Saturday, May 30, 2009

Seen on the CTA

Our responsibilities have taken us to the City of the Big Shoulders twice in as many months. As usual, we have availed ourselves of the services of the very fine, if nearly bankrupt, Chicago Transit Authority.

Our trips on Chicago's always-busy buses and trains left us with many opportunities to watch people. Because our routes took us through the trendier and more prosperous districts of the city's north side, we were struck in particular by what folks were reading. Two examples stand out:

  • An elderly woman, groomed impeccably and wearing clothing of palpable quality (we guess that her gloves cost more than our entire clothing ensemble), spent a good thirty minutes reading that most venerable of American left-wing publications, The Nation, with its glorious red ink accents, socialist realist illustrations, and advertisements for remembering the ACLU in one's will.
  • A twentysomething young man, sporting a faux hawk haircut, who boarded the bus on the city's elegant lakefront and alighted by the towering Aon Building, reading a book with exceptionally large print, short paragraphs, and wide margins entitled How to Win an Argument with a Conservative.
So many ironies attended these sights that we can name only one: that these high-toned, high-minded leftists could fail to be what we of more modest means are compelled to be, namely, protective of the human capacity to create enough wealth to take care of human needs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's Sweeping the Nation

We look forward to seeing this tasteful image adorning various flat surfaces around our Republic.

A SWNIDish Political Potpourri

This 'n' that on these and those of late:

  • So all the handwringing about the devastating consequences of Detroit auto manufacturers going bankrupt led to massive infusions of public cash. And now the two companies so infused are going bankrupt with still more cash. The point of this exercise again was what?
  • If Sotomayor is confirmed, the Supremes will consist of six Roman Catholics, two Jews and one Protestant. Are we missing something in the practice of identity politics?
  • The recent, deep confusion of the Democrats regarding interrogation techniques, past and future, may mark the end of their ability to run and govern on the basis of Bush hatred. What will they have left?
  • The myth of green jobs is threatening to overtake the myth of climate change disaster, though the two are not unrelated. Both are matters of politicians demagoging the public with notions about the future, a safe move as the future isn't yet around to contradict the demagogery.
  • We find it odd but not so that the MSM is not reporting that Chris Dodd is trailing a Republican in polls in CT, as this belies the expectation of perpetual Republican decline outside the South. That's a big story, except that it's a story that reverses the other big story that's been told since 2006.
  • We find it incredible that with massive budget deficits looming, Cincinnati is still considering the investment of $180 million in streetcars that will serve a tiny fraction of the community. Can't we be done with gimmicky development schemes for awhile?
  • In all discussion of rising healthcare costs, we keep missing what we think is the most important observation: that people will pay anything they can for the hope of staying alive.
Gentle readers, you'll have to supply your own hyperlinks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Salute to a Musical Institution

In the best SWNIDish tradition of lauding musicians that other people haven't heard of, we celebrate today with WSJ the career of a musician who is reaching retirement after having played with the same ensemble for sixty years.

Yes, sixty years. And he worked professionally for four years before that. And he still loves playing and plans to continue to play.

Stanley Drucker is not well known, except to classical music nerds, especially clarinetists (the nerdiest, bassonists excepted). But this year he retires after sixty years playing clarinet with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. As a section leader and soloist within the orchestra, Drucker was regarded as one of the world's greats at his art. But he also appeared frequently as a soloist, with some two hundred solo appearances--plenty for a guy with a full-time orchestra gig.

Barbara Jepson of WSJ notes that Drucker started playing at age 10, on a $20 clarinet that his non-musician parents bought him (buying your kid a clarinet in 1939, with Goodman and Shaw riding high, was like buying your kid a guitar in 1968). Within five years he was a student at the Curtis Institute, widely seen as the leading conservatory for orchestra players, and one year later he was working in the Indianapolis Symphony. A few stops along the way and he was in the Big Apple at age 20.

SWNID salutes Drucker, having spent many hours listening to him play the famous orchestral passages recorded by the New Yorkers while fantasizing about being a member of a major orchestra. And we salute him again for proving that there are lots of fine, fine players out there, enough to justify our decision not to try to be yet another one.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ultimate Reflections: Amateurism and Human Nature

Having spent the better part of the holiday weekend enjoying the Ultimate Players Association College Championships,* SWNID is now ready to pontificate on the political significance of this most elegant and underappreciated game.

Ultimate (formerly Ultimate Frisbee, the latter word now omitted to avoid giving pride of place to one manufacturer of discs) is played by two teams of seven on a rectangular field, roughly three quarters the size of a football field. Each team attempts to throw a flying disc (Frisbee) successfully to teammates, without running with the disc or letting the disc fall to the ground or out of bounds, until at last a team member catches the disc in the end zone. The opposing team tries to prevent successful thows and catches without making significant physical contact with opponents. When the disc falls, is knocked down, goes out of bounds or is dropped, the opposing team takes over the throwing and catching.

Played competitively and recreationally all over the world, Ultimate is simple to understand but challenging to players at any level of skill. At higher levels, it rewards spectators with views of exciting throws, catches and defensive efforts. The game demands skill, fitness, athleticism, teamwork, strategy and good judgment. And it may be the cheapest team sport ever invented: all that's required to play is a disc and plastic cones to mark the boundaries.

Notably Ultimate stresses countercultural competitive values. Rules are enforced by the players themselves, who call their own fouls and must settle contested calls amicably. Only at the highest level of competition are neutral "observers" at a match to handle disputed calls, with players still responsible first to try to agree on the application of the rules. Teams rate each other for "Spirit of the Game," and tournaments give a SOTG award to the highest rated.

In sum, Ultimate strives for what was once known as the code of the amateur: one plays for love of the sport and the competition, not for personal glory, money or prestige. The game commands a devoted following dedicated to keeping that tradition alive while promoting the game to prospective players and fans.

And it works. Mostly.

Our experience at the national tournament showed how SOTG goes. All players are happy to abide by the game's self-regulated culture when they are comfortably ahead or miserably behind. If, however, the game is close, it's more than possible for a team to call violations simply to stop play and break the opponents' flow. More than once did we see teams resort to calling chippy foul, consistently disallowed by the observer, to stop play and get the underdog team off its game.

Still, the larger result is pleasant. While other competitive sports seem dominated by players' attempts to break rules without detection by referees, Ultimate offers a glimpse of a more gracious approach to competition, regulated by a code of honor, personal pride and social pressure to enforce virtue. With such, players arguably have more liberty to play the game than is typical in tightly refereed sports.

In that respect, we think that Ultimate is a microcosm of many social issues. Fallen humans will do anything they can to take advantage for themselves. Laws and their enforcement can curb those impulses, but only so much. In fact, enforcement creates its own set of issues, as the enforcers are no less fallen than then rulebreakers.

The human penchant for getting an edge is so strong and so pervasive that nothing will stop it completely. But where a people decides to allow greater liberty by inculcating virtue with cultural enforcement, the curbs may just be effective enough to create a better life for most.

What's true for the game is true for the nation state. The nation that regulates and oversees as the solution to all ills becomes bound by its rules in ways that stifle the industry of those willing to play by the rules. The nation that keeps rules in check while inculcating virtue and enforcing it socially frees its people to become more self-regulated.

So, which is better: the government that bails out financial failure while promising a new regieme of regulations and enforcement, or a government that allows financial failure as the cautionary consequence of a lack of virtue and so promotes responsible liberty? We think we know the Ultimate answer.
*On a personal note, Son of SWNID's team, Williams [College] Ultimate Frisbee Organization or WUFO, finished tied for ninth in the twenty team field, selected by sectional and regional tournament play from across the country. The team won four in a row after dropping their first three to end as co-champions of the "placement" bracket.

Most Excellent Visualization on Budgetary Matters

If your friends didn't understand the bar graph, try this:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Signs of Life from RNC

In the first real sign of political resistance to the Obama phenomenon, the Republican National Committee has released this little ad:

We'll see if anyone listens.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spread the Word: Conference for Grieving Parents

We urge gentle readers in Greater Cincinnati to share with those they know the upcoming COPE Conference, an event for parents who have lost children, at Dayspring Church of God in Forest Park on Saturday, June 13. Registration must be completed by May 30.

We all know someone. Let that someone know.

Collins Launches BioLogos; SWNID Permanently Defers Creation-Evolution Questions

We affirm and applaud the formidable Francis Collins on the launch of his BioLogos Foundation, an endeavor to make the case that faith in God, and more particularly faith in the God of biblical Christianity, is compatible with the development of life through evolution.

For two summaries of what's up, we refer gentle readers to syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker and to the indispensable ToTheSource, both of which provide fine summaries of Collins's project.

The BioLogos web site includes answers from Collins and associates in response to the most frequently asked questions posed to Collins after publication of his book The Language of God. We doubt that anyone will agree with all the answers, but that's hardly the point. What Collins aims for is to show that one can embrace both science and Scripture as truth and that people of faith should be engaged in dialogue about exactly how to do that.

So, gentle readers be warned: SWNID gets loads of questions in this area and will now before answering ask first, Have you checked out what's available on BioLogos? We're as ready to defer questions on this subject to Collins and company as we have on issues of homosexuality to Robert Gagnon.

Confronting Evil Provokes Theism?

At Pajamas TV, Roger L. Simon has an interesting video monologue about his encounter with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Geneva. We'd embed, but the provider doesn't facilitate it.

We find the video interesting not so much because of its politics as its theology. Simon describes himself a life-long agnostic or atheist. But encountering Ahmadinejad, he says, forced him to apply the term "evil" to what he witnessed, not merely a clinical term like "sociopath." And if evil exists, he infers that there must be good. And if good exists, there must be someone who oversees it all.

Simon apologizes for offering what he says lacks rationality. We insist that he's being most rational. What the human creature seeks distinctly as a human happens to be just what God seems to offer in Himself. Why label that discovery irrational when our rational minds observe and infer our way to that conclusion?

Health Insurance Update: A Debacle in the Making

There's so much to be said about what's wrong with Obama's initiatives on health insurance, and so many who are saying it, we hardly need to make the point ourself. So we will urge gentle readers to consider the pointed words of National Review's economics editor Larry Kudlow, who nicely points out the unaffordability of the whole enterprise as well as its inherent inability to deliver what's actually needed. A few quotations:

Does anybody really believe that adding 50 million people to the public health-care rolls will not cost the government more money? About $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion more? At least.

So let’s be serious when evaluating President Obama’s goal of universal health care, and the idea that it’s a cost-cutter. Can’t happen. Won’t happen. Costs are going to explode.

Think of it: Can anyone name a federal program that ever cut costs for anything? Let’s not forget that the existing Medicare system is roughly $80 trillion in the hole. . . .

Not only will Obama’s health program cost at least twice as much as his $650 billion estimate, but his original plan to fund the program by auctioning off carbon-emissions warrants (through the misbegotten cap-and-trade system) has fallen through. In an attempt to buy off hundreds of energy, industrial, and other companies, the White House is now going to give away those carbon-cap-emissions trading warrants. So all those revenues are out the window. Fictitious. . . .

The president’s grandiose government-takeover-and-control strategies are going to make things worse and worse — that is, unless members of that tiny band known as the Republican party can stand on their hind legs and just say no. The Republicans must come up with some pro-competition, private-enterprise alternatives for health, energy, education, taxes, and trade that will meet the yearning of voter-taxpayers for a return to private-enterprise American prosperity and opportunity.

Free-market competition will lower costs in health care just as it has every place else. It also will grow the economy. The GOP must return to this basic conservative principle and reject Obama’s massive government assault.

Stewart on Pelosi's Un-Deft Dodge

It is widely assumed that Jon Stewart's Daily Show (a) is the major source of news and political commentary for much of the electorate; (b) reflects Mr. Stewart's left-of-center politics. We dispute neither of these. But we add that for entertainers like Stewart, having an apt target for ridicule is more important than advancing any particular political agenda.

And so we note with some satisfaction that this supreme value led him to do the following:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Waffle House
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

We hope that such matters will put an end to the disturbingly self-righteous hand-wringing that has of late directed discussion of national security policy.

Look Who's Doing What

Our Republic's Chief Executive today announced that he would not release to the public photographs of "harsh interrogations" conducted in the War on Terror:

As far as military and related security policies are concerned, some are now taking to calling the Obama administration what they said the McCain administration would be: the third Bush term. This was a term of derision from the party that ran and now seeks to govern on the foundation of Bush hatred.

Of course, a third Bush term is just fine with us.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Yet More Deficit News

The $1.7 trillion federal deficit is now coming in at $1.8 trillion.

The additional amount is five times the savings of $17 billion proudly announced by the Obama earlier this week.

Uncle Sugar is now borrowing 46 cents of every dollar spent.

That's $6000 in deficit per American citizen. Just this year, of course.

WaPo quotes the blog of White House Budget Director Peter Orszag: "The deficits ... are driven in large part by the economic crisis inherited by this administration."

OK, that makes us feel better.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Weed Tax

The following is a true story. Not one detail has been tidied up for anyone's benefit or detriment.

Last Saturday Mrs. SWIND and our SWNIDish self were driving to a local elementary school to join some brothers and sisters in painting some classrooms. Driving carefully in traffic just a few hundred yards from our destination, the SWNIDish heart sank when we saw in our rearview mirror a deputy sherrif's car with lights twinkling in our direction.

Pulling over into a nearby parking lot, the kind deputy informed us that our registration had expired some two months previously. Embarrassed that we had forgotten that the car was registered on Mrs. SWNID's birthday, we awaited our citation, irritated that scarce SWNIDish funds would doubtless be demanded to punish our illegal behavior. The kind officer took into account that the SWNIDish driving record is Seldom Wrong and so mercifully charged us with failure to display, a significantly lesser fine than driving without registration.

Said fine was detailed on a flyer that accompanied our citation. It was $114. Also detailed were other fines for other offenses. Our eye went to one fine in particular. It was for possession of marijuana. Cost of the offense: $105.

That's right: forgetting your vehicle registration can be knocked down to a fine that is still nine dollars more than the fine for possessing small amounts of an illegal narcotic.

This "fine," for those who enjoy weed, is hardly a disincentive. It functions more like a randomly applied, expensive-to-collect tax on marijuana use. We suspect that the odds of getting fined for marijuana possession are high enough that the average fine per joint is less than the tax per cigarette collected by the local convenience store.

We thought that the citizens of our state ought to know the seriousness with which the War on Drugs is being waged.

Friday, May 08, 2009

We Hate to Say It, But We Were Right

The publication of the tragic Elizabeth Edwards's memoir Resilience has prompted much reflection, long overdue, on the moral bankruptcy of her husband's political posturing.

We find the piece in the Chicago Tribune by Matt Mackowiak to be good enough to link.

It obviously takes a lot of self-esteem to run for any office, especially POTUS. We hope for an electorate that can consistently distinguish confidence from narcissism.

We remember fondly the occasional Edwards supporter who would comment on our anti-Edwards screeds in time past. We hope they're moving on with a lesson learned.

The SWNID Forum: Is It Moral to Eat Anthropomorphic Vegetables?

We herein inaugurate a new, occasional feature of this blog: the SWNID Forum, wherein we offer topics of interest for our gentle readers' engagement and discussion.

The point is to provide a place to discuss an emerging issue not presently under discussion elsewhere.

Our first topic is prompted by the picture at left:

In Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, the eating of talking animals is understood to be grossly immoral. In light of the picture, is the same true for anthropomorphic vegetables?

We assume these strange creatures indeed talk as well, but we cannot confirm the same. The lettuces do apparently wear makeup.

Please share your discussion in the form of comments on this post.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Pelosi Exploits Memory-Challenged Electorate

The CIA has now detailed its briefing of House Matron Nancy Pelosi on its use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" with Al-Qaida prisoners. The briefings began in 2002, per the spooks.

Pelosi has denied any knowledge of the agency's practices.

We figure that Ms. Pelosi expects Americans not even to remember that there was a 2002.

Administration Exploits Math-Challenged Electorate

The White House's announcement of a $3.4 trillion budget with $17 billion in budget cuts is described by administration spokespeople as part of a larger effort to control the deficit.

For the decimally ignorant, we note that $17 billion is 0.5% of the entire budget and 1% of this year's $1.7 trillion deficit. It is also less than the $34 billion in cuts proposed by the despised Bush administration last year, none of which came close to being enacted into law.

As WaPo reports, even analysts at left-leaning think-tanks like Brookings are calling this one out:

"Even if you got all of those things, it would be saving pennies, not dollars. And you're not going to begin to get all of them," said Isabel Sawhill, a Brookings Institution economist who waged her own battles with Congress as a senior official in the Clinton White House budget office. "This is a good government exercise without much prospect of putting a significant dent in spending."

We figure that the White House expects Americans to get their millions, billions and trillions confused enough not to realize what's going on.

This Is the Government America Asked For

CNN headline: Biden, Franken rendezvous at the White House.

Could either man stop talking long enough to listen to the other? And they say the Republicans have problems.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A. N. Wilson: Christianity Claims Another Atheist

We thank gentle reader Scott and the indispensable ToTheSource for pointing us to A. N. Wilson's recent Daily Mail essay recounting his journey from atheism to Christianity.

Wilson will be remembered by some as the author of a bitter biography of C. S. Lewis and a dismissive book on Jesus.

Now he is a fervently practicing Christian, ready to call out the militant atheism of Western Europe for the irrationality that it dresses up in the label "rationalist."

Stories like Wilson's are SWNID's favorites.

We quote a tasty bit:

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story.

J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives - the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

A Taste of CCU Concert Choir

For those who missed the latest "Unquenchable" Tour, here's a sip of the CCU Concert Choir.

For more than a sip, check out other videos here.

This Man Will Run GM

The new CEO of Gettelfinger Motors, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, writes today for the Detroit News. His points seem to be twofold: unions are the strength, not the weakness, of the Detroit automakers, and healthcare and pensions should be the responsibility of the government, not of corporations or even the individual.

We point out this otherwise unremarkable statement of a union chieftan simply because the government proposed/imposed GM un-bankruptcy will give 50% ownership of the company to Uncle Sugar and 39% to the UAW, effectively putting Gettelfinger and fellow inmates in charge of the asylum. We think voters should understand that Mr. Gettelfinger's deep insights into the incentives necessary to operate a productive economy will now drive what was once the largest corporation in the world.

HUC Cincinnati: Maybe Not a Lean-To in a Cucumber Field

The latest report from Hebrew Union College looks better for its Cincinnati campus. The institution's Board of Governors has adopted a plan to keep all of its campuses operating.

SWNID suspects but cannot confirm that this might be good news for those who want HUC Cincinnati to continue as a haven for Christian graduate students of Hebrew Bible. Oral reports have suggested that the institution's leadership has been conflicted about the large number of Christians who populate its PhD program and have discussed eliminating the program to concentrate on rabbinic studies. If the present situation reveals the potential of positive cash flow from the Christians, they're all the more likely to stick around.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jack Kemp, 1935-2009

The passing of Jack Kemp--quarterback, congressman, cabinet secretary, and vice-presidential candidate--prompts this self-styled "Jack Kemp Republican" to explain what that term means.

Kemp was among the first Republican officeholders to articulate consistently that conservative principles were not just good for the well off but for everyone. Kemp understood that what stood between the underprivileged and prosperity, between the oppressed and equality, is genuine liberty.

Kemp advocated domestic supply-side economics--lower taxes for greater economic growth--because he realized that economic growth benefits the poor to a greater degree than does redistribution built on higher taxes. He advocated a vigorous foreign policy that promoted democracy and the rule of law globally because he understood that the world's worst off were made that way not because the industrialized democracies exploited them but because their own rulers abused them.

Those of us who like the label "Jack Kemp Republican" insist that conservatism is best because it is compassionate as well as just. People do better in a society that's free. Those who are most vulnerable do especially better.

Edwin J. Feulner, former Kemp campaign manager and now president of the esteemed Heritage Foundation, epitomized the Kemp legacy: "The idea that all conservatives really should regroup around and identify with is that this is not an exclusive club. Freedom is for everybody. That's what Jack Kemp stood for."

Indeed. Here's to liberty, and to Jack Kemp, its champion.