Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Reagan first

Maybe a real conversation about Lincoln is a good idea. Maybe. Maybe it is a good idea to relive the political fights between Jefferson and Hamilton, between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, the Northwest Ordinance, the difference between the American and French revolutions, the politics of the 1790’s, the meaning of the election of 1800, the constitutionality of the Lousiana Purchase, the value of the Missouri Compromise, the debate between Andy Jackson and Henry Clay, the nullification crisis, as well as the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision. Maybe.

In the meantime, on perhaps a smaller point, I think some who are so especially concerned with defining conservatism (that is, try to articulate its nature, if it has one) may want to listen to a few of Reagan’s speeches to see how conservatism manifested itself politically victorious for the first time since Progressivism’s political victory was revealed in the New Deal and the Great Society. There are 14 speeches between 1964 and 1989. Enjoy!

I have an idea...let’s talk about Lincoln!

I’m not going to be the first one on NLT to respond to dain’s call for a positive defense of Lincoln, or an explanation of why conservatives should appreciate him. That, I think, belongs in the realm of normative political theory, and I’m but a simple historian.

What I will do is offer the historian’s perspective, which is that the question of whether or not Lincoln violated the Constitution in using force to keep the South in the Union is ultimately irrelevant. Show me the president who, when faced with the choice between the Constitution and political survival, chose the former over the latter. Jefferson ignored the Constitution in making the Louisiana Purchase; Jackson ignored it whenever he felt like he had to; Teddy Roosevelt ignored it in seizing Colombian territory to build the Panama Canal; FDR ignored it in implementing the New Deal. As I’ve written elsewhere, the overwhelming sentiment--in Congress and in the public at large--was that the Union had to be preserved at all costs. Had Lincoln refused to coerce the South he would have been impeached. It would have been the same had he tried to surrender Fort Sumter. Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, was a lot more radical than Lincoln was--imagine what would have happened if he had ended up in the White House.

Lincoln did what he had to do--what any rational politician would have done in similar circumstances. He did it in the face of an independent-minded Congress, a defiant Cabinet, and a public that was screaming for blood--and in the end he did it rather well. That’s what I admire about him.

Now excuse me, I’m off to write a biography of Howard Cosell.

Iraqi "Arab Idol"

...unites her country in celebration, at least for a moment.

Fred Barnes on THE Question About McCain

Why is the most conservative candidate most dislked by conservatives? Fred’s answer: He’s unable to resist "the maverick temptation." In my opinion, he’s tempted too often to project the impression that he’s too smart and/or too moral to be consistently conservative, and the technique that gets him good press loses him conservative votes. The genuine maverick wouldn’t be as image-conscious as McCain seems to be. Fred encourages us to remember that John best embodies the combination of conservatism and electability.

Final Four Ethics: The Moral Imperative to Root for Georgetown

The other three schools are anonymous, government-run, techno-industrial warehouses with massive athletic budgets. Georgetown is a relatively small private school with a tiny gym. If you value educational diversity and/or the little guy, you won’t root for the uttlerly indistinguishable Florida, UCLA, or Ohio State.

The Political Theory of AMERICAN IDOL

Will the masterful strategy of Sanjaya’s hair-based campaign rob the show of its illusion of meritocratic innocence? Has the show become all about winning votes and building coalitions for reasons having nothing to do with actual singing? (I truly don’t care about this, but I thought it would divert us from re-fighting the Civil War.)

Students Talking

As the students were talking I became more aware of them. This was their second larger than life guest within the week. The ancient mind Jaffa first, then the ram-rod straight Bunting. Each speaker had both the age and the authority to make the young think twice before trying to question anything being said. Yet they questioned, opined, talked, even pushed. They were at home with it, the authority, the power, the subjects all. The guests at first are always surprised , and then come to know this great fact and they like it. They feel at home among those that trust the mind.

Such students are dangerous. Ordinary professors are afraid of them because, well, they can’t just talk at them. The lecture they prefer is closed and time bound. They approach all topics as if they know them and if they just had enough time they could explain them to everyone who is listening. They talk to fill in time, as if they are paid by the word. But they don’t know that real students aren’t note-takers and ciphers, but participants and friends in the conversation. The students insist on knowing, and discovering, and they want to be thinking in public. If a professor is not courageous enough to think aloud, they come to ignore him. If he is merely ignorant, they make a great attempt to help him. If he can’t do any better, they leave him and do something serious.

I had a class yesterday in which we considered a heavy thought. How is ruling reason affected by the thing it is trying to govern? My always limited—and then especially tired—mind was sinking in deep waters. I couldn’t get anywhere with any word. I couldn’t breathe. I perceived my inability, the weight pulling me down. And then someone to my left said a few words that were unclear to me. I asked him to repeat. He did and things became clearer. And then a yellow haired woman spoke with more clarity, and then the shy man came into it, then another. Then a new student was born, one who had yet said nothing in public during the whole term. Although his voice was hesitant, the thought was clear. I asked for repetition and clarity and kept getting it. An hour later I realized that I was no longer sinking. My mind was fresh and I was thinking with my students. We were back in the breathing world.

I have been a teacher for almost thirty years and I have had some very good students. I have seen some fine students. Many have become friends and we stay students together. I am lucky. Yet I have to say the students here at Ashbrook and Ashland are the best students I have ever encountered, anywhere. They are always interesting, thoughtful and mature. Even when I know they approach a thought not for the first time, they talk as if they do. They speak in fresh and enlivened terms and tones and are always surprised by their discoveries. Yet they keep their balance, and if one of us sinks he is pulled up by their reason and their generosity. Their eyes sparkle and their laugh is deep and honest. And everyone with them and around them is made into something better and finer. And even old authorities visiting who remain teachers know this. I am also aware of this and am deeply in their debt and am grateful to them all. I am happy in their company and their conversation.


It is too bad that some who comment on NLT are uncivil and rude. While I call for civility (as has Joe), I am inclined to think that my call will not be heeded. I believe the reason for that is clear: It is the purpose of such people to make war, rather than talk. Well, that is not our purpose on this blog. Our purpose is to have a conversation and that is what we will have. In that conversation, even if we disagree, we provide a great boon to one another, and I am grateful for it. Over this weekend I will be in touch with my patient friends who take the time to blog on NLT and we will decide what we should do. My guess is that we will end the "Comments" section as it has existed for all these years. Either we will have no comments, or we will allow only those to comment (through magic codes and such) who are willing to be civil. In the meantime I suggest that Joe, Julie, Peter, Steve, John, et al, do not respond to any comments. In fact, don’t even bother to read them. Give the shouters no satisfaction. We will act by Monday. In the meantime I ask everyone to accept my apologies, my sincere apologies. Thank you.

Update: Thanks for your comments on this issues (yes, I do read them). The issue is not a "spirited exchange" It is civility. It is certainly not wanting to end conversation or disagreement. After all, none of the contributors at NLT are made of cotton candy. I am interested in moderating my own passions, as well as those of others, for the sake of a good conversation. As some on the thread say, we do learn from disagreements. Of course. But "spirited exchange" is different from rude, corse, intentionally ill mannered statements whose design, by definition, is not to encourage conversation over disagreements, but rather to make others angry. Let us all moderate our own passions, please. That has to do with civility, citizenship. That is what we are asking. I am still open on all this, decisions have not yet been made. Again, I thank you kindly.

A very minimalist definition of conservatism


Which hasn’t been displayed by some of the self-professed "conservatives" who have been calling folks names and accusing them of treason in the comments section here in recent days.

Thompson v. Obama = Reagan v. RFK?

So says William Kristol in this sweeping and thought-provoking essay. If his comparison of the featured players holds, it would make for a more engaging and a "let’s-get-to-the-heart-of-our-differences" campaign. I am increasingly persuaded that his narrative of what will happen with Obama is correct. I do think that he will hold more appeal, in the end, than Hillary for the Dems. But I’m not so settled in an opinion about what the GOP will do. If I’ve learned anything about the GOP from watching politics all these years it’s this: the GOP almost never does the thing that is most likely to make life easier on itself! Still, a large part of me hopes that Kristol knows more about this than I do.


Mac Owens’ thesis about the current Democratic Party resembling Copperheads appears in today’s Christian Science Monitor.

More Hugh Hewitt

Is ROMNEY really as smart and as conservative as Hugh thinks he is? I hope so, and we’ll soon find out. Hugh also explains why McCain is his least favorite candidate.

Did McCain Flirt with Swtching Parties in 2001?

Is this alleged revelation startling or even new? Will it, as Hugh Hewitt claims, bury John’s candidacy?

Another Rant from Ponzi

Put this in the category of "Over My Dead Body!" Satellite T.V. in your car? My kids are going to have a long list of reasons to feel deprived if people keep insisting on these kinds of "innovations." I admit to the portable mini-DVD--but only for VERY long trips. Seriously, what ever happened to "talking" to your kids while in the car? Must we be entertained to death?

Podcast with Gordon Lloyd

I talked with Gordon Lloyd about his new book, The Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover Roosevelt Debate Shapes the 21st Century. The podcast is about thirty minutes. I hope you enjoy Gordon, one of the great teachers in our Master of American History and Government program.

Higher ed regulation again

Here’s a useful rundown of the issues the DoE has been raising with the accreditors. My fear is that what will follow is something like "No College Student Left Behind" or, perhaps, college rankings no more helpful or revealing than those provided annually by U.S. News and World Report.

Our friend Jeff Martineau, who I’ll be seeing, perhaps in a little more than an hour, offers a pointed analysis with reference to the DoE’s shabby treatment of his employer. His wise words are worth taking to heart:

Many believe that the attack on AALE is primarily a means to other ends, the most important of which is to “send a message” to the powerful regional agencies about how serious the secretary is about this. This, they say, is why AALE is being singled out for lacking benchmarks, even though no other accreditor of undergraduate colleges has them.

The great irony is that few, if any, of the substantive concerns of conservatives will be addressed by the substitution of “outcomes” for judgment. Replacing qualitative measurements of academic excellence with quantitative ones will, in fact make it even more difficult to engage higher education in a long overdue national discussion of what educated graduates should know beyond the requirements of their careers. It will do nothing to revive the idea that there is an educational “core” or help in curbing intellectual bias or hiring practices. None of these affect the “outcomes” upon which the institution will be judged.

If this new scheme goes forward, we will, no doubt, be provided with lots and lots of data. One might ask, however, whether this will provide sufficient recompense for the loss of the one accrediting organization that promotes the traditional view of higher education? Is the secretary’s devotion to quantitative results so critical that accreditation based on judgment and subjective evaluation must go by the boards? Many of AALE’s supporters do not think so and hope yet to persuade the Department of Education that its approach is beneficial and legitimate.

Anyone around Williamsburg should drop in on
the panel (p. 4 of the pdf) Jeff is chairing tomorrow. I’d be there, but I’m chairing another panel.

My thoughts on Jeff’s subject are here.

Comment Sections on Blogs

Peter Beinhart from The New Republic and Jonah Goldberg at National Review discuss the relative usefulness of comment sections on blogs as well as the usefulness of blogs in general here.

A Poll and a Plea

First, a plea (and pardon my catharsis): Please--I beg of all you GOP candidates--no respectable Republican candidate for President should ever sign on to make or sell or send out these. I have no reason other than the arbitrary one that I am so sick of looking at these stupid rubber bracelets--and that the sight of them reminds me of John Kerry skiing. They can be found now in every color under the sun, promoting every imaginable mindless idiocy that man can invent--so please, stop already! I simply can’t take any more. Also, I’m tired of tripping over these dumb things every time my kids’ school has a fund-raiser. This is not a prize, it’s a curse. Stop sending these home! Further, this is not effective advertising. If you wear one of these things you are in need of mental scrutiny--not to mention fashion advice. In fact, I am so violently opposed to rubber bracelets, that I vow to burn any said items that come within my possession--take that, Al Gore. O.k., now I feel better! What can I say . . . I had to drive to Glendale in LA traffic this morning. I’m just a little tense!

Now the poll which offers a bit of good news--and further evidence that these stupid bracelets don’t help your cause.

Lincoln-Douglas debates

Harry V. Jaffa’s Colloquium last Friday is now available for your listening pleasure. It is an hour and a half of conversation with the Ashbrook Scholars. I remind you that these are undergraduate students; I think they are impressive. Although Jaffa, now eighty eight years old, stuck mostly to the Debates, he did make some interesting digressions worth hearing, for example, what Caesar’s conquest of the ancient world has to do with religious freedom.    

Gonzales should resign

National Review calls for Attorney General Gonzales to resign. The concluding paragraph:

"What little credibility Gonzales had is gone. All that now keeps him in office, save the friendship of the president, is the conviction of many Republicans that removing him would embolden the Democrats. It is an overblown fear. The Democrats will pursue scandals, real or invented, whether or not Gonzales stays. But they have an especially inviting target in Gonzales. He cannot defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense. Alberto Gonzales should resign. The Justice Department needs a fresh start."

A query for Dan Phillips...

and other apparent Ron Paul supporters: do you generally vote Republican at the Congressional level or not?

Once I have some answers, I’ll explain why I’m curious about this.

Men, Women and Islam

The 60 Minutes interview with Hassan Butt--a former terrorist recruiter in Britain who, apparently, is now going straight--was very interesting. Hassan Butt claims that one of the best recruiting tools for guys like him is that the Imams would give them permission to marry whomever they liked (provided she was Muslim) if they joined the cause. Otherwise, as is still customary among more traditional elements of Islam, they might be forced into an arranged marriage.

At the same time that this came out I was reading this review of Mark Steyn’s America Alone by Theodore Dalrymple in the latest CRB. In it, Dalrymple argues that one thing Steyn misses or--at any rate does not convey as fully as Dalrymple might like--is how attractive radical Islam is to young Muslim men in the west who wish to dominate women:

The principal immediate attraction of Islam to young Muslims brought up in the West is actually the control and oppression of women. After all, if you can be sultan of your own home, you need hardly look elsewhere for a sense of achievement or importance; this is hard luck on the women, of course, but it does give a clue as to what les jeunes were fighting for during France’s riots in autumn 2005. They wanted extra-territoriality, as it were, free from the incursions of the French state, so that in their slums they could continue their one economic activity, drug-dealing, and their domination of women without interruption.

Now, both of these arguments, taken by themselves, seem to make a great deal of sense. I’m not sure how or if they fit together, but I am inclined to think that they do. Another part of Dalrymple’s review alludes to Steyn’s thesis that the worst bits of Islamic and of Western culture have come together among certain elements of radical Islam--particularly in the West. Dalrymple (perhaps quoting Steyn) calls it the "multiculturalist equivalent of the Black Mass." That may be. But I wonder if it might more aptly be described as the Jihad equivalent of LA street gang culture. In all thuggish sub-cultures, there is this element of dominating and using women. Perhaps the western recruits Mr. Butt was after had only been westernized enough to want to choose their own B****?

I am not prepared to offer a fully digested thesis about this--but all of this begs a host of other questions on the subject of relations between the sexes in the West. I would not head down the path of D’Souza and suggest that they hate us because of our feminism--but I might suggest that feminism has made it more difficult for the West to assimilate these young men. The parallels between the activities and motivations of these young radical Muslims and the activities of young disaffected black and Latino men in street gangs are striking. One should be careful of overdoing the comparison--but failing to notice the similarities is intellectually dishonest.

The war that the West is engaged in is at least as much about persuasion and conversion as it is about battles and national security. If we are facing a situation--and I think it is fair to say that we are--where there is a significant number of young men born and raised in the West who, having not been sufficiently convinced of Western culture’s superiority in all those years of western education, have flocked to the closest radical Mosque in search of answers . . . it may be fair to ask if we’ve done something wrong. That is not to say that we deserve what we’re getting, but rather to suggest that we need to re-think our defense of ourselves. Perhaps we could use a surge here too.

Fixed comments

We have fixed the problems some have had with posting comments. Sorry about that. It should be OK now; fire away.

A Surge by Ron Paul?

The results of a new Zogby Poll suggest that the campaign of former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul is showing signs of life. According to the poll, 3 percent of the Republicans surveyed identified him as their preferred candidate, putting him ahead of fellow conservative dark horses Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter. Even more interesting is how well Paul seems to be doing among women--a full 6 percent of Republican women claim to be supporting his candidacy, which is the same percentage that are backing Fred Thompson.

Tony Snow’s health

I am truly sorry to hear that, apparently, the small growth removed from Tony Snow was cancerous. And the cancer has spread to the liver. I am truly sorry about this. He is a very good fellow.

Does Huckabee have heart?

I don’t think Mike Huckabee serves his interests well in this RCP interview. He overuses the notion of terror, and at most offers lukewarm support for the surge, though he doesn’t exactly distinguish himself from anyone else in the GOP there.

I don’t find any real evidence of an effort to appeal to social conservatives either.

A national party once more?

Brendan Miniter thinks Republicans should listen to ex-gov Bob Ehrlich of Maryland. Else "Hillary Clinton could win the presidency by losing both Ohio and Florida and carrying instead Colorado, Iowa and Missouri."

Since Ehrlich has endorsed Giuliani, is that what Miniter is suggesting?

Not enough big men on campus?

According to this WaTi article, there’s a growing gap between the numbers of men and women receiving bachelor’s degrees. Female degree recipients outnumber their male counterparts by about 200,000 now, increasing to 300,000 in less than a decade.

Law-and-Order Fred Surging

...largely, Gallup’s study shows, at the expense of law-and-order Rudy. McCain’s support remains stable, and Romney has dropped to fourth. I have to say that Rudy REALLY WAS an aggressive prosecutor and crime-busting mayor of the major American city.

Overkilling Linker

Michael Uhlmann, self-confessed theocon fellow traveler, pounds a few more nails into Damon Linker’s coffin. I mean this all figuratively, of course.

I don’t think I’m recommending

this book, but for reasons that are obvious from the description, I’ll probably read it.

Anyone read any of this guy’s stuff?

For the record, here’s more backstory than you’d ever want to know.

Final Four hopes

As a Washingtonian during the first Thompson-Ewing era (also the Reagan era), I can’t help but hope that Georgetown goes all the way (a sentiment not necessarily popular in Ohio, I’m well aware).

As a long-standing Georgian, I’m for any team that can beat a team from Florida.

As a San Francisco native (and one-time northern Californian), I hate to have to support UCLA, but I will against Florida. My only consolation is that John Wooden (may he continue not to rest in peace) once coached UCLA.

As a Michigan State alum (during the Woody Hayes era), I’ll reluctantly support Ohio State, should it make the finals against either Florida or UCLA.

Summary, in case you can’t (be bothered to) figure out my place-based considerations: Georgetown, then OSU, then UCLA, then (shudder, groan) Florida. Note that none of these considerations has anything to do with basketball excellence.

Update: If you need another reason to root against Florida, there’s always this.

Tribe and Obama on Constitutonal Interpretation as Weird Science

...The Constitution is much more complicated--not to mention "physical"--than we thought. (Thanks again to Ivan the K.)

Meet the new boss...again

John Fund writes that the Congressional Research Service has decided not to identify earmarks. Three cheers for Sen. Tom Coburn, who

says he will attach an amendment to every appropriations bill demanding CRS prepare a full report on the earmarks in it. "Let senators vote for secrecy and prove they don’t want a transparent process or let them deliver what they promised," he says. "The choice will be theirs and the American people will be watching."

Happy Birthday Flannery!

Because we managed to utterly ignore St. Patrick’s Day, it’s no surprise that Flannery O’Connor’s birthday almost passed without a mention here. But Flannery is surely the outstanding literary and philosophical figure in the history of the South, surpassing even Faulkner on the level of insight and at least his rival on the level of artistry. Walker Percy, great as he was, made it clear that he didn’t think of himself as in her league. She’s the most impressive example of homegrown American Thomism, a part of our intellectual history that we’ve neglected at NLT.

Translator beaten?

This translator (female) of the Koran seems to have had a problem with a passage (Ch. 4, Verse 34). It took her a while, but she solved it.

George Will vs. Our Spectacular Anger

George takes on the "look-at-me" self-indulgence of "anger chic," which he sees, in his fair-and-balanced way, in the outrage so many claim to feel about either or both President Clinton and the current President Bush. He prefers the old-fashioned and more genuinely political "reluctant anger," which is directed against real evildoers and is actually employed by reason to change minds. Required reading for all bloggers!

Sweet Sixteen LIsts... The Best TV Shows Ever

In spirit of March Madness and all that: Here are several "best of" lists.
I expect nobody much cares about the 16 best songs about Georgia. I was really impressed by the TV list, though. I don’t have the comprehensive programmatic knowledge required to know whether the list is accurate, but I do know that I really enjoy these shows. Two exceptions: LAW AND ORDER (tedious) and FRIENDS (too stupid even for me). I nominate as replacements: the first BOB NEWHART SHOW (psychologist Bob) and KING OF THE HILL. And I would add the qualification only the first couple of seasons of ROSEANNE, which I would probably replace with THE WONDER YEARS or the early years of SCRUBS. Because I appreciate the aggressively middlebrow character of the list, I’ll resist the temptation to nominate CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.

Petty, but revealing

A father of a student sent me the enclosed, without comment. The Faculty Senate of the University of Florida, by a vote of 38-28, denied former Governor Jeb Bush an honorary degree. The president of the University said he was "tremendously disappointed." Perhaps, but he shouldn’t have been surprised. Is this arbitrary denial of a normal honor to a very successful governor, albeit a Republican, not revealing about the character of faculty? We may be reaching the point when parents might well begin to consider if it is worth exposing their children to the hard hearts and petty minds of such people. Shameful.

Fifty Obscure But Classic Movie Quotes

The Evangelical Outpost guy has provided us with more wisdom, more laughs, and more wonderful memories than any official film institute list. He begins with BILLY MADISON and the Whit Stillman trilogy (three of the smartest and funniest movies ever made). And he doesn’t neglect the randomly insightful if mostly dreadful PCU.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I’m going to be speaking at Hillsdale on March 28.

A Reagan-related bleg

An old friend, who I will see next week (at this conference--agenda here), sends this question:

[W]hen someone warned Reagan that a particular decision might cost him his support among the
religious right he replied "well who else are they going to vote for?"

Have you heard that? Any idea where I could find it?

Anyone have a source for this story?

By the way, my relative silence stems from the fact that I’m in Savannah, enjoying a homeschool fieldtrip focusing on colonial history.

Backlash on the Sexualization of America’s Youth

Kathleen Parker writes about a new kind of "debutante" ball--the "purity ball"--that is, she argues, in response to the extreme sexualization of America’s youth. I had not heard about such balls before reading this and I doubt very much that I would want to attend or send my daughter to one. They, like many other things in this world, are simply not to my taste. On the other hand, I share Parker’s sense that the reaction to them from feminists has been rather breathless and hysterical. And, what’s more, their criticism of these balls is entirely devoid of any criticism of the culture that inspired them. Is it not at least possible for these feminists to consider that the kind of sexual "self-assertion" they have popularized has resulted in some very negative consequences and that--in their own way--these people have chosen to react against it? It is easier, I know, to assume that these people are ignorant buffoons reacting against modernity. To do more would require thought and the acceptance of facts that may not conform with the prevailing feminist ideology.

Wife Beating and Funeral Pyres

James Panero at Armavirumque notes the news about a German judge who refused to grant an accelerated divorce to a woman of Moroccan descent. The Moroccan woman claimed spousal abuse as justification for the acceleration of proceedings but the judge, in refusing to grant the acceleration, quoted the Koran and cited passages that lend support to wife-beating to support her argument that there were no grounds for it. The judge speculated that wife-beating was part of Moroccan culture and did not constitute anything out of the ordinary that would justify an accelerated divorce!

In response to this news, Panero quite cleverly points to Sir Charles Napier who famously responded to the custom of suttee in colonial India this way:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

Are our Brains our Worst Enemies?

Peter’s post raises a question that’s long fascinated me. Are Downs people "loving and charming and a joy to have around" as a function of their defect? If they could be "fixed" would they be less loving or lovable?

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, Harrison Ford plays a ruthless lawyer who as a result of a shooting loses many of his cognitive functions, but in the process becomes a sweet, loving guy. Does this--as well as the Downs example--suggest that the world would be a much happier place if we humans weren’t so darned smart?

Gays and Downs

Several people (most notably Ryan Rakness) have taken me to task for ignoring the controversial statement of Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler to the effect that, if it turns out that being gay is genetic, we’d be doing God’s work through biomedical interventions in the womb to excise that gene and reduce, at least, the amount of homosexuality in the world. Now Mohler is completely against abortion and would only endorse a procedure that involved "fixing," not killing.

At the same time we read that the experts now recommend that all women get prenatal screening for Downs Syndrome. And the intention there, of course, is to encourage women to abort. Already, of course, such screening has caused a dramatic reduction in the number of Downs babies being born.

Any campaign against gays and people with Downs in the world would, of course, be against genuine human diversity. But the truth is that if there were a way to "fix," as opposing to killing, Downs babies in the womb we’d be for it. Downs people are loving and charming and a joy to have around, but they’re genuinely the result of a genetic defect. We shouldn’t be killing them, but surely we’d be for curing them.

Nobody much is talking about aborting gay babies, because the people who regard homosexuality as a sin have the same opinion about abortion.

And most of the people all for aborting Downs babies are politically correct enough that they couldn’t imagine doing the same to correct for sexual orientation. (Actually libertarian Ronald Bailey would give parents that latter freedom, although he hopes they would be enlightened enough not to use it.)

To say the least, it’s unclear that being gay is a genetic DEFECT on the order of being Downs, and it’s very unclear that the cause of gayness will turn out to be as unambiguously genetic and so as unambiguously fixable in principle as Downs.
But the new studies on gay sheep that are the source of this genetic speculation do suggest to some that an effort to exterminate gay orientation is a war against nature itself.

To help Ryan out here, I’m laying out the creepy facts quickly in a linkless way. The only opinion I will offer is that we don’t possess the WISDOM to use the POWER we might conceivably eventually have to choose people’s sexual orientation for them. And in saying that, I’ve said nothing about the morality of homosexuality. God might give some people certain challenges as an opportunity for vritue and grace. Let’s let God do God’s work.

VDH on 300

Can be read here. He offers a satisfying and thoughtful analysis of the film’s relative authenticity. According to Hanson, it is accurate and poetic--if that makes sense. I have not seen the movie and my memory of the events covered in the film is dim--but his explanation made some sense to me. Where it matters, he argues, the film gets it right. And where it doesn’t get things right--it gets them wrong in the right (i.e., the Greek) way. In other words, he seems to suggest that it is good storytelling. It tells us a story that we should know in the best way possible for us to understand it.

I almost never go to the movies and, when I do, it is usually for the kids. But I’ve been wanting to see this and Amazing Grace. So will someone who has seen both please tell me which one to pick if I can only see one before they both come out on DVD? Of course, I heard Hugh Hewitt’s movie reviewer say last week that he could not begin to imagine that there was any woman who actually wanted to see 300. But that didn’t really dissuade me . . . their movie reviews are almost always off but have the virtue, at least, of being amusing.

Harvey Mansfield to Give 2007 Jefferson Lecture

...on May 8. This year it’s the philosopher of manliness; last year it was the novelist of manliness, Tom Wolfe, who talked about "the human beast." Harvey’s topic will be what the humanities can teach science about "How to Understand Politics."

Fred on Martian Warming

Thompson uses plain talk to criticize Gore’s earth-centric alarmism with hot news from our neighboring planets.

Kesler on the ’08 Race and the Constitution

Charles Kesler writes in the new issue of The Claremont Review of Books about an intelligent (and therefore unlikely) way that GOP presidential contenders could make the ’08 race interesting: focus the debate on the Constitution. Democrats have been dictating the terms of the debate in recent years by proposing detailed policy initiatives described (by themselves and by the media) as noble ideas addressing the common good when they actually just answer a myriad of specialized interests. The GOP tendency has been to offer counter-proposals. Why do this tango? If it takes two, let’s fill our dance card with a new step: Constitutionalism. Doing this, Kesler argues, would have all kinds of immediate political benefits. This piece, like everything in the CRB, is worthy of a close read.

Unfortunately, Doug Jeffrey’s fine piece on Larry McMurtry’s American West is not yet available on-line. But that’s just one good reason among many why it’s a good idea to get a subscription.

Does big science require big government?

What does Lawler think of this? I’m leaning toward Fukuyama on this one.

Subpoenas and executive privilege

You might have heard about a Congressional subpoena threat. One of the commenters on my earlier post apparently has read at least this, if not necessarily the Congressional Research Service study upon which it was based. Yes, Clinton White House aides testified on 47 different occasions in front of Congressional committees; the vast majority of the occasions had to do with the Whitewater investigation. The CRS report says nothing about how many of the appearances were actually in response to subpoenas, though I have no doubt that the Republicans then controlling Congress threatened subpoenas. (If anyone has numbers here, I’d love to see them.)

But this passage from the CRS report is worth pondering:

The range of executive branch officials who may appropriately assert executive privilege before congressional committees, and the circumstances under which they may do so, remains unresolved by the courts, and is a matter that may be determined by case-by-case accommodation between the political branches. Some guidance in this regard was offered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, when he was Assistant Attorney General in the Nixon Administration. Rehnquist distinguished between “those few executive branch witnesses whose sole responsibility is that of advising the President,” who “should not be required to appear [before Congress] at all, since all of their official responsibilities would be subject to a claim of privilege,” and “the executive branch witness ... whose responsibilities include the administration of departments or agencies established by Congress, and from whom Congress may quite properly require extensive testimony,” subject to “appropriate” claims of privilege.

Following a review of Rehnquist’s statement, precedents and practice
concerning congressional access to executive branch information (particularly, the testimony of presidential advisers), and constitutional issues, it is possible to
suggest some key legal factors that together may determine whether a congressional request for the testimony of one who advises the President will be honored. (1) In the view of the executive, the few individuals whose sole duty is to advise the President should never be required to testify because all of their duties are protected by executive privilege. (2) The executive has conceded that an official who has operational functions in a department or agency established by law may be required
to testify, although at times such an official may invoke executive privilege. (3)
Congress may increase its leverage if the position of the potential witness is subject
to Senate confirmation.

If this is correct, everyone in the DoJ is more or less fair game, but the issue remains with respect to folks in the White House. The presumption seems to weigh in favor of claims of privilege here, but the matter is much more likely to be resolved in the court of public opinion than in any other court:

When faced with a refusal by the executive branch to comply with a demand for information, Congress has several alternatives to inherent and statutory contempt, although these alternatives are not without their own limitations. One approach is to seek declaratory or other relief in the courts. Previous attempts to seek judicial
resolution of inter-branch conflicts over information access issues have encountered
procedural obstacles and have demonstrated the reluctance of the courts to resolve
sensitive separation of powers issues. Other approaches may include, inter alia,
appropriations riders, impeachment, and a delay in the confirmation of presidential

If you care to read more, here’s an article ("Congressional Access to Information: Using Legislative Will and Leverage") by Louis Fisher, one of the deans of separation of powers studies.

Update: As the commenter John below notes, roughly half the Clinton Administration appearances were before a Democratic Congress; the other half, by my count, took place after the Republicans gained control of Congress. Here’s Byron York in an article summarizing the CRS report:

Republicans argue that the U.S. attorney issue is different from Whitewater, in which by 1994 the Clinton administration had sought the appointment of an independent counsel to conduct a criminal investigation. In the U.S. attorney controversy, says Michael Carvin, who served in several top jobs in the Reagan Justice Department, “All they are complaining about is what everybody concedes is a prerogative of the president to make decisions about at-will employees. Since there is no allegation that the president has done anything in the sense of exercising a power he doesn’t have, they are going on a fishing exhibition.”

“The only conceivable reason I could think for making them testify under oath is to set a perjury trap,” adds Noel Francisco, who in recent years served in the Bush White House counsel’s office as well as the Justice Department. “They are not challenging the legality of anything the president has done; they are just snooping around. I can’t imagine why they want to get people under oath other than to play this game of gotcha.”

Of course, Democrats have different views. Constitutionally, the Republicans are, I think, on stronger ground: privilege surely gives way before a criminal investigation, but not necessarily in a merely "political" dispute. Whether the Republicans have a comparably strong political ground remains to be seen.

Inconvenient truths and Gulfstream liberalism

Steve Hayward at NRO.   

Fred Poised to Fill Void and Sink Romney?

Here’s a good analysis of why Thompson could quickly rise to the first ttier of candidates and replace Mitt as THE conservative choice, along with some reservations (whch I share) about his actual qualifications. I don’t share the view that Fred might not want to run. He’s making all the right "plain speaking" moves right now and obviously getting some excellent expert advice. (Thanks to Ivan the K)

Is Fred Another Reagan? Or Another Great Communicator?

NRO’S Kathryn Jean Lopez writes a very nice pro-Thompson puff piece, focusing on his eloquent and reliably conservative talk-show performance. He is clearly very smart and informed and has good political instincts. The fact that he doesn’t seem to lust after the Oval Office, K-Lo concludes, "only makes us want him more." Fred certainly is competent at talking competence, but I want more evidence that he has a real-life record of competence

Bush on executive privilege

The President laid down his markers today, offering limited access to a few aides. The Democrats aren’t happy:

Democrats were upset that, under the Bush plan, the interviews would not be conducted under oath or with a transcript. Without being under oath, aides would not face the same level of criminal charges if they were found to have intentionally lied to Congress, the Democrats said.

I think that this is a battle the President can and ought to win, especially since U.S. v. Nixon limits claims of executive privilege only during criminal proceedings. The most that’s being alleged here is a "politicization" of some prosecutors, which no one is calling a crime. Of course, the Democrats would dearly love to turn the testimony into an occasion for criminalizable misstatements.

If, as GWB says, you want information, we’re going to be forthcoming, but we’re not going to walk into a trap or contribute to a show trial. Good for him.

The Democrats may well run the risk of overreaching here, if they push too hard for their terms. But the President has to keep hammering them on his offer and keep defending his eminently reasonable version of executive privilege. He’s surely not going to get the same kind of help from the press that Bill Clinton got in his various confrontations with Congressional Republicans. But, as I said, if he handles this correctly, there’s at least a chance that any Democratic hectoring will redound to his favor.


Mac Owens is recovering from throat surgery. Because you can’t keep a Marine down, he is back to writing and fighting even as he heals. His first recovery piece is on the

Copperheads as understood then and now. Nice piece, Mac. Semper fi.  

Gallagher on Blankenhorn on Marriage

Maggie Gallagher examines David Blankenhorn’s book The Future of Marriage and finds much to recommend it. Her article rightly points out the crux of the matter--which is also a bit of an irony--in the debate over marriage: the clamoring for "gay marriage" seems to subtract from rather than add to the definition of marriage. A taste: In a court brief recently, 30 professors of history and family law told judges that marriages are "committed, interdependent partnerships between consenting adults." What’s missing from our understanding of marriage these days, she points out rather incredulously, is love and eros. By stretching the limits of marriage to include every conceivable union between two consenting adults, don’t we make it rather milquetoast and unappealing? Exactly.

While I don’t doubt that there are sincere and good people who advocate for the "right" of homosexuals to marry each other because they wish to fulfill some romantic longings, it would be foolish to ignore how unromantic marriage becomes when it is no longer an institution that ties eros to a social purpose. The social purpose is now the protection of a "right" and the eros (if it even exists) is incidental and no longer essential to that purpose. From the expectant longing of a Jane Austen novel we now descend into the mind-numbing morass of a legal brief. Hooray for us.

Second Commandment [sic] Republicans

That’s what Joe Klein calls Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback. Well, there’s a lot of confusion in Klein, and perhaps even some in Huckabee and Brownback, at least as they’re portrayed by Klein. Surely we can hold sin and grace together in the same thought. And surely it’s impossible to conceive of good works without thinking about the sinful creatures who at both ends of the "good works" relationship.

Still, Klein seems to me to get one thing right: a lot of Republicans have a hard time knowing quite what to make of these guys.

Yet another story on Obama’s church

Here. 11 o’clock on Sunday morning may well be the most segregated hour in America, but I wonder what the press would say about a candidate who answered an altar call in a church explicitly dedicated to a "white value system."

Was Ringo Really the Best Beatle?

Here’s a charming and often incisive--if a bit too objectivist/capitalist--summation and refutation of "the Gospel of John and Oko." The author, who grew up under Soviet communism, makes a pretty good case that we’re still unduly influenced by such silly progressivist imaginings. (Thanks to the always free Frank Warner.)

Strange bedfellows

The NYT’s Linda Greenhouse notices the strange bedfellows in Morse v. Frederick, a high school free speech case heard by the Supreme Court today.

Here, if you have lots of time, are all the briefs in the case. Of especial interest are those strange bedfellows--briefs from the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian Legal Society, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the ACLU, to choose just a few.

If I had to bet, the Court will find some sort of narrow way of deciding this case, either following Ken Starr’s argument that student speech about drug abuse can be controlled (but limiting it to this particular issue) or finding against the principal because she tried to exercise authority off school grounds when the student was, in effect, on his own time. I can’t imagine a sweeping vindication of the school’s authority here. If the Court did so, the concerns expressed by the conservative religious amici would have been vindicated, and the ability of school authorities to suppress student religious exercise would be next to impossible to resist.

Update: Professor Friedman has more here and here.

Update #2: Christianity Today has more, with oodles of links. A thought occurred to me about how this rather odd-seeming alliance, which (as one of the participants noted) is difficult to explain in a press release, indicates something of the political and legal maturation of Christian conservatives. They’re willing, after all, to support an "unpopular" cause that likely has more friends on the libertarian left. Yes, there’s a long-term interest they’re trying to protect, but they can see past the immediate fog to protect it. And they may have to explain it to some supporters, but I regard that as a good thing, for it will teach those supporters something about the complexities of life in a pluralistic society.

Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson’s directness is appealing. He tells us what he thinks of the Persians’ view that the movie "300" is "cultural and psychological warfare." Is Fred Thompson going to get in the race? Rich Lowry thinks that too many conservatives in the race will insure a victory for a non-conservative. Maybe, but part of me just wants to see the fun. Besides, if Romney doesn’t re-group, and Gingrich has collapsed before starting, how many conservatives are in any way?

Are Studies Dispelling the Illusion of the Uniqueness of Human Behavior?

Well, maybe. Consider, for example, the Mafia-like behavior of the cowbird. One difference between Tony Soprano and the cowbird that the experts still acknowledge: He really knows what he’s doing and understands the consequences. That may be a pretty big difference.

Ohio to Test Limits on KELO

A property rights case to watch in Ohio.

DoE and AALE

Steve Balch gets it right. For more background, go here, as well as to various NLT posts (not to mention this op-ed and these older NLT posts). But wait, there’s still more here, here, here, and here. I think that’s it.

Federal attorneys: the view from NM

I grabbed the Sunday paper on my way out of Albuquerque this morning. Two articles caught my eye.

The first, titled "Iglesias’ Tenure a Low-Key Affair," offered an extensive account of David Iglesias’ career as a federal prosecutor. It cites a memo prepared for A.G. Gonzales in 2005:

The 2005 memo provides a biography of Iglesias, a demographic breakdown of New Mexico and a list of significant pending cases. Gonzales was attending a conference in New Mexico on border issues but had to leave because of terrorist bombings in London. He returned in the summer of 2006.

Cases listed as "significant" include:

A firearm case that resulted in a 30-year prison sentence for a felon possessing a gun during a robbery. The memo doesn’t mention similar cases the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute.

An investigation into an immigrant smuggling organization that included federal wiretaps that resulted in a 30-month sentence for the ringleader and even less time for his co-defendants.

A federal tax evasion case involving attorneys and accountants in which no one so far has received any jail time.

A fraud and conspiracy case involving Los Alamos National Laboratory that resulted in sentences of six months and one year for the two defendants.

An anti-heroin initiative in the Española area that began in the late 1990s under then-U.S. Attorney John Kelly and was continuing under Iglesias.

I may be mistaken, but this doesn’t sound like a record assembled by a go-getter prosecutor. Here’s more along those lines:

But the memo provided to Gonzales gives only partial insight into how the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico operated under Iglesias.

Some insiders said they considered the office "risk averse"; in other words, extremely cautious about taking on high- visibility criminal cases.

A letter addressed to Gonzales was being circulated among some federal prosecutors here last week. Some had signed it but were undecided whether to send it because of speculation Gonzales might lose his job. Others didn’t share the views expressed.

The letter address[es] the recent controversy, describing Iglesias as an absentee boss who was more interested in travel than in running the office.

It said he "abdicated his responsibility as United States Attorney, turning over virtually every important decision to his subordinates."

The letter also said that Iglesias’ "lack of leadership" resulted in a decline in the quality of work produced by his office and that the reputation of the office had suffered during his tenure.

Apparently, Iglesias’ office had increased signficantly the number of immigration cases it handled (but most involved merely pushing paper and deporting the illegal immigrant), but hadn’t really increased its workload in other respects. (I’m summarizing and quoting extensively because the article is available only by means of a "premium" trial pass.)

The second piece, titled "Iglesias Earned His Firing," was written by a guest columnist, veteran Albuquerque lawyer Robert D. Taichert. According to Taichert, Iglesias’ problem

was excessive delay in pursuing the public’s business. It is erroneous to assume that Iglesias was being asked to rush anything. He was simply being called upon to fulfill his duties to the country in a timely fashion. Congressional delegations from any state routinely check on the performance of federal prosecutors in their districts and try to help that U.S. attorney to obtain additional resources if needed.

After noting that Senate Democrats on more than one occasion inquired about prosecutors’ investigation of "Plame-gate," he continues:

The truth will out. Iglesias was fired for not doing his job.

I am sure that the theatrical and politically ambitious Iglesias "felt pressured," because his terrible performance in office was, yet again, being called to account. The facts will show that Iglesias was often missing in action as a U.S. attorney. He was often not in his office, misused senior assistant U.S. attorneys’ time and talents and failed to move prosecutions for political corruption in New Mexico in a timely fashion.

His failures of management are well known in the New Mexico legal community. He was repeatedly asked by Domenici if his office needed more resources, and didn’t respond, although he now claims otherwise. The Senate Ethics Committee will discover that calls for his removal for failure of performance began as early as 2003.

And, lest you think that this is mere partisan hackery, consider this concluding paragraph:

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in keeping with the Bush administration’s chronic ineptitude, finally fired eight U.S. attorneys in a fashion guaranteed to create a political firestorm.

Yup, Albuquerque is one interesting place.

Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About the Final Frontier Anymore?

We’ve lost interest in exploring space. Maybe our indifference has a "deep psychological connection with a badly battered grand narrative of progress." The uplifting project of Americanizing the universe portrayed on STAR TREK has been replaced by shows that suggest that our way of life and our planet have no future. But we also have to consider that our transhumanists have turned our techno-visions of the future away from "outer space" to "cyberspace" and "nano-scale robots." I’d like to add maybe we’ve gotten realistic enough to no longer believe that Carl Sagan (CONTACT) baloney that there are kinder smarter ETs out there who can unravel the mystery of Being for us and save us from our screw-up selves. Ever since the psychologically sensitive first MEN IN BLACK, we’ve known that ETs will be at least as screwed up as we are, and probably more dangerous.

Philosophical action figures

Here; hat tip: Rick Garnett.

If you’re a sola scriptura type, there are always the John Calvin and Martin Luther bobbleheads.

Saint Daniel the Stylite Academy

Catholic homeschooler Sally Thomas describes her family’s routine, which sounds familiar, when translated into the language of the Reformed tradition for the Knippenberg household.

In addition, having spoken with a couple of folks in Albuquerque, I’m thinking of introducing my son to Euclid starting next year. In the mean time, I might try the Famous Mathematicians book she mentions.

Update: The Friar has a bit more, focusing on some of the "vices" homeschoolers display when they end up in college. It seems to me, however, that many of the vices (grade expectations, narcissism, and slovenliness, for example) are hardly unique to homeschoolers, even if they have slightly different sources.

Update #2: The Friar has more, responding both to this thread and to a question I posed to him (but failed to proofread).

The Latest (TIME) Poll

...shows Obama rapidly closing the gap on Hillary and running even against Giuliani. It also shows Giuliani with a huge lead over McCain but running no better than John in November.

Scale of Republican Sinning and Repentance: A Real Leg Up, A Slight Leg Up, and No Leg at All

NEWSWEEK (which I have in my lap and so can’t link without trouble) disagrees with TIME and Bill Kristol on Newt’s confession: "Even if GOP primary voters see it as a transparent tactic; the’re likely to embrace its personal nature." Newt’s confession on "Jame Dobson’s radio show," the article judges, "has become an obligatory ritual for any sinner seeking the evangelical vote," although Newt is the only sinner so far to perform that ritual. And the article includes this judgment by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention: "The fact that McCain has that marriage [to Cindy], and it’s a committed one and it’s of long standing, gives him a real leg up on Gingrich. Gingrich’s confession gives him a slight leg up on Giuliani."

Greeks and Geeks

Neal Stephenson’s piece on the movie"300" is worth reading. Although I don’t exactly agree with his point regarding the "few conservatives still able to hold up one end of a Socratic dialogue are those in the ostracized libertarian wing," yet he has a point. I have always been fond of science fiction, including Jerry Pournelle’s books, like this or this.

George Will on the Short 2008 Primary Season

George explains that the whole thing may well be over in both parties on February 5, when a whole lot of states will now have their primaries. But the result on that date could be determined by momentum quickly acquired through January victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. The influence of those two perennially annoying states might be more undue than ever. That means that an outsider in the mode of Carter or Clinton still has a chance to catch fire. Without the relatively slow "winnowing" that the older, slower process allowed, "buyer’s remorse" seems all but inevitable. No really new information, but George is eloquent, as always.

Global tests and such

One of the nice things about attending a conference is that you get to visit with all sorts of people. The Albuquerque Hyatt, for example, is just lousy with smart Canadians living on both sides of the border. (There are of course smart Americans too.)

I had an interesting conversation, I can’t now remember with whom (though alcohol consumption had nothing to do with it), that prompted the following reflections growing out of a suggestion made by Jonah Goldberg in his review of the D’Souza book.

Goldberg noted D’Souza’s rhetorical play on the fairly predictable liberal query: why do they hate us? The normal answer is that we’re so crass, so vulgar, so militaristic, so imperialistic, so, so American. D’Souza of course says they hate us because we’re so decadent, so libertine, so, so European.

We have all of course noted that everyone is selective in their consultation of "global public opinion." John Kerry, for example, wanted us to consider what his friends in Davos thought about our foreign policy, but not what our friends in the Vatican thought about some of our domestic social policies (with the possible exception of the death penalty, where there’s less of a gap between Davos and the Vatican). We’re often urged to consider how folks in the Arab world thought about our support of Israel, but, until D’Souza came along, I don’t think that anyone considered urging us to think about Arab opinion about our "lifestyles." And of course very few American mainline Protestants argue that we should derive lessons about social policy from their brethren, say, in Africa.

None of this is, or ought to be, surprising. We are, for the most part, partial and strategic in putting our views to the so-called global test. When citing those views serves our purpose, we do. Otherwise, we can gaze at our collective navels with the best of them.

I want, however, to defend the practice of global testing, properly understood. It has a long and philosophically distinguished heritage, expressed in terms of the consensus gentium, which is supposed to offer us a clue to the content of the natural law. If what we’re trying to do, in other words, is engage in the process of natural law-informed discernment, consulting the consensus gentium is, shall we say, reasonable. By itself, global public opinion is, of course, not definitive; it has to show the way to a coherent and defensible argument. And we have to be able to untangle that argument from the partialities and the passions with which it is always connected on both sides of the border. The fact that people somewhere disapprove of, or even hate, us for something doesn’t mean, by itself, that we’re doing anything wrong. One or the other (or both) of us could be blinded by passions or interests. But it is, as we Southwestern (for about another 24 hours or so) Social Scientists say, a data point.

But beyond using the global test to gain insight into the consensus gentium and hence into the natural law, there’s also this: in the prudential pursuit of our policies, especially those that involve and affect others and might require their cooperation and/or acquiesence, it makes darn good sense at least to consider what they think, even if they’re (in our considered moral and prudential judgment) wrong.

In other words, the global test is not something either to be slavishly followed or to be callously dismissed. In pursuit both of the moral truth and the national interest (informed by that truth), it makes sense to have our finger on the pulse of our neighbors, near and far. But the bottom line is that what comes first is the principle, with national interest aligned with it so far as is possible, given our fallen, finite, and fallible status in a broken world.

I could say more, but this sermon’s already gone a little long, and it’s not even Sunday.


I enjoyed a lovely and lively dinner last night here in Albuquerque, hosted by frequent NLT commenter Gary Seaton. He’s a gracious and generous host, a first-class raconteur (at least Schramm class), and an incisive interlocutor. The other dinner companions were none too shabby either.

But having promised Gary that I wouldn’t pull an Irwin Stelzer on him, I’ll say no more.

Fred for prez?

The WSJ’s John Fund interviews Fred Thompson, who comes across a little like the GOP’s version of Barack Obama (by which I mean the anti-politician politician, the straight shooter who says he’s not afraid to speak the hard truth to the American people). Thompson has more of a record than Obama does and more liabilities, but he can sure deliver a line.

(Sur)vive Las Vegas?

In an effort to add some diversity to NLT and to provide a context for the brouhaha over Dinesh D’Souza’s latest tome (see here, for example, as well as these posts from earlier this week), I’m offering, in its full visual glory, John Seery’s meditation on Las Vegas, which he visited solely in pursuit of higher learning. (For a less visually arresting version, go here.)

John, by the way, is no Johnny-come-lately to NLT; he has spoken at the Lawler and Knippenberg campuses and has been featured in posts here and here, among others.

Bill Kristol on Newt’s Insincere and Unmanly Confession to Dobson

Yes, Bill is even harder on Newt and his "public confessor" than I was.


Prove you’re not stupid. That’s the label Peter Wood has come up with to describe the efforts of the Spellings DoE (much decried here at NLT) to get a handle on (put a leash on?) American higher education. Here’s my favorite chunk:

PYNS may sound like a healthy serving of common sense if you are thinking about colleges that soak up federal student loans and graduate marginally literate lunk-heads; and it may seem good medicine for universities with transvestite studies programs and the like that merely indoctrinate students in some version of victim idolatry. But PYNS comes at a considerable cost of intellectual freedom.

That’s because genuine liberal arts education cannot easily be fit to a regime of incessant outcomes assessment. Some things in education are easily measured; some can be measured only with difficulty; and some really defy reliable measurement. We can determine a student’s proficiency in reading or math; we can estimate a student’s comprehension of Plato or the Federalist Papers. But we face a daunting challenge to measure the depth of a student’s insight into a system of philosophy; the quality of a student’s grasp of Cymbeline or Beethoven’s violin sonata in F; how well a student holds in suspension the contradictions that lie between competing disciplines such as economics and political theory; and how fully a student synthesizes the disparities that lie between great theorists who disagree, or between the same though expressed in two languages.

He’s right, of course, but that won’t stop the DoE’s attempt to turn American higher education into a massive version of the typical K-12 public system.

For more evidence of tendencies in this direction, see
this piece about textbook buyback/rental mandates under consideration in North Carolina. The intent is to help students get a handle on soaring textbook costs. The effect might be to limit the autonomy of professors to exercise their professional judgment about what books to assign. You might say: so what, they’re all unreconstructed 60s radicals. Unfortunately, the professors and educrats who would end up making these decisions have more in common with that stereotype than you’d like. Under the circumstances, it might be difficult for anyone to do anything extraordinary (or even "traditional") in the state system. I repeat: people who care about genuine liberal education have to be friends of diversity, properly understood.


Sen. Chuck Schumer got a "B" on a paper he wrote about building a more effective Congress. It was 1971 and he was a senior at Harvard. Apparently, he is still angry about it. His prof, by the way, was Bill Bennett. Meanwhile, yesterday in the Senate the Democrats suffered a defeat.

Federal DA affairs

The WSJ’s Kimberley A. Strassel says competence is the issue.

Don’t worry, be...?

Go to Claremont and study this. I wish that my old friend Mike DeBow would find a way of getting his recent article on happiness studies (eventually archived here) on-line.

The Postmodern Conservatism Blog

...has a classier look that’s more conservative than postmodern, along with some deep thoughts about some of my favorite topics: humiliation, contingency, and AMERICAN IDOL. They have caused me to distinguish between the earlier and later stages of the IDOL competition. I’ll admit that the pre-Hollywood road show is mostly the pointless humiliation of the clueless and fairly repulsive. That’s why I don’t watch it. The show only gets good when it’s clear that all the contestants are actually quite good at singing.

Law-and-Order Fred vs. The Party of Gandhi

Thompson tells the truth (with pardonable manly exaggeration) about one of the most overrated men of the 20th century, who is apparently Speaker Pelosi’s patron saint.

Dick Morris Tells Romney, Gingrich, and McCain to Get Their Corpses Out of the Way

...and make room for a real conservative candidate who can win--perhaps for another former client of his from Arkansas. If they don’t, it’ll be Giuliani by default.

Polygamy and Liberty

John Kienker at the Remedy, points to a significant blunder in Dinesh D’Souza’s recent efforts at defending his book The Enemy at Home. The third part of a four part effort at National Review Online, includes a section where Dinesh questions whether the practice of polygamy gives testimony to the fact that certain elements of traditional Islam are not compatible with the principles of a free society. Not seeing the contradiction, he says: "I agree that polygamy runs entirely counter to the Western tradition, but since in its Islamic form it involves consenting adults, I’m not sure why it’s inherently illiberal."

Huh?! Consenting adults . . . certainly nothing that happens between consenting adults runs contrary to the principles of liberty! (Let me be clear: heavy sarcasm is intended here!) But isn’t that idea the same idea Dinesh argued made the Islamists mad at us in the first place? Here’s an different idea, why not point out how much these Islamists have in common with the radical American left instead of with American conservatives?

Great Website

I’m late to all of this stuff, I know, but I’m sure there are many of you who read this blog who are even more hopeless than I when it comes to being up-to-date with technology. So this is for you folks: a great website can be found here for those of you just getting into "listening" to books. It’s a new thing for me and I’m having a wonderful time with it. But up till now, I’ve been borrowing my audiobooks from the local library. You can buy and download all kinds of audiobooks on-line, but they are normally newer books and it’s rather expensive. The link above, however, will take you to a site that allows you to download books that are in the public domain for free. People volunteer to read them and make them available to the public.

Now, I found the site. I haven’t actually used it yet because that would entail actually learning how to download the files onto my MP3 player. I’m still working on downloading those podcasts . . . one of these days!

Mom, me, and the cops

My mother has been in Ashland since October. Since she had lived in Southern California for the last fifty years, she has found the weather here "fascinating." A bitter February--the ten inch snow fall was pretty to her; took photographs to send to her friends in the heat--was preceded by a milder than normal December and January. Yesterday it was fifty while today it is thirty. We had two inches of snow. All this is important to mention because I have been doing more driving than normal (never mind the cigar smoking) taking my mother here and there. I don’t want her driving in this muck. Sometimes there are bad consequences to good intentions: I have received two citations (both from Highway patrol guys, just on the outskirts of town) since she has been here. She was in the car both times: the first was for no seatbelt, the second was for doing thirty in a school zone (the limit is twenty). I’m not saying it’s my mother’s fault, all I’m saying is that I am paying attention to my mother even while I’m driving; more attention than I should, maybe. So stop calling me (and laughing!) every time my name appears in the the police blotter, please. I get it and my mother gets it. She paid for both tickets.

Religious literacy again

Here’s a debate between Stephen Prothero (see here) and separationist-in-chief Barry Lynn. Prothero looks very good by comparison with the litigious Lynn, who would immediately send his lawyers to any public school with a "mandated" Bible class. I guess we might be seeing them in Georgia soon.

The Engines of our Voices

This fascinating article explains that scientists have discovered similarities between the way that a human voice operates and the way that a jet engine operates. This has to do with vortices (areas of rotational motion) and airflows and the structure above a person’s vocal cords. Apparently, all of this explains why (or should I say, how) it is that every person’s voice is different.

Of course, every little boy (and every former little boy) who has ever pretended to be a jet plane, will say that he’s suspected this connection all along. Perhaps, anyway, it explains the affinity between the two? Another fascinating fact is that the animal whose vocal structure is most similar to ours is the dog. The scientists are hoping to study more about how a dog’s "voice" works in order to discover ways to help people with vocal problems.

This is all very interesting and compelling. But, of course, understanding why (or, again, how) it is that we have voice will not answer the question of why we have speech. I will venture a guess that it will be a long time before a study can answer that one.

Socrates and Student Evaluations

Here’s an (inevitably) uneven but still pretty funny account of the comments Prof. Socrates got on his student evaluations. The truth is that even if his evaluations were passable, he still wouldn’t get tenure. After all, he refused to publish, didn’t volunteer for committee service, and wasn’t particularly collegial. The modern university that was allegedly designed to give Socrates a safe, easy job actually has no place for him.

Why Do People Watch AMERICAN IDOL?

Here’sa very pompous article by someone who’s thought way too much about that question. My simple answer: People enjoy competition, can readily identify with (and wish they were) ordinary folks who can do one thing exceedingly well, like to see excellence rewarded, and are fascinated by the combination of wisdom and consent that comes when THEY get to vote after being instructed by Simon’s tough but fair judgments. It’s sort of like the jury system as described by Tocqueville, and a telling reminder that the jury system doesn’t always work.


March Madness

All over corporate and academic America this week, copying machines and printers fired up. Your tax and business dollars were not hard at work, however. Ladies and gentlemen, start your brackets. The new national pastime and extravaganza known as March Madness has officially begun.

I can’t tell with any confidence you who will win. Sorry. Set aside the fact that the NCAA tournament is a single-elimination event—one slip-up and you go home. Officials make strange calls. Desperate half-court shots go in. More important, who can possibly know what goes on the mind of a 19-year old male, no matter how athletically gifted he is? He may have had a fight with his girlfriend over the weekend. His mother may be upset because he couldn’t get tickets for their third cousin. His posse may be arguing over how to spend the money he’ll be getting from his big shoe contact once he declares for the NBA draft a few weeks hence. Life can be very complicated for the student athlete. And not all of them are stars. The fourth man off the bench—who actually plans on becoming a doctor—may be the one to shoot the critical free throw, in front of thousands of screaming fans and millions of TV viewers.

In short, your office pool will probably go to someone’s wife or daughter who filled out the bracket on the basis of team colors or mascots. So, fill out your sheets and then set them aside. Unless you have a major rooting interest, just enjoy the games. Or learn to tolerate them if you think colleges should be for education; but you just can’t escape the media saturation. The pre and post-game chatter has become as important to the fans as the games themselves.

You’ll have to get past the whining of coaches and fans of "bubble" teams who believe they were excluded unfairly by the dark wizards of the NCAA selection committee. Each year five to ten teams make such a case. Syracuse, Drexel, Florida State and Kansas State lead the current list. Syracuse’s exclusion caught almost everyone off guard as did the inclusion of Arkansas. The selection process indeed is more than a bit opaque and, dare one say, political? Standards applied one year seem to shift the next. My own view is: if you want in, Win. Win your conference tournament and receive the automatic bid. Or at least play such dominant basketball that Congress would order an investigation if you were sent packing to the NIT. Well, maybe that’s not the best means of enforcement but you get my meaning. I’m also an advocate for the "small" schools—the mid-majors, whose enrollment of real students may well surpass those of the "big" schools, like Duke. Here Drexel would have received my vote. The big schools dominate TV coverage and the revenue streams. I don’t see why they should be rewarded by allowing teams with mediocre seasons in the power conferences to move ahead of an outstanding mid-major that may have been tripped up in its conference tournament. I’m a Jacksonian democrat when it comes to college basketball—although not so much as to favor a limited expansion of the size of the tournament, because I fear the extra slots would actually go to the big schools.

That’s my prejudice. It’s also true that at the end of day, aristocracy rules. Last year’s George Mason, a mid-major and an 11-seed, was a wonderful and partial exception to the rule. The eventual national champion will come from a power conference and it will probably feature a program that has been here, done that, before. We all leak a little oil, as Lee Trevino once said about playing under pressure. Blue bloods like North Carolina and Kansas leak it a little less not just because they have premium players but because they are less likely to be distracted by all the peripherals that go along with this traveling circus. Tradition and experiences are something like Jung’s collective unconscious. It travels with a program even if the players and coaches are new. There will probably be a Cinderella in the Final Four—but it will most likely be a lower seed from a power conference than a working-class upstart like Nevada or a Winthrop.

For the most part, don’t worry about seeding and sites. For months we’ve watched the hand-wringing about who will be seeded Number 1 in each region. Once you get past the first round, however, it really doesn’t matter at the top end. Over the last five years, only six number one seeds have made the Final Four. In any case, seeding is insignificant much below the first couple of bracket lines. There will be at least one 5-12 upset, as there always is. It’s not so much a matter of the growing parity of talent; or of chance. Playing styles and difficult match-ups drive upsets. Here Ohio State may well struggle at times during the tournament. Having played for some months in the dreadfully-paced Big Ten, can they now readjust to up-tempo offensive basketball against a team whose "bigs" can draw Greg Oden away from the lane? I’m an Oden fan and Ohio State certainly can win it all. The more probable scenarios, however, are an early upset, or a loss in the championship game.

It has long been said that college basketball is the guards’ game. You can take a great post player out of the action through defensive structure and tempo, but not so with great guards. True, up to a point. Great guard play will get you through two rounds. Beyond that, you must have legitimate big men who are a threat to score as well as defend and rebound. This does not augur well for my University of Virginia Cavaliers, seeded #4, which has two excellent guards (one of whom is now playing despite an injury) but which has no real offensive post presence.

Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Well, yes. But you have to score to win. Many defense-oriented teams struggle offensively, despite having talented offensive players, because of the energy that defense requires. Defense-oriented teams play in many close games, even against inferior teams, which increase the odds that a bad bounce or whistle will decide the game. UCLA and Pittsburgh come to mind. A better criterion perhaps, is can you make key defensive stops at the end of games? Coach K’s great Duke teams did this consistently. This criterion is perhaps my one concern about North Carolina, as talented and deep as it. I’m not sure Coach Roy Williams has a defensive unit he can trust at the end of the game against top-flight offensive talent.

It is very difficult to pick against Florida, which returns all five starters from the national championship team and which is now playing well again after an understandable period of boredom late in the regular season. Florida is remarkably well balanced, with quality versatile players inside and outside. But recent history indicates that it is extremely difficult to repeat as champion. Other than Duke (1991-2), you have to go back to the days of John Wooden at UCLA. Florida plays with great emotion; they are a cocky, us-against-the world team—a good thing when one is an underdog but perhaps not so much when one is the favorite and center of media attention. Picking Florida is like playing two aces in no-limit Texas Hold ’em. It is easily the best starting hand but will it hold up six times two years in a row? The odds say no.

Free throws. Don’t forget free throws, especially in critical, end of game situations. Syracuse might have won five national championships if it could shoot free throws. Memphis, a #2 seed that is almost off the national radar because it is in exile in Conference USA, is a poor free throw shooting team (61%). More than one legitimate national championship contender will play a great game in this tournament, only to lose because they went 10 for 23 at the stripe.

And there are injuries, lingering and new, some of which you will never hear about.

This leaves us several interesting teams to consider, which are not No. 1 seeds. Georgetown, above all. Texas A&M. Oregon, a team with a profile very similar to that of last year’s Florida. Texas—although I don’t think they’ll win, you have to watch Kevin Durant play. I’m not buying into Maryland, a popular hot team, which assessment has nothing to do with the fact I’m at UVA.

None of this helps you create the winning bracket. For that, look to the mascots. Much wisdom, common or otherwise, applies only in the long run. But it’s always fun to try to beat the system.

Categories > Sports

Church, state, and the public university

This Inside Higher Ed article offers a good rundown of recent developments in the relationship between public colleges and universities and student religious groups. This, it says is the long-term result of the 1995 Rosenberger decision.

Lunch with George

No disrespect intended to dining companions past and future, but no one invites me to luncheons like this.

Thomas Sowell Talks Up Gingrich least by showing that none of his "scandals" ought to disqualify him for the presidency. But he also manages to remind us that Clinton cleaned Newt’s clock during the government shutdown "scandal."

Studies Show Fat Men Really Are Jolly

...and so much less likely to commit suicide. Eating may be a form of self-medication for depression, at least for men.

Sullivan on D’Souza

Thanks to the leader of NLT’s loyal opposition for this long review (AS can never say anything in 1,000 words when 3,000 or so will do). His basic argument is that D’Souza reveals that there’s ultimately no significant difference between the Islamist agenda and its "Christianist" counterpart. In other words, it is, for the most part, very sophisticated name-calling.

Sullivan doesn’t bother to investigate any of the possible distinctions (e.g., between traditional Christianity and Islam) that would make his insinuations implausible. And, self-professed good Catholic that he is, he doesn’t hurl the same imprecation at Benedict XVI that he hurls at American religious conservatives:

There is a difference only in degree, after all, between Islamism’s view of the role of women and that of James Dobson or Tim LaHaye. Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right. Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan. There is only a difference in degree between Islamism’s view of the relationship between mosque and state and Christianism’s view of the relationship between church and state. If law cannot be neutral between competing moral ideals, and if it must reflect God’s will regardless of the views of religious minorities, then you can see why D’Souza is so affronted by Turkey’s secularism, and why he sees the Declaration of Independence as an essentially religious document. Any space for non-believers is, in the Islamist and Christianist view, an assault on belief itself. The notion that blasphemy, pornography, or homosexuality should be protected, let alone celebrated, is anathema to Islamists and Christianists alike. D’Souza’s sole sin is to say so publicly in a way no one can misunderstand. He has blown the medievals’ cover.

Since it’s hard to believe that what he says about American religious conservatives wouldn’t apply equally well to traditional Catholics (he mentions Fr. Neuhaus as one of D’Souza’s mentors), including the Pope, it’s a wonder that AS doesn’t draw the logical conclusion. Ah, but there’s the rub: it turns out that Catholicism allows--at least in Sullivan’s mind--for a certain liberty of conscience, which distinguishes it--and the rest of Christianity--from Islam. Kind of a problem with Sullivan’s argument, no?

One last point and I’m done. Sullivan makes much of the fact that D’Souza doesn’t say anything about his own faith and regularly presents religion simply as a means of social control. I met D’Souza once and learned, in the course of a casual conversation, that he was educated by Jesuits in India. I’m betting he’s a Catholic. And I’m betting that Sullivan knows this very well. Let me add something to my characterization of his review: it is, for the most part, sophisticated and disingenuous name-calling. Of course, in describing something written by Andrew Sullivan in that way, I say absolutely nothing new.

Jonah G. and Stanley K. have more. Please note that it’s Jonah, not Kenny, and Kurtz, not Kubrick.

Update #2: Ross D. weighs in.

Goldberg on D’Souza

Jonah Goldberg reviews Dinesh D’Souza’s new book in what "formerly" was "my favorite magazine I’d never written for." He’s just a little nicer to D’Souza than other conservative critics, appreciating, for example, D’Souza’s rhetorical twist in using the court of world public opinion. But he nevertheless notes this about that tactic:

For example, D’Souza’s claim that when it comes to "core beliefs" he has more in common with the Grand Mufti of Egypt than with Michael Moore, simply won’t hold. Which beliefs? Sure, Ali Gomaa is against gay marriage, but he also thinks sculpture should be banned and believes Jews are "bloodsuckers." D’Souza would have to keep the conversation pretty constrained for him to stay eye-to-eye with the Mufti.

And then there’s this, which is just about my favorite line in the review:

Ted Kennedy may or may not be a Caligulan carbuncle, but if the jihadists want to behead him for it, they’ll have to get through me first.

Read the argument around it for the serious context in which Goldberg makes this hilarious claim, which I think goes to the heart of his deep disagreement with D’Souza.

Indeed, read the whole thing.


Podcast with David Krugler

I did a podcast with David Krugler on the failure of civil defense during the cold war. He teaches history at Wisconsin and is the author of This is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War.

Note: I talked to him on March 1.

Dionne and the Hagel Hint and the Thompson Tease

E.J., contrary to his explicit intention, shows us why Chuck and Fred don’t really have a chance. His too-obvious real effort is directed toward dividing the Republicans into Bush 41 and Bush 43 factions and suggesting to Senator Hagel that his real goal should be starting a third party. Hagel’s position on the Republican side is as much of a non-starter as Liberman’s is on the Democratic one in terms of actually winning the nomination. But there’s no hiding from the fact that lots of Republicans now agree with him, and the MSM presents him favorably for their admiration. It remains to be seen how formidable a force he can become.

While we’re at it. . .

Don’t miss the usually sensible Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal: "A fairer assessment would be many degrees cooler [than Gore’s]. It would hold that climate change is real and deserves action, but that the problem is nowhere near as overwhelming as the rhetoric commonly suggests, and the solutions nowhere near as difficult. As problems go, in fact, climate change appears to be one of the most convenient that humankind has ever faced."

Meanwhile, a global warming expedition to the North Pole has been cancelled. One of th eparty got frostbite from the cold.

The Goreacle Gored in the NY Times

Today’s New York Times includes an article by one of their veteran science writers, William Broad, about the many scientists who are uncomfortable with the exaggerations and extremism of Gore’s gerbil worming horror flick, An Inconvenient Truth. Broad quotes scientist Kevin Vranes, who, I noted in my Weekly Standard article last month, had this to say about the pressure for scientific conformity on this subject: “What I am starting to hear is internal backlash. . . None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it’s not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we’ve created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say ‘climate change is right here!’” Vranes saids this after attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, at which Gore made his standard pitch.

An even more bracing comment came late last year from Mike Hulme, who is the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and one of Britain’s leading climate science figures:

“I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric,” Hulme told the BBC in November. “It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the [catastrophe] skeptics. How the wheel turns. Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science’s predictions? To state that climate change will be ‘catastrophic’ hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.”

The backlash may be just beginning.

Pity the poor non-theist

Allegedly underrepresented in political office, with Pete Stark as their most prominent standard-bearer.

A Federal Takeover of Higher Education?

According to this dissident expert, that’s what our REPUBLICAN Secretary of Education is currently plotting. It’s time for us to do some real assessing of Margaret Spellings’ regulatory/assessment mania. Please take a look at the extremely meddlesome, schoolmarmish policies that she thinks she can impose on our college and universities pretty much on her own. But a real schoolmarm, of course, would know enough to leave those schools and professors alone.

Rudy on Abortion

Here we learn that Giuliani was once pro-life and seems to have changed his position out of political expediency. But once he changed he really changed, favoring federal funding for abortions and praising Margaret Sanger before the NARAL.

Religious illiteracy as a civic--and religious--problem

BU religion professor Stephen Prothero has a new book on religious (il)literacy, which is attracting a lot of attention--see here and here for examples. Of course, his personal site has links to much of the recent coverage.

I’ll probably eventually buy the book, though it smacks a little too much of E.D. Hirsch for my taste. Here’s his religious literacy quiz; take it, if you dare.

Update: Here, via Mere Comments, is a temporary link to Prothero’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the end, I think his project (at least as described in this piece) suffers from a kind of incoherence. On the one hand, he argues that our religious amnesia and ignorance are the products of our toleration. By privatizing religion and trivializing differences, we end up not having anything to take seriously. But we have to take it seriously, he says, for civic reasons:

But the costs of perpetuating religious ignorance are too high in a world in which faith moves, if not mountains, then elections and armies. It does nothing for the secular left to remain ignorant of the religious right, or vice versa. And it puts the United States at risk to remain ignorant as a society of the beliefs and practices of Confucians in North Korea, Hindus in India, and Muslims in Iran.

In debates about the fate of the Middle East, the propriety of gay marriage, and the politics of Islam, the stakes are too high to defer to politicians and pundits. Given the ubiquity of religious discourse in American public life, and the public power of religion at home and abroad, we Americans — whether liberals or conservatives, believers or unbelievers — need to learn about evangelicalism and Islam for ourselves, to see for ourselves what the Bible says about family values, homosexuality, war, and capital punishment, and to be aware of what Islam says about those things, too.

But if my motivation to learn about something is civic, then I’m likely to be tempted to make the innumerable and confusing complications go away, if I can, with the wish being the father of the "fact." An argument that you have "instrumentally" to know something is different from, and inferior to, an incitement to learn about something because it satisfies a deep longing. What will lead to more religious knowledge is more religious seriousness, of the sort that is described here (by Prothero):

In recent years, George M. Marsden, a historian at the University of Notre Dame, and Warren A. Nord, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have argued for the return of "normative religious teaching" to American colleges and universities. They want professors not only to describe religious traditions but also to weigh in on their vices and virtues. Each of these scholars has also argued that it is essential for students to learn "religious perspectives" in disciplines other than religious studies — to study theological critiques of classical economics and "religious interpretations of history." "There should be room," writes Nord, for both objective analysis of religion and "normative reflection on religion."

What Marsden and Nord seem to want is to make colleges and universities (or pockets of them) into religious places once again — to resurrect the big questions of God, creation, and sin not only in departments of religion but also in courses in philosophy and economics and history and political science.

All this brings back to mind, as I noted earlier, the pairing of Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch in the late 80s. Who’s going to write The Closing of the American Soul? Or might it already have been written--
here, here, or perhaps here.

O.K., that’s it

I’m moving.

Political God-talk

John H. Armstrong makes the point that all too often political God-talk is just about baptizing, so to speak, particular political initiatives. I don’t object to God-talk per se, unless it’s invoked to rule out absolutely any role for prudence or political judgment. We rarely, if ever, get precise policy prescriptions from Scripture.

Mahoney Defends Solzhenitsyn

...against the stale, discredited charges of a TLS reviewer.

The 1840s and Today

I can’t agree with all of the particular comparisons outlined in this compelling and interesting piece by Kurt Andersen in Time, but I defy you to read it and not find much of it on point. He writes that "history really does rhyme, if not repeat itself." And that may be true. But while Andersen seems to hint at some possible absolution in this (comparing the Bowery Boys of their day to today’s Hip Hop thugs--as if to say we’re none the worse for them), I wonder at how he seems to forget that the 1840s led to the 1850s. And we all know how the 1850s ended. I certainly hope that what we’re living through now won’t "rhyme" with those days--let alone repeat them.

A Whole New Kind of Feminization of the Workplace . . .

. . . can be read about here. No comment.

Romney and Kennedy vs. Evangelical Prejudice

Our friend Chuck Dunn has identified seven key parallels between the Romney and Kennedy campaigns. I’m inclined to add seven key differences. Here’s just one: Kennedy didn’t really overcome the evangelical/fundamentalist prejudice against him all that well, but he compensated with a huge prejudice in his own direction. He got an overwhelming majority of the Catholic vote. No doubt Romney will get an overwhelming majority of the Mormon vote. But that’s a lot smaller percentage of the electorate, even in the Republican primaries. And in November, it’s hard to see how the Mormons can become much more overwhelmingly Republican than they already are. I hope Chuck is right that Mitt is as charismatic as Jack.

Anti-Bushism at home and abroad

I have long thought that no holds-barred criticism of President Bush at home licenses similar behavior abroad. As our friends at Power Line and South Dakota Politics note, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between anti-Bush protestors north and south of the border. Also worth noting is this bit of evidence about how folks from south of the border who live north of the border feel about U.S. policy in the Middle East, something that is mentioned, but barely, in this article.

Newt Confesses to Dobson

Somebody might have some doubts about both his contrition and his Christianity. Giuliani, of course, has also done some very bad things when it comes to wives and other women, but I guarantee he won’t use this venue or this approach to show us that he’s sorry and is living more responsibly now. I’m all for confessing sins and seeking forgiveness (mainly from God and those you’ve hurt!), but not this way.

George Will on the Right Candidates

Here are some sober and responsible thoughts for Republicans by our friend George. Despite their flaws--especially from a socially conservative view, we should admit that McCain, Giuliani, and Romney are all pretty darn good candidates. And there are good reasons to believe that each would be a pretty darn good president. So maybe we should stop whining and wishing for something better, and maybe we shouldn’t criticize, at least too much, a "front-loaded" process that will very likely freeze out Brownback, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Hunter and so forth. We can add that, on the Democratic side, Obama and Sen. Clinton may well be the best they got (my own view is that Richardson deserves a serious look he probably won’t get), or at least they’re both quite impressive, from their perspective. Too bad, of course, for Biden and Gravel.

Headline of the Day

From Saturday’s Washington Post:

Nuclear Weapons Rarely Needed, General Says

Well, that’s a relief.

Thank Goodness for Techies Who Fix NLT, and other Sunday observations

Just when I get done with a huge writing project, and over a nasty sinus infection, with lots of pent-up blogs in my head, the NLT site goes down! How did I pass the time? The new Victoria’s Secret catalogue came in the mail. It’s 172 pages. Woo-hoo!

Why is this news? Well, a few months ago the Victoria’s Secret people agreed, after pressure from environmentalists, to use more recycled paper for their catelogues, rather than trying the simple expedient of conserving paper by using thinner models. So, even with more recycled paper, the catalogue just gets longer. Hard to know whether any trees have been saved, let alone any. . . no, I won’t finish this sentence.

Of course, when the VC people get around to producing the inevitable pop-up catalogue, we’ll have a whole new resource use problem.

Back in the Saddle

Sorry about the sites being down for a couple of days. We fixed it and it will not happen again. If anyone detects any glitches or problems, do let us know.

Although I have seen Isabella during the winter, we haven’t talked. I went over from time to time during the bitter cold just to make sure she was covered. And even though we haven’t talked in four months, yesterday we picked it right up as if time stood still. I uncovered her and fired her up. Her low growl was immediate and adversity’s sweet milk was ready to be ridden. I slipped on just enough warm to get me around the long block, and we did. I let her stretch her legs as she cheerfully murmured and grumbled through the neighborhood. The long winter is over and her deserved dignity is intact. We meet again later today.

While jonesin’ for NLT

I suggested (not altogether in jest) that GWB was our first genuinely Catholic president, compared Jonathan Rauch to Stephen F. Douglas, and hurled the Rawls epithet at Jonah Goldberg.

Now it’ll be back to business here.

Presidential power in 2009?

Daniel Henninger asks some very good questions about what the leading Democratic contenders--Senators or former Senators all--think of executive power. We kinda know, as he notes, that HRC wouldn’t settle for a domestic presidency any less powerful than WJC’s. But what about foreign affairs? We don’t enjoy the luxury of spending a long time settling that question after January 20th. Folks interested in the presidency should spend some time defending the prerogatives of that office from their party colleagues and partisan supporters. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, they don’t deserve to hold the office.

Another Harm from Global Warming!

Global warming is hurting the brothel trade in Europe. No Comment. Supply your own punchline.

Primary Madness--A Proposal

So California and, what?--every other state with an inferiority complex--is going to move its presidential primary up to February 5 of next year, creating a de facto national primary that will decide the nomination for both parties, and for which the entry fee for any serious candidate will be something like $75 million at a minimum. The Democrats have been the chief force of this increasingly front-loaded nomination system for a while now, thinking that the protracted bloodletting of the old extended primary season that went from January to June hurt its nominees in November. This is probably wrong: in 1984, when the Democratic nomination went through the California and New Jersey primaries in June, Walter Mondale was made a much better candidate for having to fend off Gary Hart’s spirited challenge. (None other than Bill Galston, Mondale’s campaign policy director, told me the other day he thinks this is true.) Had Hart challenged Mondale in the current front-loaded system, he might have toppled Mondale (and we could have had Clinton-style sex scandals ten years sooner!!); in 2004, the Dems clearly had a case of buyer’s remorse with their hastily-picked nominee.

If this keeps up, in another cycle or two the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses will be held the day after Inauguration Day, and, as Squidward might say, won’t that just be the most fun day ever--the perpetual/permanent campaign. The media and the consultants will love it. But probably not the voters. (Aside: Last weekend at CPAC, held at the Omni Hotel, I asked a Romney person why they weren’t billing his speech as "Romney at the Omni." Answer: We pay too many consultants too much money to come up with something that simple and direct.)

Is there any way to stop this madness? Can we somehow return to the stretched out process that allowed voters to scrutinize the candidates more slowly, and see their strengths and weaknesses exposed under fire? Republicans have been happy to follow the Democrats along, but they might put the brakes to this by allocating very few conventional delegates to the early primaries, and require that the bulk of delegates be selected in a rolling process through caucuses later in the spring. They might adopt party rules penalizing early entrants in the race; call it the "Reagan Rule," and say that no one may announce for president formally before November of the year before the election, when Reagan did.

I do hold out some hope that perhaps voters in both parties will grow tired of the early fields (Hillary-Obama-Edwards/McCain-Rudy-Romney), and that late entrants might sweep the field away and act as a corrective to the frontloading problem. Maybe next year we might see the election we deserve in many ways: Newt versus Gore. Bring it on.

Iranian defector

This would seem to be more helpful about Iran’s activities in Lebanon than in Iraq, but the Iranians are clearly very unhappy. This makes me happy. For more, go here.

Prophetic witness or politicized religion?

Yale Divinity School students stage (I think that’s the appropriate word) an unusual Ash Wednesday service. Ordinarily, of course, Ash Wednesday focuses on the sinfulness of the person receiving the ashes, but this one seems focused on the alleged sins of others.

Winning without throwing bombs

John Tomasi explains to folks in Manhattan how he prospers at Brown.

The Roberts Court

Stuart Taylor thinks it will tilt slightly, but not decisively, in a conservative direction. Hat tip: the Friar.

God gap diminishing?

This Barna Group study suggests that it is, though I suspect that the survery sample overrepresents Democrats.

Thomas of the Cross

Justice Clarence Thomas offers a plain-spoken and, at times, pugnacious, interview about his undergraduate experience at Holy Cross. Well worth reading.  

Obama’s religion

I posted briefly on this here, but can’t resist calling attention to this smart effort by Peter Leithart to discern Obama’s center of gravity. Of course, Leithart’s critique of Obama sweeps quite widely to encompass many of us (even if we don’t agree with the particulars of Obama’s policy proposals).

Knippenberg on Schramm on Obama

Let me second Peter’s comments (or will people only understand if I say "mega-dittoes"?). And call attention to this column by card-carrying Townhall conservative Carol Platt Liebau, which Hugh Hewitt says is "worth reading very closely and storing away."

Obama note

Some comments on my praising of the Obama speech note that I do not see that he is a Euro-socialist, and so on. More on this later (I regret that I am snowed under here!), but for now let me say that I think I know the difference between Reagan and Obama! I am not in love with Obama, nor am I endorsing him, or his policy positions. Please. But, I am asserting that this might be a very serious fellow. Also, he is a black man. And that he may even be technically an African-American is very interesting (possibly deeply interesting to, for example, Jesse Jackson, who I can feel sliding down the path of irrelevance every time Obama speaks) and will have massive repercussions in American politics. I suspect that some of those effects might be very good, by the way. This doesn’t mean that I am endorsing him, or national health care, or even his clever rhetoric about the Kennedys, et al.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for February

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

Ryan Demro

Tucker Bacquet

Joseph Griffo

Janni Ingman

Grace Morgan

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

Obama’s skeletons?

This NYT article raises some questions about his investments. This one notes Obama’s recognition that too close a public connection with the senior pastor of his church might be a political liability.

Update: Here’s Larry Kudlow on Obama’s lack of financial acumen. Kudlow also guesses that the NYT is getting its stories from the HRC camp, which would be altogether unsurprising.

Wren cross

Returns. If you want to read more, go here.

Obama’s Ripples of Hope speech

I walked into the hotel in West Virginia Sunday evening and turned on C-Span. Barack Obama was speaking in Selma. Two minutes into it I realized this was both a fine speech and one that will prove consequential. I sat for many minutes
(here is about six minutes from CNN, via
youtube) watching and listening. The text was new, perfectly aligned with the occasion and the orator was not at all green. The man played true. There are many smart and clever items in the speech, I note only a few, not the most important ones: "The Kennedy’s decided we are going to do an airlift." "Don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home when I come to Selma, Alabama." "...ripples of hope all around the world..." "There’s some good craziness going on." There is more if you pay attention (see Joe’s post below; also note the link to the whole speech as written). I have not seen or heard any of HRC’s speech; but I have heard some CNN talking heads whispering criticism, and that would have been unheard of a month ago. Some said that HRC spoke an infinite deal of nothing, prattled even, off-key. Bill’s presence ended up not helping; rather, it revealed her need. Sad time for Hillary. She cannot be happy.

Novak on Bush as conservative, part 2

Michael Novak has more to say after his debate with Joseph Bottum, noted here. Here’s his conclusion

President Bush has defined a new kind of conservatism. It is legitimate to criticize it, even to oppose it vigorously. But to do so honestly and accurately, one must note the change in method that President Bush has quietly and successfully been enacting. As often as possible, in as many ways as possible, he is using as the dynamo of personal choice and the methods of the market, not direct state-management, in order to make government programs more effective and more efficient. That is why Democrats, both of the old New Deal-type and of the new Clinton-type, oppose him so fiercely. They seem to see what he is up to better than many uneasy conservatives do.

Try to imagine the conservative future as Bush is trying to: Old-age assistance is mostly achieved by personal tax-exempt pension accounts. Medicare and other health expenses are paid for by means of personal, tax-exempt medical accounts (partly used for catastrophic insurance, mostly for ordinary health spending, and with a new incentive to watch over normal expenses carefully). Parental choice and market mechanisms help to weed out failing schools, replacing them with better ones.

Note that these new pension, medical, and school mechanisms deeply affect families, not simply individuals. This greater reliance on familial choice re-introduces a reliance on family, rather than on the state, as the chief agent of health, education, and welfare.

Bush has begun a major turn from the state toward the “little platoons” once celebrated by Burke, the “mediating institutions” that Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus emphasized twenty years ago. This is a profoundly conservative impulse.

It’s too bad that the President couldn’t defend himself as well as this.

Rudy and ROE

Here’s Rudy Giuliani telling George Will that ROE is good constitutional law. I’m sure that’s what he really thinks, unfortunately. So not only can’t he give the American people the (true and even obvious) case for ROE being bad, even incompetent, constitutional law, we have to ask what he really means when he says he won’t appoint judicial activists. I’m not coming out against the man, mind you. But this is a real problem for his candidacy. (Thanks to John from the Rudy thread below for sending this.)

More Thoughts on the Mormon Issue

This is another somewhat negative but finally inconclusive account of the ways Mitt’s religion will affect his chances. On the positive side, Mormons "seem to live exemplary, enviable, and productive lives centered on the nuclear family." What’s more important than THAT? And the polygamy issue, while fascinating, is the "ultimate red herring." Mainstream Mormons are more against BIG LOVE now than just about anyone else. But there’s also no denying that Mormon doctrines and practices are both strange and somewhat politically incorrect, and they’re about to be scrutinized on PBS. Mitt’s own memos exhibit worry about the doctrines and practices raising more questions than answers.

Taranto on Giuliani and ROE

Here are some informed comments on why ROE may well be overturned and how the pro-choice Giuliani’s appointments might, ironically, contribute to that result. I still say that we need or could use a president who could actually explain to the American people why ROE was wrongly decided. I can add that it’s probably better to win with Rudy tha lose with a candidate that can made that case. But my point is that the case itself isn’t weak from either an electoral or a constitutional point of view.

You’ll be relieved to know...

That John Edwards says that the size of his home is less important than what goes on in it:

What matters is what happens inside that physical structure, and what kind of values and beliefs and faith are taught inside that structure. And so, you know, I come from a very modest place and I’ve done well and we have a very nice physical structure. It’s completely unimportant. What matters is what happens inside that structure.

O.K. I’m convinced.

Separation of school and state

Jeff Jacoby has an interesting response to the entirely predictable ruling in Parker v. Hurley.

I’ve written about similar matters here and here.

HRC’s Selma speech

HRC’s Selma speech is a much weaker and more conventional effort than Obama’s. The problems and policies she mentions are for the most part indistinguishable from those mentioned by Obama, but her approach is much more demagogic:

But in the last two presidential elections we have seen the right to vote tampered with, and outright denied to too many of our citizens, especially the poor and people of color. Not just in Florida, Ohio, and Maryland, but in state after state. The very idea that in the 21st century, African-Americans would wait in line for 10 hours while whites in an affluent precinct next to theirs waited in line for 10 minutes, or that African-Americans would receive fliers telling them the wrong time and day to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

She quotes two Bible verses, one from the Old Testament (Ps. 118:24) and one from the New Testament (Gal. 6:9), which I found cited in two other speeches. In one of them (not Hillary’s), Paul’s line is actually used more or less properly.

Of course, if a Republican were to cite either verse, some folks would worry about theocracy (see especially the first thirteen verses of Ps. 118). But coming from HRC, the O.T. verse is utterly conventional and the N.T. verse altogether worldly. Nothing new, nothing interesting.

Obama’s Joshua generation

I’ve read Obama’s Selma speech, which has its moments of strength. It is in the first instance very Old Testament, with lots of references to the civil rights generation Moseses, to which Obama and his contemporaries play Joshua. (I note in passing that Generation Joshua is a label already appropriated by someone else.)

While a good chunk of the spech consists in a litany of conventional big government progams, Obama, to his credit (yes, you read that), takes a page from Bill Cosby:

Government alone can’t solve all those problems, but government can help. It’s the responsibility of the Joshua generation to make sure that we have a government that is as responsive as the need that exists all across America. That brings me to one other point, about the Joshua generation, and that is this -- that it’s not enough just to ask what the government can do for us-- it’s important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.

One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can’t say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we’ve lost it a little bit.


[E]ven as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that , if parents don’t turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they’re doing, and if we don’t start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don’t know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.

We’ve got to get over that mentality. That is part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves we can’t do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve.


We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but don’t tell me it doesn’t have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Don’t think that fatherhood ends at conception. I know something about that because my father wasn’t around when I was young and I struggled.


Don’t tell me that we can’t do better by our children, that we can’t take more responsibility for making sure we’re instilling in them the values and the ideals that the Moses generation taught us about sacrifice and dignity and honesty and hard work and discipline and self-sacrifice. That comes from us. We’ve got to transmit that to the next generation and I guess the point that I’m making is that the civil rights movement wasn’t just a fight against the oppressor; it was also a fight against the oppressor in each of us.

Sometimes it’s easy to just point at somebody else and say it’s their fault, but oppression has a way of creeping into it. Reverend, it has a way of stunting yourself. You start telling yourself, Bishop, I can’t do something. I can’t read. I can’t go to college. I can’t start a business. I can’t run for Congress. I can’t run for the presidency. People start telling you-- you can’t do something, after a while, you start believing it and part of what the civil rights movement was about was recognizing that we have to transform ourselves in order to transform the world. Mahatma Gandhi, great hero of Dr. King and the person who helped create the nonviolent movement around the world; he once said that you can’t change the world if you haven’t changed.

I’ve seen glimpses of this before in Obama. He should be applauded for saying it, even by conservatives, indeed, especially by conservatives. I wonder whether and how the cultural Left in the Democratic Party will respond to it.

The Democratic Party at prayer

Read about the duelling visits to Selma here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Here’s Obama’s speech. Here’s HRC’s. I’ll have more to say about them after I chew them over, but for now, I’ll note that HRC called climate change "tinkering with God’s creation." Wonder whether that applies to abortion and stem cell research too? As for Obama, I’ll note only that he seemed to have more star power yesterday and that he is really straining to wrap himself in the mantle of the civil rights movement.

Manliness and timocracy at Hampden-Sydney

Anthony Esolen says all manner of interesting--and, in some quarters, provocative--things after enjoying a visit to Hampden-Sydney College, one of two remaining all-male four-year colleges. (He’s forgotten about Deep Springs.) Here’s his conclusion:

{Hampden-Sydney is] a far cry from "college" as commodity. It also gives the lie to what some Biblical complementarians say, I think incautiously and without any real historical awareness. They say that women civilize men. If that’s the case, I don’t understand why the college where I teach -- a very fine college, I’ll affirm -- is a walk down Skid Row by comparison with the civility and order at Hampden-Sydney. I don’t understand why the all-male high schools up here produce gentlemen, and the other schools, public and private -- well, it’s a real crapshoot. Now I know perfectly well that boys will sometimes form timocracies of wickedness: gangs, for instance. But even in that case you have a polity; gangs wouldn’t be near the problem they are if they did not operate by pretty clear rules and lines of authority. Women do not in fact civilize men; they domesticate men, as I’ve said before. Men civilize men. There’s a difference.

What is that difference? A soldier in a cavalry unit who spends most of his time in barracks or under the skies,may well be more civilized, more trained to think of and to act for the common good, to command other men or to obey, than many a high-priced lawyer or even college professor. He’s not domesticated, though, and his new bride at first might find him pretty hard to live with. On the other hand, men who live comfortable lives apart from other men, taking no initiative for the common good, considering only their wives and children and not the welfare of anybody else’s children, never to be relied upon in time of public need, may be domesticated but not civilized. You might find plenty of men of the former sort at the inception of a great nation. You will find plenty of men of the latter sort at its decline.

Read the whole thing.

Update: I forgot Morehouse, which also does a good job on the matters about which Esolen writes.

Thomas Eagleton, RIP

Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern’s erstwhile running mate in 1972, has died. The obits, and most accounts of the 1972 campaign, omit to mention that Eagleton, a devout Catholic, was staunchly pro-life. Amazing to consider that the feminist movement in 1972 was not strong or organized enough to exercise a veto against a pro-life running mate on a Democratic ticket. Twenty years later the party wouldn’t allow a pro-life governor (Casey) to even speak at the convention, let alone be considered as a running mate. It is also an irony of the McGovern campaign, attacked by Republicans as being about "acid, amnesty, and abortion," was the last Democratic ticket with a pro-life running mate, even if just for a few days. Ironically, McGovern’s position on abortion in 1972 was actually the same as the mainstream Republican position today: Abortion should be left to the states. This was, of course, before Roe made abortion a sacrosanct right to the Left. Eagleton, however, never followed Gore, Gephardt, and the rest in throwing his conscience over the side for political expediency. RIP.

Married with children isn’t for the Bundys any more

So says this WaPo article, which implies an economic, rather than cultural, cause. I think I’ll still go for the cultural explanation, though I bow to folks on our side with superior expertise in these matters. On the grains of salt with which such reports should be taken, go here.

CPAC Wrap-Up

Most incongruous booth in the exhibit hall: The ACLU. I did a doubletake myself when I saw them. To be sure, they were over in a corner that got the least amount of foot traffic, but even if they’d been next to Bloggers Corner they would have been the loneliest guys around. The Pro-American Muslims table got more traffic and excitement (and they were genuinely nice and sincere people, not some obviously politicized PR front group).

In a previous post, I named the Brownback legions as the winner of my prize for Best Imitation of a Carnival Barker at CPAC. They got their revenge. A Brownbacker managed to paste a Brownback bumper sticker on my shirt without my noticing, and I paraded around with it on for more than half an hour before I detected it.

Finally, I have a new category for a certain kind of right-wing polemicist: I’m going to call them "Ann D’Souzas," or "Dinesh Coulters." And I’m not going to discuss them. It ends here. No--don’t even try. Just forget it. Who?

On Abortion and the 2008 Election

We should wish, I think, for a Republican cndidate who could actually explain clearly and with conviction what ROE v. WADE and PLANNED PARENTHOOD v. CASEY etc. actually say and why they were wrongly decided. It would be ever better if this candidate could go to explain all that is implied in the very loose, polemical, and evolutionary interpretation of "liberty" in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS. We’ve NEVER had such a candidate, and in 2008 the lucid and principled case against judicial activism would be more appealing to the American people than ever. I’m too lazy to link to studies, but they show that the young are increasingly pro-life, and that support for the woman’s unlimited "right to choose" is fading across the board. And of course most Americans don’t believe that there’s a constitutional right to same-sex marriage enforceable by federal courts.

Giuliani has the brains but not the conviction to make such a case. Romney also has the brains, but his conviction and desire to understand what’s really at stake are in question. Brownback has the conviction, but his prudence in general is in question. And his campaign is unlikely to take off anyway.

So what we have here is likely an opportunity missed.

George Will on Love, Boredom, and the Race for the Democratic Nomination

George’s claim is that Democratic primary voters want to feel the love and escape boredom. Both facts work against Hillary. He points in the direction of an "interesting" and lovable outsider. But who? My guess is that many Democrats will feel Obama’s love. And I really do think George underestimates the love (fueled by the perception of a common experience of oppression) that many primary-voting Democratic women feel for Hillary.

The End of the Litmus Test?

Over at the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery suggests that if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee in 2008, it will represent an end to the litmus test that social conservatives have imposed on the party’s candidates since 1980. This appears increasingly likely, as the war looms largest in most Republicans’ minds in terms of importance, and because the Democrats’ victories in 2006 have left the GOP desperate to retain its status as majority party.

The deal in the works has been carefully crafted to make sure that no one loses too much. Conservatives would be getting a pro-choice nominee, but one who would not push a pro-choice agenda, and one who would give them (as far as presidents can be sure in these matters) the kind of judges they long for. Giuliani would not be required to renounce his beliefs, merely to appoint the right kind of judges and to remain more or less neutral in a policy area in which, to be honest, he has never shown that much interest. The Republicans will remain the pro-life party--as desired by the bulk of their voters and required by the workings of the two-party system--though now with a larger, more varied, and in some ways more competitive field of candidates. And it is worth noting in this altered context that the Democrats also are starting to change. One of the reasons Democrats now run both the houses of Congress is that canny recruiters defied their own culture war lobbies and rammed a number of pro-life and pro-gun candidates down the throats of their interest groups, assessing correctly that control of Congress was worth a few unhappy activists. They are not yet at the point of nominating a pro-life candidate on the national level, but the lid has been pried open a crack. Someday, they too may find a candidate whom they find attractive--say, for irony’s sake, a Bob Casey Jr.--except for this single and glaring impediment. And at that point, they too might deal.

For Emery this development is to be welcomed, for the litmus test

...has been a very good deal for the people who imposed it, but a very bad one for the country at large. It has meant that a candidate for national office must begin by embracing ideas that have been rejected by seven in ten of Americans, while a candidate who comes close to the center of public opinion would never be allowed to compete. It has made candidates for the post of commander in chief of the world’s greatest power kick off their campaigns by groveling before leaders of interest groups, which does not make them seem leaderly and causes voters to lose all respect. Worst of all, it posed the real possibility that a candidate would come forth who seemed equipped to deal with a crisis, but who, because he held the "wrong views" in the eyes of the interest groups, would not be allowed to emerge. In Giuliani, some social conservatives think they have found such a candidate and do not want to waste him. And so, they are making a deal.

From home school to home college?

After reading this, I’m not sure that I’ll be joking next time I mention that prospect to my kids. Does anyone not see the problem here?

[Founding Boink editor Alecia] Oleyourryk said that for her and her peers, the question is not why pose nude, but why not? After all, they grew up watching Madonna (“All she was was naked all the time”), parsing the finer points of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and flipping through Calvin Klein ads: sexual imagery was the very wallpaper of their lives, undergirded by a new frankness about how to protect oneself from pregnancy and disease. “Condoms. They’ve been rammed down our throats ... since we were old enough to start contemplating training bras,” wrote a Boink contributor in an essay called “Fall Fornication Must-Haves,” which apparently included crotchless bikinis and a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted dildo called the Minx.


Of course, posing naked for a sex magazine is not exactly like making Phi Beta Kappa or playing the lead in the school play. For one thing, it’s generally not something you write home about, though Oleyourryk insists that her parents have been supportive of her venture. (“As much as they could be,” she said. “I was raised very Catholic, but they live in today’s world.”)

Meanwhile, over at Harvard, the sex magazine has a faculty sponsor, Marc Hauser, who "would like to see the magazine take a more belletristic bent, reviewing controversial books, perhaps — ’You think of Lolita,’ he said — and examining what might be called sexistential questions. ’Nowadays, what constitutes porn?’ Hauser mused. ’What does a 21-year-old think porn is? I, as a parent of an 18-year-old, would like to hear that view.’” It turns out that what Harvard undergrads have to say about sex (at least for publication) is quite banal, perhaps because they’ve been immersed in sexual imagery nearly forever.

And then there are the social networking websites:

[Harvard H Bomb editor Ming] Vandenberg described a social landscape changed irrevocably by the rise of networking Web sites. After meeting someone, it’s now de rigueur to check out his or her profile — a collage of pictures (often risqué) and preferences — on MySpace or “I have a BlackBerry — so immediately,” Vandenberg said. “You might run into someone at a party, and then you Facebook them: what are their interests? Are they crazy-religious, is their favorite quote from the Bible? Everyone takes great pains over presenting themselves. It’s like an embodiment of your personality.” Except for the die-hard holdouts who refuse to participate in these networks — “They’re treated like pariahs, people will just harass them until they join,” Vandenberg said — to attend college now means to participate in a culture of constant two-dimensional preening, for males and females alike. In this context, posing for a sex magazine can seem like just another, more formalized level of display.

Note the apparent disqualifiers: someone who’s "crazy-religious," or, worse yet, someone who’s not a virtual exhibitionist.

I wonder what this old guy thinks of all this?

What Economists’ Studies Show

We probably disciminate in favor of beautiful people because they’re more productive. Or they may be more productive because they’re more charming and self-confident, and so they sucker us into favoring them. It’s not as clear that prettier people also tend to smarter, and we might not even care. These are the best times ever be smart and pretty, and the worst to be neither.

Presidential succession

Matt Franck thinks Norman Ornstein is right about the problematical place of Congressional figures in the presidential line of succession. I’m inclined to agree, especially because of the appearance of the conflict of interest it raises in impeachment proceedings, if one party controls Congress and another the White House. But in general, let’s hope we’re never in a situation where we have to go past the Veep. Should that ever happen, we’re either in a grave political crisis or we’ve just suffered a catastrophic attack.

NLT and fellow travelers in Albuquerque

I’ll be attending the Southwestern Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Albuquerque two weeks hence, roundtabling on Patrick Deneen’s book, among other things. If you’re in town, give me a shout. I might even buy you a drink.

CPAC thoughts

Let’s hope that Anne Coulter’s de- (you fill in the blank) remark doesn’t overshadow everything else at the CPAC meeting. Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff rather liked Mitt Romney’s speech, as did his colleague John Hinderaker.

At the risk of reopening a major league can of worms (at least at this site), I want to call attention to this WaTi article, which contains the following passage about Rudy Giuliani:

In interviews afterward, some attendees said Mr. Giuliani lost momentum when he heaped lavish praise on Abraham Lincoln.

While many conservatives regard the Civil War president as the spiritual founder of the Republican Party, others deeply resent him as a man who ruthlessly suspended constitutional rights and freedoms in order to militarily challenge the South’s belief in its right to secede. Some saw similar disdain for individuals’ rights in Mr. Giuliani’s successful war on crime in New York City.

Mr. Giuliani took the side of the Bush administration on an issue that troubles civil libertarian conservatives, saying that "you need the tools like the Patriot Act and legal intelligence surveillance."

"Rudy thought he was addressing a Republican audience," said Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. "Mitt understood this is an audience of people who are conservatives first."

If invoking Lincoln (the man who conserved the Union) is "un-conservative," then I’m not a conservative. Yes, Lincoln--reluctantly, in the face of a foundational challenge to the preservation of the rule of law--temporarily expanded executive powers (saying something about not acquiring a taste for emetic you take when you’re sick, as I recall), but his goal was to preserve something worth preserving, something defenders of slavery wanted to dismantle, on a principle that would permit anyone and everyone to secede whenever it suited their particular interests. As Lincoln noted, on that principle, government is impossible. This might approach a libertarian position, but surely not a conservative one.

By the way, the best recent articulation of Lincoln’s "faith-based" conservatism that I’ve read is the conclusion of Patrick Deneen’s
Democratic Faith, which reads Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in tandem with John Winthrop’s "A Model of Christian Charity" (excerpts here; full text here). Here’s a representative sample from Deneen’s conclusion:

Lincoln’s culminating speech seeks to temper the impious belief in personal or national superiority, and thereby chasten the human temptation toward individual or national self-glorification. While Lincoln called the United States "the last, best hope on earth," it was in the light of his recognition that Americans were an "almost chosen people." His high estimation of America--one held throughout his life--was not because, in his view, America was superior to other nations owing to its greater approximation to God’s will, but because, as a democracy, it was organized politically in recognition of the fact that man was not, nor could become, God. Even in his most patriotic and triumphal moments, Lincoln was congizant that the "superiority" of democracy rested most fundamentally upon the humble recognition of human imperfection.

There’s much more, but you just need to buy the book.

Private schools for the poor in the developing world

I’m not talking about Choate or Rugby, but SDP’s Ken Blanchard calls our attention to this piece, describing the research and experience of British education professor James Tooley, who has looked at the performance of small private schools for the poorest of the poor in the developing world. A couple of snippets from the article:

What Tooley stumbled onto in Hyderabad turns out to be typical not just of India but of all the other places he subsequently researched—including parts of China, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. In every case, private education is a principal lifeline for the abjectly poor. In the areas of Ghana and Nigeria that Tooley’s team has canvassed, an outright majority of poor children are attending private schools run without support from the government. Often, the schools are run by just a few teachers. They put out shingles in the way that physicians do in the United States, and are paid directly by their charges.


Tooley’s research suggests that small-scale support for private slum schools—through scholarship programs, backing for school-voucher schemes, or subsidized microfinance—might do far more good than a big aid push directed at government-run education.

Tooley has been publishing his research in education journals but has also written for libertarian and conservative think tanks. Unfortunately, these associations have pushed him further outside the development mainstream. Perhaps most alienating, his findings (as he notes) conform very well to the views of the late Milton Friedman, who spent the last years of his life arguing that publicly funded vouchers and a market of privately run competing schools were the way to fix another education system in urgent need of repair: America’s. All the more reason why, so far as some development officials are concerned, Tooley’s obscurity is welcome.

For a taste of Tooley’s research, go here and here.

According to Tooley,

[Development experts] instead point out that private schools employ untrained teachers who are paid much less than their government counterparts and that buildings and facilities are grossly inadequate. Both of these observations are largely true. But does that mean that private schools are inferior, particularly against the weight of parental preferences to the contrary? One Ghanaian school owner challenged me when I observed that her school building was little more than a corrugated iron roof on rickety poles and that the government school, just a few hundred yards away, was a smart new school building. “Education is not about buildings,” she scolded. “What matters is what is in the teacher’s heart. In our hearts, we love the children and do our best for them.” She left it open, when probed, what the teachers in the government school felt in their hearts toward the poor children.


When it came to the key question of whether or not teaching was going on in the classrooms, both types of private schools were superior to the public schools, except in China, where there was no statistically significant difference between the two school types: 92 percent of teachers in private schools were teaching when our researchers arrived, compared with 89 percent in the public schools. When researchers called unannounced on the classrooms in Hyderabad, 98 percent of teachers were teaching in the private recognized schools, compared with 91 percent in the unrecognized and 75 percent in the government schools. Teacher absenteeism was also highest in the government schools. In Ga, 57 percent of teachers were teaching in government schools, compared with 66 percent and 75 percent in unrecognized and recognized private schools, respectively. And in Kibera, even though the number of government schools is too small to make statistical comparisons meaningful, 74 percent of teachers were teaching in private schools when our researchers visited them, and only one teacher was absent.


[I]t is not the case that private schools serving low-income families are inferior to those provided by the state. In all cases analyzed, even the unrecognized schools, those that are dismissed by the development experts as being obviously of poor quality seem to outperform their public counterparts.

And lest you think that this is all just about the developing world, Tooley offers lessons for America:

The evidence from developing countries might challenge the claim, made by school choice opponents, that the poor in America cannot make sensible and informed choices if school choice is offered to them. It may also stimulate debate about whether public intervention crowds out private initiative, a question raised by the findings from Kenya. If a public school is failing in the ghettoes of New York or Los Angeles, we should not assume that the only way in which the disadvantaged can be helped is through some kind of public intervention. In fact, we have already embarked on programs that support private initiative, with government support, with vouchers and charter schools. The findings here suggest this alternative approach may be the preferable one.

Above all, the evidence should inspire those who are working for school choice in America: stories of parents’ overcoming all the odds to ensure the best for the children in Africa and Asia, stories of education entrepreneurs’ creating schools out of nothing, in the middle of nowhere. If India can, why can’t we?


Update: Or actually backdate: John Moser caught this weeks ago.

CPAC Postscript

I should have mentioned that Newt’s entourage were all wearing "Winning the Future" t-shirts which had on the back the following slogan:

"Countdown to September 27."

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make the prediction that Newt is going to make some kind of announcement on September 27. I wonder what it could possibly be?

Notes from CPAC

I spent much of the day trolling around CPAC—the conservative activist answer to Woodstock (but with showers)—keeping Marv Krinsky out of trouble, stirring up some of my own, but above all wondering how Jonathan Martin of the sprightly new internet news venture The Politico managed to get the idea that conservatives are in "A Mood of Gloom."

Not to cast too many aspersions here, but pay close attention to the folks Martin quotes in his story. Let’s just say that most of these figures are attention-seekers who were gloomy ten years ago. My sense wandering around was that most people without an agenda of personal advancement or a project to sell were in a very upbeat mood.

There is an awful lot of politicking going on for the various presidential hopefuls (odd for an off-year CPAC, but that’s how it is now with the accelerated campaign), with Brownback’s legions winning the prize for Best Imitation of a Carnival Barker. I commented to Newt (yes, that Newt) that before very long, we’re likely to be holding the New Hampshire primary the day after inauguration day.

I did see Dinesh D’Souza from a distance, but didn’t get the chance to slide alongside him and ask, "So-Dinesh, you got anything new going on these days? Oh really?? I hadn’t heard. . ."

Ashbrook Award at CPAC

Ashbrook Board Chairman Marv Krinsky presented the "Ashbrook Award" at the CPAC Dinner (see bottom of page) last night to Bill Rusher, former publisher of NR and an Ashbrook Board member. Congratulations to Bill and much thanks for all his good work on behalf of the good country. Vice President Cheney followed with some remarks.

An Opening at Berry College

We’re going to advertise a one-year position very soon. One semester will mainly be about teaching classes in the department of philosophy, the other in the department of government. Whoever gets the job will be replacing two faculty members on one-semester sabbaticals. Anyone interested should contact me for further information at [email protected]

Kyl on McCain’s Conservatism

I’m posting this both to show that I’m open-minded about all the candidates and to call attention to the eloquence of Senator John Kyl. If we had a true merit system, the only member of the Senate we’d be considering seriously for the nomination would be Kyl. I’d like to call him a long-shot, but two candidates from Arizona is beyond implausible.

More Boredom...

Peter is right. High schools are very, very boring. What most students end up doing there could be done in a couple of years, at most. High school students are in class way too much, and high school teachers are too. The teachers have no time to prepare for class, and they’re stuck with boring books that come with test banks that they don’t have time not to use. Most high-school teachers simply don’t have the time to do much reading, and many of them aren’t even allowed to let their students (outside of English class) read anything much but the dumb, boring textbook. (The fantastic lectures of our Tony described on the first boredom thread below are a mighty, mighty rare treat for high school students.) Most of them can’t fall back on something like Tony’s fine undergraduate or graduate liberal arts majors (thanks to schools of education). And various techno-innovations such as power point only make things worse; they insult the student’s intelligence and induce yawn after yawn. There are many exceptions to these broad generalizations (many or most of them in serious science and math classes), but the exceptions prove the rule.

Whenever a new student comes to me full of enthusiasm for learning--or turns in 14 pages for a 500-word assignment, I pretty much assume that the student was homeschooled. I’m not one who thinks most homeschooling is all that good. But one of the most positive things about it is that the homeschooled spent a lot less time on school, a lot less time with textbooks, etc. than the kids in public schools. School doesn’t rule their lives, and it’s not a contemptible source of boredom for them. They haven’t had the love of learning strangled out of them.

And, of course, most college classrooms aren’t that different. The "teaching style" fading quickly is the faculty member coming to class with nothing but the serious book the students have been assigned and talking BOTH to and with them about it. College professors don’t have the excuse of not having time to read and generally prepare for class. Even those with a "4-4" load are on a leisure cruise compared to 95% of high school teachers. They have to think up pedagogical theory and assessment mechanisms to avoid doing their real jobs. They convince themselves that they can "teach without talking," or by surrendering their privileged positon in the classroom and taking one place among many in an egalitarian community of learners, or by lazily boring themselves and the students to death with classes devoted to group presentations or "peer review" or (worst of all) breaking up into small groups to "dialogue" about some generic issue or another.

But I’m sure there are studies that show that boring schools prepare us for the boring jobs that we’ll be stuck with.
There really are studies that show that students are prepared for the business world through group projects. They don’t learn to cooperate or work together like a well-oiled machine or anything like that. The fact that one student ends up doing all the work and the others get by by taking credit allegedly is a key insight into way the "real world" works.

Bored students

A point on the Lazy Teachers note below (and the thread): I may have misrepresented either the study or my reaction to the study in the way I brought it to your attention. Sorry. I had a very simple point in mind (which the study, I think, confirms) and it is this: Students in high school are bored. We can argue all day why that may be so, but, in general it is my considered opinion that it has to do with the massive fact that students aren’t asked to do enough, and are not exposed to interesting things well enough. They are given much busy work, and not enough poetry or beauty or something good or high or noble to consider and think about. There was a very big international(UN funded?) study that came out of the Netherlands maybe ten years ago that compared students from dozens of countries. In general we didn’t fare too badly in the early years of schooling, but the US fared worse the longer the students stayed in school. So, by the time our students were in high school, they were at the bottom of the pack. This was also not surprising to me, but what was surprising is that for the first time in any study they gave a reason why: American students were more bored than students in other countries; the more they were in school (through high school), the more bored they became. That is an important fact. I regret that I am unable to find that study. My experience confirms this fact. Almost all students think their education in high school was boring.

Civil Societarians?

Arnold Kling makes libertarianism almost appealing. Hat tip: Jordan J. Ballor.

Gingrich and Cuomo at Cooper Union

Power Line’s Scott Johnson was there, as was NR’s Stephen Spruiell. The NYT offers some background, as does this press release. Claremont’s Thomas Krannawitter elaborates on the highely problematical connection Cuomo has made between his views and those of Lincoln.

Lazy teachers bore students

Although this is not a surprise, it is certainly worth noting: Lazy Teachers bore their students, a recent huge study, reveals. Read the outlines of what was found in the story above (only 2% os students say they are never bored in high school, two out of three students say they are bored in class every single day, etc.) and then go to the Indiana University survey itself. And this is the IU press release on the study.

Studies Show You Shouldn’t Tell Your Kids They’re Smart

If you do, they’ll stop taking intellectual risks and otherwise underperform. Don’t praise them for their intelligence, praise them for their effort. The same advice probably applies to your colleagues.

Political scientists disagree

Political scientist Morris Fiorina calls the red vs. blue culture war a "myth." Voters, he says, leap for moderate choices.

But along comes political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who argues that reliable survey data from 2006 indicate a very polarized America: "The visual representation of the nation’s voters isn’t a nicely shaped bell, with most voters in the moderate middle. It’s a sharp V." For Abramowitz, whose work appears
frequently in The Democratic Strategist, this must be somewhat comforting, given the 2006 results.

More later, when I have a chance to locate and chew over his survey data.