens notes that today is Alex Hamilton’s birthday. Doe he like Hamilton? Does he praise him? Well, yes indeed. Mac concludes his good piece like this:

In "Alexander Hamilton: American", Richard Brookhiser makes the case that, of the Founders, only Washington was greater than Hamilton. Because the United States has become such a successful nation, it is sometime easy to forget that it is great only because of the vision, nobility, and virtue of the Founders, none of whom exceeded Hamilton in the possession of these attributes. Hamilton was the sort of man described by the Athenian stranger in Plato’s Laws: "let us all be lovers of victory when it comes to virtue, but without envy. The man of this sort—always competing with himself but never thwarting others with slander—makes nations great."

As Mac writes, Brookhiser’s book is good, and so is Chernow’s wonderful biography. The New York Historical Society’s on Hamilton is pretty good, and will be travelling all year; see "About the Exhibition." I think it is in Columbus, OH, in September, for example.

The lies and the bombast

Jonah Goldberg nails down the meaning of the Alito hearings, what they reveal about what the Court has become, and what Liberals have become in less than 700 words. Read it. 

Truth Check on Concerned Alumni for Princeton

Senator Biden got the call to grill Judge Alito on his affiliation with the long-defunct Concerned Alumni for Princeton ("CAP") organization, which has been accused of being anti-black, anti-woman, and even anti-Jew. The latter charge, made on air today by Erwin Chemerinski, is apparently based on the fact that some in the organization touted the group’s mission as seeking a return to the "old Princeton." Apparently, a really, really old Princeton, like many Ivy League schools, had a despicable cap on admission of Jewish students. But no one has produced a shred of evidence to suggest that CAP ever supported a Jewish quota. In fact, what got campus liberals so incensed about the group was that it opposed racial quotas of any kind--that’s the source of the anti-black charge. And the anti-woman charge? It is apparently based on two grounds. First, the "old Princeton" was, at one point, single sex, so the alumni group’s devotion to the "old Princeton" is said to be, impliedly, support for abolition of the coed move of the University. And the other? CAP dared to support continuation of the all-male eating clubs/fraternities (and also the all-female sororities), which ran afoul of the radical feminist political correctness on campus at the time. This was hardly the neanderthal organization that Senator Biden claimed it to be, but in any event, Judge Alito apparently paid his membership fee and subscribed to the group’s newsletter because it supported keeping ROTC on campus. Now there’s a disqualifying position for any federal judge--actually do something to help defend the freedoms we prize in this country!

Arnold and bikes

I knew that Arnold rides bikes, but I didn’t know he still did it, as governor. Well, he rides still. And, he got into a small accident (fifteen stiches on his lip) and it was discovered that he doesn’t have the proper endorsement on his California driver’s license to operate a motorcycle. Because the bike was attached to a sidecar, he is probably OK (no fine). Yet, it is clear that all the years he has been in the USA (arrived in 1968) he has been riding his bikes illegaly. Amusing. I would say that about 4 out of five people who ride do not have the proper endorsement. Some don’t care, some can’t pass the test. Look for new laws to be passed; look for no humor. Too bad.

In favor of propaganda

Reuel Marc Gerecht is right in everything he writes about propaganda. I just regret that such a converstion is so public. Here is a long story from the L.A. Times from late November on one of the propaganda operations that became public. Too bad.


I am having another busy day, hearing Alito in the background--he really is a nerd, isn’t he? perfect for a justice?--I am seeing students all day and doing some last minute preps for my Lincoln Seminar this evening. I also met with my Human Being and Citizen class this morning. It is good to be back in class!

Belafonte, past hope

The times are wild, confusion is back, as are the students! So I am not at leisure. But I could not help noting that Harry Belafonte (with Cornel West of Princeton) is in Venezuela, saying this: "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution."

MSNBC Beyond Dreadful

Someone joked a while ago that if Osama bin Laden hid out at MSNBC he’d never be found, because nobody ever looks there. This morning I made the dreadful error, while channel surfing the news channels, of catching the last few minutes of MSBNC’s newest offering, "Weekend with Maury and Connie," as in the husband-and-wife team of Maury Povich and Connie Chung.

It was beyond pathetic. I caught a closing segment called "Quick Hits," which I figured out was supposed to be funny. But even the most rabid liberal would have found their attempts at topical humor to be groan-inducing. (It is not worth the bandwidth to pass along an example.) Their quips, to borrow the old critic’s phrase, "wouldn’t make a sub-moron’s mouth twitch." Look for this show to have a very-short life on MSNBC. Paid infomercials would be more watchable.

It is hard to believe that Chung was once Dan Rather’s co-anchor at CBS News. On second thought, not it’s not.

"Noises Off"

If I’ve been quiet here at NLT lately, it’s because I’ve had a much busier Christmas break than I’m used to. The reason for this is that I’m in the midst of rehearsals for the Mansfield Playhouse production of the classic British farce "Noises Off", which opens this Friday evening, 13 January, at 8:00. There are also performances on Saturday the 14th, the following Friday and Saturday (20th and 21st), and a matinee on the afternoon of Sunday, 22 January. I’m playing Lloyd, the director, no doubt due to my uncanny resemblance to Michael Caine

I don’t usually promote my shows at NLT, mostly because I have no idea what proportion of our readers are local. But if you happen to live near Mansfield, and are a fan of the theater, I hope you’ll consider coming to see it. And if you’re a fan of NLT, or at least a friendly critic, I hope you’ll come downstairs after the performance and say hello.


The Democratic attack on Alito will get no traction, and he will end up getting confirmed readily, after lots of delays and huff-puffing. The Bork-Thomas phenomena is receding, and we are slowly returning to a more normal and sane confirmation process. If the Dems filibuster, they’ll look even worse than they do taking the Murtha line on the Iraq war. I doubt they can sustain a filibuster.

My Lai’s Thompson dies

Hugh Thompson Jr., the helicopter pilot who intervened during the My Lai massacre, died of cancer yesterday. He was 62.

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini Miura Concept car is introduced. It is a throwback to one of the first Lamborghinis. Lovely. I drove one in the late 60’s! Worked as a waiter, and a long-time customer was telling him he just got his delivered. There were very few in the U.S. then. Unbeliveably, he tossed me the keys and told me to take it around the block. I did. I believe it had a tranverse 4 liter V-12 aluminum
engine and a couple of extra gears forward. It was scary, because it felt alive. My heart was racing so I skipped sleep for a couple of nights. I can still hear its deep purr. I think the one I drove was the Miura, the second red one in the photos.

The Goldwater presidency

Ted Kennedy is attacking Alito. You know, the standard moderate rhetoric: the judge is a monarchist, a supporter of tyranny, against blacks and women, and so on. No surprise there. But, surprise, he also makes an unfavorable reference to the Goldwater presidency. Dana Milbank caught it. (via Instapundit).
Perhaps Kennedy said this because he wanted some quick attention (or he’s back on the juice). Drudge claims that the Demos will try to destroy Alito any way they can, including claiming he is a racist and a sexist because he belonged to something called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP).

Sharon’s Legacy

Peter Berkowitz has a very good article on Ariel Sharon’s legacy in the latest Weekly Standard 

More on Memorization

We must be thinking in synchronicity today. Father Fessio also talked about the importance of memorization for the education of young people--or it may have been David Allen White the day before--on Hugh Hewitt’s show. (I guess my own memory is failing me!) In any case, the point made was that the mental exercise of memorization is dying in the schools because people have (to some extent rightly) begun to think of memorizing as unnecessary in an age where information is so readily accessible in a collective electronic memory, i.e., the Internet.

I remember my experiences in grammar school of committing lists to memory (not exactly Shakespeare or Milton, but it was something) and employing the methods Peter discussed below. A few of my girlfriends and I were involved in cheerleading and dance so we used to make up silly routines and songs out of the lists we had to remember for our tests. I still remember the list of prepositions from that routine we created . . . aboard, about, above, according to . . . Unfortunately, I was never able to put an equal amount of effort into remembering things like the times tables or the periodic table of elements, etc. Oh, well . . . I guess a thing still has to capture your imagination on some other level for you to want to know it. With my own kids and my niece, I am amazed by how well at even 3 and 4 years of age, they can remember the lyrics to songs that seem far beyond them if they associate those lyrics with motion--which seems to be the technique employed by the music departments in the pre-schools these days.

I think memorization accquired a bad name because so many teachers in grammar and high school (and sadly, even at the university) began to confuse the ability to memorize with the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Many students remember history classes, especially, as a kind of "Jeopardy-like" occupation. What were the causes of the Civil War? Here, memorize this list. Anyone can teach that kind of thing and, of course, it’s easier than trying to engage a classroom full of 14-17 year-olds in a conversation about equality. But, of course, it’s irrelevant and it’s boring. There’s really no difference, once you get to that point, between memorizing that kind of a list and memorizing a grocery list. The educational value is only in the exercise because if it does not capture your imagination you’re not likely to remember it anyway. That’s the real problem with the textbooks and the teaching of today, it seems to me. So few people seem like they’re really excited by their subjects. They fail to give their students a reason to remember it.

Playing the Organ

This is a pretty good essay on memorization. The author notes the connection between music and poetry and language, and how the heard rhythm helps with syntax, etc. So he is in favor of reading aloud (not just memorization). I like Edgard Allan Poe’s comment that poetry is "the rhythmical creation of beauty." And all this reminds me to bring to your attention Philip Pullman’s introduction of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is very thoughtful on such matters. Note: "I read Paradise Lost not only with my eyes, but with my mouth." You don’t have to yell the lines, a whisper will do, but "Your body has to be involved." I agree.

"The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your commend; and as you utter them you begin to realize that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning, and that part only comes alive when you speak it."

The sound will help you love the poem. "Once you do love something, the attempt to understand it becomes a pleasure rather than a chore, and what you find when you begin to explore Paradise Lost in that way is how rich it is in thought and argument."
And the poem has the power to stir a physical response, that’s why A.E. Housman did not dare to think a line of poetry while he was shaving, in case he cut himself.

Try a few lines from Paradise Lost. Satan looks around:

The dismal Situation waste and wilde,

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end

Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed

With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d

Father Fessio, Islam, Mark Steyn, etc.

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Father Joseph Fessio, Provost of Ave Maria University and founder of Ignatius Press yesterday. A transcript of the key points of the interview can be read here. Father Fessio was as student of Benedict XVI and discussed the new Pope’s views on the problem of Islam in Europe and why hopes for a reformation of sorts for Islam may be misguided. This should be read in tandem with the Mark Steyn article I mentioned below.

Florida Supreme Court strikes down voucher program

The Florida Supreme Court (remember them?) has struck down the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers students in failing public schools the means to attend private schools. In doing so, the Court sidestepped the church and state issues on which the appeals court had focused, relying instead on a constitutional provision requiring "adequate provision...for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education...." I’ve discussed this argument before and don’t have anything to add until I sit down and read the decision (66 page pdf).

Katie Newmark and Thomas Berg have more, as does Howard Friedman.

You can read about the relevance of this decision to Ohio here.

Pint-sized heifers

If you’re a suburban cowboy hankering to raise a herd and short on ranch land,

mini cattle may be for you. They can be as little as a third of the size of the larger breeds. Mini cattle eat about a third as much as a full-sized steer, are less destructive of pasture land and fencing, and are easier to handle. For now, most who own them call them pets.

Bush and Sharon

I am not surprised that Noam Scheiber is surprised by President Bush’s " level of candor and self-awareness." This has to do with his relations with Sharon. It is short and worth a quick read. No news on Sharon, but rumor has it that even if he survives he cannot be active.

Steyn Article

Of course, this Mark Steyn article is all over the blogs and talk radio but if, for some reason, you’ve missed it, do read it now. The West is dying, he argues, because of suicide. A combination of lack of civilizational confidence and low reproduction rates is making us increasingly vulnerable to the plans of fanatics who reproduce in great numbers.

After you read it, you may want to think about what you can do to remedy the situation--and not just with words.

This all reminds me (and you will forgive the personal reflection) of a conversation I have always remembered with relish. During my first year of graduate school (when I was new to the group and the only female in the bunch) we were assembled for one of our weekly excursions to the local watering hole after a Charles Kesler class. During class we had been talking about one of the many ways in which the country had lost sight of its original purposes and had to be set back on track again. At the bar this fellow graduate student approached me and very publicly insisted that I deliver to the assembled masses the "female perspective" on solving the problem. Without missing a beat I said, "Well, John [not his real name], it’s really all very simple. The thing we women know is that in order to win long term we’ve simply got to outproduce them. So you should all get married soon and have lots of children." I was right, of course. But this didn’t do much to improve my social life at the time!

My take on Dover

Thanks to John West’s blog, my op-ed on the Dover decision is getting some attention. A couple of people have emailed me the link to this attempt at fisking my piece by Timothy Sandefur, who should be known to a couple of NLT contributors.

I have to say that I’m not persuaded by Mr. Sandefur’s attempt at deconstruction. Here’s the core of his argument:

Knippenberg argues that the argument for design “is an argument from reason,” but of course it is not. Positing a supernatural cause is not an argument from reason, but an argument from faith, since it depends necessarily on an Entity which is beyond nature and beyond comprehension. Still, this is not relevant. The Constitution, after all, does not make a distinction between the state endorsing a religious viewpoint for “religious” reasons as opposed to endorsing a religious viewpoint for purportedly “rational” reasons.

I don’t know where to begin. If you argue rationally that there must have been an uncaused cause, you’re not making a religious argument. And while it’s true that an uncaused cause can’t be explained in "naturalistic" terms (that is, by means of a cause-and-effect sequence), there are philosophical arguments and explanations that don’t simply rely on material and efficient causes. If everything that isn’t science must be religion, then Mr. Sandefur has a very crabbed understanding of how we can rationally attempt to understand the world.

Now, if ID falls into this tradition, which can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, then it’s not simply a religious argument. And if it’s not simply a religious argument--if it’s a rational philosophical argument--then teaching it in the schools, or just mentioning it as an alternative to Darwinism, doesn’t amount to an establishment of religion. If this part of his argument fails, then the rest of his argument fails. The fact that he’s a lawyer and I’m not--of which he makes much--is irrelevant. The fact that he and Judge Jones both don’t give much evidence of understanding philosophy--crucial in this case--points, as I say in my op-ed, to the need for lawyers to be liberally educated (though I don’t mean to say that Hillsdale College didn’t try to provide him with a liberal education).

What think you, gentle readers?

Reid calls for Cherthoff’s resignation

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority Leader in the U.S. Senate, called for Michael Cherthoff to resign as Secretary of Homeland Security because he took Las Vegas off the list of cities considered potential high-risk targets eligible for special anti-terrorism grants. Now, I don’t know anything about this; maybe Vegas should stay on the list, I don’t know. Yet, it is tiresome to hear the Democrats calling for the resignation of cabinet officials when they happen not to agree with some of their decisions. This is meaningless arrogance on their part. If the Dems want cabinet members to resign, they should win the next election.

Russia’s gas war

David Warren is rightly irritated that Russia cut off natural gas to the Ukraine. In fact, he thinks--along with Le Monde--that it is a "declaration of war." Why not cut off gas to Belorus? Because it is under Russian control, but Ukraine is an ally of the West and the U.S. Bad sign, all this. Jim Hoagland agrees that the act was worthy of the USSR and remembers that Reagan warned Europe of the potential for blackmail when the pipeline was extended to the Western part of Europe.

Addition: The U.N. is pressing hard to crack down on caviar smuggling.


Yes, of course, Ben Franklin’s birthday is January 17th, and not today, as I maintained a few hours ago! For a few hours this morning, I thought it was the 17th. I have no idea why. Stop with the comments!

Prime Minister Sharon

It seems that Ariel Sharon’s condition is grave. He has had emergency brain surgery after having a massive stroke. Israeli politics is in an upheaval, so it seems.
The new Kadima Party that he was going to lead seemed to be of his own creation and, while wildly popular, it does not really exist without Sharon. Sharon tried something that has never been tried in Israeli politics, and it looked like he was going to be successful until his health gave out. Arguably, he shouldn’t have tried to create a political party in his own image at age 77. That was imprudent of him. The movement toward a solid peace with the Palestinians is likely to be set back. There doesn’t seem to be a natural successor to Sharon. But, there is one person who has the ability--if he gives on a few things--to possibly cobble together a working majority: Benjamin Netanyahu. This is very much worth watching.

The First American, Masked

Today is Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. Much has been said about Franklin, and much thoughtful stuff has been written about him. Mark Twain, for example, said that his views on self-discipline makes life tough on young boys (although I don’t remember it having any effect on Tom or Huck!), and Jerry Weinberger thinks he was a deeply serious thinker. I agree. He was also a likeable old man and the older I get the more I like him, and not only for his virtues.

Me and Al

Over at The Corner, I give a short account of spending the morning with Al Gore. No joke.

Our students

If you want to be depressed, read Mark Bauerlein’s essay on youth culture, declining levels of civic and historical knowledge, and the way in which our new communication technologies reinforce student insularity. His conclusion:

College professors complain about the result, noting the disaffection of students from their course work and the puny reserves of knowledge they bring into the classroom. But they hesitate to take a stand against mass culture and youth culture, fearful of the "dinosaur" or "conservative" tag. The disengagement of students from the liberal-arts curriculum is reaching a critical point, however. And the popular strategy of trying to bridge youth culture and serious study — of, say, using hip-hop to help students understand literary classics, as described in a June 19 article in the Los Angeles Times — hasn’t worked. All too often, the outcome is that important works are dumbed down to trivia, and the leap into serious study never happens. The middle ground between adolescent life and intellectual life is disappearing, leaving professors with ever more stark options.

One can accept the decline, and respond as a distinguished professor of literature did at a regional Modern Language Association panel last year after I presented the findings of "Reading at Risk." "Look, I don’t care if everybody stops reading literature," she blurted. "Yeah, it’s my bread and butter, but cultures change. People do different things."

Or one can accept the political philosopher Leo Strauss’s formula that "liberal education is the counter-poison to mass culture," and stand forthrightly against the tide. TV shows, blogs, hand-helds, wireless ... they emit a blooming, buzzing confusion of adolescent stimuli. All too eagerly, colleges augment the trend, handing out iPods and dignifying video games like Grand Theft Auto as worthy of study.

That is not a benign appeal for relevance. It is cooperation in the prolonged immaturity of our students, and if it continues, the alienation of student from teacher will only get worse.

Hat tip: Stanley Kurtz.

Jeffrey Hart for the last time

His WSJ essay, which I discussed here, here, here, and here, is the subject of my TAE Online column this week. Joseph Bottum has much smarter things to say at the First Things blogsite.

DC Follies

In the "You-Can’t-Make-This-Stuff-Up" department, the Washington Post reports this morning that former uber-corrupt mayor Marion Barry was robbed at gunpoint in his apartment yesterday by two local toughs who he’d asked to help carry his groceries into his house. Barry said he was "hurt" by the robbery, because: "There is sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend."

Apparently Barry never heard the old saying about there being no honor among thieves.

In other DC area news, a Montgomery County judge has ruled that "mooning," while distasteful, is not illegal in Maryland. The legislature better get right on that one, lest a new crome wave of mooning breaks out.

The Miners and the media

The last thing I heard last night before going to sleep was that the miners were found alive. Jubilant relatives were being interviewed. Hours later it was revealed that only one of the miners was (barely) alive. Apparently, the MSM were reporting only rumors.

John Murtha

Wouldn’t enlist now and doesn’t think others should either.

We’re not alone

Lest you think that only in America do people litigate in crazy ways over religion, there’s this from Italy, of all places.

Update: More here, with a few additional links.

Markos Moulitsas on courage and cowardice

NRO’s Byron York calls our attention to this juvenile rant from Kos. The nicest thing one can say about it is that he hasn’t read his Aristotle, so that he forgets that courage is a mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. His pose is that of a foolhardy man. For more, go here. Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff thinks that Kos will provide a perfect foil for HRC. But only if she makes it through the primaries.

Risen’s NSA story

I can’t help noting that the public is not exactly up in arms over the NSA domestic spying (I don’t yet know what to call it) story, despite the attempt of the MSM to stoke the fire. I bumped into a sensible citizen, indeed, a liberterian leaning guy (judging by previous conversations) yesterday and he asked me what the fuss was about. He felt he was maybe missing something big, but he doesn’t see it yet. Aren’t we supposed to be going after bad guys, and isn’t one agency supposed to be sharing information with the others? Maybe this poll of editors and news directors is revealing: Katrina was overwhelmingly picked by U.S. editors and news directors as the top story of 2005 in The Associated Press’ annual vote. The hurricanes received 242 first-place votes out of 288 ballots cast. No other story received more than 18 first-place votes.

Washington Times reflects on what the Democrats are thinking about doing with the James Risen story on the NSA. They are drafting a strategy that claims that the GOP doesn’t value citizens’ privacy. Some Democrats (probably enough, in my opinion) are worried that this strategy might backfire. Note Michael O’Hanlon’s comments. By the by, Risen’s book is out, and he is out promoting it. He was on Katie Curic this morning; I didn’t see it.
But Powerline did. Risen assures everyone that his sources are patriots. I guess that means that he approves of their intentions; that’s why they are being called whistlelowers in the MSM.

Time magazine has a note on the book. And Newsweek’s cover story is on the NSA issue, or, as they say: "After 9/11, Bush and Cheney pressed for more power and got it. Now, predictably, the questions begin." This new AP story notes that "Congressional intelligence committees had at least a hint in October 2001 that the National Security Agency was expanding its surveillance activities after the 9/11 attacks, according to a letter released Tuesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.Congressional intelligence committees had at least a hint in October 2001 that the National Security Agency was expanding its surveillance activities after the 9/11 attacks, according to a letter released Tuesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi." I wonder what this means?

Back on line

We had a weird storm...the night has been unruly...the earth was feverous, and did shake. Thunder, lightning, nature bellowed and groaned, in January! Lightning must have taken out our electricity and (and phones) and our servers, so we were silent the whole day. Hence no word from any of our wits. Sorry. As soon as I finish my Lincoln syllabus, I’ll be back.

Alito’s record again

For those of you who plowed through this exceedingly long post (Paul Seaton, if no one else), Matthew Franck also made it through and adds some thoughts of his own, remedying my ignorance about judicial behavior studies and taking a poke or two at law professors along with political scientists.

If you don’t know Matt, here’s his webpage, here are his posts on Bench Memos, and here’s his latest book.

Las Vegas Notes

I passed the holiday week in Las Vegas (if you’re wondering why, see this article), where overheard conversations are very different from my adopted home town of McLean, VA. When I cruise the asiles in Safeway in McLean, I typiccally hear wives talking about getting the kids to soccer games, or the latest scoop on the newest day spa.

In a Las Vegas grocery store, you’re more like to hear something like this: Kid--"Mom, can I have some candy?" Mom--"I just need to get a bottle of vodka and gthen we’re goiing home."

Mananged to get in several shows of one of our favorite local Vegas bands, the Pete Contino Band. Go see them next time you’re in Vegas; they usually play Wednesday nights at the Orleans casino.

And then don’t miss our favorite all-girl band, Killians Angels. Yes, they’re named for the beer.

Pecking order at the pentagon

Is Rumsfeld more interested in intelligence than war fighting? The new pecking order at the Pentagon--in case of catastrophe--pushes the three service secretaries down and raises Gordon England and Steve Cambone to numbers two and three.

Alito’s record

It’s hard to know what to make of the evidence presented in this article, which examines Judge Alito’s position in 3rd Circuit decisions where the panel was divided. It strikes me as a mistake to attempt to characterize his position by looking only at these cases, unless of course one is trying to emphasize the aspect of his profile that is most potentially controversial, and least readily assimilable to a judicial "mainstream." The reporters argue that these cases are most closely akin to the sorts the Supreme Court would hear, and hence presumably are the best predictors of how he’d vote. I’d reply, first, that there’s no better predictor of how he’d vote than his entire record.

That this article is tendentious also emerges from a consideration of its presentation of his First Amendment religion clause jurisprudence. The reporters focus on two cases--ACLU v. Schundler, a holiday display case, and C.H. el rel Z.H. v. Oliva, a case involving religious expression in a public school.

Here’s what they have to say about the two cases:

Alito has agreed consistently with people who are trying to expand the role of religion in public life, the analysis shows.

Three cases in the analysis deal with the boundaries between church and state, and Alito’s decisions parallel about a dozen other -- unanimous -- cases he has heard that were not examined by The Post, said Ira C. Lupu, a constitutional scholar at George Washington University Law School.

Alito’s views differ from those of most appellate judges and all the current members of the Supreme Court, Lupu said, because "he is on the side of whoever is trying to include or advance a religious message." Alito has taken a narrow view of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which forbids the government to sponsor any religion, and an expansive view of its free-exercise clause, which protects people’s rights to worship as they want.

In an establishment-clause case in the analysis, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey ex rel. Lander v. Schundler , Alito wrote a 1999 majority opinion upholding the constitutionality of a holiday display in front of City Hall in Jersey City. A lower court had banned the display a few years earlier, when it featured a Hanukkah menorah and a Christmas tree. Two weeks later, the city put it back up with changes, adding a large plastic Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, a red sled and Kwanzaa symbols.

Alito said the secular additions "demystified" the religious symbols and made the display legal. In a dissent, Judge Richard Lowell Nygaard, a Reagan appointee, wrote that the "addition of a few small token secular objects is not enough to constitutionally legitimate the modified display."

In a free-exercise case, Alito sided with a boy named Zachary Hood in Medford, N.J., who, as a kindergartner, made a poster on which he had drawn a picture of Jesus as an example of something he was thankful for. In first grade, when allowed to bring a book to read to class, he brought "The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories."

The court’s majority ruled in favor of the school system and teachers, who removed the boy’s poster from a wall and forbade him to read the Bible stories to his class. Alito dissented, writing that "discriminatory treatment of the poster because of its ’religious theme’ would violate the First Amendment." He reasoned that "public school students have the right to express religious views in class discussion or in assigned work, provided that their expression falls within the scope of the discussion or the assignment."

With respect to the Schundler case, the reporters omit two important facts. First, the ACLU declined to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court, in large part because they didn’t think they could get a better result. Judge Alito was simply and straightforwardly applying the precedent developed in Lynch v. Donnelly. Second, the other judge voting with Alito was Marjorie Rendell, the wife of now-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. In this case, Alito occupies the broad (if flawed) middle.

In the second case, which involves a child’s response to an assignment, Alito’s dissent echoes the guidelines about religious expression in the schools developed by the Clinton Administration. To wit:

Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.

Once again, he’s in the broad middle.

What’s left is Ira Lupu’s opinion, which ought to carry some weight, given his prominence in First Amendment religion clause matters. But here’s what Lupu said about Alito in the immediate aftermath of his nomination. First,
to the Baptist Standard (11/04/05):

Chip Lupu, a church-state expert and law professor at George Washington University, said of Alito, "I don’t think this guy is any radical on church-state issues." However, he added, "I don’t think he’s going to be an O’Connor clone."

Lupu and his George Washington colleague, Bob Tuttle, said Alito’s rulings seem to indicate he is open to some public displays of religious items, but his rulings have not departed greatly from Supreme Court precedent in that area.

Then to a reporter for
the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy (11/01/05):

"In general, he seems especially receptive to claims of free exercise of religion, and to claims of equal access of religious speech to the public forum," Lupu said. "But none of his opinions look or sound appreciably different from those written or joined by Sandra Day O’Connor, and she remains a moderate separationist on funding cases.

Lupu is a liberal and I wouldn’t expect him to agree with Alito, but he seems to have moved from regarding him as part of the "conservative mainstream" to presenting him as an outlier, unlike any current Supreme Court Justice and most appeals court judges. Has he been misquoted by the Post? Has he changed his mind? Or are the stakes simply too high for him not to support the liberal party line?

Regrettable New Year’s resolution

Ken Masugi says he’s going to blog less, "a lot less." He says that it’s for a good cause--writing more essays. I say: write the essays, continue to blog, and just sleep less! Sleep is overrated.

But seriously.... Ken, your voice will be missed. I’m glad Steve is around to pick up the slack.

Notes on Churchill

Notebooks kept by Sir Norman Brook, the former wartime deputy cabinet secretary, "reveal Churchill to be a ruthless commander who was prepared to override moral and legal considerations to defeat Germany," according to the Daily Telegraph’s arts (!) correspondent.

The notebooks, kept in a form of shorthand, were made public by the National Archives. Among other things, Brook’s notes claim that Churchill planned to execute Adolf Hitler in the electric chair if the Nazi leader fell into Allied hands. There is more on Ghandi, de Gaulle, retribution, etc.

Resolution, Listen

My resolution is to read more poetry, more Shakespeare, more Lincoln. I should revise this somewhat to say that I resolve to listen to more Shakespeare, to words. I don’t read aloud often enough, will do more, but will also have more things read to my ears. And now that I walk miles each day (and have an iPod!), I am already listening more. Today it is Richard III. The last few days it was Huckleberry Finn, well read! Twain, our literary Lincoln, understands something about sound, language, and writing. That’s why his books don’t seem "literary" to those who don’t understand that sound comes first and last in language. Walter J. Ong explains, correctly, in my view: "Written texts all have to be related somehow, directly or indirectly, to the world of sound, the natural habitat of language." Writing cannot exist without orality, but oral expression can exist without writing. The poets, Shakespeare, and Lincoln, understand this. Hence their crisp, sweet, and winning words. Their words do not seem manufactured. To the literate, the alpha and omega of language is written, it is that great invention, the alphabet. And the sound is then changed to something seen. Big change.

This essay (it pretends to be a book review) on Emerson and Hawthorne is a good read. It explains in part why I have always leaned away from the former and toward Hawthorne (and Longfellow and Melville). Hawthorne thought Emerson "imbued with false originality." Yet, as a friend recently pointed out, there is one Emerson essay that is worth the read, Shakspeare; or, the Poet. Perhaps the most famous lines from the essay are these (addressed to those who regret that we don’t know enough about Shakespeare’s life):

"So far from Shakspeare’s being the least known, he is the one person, in all modern history, known to us. What point of morals, of manners, of economy, of philosophy, of religion, of taste, of the conduct of life, has he not settled? What mystery has he not signified his knowledge of? What office, or function, or district of man’s work, has he not remembered? What king has he not taught state, as Talma taught Napoleon? What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy? What lover has he not outloved? What sage has he not outseen? What gentleman has he not instructed in the rudeness of his behavior?"

Back to Walter J. Ong. He notes that the famous McGuffey’s Readers, published in the U.S. in some 120 million copies between 1836 and 1920, "were designed as remedial readers to improve not the reading for comprehension which we idealize today, but oral, declamatory reading. The McGuffey’s specialized in passages from ’sound conscious’ literature concerned with great heroes(’heavy’ oral characters). They provided endless oral pronunciation and breathing drills." I note in passing that rhetoric (as education at one time could be justly described) has declined, in favor of the more private inclination of writing (also see Plato’s Phaedrus). An interlocutor is essential when you are thinking, using language as sound (rather than language as writing). Talking to yourself for hours an end is difficult, and you may not remember what you thought; you need another person to think out loud, and to help you remember if any thoughts were memorable enough to remember. Here is where mnemonic patterns, shaped ready for oral recurrance come to play. Ong: "Protracted orally based thought, even when not in formal verse, tends to be highly rhythmic, for rhythm aids recall, even physiologically."

Try this aloud by Yeats, Against Unworthy Praise. Don’t try to read it as you think it should be read aloud, just read it aloud to your own ears. Now do the same with this. Happy New Year!

New Years Notes

I hereby resolve to blog more often this year. That’s my only resolution.

According to a squib I read in the Wall Street Journal, 2005 was apparently the first year since 1962 in which there were no bank failures in the U.S. Not sure what it means, but it was handy for cocktail party chatter.

On yesterday’s radio broadcast, Paul Harvey reported the tidbit that the 831 members of the British Parliament (831?? Can that be right?? That must be Lord and Commons members together. . .) consume 800 pints of liquor a day. He thought that amount considerable. I think it means at least 31 members of Parliament aren’t doing their part; they should average at least one pint a day per member.