Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Are bloggers geeks or heroes?

You be the judge. Hat tip: John von Heyking.

The Wren cross revisited

A lot of (virtual) ink has been spilled since I last posted on the subject. The Power Line guys have weighed in, more than once, as has the Friar.

The most recent longer piece can be found in The Weekly Standard; it calls attention to W & M President Gene Nichol’s connections with the ACLU, which are reflected in the insider/outsider language he has used. (Of course, what the TWS authors don’t note is that the ACLU uses the language because, thanks to Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court uses it. O’Connor’s was a bad idea whose time had come.) The TWS authors also note that given the plethora of public crosses all over the state of Virginia (reflecting its heritage, as they note), the stature of the Wren Cross dispute is far greater than its mere eighteen inches.

I suppose I think it laudable that Nichol has called for a campus committee to examine "the role of religion in public universities in general, and at the College of William and Mary in particular." Will it be a rubber stamp, or will it provide him cover as he backs down? I can only hope that the committee does its job well and honestly, and have no reason at the moment to think that it won’t, especially given the publicity that this controversy has generated.

Update: I swear I hadn’t seen this piece, by Newt Gingrich and Christopher Levenick, when I wrote about the malign influence of Sandra Day O’Connor at W & M. It’s worse than I thought: she’s the new Chancellor at W & M.

Biden on HRC

What he said:

“Everyone in the world knows her,” he said. “Her husband has used every single legitimate tool in his behalf to lock people in, shut people down. Legitimate. And she can’t break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100 percent of the Democrats know you? They’ve looked at you for the last three years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?”

Tony Blankley on Iraq

What he said.


Good economic news on two fronts: While the economy grew at 3.5 % rate the fourth quarter, the NY Times posted a 648M$ loss for the fourth quarter.

The ABM Caucus

Leading Republican members of Congress are rushing to endorse Romney, because they’re for Anyone But McCain. That’s because they think John has functioned all too effectively to thwart real conservative legislation. But does ABM point automatically to Mitt? Do our legislators believe that Giuliani can’t win the primaries? Or that he’s also not really a conservative? Isn’t excessive worry about the McCain candidacy unreasonable, given the astute observations by our Julie about the Arizona senator being well past his prime? And, in any case, is the AB approach the best way to select a candidate?


Before the Magic

‘Tis the season for streaks. Tiger Woods (7) is now within distant view of Byron Nelson’s all time record of 11 consecutive PGA Tour victories (with asterisks for both men). The Phoenix Suns ran up 17 straight games before losing last night to Minnesota. The Suns put together a 15 game streak earlier in the season. Dallas had a 13-game run. The Celtics have lost 11 in a row, but that’s another category entirely.

These latest streaks, however impressive, pale before what is arguably the most spectacular professional regular season accomplishment of all time, the 33 consecutive wins put together by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. (I would say that the other candidate would be the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, 14-0. There is, of course, the off-the-chart 88-game college basketball win streak by UCLA.) The Lakers’ run remains the longest in professional sports; the NBA record at the time was 20.

The streak began on November 5 (my birthday – as a Lakers’ fan I remember it well) and ended on January 9, when LA lost on the road to the next best team in the league, Milwaukee. The Bucks had a pretty decent young center by the name of Abdul-Jabbar. There were no fluke bounces or fortunate officiating calls that saved the streak along the way. Most of the games were not even close. The Lakers were dominant and great fun to watch, show time before Magic Johnson’s Show Time. They averaged 120 points per game. LA went on to win 69 regular season games (then a record) and dominate the playoffs, to earn Los Angeles’ first NBA championship after so many frustrating defeats at the hands of Bill Russell’s Celtics.

How to account for such unexpected perfection? This particular LA team was supposed to be good but was by no means favored to win the championship. It had three legitimate superstars, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West, but those three together had failed to win the title. Each man seemed to be well on the downhill side of his career.

The streak began, perhaps not coincidentally, the game after Baylor unexpectedly announced his retirement. Baylor, a 10-time All NBA selection and the grandfather of spectacular athletic forward play (think Connie Hawkins, Dr. J, etc.), gave it up because of a bad knee. This opened the starting lineup to second year player Jim McMillan, a highly proficient mid-range jump shooter who didn’t need to handle the ball constantly to be effective. The other forward, Happy Hairston, a solid veteran, blossomed with the additional space inside. With additional playing time now available, the Lakers displayed a deep and versatile bench that included journeyman guard/forward, Pat Riley, who later went on to have some modest coaching success.

More to the point, Baylor’s game had never really meshed with that of Wilt. Both of them needed the ball down low and needed it a lot. As a Philadelphia Warrior, Wilt had averaged an incredible 50 points a game in 1961-62, the same year he scored 100 points in a single game. His scoring statistics were the stuff of legend (no elaboration necessary). But now Wilt turned himself into a mirror image of his old rival, Bill Russell – a concession to age and circumstances as much as to wisdom, perhaps, but a concession nonetheless. Wilt averaged only 14.8 points per game for these Lakers, fifth best on the team. But he dominated the boards and controlled the paint defensively. Wilt had always put up showy rebounding numbers and blocked numerous shots, but somehow these seemed more impressive on paper than in determining the outcome of big games. This season, no one doubted that Wilt’s presence in the paint was dominant.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the new coach of the Lakers was Bill Sharman, out of the Auerbach-Russell’s old Celtic line of champions. Sharman seemed to command Wilt’s respect in a way that previous coaches, at least in Los Angeles, had not. Sharman’s coaching innovations included the invention, or popularization, of the morning of the game shoot-around, now a staple of college and pro basketball teams. When Sharman first announced the idea to the team, someone asked what they would do after the shoot-around. Gail Goodrich, the Lakers’ guard, laughed. “Go back to the hotel and wake up Wilt.” But Wilt, a notorious night-owl, showed up at the shoot-arounds without complaint.

Wilt, at least, had already won a championship with the 1967-68 76ers, a team that had established the old record of 68 wins. (Wilt said that he thought that this Philadelphia team was better than this Lakers’ squad.) Jerry West, today best known as “Mr. Logo,” was that era’s Michael Jordan, in terms of spectacular all-court play (sans dunks) and clutch shooting. But West’s teams, in college and the pros, always came up a game short despite his consistent brilliance in those games. In 1971-72 West had perhaps his best all- around season, in part by deferring offensively to Goodrich, who is often left out of the discussion of the game’s best little men. West led the league in assists. He still averaged nearly 26 points a game while he worked constantly to involve other players. The need for teamwork was hardly a revelation to West but he now had confidence in his teammates that was lacking in previous years. None of the Lakers guards (West, Goodrich and reserve Flynn Robinson) were true point guards – which is perhaps suggestive. The Jordan/Jackson Bulls, who later established the all-time win record (72), also played without a point guard.

Why this stroll down memory lane (at the risk that Wilt will block my shot, from the great Court in the Sky)? I don’t mean to say that the Lakers’ streak and eventual championship was due solely to Baylor’s absence. Baylor was a great player and not abnormally selfish. Tom Heinsohn once said that guarding Baylor was like trying to nail jello to a wall. Of course, Elgin did desert my alma mater, the College of Idaho, after one season playing in Caldwell, Idaho, but I don’t hold that against him. In any case the basketball gods got even by making him General Manager of the Clippers.

Athletic brilliance sometimes just happens when excellence meets unusual opportunity, as with a perfect game in baseball. Tiger is brilliant like clockwork but he is the exception rather than the rule. Another reason why we watch, and watch from the beginning. You never know.

Categories > Sports

Mystery blog, part 17

Curious? Go here.

Ashbrook Center

The Ashbrook Center is Hiring

The Ashbrook Center is looking for an energetic and capable person to help with our fund raising here at the Center. You can read the description of the position on-line. If you know of anyone interested in working with this good-looking fat man (and also some competent folks) to further the cause of liberty with our students and teachers, please pass the description along. Thanks.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Good for Sam Brownback

He has reintroduced the Public Expressions of Religion Act, which would prevent plaintiffs from collecting legal fees from the defendants in the event of a successful challenge of the display of a religious symbol in certain public places. Here’s his explanation:

“The legislation I introduced today would still allow plaintiffs with legitimate claims to have their day in court. However, it would prevent local cities and towns from being coerced into settling claims out of a fear of huge monetary losses.”

Howard Friedman notes, the measure comfortably passed in the House in the last session. The 26 Democrats who supported the measure were largely, but not exclusively, from the South. At the same time, I think it’s unlikely that John Conyers’ Judiciary Committee will report it out.

A new conservative category

John Fonte proposes civic conservatism. I can endorse his limited agenda, so long as it’s articulated so as not to be at odds with religious pluralism (which may be easier said than done). My reason for this caveat is that someone like Stephen Macedo might be inclined to take the "civic" and run with it in order to marginalize religious groups whose devotion to egalitarian inclusion doesn’t match his own aggressive agenda.

French Baby Boomlet?

The International Herald Tribune reports today that birth rates are up in France. The average number of births per woman of fertile age is now slightly more than two--whereas it is less than two in most of the rest of Europe. Many speculate that the reason for the increase has to do with immigration; i.e., the new babies are coming from new immigrants. The article disputes this--but admits that there is no reliable hard data to examine because France does not allow for the the inclusion of race or national origin in its official statistics.

On the other hand, while childbearing becomes more common it seems marriage is not. Many French heterosexuals are taking advantage of "civil union" arrangements, meant originally to meet the demands of homosexuals. These unions are up while marriages are down.

The article speculates that there are two big reasons for the increase: (1) generous maternity leave laws and (2) ". . , its 35-hour workweek. It has been suggested that the French have so much leisure now that they have found nothing more interesting to do with it than have babies, combining fun with demographic patriotism."

Weird. Scholars have often observed that one reason people used to have so many kids was because life was hard and many people were needed to do the work of the family. Industrialization made big families less necessary and, in fact, more expensive. But now we are asked to consider that there is so little work to do in France that people need to have more kids with whom to enjoy their many hours of leisure? I suggest these parents make the most of that leisure and create loads of good memories for their young bundles of joy. Those kids are going to have to live off of those memories when they grow up to toil on behalf of their aging socialist elders.

Mountain west political trends

Despite the hype after the 2006 election returns, Stuart Rothenberg says that, after a closer look, there’s nothing new under the high desert sun. Hat tip: SDP’s Ken Blanchard.

Ashbrook in Florida

Fred Finks (the president of Ashland University) and I will be at The Villages in Florida on Saturday, February 10th for lunch. This is about one hour north of Orlando. We will talk informally about both the Center and the University. It should be fun: I’m the cause that wit is in other men, and Fred is witty in himself! There is no charge for the event. If you want to come, or know anyone in the area who might, call Sally Blair for reservations: 419-289-5428.

Faith-based politics

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who pays attention: in terms of overt political behavior, African-American churches are the most active, and, obviously, Democrats profit the most from it.

Horse heart

Jane Smiley reflects on the death of Barbaro and the architecture of horses and their hearts. I also love horses and agree with the old Mexican in Cormac McCarthy’s best novel--when he reflects on whether it is possible to have a world without any horses--that God would not allow such a thing.

Teaching, encouraging, and testing reading

This article introduces you to the somewhat bizarre world of Accelerated Reader, which has an odd way of deciding what a book is worth. For me, it’s another data point.

Megareligious Bizarre Hyperbreeding

It’s about time that someone from San Francisco blow the whistle on the "pathological...breeding-happy gluttony" that’s sweeping certain parts of our country. (Thanks to Ryan Rakness for sending this article to me.)

More on the DoE’s accreditation push

Today’s Inside Higher Ed tells us that a "tough but fair" (and non-political) DoE official has been reassigned, in a move likely intended to accelerate efforts to rework the accreditation system. I’m betting that this is not good news.

We also learn that Phi Beta Kappa has passed a resolution deploring the failure of the Spellings Commission report to mention the liberal arts. I’m a member of PBK. On this, they speak for me:

[W]e must speak up when national policy initiatives are framed by the idea that higher education is no more than a service delivered to a consumer. That metaphor will obscure the most distinctive aspect of education that is truly “higher.” Education in the liberal arts and sciences cannot be adequately captured in the language of consumerism: it specifically aims at the student’s transformation and not at the gratification of pre-existing desires. Its real value may well be made invisible by the model of mass distribution of standardized goods and services.

As I’ve said before, I understand that the price of higher education and the sometimes irresponsible behavior of the professoriate make higher education a tempting target, but those of us who care about the traditional role of liberal education, whether it’s practiced
"philosophically" or "oratorically", have to be friends of diversity, of which the DoE currently seems to be the enemy.

Pinker on Neuroscience and the True Foundation of Morality

The brililant and witty neuroscientist tells us we’ll treat others better once we’re convinced by studies that show that they possess consciousness too. It’s probably the case that we’re hardwired by evolution never to comprehend completely the mystery of consciousness, although we will precisely locate consciousness in the brain. Neuroscience is already revealing that we’re not really free agents responsible for our actions, and so that any improved "moral" behavior its discoveries may cause will not be really voluntary or moral in the strict sense at all. I was recently told, quite insistently, by certain followers of Plato in Charlottesville, VA that neuroscience is merely confirming a key classical insight: Voluntary action and personal moral significance or dignity are both merely illusions. I disagreed on what both the classical and neuroscientific studies really show. Some of the most penetrating commentary available on neuroscience includes what Tom Wolfe says in his essays in HOOKING UP and in his novel I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS.

Methodist values at SMU

Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly asks a reasonable question:

[I]t is valid to debate whether Bush represents “Methodist values” on key issues.

However, it would also be interesting to find out if many of the same faculty and ministers who oppose this library would also have questions about whether the beliefs proclaimed by the evangelist named John Wesley are consistent with “Methodist values” as currently defined by many at SMU.

Read the whole thing for a nice rundown on the Bush library brouhaha.

Update: While you’re at it, you might want to take a look at this blog representing the library, etc. opponents, put up by this SMU professor. Here are his "reasons for concern." For now, I’ll comment only on this:

the Bush Library-Museum-Institute will be as much or more a source of continued political propaganda for the Bush administration and its policies as it will be an educational resource.The Institute is explicitly conceived as an advocacy organization, and it will report to the Bush Foundation, not to the University. The museum, as is the case with all presidential museums is mostly funded by private sources, in this case by the same Bush foundation. As extensive experience with the previous eleven presidential libraries indicates, this museum will also present a partisan view defending the Bush administration and advancing its reputation and policies. The library, while it could be an asset to SMU - and remember that I am a historian, and have spent an amazing portion of my adult life happily ensconced in libraries - will also be heavily influenced by the Bush people, though under the control of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In November of 2001, President Bush issued an executive order requiring NARA to honor any assertion of executive privilege by a former President - even against the wishes of a library director or a sitting president. In other words, years from now, if an aged historian Benjamin Johnson wanted to walk from his office to the Bush Library to look at documents related to, say, domestic spying programs under Attorney General Alberto Gonzáles, if George W. Bush had invoked executive privilege Professor Johnson wouldn’t be able to, even if Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama were in the oval office. Or even if I were in the White House.

Let’s see, last I checked, any sitting President could issue an executive order rescinding an order handed down by a predecessor. That’s one of the things that distinguishes an executive order from, say, a law or the Constitution, which are a little harder to change (unless, of course, you’re a judge; but I jest). Guess they didn’t teach that at Carleton and Yale.

Clarence Thomas

Surprise! It may well be the case that Clarence Thomas is not a Scalia lackey.

For Hollywood, no war with terror

Andrew Klavan writes a very interesting op-ed in the L.A. Times on Hollywood and how it is ignoring the war. Why can’t we fictionalize that Islamo-fascism is an evil and American liberty a good? (via NRO)

Litvinenko and Putin’s teapot?

From ABC News: "British officials say police have cracked the murder-by-poison case of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, including the discovery of a "hot" teapot at London’s Millennium Hotel with an off-the-charts reading for Polonium-210, the radioactive material used in the killing."

And then note this: "The official says investigators have concluded, based on forensic evidence and intelligence reports, that the murder was a "state-sponsored" assassination orchestrated by Russian security services."

Obama watch, part 16: the HLR years

The NYT investigates:

“He then and now is very hard to pin down,” said Kenneth Mack, a classmate and now a professor at the law school, referring to the senator’s on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand style.

Charles J. Ogletree Jr., another Harvard law professor and a mentor of Mr. Obama, said, “He can enter your space and organize your thoughts without necessarily revealing his own concerns and conflicts.”


Another of Mr. Obama’s techniques relied on his seemingly limitless appetite for hearing the opinions of others, no matter how redundant or extreme. That could lead to endless debates — a mouse infestation at the review office provoked a long exchange about rodent rights — as well as some uncertainty about what Mr. Obama himself thought about the issue at hand.

In dozens of interviews, his friends said they could not remember his specific views from that era, beyond a general emphasis on diversity and social and economic justice.


“The things that make law school politics fractious are different from the things that make American politics fractious,” said Ron Klain, who preceded Mr. Obama at the law review and later served as Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff. Mr. Klain has watched the senator’s rise.

“The interesting caveat,” he said, “is that is a style of leadership more effective running a law review than running a country.”

Perhaps Michael McConnell was onto something.

John Brown’s boby lies a’dancin’ in the grave

Read on.

The real new seriousness

Robert Kagan has it.

HRC and Petraeus

Stalwart liberal WaPo columnist David Broder offers some explanations for HRC’s failure to engage in a colloquy with Gen. Petraeus:

First, she has been treading a careful line from her early support of military action against Saddam Hussein to an increasingly sharp criticism of the war and calls for troop reductions. Perhaps she feared that dialogue with Petraeus would lead her into dangerous, uncharted waters. Caution is commendable, but she is sometimes faulted for being too calculating.

Second, the hearing came only three days after she announced her presidential exploratory committee, and she may have decided it was a good opportunity to repeat her views on Iraq policy before TV cameras rather than share time with the general. That wouldn’t say much about her priorities as she begins a second six-year term as senator, but New York voters presumably knew in November that she might have loftier goals than just minding her Senate duties.

The third, less benign possibility is that Clinton is reverting to the mode of her ill-fated 1993-94 health-care initiative, when she gave members of Congress and other interested folks the impression that she thought she had all the answers -- so please just do as I say.


Up Down Under

American tennis has been in a bit of a slump the last few years. Serena Williams’ win over Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final this week probably won’t change things. Williams’ performance was a surprise but not a shock. It was a surprise because she came into the Open unseeded, with a World Ranking of 81, and not in the best physical condition. It was not a shock because she had already won 7 Grand Slam titles in her career, including two previous Australian Opens. Together with her older sister, Venus, she had dominated women’s tennis for a span of three or four years.

The recent drop off in her play, and even more dramatically that of Venus (who did not enter in Australia), can be blamed to a first order on injuries. She is 25, pushing middle age for a tennis player in a sport notoriously hard on the body. But therein lays a tale.

Her coach and father, the controversial Richard Williams, was no typical country club tennis parent. He said he wanted at least one of his daughters to succeed in sports so he could get them off of the mean streets of Compton, California. Tennis seemed the best bet to do that, even though Williams lacked a big-time background in the sport and though he made frequent claims of racial discrimination by the tennis establishment. The point here is that he kept the girls on an unusual path, which included restricting their tournament appearances during their early professional careers. He said he wanted to keep them from following the path of many teen tennis phenomena who burned themselves out from intense training and travel. He said he wanted to teach them there was more to life than tennis, including education.

Some thought this was all an act but the girls apparently took the advice to heart. They have acting careers. They became fashion designers (some of which products Serena Williams wears on the court, to raised eyebrows). They seem to enjoy life. These distractions, if you want to call them that, must have affected their training. Injuries, common to tennis even for the fittest athlete, cropped up and took longer to heal. Serena began to look, well, heavy. They skipped more tournaments, including the majors. They are both so talented that for a time when they did show up, they were able to play their way into shape during a tournament. They used physical ability and toughness to dodge early round upsets before they found their form.

Other young women, hungrier and more motivated, saw their vulnerability and were no longer intimidated by the Williams juggernaut. The Belgian women showed more pluck. The Russians, including Sharapova, arrived en masse. The victories stopped. Serena is still dangerous – as the Australian Open demonstrated – but the smart money says this is the exception rather than the rule. She will win again, maybe some other Grand Slam events, but don’t look for a return to her glory days. There will be no run like that of Steffi Graf and her 22 Grand Slam titles, no chance of being named the Best Ever.

There is no particular moral to this story. The Williams sisters are perfectly entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Nobody died or went to jail because they didn’t train as hard as they might. No drinking or drug abuse is involved. It is easy for the Fan and the Expert to tut-tut about the loss of someone else’s athletic potential, how many records they could have broken had they only put their minds to it, etc. One recalls Chi Chi Rodriguez’s remark about Jack Nicklaus – hardly an underachiever – that he was a legend in his spare time. Maybe, as Johnny Miller likes to say, water finds its own level. Tiger Woods, no slouch when it comes to hard work, might win even more tournaments if he entered a monastery and did nothing but practice golf; as opposed to getting married, having kids, becoming a TV pitchman, and occasionally going bungee jumping. Or maybe he would win fewer.

Sometimes there is a price of sorts to pay. The New York Giants’ star running back Tiki Barber is retiring from football this year. He is obviously an intelligent man. He says, perfectly reasonably, that he just wasn’t willing to take the pounding any longer. He wanted to walk away with a minimum of the long-term pain and disabilities that affect football players. He has a lucrative career in television ahead. But when the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters consider his case some years down the road, they will probably decide that he finished one full season short of the necessary statistical accomplishments. And in the back of their minds, maybe the front, they will judge that if Barber had wanted sports immortality, he should have delayed his TV career, put up with the whirlpool and played that extra year. The risk of suffering a life-altering injury, they will say, is part of the price that must be paid for those who want to enter the shrine in Canton, Ohio.

I wonder what advice the Williams’ sisters would have given Tiki. And to make things a bit more interesting, Tiki’s twin brother, Ronde, a defensive back with Tampa Bay, will continue to play. After a few more excellent years . . . who knows?

Why Not Nominate a Proud Conservative?

If the Republicans had a genuine merit system--and if Florida’s former governor weren’t stuck with his last name, it would be easy to identify the leading candidate for the party’s 2008 presidential nomination. But as things stand, Jeb is the longest of the long shots. With the controversial possible exception of immigration, this man is solid on conservative principle, is a very experienced and successful executive, and has much more than his share of charm, brains, and manliness.

Stay Tuned. . .

A weird story in The Washington Times that the Norks’ Kim Jong Il (or "Kim Jong the Second," if you are Jesse Helms) might be under house arrest. Hmmm. Probably nothing. Especially coming from a Moonie newspaper. Then again. . .

Tom DeLay explains it all

To Will Hinton. And others, who seem not to have blogged about it yet.

More goodies from the Claremont Review

Here, including Hayward on Gordon Wood, Hitch on Rich, Ceaser on historical schools, and Knippenberg on Spalding on Truman.

Assessment, ugh

A friend called my attention to this compelloquent response to the educrats. Here’s a bit:

(1) The report has forgotten the centrality of the faculty to what we are about in our colleges, and risks leaving on the sidelines of the national dialogue those who most need to be at the heart of
the conversation. We will not answer the question about the quality of education by addressing transferability of credits. That only helps us focus on the “degree” as the end of education, rather than the learning itself.

(2) Learning assessment ought to be an integral part of learning itself. It must be left to the classroom, the faculty, and the local institution. Nothing can be gained by broad, outside measuring instruments that cannot take account of what is going on between student and teacher, student and student, or the student and the books or equipment in the classroom. The report allows for such a solution, but encourages the worst tendencies in us --- to teach what can be
measured, or to focus our attention on those things that are of least importance to living a thoughtful, examined life. “Objectivity” in assessment tools is useless or harmful when it measures nothing essential to the kind of learning we seek to foster.

(3) The report fails to recognize that its aims --- economic competitiveness, efficiency, and productivity --- are not the highest aims of our democratic society, founded on the rights of all to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that education is a means to these goods too.

Read the whole thing.   

I’m famous. Not

I think. Hat tip: my dad.

Update: I’m not sure anyone can see the picture on the link, which is of a KLM Fokker F-50 with the name "Knippenberg" emblazoned across it.

Update #2: It was a photoshopped version of this photo. Egg on my face. Thanks to commenter Michael D., who put me on to the way of searching for airplane pictures.

Ugh, assessment

Take this, DoE educrats! A sample:

While standardized tests can be helpful in initiating faculty conversations about assessment, our research casts serious doubt on the validity of using standardized tests of general intellectual skills for assessing individual students, then aggregating their scores for the purpose of comparing institutions.


For nearly 50 years measurement scholars have warned against pursuing the blind alley of value added assessment. Our research has demonstrated yet again that the reliability of gain scores and residual scores — the two chief methods of calculating value added — is negligible (i.e., 0.1).

Read the whole thing.

A few more thoughts about the Carter/Clinton Baptists

I had a few more thoughts about the Carter/Clinton efforts to unify Baptists who "dissent from" the SBC. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the effort is political, even if not in the most obvious sense. The organizers talk a lot about all the good things they are called to do in the world. Isn’t the SBC also feeding the hungry and providing relief to, say, the victims of Katrina? The difference may be that the SBC is less interested in calling upon government to do more of what it generally does so badly. Stated another way, where CC & Company differ from the SBC is on the prudential judgment about how best to help widows and orphans. This isn’t a theological difference, but rather a political disagreement.

Another thought: while Carter and Clinton may well disagree with the SBC on some of the social issues on which it has taken a stand, it’s not clear to me that, for example, the African-American Baptists are on the same page here. African-American Baptists may well be big supporters of the welfare state, but they’re not necessarily as liberal on social issues as are the other constituents of CC & Company. It’s not necessarily an issue with a sufficiently high profile (for the African-Americans) to be a deal-breaker for this new agglomeration, but if part of the new witness has to do with, say, tilting leftward on gay rights, the arrangement may not last very long.

I’m eager to hear more from Baptist insiders, like Russell Moore and our friend Hunter Baker.

Jaffa podcast

I talked briefly with Harry V. Jaffa a couple of days ago. He talked about his current book project on Strauss, consisting of five or six essays he has written on Strauss, as well as an introductory essay that is largely autobiographical. Jaffa reads a few paragraphs from it.


The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire poll roundup this morning includes this irresistable morsel from recent polls: "Despite election thumping, 40% of Republicans characterize themselves as very happy compared with 26% of Democrats." This tracks closely with previous findings from the Pew Poll. Another place where conservatives and liberals have switched places over the last two generations; how many liberals embrace FDR’s sunny optimism today? (But isn’t that just because conservative Republicans are richer?--Ed. I doubt it; note that the two richest men in America--Gates and Buffett--are Democrats, and the super-rich are increasingly voting Democratic, which is why I think I’m in favor of higher taxes on the super-rich, and you can start with Nancy "I-use-non-union-labor-to-pick-my-Napa-winegrapes" Pelosi.)

Better still is the final item in the WSJ note: "Most likely to say they’ve taken anti-depressants: women, whites, those earning less than $30,000, and liberals." Double-heh.

The new seriousness

Given the title, I had to read Peggy Noonan’s column. If Chuck Hagel and John Kerry are exemplars of "the new seriousness," we have a long way to go. I’m not yet convinced that Hagel’s is anything other than the posture of seriousness.

Faith-based developments

I’ve been trying to restrict most of my blogging about the faith-based initiative (remember that?) to Knippenblog, but I couldn’t resist putting this story in front of a wider audience.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m in favor of what’s happening, but I couldn’t help but notice that in Maryland Democrats are all over cooperation with churches. Gee, do you think their opposition the past six years was political? After all, when they have power, they’re perfectly willing to look for ways to cooperate. When the initiative is coming from Republicans, they throw up roadblocks. I don’t expect the Republicans to return the oppositional favor.

Thanks to Acton’s Jordan Ballor for calling my attention to this article.

Kate, are your ears burning?

This is very nice.

Religion and Baptist politics

I missed this article describing efforts by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to midwife the creation of a counterweight to the Southern Baptist Convention. Bringing together two African-American Baptist organizations and two--well, Cooperman calls them "moderate"; others might disagree--predominantly white Baptist groups, they collectively outnumber the SBC and will hold a convention in Atlanta next year.

SBC’s Richard Land has some choice comments:

"I’m not going to question their motives. I just know that if I were them, I would be concerned about how it might appear to many people, the timing," Land said. "Purportedly they’re going to hold a convention of several thousand people in Atlanta in early 2008, hosted by two former Democratic presidents, one of whom has a wife seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Some would see that as an overtly political activity."


"One of the areas where we would be in significant disagreement would be our view toward Israel, as highlighted by President Carter’s new book," he said, referring to "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," published in November by Simon & Schuster. Fourteen members of an advisory panel at the Carter Center have resigned over the book’s depiction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Another difference, he said, was made clear last week when Carter spoke of sexual orientation as an "ancillary issue." "Most Southern Baptists would disagree with that," Land said. "We’re not going to affirm and accept all sexual orientations."

It’s also noteworthy that one of the other principals in this new organization is Mercer University President William D. Underwood, one of the central figures in the Baylor brouhaha, which ultimately led to the departure of Robert B. Sloan for greener pastures.

For other views of the Carter-Clinton efforts, go here, here, here, here, and here. For informed commentary, go here.

Obama watch, part 15

This WaPo article offers a nice summary of Obama’s relationship with African-American voters.

Update: For interesting commentary, follow the thread Jonah Goldberg started at The Corner.

Superpower self-flagellation

Daniel Henninger writes a downer of a column. A sample:

The leadership vacuum. The administration never rallied the nation behind the war in a concrete way. A young Marine officer recently returned from combat in Iraq told me this week he is taken aback at how disassociated the American people seem from Iraq, no matter how constantly it’s in the news. He says it’s as if the problem is not so much what is actually happening in Iraq but that the war is "annoying" to Americans, as if to say: Can’t it just go away or not be on the front page all the time? Rallying a nation at war is a president’s job.

The opposition vacuum. One reason the negative mood in politics is so disconcerting is that the opposition’s alternative vision is nonexistent. On joining the opposition recently, GOP Sen. Norm Coleman announced, "I can’t tell you what the path to success is." Joe Biden says the "primary" Iraq strategy should be to force its leaders to make the political compromises necessary to "end the violence."

As a political strategy, unremitting opposition has worked. Approval for the president and the war is low. The GOP lost sight of its ideological lodestars and so control of Congress. But the U.S. still occupies a unique position of power in the world, and we are putting that status at risk by playing politics without a net.

On the "Charlie Rose Show" this month, former Army vice chief of staff Gen. Jack Keane, who supports the counterinsurgency plan being undertaken by Gen. David Petraeus, said in exasperation: "My God, this is the United States. We are the world’s No. 1 superpower. This isn’t about arrogance. This is about capability and applying ourselves to a problem that is at its essence a human problem."

Read the whole depressing thing.

Is Giuliani a Conservative?

This CITY JOURNAL author says he is. And he is, in fact, a CITY JOURNAL or "we’re hardwired to be bourgeois" conservative. (That is--he appeals most of all to conservatives who are constantly writing articles saying that "the good news is that the bad news is wrong.") Rudy’s record of actually turning his principles into effective policies is unparalleled, and his basic insight that our problems are rooted in "dysfunctional [personal] behavior" rather than "the system" is genuinely conservative. But the author, of course, is virtually silent on certain conservative issues that find little support in New York City. I will say, to stimulate discussion, that the evidence presented in this article explains why I prefer Giuliani to either McCain or Gingrich. It also explains why he would certainly defeat Obama and probably defeat Hillary Clinton.

Kudos to Jon Schaff (and Steve Thomas)

I didn’t look at all the results of the SOTU quiz, but Jon Schaff did a darn sight better than I did, finishing in a tie for fourth (34/50). My 28/50 was pathetic, though (in the Minnesota terms Jon should appreciate) above average. Anyone else care to claim a score?

Update: Steve Thomas is also an impressive SOTU prognosticator, tying Jon.

Like a mighty wind

Christopher Levenick’s review essay in the new CRB is available on the web. As I noted earlier, he offers us a critical tour through a number of books written by leading lights on the religious left, including Jimmy Carter and Jim Wallis. Here’s a sample of Levenick’s critique:

Take the Religious Left’s approach to poverty. To their great credit, these writers are dead serious about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Unfortunately, however, they perceive this obligation as primarily and properly the work of government. Carter speaks for the group when he alleges that "[i]n efforts to reach out to the poor, alleviate suffering, provide homes for the homeless...government office-holders and not church members were more likely to assume responsibility and be able to fulfill the benevolent missions." Little acknowledgment is made of the private sector’s role in creating affluence, or of the fact that a zealous redistribution of present assets will inhibit the creation of future wealth. Yet these errors of practical economics are of less consequence than the grave theological misapprehension beneath them. The challenge and the burden of almsgiving are and ought to be personal. Christian charity does not consist of petitioning the state to redress economic grievances. Rather, it calls upon the individual believer to comfort the afflicted. An ethic geared primarily toward government undermines the crucial sense of personal responsibility for the least of one’s brethren. True charity, like true faith, must be voluntary if it is to be efficacious.

Read the whole thing.


Shameless Self-Promotion--Part 214

Who do you think got the 2007 Richard M. Weaver Prize for Scholarly Letters?


Nina Easton writes about Newt Gingrich’s plan to run for president, or, rather, to change the country.  


Get Religion’s David Pulliam notes that in the early going largely overlooked--with the exception of this WaPo hitpiece--what he regards as a significant and high-profile portrayal of our adversaries. Of course, Reuters carries an account of the Middle Eastern response that whitewashes the Iranian and Syrian roles in stoking violence in the region, presenting a picture of Iran as interested in stability and of the Lebanese crisis as "internal," pitting Shiites and Christians against the government. No mention of Syrian and Iranian involvement there, just of American meddling. And Iran has "refrained from matching U.S. rhetorical escalation" (!!!!).

SOTU and Sen. James Web

Here is Michael Gerson take on Bush’s speech. I think the speech was mediocre at best, although delivered better than most. Gerson criticizes Sen. Webb’s short riposte. Maybe the criticism is fair, yet I thought that it was better than that (well written, for example) as well as revealing speech. In case anyone ever doubted that Webb is a real Democrat you just have to note his reference to, and appreciation of, Andrew Jackson: "In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy – that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today." Read (and see) the rest

Conference opportunity

Those within a few hours’ drive of East Lansing, Michigan might want to attend this conference this weekend, sponsored by our friends at MSU’s Symposium on Science, Reason, and Modern Democracy.

Attention DC Conservatives! Here’s Your Opportunity to Hear and Have a Beer with Brownback

...courtesy of Cindy Searcy and ISI.

Some Health Care Crises Are More Critical Than Others

As Eric Cohen and Yuval Levin explain... They claim that there’s a bipartisan conspiracy to ignore the most genuine of the crises. That’s because any real attempt to reform Medicare in order to save it would be painful and sobering. The crisis is part of the challenge of our aging society, and that demographic trend isn’t changing soon.


The speech is here. It was stylistically and substantively better than I’d been led to expect. The domestic policy proposals (e.g., tax deductions for private health insurance and school vouchers) were, as NRO’s Peter Robinson noted, conservative (for the most part). I couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t make Nancy Pelosi happy.

I was heartened by the way he spoke about our war against the terrorists, both in describing their aims and in showing that the struggle evolves as each side adapts to the other’s initiatives. This is grown-up talk:

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.)

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you’ve made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.

Now have at it.

What’s Wrong with Our Presidential Nomination Process?

Michael Barone reminds us that "it starts too early and ends too abruptly." People in most states usually don’t REALLY get to participate, and there’s not much place for real deliberation. Nonetheless, Barone adds, the results really haven’t been that bad.

Libertarians Praise Hillary

for her pathbreaking decision not to rely on public financing for either her primary or (possible) general election campaign. Other candidates will find it tough not to follow her lead, and the era of public financing of presidential campaigns may be over.

Helpful Comments from Wise Senators . . . Not

From an AP story today:

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, also took issue with Bush. "I can’t tell you what the path to success is, but it’s not what the president has put on the table."

Thanks for that illuminating insight.

SOTU Warm Up Questions

Dean Barnett, over at Hugh Hewitt’s blog posits a series of questions to himself about tonight’s State of the Union address. It is, he admits, a tad snarky. But he does a reasonable job of defending his snarky tone.

Among the bigger points of contention he has with the coming address is this. Both he and Hugh have been bewildered and irritated by the President’s penchant for releasing outlines of coming speeches to the press. Why does he do this? If he thinks it will make the media more fully digest and appreciate his complex thinking on important matters, he couldn’t be more wrong. Mostly, it gives people an excuse to tune out. After looking at this and Barnett’s post, I know I’m thinking about it! Further (and Barnett makes good use of this fact in his post), I haven’t exactly been torn up with curiosity about what the President will do about malaria--however needful a policy concerning it may be.

The most salient point in Barnett’s post, however, is his discussion of the President’s seeming acceptance of his intractable unpopularity and why that simply won’t do: "I think he’s reached a point, however, where he’s convinced he can’t be popular in his own time but that he will inevitably be vindicated by history. He’s using that as a jumping off point to conclude that public opinion in his own time doesn’t matter. He’s sorely mistaken on that count. If he doesn’t rally the people, or at the very least his own party, he won’t be able to salvage the wider war effort. If the surge succeeds but the wider war against radical Islam is abandoned, the surge’s success will be a very small victory."

I cannot imagine how dreadful it must be to be in the President’s position right now. I believe he has done his level best to do what is right and that he has been, by and large (though not always), correct in his assessment of what is needed. I cannot imagine that I will ever be persuaded that he is not a good man and so I feel for him. But the fact remains that he has not been able to persuade anyone that we should fight. Asking people to enter into a long and frightful war is asking a lot of people--even if they have no choice but to accept the fight. The fact that it is necessary to fight is not, in and of itself, a sufficient explanation. Persuasion is not the art of reciting and pointing out facts.

In appealing to our reason with facts, he should not neglect to walk through the logic. In appealing to our hearts with fear, he should not neglect to offer solace. I hesitate to say that he should "feel our pain" (Yuck, spit, eeeww!) but there’s a reason that phrase resonated with people even as they mocked it. He need not "feel our pain," I suppose, but he should pay us the respect of trying to understand why we need more than a business briefing in a State of the Union address.

UPDATE: After the speech, Barnett now calls it, "A very pleasant surprise."

Acting Hillary

Rich Lowry considers Hillary the calculator and her attempt to seem natural and how she will react when there is no script, for that time will come.

"Welcome to the Hillary Clinton campaign, which will be the most blatantly calculated presidential campaign in memory. Almost all political campaigns involve falsity and playacting, but it is Hillary’s lot in life not to be able to fake it well, so the scriptwriting and the consultants’ work show through. She seems to take the advice to ’act naturally’ literally, and the acting is always more in evidence than the naturalness.

Thus, the great battle is joined between the ruthless, highly effective inauthenticity of Hillary Clinton and the vapid, feel-good authenticity of Barack Obama."

Who really gives?

Echoing a point made at MOJ, this CT piece emphasizes that the adjective does most of the work in the claim that "religious conservatives are most generous." Religious liberals, it turns out, are pretty generous too, though there are fewer of them. And, on average, people are less generous now than roughly 30 years ago, and more of the money given to churches is staying close to the sanctuary.

Hillary vs. Obama

Is it possible that this is Hillary Clinton’s strategy against Barack Obama?

"Far from conceding African-American support to the most credible candidate ever of African descent, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Clintons are pushing aggressively for the help of their longtime allies in the black business, political and entertainment elite. Clinton’s supporters say she intends to make the Illinois senator fight for every black endorsement and every black vote. It’s a strategy that pushes Obama to decide just how black he can afford to be: Will he pitch himself to African-American voters as the black candidate, or hew to the post-racial line that’s helped make him sensationally popular with white Democrats?" Could this be to Obama’s advantage, along with his smoking?

Only in George W. Bush’s (and Barack Obama’s) America

Faith-based football.

SOTU quiz

I challenge my fellow NLT bloggers and readers to take Dana Hork’s SOTU quiz.

It’s amusing and we can all see how bad we are as prognosticators.

Romney’s Mormonism again

Two political scientists argue that Mitt Romney needs to make a JFK-like speech, though I would hope that Romney’s speech would approach the subject of the relationship between religion and government with greater nuance than did Kennedy. I think that I’m closer to Rick Garnett, who called my attention to this op-ed, than I am to its authors.

Alphabet soup

What happens when ACTA meets the AAC&U? Read about it here. My favorite snippet:

Post-talk reviews from other attendees were generally critical. While several gave Neal and her colleagues points for coming to talk to a skeptical audience, and others shared outrage at this point or that, the more common criticism was that the debate Neal was trying to engage was all a bit 1980s. No one is against reading classic works of history or literature, even by dead white men, they said. It’s just that the tough questions today aren’t core or non-core, at least to most of those here.

“I was sort of shocked at the lack of familiarity of where higher education is,” said Jeremy Bell, a philosophy professor and Academic Senate president at the College of San Mateo. With the Web and other sources, students have “limitless access to content,” Bell said, and it’s “archaic” to think that the key question is which required book will be put in front of students. “We need to teach them the skills to evaluate, not go to a model of 40 years ago,” he said.

Perhaps we should all send our kids to Wyoming Catholic College, which certainly won’t seek AAC&U membership anytime soon. (By the way, the article captures nicely my impression of the AAC&U from the times I’ve attended meetings.)

Thinking about SOTU

The speechwriters have been busy, trying to please their editor-in-chief. It will be interesting to see how he approaches this first opportunity to speak directly to a Democratic Congress and how they respond.

Abortion politics in the new Congress

This WaPo article describes three competing (?) efforts to soften ever so slightly the Democrats’ pro-abortion profile. All the proposals came to the fore in the last Congress, mostly (apparently) as campaign devices. I discussed two of them here and here. Senator Reid describes his approach here, but this measure has found an unfortunate sponsor in the House, at least if the intention is to offer an opening to folks on the pro-life side of things.

I note two things in closing. First, the timing of the article, which comes close to the March for Life (held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade) is obviously intended to show that the Democrats are responsive (see also here). Second, I looked at all the websites of the major players, and couldn’t find anything new anywhere; all the action took place last year. Guess everyone’s too busy posturing during their hundred hours, which seem to have taken forever.

Great Books or Great Blogging?

The Friar, who blogs at Reason and Revelation, wonders whether we should serve the cause of freedom and deciphering truth by spending our time blogging or whether we should spend our time cultilvating our souls by reading Aristotle’s NICOMACHEAN ETHICS. Following the letter of Aristotle, he concludes that we should pursue the mean between those two extremes by both reading and blogging moderately. Aristotle adds, of course, that the moral virtue is the mean relative to the nature of a particular human being, to be achieved by reasonably and habitually countering that person’s characteristic excesses. The Friar admits that blogging seems both more addictive and more distracting than reading Aristotle. His analysis may strengthen the case for the technology policy of Wyoming Catholic College discussed below, at least for the education of some. Surely we should all resolve to blog more about Aristotle, who was pretty good at defending human liberty and deciphering truth.

Shrinking to Fit In

Our best journalist on the human nature/biotechnolgy beat, William Saletan, moves from the horribly misugided--if quite understandable--decision of Ashley’s parents to some more general reflections on our emerging power to get smaller for almost any reason we choose. And the future may be with the small: They eat less, live longer, and are altogether less of a burden on others. The "naturally tall" may have higher IQs, some studies show, but maybe they can keep that advantage when they’re shrunk or redesigned to be short. To feel tall but be relatively small might be the real recipe for success, especially for women, in the years to come.

Hillary and the others

As Hillary Clinton makes her desire public, Richard Brookhiser considers--in a short but charming essay--what qualifications may be necessary in order to make a run for president.
The latest WaPo-ABC News poll has Clinton at 41%, Obama at 17, and Edwards at 11.

Becoming Cary Grant

This review of some books on Cary Grant in the current issue of The Atlantic is very much worth reading. Alas, not avaliable on line.

The difference

between a party that can count on the media’s, er, forebearance and one that can’t. Not the only difference, mind you. But good intentions surely are buttressed by vigilance.

"Adults Only" in New Jersey

So, what do you do when the property tax burden for education gets too high? Create new communities where children aren’t permitted. New Jersey, a state where the cost to educate the average child is over $12,000 a year, is now home to one-fifth of the country’s "adults-only" developments.

This Is Too D--- Funny!

Cockroach terrorizes TV weatherman.

Krauthammer on Maliki and the Surge

Charles thinks that only the real prospect of a redeployment--one that would leave Maliki at the mercy of a civil war in Bagdad--can produce enough nonsectarian behavior for the surge to succeed. He won’t respect us unless he believes we’ll really abandon him if he doesn’t. And without that respect the surge will fail because he’ll undermine it.

The Declaration and the Embryo

Here’s Yuval Levin’s latest and most eloquent defense of the president’s stem cell policy.

Obama watch, part 14

This piece, by a respected Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter, is interesting. She did an interview with him in 2004 that I can’t find on the web, but apparently a longer version made its way into this book. I’ll track it down.

Campus centers for the study of good things

Our friend Patrick Deneen gets some love in this WSJ piece describing the movement best exemplified by Robert George’s Madison Center and the unjustly overlooked Ashbrook Center. The article also points to this interesting new source of funding and inspiration.

College freshmen more politically minded?

This annual survey of freshmen, also described here says so. Another interesting factoid: the proportion of freshmen calling themselves liberal (28.4%) is the highest since 1975, while the proportion calling themselves conservative (23.9%) is the highest ever.

Climate Gore

I’ve been maintaining blog-silence this month while I get this year’s Index of Leading Environmental Indicators in the can (bonus: this year’s edition will include a short film on DVD starring Yours Truly), but a couple of things compel me to pop my head above the parapet to comment.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried an op-ed column (not available to non-subscribers so I’m skipping a link) from Bjorn Lomborg recounting how Al Gore had ducked out of a previously arranged interview with a Danish newspaper when he found out that Lomborg would be doing the interview. As chance would have it, I spent the afternoon with Lomborg just last week in Zurich going over questions he should ask Gore. (What were you doing in Zurich?--Ed. Lomborg and I were stuffing our Swiss bank accounts with all the ExxonMobil moolah they’ve been shoveling our way. . . Just kidding. I couldn’t resist the thought of NLT trolls heads exploding. Bjorn and I were speakers at a conference sponsored by this Swiss think tank.)* I’m not surprised Gore backed out; he is not very good at answering challenges to his extreme climate gore, so he ducks more debates than Jimmy Carter.

Word around Hollywood is that "An Inconvenient Truthiness" is a shoe-in for the Oscar for best documentary. Which leads me to wonder: rumors are going around Washington that Gore is quietly contacting key Democrats to sound them out about running. Might Gore use the Oscar microphone to announce his candidacy? Where can you have a bigger audience aside from American Idol? Think of how the Hollywood crowd would go nuts if Gore did it. It would also be a way of eclipsing Obamamania. I’d almost be willing to quote odds on this idea.

Meanwhile, Rich Karlgaard points to a possible problem for Gore: his involvement in whitewashing Apple’s options backdating problem. Now, this is one of those lovely "hoist-by-their-own-petard" situations, since the people who froth the most about this problem are Gore’s constituencies. Couldn’t happen to a more deservedly unctuous person.

Finally, is Al Gore actually a harbinger of a new ice age, or is he the Real Mr. Freeze of Batman comics? Several journalists have noted that everywhere Gore goes, he seems to bring record cold temperatures with him. There’s now even an entry about "the Gore Effect" in The Urban Dictionary (a kind of alternative Wikipedia), defined as "The well documented phenomenon that leads to very low, unseasonal temperatures, driving rain, hail, snow or all of the above whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global warming’."

*P.S. I regaled my Swiss hosts with Robin Williams’ old jokes about how wonderful it is that the basic weapon of the Swiss army--the famous knife--comes with a corkscrew. (Their marching chant goes: "I don’t know but I’ve been told/Chardonnay should be served cold.") I was archly told that only officers are issued Swiss army knives with corkscrews. Which makes it even funnier if you ask me.

Medved on Our Aging Pols

Here’s Michael Medved’s take on Obama vis a vis the rest of the aging candidate field. This article does not address the substance of Obama (or lack thereof) but it does, to my mind, explain some of his appeal. Appeal is not everything, of course, but it often wins elections.

New Claremont Review of Books

Is here, Only Charles Kesler’s "After the Thumping" is available on-line, but there are some gems worth watching for (or, better yet, worth subscribing to the CRB for).

My first choices: Steve Hayward’s elegant dissection of Gordon Wood’s approach to history; Paul Cantor’s ruminations on the universality of Shakespeare’s appeal, buttressed by furriners, but discounted by too many of those who speak a version of the Bard’s native language; and Christopher Levenick’s most excellent evisceration of the fulminations of some representatives of the religious Left. I don’t mean to disrespect others by not mentioning them; as they say, RTWT.

Technology Policy and Genuinely Higher Education

Father Neuhaus summarizes "the Technology Policy" of the new Wyoming Catholic College in the February FIRST THINGS: "The premise is that the most powerful piece of technology is the human brain, and it works best when engaged in reading, listening, conversation and prayer. Therefore: There will be no television sets on campus; classroom notes will be made the old-fashioned way; no private Internet access, and limited public access; no cell phones period. All these are replaced by books both great and good galore."

Father Neuhaus doesn’t endorse this approach himself, but he is intrigued by it. It’s close in some ways to my personal approach as a college teacher. I only very, very rarely will show a film; in class I never used power point or any other such electronic teaching tool; I never give an assignment that depends on drawing anything off the internet or web, and I tell students that they have no right to expect that I will answer their emails. I will admit the existence of and even talk about TV shows, movies, and maybe even blogs--demonstrating my personal media literacy (and in part my personal weakness or ADD), but only in the context of talking about books. I’m less tyrannical than WCC, by both necessity and choice, about what students should do on their own time, and, as I’ve said before, they’re probably better off with some selective TV and film viewing. But it’s important that they not confuse such pop culture, pop Cartesian recreation with their real education. (Their real education is what allows them to see the significance of their recreation.)

Now the WCC approach might be criticized for depriving students of the wisdom of blogs, Facebook, on-line papers and journals and such. But from the perspective of genuinely higher education all that stuff is at best harmlesss but time-sucking amusement. Higher education, as Tocqeville says, should be about what you can’t learn on the streets or on the screen in a high-tech democracy.

It will be interesting to see how WCC does on the assessment and accreditation front.

Could a learning outcome be to help students kick their compulsive habits when it comes to computers, TVs, and iPods?

Obama watch, part 13

Jonah Goldberg points to the first of what Jed Babbin thinks will be many efforts by Obama’s Democratic opponents to find some chinks in his armor.

Update: On a different front, it’s clear that the way Obama talks about religion doesn’t please all Democrats. While I can imagine the secularist/separationists biting their lips in order to win in 2008, the presence of Obama and HRC (also a card-carrying member of the religious Left) in the Democratic field leaves an opening for someone who wants to carry the separationist banner. John Edwards can’t do it. Dennis Kucinich maybe?

Should We Get the Federal Government Out of the Higher Education Business?

All the talk about assessment, learning outcomes, and the bizarre agressiveness our Department of Education is showing toward our accrediting associations has brought out the hidden libertarian in me. I’m much more open to the possibility that the national government should stop subsidizing higher education. If college is such a good investment, why should government pay for it? And doesn’t its subsidizing of individual students mainly drive up tuitions without expanding educational opportunity or improving educational quality all that much? Couldn’t one way to make colleges leaner and cheaper be to free them from the costly burden of having to conform to federal requirements--including increasingly intrusive and trivial outcomes-based accreditation--to get federal money they could probably get by without? (Well, I don’t completely agree with this, but let me know what you think.)

The Metaphorical Puff

(You have to read Julie’s post below and the comments on it before reading this.) I’m amazed, first of all, that I seem to have thoroughly ticked off more NLT readers on this issue than any other. That "cigarettes represent a metaphor" for Julie/Peggy and even me should have been obvious. And candidates that do exude Bogart/Rick manliness do and really deserve to have an advantage. They have character. I hasten to add that there is Mormon manliness; they’re tough and do better than almost all other Americans in resisting degrading, sophisticated fashion. But Romney, as Juile says, is going to have to find a way to display his to the American people. You don’t HAVE to smoke or drink to be Bogart, and it’s true enough that you’ll usually live longer if you’re only metaphorically a smoker.

Two Cigarettes in an Ashtray . . .

. . . Patsy Cline used to sing. And that is what we need, it seems to me. We need the equivalent of a smoker on our ticket in ’O8. "Say what?" you ask. Read Lawler’s posts below about Obama’s smoking and check the links, then read on.

I hadn’t even considered the marked contrast between the cool smoker Obama and Mitt Romney until Lawler brought it up in his post below. Consider that contrast for a moment . . . Oooouch! That would be bad for us, it seems. And it wouldn’t so much be an anti-Mormon thing as it is an anti-goody-too-shoes thing. That, of course plays into the stereo-type of Republicans as a bunch of uptight old guys with really bad wedgies. Romney would have to work very hard to prove that his own preferences against these doing these things himself do not reflect any kind of new-age temperance movement. But then, Lincoln didn’t smoke or drink and yet was able to thoroughly enjoy the company of those who did and, moreover, not make them feel embarrassed for their choices. I suppose Romney might, if he were very clever, be able to use the sentiment Obama could create against the Democrats: i.e., he could demonstrate that the positions Obama takes on the issues show a real and more devastating kind of intolerance to personal choice and that the Democratic party does more oppressively represent the soft-despotism of the finger-wagging old school. He would have to differentiate big from small vices. But he would have to be very clever to pull it off if he does not indulge in even the smallest of vices. If he got any traction at all here, the left would trot out their tired, old, but amazingly effective gun about sexual liberation and the perceived Republican backwardness on these issues. Not to mention their anti-science superstitions (to use their words).

Don’t we have any cooler, rougher seeming Republicans who could work this issue and carve this image right?

Giuliani seems better than Romney for the "coolness" factor at first glance. Speaking only about his general appeal and not his positions on the issues, I have always thought that I would prefer him to any of the other contenders. He is a tough guy who messed with the mob and talked tough to the terrorists after all. There is a kind of old-fashioned manly quality to his brusque New York ways. But his stated opinions on these moral questions and his own problems in that arena mean that he would have to more or less leave the charge of prudishness in the Republican party unanswered. His silence would leave the party susceptible to further charges of hypocrisy. I don’t think it’s a smart strategy for Republicans to try and sweep that issue under the rug if they mean to--as they must do--make gains among the young.

Because the GOP will never win anything without social conservatives and because the country will collapse into degeneracy if social conservatives are entirely ignored, there is nothing left to do here, it seems, but to persuade young people that the GOP is right about this stuff. The question is, who can best do that? I have no good answer to that question but I know this much: he has to be cool--not a church lady. He has to have a great sense of humor and a thick skin. He should be a little vulnerable on these questions--but not have gaping holes in his moral armor--and where vulnerable show appropriate self-deprecating humor but not pretend to excuse himself. He must be able to make an appeal to morality that is based in more than glittering "higher truths" (though he mustn’t denounce these). He should, it seems to me, ground his appeal in self-interest rightly understood and cold, calculating reason. Find that guy, and we will do well now and well into the future. Fail to find him, and I think we will continue to lose ground.

"Pervasiveness" in the religion clauses

One of the most problematical of the many problematical expressions in the judicial attempts to interpret and apply the First Amendment religion clauses is the notion of "pervasive sectarianism," which the plurality in Mitchell v. Helms argued has a rather shameful provenance in anti-Catholic bigotry and, in any event, should not matter, so long as the government’s permissible purposes coincide with those of the recipients of government aid. Nevertheless, the notion of a "pervasively sectarian" entity--and the implication that it is unworthy as a recipient of otherwise reasonable government aid or contracts lives on, surfacing most recently in the decision handed down by a federal judge in Iowa finding Iowa’s contract the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ InnerChange Freedom unconstitutional (for briefs on the other side in the appeal go here).

Well, in a sense the shoe is now on the other foot. Colorado’s pro-life Democratic Governor Bill Ritter has announced that he will resume providing state funds to Planned Parenthood, so long as PP doesn’t use the money for promoting or providing abortion. Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput doesn’t think that PP can properly segregate its funds, implying in effect that PP exemplifies a kind of pervasive sectarianism.

Since I would assume that he’d eschew that language and analysis with regard to Catholic and other religious institutions, I wish he’d extend the courtesy to PP (leaving open the possibility, of course, that PP could fail to live up to its obligations). And I’d hope that PP and its allies would return the favor with respect to faith-based organizations that they may not happen to like.

Update: I should explain that this post grew out of an email exchange with MOJ’s Rob Vischer, whose post is here.

Y’all come

Next Friday, January 26th, the famous Darcy Wudel will be speaking on "Tocqueville and Associations: A Comparative Perspective" at Oglethorpe. If you’re interested in attending, shoot me an email.

Obama Lights Up--Part 2

(Don’t read this until you review Julie’s comments 20 and 21 below under my Obama/smoking post.) Julie,
I hope Obama doesn’t read your brilliant strategy and sign you up. It’s true that smoking is catching on again among the young, especially young women. They (admittedly stupidly) seem to think that cigarettes are sexy in some way. And it’s equally true that smoking is a small and humanizing vice (compared, say, with the famous vices of President Clinton or former Congressman Foley), one that shows one’s dissent from the fanaticism of soft-despotic, schoolmarmish, health-and-safety obsessed political correctness. No real man works too hard to look young or live forever. If his Hillary’s schoolmarms criticize Obama for killing babies with second-hand smoke, he can respond reasonably and humorously that the occasional cigarette on the back porch or out on the sidewalk ain’t hurting anybody (well, there’s a small but significant danger to the senator himself--but his embrace of that risk makes him a man in the great tradition of Bogart etc.). The single women that allegedly are Hillary’s core might switch over to a manly but still orthodox liberal guy. Julie really sees the path that can make his campaign (which as far as I can see will be boring and platitude driven in terms of content) very seductive and very dangerous for us Republicans. Consider the showdown between between the smoker Obama and a Mormon who doesn’t smoke or drink (even coffee!)....


Ashland beats Hillsdale in basketball.
Antony: "There’s not a minute of our lives should stretch/Without some pleasure now."

Just following orders

This, fromGermany, is hard not to comment on. 

Obama cognitive dissonance brain freeze

I just came across this from Cass Sunstein, claiming that the University of Chicago Law School hired Barack Obama at least partly at the suggestion of conservative judicial superstar Michael McConnell.

An Obama query

Barack Obama, as everyone knows, was a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, teaching these courses. He should have a reasonably well thought out approach to the Constitution and to constitutional adjudication. Do we have any evidence of it anywhere, other than in these very political instances? I confess that I didn’t find anything particularly thought-provoking or, for that matter, surprising, given his general orientation.

I did a quick lexisnexis search a few days ago and didn’t find anything, but I’ll go over the Harvard Law Review more closely for his time at that august institution to see if if fact he made it into print (which he should have, given that he was President of the HLR).

Anyone who has anything more specific or interesting should feel free to email me.

More accreditation and assessment stuff

I can’t tell whether this is good or bad, but the fact that it’s coming from the educrats at the DoE makes me dubious. We are headed, I fear, in the direction of "No College Student Left Behind," to which the modal response will be: create an "objective" assessment tool and then teach to it. Not exactly Socratic or liberal, by my lights.

We have a pill for that

O brave new world....

Update: More here. Have you noticed that all the attention is coming from the prairie West?

Max Boot on the "Big Ifs" About the Surge

Max rightly sees it as a worthy and risky effort to salvage our huge investment so far. There are no credible alternatives. But are we putting too much weight on the surge by thinking of it "as one final effort"?

More on the Remarkable Economic Data

Here’s why our booming economy is rightly called the Bush economy.

Obama watch, part 12

You can judge for yourself Obama’s smoky voice here.

I guess it’s time to dredge up the piece I wrote last summer about his speech on religion and politics, which differs little from what’s in his new book on the subject. If you’re interested, you might also want to take a look at his church’s website, these "precepts" and "covenantal statements", and this account of a visit to the church. This church takes its Afro-centrism seriously, but does qualify it in the following way:

W.E.B. DuBois indicated that the problem in the 20th century was going to be the problem of the color line. He was absolutely correct. Our job as servants of God is to address that problem and eradicate it in the name of Him who came for the whole world by calling all men, women, boys and girls to Christ.

I’m not quite sure how this squares with, for example, a "[p]ersonal commitment to embracement of the Black Value System," as the precepts call for; perhaps some enterprising reporter will ask Obama about it.

Should Obama Quit Smoking?

Well, maybe he shouldn’t. Smoking may be the cause of his "magic voice." And being unable or deciding not to kick the habit is one way he can really distinguish himself from fashionable liberals.

Religion and the university

MOJ.s Rob Vischer has a nice review of what appears to be a nice book. Consider, for example, this snippet:

[T]the Christian virtue of hospitality, according to Aurelie Hagstrom, a theology professor at Providence College, “reflects a radically different and compelling alternative to tolerance.” While tolerance is a “false sort of engagement” given its tendency “to trivialize what is most important to us,” hospitality demands “a personal, authentic encounter that is self-emptying and open even to those with whom we have deep philosophical, theological, and political disagreements.” Under this view, the university’s sponsoring religious community acts as host, and community members from other religious traditions are welcomed as guests. In today’s hyper-egalitarian campus environment, attaching the “guest” label to non-Christians will smack of paternalism, but the host-guest paradigm may be inescapable if the Christian story is to have a privileged role as a shaper of the institution and its mission.

Read the whole thing.

Charles Murray on Education and the Importance of Having ’g’

Because I am either a chronic underachiever or because I simply do not have enough ’g,’ I have absolutely no interest in re-opening the can of worms that Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve opened in 1994. But being over-prudent has never been one of my setbacks either, so here it is. His Opinion Journal essay today and the promise of more to come in the next few days on the subject, is certainly worthy of serious consideration by those who think they have enough ’g’ to handle it. My sense (I won’t call it a view, having not studied the subject in any serious way) is that there is probably some merit to it.

My experience working at my kids’ kindergarten for two years, seems to confirm my sense of the thing. This school is a very intense, almost one-to-one teaching experience. But no matter what you do with some kids, you get little back. It is hard to say why that is. It appears that some have nothing going on inside their minds--as if they were asleep mentally. One doesn’t know if that is because the kid is still immature or if the kid just hasn’t got it. Still others are so advanced that they pay you no mind at all because you and the idea of learning bores them. There are other kids who run circles around you and dazzle you with brilliance. Most are just work-a-day plodders like my kids and myself. To be sure, you can get better results with this individualized kind of teaching--but I’m not even so sure about that as I used to be. So much depends on the wisdom and the experience of the teacher.

I used to have a history teacher in high school who had the reputation of being difficult. On the other hand, he told us that we could all get an "A" in his class if we really wanted it. I don’t think he really believed what he was saying in the strictest sense, but it was a noble lie. He said it with so much passion, anyway, that I believed him. And because I believed him, I did get an "A." I knew a few students who worked as hard (or harder) as I did and could still only get "Bs." But I suppose they might only have achieved a C or D if they hadn’t tried so hard to get the "A." Of course, the grades don’t really mean anything in the scheme of life, I know. But the lesson of learning to believe you are capable of more than you think you are is indispensable. That is almost always true. Perhaps the most we can hope for from education is that it do its level best to inspire each kid to give his best.

Here’s Where We Need the "Surge"

In Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on U.S. and allied forces by Taliban members who seek to reestablish their hold over the country. Currently there are only 24,000 U.S. troops in that country, where the Al-Qaeda presence is considerably stronger than it is in Iraq. Moreover, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are operating with the tacit assistance of the Pakistanis, who are tolerating insurgent sanctuaries within their borders.

Women without husbands

"For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to the NY Times analysis of census results." Mona Charen objects to some editorializing in the report, and notes the class implications of the marriage issue. This, while interesting, of course is not the end of the story. I just spoke to a young woman yesterday (a college grad, now working, circa 24 in age). She says she is worried because in two years of work she has not yet met a man that was sensible enough to marry; she assumed she would (because she did not meet one in college). Her practical remedy is this: she is attending two to three church services (different churches!) each week hoping to increase the odds of meeting someone more normal. The ones she has met through other venues have been a "little rough", as she put it. So far, she has had no luck. This is common, and in a couple of more years her worry will turn to panic. In over thirty years of observing young men and women on their dating habits--their ways of getting along with one another--things have only become more difficult, more complicated, more bizarre over the years. What will happen?

Double the Minimum Wage for Illegal Aliens?

That’s the modest proposal of Free Frank Warner. Frank wants NLT reaction to his ingenious argument--one he thinks everyone should like. Give him some. Frank is a national greatness liberal, and Senator Lieberman should certainly hire him.

Generation Next

I’m working my way through this Pew survey report about young people today. So far (in my reading), the "bad" is that one-third of them have tatoos, they’re focused on fame and fortune, and 20% are atheistic or religiously unaffiliated, while the good is they tend to favor privatization of social security. Right now, they’re more Democrat than Republican, though that could change (we hope).

An interesting observation for those dissatisfied with George Bush’s America is that, across the board, people are pretty doggone happy: more than 80% in every age group report their quality of life as excellent or good, and over 80% say they’re very or pretty happy. But nevertheless, "the country" is going in the wrong direction. By what measure?

Buckley vs. the Surge

THE NATIONAL REVIEW editor sees no evidence that it will address the real reason for insurgent effectiveness and the real threat of Iran. And the president didn’t explain why withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster. I don’t agree, and I certainly think we should let the president make the call for now. But Buckley’s opinion deserves our respectful consideration.

American fascists?

Is this what Chris Hedges means? Is this kind of outreach to broken and needy people the prelude to theocracy?

Update: Are the kids described in this article brownshirts-in-training?

While we’re at it...

As long as we’re reflecting on civic education, I’d be interested in the answers our gentle readers have to offer to Peter Levine’s post, both in general and considering the questions he poses at the end. If you read it, you’ll see why I’m particularly interested.

I’ll share my own thoughts later, for reasons that should also be obvious.

Presidential Academy

This is related to Joe’s post below. Not only do I (and we) teach King in all the ways you would expect, but we also use his Dream speech (with the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address) as the core document around which our Presidential Academy revolves.

Federal holidays and civic education

For a number of reasons, this article is disheartening. Note, for example, what’s now being blamed for our students’ lack of civic knowledge, as if that began with the Bush Administration.

Busch on King

Andy Busch on Martin Luther King, as a response to Ricks Perlstein’s attack on him (and the Ashbrook Center) in the latest TNR. Very good!

Duty, Country, and THE QUEEN

Here’s a perceptive review of THE QUEEN, surely the best political film of the year. Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair actually make each other better and discover what they share in common, despite their great differences in style, class background, and political opinion. And their shared political responsibility fends off the challenge of the popular but empty "humanitarian" compassion
of and for the celebrity Diana.

Congress Addresses a Fake Crisis with Fake Urgency

Yuval Levin reports on the mixture of demagoguery, tragedy, and farce that is the debate in Congress over funding research with embryonic stem cells.

Good News That Nobody Takes Credit For

The economy turns out to be in "surprisingly" strong shape, and it’s probably going to get even stronger. Let’s hope divided government doesn’t screw it up.

Jimmy Carter again

Here’s a detailed and nuanced account of Emory University historian Kenneth Stein’s differences with Jimmy Carter. Stein cites chapter and verse regarding his disagreement with Carter’s version of a meeting with Hafez Assad they both attended, arguing that Carter’s version is intended to place Israel in a less favorable light. But he also has some nice things to say about Carter.

More American fascism

Today’s Atlanta paper has a rather prominent package of articles on the book I noted here. We also learn about this LAT review, where the reviewer criticizes Hedges for, in essence, calling for an abridgement of First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech to deal with those he describes as incipient fascists. The better response, the reviewer argues, is political. He’s right, of course.

What Hedges can’t concede, and sell any books, is how marginal genuine theocrats are among conservative Christians. He can make his case only by willfully misunderstanding the language of dominion.

Another point, and I’m done. Hedges taxes conservative Christians with reaching out to broken people and manipulating them. First of all, would he not have them reach out to broken people (which, according to at least one version of the Christian tradition is everyone)? And isn’t it arguably authentically Christian to tell those broken people that their redemption ultimately can’t be found in this world? Even if we take his understanding of brokenness (mostly economic and psychological, all apparently explicable in material terms), would he not have churches reach out to them, offering a variety of different kinds of support (not only spiritual, but also material)? If churches didn’t mix the spiritual with the material, they’d be no different from the secular welfare and therapeutic bureaucracies, and hence ultimately dispensable. But perhaps that’s what someone who thinks the First Amendment can be readily jettisoned in the face of a very speculative threat wants.

Luttwak’s Neo-Machiavellian Strategic Vision

Our goal should no longer be to bring regime change in the direction of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. All we need or can do is manage the regional civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis by strategically supporting both sides. Remember that Ed’s track record on predictions is at best uneven. I leave this for you to discuss.

Obama’s lack of black support

London Times notes that so-called black activists are not yet supporting Barack Obama, and wonders why. Does it have to do with Hillary? Harry Belefonte on Obama (An "influential civil rights activist"? Oh, never mind.): "We don’t know what he’s truly about." And then there is the poetry of presidential candidate Al Sharpton: "Right now we’re hearing a lot of media razzle-dazzle. I’m not hearing a lot of meat, or a lot of content. I think when the meat hits the fire, we’ll find out if it’s just fat, or if there’s some real meat there." I like that.

Sandy Berger the thief

There is more to Sandy Berger as a document thief than meets the eye, according to the Wall Street Journal, although what meets the eye is sufficiently dishonorable to end his middling career, in my opinion. This is the Report.

Krauthammer’s on Bush’s Stem Cell Veto

The scientific breakthrough on stem cells acquired from amniotic fluid--which seem more promising for regenerative medicine than embryonic stem cells--shows the wisdom of the president’s noble effort to keep us off a slippery slope that may well turn out to have been specific to a particular stage of scientific development. Notice, of course, that Charles’ concerns are wholly secular, but not amoral.

Peter Wood responds to our thread on the new anger

Peter Wood responds to the thread occasioned by my post. He makes some good points, and encourages us to buy his book. I will.

China, cooling

The Economist makes the point that companies are starting to relocate from China.

Fingers Crossed

This is not the most eloquent editorial I’ve ever read. But I like it anyway because it’s so close to my own position. For reasons David Tucker, among others, have given, it’s quite reasonable to doubt that so-called surge will work. And we should respect those who express that opinion. Still, I don’t see any alternative to supporting the president and hoping for the best. And certainly some of our best military leaders believe that they may well be able to make it work

Heather Mac Donald strikes again

She’s an atheist, indeed a loud and arrogant one, but, nevertheless she is "in awe of" the "power" of neuroscience and says that "we should all be on our knees" before "the most astounding creations of Western civilization." Sounds to me like she’s worshipping something.

Hat tip: Ramesh Ponnuru.

What We Really Know About Aliens

Meaning not illegals and such but ET intelligent life... Actually, we don’t know anything at all, despite our imaginative and varied efforts to make contact. But the strangest and most wonderful form of alien life imaginable--some of whose behavior is amusingly described in the link--already inhabits our planet.

The Man with the Golden Arm

With the NFL playoffs now well underway, I had intended to review the recently-published Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas by sportswriter Tom Callahan. But given my tardiness, our Hillsdale correspondent calls our attention to this assessment by George Weigel, papal biographer, resident of Maryland and long-time Colts fan. A fan of the real Colts, that is, not the faux version now inhabiting Indianapolis.

I planned to explore the two most interesting themes of the Callahan’s book. First, the widely accepted view (probably exaggerated, according to Callahan) that the Colts were the first sucessful melting pot in professional sports. The ties of team and community supposedly bonded the Colts’ blacks with the blue collar sons and grandsons of Italian and East European immigrants. Unitas, for instance, grew up in the ethnic Lithuanain coal-working communities of western Pennsylvania.

Second, Unitas is indisputably the man who defined the position of modern professional quarterback. First and foremost the modern quarterback is a leader, tough, cool under pressure, especially the pressure of the playoffs and critical end-of-game situations. He is a precise timing-and rhythm passer, working in subtle choreography with his receivers based on countless hours of practice; yet he is able to improvise on the fly. He is a conservative gambler who takes calculated risks based on experience and feel for the game and his teammates. He is the master of the audible and the two-minute drill, when the game takes on a pick-up quality.

Unitas combined these attributes in the most famous and important professional football game ever played, the 1958 NFL championship against the New York Giants. He drove the Colts to the tying touchdown late in the game, improvising a critical pass with Raymond Berry. He then took the team on a winning TD drive in overtime, including a calculated gamble on a pass when the team was already in field goal range. Before Starr’s Drive and Elway’s Drive, there were Unitas’s Drives.

The quarterbacks in today’s playoff games will all be measured by these standards. But many around professional football – including Unitas before his death in 2002 – believed that the sport, and especially the quarterback position, suffered mightily since his heyday. Fellow Hall of Fame Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen says that it was once the players’ game, but now it is the coaches’ game. Bureaucracy rules. Coaches, not quarterbacks, call the plays, a change that Unitas and his playing peers absolutely hated. Teams normally script the first 15 or so plays. They rely on computers to uncover patterns in the opposing teams’ pass coverage and blitz schemes. Increasingly sophisticated, aggressive and athletic defenses have led to increasingly sophisticated and micro-managed offenses, with much less room for on-field improvision and feel.

According to Unitas, the centralization of the game in the hands of the coaching staff robbed the quarterback of his essential attribute – his ability to command the game by commanding the huddle. Callahan tells the story of Dallas coach Tom Landry, the first coach to popularize calling plays from the sideline. Landry actually wanted to go one better by rotating his quarterbacks, Roger Staubach and Craig Morton, play by play. Landry preferred Morton because he was much more of a predictable system quarterback than the charismatic, athletic, improvisational Staubach. But Landry eventually had to give way because, he realized, the team played much harder for Staubach. Irrationally so, Landry thought. But that was something that a coach could not control.

One can discount a good bit of this “I used to walk to school six miles, uphill, both ways" argument. Unitas would have excelled in today’s game. The top QBs of the present generation would have been Pro Bowlers at any time. The essentials of modern quarterback play, as defined by Johnny U, have not changed. Unitas lives on in the precision, timing and rhythm of Peyton Manning; in the toughness of Bret Favre; and in the big-game leadership of Tom Brady. Things may be coming full circle. Manning has virtually become his own offensive coordinator. He chooses from a menu of plays at the line of scrimmage, depending on the alignment of the defense. Other teams are beginning to adopt this opportunistic, quarteback-centered approach.

The coaching profession itself may be changing. Gregg Easterbrook recently challenged the sainthood of big-name coaches.) Brian Billick, the coach of the current Baltimore franchise and a former Super Bowl winner, was on the verge of being fired at the end of last season after finishing 6-10. Instead, according to the Washington Post’s Les Carpenter, Billick and the Ravens’ front office decided that he would adopt a new inclusive “management” style, similar to the trendy theories now governing business. Billick would accept a flattening the corporate structure and encourage input from his employees and mid-level management (i.e., the players, assistant coaches and scouts). This runs counter to the Bill Parcels model of centralized coaching, in which the head coach controls all aspects of “football operations” – he not only cooks the meals, he shops for the groceries.

After a few games Billick also fired his good friend and offensive coordinator, Jim Fassel, and assumed these duties himself. How this decision fits into the new theory is not clear. At the end of the day the coach, like the captain of the ship, cannot shirk the ultimate responsibility. He may be reluctant to leave the bridge no matter how skilled the helmsman and navigator.

Fly on the wall

I hadn’t looked at the Faithful Democrats site for awhile, and look what I missed! There’s quite a splenetic brouhaha that has emerged over the NYT article on Democratic consultant Mara Vanderslice that I mentioned here.

Well, an anti-theocrat smelled a rat, and went after Vanderslice. She responded here, and he replied. There’s more back-and-forth here, here, and here, as well as here.

The bottom line is that there is a substantial body of opinion on the left that insists upon a kind of church-state separationist orthodoxy, and regards any attempt to be more precise, actually mentioning the two religion clauses, as caving to the Religious right. Here are two examples of what I mean, the first from Rob Boston of Americans United:

The phrase came into being precisely because it is a useful way of summarizing the religion clauses of the First Amendment. To be frank, most people don’t know what “Establishment Clause” means, and to many, “free exercise” sounds like a special offer at the local gym. The phrase “separation of church and state” sums up in these concepts in a familiar and user-friendly way.

It would be a mistake to abandon the term. Polls show that most Americans support church-state separation. Only the extreme Religious Right groups want to tear down that wall.

The second comes from Frederick Clarkson, the aforementioned anti-theocrat:

What we are seeing in Common Good Strategies’ advice to drop separation of church and state because the phrase does not appear in the constitution is an utter capitulation to the religious right and its Christian nationalist interpretation of history and its approach to contemporary politics. It will not only be shocking, but will ignite a signficant struggle in the Democratic Party if clients of this fashionable consulting boutique abandon principles that are the product of centuries of effort to create a society in which people of differing religious views can get along with one another and enjoy equal rights under the law.

Get it? Any attempt at nuance, anything other than simple-minded separationism, amounts to a capitulation to the religious right. After all, the American people aren’t smart and careful enough to distinguish between, say, accommodation of religion in the public square and theocracy.

I have my own beefs with Vanderslice and the religious left, but they’re nothing compared to those of the anti-theocracy watchdogs.

My Dragon

I am reporting to you (that is, I’m talking, and Dragon is typing) on my speech recognition software, called “Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred”. It just arrived today, took about half an hour to read the instructions and started into it. I am actually shocked at how easy it is and how well it’s going, especially considering that I don’t really know how to use it and I certainly don’t know how to make all the clever changes that no doubt I will be able to make after a few days of use. Now, to show you how easy it is to use and how clever it is in picking up complicated words, sentences, and paragraphs I will quote a lengthy paragraph from Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” (page 55 bottom) that John Marini brought to my attention in his last podcast:

“But the unity, grandeur and attendant folklore of the founding heritage was attacked in so many directions in the last half-century that it gradually disappeared from daily life and from textbooks. It all began to seem like Washington and the cherry tree—not the sort of thing to teach children seriously. What is influential in the higher intellectual circles always ends up in the schools. Leading ideas of the Declaration began to be understood as 18th-century myths or ideologies. Historicism, in Carl Becker’s version both cast doubt on the truth of natural rights teaching and optimistically promised that it would provide a substitute. Similarly, Dewey’s pragmatism -- a method of science as the method of democracy, individual growth without limits, especially natural limits—saw the past as radically imperfect and regarded our history as irrelevant or as a hindrance to rational analysis of our present. Then there was Marxist debunking of the Charles Beard variety, trying to demonstrate that there was no public spirit, only private concern for property, in the Founding Fathers, thus weakening our convictions of the truth or superiority of American principles and our heroes. Then the Southern historians and writers avenged the victory of the antislavery Union by providing low motives for the North (incorporating European critiques of commerce and technology) and idealizing the South’s way of life. Finally, in curious harmony with the Southerners, the radicals in the civil rights movement succeeded in promoting a popular conviction that the Founding was, and the American principles are, racist. The bad conscience they promoted killed off the one continuing bit of popular culture that celebrated the national story -- the Western.”

In the above paragraph the dragon made nine mistakes three of which were repeated twice. For example, the word “as” was written “is”; “in” came out as “and”; and “myths” came out as “mats”; and “hindrance” was typed as “irrelevance”. The word “grandeur” and “seriously” also came out as other words. Now, considering everything, especially that this is only the start and I am slow to learn any new technology, this isn’t bad! Furthermore, I was speaking as I normally would. I did not slow down. In fact, the instructions tell me not to read unnaturally slow. Furthermore, it claims that, over time, it will get better because Dragon will get used to how I speak. So far, I’m impressed.

Let’s try a few lines from Shakespeare and see how the Dragon picks it up: “Let Roland Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the range of Empire fall! Here is my space. Kingdoms are clay.” Not perfect, but you can hear how she would make “Rome in Tiber” become “Roland Tiber.” And “range” should be “ranged.” And I haven’t got the exclamations down yet!

Ellison the Muslim pluralist

At least in this interview. This is somewhat heartening:

Our adversaries in the war on terror are predominantly fundamentalist Muslims who don’t practice a politics of inclusion. That’s a core reason for the conflict in the war on terror.

So do we want to be just like them? The reality is Muslims around the world don’t subscribe to extremist views and oppose them. We can’t build a policy around some extreme criminal nut cases.

This, on the other hand, is mostly partisan pablum.

China’s Coming Gender Gap

The infamous "gender gap" is about to take on a whole new and literal meaning in China. This interesting little story indicates that in less than 15 years there will be 30 million more men of marriageable age than women. The cause, of course, is China’s tough one-child population control policy and an entrenched preference (for social, cultural, and financial reasons) for boys. Much could be said about the dangers this bodes for the future . . . not the least of which is this: with those kind of odds, think of how aggressive their young men will have to be to win a bride! What will they do with all that excess aggression and pent up anger in the losers? It’s not good for us but it is an interesting prospect for their armed forces.

Brownback on the surge

Here’s the statement, apparently issued before the President’s speech Wednesday evening. TNR’s Noam Scheiber detects a clever political motivation--distinguishing himself from the other Republican conteders and playing to a social conservative base which, according to the poll described here, doesn’t support the surge. (I’d want to see that poll result replicated before I believed that social conservatives, especially white evangelicals, have reversed course on Iraq. My recollection is that they had been the one group most reliably supportive.)

AmSpec’s James Antle and Quin Hillyer are very critical of Brownback, Hillyer noting something the Romney folks pointed out to him--that last month Brownback voiced support for a surge.

Before this, if you had asked me which Republican candidate--regardless of his electability--I found most interesting, I might have said Brownback. No more.

Michael Gerson, Christian Socialist?

Here’s an attempt to portray Michael Gerson’s version of compassionate conservatism as a kind of European-style Christian Socialism. I briefly discussed the essay at which this commentator took umbrage here.

My own response to this critique is, first, that Gerson was somewhat sloppy in the Newsweek essay and, second, that many of the elements of the "ownership society" amount to government efforts to empower individuals and revive civil society where it’s moribund. Gerson’s ultimately not a paternalist or nanny state advocate. Where he might disagree with his critics is over what role, if any, government has in resurrecting individual self-reliance. In this connection, I note that the author of the aforementioned piece mentioned education vouchers. Don’t voucher involve government spending, not to mention at least a little government regulation? And haven’t Gerson, his former boss, and his former boss’ brother been advocates of vouchers?

Boxer and her children

Barbara Boxer said a couple of interesting things to Condi Rice, things which have not been as well reported as they should have. Surprise. It’s kind of amazing.

Update: The link has been fixed.

Brit hits back

I noted a few days ago an unfortunate incident in which a British historian, visiting at Tufts, was arrested for jaywalking while attending the AHA convention here in Atlanta.

Well, today, the AJC gave him enormous chunk of one of its op-ed pages so that he could lecture us on our shortcomings as a city and as a nation.

Here are some of the most telling snippets:

First, I learned that the Atlanta police are barbaric, brutal and out of control. The violence I experienced was the worst of my sheltered life. Muggers who attacked me once near my home in Oxford were considerably more gentle with me than the Atlanta cops.

Many fellow historians at the conference, who met me after my release, witnessed the incident and told me how horrific they found it. Even had I really been a criminal, it would not have been necessary to treat me with such ferocity, as I am very obviously a slight and feeble person. But Atlanta’s streets are some of the meanest in the world, and policing them must be a brutalizing way of life.


In jail I saw none of the violence that typifies the streets. On the contrary, the staff treated everyone--including some of the most difficult, desperate, drunk or drugged-out denizens of Atlanta’s demi-monde — with impressive courtesy and professionalism. I began to suspect that some of the down-and-outs I shared space with had contrived to get arrested to escape the streets into this peaceable world — swapping the arbitrary, dangerous jurisdiction of the cops for the humane and helpful supervision of the center.

Nelson Mandela, I think, was right to say that jail is the best place to make judgments because "a nation should be judged not by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest." If Atlanta is representative, America, by that standard, comes out commendably well.


The first lesson is obvious. The city authorities of Atlanta need to re-educate their police. I can understand why some officers behave irrationally and unpredictably. Much of the downtown environment in their city is hideous — inoffensive to the eye only when shrouded by the often-prevailing fog. The sidewalks are thronged with beggars who can turn nasty at night. The crime rate is fearful.

The result is that the police are nervy, jumpy, short-fused and lacking in restraint, patience or forbearance. But witnesses tell me that up to 10 officers took part in the assault on me. This is evidence not only of excessive zeal but of seriously warped priorities. In a city notorious for rape, murder and mayhem, the police should have better things to do than persecute jaywalkers or harry a feeble foreigner.

Moreover, Atlanta depends on its convention trade. The way the conventions center is designed is extremely practical. There is plenty of good, reasonably priced accommodation. But if Atlanta accumulates a reputation for police frenzy and hostility to visitors, the economy will crumble. At least, the police need to be told to exercise forbearance with outsiders — especially foreigners — who may not understand the peculiarities of local custom and law.

But, at the risk of projecting my own limited experience onto a screen so vast that the effect seems blurred, I see bigger issues at stake: issues for America; issues for the world. I found that in Atlanta the civilization of the jail and the courts contrasted with the savagery of the police and the streets.

This is a typical American contrast. The executive arm of government tends to be dumb, insensitive, violent and dangerous. The judiciary is the citizen’s vital guarantee of peace and liberty. I became a sort of exemplar in miniature of a classic American dilemma: the ’balance of the Constitution," as Americans call it, between executive power and judicial oversight.


Though my own misadventure was trivial--and in perspective laughable--it resembles what is happening to the world in the era of George W. Bush. The planet is policed by a violent, arbitary, stupid and dangerous force. Within the USA, the courts struggle to maintain individual rights under the bludgeons of the "war on terror," defending Guantanamo victims and striving to curb the excesses of the system. We need global institutions of justice, and judges of Judge Jackson’s level of humanity and wisdom, to help protect the world.

I don’t quite know where to begin. From the perspective of his victimhood and rather limited experience of Atlanta, he makes pronouncements about our crime rate, our climate, our local economy’s dependence on tourism (overstated, though true enough, but not something a total innocent as he professes to be would necessarily know) and about the behavior of our police. He also at one point refers to the officer’s "semi-literate scrawl" on his citation. I wonder if that’s the kind of winning and open attitude that led to the officer’s apparent overreaction.

And then, of course, there’s the way that his experience is a microcosmic parable for America’s "brutal" demeanor in the world today, to be reined in by "global institutions of justice." Gee, you think he had some preconceptions--might we even call them prejudices--before he walked across the street? Might the chip on his shoulder have led him to respond to an American authority figure in a way that was less than respectful?

If you want a somewhat more measured response than this, see the AJC’s editorial. If you want to see less measured responses, read the comments from the newspaper’s readers at the end of the professor’s column.

Petraeus on Iraq

The new ground commander in Iraq, Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, is reputed to be an expert on counterinsurgency. Reportedly, he wants to apply the lessons of Malaya and Northern Ireland to Iraq. Malaya is considered an outright success for the British counterinsurgents; Northern Ireland is a bit harder to call. The three situations have various similarities and differences among them, so it is difficult to say how this will work. Some of the lessons of Malaya and Northern Ireland are the importance of unity of command (both civilian and military efforts lead by one overall commander), restraint in the use of force, police taking the lead, population security, and patience and persistence. Malaya took a decade; Northern Ireland has been going on for over three. In his comments, Petraeus emphasizes population security but the Iraqi police are not reliable. He won’t have unity of command over US personnel, let alone both US and Iraqi personnel. He will be working with an experienced U.S. Ambassador, however, and that might help. One advantage the British had in Malaya and Northern Ireland was that they owned both places. They were the sovereign government. We are not the sovereign government in Iraq, as President Bush has noted repeatedly.

Nancy Pelosi must have done something sort of right

Her filmmaker daughter says things like this:

“I believe in the culture war,” she said. “And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war I’ll take their side,” meaning the Christian conservatives. “Because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I’ll take Jesus.”


[S]he and her husband, Michiel Vos, a journalist for Dutch media, intend to make certain that their son, Paul Michael Vos (born Nov. 13), goes to church, she said, so he would have “more than himself and capitalism to believe in.”

I don’t get HBO, so I won’t have the opportunity to see her film in a timely fashion.

Hat tip: Mere Comments.

British Invasion

Among the many things about which I know nothing, or less than nothing, soccer probably tops the list. I do know who David Beckham is, however. Arguably the world’s most famous sports personality, more popular even than Tiger Woods. Married to some pop starlet or other. Hollywood tells me nobody bends it like Beckham. In his prime he was said by some to be the best dead-ball kicker and crosser of the ball in the world which, I am told, is not the same thing as being the best player in the world. Thus to some extent he was an over-hyped creation of the media. While casually watching the World Cup last year, I learned that he was thought to be a disappointment by his English national team and was removed from its roster after the tournament. His much-publicized tenure with Real Madrid in Spain is about to come to an end, with Beckham spending much of his time riding the pine, or whatever expression soccer uses.

But he’s now one of us – or at least a member of the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer. And $250 million richer, according to published reports (hard to tell where that figure really comes from – no American soccer team or league could afford that much). The move is clearly intended to boost MLS and the latest in a series of moves to try to make American soccer relevant to the American public and credible to the world soccer community. Jen Chang of ESPNSoccerNet writes:

What he gives MLS is an immediate GQ rating and free advertising for the league wherever he goes. Between talk-show appearances, the celeb circuit and hanging with the Hollywood A-listers (it’s been reported that Brad Pitt has requested soccer lessons from Beckham for his son), Beckham will give MLS a buzz and intro to mainstream pop culture it has never had before.

Merchandising? It’s no secret that signing Beckham means an increase in shirt sales and general merchandising revenues; it’s part of the reason Real signed him (cynics would argue the only reason). You’re now likely to see Galaxy shirts worn throughout Asia and even the potential of selling broadcast rights to MLS games featuring Beckham to countries such as China and Japan.

This is no crazy pipe dream, either. In Asia, most soccer fans follow individual players, not teams, and Beckham remains the most revered, deservedly or not. You’re talking about a player who is literally worshipped in countries such as Japan and Thailand. Disbelieving skeptics only have to visit the Beckham statues that exist on the Japanese island of Awajishima and the Wat Pariwas Buddhist temple in Thailand and observe fans praying to their "deity."

What Beckham would give MLS is a boost, a shot in the arm any sports league would welcome no matter how successful it already is. He’s guaranteed to raise short-term interest in the league and put more seats in the stands. Will the interest level be maintained after he’s gone or even after his first season? It’s doubtful unless the product on the field as a whole is improved, but what he does give MLS is the chance to become more relevant to an American public for the first time.

A chance and nothing more, I suspect. The justly famous Pele played for the New York Cosmos in the long-departed North American Soccer League in the mid-1970s. If he couldn’t turn Americans on to soccer, no foreigner could. I remember watching him in an exhibition match in United States the late 1960s. Stunning. You didn’t have to know anything about soccer, and I certainly did not, to appreciate that this man was different. Like watching Gretzky play hockey. But Beckham, I am told, is no Pele. And America is far from embracing the world sport despite the popularity of youth soccer. Whether that says more about the world or about us is an interesting question.

UPDATE: Our friends from Claremont pass along this item as a possible reason for the American hesitancy to embrace soccer.

Movie recommendation

I had the great good fortune this afternoon of attending an advance screening of Amazing Grace, a compelling presentation of William Wilberforce’s campaign to end the slave trade. Excellently acted and visually stunning, the movie succeeded on every count I could think of. The scenes in parliament were well-done. Wilberforce’s faith was sympathetically and powerfully portrayed. And the film did an excellent job of showing how "mere politics" could advance an idealistic cause. The movie provides an excellent vehicle for provoking conversation about moral leadership and the relationship between religion and politics.

My wife absolutely loved it, and has already proclaimed that we’re going to add the DVD (when it’s available) to our family library. And while it was just a tad "old" for my kids (9 and 11), it held their attention and led to teachable moments on the way home.

Not surprisingly, the movie is connected with a Wilberforcian campaign, intended to abolish contemporary slavery. For those of you who are suspicious on one side or the other about the politics of this effort, the company behind it is Philip Anschutz’s Bristol Bay Productions. One of the producers is Patricia Heaton.

The movie opens February 23rd. My wife has already emailed everyone she knows to recommend that they see it. I’m planning to organize groups from my university and my church to attend, preferably on the opening weekend.

Senate 2008

Ken Rudin (for NPR) reflects briefly on the Senate races in 2008, and makes some early predictions. The GOP will defend 21 of the 33.

Jimmy Carter’s troubles

"Fourteen members of a Carter Center advisory board, who worked to build support for the human rights organization started by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, have resigned in protest over Carter’s latest book."

Another Republican Long Shot: Gilmore of Virginia

Former Governor James Gilmore of Virginia is about to enter the race. His claim for distinction is his fiscal conservatism and unwavering defense of tax cuts. He’s also pro-choice. There’s surely something to be said for a candidate genuinely devoted to limited government. But can he appeal either to the foreign policy hawks or the social conservatives?

Why giving matters

D.C. area NLTers might be interested in this event, focusing on Arthur C. Brooks’s research. I’ll read the transcript, when it’s available, to give fellow shut-ins a report.

The National Council of Churches and its supporters

This WaTi article describes this report (available for purchase now or, if you’re patient, to be released slowly on the web), which documents the support the National Council of Churches receives from essentially secular, essentially liberal foundations. I have no doubt but that there’s a coincidence of interests between the foundation and NCC bureaucracies. Here’s how the report’s executive summary puts it:

Most of the NCC-supporting groups share several characteristics: (a) They are not affiliated with an NCC member communion, or any other church body. (b) Christian unity and common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ do not appear to be among their principal aims. (c) They have a much stronger interest in addressing social and political issues. (d) Their positions on those issues, insofar as they can be discerned, lean overwhelmingly toward the left. Several of the groups are so patently partisan that they can be described accurately as belonging to what journalists have called "the shadow Democratic Party."


We should be clear that there is no necessary sin in a Christian organization—the NCC, the IRD, or the Salvation Army—accepting contributions from or forming alliances with persons or groups who may not themselves be Christians. The problems come when the non-church funding and alliances loom so large that they cannot help but change the nature of a Christian organization. Then serious questions arise: Are the non-church funders and allies determining the programs and positions of the Christian organization? Or are organization leaders reshaping their programs to fit the priorities of the funders and allies?

Read the whole thing, for what it tells you (if you didn’t already know) about the bureaucracies claiming to speak for the mainline Protestant denominations.

I should add that at some point they may well speak for those who remain in the pews, the others having left (er, I mean departed) for denominations whose faith commitments are closer to their own.

Update: The WaPo’s Alan Cooperman also attended the news conference. You could almost predict that he’d focus on the sources of the IRD’s funding, an issue that’s constantly raised by defenders of the NCC. As the report’s authors note, there’s a difference between an advocacy organization that’s clear about its aims and a so-called umbrella organization that purports to speak for denominations that provide slightly less than half its funding.

Update #2: Get religion’s Mollie Ziegler Hemingway comments on how Cooperman appears to have followed the lead of the NCC in mischaracterizing the differences between the NCC and IRD.

Reactions to the speech

Contributors to the NRO symposium were generally positive, while VDH argues that numbers will matter only if they’re used aggressively and intelligently and Andrew C. McCarthy worries that the words about Iran and Syria were mere words, continuing a retreat from the post-9/11 Bush Doctrine regarding states that support terror.

The Democrats’ "bold plan" (yes, the article uses these words) and "striking new approach" (again, in the article) is this: "Twenty-one thousand five hundred troops ought to have 21,500 strings attached to them." Supporting the troops means supporting the troops that are there: if they can’t win it on their own, Democrats aren’t going to provide further assistance.

This WaTi article reports a number of Congressional responses, some predictable, others disappointing. I’m most disappointed in Sam Brownback’s short-sightedness. But you probably knew or expected most of this:

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, called the troop increase "a mistake that I and others will actively oppose in the days to come."

"Escalation has already been tried and it has already failed, because no amount of American forces can solve the political differences that lie at the heart of somebody else’s civil war," he said.

Former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, wants an immediate withdrawal, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has said she opposes a surge but has kept a low profile this week on Capitol Hill.

Among Republican 2008 hopefuls, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, is one of the strongest supporters of sending more troops.

Mr. McCain has said such an increase must be "substantial and sustained" to make any difference in Iraq. He said last week that, at a minimum, five brigades of 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers should be sent to Baghdad, and two more brigades should be sent to the troublesome Anbar province.

The NYT didn’t (try to) find many Congressional supporters of the President’s plan, though McCain and Lieberman are solid gold.

Not surprisingly, the WSJ supports the President’s proposal, arguing that "political compromise won’t happen without better security, or as the Petraeus Counterinsurgency Manual puts it, ’security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress.’" Another WSJ editorial takes the Democrats to task for the feckless irresponsibility of their opposition:

So the Democrats want the political mileage of opposing the troop increase rhetorically. What they don’t want is to take responsibility for their own policy choice. Meanwhile, their rhetoric will only serve to reassure the jihadis that sooner or later Democrats will force a U.S. withdrawal. It’s enough to give a half-cheer to genuine Democratic isolationists, who have proposed legislation that would require the President to seek approval to fund additional troop increases. At least they’re willing to go on record.

I can’t take any more of this.

For Ann Gregory

I gave a talk on the election last night, just before the president’s speech. I think I had more fun than he did. I note--for now in passing--that although the majority of the folks listening to my talk were Republicans, almost all were sceptical and even critical of the Bush, especially of his Iraq policy. Yet, virtually all of them honor his steadfastness. I would say that at least their hope and prayer is with the president. That almost no one takes the Democrats seriously (yet) goes almost without saying. Just because Bush has lost some trust doesn’t mean therefore that his political opponents have gained much of it. It does seem to me that the carping by some Democrats, even those who a few months ago were asking for more troops, will not be to their advantage over this electoral period unless they begin to make positive arguments, as if they really are trying to govern. But, even if they can begin to sound and act more statesmanlike, attempting to govern from the legislature is a hard row to hoe, just ask Henry Clay or Newt Gingrich.

So, to make the morning more congenial I re-read Yeats’ For Ann Gregory. I hope you like it.

The President’s Speech

I was impressed by his determination or resolution. I was convinced that retreat from Iraq would be disastrous for both Iraqis and us. And I was also convinced that the new plan is based on genuine and responsible reflection on past mistakes. Our president certainly didn’t seem clueless or in denial. But I also thought that the new plan was embedded with pretty optimistic assumptions about relatively nonsectarian Iraqi behavior. It’s unclear what will happen if their government and forces don’t live up to our expectations, our "benchmarks." All the commentators are saying that the president needs some relatively quick success or even much of his own party in Congress will abandon him. To tell the truth, I can’t tell how reasonable the hope is that he will achieve it. But he and our forces deserve our support and our prayers.

The Democrats vs. Scientific Progress

Here’s Yuval Levin’s clear and instructive summary of likely scientific breakthroughs that will make possible the acquisition of stem cells for regenerative medicine without the destruction of embryos, as well as his analysis of why the Democrats prefer to ignore what the studies really show.

The speech

Here’s the text.

A few points are preliminarily worth noting. First, he’s very clear about what’s at stake:

The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.

Second, the Iraqis have allegedly given us a green light to go after bad guys that we haven’t had before. If this isn’t the case, well, then:

I’ve made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this. Here is what he told his people just last week: "The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation."

Third, there’s more blood, toil, tears, and sweat to come.

Fourth, thre are benchmarks for the Iraqi government, a political dimension for which this military effort provides support and defense.

Fifth, GWB hasn’t abandoned his vision:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region. It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.

From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence, and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists, or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?

Sixth, he has formed a coalition of the willing (to talk) with Congress.

And lastly, he "addresses" Syria and Iran, not by entering into conversations, but by making clear that they’re part of the problem:

These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

If he’s serious about this, then Syria and Iran may have some worries about their own "territorial integrity."

Keith Ellison on religion and politics, take 2

I posted about this earlier, but couldn’t resist calling attention to this from Rep. Ellison:

The Quran is "definitely an important historical document in our national history and demonstrates that Jefferson was a broad visionary thinker who not only possessed a Quran, but read it," Ellison said in an interview with the Free Press. "It would have been something that contributed to his own thinking."


Ellison said Friday that Jefferson’s Quran "shows that from the earliest times of this republic, the Koran was in the consciousness of people who brought about democracy."

If there is a Jefferson scholar among our readers, he or she can tell me whether there’s any evidence for this claim. All I could find in TJ’s searchable works were this reference to "the Alcoran of the Mahometans" (from a letter to John Tyler, May 26, 1810) and this mention of "Mahometan[s]" as included in the Virginia bill for establishing religious liberty.

I did come across this post, which cites these articles. Anyone who has access to more than an abstract of the former can tell me whether there’s anything other than evidence that Jefferson might have followed Pufendorf’s references to discern in certain passages of the Koran evidence of a ius gentium, which is certainly not in keeping with the spirit of that text.

Update: Here’s more, including a link to a indeterminately reliable summary of the aforementioned article.

Bottom line: in Thomas Jefferson’s world, Muslims are entitled to religious liberty, but their contributions to law and morality are the same as those of Christians. Where their rules and habits comport with reason and common sense, where they comprise part of or evidence for a universal consensus, they provide grist for Jefferson’s mill. If that’s all that Rep. Ellison means, I’ve got no problem with it, though I expect that too many imams would.

The "public" in public school

In this short column, Yale law prof Stephen L. Carter proposes that we reconceive the meaning of "public" in public school. To wit:

Perhaps, instead of viewing public schools entirely as functions of the larger government, we should see them as joint ventures between the government (and its public values) and the local families it serves (and their local values). Rather than alienating parents unnecessarily, perhaps we can find sensible compromises between the all-or-nothing strict separationism of the federal courts and religious domination.

Read the whole short thing.

Historians in Atlanta

Here’s how we Atlantans deal with uppity historians who vote to criticize the Bush Administration’s conduct of the Iraq war.

But seriously.... You can access he police report through a link in the AJC article, while the historian tells his version at great length in video available here. Were it not for the witnesses (one of them an actual historian) and the officer’s generally good reputation, I might have reason to cast more doubt on the police report. What I don’t doubt, however, is the irony of a professor claiming over and over again that he’s unaware of the customs and laws of the place he’s visiting. Don’t academics pride themselves on their (cross-)cultural sensitivity?

Of course, it’s very unfortunate that things got out of hand, and I’m sure there were misunderstandings on both sides. I’m willing to forgive Professor Fernandez-Armesto his ignorance of and indifference to our laws (as well as his casual references to rampant crime, including serial murders, in Atlanta, which is either evidence of racism or anti-Americanism) if he’s willing to forgive a perhaps overzealous police officer.

Hayward review

For the lucky few. Perhaps Steve can get his friends at TWS to unlock the web version so that we non-subscribers can read it.

American Fascists?

No, Jonah Goldberg’s book isn’t out yet.

But former NYT correspondent Chris Hedges’ American Fascists, yet another book on the Christian Right, is. Michelle Goldberg, whose (competing? complementary?) book also raises the spectre of fascism on the Christian Right, interviews Hedges here. And Rick Perlstein reviews it for the Sunday NYT here.

To his credit, Perlstein is critical, arguing that Hedges’ book is more theory- than fact-driven. Given the picture he has of America, about which more below, fascism should arise in America. That it hasn’t is something Perlstein, the non-theologian, understands (in part)theologically, while Hedges, the graduate of Harvard Div School, doesn’t.

Goldberg’s interview with Hedges reveals his utter (theory-driven) misunderstanding of America. Here’s a representative passage:

For me, the engine of the movement is deep economic and personal despair. A terrible distortion and deformation of American society, where tens of millions of people in this country feel completely disenfranchised, where their physical communities have been obliterated, whether that’s in the Rust Belt in Ohio or these monstrous exurbs like Orange County, where there is no community. There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no sidewalks. People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars on freeways to Los Angeles and sit in vast offices and then come home again. You can’t deform your society to that extent, and you can’t shunt people aside and rip away any kind of safety net, any kind of program that gives them hope, and not expect political consequences.

Democracies function because the vast majority live relatively stable lives with a degree of hope, and, if not economic prosperity, at least enough of an income to free them from severe want or instability. Whatever the Democrats say now about the war, they’re not addressing the fundamental issues that have given rise to this movement.


It’s really the destruction of the possibility of community, and of course economic deprivation goes a long way to doing that. But corporate America has done a pretty good job of destroying community too, which is why the largest growth areas are the exurbs, where people have a higher standard of living, but live fairly bleak and empty lives.

He accepts the caricature, which can’t really be based on any deep experience, that the suburbs and exurbs are "soulless" and "community-less." For the families that inhabit the exurbs, that can’t be the case: there are churches, most not (it goes without saying) incipiently fascistic, schools, activities of various sorts, and so on. And there’s book clubs, dining clubs, bunko, poker, and so on. I’ll take my parents’ retirement (they use the euphemism "active adults over 55") community (there’s that word again) as evidence that the American habit of associating is far from dead: there’s an investment club,a book club, an "Epicurean" (they don’t know what the word really means, else they wouldn’t be "active" or in a club) club, bridge, bocce (in South Carolina!), tennis, golf, and a hotly contested race for seats on the board.

Which brings me to my last point: Hedges views America through the prism of Arendt and his experience in the Balkans, which led him to the chastened conclusion that "there’s a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are":

You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don’t understand how radically changed our country is, don’t understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.

I’ll go along with the fragility argument, but offer these caveats: Americans aren’t Serbs (200 years of history with democratic republicanism counts for something) and Christian is a crucial modifier, which Perlstein captures well: "The message people seem to be imbibing from these [execrable Left Behind] novels and from their preachers, however, is not: Take vengeance. It is: Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."

In the end, Hedges sounds more like a professor (Barrington Moore’s massive and interesting misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the Civil War comes to mind) than like a reporter. But, as Get Religion’s Mollie Ziegler Hemingway points out, prestigious newsrooms have something in common with their higher ed counterparts--little or no intellectual diversity.

Bob Casey, Jr. may step up

A few days ago, I noted that Bob Casey, Jr. had an opportunity to make a name for himself on stem cell research. According to this story (hat tip: The Corner), he may be about to do so. Good for him!

GWB library and institute update

Some of the SMU faculty are picking up right where they left off before the holidays.

Is Our Secretary of Education a Moron?

Actually, the evidence isn’t decisive. Even Leo Strauss might have choked on celebrity Jeopardy. My main objection to this post on an unfriendly blog is that it doesm’t focus on the damage Margaret Spellings is doing to our accrediting associations and to higher education generally. I will say more about that later. Thanks to Ben B. for calling this post to our attention, which may be the beginning of a liberal/conservative coalition to do something about this schoolmarmish federal tyranny.

Interview with Sara Martinez Tucker

Here’s a revealing interview with the person in charge of higher education in our Department of Education. Notice not only her corporate experience but her tendency to talk in corporate cliches. She’s an uncritical supporter of affirmative action as the only way to oppose "the survival of the fittest." If you keep scrolling, you finally get to her clear articulation of the Department’s intention to push aggressively outcomes assessment on accrediting associations through her clever use of the euphemism "tough coversations." As John Moser noted below, outcomes assessment has some merit in primary and secondary education, but it dangerously trivializes what does or should go on in college. There’s no good reason--no reason at all--that colleges or professors should have to submit to it to get the available government funding. Notice, most of all, that she says nothing at all to suggest that she has any knowledge or appreciation of what does or should go on at our best institutions of higher education. Again, I don’t know why someone isn’t raising hell...

A New Source of Stem Cells

Here’s an account of the discovery of stem cells obtained from amniotic fluid that may well have most or all of the useful properties of embryionic stem cells for regenerative medicine. They actually seem to have one or two more: There’s the prospect of parents freezing these cells for their child’s future use, probably solving the rejection problem that’s plagued stem cell research so far. THE BIG POINT is that’s it’s increasingly clear that one scientific breakthrough or another will soon bring the alleged moral dilemma of destroying embryos to save lives to an end before it really even gets here.

Podcast on Sam Peckinpah

This is my third podcast with John Marini. It is still on Westerns, this time emphasizing the films of Sam Peckinpah (especially The Wild Bunch and The Ballad of Cable Houge) and how Peckinpah understands the "fundamental dilemna of America as a kind of tension between the Lockean man and the Rousseauan man." Very good stuff. You are making a mistake if you don’t listen it immediately! Thanks, John.   

More surgeology

John McCain, "blogging" here. An additional problem with a short surge is that our enemies can just hunker down until we leave, which, if the Democrats have their way, will be sooner rather than later. And Rich Lowry has more here.

[email protected]

For those wondering about the whereabouts of former Senator Rick Santorum, he’s here. A good setting and a good podium, I think.

John J. Miller has more here.

Department of Education Running Amok?

Our Department of Education seens to be in the process of suspending and perhaps ending the capability of the American Academy of Liberal Education to serve as an alternative way for colleges with more traditional or authentically liberal approaches to education to gain accreditation. The point of the AALE is to challenge the political correctness and break the monopoly of the regional accrediting agencies. But now our Department of Education is increasingly insistent that all accreditation be based on jargon laden, one-dimensional, and usually easily quantifiable "learning outcomes." The AALE, to its credit, can’t figure out how to employ that approach and still do its job. All the professors out there know how hostile the whole regimen of learning outcomes is to real higher education. And all conservatives and Republicans ought to be raising hell about the petty tyranny of officials appointed by our president and working in a Department that many rightly believe should be abolished. It’s genuinely alarming that they’re working to make our accrediting associations even more intrusive and more mindless.

Election 2007

The Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2007 will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday). The universal expectation is that Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn will be elected easily. A successful candidate must receive 75 percent of the ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. A few curmudgeons will leave them off the ballot. Neither Ty Cobb nor Babe Ruth was a unanimous selection – Tom Seaver, actually, was the closest. Go figure. I suppose only George Washington deserves the honor. No one expects that Mark McGwire will come close in the first test of the suspected steroid generation. If comments warrant I will make them or, more likely, I will pass on the thoughts of wiser souls. For the moment I’m in Thomas Boswell’s camp. Wait and see.

By the way, good luck to you Ohio State fans tonight.

ad Romnium

Pardon my obsessiveness, but this article canvasses the Romney issues reasonably well.

Religious conservatives and immigration policy

Two stories about a new group favoring border enforcement and family integrity, but opposing birthright citizenship. Looks interesting, but also looks like it might have had more traction before November.

Ah, but there’s always 2008.

Kesler on post-thumping conservatism

The Friar calls our attention to Charles Kesler’s ruminations on "Conservatism After the Thumping". Here’s a taste:

If conservatism means being decent and patriotic, then of course, nearly all Americans are fuzzily conservative. But that doesn’t tell you much about how they vote, which in recent years has been in roughly equal numbers for Democrats and Republicans. The notion that a steady conservative majority exists, waiting only to be activated by the right Republican appeal, thus makes for bad GOP strategy. It lures Republicans into thinking their job is easier than it is, by disguising the hard truth that victory still depends on persuading, not merely reminding, a crucial segment of the electorate to think conservative and vote Republican.

Read the whole thing, which, unless I miss my bet, is a harbinger of the imminent appearance of the eagerly awaited winter issue of the

More on Linker and Romney

If you have the patience to work your way through this long post, it will be amply rewarded. Hat tip: MOJ’s Rick Garnett.

Mormons Aren’t Scientologists!

In response to the crude expressions of religious bigotry that appeared on his magazine’s pages, John Judis of THE NEW REPUBLIC explains why we have nothing to fear from a Mormon president.

Obama watch, part 10

Myrna Blyth thinks Barack is kinda like Bill, our first black President.

Having finished the latest book, I kinda agree, for slightly different reasons. There’s a lot of moderate-sounding stuff (kinda like BC), but the bottom line is always on the left side of the aisle. There is one difference worth noting (someone correct me if I’m wrong): coming from Illinois, rather than Arkansas, Obama is much closer to the labor unions (and indeed the most rabid of the unions) than (Bill) Clinton ever was. He can talk a culturally conservative talk (appealing to the rank-and-file), but the dominant notes, in the end, are conventionally liberal in all senses of that term.

More on Wood, Chait, and anger

Jonathan Chait snidely responds to Peter Wood’s NRO article, discussed here. And Wood responds:

[T]here is a huge difference between the existence of isolated individuals in love with their expressive anger and living in a culture in which such anger is cultivated as a virtue and justified as a form of righteousness.

That’s what happened among a large number of contemporary Americans, and Ramesh without quite realizing it nabs Chait’s contribution: Chait offers “arguments for anger.” Check that: arguments for anger. Since when did anger need arguments? Anger used to be something we sought to control, something that we tried to expunge, control, or channel, not something we argued for. We argue for the things we value or cherish. We may need anger now and then to rouse the indifferent to defend the things we cherish. Models of that kind of anger include Tom Paine and William Lloyd Garrison. But what happens when “being angry” becomes a pursuit in its own right?

I would love to see someone like Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., author of
Manliness, and some time ago, The Spirit of Liberalism, review Wood’s book. What I learned from Mansfield was the crucial role of spiritedness--expressed in terms of self-assertion and righteous (that is, principled) indignation--in liberal political life. It was, he argued, missing in the late 70s. Anger has made a comeback, according to Wood, but in the person of Chait, who, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to eschew principles in favor of pragmatism, it lacks any obvious connection to the reason with which it should be associated. If Chait and those he inspired were Achillean, they’d pose a real challenge to our republic. But, as it is, they’re not, which means that we can expect our native sobriety ultimately to reassert itself, so long as "decent people" treat them with the mild contempt they seem to deserve.

Update: Stanley Kurtz calls our attention to these two smart posts by Kevin Walker (whose site you should bookmark, if you haven’t already). Walker argues that contemporary anger--unmoored in nature or reason, or, more precisely, moored in natural self-assertion but uncontrolled by reason--is connected with the postmodern abyss. If there is no ground, there is only the (hysterical--the difference between Nietzsche and Machiavelli) assertion of a lonely and anxious self. Now I want commentary from Lawler as well as from Mansfield.

Ban the Dunk

No, I’m not such a Neanderthal as to propose a return to the Lew Alcidor Rule (1967 to 1976), in which dunking was banned in college basketball. Alcindor’s remarkable performance during his sophomore year at UCLA suggested to the old white men in authority that this athletic giant and his successors would make a mockery of Mr. Naismith’s game. Those reactionary days are well behind us. To play now without the dunk is unthinkable. 5-4 guards as well as 7-1 centers heed Bill Walton’s command to “throw it down.”

Dunking has become an integral part of the men’s game, an art form, a crowd pleaser, and a team energizer. When coaches insist that their players take high percentage shots, one has to admit there is none better than the dunk. (That is, assuming one isn’t vertically challenged.) Coaches rightly chastise a player for going up with a weak shot in the lane against defensive pressure when a firm dunk would either seal the deal or draw a foul. The dunk, of course, too frequently becomes a spectacle in itself, detached from the game, a highlight in search of the next ESPN Sports Center, as Bob Knight reminds us. But there is no going back to the days when referees hung around the men’s pre-game lay-up drills to enforce the no-dunk rule.

But note that I said, men. Yesterday Candace Parker, the Tennessee Lady Vol’s brilliant all-court player (30 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks, four assists and one steal), dunked in a game at the University of Connecticut. Hers was not a showpiece formality at the concessionary end of a blowout. UConn and Tennessee are national powers and bitter rivals. The dunk came early in the second half with the game very much in play. Tennessee was up 18 at the time but the UConn players seemed to take offense and rallied to within three points before losing 70-64.

It was the sixth time that the 6-4 Parker has dunked during her career. Five or six other women have done it in games over the years, college and pro, but the event is still enough of a novelty that Parker’s dunk drew sports headlines, even above the result of the game. And therein lays the problem. I don’t follow the women’s basketball at all but I do believe that few women in my lifetime will be ever be able to dunk as men do, to make the dunk an integral part of the game rather than a novelty. Thus the risk – that those high school girls and college women who aspire to push the ball over the rim will spend increasing time in practice attempting to do so. They will look for opportunities in games to make the highlight reel. The occasional dunk – however pedestrian – may become the standard of excellence, instead of a well-executed screen and roll, a solid defense play, or a clever bounce pass.

In short, the women’s game will tend increasingly toward the bad features of men’s basketball, with the lack of team play, poor intermediate-range shooting and the substitution of style over substance. Modern women’s basketball always sold itself proudly as being a below-the-rim game, a team sport with solid fundamentals, not a pale imitation of the men’s jump-out-of-the gym version. The dunk-as-spectacle (with the associated rim-hanging, chest bumping and general bad sportsmanship) has become an unfortunate part of the men’s game, even for those of us who love it. From afar, one sees the women’s game moving in that direction. Dunking may be a minor part of the problem. But if I’m correct -- and I defer to those more knowledgeable -- there is still something we can do about it.

So my suggestion to the powers-that-be in the NCAA: ban the dunk in women’s basketball. Call it the Candace Parker rule.

Polls on Iraq

Here are some polls on our Iraq policy. An overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the war. They also think the war was a mistake that has made us less safe. They don’t think the president has a plan; they’re even more certain Congress doesn’t. They think our government as a whole is pretty clueless on what to do now. There’s little support for immediate withdrawal, but a majority do favor gradual withdrawal by a certain date. The Americans who elected the Democratic Congress did in full knowledge that the result would probably be gradual withdrawal as the culmination of a stalemate. What they don’t want is an indefinite stalemate.

People want or wanted to win in Iraq, don’t think we’re toast if we don’t, and no longer have confidence that we can. Maybe the president can turn that skepticism around some through inspiring confidence in his new plan. But the surge remains high-risk in the sense that it may create a new and maybe unrealistic expectation for quick and dramatic results.

I’m reporting all this as a social scientist, and I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that the president should abandon his admirable indifference to polling in the conduct of foreign policy.
But time is not the president’s friend here, and that may be, of course, a defect of democracy.

Surge again

Democrats don’t like it, but say they can’t do anything but criticize it. This is a politically easy position for them to take, and ultimately only sends a message of weakness to those against whom the surge is directed.

Of course, there’s always Joe Lieberman, now emphasizing the adjective, rather than the proper noun it modifies. His victory in blue state Connecticut gives the lie, I think, to those who claim that there’s little support for doing what it takes to win the war. Consider, for example, this polling data.

Tourism recommendation

We spent yesterday (beautiful, though too warm--70--for January) in Brattonsville, a "living history" site in upcountry South Carolina, just a 45 minute (or so) drive from Charlotte. Settled by the Brattons in the early 18th century, "Brattonsville" has a number of well-restored buildings, from a basic log cabin to a mid-19th century plantation house and complex. We didn’t expect there to be any living history interpreters there, but got lucky and found a few, one of whom persistently offered to inflict various folk remedies on me, another providing a lively account of perhaps the first defeat of British forces after the capture of Charleston in 1780 (as well as some unflattering contemporary commentary on a rather prominent former colleague from the West Georgia history department), and another telling us all about slave life on the plantation and showing us an original brick cabin that housed skilled slaves. All were knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

Excavation and restoration are on-going, and the site is worked in a 19th century manner, with horse-drawn plow, cotton, and ginning (all in season, of course).

Some of you might also recognize the buildings on the site from this movie.

All in all, worth a trip if you’re in the vicinity or a detour if you’re passing through (and not just for the political dirt that might be dished).

Woody Hayes

Given the importance of the other war (between Ohio State and Florida) tomorrow, I thought this piece on Woody Hayes by Harry V. Jaffa--who taught at Ohio State for thirteen years, having begun his career the same year as Woody (1951)--might be good for y’all to read.

Writing as sound

Richard Powers’ essay in today’s New York Times is very much worth reading for two reasons. First, he explains in brief the need for speech ("the hum is what counts") even in writing, and how writing ("a barrier to cognitive flow") by hand (that is, stumblingly with one letter at a time) is a hindrance to writing by voice (the old-fashioned thing to do, a la Aquinas, Milton, Wordsworth). Second, he uses a speech recognition device (software, I think) on his laptop to "write." Apparently these things are now virtually perfect. And sound, (interestingly, in Hebrew, I am told, a single term means both "event" and "word") or language, for an illiterate person is a kind of mode of action (and not only "thought" as we say) and that action of the word cannot be stopped. This is why such a person (Homer, Lincoln?) gives word as sound such great power, and probably why all writers want their writing to be read aloud. All sound is dynamic, it is an event in time. (The eye, by contrast, prefers to see things that do not move, or at least prefers to slow movement down so it can be "better seen.") In our attempt to reduce sound to script and even worse to the alphabet, we are forced to step on time and divide it in an artifical way. We remove movement, and therefore power, from sound. Good writing, I believe, is ineluctably grounded in sound. I’m going to look into this speech recognition software. My time may have arrived! It is amusing, to say the least, that modern technology (computer, voice recognition software, etc.) may help us get over the technology of writing, the artificiality of writing, and allow us to move toward the naturalness of speech.


During the Jefferson administration, Secretary of State James Madison and Senator John Quincy Adams, then political adversaries, played an occasional friendly game of chess. Neither man, so far as I know, recorded the outcomes. Too bad. One would like to have sat in on those matches between perhaps the smartest men ever to become Chief Executive. More to the point of this story, they were distinguished alums of Harvard and Princeton (the College of New Jersey), two elite universities that are today routinely waxed in collegiate chess by such burgeoning powers as University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); the University of Texas at Dallas; and Miami Dade College.

The new kings of college chess do it the old fashioned way. They pay for it. They relish the prestige gained by sticking it to the Ivy League. They hire Russian and East European coaches. They offer full-ride scholarships for recruits – many of them from abroad, some outright ringers, once including a 40 year old grandmaster. There have been recent efforts to clean up the sport. Grandmasters over age 25 are now prohibited, although those older but currently competing have been grandfathered in. There is a six-year eligibility limit and a requirement that players maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.0 and at least a half-time course schedule. Presumably boosters have been told not to be too overt in handing over those car keys.

So the next time you feel like complaining about big time college football . . .

Chess has always been more than a disinterested battle of intellect. The Boris Spassky-Bobby Fischer world championship match in Iceland in 1972 was an epic Cold War sports battle – not on par with the Miracle on Ice, but it was something of a small consolation for being rooked out of the Olympic basketball gold medal that year. If someone other than Hank Iba had been coaching that team we’d have won straight away, but I digress.

Fischer was the typical bad-boy American, the John McEnroe of the chessboard, an authentic genius who was eccentric even in the bizarre world of chess. Fischer lost the first game then forfeited the second in a protest over playing conditions. He then breezed to a convincing match victory, after getting completely into Spassky’s head. Fischer later refused to defend his title because of a dispute with the governing body of chess, FIDE. Over the years he went completely off the deep end of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. In 1992 he ran afoul of the U.S. government by playing Spassky in the old Yugoslavia, violating an Executive Order that implemented U.N. sanctions against the Milosevic regime. That of course made him a cause celebe of the international anti-American crowd. He eventually managed to gain political asylum in Iceland. No word if he’d accept a scholarship offer from UMBC.

In the meantime Russian Garry Kasparov, the player generally regarded as Fischer’s main rival as the best ever (he became world champion after Fischer left the scene), has been an outspoken supporter of democracy in Russia and a fierce critic of Putin. Kasparov heads up the United Civil Front, a movement to unite opposition forces ahead of Russia’s 2008 presidential election. He has faced repeated harassment from the Russian police. Chess, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.


Of all the items Joe Knippenberg has posted on Iraq, the most predictable and disturbing are those from Hanson. Pass over quickly the irrelevant historical examples, the confused discussion of offensives, asymmetric warfare and so on. Hanson’s point is that our military forces must be allowed to operate like a real military; no more emphasis on training and patrolling. Just go out and get the bad guys. This is ridiculous. The reason that the emphasis went to training and patrolling is that we started out with the idea that we should hunt down and kill insurgents and this failed. It failed not for want of firepower or the willingness to use it but because the central problem in Iraq is not military but political. (Consider in this regard NATO’s recent public admission that it killed too many Afghan civilians in 2006.) Joe K is simply wrong to say that our military force must first convince our opponents that they can’t prevail through violence. Our opponents are part of the current government. They and our other opponents outside the government do not share our view of what victory in Iraq means. We want democracy; they want their factions to prevail. This is a political problem. Should we use force against the factions in the government? Hanson’s articles are most disturbing because his rhetoric is really the beginning of the argument that we could have prevailed in Iraq if only the military had been allowed to operate without restraints imposed by misguided politicians. The same dumb argument is made about the war in Vietnam. If this myth gains currency, it will prove as harmful as the similar Vietnam myth has proven to be.

More on the surge

At first glance, I find the argument offered here more persuasive than that described here. We indeed cannot afford to lose in Iraq, and I don’t think that a "political" solution is possible unless our opponents are convinced that they can’t achieve their ends through violence.

For more, go here, here, and here.

Pomp, Circumstance, and the American Way

Peggy Noonan writes a lovely little piece tying together many of the ceremonial sights and sounds of the new year: New Year’s Eve, Gerald Ford’s funeral, and Nancy Pelosi’s ascension to power. The substance of them aside, what about the ceremonies themselves? The ceremonies that unite us as a people and what they say about us as a people . . . these things deserve comment. She did not note this, but I could not help but wonder about the difference between these ceremonies of joviality, nobility, and civility and the ceremony of execution that took place last week in Iraq. If Iraqis want to know how far they have to come, contrasting these things would be a good place to start.

From Reagan to Bush

Bill McClay offers a richly nuanced article on the current (non-, in his view) crisis of conservatism. He reminds us that Bush 43 has a good bit in common with Reagan, including some of the same critics (who now cite Reagan against him) and criticisms.

I gathered much the same from reading Paul Kengor’s Crusader, which offers a compelling and detailed portrait of RWR’s "crusade" against the Soviet Union, a crusade undergirded by Reagan’s understanding of the universality of liberty.

But to return, for a moment, to McClay:

It is in fact a perfectly respectable conservative principle that leadership sometimes demands bold actions undertaken with the right ends in view. This, indeed, is the situation in which we find ourselves today, in what is likely to be a prolonged conflict with determined, well-organized, and well-funded transnational Islamic terrorists. It was one thing to assert, with John Quincy Adams in 1821, that the United States does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy; at the time, in any case, there was hardly much choice about the matter. It is quite another thing to stand on such a dictum in 2006, in the name of limited government, while remaining oblivious to the nature of the challenges before us.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, along with the incapacity or unwillingness of international and multilateral organizations to contain or control them and our own growing vulnerability to their use by shadowy proxies or groups accountable to no one, leaves the United States no responsible choice but to act vigorously and even preemptively in ways that an older conservatism could never have envisioned and would not have approved. That fact does not make such action imprudent; on the contrary, a failure to act, because of prior ideological commitments to a particular understanding of conservatism, would represent a lapse of prudence, and a betrayal of the core conservative imperative to defend and protect what is one’s own.


For Americans, as for others, a conservative sense of the past is expressed partly through shared stories and sufferings and customs, the mystic chords of memory. But that is only part of the story. In the United States, national identity is expressed as well through loyalty to the country’s founding principles and propositions, and to quasi-scriptural documents, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which seek to express them.

Many of these principles, including the “self-evident” assertion that “all men are created equal” and possess “inalienable rights,” have always been put forward as statements of universal scope, and not merely particular or local values. Their universalistic implications have a tendency, indeed, to cut against the equally vital elements in the conservative tradition that argue for the primacy of the local, the settled, and the particular. The same is true of the culturally dominant Protestant emphasis on the primacy of the individual conscience, which also takes on a universalistic character, putting loyalty to principle above loyalty to settled traditions.

To revere America without honoring these principles would mean revering a different country from the one we actually inhabit. But it is true that the principles are not always themselves conservative, either in their applications or their effects. Hence the inherent tendency of American conservatism to show, as the political scientist Walter Berns has pointed out, a dual aspect, combining the customary and the propositional, the affective and the rational, the particular and the general. One should love one’s country both for what it is and for what it stands for; both because it is one’s own and because it embodies or aspires to the highest and finest ideals.

Read the whole thing.

Reverse Effects of Saddam’s Ignoble Death

Charles Krauthammer writes the best explanation I’ve seen as to why the botched execution of Saddam Hussein should be troubling--even as it is hard to lose sleep over any indignities Hussein suffered. Along these lines, Kathleen Parker writes a thought provoking article questioning our willingness to click on and view Saddam’s pathetic execution. It seems to have caused her to question the death penalty--not for its justice but for the effect it has on those who view it--which, now, apparently, is everyone.

For my part, I can’t get past the need for the death penalty for justice’s sake though I think there is a valid point to be found somewhere in Parker’s analysis. Internet executions are not a good development, it seems to me. And, like Krauthammer, I regret, very much, that more justice was not served in a proper trial and execution of Saddam Hussein and that his evil will never be more fully digested by the vast majority who tuned in to view his last moments. I confess to have viewed them myself and they were annoyingly anti-climatic and seedy. They seemed to have allowed him more pride than he deserved--their taunting was just as ignoble and in the service of something just as ignoble as Saddam. Too bad, but it seems these folks have--in this as in so many other things--shown themselves to be unfit (for now) for democracy.

VDH on a sensible surge

Here. The conclusion:

Our past errors were not so much dissolving a scattered Iraqi military or even de-Baathification, but rather giving an appearance of impotence, whether in allowing the looting to continue or pulling back from Fallujah or giving a reprieve to the Sadr militias.

So, yes, send more troops to Iraq — but only if they are going to be allowed to hunt down and kill vicious and sectarians in a manner that they have not been allowed to previously.

This surge should be not viewed in terms of manpower alone. Rather it should be planned as the corrective to past misguided laxity, in which no quarter will now be given to die-hard jihadists as we pursue victory, not better policing. We owe that assurance to the thousands more of young Americans who now will be sent into harm’s way.

Read the whole thing.

Loose lips

Joe Biden. Need I say more?

Countering the surge?

E.J. Dionne, Jr. explores the options Democrats have in responding to a surge. The least likely is Congress’ exercise of its constitutional power of the purse; the most likely is a resolution that amounts to mere posturing without assuming any real responsibility for the consequences.

The middle ground--revisiting the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq--has the advantage, to my mind, of a debate (whether it can be reasonable is another question altogether) about practical U.S. aims in Iraq.

I remember some examinations of the 2006 exit polls which suggested that not all the opposition to the President’s iraq policy came from those who wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Is there, perhaps, still a majority for doing what it takes to win in Iraq? This would lead Congress in a different direction than that imagined by Dionne.

Update: Here, courtesy of The Corner, is the Reid/Pelosi preemptive stike against a surge.

Christmas Cards from Hell

My husband thought I was being ridiculous when I told him how much I spent on postage for our family Christmas cards this year. Now I’ll have him look at this! John and Teresa Heinz Kerry sent out 75,000 Christmas cards (and imagine, I didn’t get one!). The postage on that alone would be, according to this article, $29,000! But even more amusing --it is as if they were trying to do a caricature of themselves--is the description of the card itself and the INSTRUCTIONS (yes, the card came with instructions, complicated instructions) for proper disposal! How can you make up stuff like this? There is no room for parody with this guy!

Hat tip: James Taranto

Charlotte’s Web

We took the kids to see Charlotte’s Web last night as we round out the long Christmas break. It has been a couple years since I read it to my daughter, and my son is still slogging through Stuart Little but I’ve read it and seen the old animated version enough to know that I would probably cry. Of course, I did. My daughter cried too--because, as you know, the spider dies. She asked me if that was why I was crying. "Not really," I said, "though knowing that certainly adds to my tears." It was interesting to see that she sensed there was something more to my tears because they came at two different points in the story than hers did: when Charlotte tells Wilbur that his friendship made her (a spider, of all things!) beautiful and when Wilbur reflects that it’s not often you come across a good friend who is also a good writer. "Charlotte was both," he says to emphasize the rarity and the treasure of it.

I love that book because it very cleverly teaches a very grown up lesson about the transformative powers of love and and the need for and treasure of friendship in a way that children can grasp and even as adults can return to again and again.

The new movie is, by the way, a worthwhile effort and suitable for all ages. It does, however, walk very awkwardly between two time periods--the early 60s or late 50s (?) and the present. It was hard to tell when it was supposed to be as the wardrobe and settings seemed alternately retro and current. Adults may find that distracting, but kids won’t notice. Certainly the scene with the kids riding standing up in the back of the truck would not fly in the current times! (I saw more than a few mothers’ eyebrows raised indignantly at the prospect and then soften--probably as they remembered with fondness doing something very similar!) The ad-lib humor was decidedly not E.B. White’s--and often involved the obligatory jokes about bodily functions and other gross-out things that kids these days seem to favor (though perhaps they always did favor them--it’s just a new thing to pander to it). The crows, I must admit, were quite funny and, if not strictly from the book, added to rather than distracted from Templeton’s story line. I missed all the music ("Fine swine, wish he was mine, so what if he’s not so big . . .") that was a part of the old animated classic and I guess, if I had to pick between the two films, I still favor the original for that reason. But I see no real reason to choose if you can have them both and, of course, read the book. As I said above, this is a story you can come to again and again. (As I will and cry every time I do it!)

Waking Sleeping Dogs

Susan Estrich is trying to wake up the women of America to the "fact" that women are still grossly underpaid in comparison to men. Larry Elder made this wonderful point yesterday on his show: If this is true, then why don’t the same greedy corporate big-wigs who hate the minimum wage so much, simply fire all the men and hire women? Wouldn’t there be more money in the pot for themselves in the end? And now that women comprise more than half of all college graduates, shouldn’t this be a fairly easy task for corporate execs?

And isn’t it interesting that her "solutions" to this problem always seem to involve clever ways of forcing people to do things that nature and circumstance does not otherwise incline them to do: convince more female doctors to go into high paying specialties (rather than work as OBGYNs or pediatricians); or demand higher salaries for those specialties that do not pay as well. That ought to do wonders for lowering skyrocketing medical costs! Sorry, Susan. I’m not losing any sleep over this "travesty." I’m too worried about the damage of your proposed fixes!

The new anger

Peter Wood deconstructs Chaitred in a preview of the argument of this new book.

I’d be interested to see whether there’s anything about Republican Clinton-hatred in the book, because the article focuses on liberals and libertarians, with only a gesture in the direction of Ann Coulter--marginalized, he says, on the right. (I have to confess that I’m dismayed by the number of otherwise mild-mannered conservative friends who profess to like her.)


Kate Pitrone reflects on reading aloud to her boys. A fine piece writing on hearing.  

Pro-life Democrats

Robert Novak tries to put Bob Casey, Jr. on the hook on stem cell research. If, as expected, President Bush vetoes the promised bill, Casey’s could well be the 33rd vote necessary to sustain the veto in the Senate. The House probably won’t vote to override in any event, according to Novak.

American University of Iraq

Here is the NYTimes article on the plan. It will be located about 150 north of Baghdad.

Obama watch, part 9

Obama writes "courageously" on behalf of ethics reform, proposing an independent ethics commission, the Constitutional separation of powers and division of enforcement responsibilities to the contrary notwithstanding. All, of course, for the sake of being "above politics."

Betsey Fox-Genovese obituary

Here, from the AJC.

"All right, let’s hear it for the power"

George Will on the Democrats’ "New Deal nostalgia" re the minimum wage, which, rather than be raised, should be lowered to $0! Will is exactly right, but, alas, it won’t happen. In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi is already calling herself "the most powerful woman in America." She talks about breaking glass and marble ceilings (how many are there?) and about "the power" and about cutting in line, and having tea with women, etc. I am reminded of Rosalind in As You Like It: "Do you know I am a woman? When I think I must speak." I love politics.

Middle School Blues?

Maggie Gallagher notes that New York (along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia and many other urban school districts) is shutting down failing public middle schools and moving back to the old K-8 model. She thinks it is a terrific idea with all kinds of social and educational benefits. I tend to agree but, as a product of a K-8 system, I reserve the right to a certain amount of skepticism. It sounds good in theory but, like all systemic fixes, it requires a certain amount of fortitude on the part of administrators to keep it in line with the theory.

At my Catholic K-8 school in a small town in Ohio, there was plenty of the adolescent angst Gallagher describes. It came from all the usual suspects--disturbed families, lax discipline, flaky teachers, innate naughtiness, hormones. Still, on the whole, I suppose we were better off than some of our public school friends in the mega middle schools.

My kids’ school has a unique system that came about more as a function of necessity than of thought, I suspect. But I am hopeful about it. The school is a Christian K-8 school but, starting in 3rd through 5th grade the kids go to a different (but nearby) campus. Many of the parents complain about having to drive between the two, but I think it may be worth the extra gas. The effect (I hope) is to keep the so-called "middle school" or "Jr. High" students among the very young students (K-2) rather than among the more impressionable 3-5 students. It seems to work. The Jr. High kids look after rather than torment their very young peers and the kids on the other campus do not have the pressure of trying to act like the older kids. They are off to themselves and still get to act like kids.

Of course, this is all very theoretical at this point. My daughter will be a 3rd grader next year. Then I will see if the theory holds up.

Rome and America

J.R. Dunn cautions America’s foes against drawing unfair and over-wrought comparisons between America and Rome . . . lest their cries of "foul" become self-fulfilling prophecies. A thoughtful and engaging piece.

His Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool

Kathleen Parker deconstructs John Edwards’ populism with her usual sharp wit. But she rightly cautions, toward the end, that Edwards’ act is very good and, despite his recent bad luck, could be very effective. You have to be very sophisticated, after all, to be a multi-multi millionaire politician and pull off the "regular guy" routine. Edwards has it down pat, according to Parker. Hillary’s team should focus their energy on him right now and forget Rudy.

Jefferson’s Koran

This is clever in a number of ways.

Another attempt at reductio ad Schmittium

Our friend John von Heyking sends this along. Turns out Stephen Harper, John Howard, and George W. Bush are all incipient Schmittians, which of course makes them Nazis-in-training.

Judicial pay

Matthew Franck subjects the Chief Justice’s plea for raising judicial salaries (er, I mean year-end report) to strict scrutiny, finding no compelling state interest in giving judges raises.

Obama watch, part 8

I’m a couple of chapters into the new book, but am thinking I need to get hold of the old book as well:

A senior Republican strategist who will be advising a GOP presidential candidate in 2008 said he did not see anything in the book that would be a "disqualifier," but he cautioned that Obama has not yet gone through an intense vetting process and that a problem could arise if there is more to his story than he has chosen to share. The strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also suggested that there will be high tolerance for marijuana use among voters because many baby boomers probably tried the drug in the ’60s.

Not because of this, but for other reasons, Ruth Marcus hopes he’ll wait.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, RIP

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese has died. No obituaries yet, but my thoughts and prayers go out to Gene.

Betsey and Gene were courageous, thoughtful, and uncompromising in all that they did, and took a lot of flak for the stands they took.

Update: My understanding is that the funeral will be held this Friday at this church.

Update #2: Robert George has an appreciation at National Review Online. Sorry I can’t provide a link, but I’m working from my dad’s computer in S.C. and can’t figure out how to adjust his window.

Last Update (for now): Here’s the link, courtesy of my mom’s computer.

Things Are Looking Up Already

Even in France, where some mock protestors are objecting to the new year:

Parodying the French readiness to say "non", the demonstrators in the western city of Nantes waved banners reading: "No to 2007" and "Now is better!" The marchers called on governments and the UN to stop time’s "mad race" and declare a moratorium on the future.

Are Mormons Less Dogmatic Than Christians?

This reasonably well informed article shows that Mormon beliefs on certain key issues are more flexible or less doctrinal than those of Evangelicals and orthodox Catholics. They’re not against all abortion and don’t regard abortion as murder, because they have no particular view on when a fetus acquires a soul. They disagree on killing embryos to acquire stem cells for research, and a majority of them are not against it. Not only that, as a recently persecuted religious minority they’re all for a rather strict separation of church and state. So they’re against government’s funding of faith-based initiatives, because that would inevitably compromise the integrity of a chruch’s spiritual mission. (Mormon religious officials for the most part don’t even accept salaries.) And they take no position on evolution and don’t really care whether it’s taught in public schools or not. They don’t let public education shape their kids morally or spiritually; they take care of that at home and through private, "seminary" instruction.

But maybe we should be troubled that Mormon founder Joseoph Smith ran for president in 1844 (although nobody noticed it) and was a communist and an abolitionist, not to mention a polygamist. Although Mormons are rather uniformly conservative and Republican today, the LDS church does not really have a conservative tradition. But neither does America, really.

Barone on Less Than Optimum Choices

The president needs to do more than follow the advice of military leaders on Iraq. He needs to find the self-confidence and informed strategic sense that guided Churchill and Roosevelt in their less than optimum but certainly correct choice to aid Stalin against Hitler. The surge shows promise only if the president is clear on what we can now reasonably hope to accomplish. It’s his indispensable job to tell our military leaders what they now must do.

That’s Why They Play the Game

Happy New Year, for those of you bleary-eyed from watching the conclusion of the NFL regular season and the holiday bowl games. You may have other reasons for being hung over, but I pass these by.

Joe Pa, sitting with his injured leg in the press box, beat Phillip Fullmer in whatever brand-name bowl game Penn State played. Good. Michigan now will, or should, stop complaining about being left out of the BCS championship game. Before the Rose Bowl there was already a constituency arguing that Michigan should be named co-national champions (being so voted in the presumptive final AP poll), following the inevitable dismantling of USC and perhaps a lucky, tainted Florida victory over Ohio State. Could there be any other kind? Instead we had a game that brought back memories of the old Pac-10 dominance of the Rose Bowl. The real #2 team in the country – if not Florida – seems to be USC. Or Boise State. About which more later.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Michigan fans or draw cosmic conclusions from the Rose Bowl, especially in terms of Ohio State’s chances against Florida. The time lag between the last game of the regular season and the January bowls is so long that teams seldom perform as they would had that game had been played much closer to the event – as in a playoff system. USC evidently recovered from a very bad loss to UCLA better than Michigan did from a much more explicable loss to Ohio State. Even then the Rose Bowl was tied at halftime. But the system is what it is, so all credit to Pete Carroll. And a memo to NFL personnel directors: if you draft USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett and are surprised to find yourself with a T.O or Randy Moss situation on your hands, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Now about Boise State’s victory over Oklahoma, the insane post-midnight ending of which those of you in the eastern and central time zones may have missed (don’t get me started on TV scheduling and the timing rules in college football). Full disclosure: yes, I am a native of Idaho.

Yes, it was an absolute classic. Hollywood would have rejected the script of the game as completely improbable. It included three trick plays, including the old backyard favorite, the Statue of Liberty, that turned the tide after all seemed lost. The star running back proposed marriage to his girlfriend/cheerleader on national TV, a few minutes after he scored the winning two-point conversion. The critical moments will be replayed for years to come, like Vince Young’s TD run in last year’s Rose Bowl – or, even more apt, “the band is out on the field” conclusion to the Stanford-Cal game. It was a reminder why college sports are worth watching despite all the problems. It is why they play the game. If they show it on ESPN Classic, tape it and watch it.

BSU’s win was not quite as stunning as the original “Rocky,” or Hickory High School (in real life, Milan High School) of “Hoosiers” fame, or even George Mason during the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament. (George Mason, by the way, took out a full page add in the Boise newspaper before the game, offering support from one Cinderella to another.) The school is perhaps best known nationally for its silly blue playing field in Boise – but the win was no fluke. Boise State has a distinguished football tradition. That matters in sports. As a junior college it won the old JC Rose Bowl. It won a NCAA Division I-AA championship. Over the last few years, BSU has been ranked consistently in the NCAA D-I Top 25 and finished #7 in 2004.

And no, the team is not composed of innocent raw young men who are persuaded to leave the potato fields and who are astonished to see the big city. There are a fair number of players from Idaho – which is increasingly urbanized and has produced NFL players like Jerry Kramer and Jake Plummer. But the largest contingent comes from the high school football factories in California. BSU for years has successfully recruited those Californians, such as running back Ian Johnson, who don’t quite make the cut to USC. But they are pretty darned good nonetheless, and they have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. First-year coach Chris Peterson was the offensive mastermind behind BSU’s success over the past few seasons and his innovation and play-calling courage (after being somewhat too conservative in the second half) was inspired. BSU’s defense, especially against the run, was surprisingly stout and opportunistic until it wore down.

The real reason for college football fans to cheer Boise State’s win is that it helps open up the game. The schools from the six power conferences don’t want to see the Boise States’ of the world succeed, any more than they wanted George Mason to get on a run last spring. To be sure, if this particular Boise State team played in the Pac-10 or the Big-10 or the SEC, rather than the WAC, it almost certainly would not have been undefeated. It’s very hard to see the current Broncos winning two more games in a national championship playoff. But if Boise State or its non-BCS conference fellows had equal access to money, facilities, and TV exposure – who knows? As it is, the performance gap is not nearly as wide as most think. And there is the underdog factor. Far more Boise State fans made the trip than did Oklahoma supporters. Casual fans watching on TV instantly chose their allegiance. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, no fool, knew all that coming into the game. He knew BSU was good. He probably wasn’t thrilled with a match up that he could not win, no matter the final score.

That’s why they play the game. And in spite of everything, why we watch. And why college football, including Big-10 football, would be even better if the competition base is expanded.

No surge of support for a surge

In the Senate, according to Robert Novak. Certainly Barack Obama is opposed, as is every other Democrat (with the exception of Joe Lieberman). This WaPo article casts a wider net and catches the same sentiment.

Stingy Republican Senators

It turns out that liberal Democratic senators are much more generous than conservative Republican ones, at least when it comes to giving to their party’s candidates. The rather incredible stinginess of safe-seat Republicans may have cost their party the Senate. More evidence still of the power-for-power’s-sake complacency that brought our party down...