Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iraq: Retrospect and Prospect

At the close of this day on which American troops left Iraqi cities, we link gentle readers to an article from the beginning of the month by the exceptional Omaf Fadhil Al-Nidawi, best known as the blogger of Iraq the Model, an exceptional source of reportage from the worm's-eye view of a Iraqi citizen living in Baghdad.

Published by the Australian, the article is entitled "Iraq Was a Just War." The title alone is enough to anger all the wrong people, of course. But in it, Al-Nidawi notes the many changes that have come to his people, at great cost, but in his view a cost worth paying for the promise of a better future for all.

Stuart Smalley Goes to Washington

Stop holding your breath, America! It's over!

The MN Supremes ruled that public intellectual Al Franken is the Junior Senator from the State That Gave Us Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura. With Norm Coleman's consequent concession, Franken can now raise the quality of discourse on Capitol Hill just as he did on Air America.

Months ago Republican-Americans were wringing their hands that Franken's seat would give the Dems a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. Today, no one seems to care, the Democrats having squandered their legislative honeymoon on a priority-free laundry list of utopian pie-in-the-sky. Now they revert to form, as Will Rogers put it: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

Still, the idea of Jimmy Stewart going to the Senate had a charming, inspiring quality to it. The idea of Stuart Smalley doing the same has an annoying, insipid quality to it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pop Quiz on History and Current Events

Gentle readers, please answer the following:

Which European head of government led his/her country for over a decade without ever winning a popular majority in an election?
A. Adolf Hitler
B. Margaret Thatcher

The answer, of course, is B. Thatcher's Conservative Party won several general elections, but with a plurality, not a majority, of the vote.

Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany with a majority vote. Once. That's all it took.

We urge gentle readers to remember this in assessing the Honduran military's forcible removal of its democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya, a protege of Hugo Chavez who like his mentor was seeking to guarantee the perpetuity of his presidency by extraconstitutional means. For details we recommend the acute observer of the Western Hemisphere, Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the WSJ.

It's worth remembering that many in our own Republic's early years feared that one Presidential election would be all that was required to return the Republic to a despotic monarchy and tyrranical majority. It is a tribute to the character of that first great POTUS that the untested constitution proved more enduring than his personal authority.

We also suggest that our present POTUS remember that there is only one power in this hemisphere able to provide a counterweight to adverturers like Chavez, his proteges and his aged mentor Mr. Castro, and that elections--in the Weimar Republic, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Bolivaran Republic of Venezuela, or even humble Honduras, are not all that comprise a genuinely democratic government.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Last Remaining American Adults Talk Current Events

With Washington having become again a grade-B circus act, it's nice to watch Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham talk through the week's events on Meet the Press.

Sorry, no convenient embedding code on the site, so follow the link.

Friday, June 26, 2009

OK, Even Salon Can Do Better Than This

L'affaire Sanford has provoked at least one purely partisan attack piece, from Salon's Joe Conason, with the title, "Remind Me: Which Party Is 'Decadent' and 'Sick?'"

Without softening our revulsion at the sexual escapades of Republicans willing to co-opt the enthusiasm of the Religious Right, we nevertheless caution Mr. Conason from observations like the following:

By the way, while Vitter, Ensign, Gingrich and perhaps Sanford have been able to retain their positions and political viability, the same cannot be said for the most recent offenders on the progressive side. Neither Eliot Spitzer nor John Edwards, each among the most promising figures in the Democratic Party, will ever be a candidate for public office again, although their misbehavior was no worse than what their Republican counterparts did.

First, it's not at all clear what will happen to Ensign, who nationally was never much to begin with. Second, Gingrich hasn't held public office since his resignation after the revelation of his infidelity. In the present vacuum of party leadership, he makes the rounds like a supplicant, not a power broker. Third, Conanson's comparison only works with the phrase "most recent." We recall a certain President of the Jacksonian Party whose distasteful infidelities at 1600 Pennsylvania were vociferously defended by all members of his "progressive" party. We also recall that the now-senior Senator from Massachusetts has enjoyed a storied career despite a long-ago dalliance that ended worse than all of these others combined. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether Spitzer or Edwards will one day reappear on the scene. Certainly the buzz is that Edwards is working on it. If they do not, it's hardly because the Dems are more principled, only that they have tired of defending their scoundrels after the bruising battle for Clinton.

Now, Mr. Conanson, we instruct. You end your essay as follows:

If they looked honestly at themselves, religious conservatives might notice that they are morally lax, socially permissive and casually tolerant of moral deviancy -- just like the liberals they despise. So as they wonder aloud why the same salacious nightmare haunts them, year after year, the best advice they can get happens to come from that old sinner Clinton. As he so often says, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.

Here, Mr. Conanson, you unwittingly acknowledge the core of conservatism: the belief that all humans are flawed, yea, even depraved. Self-styled progressives don't acknowledge that. Their Manichean world is divided between children of light (the poor, "working families," and, of course, progressive politicians and activists) and children of darkness (the rich, corporations, and, of course, conservatives). Hence, empowerment for the correct people is what it's all about.

Conservatives, when they're being conservatives, know that humans are corrupt and corruptible, that power corrupts, and so people are not to be trusted with power. And that includes themselves.

Faceoff: The Scientist and the Believer

Note well the following contrast in recent opinion pieces.

Today's WSJ offers the view of cosmologist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University. His assertion is that (a) belief in God is fine for scientists as long as they do science as if God didn't exist; (b) it is therefore rational, perhaps more consistently rational, to reject belief in God altogether.

We acknowledge the issue but dispute the conclusions. Yes, science seeks to understand what happens naturally, meaning without interference from the outside. It therefore assumes that what we generally observe is natural cause and effect, not the actions of a deity. One cannot do scientific research with the assumption that miracles happen frequently enough to affect relevant data. To assume otherwise would make the data opaque to analysis, in effect introducing a random variable that can't be observed.

But note well math involved. A scientist doesn't observe all relevant phenomena when exploring the natural world, only a part of it. Further, science routinely expects that a small segment of its observations will not be adequately explained by hypotheses that otherwise account for the data powerfully enough to be embraced as true. Hence, it is not necessary for the methods of science that there be no deity who acts in the world in ways that change what is otherwise the "natural" pattern of cause and effect. It is only necessary that such a deity not do so routinely.

And so note well that as far as thoughtful Christian theology is concerned, God's miracles are always assumed to be rare. If they were not, they would obviously enough not be recognizable at all, for the world would operate with such seeming randomness that one couldn't distinguish a regular pattern to which a miracle constituted an exception. We note that as far as biblical narrative is concerned, over a span of roughly two millennia of history, miracles are confined a small part of the world and to three isolated periods of about a generation each: the Exodus and Conquest, the work of Elijah and Elisha, and the work of Jesus and the early church.

If there are miracles indeed, and if they are indeed rare, note that the effect on science is extremely negligible. What are the odds of a miracle being observed by a scientist who has access to data that, while statistically significant, represents the tiniest sliver of all relevant phenomena? And if the miracle were observed, what is the power of that event to overturn the generalization that the data otherwise invites? We think that those questions have obvious answers.

In sum, faith sees miracles as possible but necessarily rare. Kudlow believes that a scientist must assume that they never occur in order to do science. But in fact science functions perfectly well with miracles that happen rarely, exactly what faith requires if miracles are to have meaning at all.

And so in contrast, we note from ToTheSource the observations of Dr. Benjamin Wiker of the Discovery Institute about the recently published Fitness of the Cosmos for Life, edited by scientists John Barrow and Simon Conway Morris. As the symposium of scientists in this book attests, our observations of the natural world, the very cosmology that Dr. Krauss studies, suggests a most notable fine tuning of the universe to yield life. One can even argue coherently that if the cosmic "reset button" were pushed and the universe started over again, it would yield not another outcome but an outcome very, very similar to the present one.

What Barrow and Morris and company consider that Krauss does not is whether the cumulative data of science suggest a conclusion that must be drawn apart from or beyond the scientific method: that the very structure of the universe suggests not randomness but purpose. This teleological argument is nothing new, of course, but it neither is it so old as to be obsolete. If anything, it becomes more persuasive the more we know.

In the end, Krauss can only appeal to a certain simplistic consistency in his worldview: as a scientist, I don't assume God in my science, so I have no need to assume him anyplace else. Barrow and Morris say that starting with the science and looking at all the science drives them to another, metascientific conclusion abut God. Krauss says that if that's so, the science is ruined. We say that conclusion mistakes the real nature of scientific data and observations.

What to Do This Weekend

Opa! It's Panegyri weekend in Cincinnati.

Gentle readers within driving or flying distance of Cincinnati are not so gently urged to get themselves to the annual celebration of Greek culture, meaning mostly food, at the Holy Trinity St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Winton Road in Cincinnati's Finneytown suburb. Those who have been there before know why. Those who haven't need to find out.

SWNIDish tips for the event:
  • Wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes.
  • Arrive early to avoid the crowds, sort of.
  • Bring one canned good per person, which substitutes for the small admission charge and provides a better sense of charitableness (the nonperishables are donated to the Free Store Food Bank).
  • Bring cash for food purchases. We recommend lots of cash because we recommend lots of food.
  • Park at St. Xavier High School and take the free bus shuttle to the event. Parking nearby is run by neighboring Protestant churches seeking to exploit the ignorance of the rabble that free parking with direct bus service is available, an approach ironically inconsistent with the concerns that gave rise to the Reformation on which the existence of these churches depends.
  • Start with the one-price dinner. Any selection of main dish will be most satisfying. Just pick something that you can't pronounce. The side dishes are most excellently worthy of consideration also.
  • End with an order of loukoumathes. You will plan to share them but then wish that you hadn't.
  • In the middle, take the guided tour of the church. You'll learn lots of interesting stuff about Greek Orthodoxy. Those who learned some New Testament Greek will note how simple is the Greek of the liturgy as printed in the prayer books, though it is impenetrable to Modern Greek speakers. The tour is also a nice way to take a break from eating, which can be resumed post-tour.
  • Plan to watch some of the folk dancing, especially the little kids.
  • Take home some pastries for enjoyment in the coming days.
  • Throughout, interact warmly with the warmly interactive folk who staff the food concessions and serve the deliciousness with pride and love.
  • For best results, skip the alcohol, rides and raffles, which interfere with pure gustatory enjoyment.
  • Resume worry about weight loss on Monday. Or after you've finished your take-home pastries.

The Irony and Sadness of Unrealized Potential

This vintage video reminds us of what should have been:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Free Consult for GOP

With Mark Sanford having saved the Republic the danger of considering him as a presidential candidate, we wish to address the Republican Party with unsolicited, SWNIDish wisdom.

Republicans, how could people who are so right be so wrong at the same time? Your essential philosophy of governance is indisputably wise. But lately, your execution has been all wrong. We therefore urge the following retool of the Grand Old Party.

First, the policy platform. It's three words plus a phrase. They are:
  • Virtue. This has to come first, and this has been most missing in the message. We're not talking about culture-wars virtue issues like placing the Ten Commandments in public places. We're talking about personal virtues widely embraced in the Western cultural tradition: hard work, thrift, personal discipline, commitment to family, commitment to community. How does this work in political discourse? Don't just blame Fannie and Freddie for making a mess of home mortgages and so of global finance. Applaud those who exercised the discipline to save for a downpayment and stay within or below their means in buying a house. Propose programs to encourage not just home ownership but saving and budgeting for home ownership. Propose programs to encourage not just college education but studying for and saving for college education. Propose programs to encourage not just health care but healthy living. The Republic needs a challenge to be a virtuous Republic, not just a selfish one.
  • Liberty. It's time to end "big government lite," trying to give people the pork they demand at a cheaper price. Stress that every government program that "meets a need" does so at the price of individual liberty. Stress that Americans will be empowered to handle their own health insurance if restrictive mandates and discriminatory tax laws are eliminated. At the same time, stress that liberty is the God-given right of every human being, and pledge that you'll do all that a government can to promote liberty globally. Make accommodationists and nanny-staters on the other side look like unfeeling, ethnocentric brutes and condescending snobs.
  • Prosperity. Talk about a rising tide for all Americans. Aim to communicate that a virtuous and free society inevitably becomes prosperous. Attack the politics of envy that harps on unequal distribution with the politics of opportunity that stresses the initiative and adaptability of all people, those very human qualities that make for a better material and social life when consistently applied. Pledge resources to reach into those communities that are dysfunctional to reach those who are willing to be reached with a different way of life.
  • For all. Here's the trickiest part. To avoid becoming the regional party of the white South, it's time to restore the GOP's historic commitment to extending opportunity to all. That means two very specific things which may be costly in the short term: (a) apply absolute party discipline on all expressions of racism; (b) announce that the GOP is committed to welcoming immigrants who are willing and able to work, introduce legislation to legalize the presence of those undocumented workers who are present and productive, and warn party members that anti-immigrant demagoguery will be subject to party discipline. The future of America is a future of ethnic diversity, and so is the future of the party, which begins now. So anyone who sends around emails with watermelons on the White House lawn or who talks about immigration a la Tom Tancredo will be politely escorted out of the party. This is not only right, it's necessary if there is to be a GOP by 2024.
Second, candidates. Besides insisting that all adulterers still holding office resign and enter recovery counseling immediately, think differently about who will represent the party at the national level. For 2012, make a fresh start with what may be a relatively boring personality who can convey the retooled message with credibility. For us, two persons, neither much talked about as presidential contenders, come to mind.

One is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Dull as dishwater on the stump, we think Daniels makes sense when he talks about what government ought to do for all its citizens. Let him speak truth to the body politic.

Another is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. A proven change agent and excellent administrator, Gates has gravitas. This would be his first run for office, so he's in a position to mean what he says.

Both these guys have been far enough from the political spotlight to offer a retooled message with credibility, and both have the resume to prove their competence. They may not win, but they will help get the message back on a track that will win in the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Qualifying Plan," Liberty and Politics

At the NY Daily News is a nice column detailing likely effects of the health insurance bill presently making its way through a Senate committee. From t he column we note briefly the issue of a proposed federal mandate that all health insurance plans "qualify" at a certain standard.

SWNID has passing familiarity with this issue, one member of the SWNIDish clan having just concluded a sojourn in the People's Republic of Massachusetts. MA has, at the initiative of a certain Republican governor, a mandate that all its citizens have health insurance. The notion, not entirely unsound, is that by such a mandate costs for the otherwise uninsured are not foisted on responsible citizens who bothered to get insurance. There's a subsidy for the less well off to pay insurance costs, so a progressive tax system is at work, not unlike other governmental programs.

We leave it to others for the present to debate the merits of such matters. But we call attention to the fact that a resident of MA must not simply buy health insurance but must buy insurance that covers very specific services. We cite one as an example: MA requires that chiropractic services must be covered by a policy or it doesn't qualify.

We will also leave it to others to debate the merits of chiropractic. We know well people who have received relief associated with such services and suspect we know people who have wasted time and money on them. What we call attention to is that a resident of MA is considered unacceptably insured if her policy does not pay for chiropractors. MA doesn't think a citizen ought to have discretion to assume responsibility to pay a chiropractor directly if such services are needed or wanted. MA knows best.

Now, where did such a thing come from? From stories of people bankrupted by the high cost of chiropractic? Doubtful. From a lobby of chiropractors who believed that if a third party paid the bill, more people would seek their services? We don't know. We do suspect. We think that's how politics works.

And so, from the people who brought you earmarks, who gave the otherwise tasty and satisfying dish "pork" a bad name, who assume on a daily basis that you don't know the difference between various numbers ending in "-illion," comes the concept of a "qualifying plan" that they can pile up with everything from laser hair removal to meditation therapy, all the while claiming that recordkeeping efficiencies, greater bargaining power and lowered administrative costs will save the day financially.

There's an old, mathematically demonstrable rule in buying insurance: use insurance to protect yourself only against the risks that you cannot assume yourself, given your relative wealth or poverty. Insurance costs more than the risk if the risk falls within affordable bounds for the individual. Hence, in buying automobile insurance, for example, the smart buyer asks at what threshold of expense he experiences hardship and sets his deductible at that point. The same ought to apply to health insurance, which over time in this country has become decorated with all kinds of additional geegaws, like payment for ordinary office visits, because it is subsidized by a tax break and paid for by third parties with dollars that consumers don't even remember belonged to them once.

SWNID warmly embraces responsibility for the risk of needing a chiropractor sometime and is ready to throw tea in the harbor of anyone who suggests that he is so much the child as to be required to act otherwise.

Abortion: Philosophical and Political

For those wanting to update their perspective on the abortion debate, we heartily and SWNIDishly recommend Union University Professor Micah Watson's primer at ThePublicDiscourse.com.

With admirably clarity, Watson argues that the philosophical debate on abortion has reached a state of utter clarity:

[E]ither human beings as such have a right to life, or some human beings have a right to life and are thus persons, and some are not and are thus expendable.

We expect most gentle readers to understand this difference and to affirm the first position. We urge, however, that such persons not immediately ridicule the second position as unthinkable. It is patently obvious that many people do think this very thing and will persist doing so. It may not be right, it may not be Christian (which doesn't matter to a lot of folks, probably including many Christians), but it isn't as absurd as 2 + 2 = 5.

Which observation brings us to Watson's second contribution: the need for effective political discourse on the part of those who affirm the first position. He recommends persisting in political efforts that limit the availability of abortion, cultural efforts to engage in debate in ways that are appealing, and patience is pursuing incremental strategies that change minds and hearts: "hitting for singles and doubles has proven to be a more effective strategy than swinging for the home run that would be the repeal of Roe v. Wade."

In the middle of all this is a recommendation for a book which we have not read. We'll assume that one as erudite as Watson is on the the rest of the matter can be relied on to know a good book when he reads it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

JibJab's Latest

You might not have seen it here first, but now you have seen it here:

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Vulnerability on spending and deficits is clearly this Superhero's flaw. We'll see if it's a fatal flaw.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Please Tell Us This Is a Parody!

A Google Ad took us to a place we hoped could not exist. Now we can only hope that it exists as a parody. Sadly, the very earnest testimonials that the site features suggest that it is 100% earnest itself.

LittleDemocrats.net markets three titles in its nascent line of children's books: Why Mommy Is a Democrat, Why Daddy Is a Democrat, and Momma Voted for Obama. Sample pages are included on the site.

From the sample pages, we believe that the books express much truth about the Democratic Party.

First, Why Mommy Is a Democrat seems to work from the refrain that the Democratic Party does things "just like Mommy," as in making sure that everyone shares and plays by the rules. The SWNIDish response is "True enough!" For those who believe that society runs best with a maternalistic nanny state protecting citizens from all unfairness, certainly the party of George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi is the right--oops! we meant "correct"--party.

Further, Why Daddy Is a Democrat seems to feature the party's generous provision for public employees like firefighters and teachers. Again, we affirm as much. If a person believes that public employees are best represented by unions that forever demand more and more of everything for their members, then the party of John Murtha and Carl Levin is certainly the correct one.

Daddy also affirms that Dems make the planet well when it is sick. That's a fine achievement indeed. We hope to see an example of correct diagnosis and effective treatment someday.

Momma Voted for Obama seems to proceed as a harmless and pointless rhyming exercise akin to a Dr. Seuss book, minus the outrageous wit. That is, until voting for Obama is contrasted with voting for "a man named John," pictured holding the tail of an elephant and in the text equated with a "mastodon." We suppose that depersonalizing human beings by identifying them with extinct species is OK as long as the future of the planet and all its worthy inhabitants is at stake. However, we believe that if the mastodon were still extant, Democrats would protect it, so we're not sure whether this comparison ought to be allowed to stand.

For those who prefer to be alarmed rather than amused by books like these, we simply point out that children will tolerate all kinds of things, but boredom is not one of them. Like all works of propaganda, these books are most obviously insufferably boring, worse than what Saturday morning TV became when the FCC got "serious" about enforcing mandates for "educational content." In sum, like Air America (a radio personality from which endorses the books) and other efforts at leftist propaganda, these books will be extremely ignored by those they're intended to influence.

Friday, June 19, 2009

On the Ground in Tehran

The blessed opinion editors at WSJ today supply dispatches from Iranians in touch with and involved with the current protests. We urge their reading, not least because they, like many similar dispatches from Iraq, dispel the blandly condescending notion that folks in the Middle East aren't ready for democracy. Whatever one thinks of the tactics of Dubya's muscular Wilsonianism, certainly the foundations--that all peoples deserve and desire self-determination--are unshakable.

Meanwhile the blessed Charles Krauthammer is again flaying Obama, this week for his failure to speak up in favor of the Iranian protesters. Sympathetic to all who ask the American President to speak up for global democracy, we express some sympathy for what we expect is Obama's reticence to identify the protesters as supported by the United States and so hand the theocratic regieme a propaganda victory.

That having been said, we note how the blessed President Reagan's bold support for Solidarity in Poland and for Soviet dissidents, especially on his famous Moscow summit with Gorbachev, proved vital to the blessed success of those historic liberators.

On the other hand, George H. W. Bush's hands-off approach to Tiananmen didn't help anyone except the ChiComs.

Of course, Obama is no Reagan, even as he asserts strongly that he is no Bush either. So we await further developments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SWNID Endorses OutrageousCampbellite.com

Engineered by SWNIDish associates, OutrageousCampbellite.com is on the web.

Our peeps intend the developing site to do the following (from their "about us" page):

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Alexander Campbell used every method at his disposal to call for a reform within Christianity that would bring an end to denominationalism and promote a return to New Testament Christianity. Campbell’s plea for reform found a ground-swell of support as his ideas gained an ever-expanded hearing through his teaching, preaching, writing, and debating. Adversaries of the Campbell movement soon labeled the reformers “Campbellites” and criticized their ideas as “outrageous.” Nevertheless, these “Outrageous Campbellites” of the nineteenth century turned American Christianity upside-down and did more than any group before or since to bring multitudes of people to the pure and simple teachings of New Testament Christianity.

Here at OutrageousCampbellite.com, we believe the ideas espoused by Alexander Campbell and his colleagues still have relevance for the twenty-first-century church. As such, we wish to advance Campbell’s plea and expose his thought to a new generation. In a world where Christian unity seems more elusive than ever before and where the teachings of many churches seem to move further and further away from those of New Testament Christianity, we believe the reforms of those “Outrageous Campbellites” can again turn the Christian world upside-down and lead many more multitudes of people to the foot of the cross. And so we dedicate this website to the advancement and promotion of Alexander Campbell.

As a proudly Outrageous Campbellite, we urge gentle readers to visit the site (permanently linked from this essential page, of course), order a product or two (we recommend the "Fantastic Four" mousepad, which, complements of the site's founder, now adorns our desk), and drink deeply from the wells of Christian unity and biblical authority.

Health Insurance Seminar

Recent opinion columns provide excellent guidance to gentle readers still unsure as to how health insurance reform ought to proceed versus how it is actually proceeding.

At the Gray Lady, token center-right columnist David Brooks aptly summarizes Obama's political strategy for passing a reform bill. With Brooks we affirm that nothing coherent or relevant is likely to emerge from this slapdash process, only the yield of a political trophy for the President.

Across Manhattan at WSJ the editorial board notes well the absurdity of claims that proposed reforms will make American businesses more competitive. Health insurance costs, whether paid to insurance companies as a present or to the government in the future, are for businesses just part of the total cost of having an employee. Over the long term money paid for health insurance thus becomes money that would otherwise be paid to the employee. So it's not American competitiveness that's losing out but American personal incomes. Hence, the solution is not to shift insurance to government but to shift insurance and decision-making about costs to individuals.

And so Holman Jenkins of WSJ offers the final unit of the seminar, a hypothetical look back at what would happen if the Republic took a different course than the kind proposed by the President. Specifically, if overall income tax rates were lowered but health insurance were taxed as income (and remember that tax-free health insurance benefits historically are a consequence of working around wage controls during WWII), individuals would be incentivized to find bargains and providers to compete on cost and effectiveness. That is, conventional market forces would be restored to health care, over time with the usual improvements in efficiency.

Thus endeth the seminar.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bowhunting to Begin at Mt. Airy Forest?

Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney is floating the idea of allowing bow hunting of white-tailed deer in Mt. Airy Forest and other Cincinnati parks.

We say "three cheers" at least three times.

The SWNID estate is plagued with these overgrown urban pests. With nearly 100 per square mile in Cincinnati's woodlands, deer regularly traipse through our neighborhood, browsing on all the good and lovely plants placed at personal expense in our yard.

Most ironic is this: two autumns ago we purchased from the Hamilton County Parks Department a tulip poplar seedling. Said tree, once vigorously growing, is now dead at every point more than six inches above the ground, its tender bark having been cruelly stripped by marauding deer whose eerie, unblinking, vacant stares are unresponsive to all attempts to scare them away. Now perhaps another agency of local government might allow the proper harvesting of these protein factories, restoring our bucolic urban ecosystem to something resembling a balance and allowing us to replace the now pathetic shrub with something that has half a chance of survival.

The city has been regularly shutting down the park at night and paying sharpshooters to kill deer. Bowhunters will work for free. In our experience, it doesn't take a sharp shot to hit these beasts, who won't flinch even if charged by a man with a dog on the leash. Bowhunting would be easy, not especially challenging but certainly effective. Even slingshots would probably do the job.

Our Politicized Intelligence Services

In a breathtaking break with tradition, President Obama appointed as Director of the CIA a man whose career was built not in the intelligence services nor even in the Congressional oversight of the intelligence services but as a political functionary and highly partisan elected official without special interest in intelligence.

Leon Panetta, the distinguished gentleman thus designated, is now a chicken come home to roost. Having made a sharply partisan statement very much in keeping with the recent tactics of his party (per the New Yorker, in a response typical of someone whose mind thinks first of the political contest, alleging that Dick Cheney wants a terrorist attack on the United States), his lieutenants are now attempting to distance their boss from so outrageous a statement from someone whose position is supposed to stand above the partisan fray.

In another example of the aforementioned chickens, the foolishness of stone throwing for glass-house dwellers, and other common proverbs, Mr. Panetta has suggested his willingness to politicize intelligence, the very accusation that his party made to such good effect against Mr. Cheney and his benighted boss. What goes around . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama's Speech to the AMA: Something for Everyone

TV Doctor Tim Johnson offers pointed point-by-point comments on the President's lengthy speech today to the American Medical Association. Johnson notes that the speech had lines that the docs loved, and some that they didn't.

It seems to us that Obama did what Obama does: suggest that he's on all sides of an issue at once. That's great for forging political support but not much guidance for policy.

Our primary concern in Obama's discussion remains the notion of a "public" (read: "government") plan that would inevitably drive out private insurance, leaving most citizens with no choice but to take what Uncle Sugar offers. We find it disingenuous to suggest that a government plan will force savings by reducing unfair profits from the insurance companies when encouraging more private competition and choice by reducing mandates and eliminating barriers between states would clearly offer the better way to force competition and reduce prices.

We're no less impressed that every nation, regardless of its system of financing health care, is experiencing rising costs. The problem is that no one wants to be sick or die. Everyone is willing to spend any amount to avoid that, especially if they spend someone else's money. So cost control will always be an issue, but one made better by assuring that the cost of healthcare is felt directly by the beneficiary.

Iran Update: Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst

A generation ago, they were ousting the Shah. Could they now be ousting the mullahs?

Protests in Iran look serious. History provides examples of such movements yielding change (Philippines) and yielding repression (China). We note that the best success seems to come in countries with an ideological tradition that fosters democratic ideals (like Roman Catholic Christianity in the Philippines), as opposed to those where other ideologies hold sway (like "Red" China), though not always (it took the Red Army to dislodge Hitler from Catholic/Lutheran Germany). Dictators are dictators, but their country's traditions constrain them now and then.

The mullahs of Iran are not in an ideological context that fosters democracy. We expect violent repression. We'd prefer otherwise.

No one is Seldom Wrong about the future. So let's all stay tuned.

Is America Waking Up with a Left-Wing Hangover?

Gallup reports that Americans report that 41% of Americans are conservative, 35% moderate and 21% liberal. For historical comparison, that's the biggest plurality for the conservatives since 2004.

There are lots of ways to interpret this, but only a few are SWNIDish. We note that the Republic seems to have been medicating itself with liberal liquor against the unpleasantness of the second Dubya term. Now, it seems that deficits and intrusions into the marketplace are the symptoms of a severe liberal hangover, for which the electorate now seeks relief from the bracing cocktail of traditional values and protection of individual liberty that, like a restorative dose of tomato juice, raw egg and hot pepper sauce revive the senses after foolish self-indulgence.

Of course, the best way to get over a liberal hangover is never to indulge in liberalism. Friends don't let friends vote Democrat, as the saying goes.

Our Republic has a history of sobriety, punctuated by brief experiments with government dependency. Maybe this time we can detox quickly and get back to work.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

So Much for Iranian "Moderates"

Those who held a glimmer of hope that the Iranian elections might restore a modicum of sanity to that benighted country are disappointed to learn that wing-nut Ahmadinejad has a bigger majority than Obama did.

Is the antisemitic conspiracy-theorist's landslide a result of his manipulation of the electoral process or his countrymen's devotion to his absurd rhetoric despite the manifest failures of his administration? Either way, the effect is the same: a country with a large population, a strategic location, oil wealth and a nuclear arms program will continue to be led by a man who, if a citizen of this Republic, would be the peer of the guy who lived in a shack and shot up the Holocaust Museum.

For all those devoted to pacifying Ahmadinejad's Iran through diplomacy, we offer our best wishes for success.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Palin about Letterman

The jury's still out on the national political future of Sarah Palin, but one can't help but admire the way in this interview she speaks plainly and persistently about David Letterman's tasteless joke at her daughter's expense.

Having just called out national figures for whining, we note that it's not whining when your kids have been disrespected.

Time to Take It Like an Adult

Whining is incommensurate with adulthood. We SWNIDishly hold this truth to be self evident.

That's why we've been irritated by the Obama trope that everything wrong in the world is a problem he inherited from Bush. Not only is that a truism, it's an irrelevancy. At the beginning all problems are inherited, and even with time every problem has a long history of causation. None of that absolves a person of the responsibility to address the problem constructively and effectively.

But Obama's constant Bush-bashing is most irritating because it reflects an unwillingness to stand up and to face life like an adult, to quit assessing blame and start making progress.

The entire left has been operating on Bush hatred since the invasion of Iraq, and only after four years did it begin to take hold. Obama's retrospective bashing is likely on the threshold of exhausting the body politic. No less a liberal journalist than the Gray Lady's Peter Baker says as much today. We doubt that Obama will get the message quickly, as we doubt that he's ever before exhausted the press corp with any of his rhetorical habits. But if he does, we'll consider it a step toward adult behavior, even if it's politically motivated.

But the whining doesn't stop at the White House. Ever in need of enemies on which to blame the world's problems, the left's media organs now turn to the assertion that the killing of George Tiller and the attack on the Holocaust Museum were prompted by the violent rhetoric of conservative pundits and politicians. The ever-insightful Paul Krugman, in a column temperately titled "The Big Hate," blames a cast including Bill O'Reilly, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Times ("the Bush administration's house organ"?), Jon Voigt, and the entire Republican National Committee, all fired up by the election of the first African-American President.

Never mind that Holocaust shooter James von Brunn was virulently antisemitic, anti-"Neocon" and attacked the Federal Reserve during the Reagan Administration. Never mind that since Roe v. Wade, with a Republic sharply divided over the abortion issue and a significant number of folk convinced that abortion ipso fact is murder, a total five abortionists have been killed, considerably less than the slaveowners killed by abolitionists in the run-up to the Civil War in a seriously less populous Republic.

This is, of course, another form of whining: the people I don't like are responsible for every nutty thing that happens in the world. We quote again the wit and wisdom of rabbinic scholar and political conservative Jacob Neusner: "Look, we have our kooks; you have your kooks. We don't want to trade out kooks for your kooks."

Messrs. Obama and Krugman, adults do not talk this way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Carter Effect Kicks In

Rasmussen's latest poll shows Ds and Rs even in the generic Congressional ballot (for the uninitiated, the pollster asks the citizen whether the citizen would vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress, without naming the candidate).

This is, of course, awful news for Ds, who have not been able to translate their considerable wins in 2006 and 2008 into a base of popular support. Independents, not Democrats, are the political grouping that's growing.

That doesn't mean that Republicans are not on the rise, however. The Republican brand remains deeply stained, but individual candidates are thriving. In the few elections of stature this year, Rs are doing nicely: NJ's Democratic governor Corzine is way behind the GOP challenger, Republican Crist looks strong in the Senate race in Florida. In Virginia, Clinton apparatchik Terry McAuliffe lost the primary, the winner of which now faces a Republican to whom he has previously lost in a statewide race.

The reason for this is, of course, transparent to everyone who is not a Democrat: no one is pleased that the Democrats are using their present, unchecked political power to spend the Republic into penury. The Ds risk sullying their "brand" in a matter of months, something that took the Rs at least eight years of excessive government spending to accomplish.

A generation ago, Americans turned to the eminently upright Jimmy Carter to correct the era of corruption of 1970s politics. But within months, the electorate experienced buyers regret as they realized what the stubbornly sanctimonious Carter would do when given the power to govern. More recently, the body politic asked the eminently charming and diplomatic Barack Obama to restore grace and understanding after the distasteful aggression of the Bush years. Now that they've tasted what it means to be governed by someone used to giving everyone what they want, they experience a parallel regret.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

"Jobs Saved!"

Last week the White House issued a statement that its economic stimulus has saved 150,000 jobs. Evil genius Karl Rove today points out that this claim comes even as total US employment dropped by 1.9 million jobs between January and May.

Gentle readers may recall the rare SWNIDish prognostication that just such an outrageous and unverifiable claim would be made by our youthful President.

Of course, all this claiming of jobs saved comes even before an appreciable amount of the stimulus has been spent. One can just as easily assume, therefore, that even more jobs would have been "saved" had the administration elected to do nothing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Immortal 15-18 Piece Ensemble

For those who think only of Glen Miller when they think of "big bands," and who assume that big bands died when Miller's plan crashed in the English Channel, WSJ's Martin Johnson provides an update. The sublime assemblages of saxophones, trombones, trumpets and rhythm--designed and perfected by such greats as Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter and Duke Ellington--continue to press forward into new musical territory.

Of course, Ellington never stopped moving forward. In the decades following his death, Thad Jones wrote superb charts for the Monday night orchestra that he and drummer Mel Lewis led at Manhattan's legendary Village Vanguard. Johnson notes what's happening right now with bands that blend jazz, contemporary classical, Latin, African, Middle Eastern and rock influences with the traditional instrumentation, sometimes modified.

At its best, contemporary big band music is exciting, challenging, still accessible, and always swinging. It's the perfect antidote for people who find predictability in other genres.

For gentle readers who don't know what all this is about, we recommend a visit to a nearby venue. Columbus, Ohio maintains a municipal jazz orchestra known for doing traditional arrangements as well as some accessible contemporary stuff. In Cincinnati, there's the extremely vital Blue Wisp Big Band, playing every Wednesday night since time began under the direction of immortal drummer John von Ohlen, who drives the band like Jim Clark drove race cars. Elsewhere, check your local listings.

The New Green Economy: Subsidzed Shell Game of Declining Productivity

SWNIDish kudos go to Hudson Institute Fellow Alex Alexiev for his superb piece at National Review on the economics of so-called renewable energy.

While the media trumpet the President's determination to remake the American economy around green energy, the recent experience of our European cousins shows exactly how miserable are the prospects for a green economy. Germany and Spain, not long ago enthusiastic supporters of solar power, are now running away from the expensive government subsidies necessary to prop up inherently inefficient solar power operations.

Globally, solar power developers are going out of business, albeit more quietly than American auto manufacturers. Were it not for lavish government subsidies, such developers would not exist at all. American infatuation with European policies are often little more than romantic utopianism. In this sad instance, it appears that Americans will ape an Old World model at the very moment that it passes from the scene.

Cap and Trade: Follow the Money

Al Gore has made himself rich(er) with speeches about climate change, and even more rich(er) with an Oscar-winning (!) movie.

And as the Canada Free Press reminds us today, he stands to join the mega-rich(est) if cap-and-trade regulations on carbon emissions become the law of our Republic.

We recall the left's disdain that Dick Cheney, prior to serving as Vice President, had led a multinational corporation that manufactures oil drilling equipment and provides services for American military expeditionary forces. We do not expect similar distress over the fact that the most celebrated climate alarmist is about to fund his grandchildren's trust funds from the Planet's Peril.

Need we add that the "profits" of cap-and-trade come not through greater economic productivity but through taxes that will be paid indirectly by every citizen, with regressively disproportionate impact on people with low incomes and stultifying effects on economic growth?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Quote of the Day on GM

The administration took a tragic situation and turned it into an expensive mess to pay a political debt. It wasted billions of dollars over many months delaying GM’s filing and then implicitly put itself on the hook for many billions more. The financial, political and social echoes of that decision will be with us for a long time. In short, they blew it.

--Michael Levine, Distinguished Research Scholar and Senior Lecturer, New York University, in the Financial Times

Monday, June 01, 2009

Advice from a Real Car Czar

Today's WSJ carries a most timely and witty op-ed by Ion Mihai Pacepa, who before seeking political asylum in the United States in the late 1980s held various posts in Ceausescu's Romanian Socialist dictatorship, including head of Romania's fabled auto manufacturing industry.

We link this fine article especially for our younger readers, who may not realize that the stories of socialism's past are very real and not at all exaggerated. Yes, there was a time when socialist governments spent the public purse to establish the most shamefully inefficient auto companies one can imagine.

We note especially Pacepa's perceptive citation of Jaguar as the most apt parallel to the establishment of Government Motors. What we're in store for is not the hilarious failure of Dacia or Trabent but the slow, agonizing bleed of Jaguar and other British makes of the postwar nanny state.

Another failed socialist auto was the USSR's Lada, apparently still manufactured in petro-fascist Russia. We recall the joke making the rounds in the UK, where dedicated reds bought and attempted to drive the hapless vehicles, during the last years of the Soviet Empire:

Q: How do you double the value of your Lada?
A: Fill the tank with petrol.

Congratulations, Citizen-Owners! Don't Look for Your Money Soon

You and we now own 60% of General Motors. The cost was a mere $70 billion.

Doing the math, we find that each of the Republic's 300 million citizens has a stake in the company of 0.0000002%. That's for an investment of $233 per person. That should translate to each citizen getting about 311 shares at the current price.

Of course, it doesn't, because there aren't that many shares of GM. At the present trading price, GM is worth about half a billion dollars.

That's right: Uncle Sugar is paying $70 billion for 60% a company worth half a billion. At its peak, GM was worth $56 billion on the open market. If it ever sees that value again, which is doubtful, we'll only be out around $40 billion. Looks like we overpaid.

And that's a fine reminder of how much easier it is to be careless "investing" someone else's money than it is your own.