Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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.