Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Peter Lawler’s former Congressman

Has become a Libertarian.

A Man Retires

No doubt in some circles Donald Rumsfeld will only be remembered for making some needed changes in the Pentagon, or for making some mistakes in the war. Such remembrance will not be worthy of the man.

I will always remember him as the manly presence and voice of our just response in deep crisis. By his obvious integrity, swift action, and then rugged endurance, he fulfilled all the obligations of heroism. His swashbuckling charisma helped. Both young men and women watched in awe this former fighter jock, with crooked legs and all, amble his old body first to pick up human pieces outside the hit building and then to respond lyrically to the prosaic media who represented another form of attack. During one of those press conferences
I heard a father lean over to his son and say, "Look you, this is a man at work. Mark it. You may not see it again."

This old man, this old prize fighter, this old jock, this minister of war, this archetypal American, dispatched great menace upon the enemy. He threw our best at them. And he kept throwing. And he called it by the right name of war as he reminded us why civilization is better than barbarism, and why it is worth defending. Not bad from a craftsman of war.

His graceful disdain for the base factions who habitually called for head was a poetic response of a man who knew his duty. His statesmanship was deeply appreciated by his fellow citizens. His conduct has been splendid. He has inspired all us ordinary men to extend ourselves beyong the petty and the routine. This old body and heart and mind walking away from the arena has reminded us of human greatness and excellence. And I thank him.

No Longer "You Americans" for This New American

Sally Pipes, president and CEO of my former and still some-time employer, the Pacific Research Institute, was sworn in as an American citizen today, the greatest loss to Canada since William Shatner came south to star in the only movie ever filmed entirely in Esperanto. (I’m not making that up.)

Congratulations Sally! Move over Peter.

Interesting spring conference

There’s still time to submit a proposal for this conference, which I’ve enjoyed every time I’ve attended. This year, I’m planning to present a short little something on "family values" in Livy, focusing on the Lucretia and Verginia stories.

An Interview with Mitt

Here’s an NRO interview with Romney.
Kathryn Lopez was not particularly hard on the governor. But his answers still seem quite thoughtful, especially on Iraq and the whole ROE mentality. And he’s very clear (more clear than most of our politicians) that marriage and abortion are issues for the people--not activist judges--to decide, and that defending "traditional marriage" need not imply animosity toward gays or a violation of rights. He waffled a bit on the "evolution of his views" issue, but not that much.

Can We Think Outside the Capitalism-Statism Box?

Here’s a very thoughtful and exceedingly respectful criticism of me for my biostatism. The alternative? Biocapitalism! My tentative response: Isn’t there a third alternative? That would be political deliberation.

Another blogster comments on my NEW ATLANTIS article with the intention of showing that liberals will unite with the libertarians on organ markets. Liberals, on such issues, can’t explain why they aren’t libertarians.

Obama watch, part 3

Peggy Noonan:

Sen. Obama spent his short lifetime breathing in the common liberal/leftist wisdom, which he exhales at length. This is not something new--it’s something old in a new package. And it is something that wins you what he has, a series of 100% ratings from left-liberal interest groups.

He is, clearly, a warm-blooded political animal, an eager connector, a man of intelligence and a writer whose observations suggest the possibility of an independence of spirit. Also a certain unknowability. Which may account for some of his popularity.

But again, what does he believe? From reading his book, I would say he believes in his destiny. He believes in his charisma. He has the confidence of the anointed. He has faith in the magic of the man who meets his moment.

He also believes in the power of good nature, the need for compromise, and the possibility of comprehensive, multitiered, sensible solutions achieved through good-faith negotiations.

But mostly it seems to be about him, his sense of destiny, and his appreciation of his own particular gifts. Which leaves me thinking Oh dear, we have been here before. It’s not as if we haven’t already had a few of the destiny boys. It’s not as if we don’t have a few more in the wings.

The Washington Times

Mr. Obama’s record as an Illinois state senator was down-the-line liberal. For someone representing a liberal district in Chicago, that’s not very surprising. What is surprising is how Mr. Obama’s liberal label has been effectively wiped clean since he entered the U.S. Senate.

Of course, some people grow in office....

Berkowitz on liberal education

The prolific Peter Berkowitz writes on liberal education, taking as his point of departure J.S. Mill’s Inaugural Address at St. Andrews. A snippet:

M ill’s nineteenth-century analysis of liberal education is relevant to the twenty-first-century university not for the specific curriculum he proposes but because of the larger principles he outlines and the greater goods he clarifies. His analysis suggests several lessons. First, a liberal education aims to liberate the mind by furnishing it with literary, historical, scientific, and philosophical knowledge and by cultivating its capacity to question and answer on its own. Second, a liberal education must, in significant measure, provide not a smorgasbord of offerings but a shared content, because knowledge is cumulative and ideas have a history. Third, a liberal education must adapt to local realities, providing the elementary instruction, the stepping stones to higher stages of understanding, where grade school and high school education fail to perform their jobs. Fourth, the aim of a liberal education is not to achieve mastery in any one subject but an understanding of what mastery entails in the several main fields of human learning and an appreciation of the interconnections among the fields. Fifth, liberal education is not an alternative to specialization, but rather a sound preparation for it. Sixth, a liberal education culminates in the study of ethics, politics, and religion, studies which naturally begin with the near and familiar, extend to include the faraway and foreign, and reach their peak in the exploration, simultaneously sympathetic and critical, of the history of great debates about justice, faith, and reason. Seventh, all of this will be for naught if teaching is guided by the partisan or dogmatic spirit, so professors must be cultivated who will bring to the classroom the spirit of free and informed inquiry.

The principal obstacle, says Berkowitz, is the professoriate. You don’t have to agree with everything he says to find engagement with the essay fruitful.

Novak and Meacham on public religious expression

A Pew transcript.


Most of our ideas about law and liberty have religious roots. They are not wholly religious, but they are crucially so. It’s ahistorical to argue differently. But the most important thing as we go forward, in a country that is 80 percent Christian and where only 10 percent of people are willing to acknowledge they are atheists, is for the religious to actually pay attention to what the religion teaches. This is a radical concept in some circles. I think as a believer who is very much part of a majority – I’m a white Southern male, Episcopalian – except for the Episcopalian part, I’m not often a minority. My job is to be deferential, to acknowledge the centrality of liberty – not of toleration. Tolerance presupposes the idea that a majority is granting a minority a right to do something. Implicit in that is the ability to yank it back. Liberty comes from God or from the social contract, if you view it from a secular perspective. It is therefore universal and inviolate. Tolerance is conditional, and that’s something else; it’s a dangerous thing, I think.

The job of this 80 percent is to concede the point whenever it needs to be conceded. You can put a crèche in a churchyard. You can put a crèche in your front yard. You can put a crèche in your house. Put the reindeer on the cross, whatever it is you want to do. One has to be confident enough in one’s faith to figure it’s a pretty poor God who needs shopping malls and courthouse lawns to support his cause. If he’s God, he’s got it taken care of. I don’t think he needs Santa, the menorah, and the crèche.


God may not need crèches in malls and in courthouses, but human beings do.

More entertaining than illuminating, but still good reading.

Bettor Days

You have read my carping about the obvious and subtle impact that big business, advertising and network television have on sports. But at least this influence, or most of it, is reasonably above board. The fight between the NFL and the big cable companies is splashed over the sports and financial pages. If you don’t like it, you can always write your Congressman.

Readers have pointed out to me that gambling is probably the black hole that most warps the space-time continuum of athletics. As with Rick’s Café in Casablanca, we should not be shocked to learn that gambling occurs on the premises -- or that it involves huge sums of money, often in less than savory hands. The professional and college sports establishments are well aware of the risks. To give one obvious example: the NFL feels compelled to issue injury reports every week, with players rated from “probable” to “out” – not for the benefit of ordinary Joe Fan but to dissuade gamblers from looking to beg, borrow or steal inside information about a team’s health. Pete Rose is banned for life for baseball’s equivalent of the sin against the Spirit, which cannot be forgiven. Paul Horning and Alex Karras, then arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the NFL, were banned for one season in 1963 for betting on football. (Horning played for Vince Lombardi, for God’s sake.) Point shaving scandals, involving a few individuals, surface once every decade or so in college basketball.

One strongly suspects that another Black Sox scandal, probably worse – the corruption of entire teams or officiating crews or even league offices – is lurking not far below the surface. There is too much money to be made in too many ways. Too many shady figures surround today’s athletes. Michael Konik, who has written several books on gambling, describes one tip of the iceberg.

The Brain Trust [is] a shadowy cabal of gamblers who wager enormous amounts of money on sports events, using a supercomputer and a SWAT team of injury and weather experts to take advantage of minor discrepancies in the point spreads set up by the Vegas linemakers. It’s a multimillion-dollar business — and legal — but there’s a wrinkle: they like to bet hundreds of thousands of dollars per game, and whenever the casinos sniff out betting syndicates like the Brain Trust, they show them the door in a heartbeat. That’s because in addition to risking huge losses each week, the bookmakers are forced to adjust their betting lines — sometimes by two or three points for a football game — whenever the “smart money” wades in, since they desperately need other customers to bet the other side to balance their action and stand a chance of making money.

The Brain Trust and its like manipulate the point spread the way hedge funds and currency speculators jigger the stock market – or the famous MIT blackjack team card- counted its way to fame and fortune in the casinos. Such creativity with such high stakes won’t be limited to the front parlor of Rick’s Café.

Reason and little faith at Harvard

A few months ago, Harvard attracted a lot of attention by including a "reason and faith" category in its propsed gen ed revisions. Looks like that requirement has been dropped. Perhaps this essay, by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, had something to do with it. Of course, his sweeping dismissal of religion and of faith--"universities are about reason, pure and simple." Would that be about faith in reason? And then there’s this:

For us to magnify the significance of religion as a topic equivalent in scope to all of science, all of culture, or all of world history and current affairs, is to give it far too much prominence. It is an American anachronism, I think, in an era in which the rest of the West is moving beyond it.

I guess that just about settles it. Professor Pinker’s university is about dogmatic rationalism.

Update: More

S. D. Senator Tim Johnson

Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Johnson and his family. Drop by our friends at South Dakota Politics for local color.

John Ford the Poet

I continued my conversation with John Marini on Westerns, still focusing on John Ford, with some good analysis of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," maybe Ford’s best; pride, equality, tyranny, the beginning, the end, it’s all there. Did you know that John Wayne never eats in the movie? "I’m not in the habit of eating steaks off the floor." Marini explains the importance of this, as well as the schoolhouse scene: "Education is the basis of law and order." You are going to like Marini and then you will have to see the movie again. You won’t be able to help yourself. Great stuff. Early next year I will talk with Marini again, perhaps move on to Sam Peckinpah’s movies. My thanks to John Marini.

Robert Browning

I recently suggested to a mother some poems and books for children and among them was The Pied Piper of Hamelin which I haven’t read in a couple of years (although when my kids were young I read it so often that I had almost memorized; they loved it); it’s still a great read for any age. Here is a nice children’s edition.

The Christmas menorah

Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly points to this article, from last year, about the role of menorahs in the public square. Some Jewish organizations oppose them, others, like Chabad, relentlessly promote them.

Many Christian groups support Chabad’s efforts to reclothe the naked public square, embracing the Jewish symbol because pluralism calls for a multiplicity of symbols. As Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress, who opposes Chabad’s campaign, wrote back in 1987, "the menorah on public lands clears the path for the creche and the Cross."

Why not? Is religious freedom best promoted by a robust public pluralism or by a crabbed secularism intent on policing public expressions of religiosity? There will surely be a little conflict in the former case, but it could well produce understanding. In the latter case, mutual understanding and accommodation are foreclosed by a paternalistic effort to avoid conflict altogether.

Update: Here’s some evidence of the connection between the menorah and "the creche and the Cross."

Upate #2: You can read the Chabad case for robust pluralism here.


Show up on time. Pay attention. Play like hell.

Those were the only three rules that John Madden, the long-time NFL TV analyst, had while coaching the Oakland Raiders.

Allen Iverson, the star-crossed point/shooting guard late of the Philadelphia 76ers, apparently got only part of that memo. Play like hell. No one, especially no one 6-0, 165 pounds (officially) has ever left more of himself on the basketball floor. As Bob Ryan writes in today’s Boston Globe: “He maxes out on sheer athleticism, for openers, and he outmaxes the maxing out in both competitiveness and toughness. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he has played more games that no one else could possibly have played than any player in the history of the game. Allen Iverson is Brett Favre’s alter ego.” In terms of statistics, Iverson is arguably the biggest small man of all time. He has won 4 NBA scoring titles. This season he is averaging 31.2 points and 7.3 assists per game.

For the rest of it, ESPN will never let us forget one of the all-time rants – “we talkin’ ‘bout practice” – when Iverson heard that one of his coaches, Larry Brown, had criticized his practice habits. The transcript cannot do justice to Iverson’s tone.

It’s easy to talk about, it’s easy to sum it up when you just talk about practice. We sittin’ in here, I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talkin’ about practice. I mean listen, we talkin bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. We talkin bout practice. Not a game, not a, not a, not the game that I go out there and die for, and play every game like its my last. Not the game. We talkin’ bout practice, man. I mean how silly is that? We talkin’ bout practice. I know I’m supposed to be there, I know I’m supposed to lead by example. I know that, and I’m not shovin’ it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know its important, I do. I honestly do. But we talkin’ bout practice, man. What are we talkin’ bout? Practice? We talkin’ bout practice man. We talk... We talkin’ bout practice. We talkin’ bout practice. We ain’t talkin’ bout the game, we talkin’ bout practice, man. When you come into the arena, and you see me play, you see me play, don’t you? You see me give everything I got, right? But we talkin’ bout practice right now. We talkin’ bout practice. (crowd laughs) Man look, I hear you, its funny to me too. I mean, its strange, its strange to me too. But we talkin’ bout practice man. We not even talkin’ bout the game, the actual game, when it matters. We talkin’ bout practice.

Iverson showed up to practices and team functions when he felt like it. He listened to coaches when he felt like it. And, as Ryan delicately puts it, “there is also the matter of wondering about what Allen is doing in his free time (hint: he’s not attending ‘The Nutcracker’).”

Ryan takes a particular interest in Iverson today because the moody superstar has demanded a trade. After 11 years of his act, with a 5-15 record and going nowhere fast, Philadelphia is only too happy to accommodate him. Golden State, Minnesota and Boston are thought to be the leading contenders. Ryan clearly thinks Boston would be, how shall we say, insane to take him on. Iverson is an old 31, having lived life hard on and off the basketball floor. More to the point, Iverson never learned the lesson that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird knew from the cradle and Michael Jordan eventually learned:

When one can get off a shot anytime one wishes and when one can (or thinks he can) dribble through entire teams, and one can pretty much pull off any athletic feat one wishes during the course of a basketball game, one all too often arrives at the conclusion that one should, in fact, act on one’s impulses at any given point in time. Team dynamics be damned. What is the recurrent story of Allen Iverson’s NBA career? Simple. It’s the ongoing attempt of general managers and coaches to find players who might be compatible with him. . . . Ten-plus years into his career, there is little evidence to suggest that Iverson is coachable. Ah yes, coaches. I’d pay serious cash money to attend a meeting of the Allen Iverson Alumni Coaches Association. I’d like to hear them talk about how difficult it is to create a team atmosphere when the most gifted player is openly disdainful of practice.

Ryan gives full credit to Iverson for bringing the modestly-talented 76er team of 2000-2001 through to the NBA Finals. But that was six years ago, when Larry Brown (barely) was able to get through to Iverson for a brief shining moment, at a time when his game was at its peak. Iverson differs from many modern athletic superstars: when he does show up, he plays hard. But that was not good enough then. And it certainly isn’t good enough now. He is, as Jim Mora Sr. spoke the truth about Michael Vick, a coach killer. And some coach is about to get the bad news.

Islamic Imperialism

While I don’t get all this manliness stuff below, I would like to mention a book I have been reading and one that continues to be readable, even late into the night. I started it months ago, then life pushed, but now I have been able to push back and so I read. Might be a good thing to read during Christmas: Efraim Karsh’s Islamic Imperialism: A History. A great read and maybe--now that I think about it--the subject might be related to manliness.

Judge Jones’s intelligent design

Last year, Judge John E. Jones, III handed down a decision in the Dover (PA) intelligent design case that got him lots of good press (albeit not from me). Turns out that he was basically channelling the ACLU line in the portion of his opinion dealing with ID.

Let’s just say that his opinion gives the lie to what he said in his Dickinson College commencement address:

I am daily exposed to many disciplines, I must learn and relearn things constantly, and I am at risk of deciding a case incorrectly if I accept that which is presented to me at face value.

Well, this critical thinker took what the ACLU handed him at face value, and then took the accolades for "his" definitive opinion.

Update: Judge Jones’s critics at
the Discovery Institute have been all over his opinion, and have also found a striking similarity between his Dickinson commencement address and a book published a few years earlier. Hmm.

War for Talent?

There are changes planned to the Foreign Service Exam for next year, a dumbing down, according to some. There is more competition for talent than in the past, so goes the story. This is interesting:

"The revamp is slated for next year, if the department secures the money needed to pursue it. The decision comes as official Washington grapples with its biggest hiring challenge in decades: finding fresh faces to replace a tsunami of retiring baby boomers. Over the next decade, 60 percent of federal workers will reach retirement age, according to the Washington-based Partnership for Public Service. Yet most people between the ages of 18 and 29 think the private sector offers more creativity and attracts the best minds, according to a new Gallup survey."

McCurry on Clinton

I talked to a student today about Clinton. He was smitten with his general demeanor, ability to talk, etc. I tried to point out his flaws (never mind not agreeing with him on this or that) but without success. Then I caught this from Mike McCurry, Clinton’s press guy:

"Despite Clinton’s many domestic and international advances during his two terms as president, McCurry said, above all, ’the record and legacy of the Clinton presidency is, dare I use the word, "stain."

’In some ways, he had enormous potential and political gifts. But, they didn’t arise because of his lack of discipline,’ McCurry added."

Christmas Movies

I’ve got a sick kid at home from school today and so she’s been camped out on our couch watching a marathon of Christmas movies between cat-naps and sniffles.

Our favorites (for kids):

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer;
How the Grinch Stole Christmas the cartoon, not the recent bad movie;
Santa Claus is Coming to Town;
A Charlie Brown Christmas;
and my all time favorite kids Christmas movie, The Year Without a Santa Claus (and NOT that disaster made for TV last night, but the original Rankin/Bass one from the 70s.)

For one and all:

Any decent version of A Christmas Carol;
Miracle on 34th Street the original Natalie Wood version; A Christmas Story; Holiday Inn (much better than White Christmas);
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation because you can’t take anything--even Christmas--too seriously; and my all time favorite movie, period It’s a Wonderful Life

Attack or add at will!

Manliness Studies

In the spirit of Christmas book lists, let me say that your gift package of recent books on manliness should include the following: Mansfield, MANLINESS; Tom Wolfe, I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS; Carson Holloway, THE RIGHT DARWIN; Ericson and Mahoney, eds, THE SOLZHENITSYN READER; Pierre Manent, A WORLD BEYOND POLITICS?;

For those of you who (with good reason) are convinced that Christmmas is not the season of manliness, I’ll try to put together some other packages later.

Thirty (or more) years’ war in the Middle East

Tom Cerber calls our attention to this analysis of the broader Sunni/Shia conflict in the Middle East. Do those who know more than I do about Iran agree with Spengler’s account of its predicament?

Claremont Christmas books

Their recommendations are here. Now I feel obliged to offer mine, and encourage other NLT contributors to offer suggestions as well.

First, I’ll relieve Steve Hayward of having to be shameless, recommending Greatness.

Then, I’ll relieve Peter Lawler of the same need, recommending Stuck with Virtue.

We should all read about Manliness, and, while we’re at it, add Randy Newell’s What Is a Man?.

I think that Jim Ceaser’s Nature and History in American Poltiical Development solidifies his standing as one of our smartest and most thoughtful commentators on the deeper cultural and philosophical roots of the American regime.

I rather liked Elizabeth Edwards Spalding’s book on Harry Truman, which I reviewed for the forthcoming Claremont Review of Books.

Richard Brookhiser is auditioning in a compelling way to be America’s contemporary Plutarch; I especially liked his book on Washington.

Finally, if you’re still at a loss, consult this list, from which any purchase benefits the Ashbrook Center.

My Kind of Bishop, and other Tuesday Notes

News is weird today. First, a drunk Bishop over in Britain makes the papers, confirming what we already suspected about confusion over the Holy Spirit in the Anglican Church, and then former CIA director James Woolsey sings "Dixie Chicken" in public!!! What next? I suppose some comic genius will suggest direct negotiations with Iran and Syria about Iraq. . . What?

Vast left-wing conspiracy?

Those interested in the burgeoning intellectual and policy infrastructure on the Left will likely be interested in this Hudson Institute transcript, featuring NR’s Byron York and a couple of prominent players in the VLWC, as well as in a couple of Open Society Institute events they mention, one featuring former Olin Foundation head James Piereson and the other addressing the question of "how do progressives connect ideas to action". There’s a transcript for the former, but the latter consists at the moment of two MP3 files totaling over three hours. Perhaps Peter S. can listen to them while walking his dog; my son won’t let me anywhere near his iPod, unless it’s to download Weird Al for him.

In the meantime, content yourself with this, from the Hudson transcript, characterizing the OSI meeting:

I had a forum at the Open Society Institute yesterday, actually, with fifteen or twenty progressive leaders – Bill Moyers moderated.... One of the discussions
we got into among ourselves was the tensions on the progressive side between critique and celebration, as it were. And I think a problem for the left has been that very often we’re both caricatured as being only about critique, and also there’s some truth in that just as there is in almost any critique. And so our relationship with the Founders and the history of the country is somewhat different and more complex because it’s about the perfectibility of the American experiment. There is an understandable emphasis on our side with the shortcomings of the United States, and that’s a tough thing.

I don’t know that I would say that the progressives aren’t grounded enough in Founders. I think it is that they’re not, in recent years, grounded in any big ideas. I don’t know that that’s the dividing line I would choose. I think that there has been, for a variety of reasons, a kind of smallbore quality to a lot of thinking, and very few progressives – some are in this room, colleagues of mine – if you asked them about their historical or hilosophical influences or books that they are
reading or have read that had some influence on them, would have as much interesting to say as people on the right. Is that going to be an impediment to becoming the party of government again? I don’t know. But it’s something that bothers me a bit – and it’s a little bit of what I say with the audacity thing. I guess I should correct myself slightly to say that we have plenty of audacity. You can – and Horowitz has done this – find a million crazy ideas that left wing professors are touting. There isn’t a lack of audacious, crazy ideas. There has been quite a
disconnection, however, between the academy and the actual world of policy and politics on the progressive side, despite the fact that right thinks that the left controls the academy.

Why is there an apparent or alleged disconnect between the political left and the academic left? This joke doesn’t fully explain it:

But if you just take as a kind of device the Horowitz list of the
hundred most dangerous professors – or whatever it is, these people are supposed to be undermining America – if you look through that, if there is one of them in there who has ever had a contact with a Democratic officeholder other than standing outside in their driveway with a no-blood-for-oil sign, I’d be very surprised.

After all, there’s evidence that most professorial campaign contributions go to Democrats. Why don’t the ideas follow the money? Is the academic left too far out, too adversarial? Or is there a portion of the academic left (law professors, for example) whose ideas are so "mainstream" that they’re no longer regarded as "academic"?

Good colleges

Hillsdale College Larry P. Arnn, last featured here on this website, dissed both Ashland and Oglethorpe in an otherwise excellent appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show this evening. Arnn offered an eloquent account of the Hillsdale education, indeed of liberal education altogether, at one point citing this line from Bishop Berkeley:

"Whatever the world thinks, he who hath not much meditated upon God, the human mind, and the Summon Bonum, may possibly make a thriving earthworm, but will certainly make a sorry patriot and a sorry statesman."

Good stuff, but somehow Peter has to get him to plug our institutions when he’s on national radio.

Studies Show That Men Have a Better Sense of Humor Than Women

Christopher Hitchens tries to explain why. Are men more likely than women really to think that life itself is a cruel joke? Or is the pain and risk of having babies no laughing matter?
Is there anything more boring than a woman talking about her newborn? Or about her dreams? I’m not sure about these studies. Mr. Mansfield’s study of manliness shows that women secretly think that manly exaggeration is the biggest joke in the cosmos, but they (in their self-interest and out of love) don’t laugh about it while we men are around. And Mr. Hitchens’ own (intentional) wittiness I’ve always found to be pretty uneven.

Here Hitchens laughably wastes many, many words in a futile attempt to show that Ann Coulter has no sense of humor. She’s obviously laughing all the way to the bank.

Can We Change Our Natures?

There’s a lot of loose talk about human nature and all that on this blog. But aren’t we in the process of changing our natures?
Isn’t the conquest of death or at least indefinite longevity just around the corner? Isn’t transhumanism an allegedly dangerous idea precisely because it so accurately captures the inevitable post-natural future of our species? And through memory control we might be able to live without guilt or fear, while remembering everything we really need to know to live well. On the downside, am I stuck with being part of the last generation to die? The way to last as long as possible for now, studies show, is barely eating. Burning calories doesn’t work that well; the key is to have nothing worth burning. Maybe NYC should strictly ration the number of calories per resident.

John Marini Podcast on Westerns

I talked with Professor John Marini (University of Nevada, Reno) about western films and heroes and honor and courage and the establihsment of civilization and how hard it is to keep it. Because of his importance for the genre, much of the half hour was spent on John Ford and his films. John knows more about westerns than anyone I know and I will talk to him a couple of more times. Do listen to it and those following; kind of like a Christmas present. My thanks to John Marini.

Faith-based initiative in the courts

This NYT article is problematical, as Rick Garnett points out, but it does contain links to a veritable trove of documents in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative case, about which I wrote here. With all the amicus attention it’s attracting, it looks like it’s going to be one of the big cases next year.

In addition, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case, where the immediate issue is the standing of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to mount a sweeping legal challenge to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative’s general activities promoting the Initiative.

This ought to keep commentators (like me) off the streets.

Update: Mollie at Get Religion likes the IFI story better than the others in the NYT series, though I think she’d change her mind if she began reading the appellate briefs.

The post-secular university

This is short, but at this time of year we all have short attention spans. A snippet, for those with advanced cases of ADD:

My date book contains cartoons first published in the New Yorker. One shows a young boy in front of his class, doing arithmetic at the blackboard. He has just written "7 x 5 = 75" and says to his astonished teacher, "It may be wrong, but it’s how I feel." There, in a nutshell, is the problem with the post-secular university. Faith is dead, reason is dying, but "how I feel" is going strong.

Of Thugs and Sluts

Stanley Crouch writes a brief but thoughtful op-ed that makes a firm and unflinching point to young people caught up in the thug/slut fashions of the day: you are slaves and you don’t even know it. He further suggests--a la George Gilder--that women have much greater power than they imagine to turn these things around by refusing to acknowledge the advances of such men and refusing to take part in the accompanying "slut" culture of the hip-hop scene. Crouch posits that most young men who are taken with this hip-hop rap culture are just playing a part in order to attract the attention of females. Well . . . perhaps.

On some basic level I suppose there is a bit of truth in what Crouch says. There is, at any rate, probably enough truth in it to make his prescription pretty effective in treating the symptoms of this disease eating away at our culture. But how do you get these women to swallow that bitter pill? That question Crouch leaves unanswered. Beyond that, however, I do not think the pleas of women for manly men will be enough, in the end, to ratchet up production. There are many reasons to be less than optimistic but one especially big one is that a true manly man (as well as a true thug) will not act out of concern for what causes a woman to fawn over him. And here’s the rub: women will still fawn over them--indeed they will fawn all the more. As a result less manly and less thuggish men will attempt to emulate their examples. So no, what thuggish men truly need is the example of real men defeating thugs and putting them in their place and receiving the sweet rewards of real women for their efforts. Similarly, what slutty women need is the example of real women who know the difference between a man and a thug.

Still, on the whole, there is nothing unsound about Crouch’s advice. I just don’t think it is a prescription that can ever kill the virus--only manage its more manageable symptoms (i.e., lesser thugs).

This should be a Hayward post

But he’s very busy, so I’ll link to this rewritten "Night Before Christmas", featuring Al Gore. A sample:

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

That’s because AlGore had been through the place,

Taking out every light bulb, and heater of space.

This year’s "war" on Christmas

As far as legal disputes over holiday displays are concerned, this season has been relatively quiet. Well, there was the kerfuffle over Chicago’s Christkindlmarket, that’s been almost it. Until this past weekend, when Seattle-Tacoma airport officials took down Christmas trees rather than try to figure out how to include everyone in a holiday display.

Can I say that this is a thoughtless overreaction, or was it a thoughtful overreaction? They knew pretty well what they would have to do, and had plenty of time to do it.

I wouldn’t call this part of a "war" on Christmas, but abandonment of everything vaguely religious is the knee-jerk response of the ever-so-sensitive public official.

Update: Little Christmas trees are sprouting at ticket counters, and the big trees are back as well. The initial decision unfortunately spawned a good bit of animosity directed, not at the authorities, but at the rabbi who requested that the airport also put up a menorah. He didn’t want the trees taken down, as he has stressed over and over again. This is a misdirected overreaction to the overreaction.

I also wonder why the airport can’t just put up the menorah, as requested, or permit Chabad (which I’m sure would be happy to do so) to erect one. Absent that enlightened decision, I hope that a private landowner close to one of the major approaches to the airport will permit Chabad to erect a menorah on his or her property.

Israel and Iran

This is a very sobering article. I’m not saying everything in it is true, and I don’t want to direct your opinion. But are we on the verge of conceding that Iran may become a nuclear power? And is Israel now stuck with taking out that country’s nuclear capability on its own? As well as openly developing a credible second-strike strategy? Suddenly everyone is admitting that Israel has its own nuclear weapons.

This is Cool

Turns out someone at The Economist blog reads NoLeftTurns. I say "someone" because the blog’s authors are anonymous, just like Economist print stories. (I think I have a pretty good idea of who it is, though.)

Sorry for the blog silence the last few days. A touch of bronchitis combines with having to prepare a final exam for my Georgetown class, a major global warming presentation for later this week, the first meeting of new task force I’m chairing at AEI on energy security, and the rest of the usual stuff that keeps me busy. It’s killing me: Jimmy Carter is melting down at last, the ISG disgraces all viewers of "Matlock," and other stories deserve comment. And I’m way behind on my food and wine diary.

Accounting for the South

Peter Lawler noted one view of Southern politics, which suggested, implausibly (in his view and mine) that it’s all about race. The NYT Mag points to another view--that it’s all about class. I’ll see your reductionism and raise you a different one. And no one has mentioned religion yet.

Obama watch, part 2

In N.H., it looks like Obama wants to outflank HRC on the Left. The WaPo’s Dan Balz doesn’t let that cat out of the bag, but he does give us this:

Asked what he believes is different about his politics than those of other candidates, he said, "I think what’s worked for me has been the capacity to stay true to a set of progressive values but to be eclectic in terms of the tools to achieve those progressive values. To not be orthodox. To be willing to get good ideas from all quarters."

If I were uncharitable (though it’s not yet the season for that), I’d say that everything is instrumentally subordinated to "progressive values."

The WaTi’s Donald Lambro finds people who think that left is the way for Obama to go, though Donna Brazile thinks this:

"Barack has something that is awfully missing today in American politics: the gift of charisma. Most people find him not just attractive, but politically viable. He has cross-over appeal and the ability to attract moderates and independents."

Can he outflank HRC on the left to do well in the primaries and then credibly move back to the center? Will a Republican nominee let him get away with that?

It’s Probably Too Much to Ask, But . . .

Wouldn’t it be nice if stories like these reminded American feminists of what real dangers to women’s rights look like?

The New Perot? The Trans-Fat Tyrant Is Exploring a Third-Party Run

Mayor Bloomberg isn’t really much like Ross Perot. He has successful political experience and is not nuts. And to tell the truth, he’s continued much of Giuliani’s good work in a less confrontational way. NYC’s increasingly favorable stats are a reflection of Bloomberg’s undeniable competence. It’s also true he’s basically a moderate Democrat in Republican’s clothing with some rather extreme socially liberal or libertarian inclinations (with the exception of his puritanical/prohibitionist/paranoid views on health and safety). In a race that featured, say, Brownback vs. Ms. Clinton or Obama, would he have a chance? Would Bloomberg mobilize that new liberal/libertarian voting bloc that we read about on so many blogs.

Brits living abroad

Almost one in ten Brits live abroad, according to the latest government study. "Figures suggest the rate of departure has been so great that population falls are only masked by immigration."

While Australia is the top location (circa 1.3 million, the same as USA and Canada combined) increasing numbers are heading to major Asian economies. There are three British pensioners living in Tahiti, and six pensioners living Cuba, but none in North Korea.

Nalanda University

This op-ed in yesterday’s NY Times on Nalanda University in India (and the political uses to which something like a new version of it might be put) was interesting mainly because I didn’t know there was a university (rather than a monastery) there. It was founded in 427 by Buddhists it lasted until 1197. There is some talk of "reviving" it, hence the op-ed.

Victorian Beer

Beer from 1869 (250 perfectly stored bottles) has been found and tasted and described as "absolutely amazing", with "the most astonishing, complex flavours." God help the wicked.