Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Merry Christmas to All!

And to all, a good night.

More Christmas Music Musings

1. The Chieftains’ BELLS OF DUBLIN, mentioned below by Ohio Brass, is great, really great. 2. For those who have asked, my favorite real Christmas carol is I WONDER AS I WANDER--haunting Christmas melody plus lyrics and especially a title that express "the true meaning of Christmas" and Christianity. 3. I’ve also been asked, what do I think of THE MESSIAH?--I like the choruses 4. Am I moved by THE NUTCRACKER?--no. 5. Do I like HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS by Mel Torme?--yes, Mel is in a different league from Bing. 6. What is the worst Christmas CD you’ve heard today? The one by THE THREE TENORS or Opera men... 7. Did I know I screwed up the name of the Brenda Lee song, ROCKING AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE? I’m terrible with titles and happy for the correction.

I’m now soliciting relatively serious comments about real Christmas carols and other seriously religious Christmas music...

Obama watch, part 7

If Barack Obama’s book is as vapid as this review, then no one has anything to worry about. I’m planning on reading it over the break so that others don’t have to subject themselves to it.

Kerry invokes Churchill

For the sake of changing direction in Iraq, though what JFK would have us do other than talk to the Syrians isn’t at all clear.

A Crunchy Thumbs Up for APOCALYPTO

Dreher manfully admits that he was wrong to advise his crunchy crowd to abstain from Mel Gibson’s new film. I was also inclined not to see it. It just seemed too strange and not that interesting, even with the blood and guts and all. But apparently it’s another stunning masterpiece. (And if you go to Rotten Tomatoes, you will see that the mainstream critics are growing increasingly appreciative; the fashionable tendency to write Mel off is fading.) So I will see it right after the 25th; it’s probably not the best source of Christmas cheer. Feel free to give your opinion...especially if you want to warn me not to waste my time.

My frosty age

I am sixty today. As much goodwill as misunderstanding of the time and its meaning has been sent me. I say that save for creaking bones and shorter breath nothing has changed in many years. Excluding chance and fate I will go on, perhaps as

Dylan Thomas says about his father; and I to mine, who died two years ago on Christmas Day. Listen to it and thanks. I am not too old to learn.

Weigel’s book recommendations

George Weigel recommends the five best books for understanding Christianity. This chunk, from his description of Jaroslav Pelikan’s Jesus Through the Centuries, got my attention:

Pelikan discusses how Christianity’s theological wrestling with, and final acceptance of, representational art helped make possible accomplishments of the magnitude of Chartres’ stained glass and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes. It’s something to consider when pondering what a triumph by jihadist Islam might mean for the greatest artifacts of Western civilization.

Southern Appeal closes up shop

Southern Catholic Federalist Steve Dillard has shut down Southern Appeal, a lively and stimulating group blog over which he presided. I’ll miss it. Here’s hoping that (he? and) his co-bloggers find other homes on the web.

Christmas Tunes

Somebody should say omething about Christmas around here! NRO had, truth to tell, a rather disappointing symposium on Christmas music. As I’ve reported before, I have very vulgar tastes in all music, and so I’m only competent to comment on popular Christmas music. And for the sake of time, I’m going to limit myself pretty much to gut-level reactions to the tunes covered by the NRO experts. Feel free to express yourself.

Here’s some Christmas music that doesn’t move me at all: MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER, LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, SIMPLY HAVING A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS (McCartney--and I love McCartney generally), anything by Bing Crosby or Crosby-like--such as WHITE CHRISTMAS or HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS.

Here’s some stuff I like to hear: Raveonettes’ version of WINTER WONDERLAND,
Brenda Lee’s JINGLEBELL ROCK (and not any other version), MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY (maybe not the title--the song David Letterman features each year), Sandler’s CHANAKAH SONG, DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR (except a Crosbyesque version), the Barednaked Ladies’ version of GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN (and other pop versions of that too--not suitable for Crosby), the Celtic version of IL EST NE, LE DIVIN ENFANT (although I’m ambivalent about the song, having had to sing it about 300 times in my 6th-grade French class), the crassly commercial yet oddly affecting James Taylor Christmas CD, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (which for no deep reason I think is really great). The Elvis album of the secular or seasonal Christmas standards mostly stinks, and I basically like Elvis. I’m ok with the Chipmunks.

Notice that I’ve stayed away from standard versions of genuinely religious Christmas carols, which I love at the appropriate time.

Bush library update

The winner seems to be SMU, which, as I have noted, won’t bring out the best in some people.

For more on the anticipatory reaction, go here. For the Dallas newspaper story, go here.

Good blogs

Here’s E. J. Dionne, Jr.:

For all of its shortcomings, the success of opinionated journalism on the radio, cable television and the blogs reflects a public thirst for debate and argument that goes beyond the confines usually imposed by conventional definitions of news. The lesson is not that all should copy their style of argument, but that argument and engagement are very much in demand. For the established media, this will mean going back to the original debate between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. The objective should be to salvage Lippmann’s devotion to accuracy and fairness by putting these virtues to the service of the democratic debate that Dewey so valued.

***

I believe that if the old media do their jobs properly, and the new media do theirs right, we will be able to draw on the best aspects of both Lippman and Dewey - to find the right balance between the thirst for accurate information and the hunger for engagement, between a journalism that tells hard truths even if partisans don’t like them and a partisan media that sometimes tells hard truths about the mainstream media (yes, we can get things wrong) and that assimilates real information into their passionate forms of advocacy.

And here’s more:

Let those of us in traditional journalism not shrink from the challenges of the new technologies, of the blogs and of the new opinionated journalism. Let us welcome those challenges and their potential contributions. If a dry or detached or apolitical press threatened to demobilize citizens, the world of opinionated journalism might offer new opportunities to encourage citizens to engagement, to action -- yes, to good citizenship. The blogs in particular have developed an audience because there is a demand, as John Dewey would understand, for a medium that prizes commitment and engagement. That there is such a thirst for this may bother those who worry about excessive partisanship, but engagement is indispensable to democratic politics. And the proliferation of new outlets -- the rebirth of what my friend Tom Rosensteil has called the "pamphleteering" tradition -- could democratize both politics and the media.

In Dionne’s world, the "old media" stand for "fact, independent inquiry, courageous and expensive news coverage in war zones and in places such as Darfur where the oppressed need witnesses and solidarity," while the new media "encourage a passion for enagement and a commitment to the continuing work of democracy." I think that this sells short the thoughtfulness and reasonableness, not to mention the expertise, that some of us in the so-called new media bring to the table, while of course also understating (the nice way of putting it) the partisanship and passion not always hidden behind the veil of Dionne’s progressive vision of ’objective" journalism.

In any event, more grist for everyone’s mill...especially those of us beginning to think about our prospective APSA roundtable.

To check out what others have been saying, go here, here, here, and here.

Look Who I Found Under the Tree

I was curious to see which NBA coach found Allen Iverson under his Christmas tree. George Karl is the lucky owner of the 7-time All-Star, rapper, and general pain in the neck. Denver sent Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first-round picks to Philadelphia for Iverson. And then God sent 30-inches of snow to Denver. I’m not sure of the cosmic significance of this meteorological coincidence – it’s not exactly 40 days and nights of rain – but it does give one pause.

Michael Wilbon makes the best case for the trade. Karl emphasizes an up-tempo, guard oriented offense that increases the number of shots available. Denver has decent inside players. Iverson’s arrival will ease the pain of the 15-game suspension of Carmelo Anthony and help keep Denver in the playoff race. Iverson will be motivated by the trade to prove he can fit into the team concept and coexist, even prosper, with another superstar.

Maybe. At the very least the Nuggets will be entertaining. They were a middling team with some interesting parts to go along with Anthony, but no threat to the big three of San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix. Utah and the Lakers were (are) a much better bet to enter the mix. So what the heck? Perhaps lightning will strike in Denver. But it’s still hard to see the new Nuggets reaching the NBA Finals. Karl strikes me as being the wrong sort of coach for Iverson. He’s had problems with his star players in the past, such as Gary Payton. He’s a needler, exactly the sort of coach who would get under Iverson’s skin. Iverson coexisted for a time with another needler, Karl’s good friend, Larry Brown. But that was earlier in Iverson’s career.

So, who was the right sort of coach? In this circumstance, Pat Riley – especially with Shaq’s presence on and off the court and a deferential superstar (Dwayne Wade). Riley isn’t known for his good humor as a coach, either – he is known for unbearably long practices and creative motivational techniques – but his players always respected him as a man.

It will be an interesting experiment. Two superstars who lead the league in scoring, one just suspended for fighting, the other known for getting into trouble off the court. A volatile coach. A difficult conference. I would predict – if I were given to prediction – some improvement and excitement, perhaps a first-round playoff win, but the honeymoon won’t last into next year. AI is like TO. Something will happen. George Karl will wish Santa had given him Tim Duncan instead.

Barone on Iraq

Here’s Michael Barone’s astute analysis of the Iraq options facing the president, including Bush’s present inclination to raise troop levels as Kagan and Keane(but not the Joint Chiefs) advise. The article doesn’t include Barone’s clear and persuasive advice on what the president should do. He does endorse a stirring quote from Charles Krauthammer to the effect that there remains no alternative but "to change the culture" of the region. But how, exactly, at this point?

Hunter for President?!

It turns out that California Congressman Duncan Hunter is seeking the Republican nomination. Although he is the outgoing chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the article rightly places him among the least known of the candidates. He’s touting his strong stands on national defense and immigration control in Iowa, He (perhaps) sensibly is not for increasingly our number of troops in Iraq but for putting the ones we already have there to better use. He’s also pro-life. I have no opinion on his candidacy, except that it has no future unless he manages to win in Iowa.

If you scroll down further, you can be a bit disappointed that Huckabee’s autobiographical, 12-point program book will not quite be available for Christmas giving. It turns out that he’s also a man from Hope.

At this point I might be for any candidate who could really speak persuasively about what we should do in Iraq now. I hesitate to say it, but the president seems increasingly at a loss. And David Tucker’s incisive post below pushed me toward the temptation of despair.

Religious correctness

This is a thoughtful and interesting piece on the importance of teaching religion in the context of a liberal education, which ought to be read with care by the folks at Harvard (and, of course, elsewhere). You don’t have to agree with everything he says to be stimulated by it.

Update: Here’s the text of a letter I sent to the Times:


Professor Mark C. Taylor’s op-ed (“The Devoted Student”) rightly stands intransigently for free inquiry against “religious correctness” in the context of liberal education.


But he implies that this latest version of political correctness is largely or entirely the product of increasing devoutness on the part of students.


Having taught for more than twenty years at a secular liberal arts college in a “devout” part of the country, I disagree. What seems to me to have changed at least as much, if not more, is the larger climate of opinion in which students operate.


When we insist upon sensitivity to the concerns of some groups—giving them what in some cases amounts to a veto power over what’s said or studied in class—is it any wonder that others might be inclined to demand a similar respect for their “feelings”? Some religious students apparently can’t resist claiming for themselves the protected status colleges and universities have accorded to others.


A university genuinely and consistently devoted to free inquiry in all areas of human endeavor and study would at the very least be in a better position to resist religiously correct demands for censorship. We’d all be better off if there were space for a free exchange of ideas and opinions regarding all areas of our national life.

Professor Taylor studiously avoids identifying the affiliations of the students who are making the demands of religious correctness. Is everyone doing it, or are we talking about particular religions or denominations?

Iraq strategy

Stanley Kurtz recommends this piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Iraq

The problem in Iraq is sectarian/ethnic conflict. The latest edition of the Defense Department report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" (covering August through November, 2006) states that "at the present time, sustained ethno-sectarian violence is the greatest threat to security and stability in Iraq." (p. 23) The report also states that "the group that is currently having the greatest negative affect[sic] on the security situation in Iraq is Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) . . . [M]ost, but not all, elements of the organization take direction from Muqtada al-Sadr," (p. 19) who controls 30 seats in the Parliament and 6 ministries and is a supporter of the current Prime Minister.

Senator McCain wants to send more troops. So does Frederick Kagan. A lot more troops and heavy repressive measures might stop or decrease the violence (it has increased 22% in the past 3 months (p. 3)) but it will not stop the conflict. Kagan says that once we repress the violence, "reconstruction aid will help to reestablish normal life and, working through Iraqi officials, will strengthen Iraqi local government." But if we allow Iraqi officials to get involved in reconstruction, sectarian disputes will recur over who controls the money and projects. Unless we keep the repression in place indefinitely, sectarian violence will return to what it was.

More training of Iraqis will not work because the Iraqi Army and the police are sectarian organizations. Improving their capabilities will only increase the conflict, as it gives the Shia more tools to kill Sunnis and each other and the Sunnis more incentive to arm and fight back in order to protect themselves. There is little evidence that military training, especially in the short term, can instill in trainees the restraints that militaries in democratic countries practice. In the long term, if the Iraqi government is sectarian and ineffective, it will not be able to provide the logistical and administrative support that troops require to be effective.

Everything depends on ending the sectarian violence. The reality appears to be that a sufficient number in each sectarian/ethnic group wants to dominate. This requires continued fighting. Thus, peace and democracy have been more important to us than to Iraqis. This may now be changing. News reports indicate that an alliance among Shia, Sunni and Kurds may form to exclude the extremists, among them al-Sadr. Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of the Shia, has given his blessing apparently.

This new coalition is unlikely to put an end to the fighting, especially in the short term. Al-Sadr fought to get into the ruling coalition and is likely to fight on when he is out of it. Also, the Badr organization, which is part of the government of Iraq, and the JAM attack one another (competing for leadership of the Shia) and both attack Sunni. Both JAM and Badr receive support from external sources. Finally, "high levels of sectarian violence are driving some Sunni neighborhood watch organizations in Baghdad to transform themselves into militias with limited offensive capabilities." (p. 20)

However, in the long run, if the new coalition forms and if it manages to stay together, if the Iraqi government begins to function and in a non-sectarian way, if this reassures Sunni neighborhood watch/militias, if foreign support for Iraqi extremists declines, if the government can get control of corruption and criminal activity, which supports, profits from and adds to the violence . . ., then the presence of additional US troops might help.

But it is important to keep two things in mind. First, based on the study of historical cases of "stabilization and reconstruction," an analysis by RAND found that

International troop levels should be at least 1,000 soldiers per 100,000 inhabitants and international police levels should be at least 150 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants, especially when there is the potential for severe instability. These numbers are important for policing streets, defeating and deterring insurgents, patrolling borders, securing roads, and combating organized crime.
(http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG374.pdf)

For Baghdad’s population of 5 million or so, that implies 50,000 troops, a higher number than the upper estimate of the total that would be there following an increase. This would not take care of Anbar province, next to Baghdad that insurgents control, let alone other areas of the country.

Second, General Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East "argues that foreign troops are a toxin bound to be rejected by Iraqis, and that expanding the number of American troops merely puts off the day when Iraqis are forced to take responsibility for their own security."

One point General Abizaid is making is that the more unlimited our commitment to stability in Iraq appears to be, the less reason Iraqis have to commit to or remain committed to stability.

Ross Douthat on Frank Keating

Frank, it turns out, has become a prominent lobbyist, and so probably is not nominee material. But surely, Ross muses, the Republicans should nominate someone like him: A socially conservative Catholic non-convert not from the South. Any ideas?

Traditional morality = bigotry?

Renowned WaPo theologian Harold Meyerson likes Episcopalians just fine, so long as they don’t pose any inconveniently Biblical challenges to liberal orthodoxy. Of course, the real problem with those pesky conservative Episcopalians is the even peskier (though now deceased) Pope John Paul II:

John Paul also sought to build his church in nations of the developing world where traditional morality and bigotry, most especially on matters sexual, were in greater supply than in secular Europe and the increasingly egalitarian United States, and more in sync with the Catholic Church’s inimitable backwardness. Now America’s schismatic Episcopalians are following in his footsteps -- traditionalists of the two great Western hierarchical Christian churches searching the globe for sufficiently benighted bishops.

Sigh....

Obama watch, part 6

Dan Philips, a sometime NLT commenter and one-time pleasant dinner companion in Macon, offers his view of Obama’s World AIDS Day speech, which I discussed here. Obama, in DP’s view, is a pure purveyor of the old-time Social Gospel. It’s not surprising, he says, that "a liberal is embracing liberal Christianity." I think I found much the same thing in my examination of another Obama speech.

Christmas wars revisited

After the Mayor received an "Ebby", at least so the Becket Fund folks claim, a Nativity Story trailer may be shown in Chicago’s Daley Plaza after all.

Howard Friedman notes another front where a menorah was removed in order to avoid having to permit the erection of a creche. This article, linked by Professor Friedman, offers a good rundown of the unfortunate dispute.

Update: This is a nice article, and not just because it gives me the last word.

Blogging as talking

This is a small point in reference to Joe’s "Bad Blogs" just below. While the WSJ comment is perfectly sensible, it ignores a couple of points regarding blogs (never mind the fact that without blogs Dan Rather would still have a job, and Bush may not have been re-elected in 04). The only one I want to mention is this: The real reason for having a blog is to find out what your friends and trusted colleagues are reading and thinking about and then to speak plainly, or right on. And much of that has nothing to do with what is called "news." I have found a point, a thought, an intellectual disposition, to be very helpful in to me in thinking something through (and not only as an "instant response" or a "coagulant for orthodoxies"), or amusing me, or simply sharing a good piece of writing, even if it is only a good sentence or a phrase. A blog is a form of conversation, and at its best is a kind of dialogue. But this seems odd to people who keep their eye only on something called "instantaneity" vs "rigor" (never mind the crap about "mob behavior"). Let me repeat myself (just like in a conversation): A good blog is like a conversation. Of course, it kind of looks like writing, but in this case (hence its appeal to me?) the writing means to encourage talk (even not only in writing, but as orality) and therefore that kind of thinking; that is, thinking that is not simply full of "rigor" (no one ever talked in the form of a methodical exposition of a subject, as in a treatise) but is also witty and amusing and poetic and allusive and sometimes says more in a story than does a "rigorous" phrase or a march of logic that could only be followed in print, but not in conversation. The stuff about the news and instantaneity is just sharing some information of mutual interest, but mostly is just an excuse for a conversation. You know, like calling your friend on the phone with a specific point ("calling because I just finished grading my finals and wanted to talk to a human being") and then for an hour you bethump him with words (and he you) from and about Shakespeare, the manliness of Rummy, the passing beauty of a student, a musical note, what is currently worth reading, what isn’t, and why the world is golden. And a blog--like a conversation in a tavern--is with more than one person, as the world as pageant moves on right next to you. You note it as you keep talking with your friends.

Bad blogs

This WSJ editorial makes the case against blogs. In a nutshell:

The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Traditional daily reporting--the news--already rushes ahead at a pretty good clip, breakneck even, and suffers for it. On the Internet all this is accelerated.


The blogs must be timely if they are to influence politics. This element--here’s my opinion--is necessarily modified and partly determined by the right now. Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought--instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.

In other words, blogs are worse, even, than the network news, which at least has editors. While I’d love to return to a time when the only people writing on "current events" were Thucydides and Xenophon, I’ll take blogs for what they are--in some cases, a more or less thoughtful reaction to the day’s news, keeping those who report it a little more on their toes. Some bloggers are like editors themselves, calling our attention to and commenting on an array of stories and opinion pieces. There is, of course, a lot of junk out there, but anyone can ignore it, as most ignore this.

Obama watch, part 5

This WaTi editorial argues that Obama’s Senate voting record is, predictably, that of a liberal, and an undistinguished one at that. Nothing surprising here. Hat tip: Power Line.

Saletan’s 2006 Top Ten Human Nature Stories

If nothing else, this list is more entertaining than most of the others you’re going to be suckered into reading over the next few weeks. The number one story, in my opinion: IVF-PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) clinics have already made it possible for couples to select genetically defective embryos. We can no longer take comfort in the thought that those who longed for the tyrannical power to design their babies would at least want the best for them.

Some of the other studies seem more questionable: Whiny kids allegedly grow up to be conservatives, for example. (We can show that study not to be true by not whining about it.) And I’ll leave to others to sing the praises of spray-on condoms.

Is Giuliani More Likeable and Loyal than McCain?

Here’s a plausible account of why conservatives are less irked by Rudy than by John. Their socially liberal deviations from mainstream party principles are similar, but Giuliani doesn’t turn his disagreements into moments of self-righteous, media-pandering disloyalty (my obvious exaggeration is to get your attention). The claim is also made that Giuliani is just more likeable. (In my opinion, they’re both pretty likeable, despite their relatively thin skins.)

New Use for the Little Blue Pill?

My mom reported this to me the other day as I was complaining about the fact that our first live Christmas tree was going limp. I didn’t believe her, so I looked it up and, sure enough, Mother knows best. Unfortunately, our tree is already past the point of no return and, besides, I don’t know any old guys with a prescription. Who knew?!

In any event, I’m going back to the fake tree next year!

A lib-lib romance?

I noted some time ago Brink Lindsey’s proposal of a lib-lib alliance and Jonah Goldberg’s promise to write about it. Well, Jonah G. has made good on his promise, but only for NR subscribers. Here’s the most interesting snippet from behind the firewall:

Nonetheless, the tension between conservatives and libertarians is not as one-sided as he and others would have us believe. Libertarianism was once primarily concerned with negative liberty — i.e. delineating a zone free of government intrusion. Meyer’s libertarianism was primarily concerned with the ability of the individual to find the virtuous path within “an objective moral order based on ontological foundations” best expressed in Western civilization. As such, fusionism was less a coalitional doctrine than a metaphysical imperative. But these days, phrases like “objective moral order” will get you knocked off Cato’s Kwanzaa-card list. Liberty’s virtue is no longer that it supports the virtuous. Rather, according to today’s leading libertarians, economic freedom’s virtue lies in its ability to provide everybody the custom-made lifestyle of his choice.

***

This emphasis on the liberating power of technology and wealth — i.e., materialism and positive liberty — represents an enormous philosophical transformation within libertarianism that echoes, albeit faintly, elements of the economic liberalism of John Dewey and FDR. It also shows that today’s libertarians have a different view of the 1960s than their forefathers, such as Meyer. Evaluating the ideas within this burgeoning enterprise would require another essay, and a very long one. But three preliminary points are worth mentioning. First, a new left-leaning fusionism is a long way off. The flaws in Lindsey’s dream are Aesopian: The scorpion had to sting the frog because that is what scorpions do; liberals have to engage in economic social engineering because that is what they do. Second, sure, lib-lib tactical alliances are possible, but conservatives would be idiotic to whine excessively about them. After all, the true sign of your movement’s success is when your opponents start copying you.


Lastly, if the conservative-libertarian union is in trouble, it’s not solely because conservatives have strayed from their vows. Marriages tend to dissolve when both parties “grow apart,” and libertarians have been doing quite a bit of growing themselves. “You’ve changed” is a fair accusation from both sides, though “I don’t even know you anymore” is surely an exaggeration. Perhaps the real lesson here is that conservatives and libertarians need to recommit themselves to the fusionist project. In other words: Let’s seek counseling.

Jonah G. seems to me correct about the current general libertarian indifference to the connection between virtue and responsibility, between "private" taste and character, on the one side, and the capacity for self-government, on the other. He’s also right that the Sixties may have ruined the old-fashioned libertarianism that could readily fuse with conservatives.

Get your hands on the whole piece, either in print or on-line. (By the way, one of the easiest ways for faculty folks to gain access to NR’s protected content is by becoming an ISI Faculty Associate.)

Is McCain the Establishment Candidate Now?

According to Bob Novak, it’s because of his electability. But, to his credit, McCain refuses to be "Ms. Congeniality" or confused with Bob Dole. Novak speculates that the vacuum to his right, especially if Romney falters, might be filled by Oklahoma’s Frank Keating, whom I remember sort of vaguely as a very good governor and as Bush’s likely running mate in 2000 until Cheney took the reins. So there’s another very long shot for ya’.

The Perfect Christmas Gift!

From the Levenger Catalogue ("tool for serious readers") comes the perfect Christmas gift: The Claremont Unifier! As you can see from the photo, it has no hidden comparments, no esoteric markings or invisible ink wells. (Or so it would seem.)

I wonder if someone at Levenger really has that refined a sense of humor?

Stern Justice

David Stern has spoken. Carmelo Anthony will serve a 15 game suspension for his role in the on-court riot Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The other players deemed culpable received lesser but still stiff penalties. The teams were hit with $500,000 fines.

A few quick thoughts. I approve of ‘Melo’s punishment, which is considerably above that meted out for previous incidents and thus is likely to be reduced on appeal. (The fact that Isaiah Thomas skated, as usual, is appalling.) Stern knows that the league took an enormous public relations hit from the Ron Artest brawl a few years back and he thought he’d gotten his message across to the players. Evidently not. He had to pick out the highest profile offender and raise the ante.

Fighting is hardly new to basketball. Kermit Washington punch’s nearly killed Rudy T. The sainted Larry Bird and Dr. J even got into it, although it was a typical pro sports fight, no harm no foul. But over the past decade pro basketball had seemed on the verge of spilling out of control and into the stands, culminating in the Artest fiasco. Thus Stern’s intervention.

There once did seem to a self-enforcing mechanism that limited the mayhem when the league was much smaller and the big men much bigger (in the sense that you really, really didn’t want to fight them). Wilt Chamberlain – a gentle giant, really, but a giant nonetheless – once decided he’d break up a shoving match involving one of the league’s tough guys, Wayne Embry (6-8, 280 or so), if I recall correctly. Wilt picked him up by his jersey and sort of slid him out of bounds, from the free throw line. Everyone stopped and stared. Wilt had gotten angry. You wouldn’t like Wilt when he was angry. That was that. No one stepped in to challenge Wilt. I don’t think even a technical foul was assessed. On with the game.

Perhaps my rosy-eyed revisionism is unjustified. But I wonder how much of these gang-like brawls in basketball are related to the gang-like culture with which many of the young players identify. They are clever – they fund showy charitable activities, as Carmelo Anthony has done, but then they are off to their favorite head-banging nightclub, where they wind up in a parking lot fight at 3 in the morning. ESPN has been running an interesting feature on pro athletes and guns. One estimate of pro basketball players puts gun ownership at 90%. Many athletes carry guns. They point out that they feel they need the protection when their public visibility makes them likely targets. Boston’s Paul Pierce was knifed and seriously injured a few years ago. One of course supports their Second Amendment right to protect themselves and their family. But in this case Karl Malone, former NBA great, outdoorsman and hunter, scoffs. He says it’s not about protection of home and person. You take a young athlete, drunk, with his posse, at a club at 3 in the morning, with a gun. Good luck.

I wonder how far we are away from a similar outbreak in professional football, which has been remarkably disciplined given the fact that it’s a violent collision sport, to use Vince Lombardi’s term. The Miami-FIU brawl earlier this season reminds us this can happen. Especially as the police blotter for pro football players continues to grow. At least 35 NFL players have been arrested this year on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to felony burglary. To be sure, football players have never been saints (or Saints) but once again, one wonders if the old inside-the-game enforcement mechanism will break down.

Study Shows the Value of Intact Families and Religious Observance

The Heritage Foundation has released a study that details ten leading indicators of teenage well-being and what is most likely to yield this desirable result: intact families and religious observance. Shocking, I know. But apparently this kind of hard "data" is necessary to the argument these days.

Goldberg vs. Gerson

Jonah G. doesn’t agree with Michael G.. For what it’s worth, I think that Gerson is right about the stakes and probably right that "civil society" can’t simply resurrect itself where it’s broken.

My concern is that opening the door to government programming usually lets in a lot more than someone like Gerson (or Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney or Sam Brownback [who goes unmentioned in MG’s piece]) presumably wants.

Update: For more quibbles and quarrels over at The Corner, go here, here, and here. As I re-read the essay, I can see why folks are objecting so vehemently: there’s an eminently contestable interpretation of the Reagan legacy and an (unfortunately) unnuanced (or insufficiently nuanced) implication that the default solutions to our problems are governmental. I would nonetheless like to hear what, if anything, Jonah’s correspondents (or Jonah himself) liked about the essay. Or are they going to read Gerson out of the conservative movement?

Iraq’s economy

I was surprised to read that the Iraqi economy is thriving, and this is reported in Newsweek, of all places. Judging by the extravagant reporting on the mischief there, I thought the place had already disintegrated. Not yet, I guess, not yet. Yet, this is very bad news for Iraqis.

Bush library controversy

This article reports on controversy over plans for the G. W. Bush library at SMU. There have been articles written and letters of protest circulated. Francis Beckwith says he’d be happy to see the library at Baylor, his institution (and one of the competitors, along with the University of Dallas).

The rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, the opposition to the library is transparently political.

Obama watch, part 4

John Fund makes the case against an Obama candidacy, and in favor of a spot on the ticket with HRC. He says everything I would have said.

How Nice for You . . . How About the Kid?

This emotionally wrenching and extraordinarily well-written piece by an 18 year-old girl who is the product of sperm donor, ought to give pause to anyone who thinks these matters are all just a matter of personal choice . . . for the parents.

Hat tip: Priscilla Tacujan.

More Human Misery Unveiled

A personal testimony of a doctoral student on fellowship: He can’t tell whether he’s always working or always not working. But he does know it’s hell never to have to be at work. I’ve heard rumors that professors on sabbatical experience similar cruel suffering.

George Will on Republican Tightrope Walkers

Will has a very interesting column on McCain’s and Romney’s immediate problems. McCain, to avoid contradicting himself, may be soon be stuck with repudiating the president’s Iraq strategy as immoral. And Romney, in light of new evidence, now has a harder time showing that he’s not contradicting his earlier, more socially liberal positions just to gain conservative support. (It does appear that Romney did attempt to position himself to the left of Ted Kennedy on some issues when he ran against him.)

Meanwhile, John Edwards is entering the race on the Democratic side. It would be easy to misunderestimate him, given his lame vice-presidential run. But he’s done well in making himself look and sound more seasoned yet still mighty telegenic. Edwards is clearly a very smart guy with considerable personal discipline. And he’s been concentrating on winning in Iowa, where he apparently now leads Senators Clinton and Obama. That Iowa strategy has worked before.
And the southern white male strategy has been the only winning ticket for the Democrats since 1960. (Gore, for reasons I’ll explain later, doesn’t seem southern enough--or at least most of the Gores don’t.)

Europe dying

This short Josef Joffe review of Mark Steyn’s America Alone is worth reading if no other reason because Joffe might be the last continental thinking (with a sense of humor). His verdict on Steyn: "Pedagogy could not be more pleasurable."

War and technology

Josiah Bunting reviews Max Boot’s War Made New. Pretty Good. Bunting will be speaking at the Ashbrook Center in March.

Musical Recommendation

Finally, if you are a jazz piano fan, don’t miss this splendid video of Les McCann from 1960. It’s 2:44 of pure bliss.

Up For Air

I’m finally digging out from under the rubble, with a little more time to blog, so herewith some random Sunday morning observations:

Time magazine’s Person of the Year: "You." Lame.

Is there anything more to be said about the Iraq Study Group? Maybe just this revisionist musing about James A. Baker III. The cliche for years is that if Baker had remained Reagan’s chief of staff in Reagan’s second term, he never would have let the Iran-Contra scheme go forward. But given his suggestion that we now negotiate with Ahmanijewhackjob, can we really be so sure of this?

We’re well into the season of what Michael Kinsley called "The Great Mentioner," when every conceivable person who might run for president gets his (or her) moment of media attention. There is of course lots of speculation about the possible candidacy of a former Vice President whose name rhymes with "bore." But how come another recent former Vice President--Dan Quayle--never gets a mention? He tried briefly to run in 2000, but found quickly that G.W. Bush had all the money cornered. And given that the return of the old Bush crowd in the form of the ISG represents the supposed return of the so-called "adults," why not Quayle?

Caught a little squib on TV late last night about how Hollywood studios save ooodles of money by outsourcing production. . . oops, I mean, "filming on location"--overseas. A producer explained that on a major film, shooting overseas can save $15 million or more, in lower set materials and labor costs. That helps play for the $20 million or so to hire Tom Cruise to star. (But remember: Corporate CEOs are overpaid.) How come no outcry about "outsourcing" the work of our entertainment industry? Will Hollywood productions be included in any kind of anti-outsourcing bill that the new Democratic Congress may produce? Don’t hold your breath.

Finally, more evidence this morning in The New York Times that the Episcopal Church is about to crack up and is on its way to becoming as forlorn as the World Esperanto Association. I bailed a long time ago.

Backing Brownback

Is Tom Monaghan.