Monday, March 30, 2009

GM's Wagoner and Why Government Takeovers Are Inherently Problematic

GM's CEO Rick Wagoner is out at the behest of the Obama White House. This move is at once (a) no surprise; (b) deserved; (c) suspicious. And it is because it is both (a) and (b) that (c) is so significant.

First, one can hardly imagine a corporation losing 95% of its market capitalization and not firing its CEO. On that count the move is both (a) and (b).

Second, one can hardly have missed the pitchfork-and-torch-bearing mobs that confronted the hapless executives of AIG, and so one can hardly be surprised that another government-bailed corporation would be forced to shake up senior management. That qualifies for (a) if not (b).

So whence the ongoing reality of (c)? It has to do with the limitations of government.

Corporations normally make decisions based on directors' perception of the corporation's best interests, which are in turn the shareholders' best interests. They obviously make fabulous mistakes along the way and are subject to all kinds of influences, but in the end, one can expect nothing other than corporate profitability to run the show. The matter is complicated by human nature, but not by inherent conflict of interest. When a corporate board fires a CEO, the question is not which set of interests prevailed but whether the singular set of interests were well served by the decision.

When corporations fail, they generally find themselves in bankruptcy court, where judges, guided by laws and precedents, set up processes for the reorganization or dissolution of the corporations. Judges are as fallible as anyone, but in such a setting they are as objective as humans can be. And their record in such proceedings is not bad overall.

Politicians, on the other hand, make decisions for poltical reasons as well as for reasons of public good. A politician who finds herself administering a failed company may want to do what's right for the company. She certainly should want to do what's right for the public. But she definitely will want to do what's right to stay in power, which means satisfying what she perceives as the short-term view of the uninformed electorate.

Sometimes a politician will do the right thing as opposed to the politic thing. Sometimes the vox populi, the public interest and corporate fiscal responsibility coincide. But always, when a politician makes a decision, we assume the decision is made for political reasons. That's always a political problem. And for the corporation involved in a government takeover, it generally also accompanies a deepened fiscal problem.

We don't disagree with the firing of the hapless Wagoner. We simply note that the real reasons this move will forever be questioned.

That's while elected officials are miserable corporate boards and not even that great as corporate receivers. That's why GM would have been better off in bankruptcy court, where it seems destined to end up anyway. And that's why we hope that this generation of "progressives" will learn what previous generations have learned already: that when government overreaches, it makes a bigger mess than existed before.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama's Surge

We refer not to the new plan for Afghanistan, being announced by the Obama as we blog, but to the surge of media appearances by our Wunderkind President this week. For those who are keeping track, these include a press conference that preempted American Idol on Tuesday (featuring no teleprompter but a plasma screen monitor with script and talking points on the back wall), a "virtual town hall meeting" yesterday (heralded by media elites as a sign that the Obama is media savvy, as if streaming video were new and still cool), and the press event already noted, this morning's live announcement of Salvation for Afghanistan.

Too much exposure for the Obama? We say probably. Our hypothesis is that voters don't so much change political ideologies as tire of them and the people who articulate them. Many more weeks like this and the national chorus will sing in unison, "You're So Vain."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Classic Joke Told Classically

This is from the interesting site

We thank gentle reader/follower Bobby for technical assistance in prettying up the video window.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

If These Guys Are Mad, Something's Going Right

Gentle readers often wonder how to form Seldom-Wrong opinions if SWNID does not pontificate. We herein provide a SWNIDish solution to SWNID's inability to address everything:

Simply see what Frank Rich and Paul Krugman think. Then think the opposite.

Today's Gray Lady provides the fulminations of both reactionary leftists, who have as of this week abandoned hope of The Obama managing the millennium.

For Rich, the outrage is Obama's failure to leverage massive populist outrage against AIG and accompanying Wall Street fat cats to effect the full-scale federal takeover of the world of banking and investing.

For Krugman, the outrage is Tim Geithner's leaked plan to provide a federally backed system for purchasing toxic assets from banks, thereby creating a liquid market for such assets so that a higher value can fairly be assigned to them. Krugman's beef is that this allows too much private enterprise of the government-backed variety.

Rich at least acknowledges that the AIG bonuses amount to about 1/10th of a cent on every dollar of TARP money received by AIG. But never mind that the sum hardly affects the impact of TARP on liquidity. The point, he says, is that Americans, all seething with righteously apoplectic indignation, are gathering in torch-and-pitchfork-bearing mobs to take down such miscreants and all associated with them. Hence, Obama will never be able to get anything done with his wider agenda, and--worst of all--the evil Republicans (forgive the redundancy) may be thrust back into some measure of power.

Krugman more subtly and indirectly bemoans the loss of the moment to nationalize the banks fully. His word count is obviously more reasonable.

Both pundits quietly are mourning the death of their grand narrative. Obama, a historic and charismatic candidate, came to the Oval Office at a moment of "crisis." Said crisis was not to be wasted. It was to be used to create what the Great Depression could not: an American welfare state replete with government ownership of capital and centralized planning of the economy. Banking, investing, health care and automobile manufacture were to become the possession of Us the People, led by Him the Obama. And that was just the start.

Well, in a couple of weeks, that's all unraveled. Not only has the government--yea, even this anointed government--proved from the get-go utterly inept at managing businesses, the "crisis" has shown significant signs of abating with the measures to preserve liquidity already taken. Political pressure, most especially related to the obscenely elevated level of federal spending and borrowing proposed by the Obamanoids, now appears more than sufficient to slow or even stop the move to remake the Republic on the foundation of the financial freeze-up.

Note well that SWNID does not declare "Mission Accomplished" because these two are disillusioned. Obama still threatens to reset baseline government spending in a way that will handicap prosperity for our Republic's citizens. But we take heart that once again, the forces of politics appear to have restrained many of the excesses of politicians.

As footnotes, we call attention to a couple of particularly amusing aspects of these columns, one for each.

Rich complains that Larry Summers is so politically deaf that he makes Tim Geithner look like Bobby Kennedy. We love the notion that Bobby was the epitome of the politician who taps popular outrage. Had he not been tragically assisinated, Bobby might have made the 1968 election as close as Humphrey did, though it's just as likely that his further-left candidacy would have pushed more independents and Democrats to vote for Nixon, who really tapped popular outrage in 1968. And if one wants an even better example of the politician with a fine ear, one ought to look to the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984.

Krugman has discovered "moral hazard" as an objection to the Geithner toxic-asset plan. We celebrate that, as it was the moral hazard of government-guaranteed mortgages that gave rise to the financial crisis. Apparently there's only moral hazard when Krugman doesn't like the program otherwise.

Friday, March 20, 2009

If You Have to Blame Someone

This video, which is making the rounds, provides a place to put the blame.

Just a reminder to gentle readers: as long as the present flock of Dems runs Capitol Hill, we are governed by the agenda of such representative parts of the Republic as San Francisco (Pelosi), Beverly Hills (Waxman), and Cambridge, Mass. (Frank).

"It was like this when we got here" doesn't go very far for the Obamanoids when the people to whom he's outsourced the legislative agenda made it what it was when he got here (more specifically, when he moved up Pennsylvania Avenue).

Weekend Entertainment Feature

We indulge in artistic snobbery to commend and fully endorse the following evaluations of a certain (in)famous saxophonist:

And so to follow:

Hat tip to gentle reader "Raymond" for these bitter gems.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

While Everything Has Been Unraveling

Republicans have caught up to Democrats in the latest generic-ticket polling for the next Congressional elections.

Or more specifically, Dems have fallen back to the level of Republicans.

SWNID believes that in our era each generation of voters has to learn the same lesson: that the promises of the welfare state are appealing but empty. Our generation learned it by 1980, but it took 16 years to get there from LBJ's landslide, Nixon's triangulation, and Carter's moralistic paralysis. We're impressed that many in the present generation of youthful statists seem to be learning their lesson in a matter of weeks.

We expect more of the same in the next several months, unless Rs squander their opportunity with silliness, corruption and infighting.

McNewspaper: Seminaries Face Same Pressures as Others

USA Today today* carries a story about the financial pressures hitting seminaries and Bible colleges. Said pressures are provoking innovation, consolidation and, in some cases, closing.

Here's what SWNID has to say on the topic:
  • The article portrays the situation as accurately as one could expect.
  • Essentially these are the same pressures presently faced by all IHEs, nonprofits and businesses in general.
  • If there is a particular pressure, it is that seminary and Bible college enrollment has been in an extended growth phase for some time. That it now moves in another direction is to be expected, as nothing moves in a straight line.
  • If there is another particular pressure, it is that seminaries and Bible colleges, with some notable exceptions, have been slow to adapt and innovate. We'd say that their slowness in this regard is much less than their loudest critics generally allege but enough to present issues in the short term. In particular, Bible colleges have not adapted to the new realities of traditional undergraduate student recruitment. In particular, the Association of Theological Schools has been loath to allow extensive online education.
  • That having been said, these institutions are in general small enough to be nimble enough to adapt quickly when they have to. They can and probably will get focused, get lean, and get properly (not trendily) innovative. We fully expect that these institutions will largely survive and be stronger at the other end of a painful but necessary process.
  • The financial pressures on the students at such institutions are real, endemic, and not as terrible as one might think. Yes, they're real: students need to pay expensive tuition and won't earn a lot of money after graduation. Indeed, they're endemic: the genteel poverty of the manse is a familiar topos in Western literature. Notably, they're not all that terrible: (a) Bible colleges charge private-college tuition but are cheaper than other privates (SWNID's, not a cheap one, charges less than the some public universities in Ohio); (b) Seminaries cost dough, but much less dough than other professional schools; (c) ministers don't make a lot, but in the main they do roughly as well as some other arts-based, helping professions like school teachers (their financial pressures have much to do with the disparity between their social status and their economic status; cf. the impoverished manse in literature as noted above).
  • A not-too-cursory review of those institutions that have closed in the last year reveals that Charles Darwin's model is at work. None of the defunct institutions were very fit before the financial crisis; all had obvious handicaps.
  • For those Campbellites who have believed the church's mission might be better served if some of our Bible colleges and seminaries cooperated or even merged, we optimistically suspect that your hypothesis may be on the verge of being tested in the real world.
  • The comments on USA Today's article aren't worth engaging, as is typical of comments on most web sites, with the exception of this one. We note that the preponderance of comments come from militant atheist types who are fond of asserting that a divinity degree is pointless and commercially worthless. We wonder how many theological-degree-holders such militant atheists actually know. Suspecting that their conclusion is mere supposition, we indict their self-styled rigorous, rational empiricism. We note further that it seems to be the militant atheists who are underemployed enough to have the leisure to post such comments in numbers disproportionate to their presence in the general population.
With that, back to work.**

*Kindly excuse the stammer.

**N. B. that SWNID has been
continuously employed since earning our first of several theological degrees nearly three decades ago, except when we were studying full time for yet another degree.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If Hoops Were Academics

Then March Madness would look like it does at Inside Higher Ed.

The informative, mildly subversive organ of collegiate news posts its annual NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament bracket based on academic considerations. It may say something that in past years, this bracket yielded a most unlikely tournament outcome, while this years ends rather plausibly. There's a 16 beating a 1 and a 15 beating a 2, but otherwise, the upsets are at least imaginable and the projected champion not at all unthinkable.

Does this mean that athletic and academic quality are beginning to merge?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tea Parties: Pathetic or Prophetic

A little over a week ago, the WSJ's token liberal opinion columnist, Thomas Frank, offered a typically condescending description of the "tea parties" that political conservatives have been organizing as a public protest against profligate federal spending. As far as he was concerned, the parties are staged, manipulated, out of touch and unrealistic, mere "pity parties" for conservatives who are fat and remain sassy, despite their recent electoral thrashing.

Today, the Tea Party happened in Cincinnati, where the Enquirer reports some 4000 folk gathered on a Sunday afternoon to vent their spleen over out-of-control federal spending.

We are witnesses to none of this. But we suspect that Mr. Frank has misunderestimated the degree to which Americans are willing to spend borrowed money to the tune of $17,000 per household to shore up an economy that is now reported by the President himself to be not that bad after all.

We think that most public rallies don't show the best side of the causes they represent. That Frank could attend a couple and find something to ridicule is not much more suprising than finding something to ridicule at the local mall or multiplex.

What's becoming obvious, though, is that the recession is wearing thin as a cover for remaking the relationship between government and citizens in our Republic.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Boot + Kagan + Kagan = Good Advice

Max Boot, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan were among the first to call for the surge in Iraq. In today's Gray Lady, they explain how it can be done--and why it will succeed--in Afghanistan.

Again, the essence of surge strategy is to improve the security of the general populace. Boot and the Kagans note that the odds of success in Afghanistan actually appear better than they did in Iraq, where the surge has succeeded even more than most of its advocates expected.

We urge readers to continue beyond the opening paragraph, which subtly excoriates the President for saying that we aren't winning in Afghanistan. Obviously it takes a while to get used to the idea that your words are heard by everyone in the world and matter to them.

Best Obama Joke So Far

Q. What’s the difference between Obama and Jesus?

A. Jesus was a carpenter; Obama can’t assemble a cabinet.

Big hat tip to commenter Andrew Koenig on the blog of Don Surber at the Daily Mail. Koenig, you are truly the king!

Who's to Blame? Laugh While Blaming Everybody

We tip the SWNIDish hat to Son of SWNID for bird-dogging Joel Stein's most amusing column from the LA Times, entitled "The Economic Blame Game." To stay good for a laugh, it must be read in its entirety. So no quotes here, though we'll give special SWNIDish props to the comparison of Congress to a bad junior college.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

About Half Way into the First 100 Days

Victor Davis Hanson offers what an Obama campaign speech would have been like six months ago, had he been forthcoming about what he's been doing. It's as good as anything in explaining why the American electorate is experiencing buyer's regret.

Meanwhile, even the Obamanoids at Time are asking the most obvious of questions, whether President HopeAndChange is trying to do too much at once. Across the pond, Obama's failure to provide leadership on economic issues is being pilloried.

Where's it all headed? WSJ's Daniel Henninger points out that Obama's consistent economic commitment is to the notion that the wealth flowing to the Republics top earners must be taxed for redistribution, irrespective of the effect that such taxes have on economic growth and general prosperity. It is the politics of envy gone wild to be indignant that someone has more rather than to provide that everyone can have enough.

Meanwhile, no one is able to get appointments made, as Tim Geithner--who in light of his tax returns can't be regarded as an organizational genius himself-- muddles through at Treasury with a skeletal staff. Hillary passes out corny party favors to the Russians as her State Department botches the language. Gitmo is closing without a plan B for people who are self-described terrorists to the bone. Troops are leaving Iraq to go to Afghanistan, where the President strengthens their morale by telling them that we aren't winning. Federal takeover of health insurance will be financed by faux savings from the digitization of medical records, as businesses are "saved" the cost of employees' insurance by yet higher taxes.

Is there a bright spot? Well, Obama made a commitment to charter schools and merit pay for teachers. Notably absent was any mention of vouchers. The head of the NEA is pleased. Should anyone else be?

As the President's true ideological commitments become clear and his lack of administrative experience becomes painfully evident, citizens can only hope for a political miracle to rescue them from a morass that challenges the Carter years for its intransigence and the candidacy of George McGovern for its sheer radicalism.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SWNID Campaigns: Vote for the Bezdeks

As far as we can remember, this is a first for this blog. We are doing what many others do and we don't, normally, that is. We are drumming up support for a favored candidate in an internet-based vote-for-your-favorite contest.

First, watch this video:

Then go to this page and vote for Bryce and Toni Bezdek and family to get a free trip to Disneyworld courtesy of Modern Mom. If you watch the video, you'll understand why this is a good thing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

SWNID Answers: Whaddya Think of Rob Bell?

Commonly asked the question that titles this post, we can now refer our gentle readers to an article that answers as we would.

At Books & Culture, Wheaton NT prof Gary Burge celebrates NT scholar Kenneth Bailey, whose work provides an exceptional example, in Burge's view and ours, of the way that cultural data illuminates the biblical text. Burge is mostly writing about Bailey, who ought to be more widely appreciated.

Meanwhile, Burge begins and ends his article with a reflection on a certain popular, black-tee-shirt-clad preacher, who spoke at his campus's chapel some years ago, a speaker who made copious reference to cultural material that was anachronistic or inaccurate. We know who that is, and gentle readers will too.

So we like Bailey and are not so hep on that other guy.

InternetMonk: I'm Not a Prophet, But Here's the Future

Michael Spencer, who blogs as the iconoclastic InternetMonk, is today featured in, of all places, the Christian Science Monitor predicting the imminent collapse of American Evangelicalism.

SWNID generally eschews prediction, as predictive engagement by definition undermines the "Seldom Wrong" moniker. We do, however, like to make predictions about others' predictions.

We predict that Spencer will be wrong about more than he's right about.

Not that he isn't an acute observer of Christianity's present excesses, inconsistencies, failures and hypocrisies. Not that some of what he says can't or won't happen.

It's just that such predictions, to be reliable, need several kinds of knowledge that Spencer or anyone else except God can't know:
  • A thorough, not just impressionistic, evaluation of the present.
  • A thorough, not just impressionistic, knowledge of the past, as one seeks analogies to the present.
  • Perhaps most obviously, knowledge of what will happen in the future that will change the future in ways unimaginable in the present.
Though the first two categories are serious enough to undermine Spencer and others who imagine the future, these last are the matters most serious, SWNID thinks. If there's anything we know from the past, it's that unexpected stuff happens in the future. The future demographics of American Christianity will be shaped partly by present trends, which never continue to trend the same way at the same rate, and by events that no one is even anticipating presently.

Like all prognosticators, Spencer reflects his tastes in his predictions. Trends he doesn't like (e.g., engagement in politics) will prompt decline. Churches he doesn't like (e.g. therapeutic megachurches) will disappear or morph into something even more dastardly. Foibles that he deems fatal among those whom he critiques (e.g., nominalism and nationalism among Evangelicals) will somehow not affect groups he chooses as winners (e.g. the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, hardly free of nominalism or nationalism by anyone's measure). As usual, the predictions say more about the predictor than the future.

Meanwhile, someone is more or less claiming--again--that he is a prophet. David Wilkerson, stirringly portrayed by Pat Boone in the classic film The Cross and the Switchblade, has been widely quoted in the media as predicting an imminent catastrophe for the Northeast, the very neighborhood where his well-heeled Times Square Church ministers to the down-and-out.

Wilkerson does this kind of thing every once in awhile. Nearly a quarter century ago, a friend gave us a book by Wilkerson, an unreadable conglomeration of indiscriminate condemnations of everything contemporary and predictions of imminent social and economic collapse entitled Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth. The book was reprinted in 2001, proving yet again that nothing reappears quite so often--or so profitably--as failed prognostications.

Monday, March 09, 2009

In Sum, The Entire Question on Climate Change

If you can endure it, watch this video in which Bjorn Lomborg, SWNIDishly celebrated economist, calls out Al Gore, SWNIDishly ridiculed source of hot air, on the confusion of science with public policy.

If you can't endure it, just read this transcript:

BJØRN LOMBORG: Hi, Mr. Vice President. I'm Bjørn Lomborg.

It seems to me that you are probably the most well-known person arguing that we should be spending a large sum of our money and we should be spending most of our concern on focusing on cutting carbon emissions, and cutting very, very soon. And I would argue that the Copenhagen Consensus [think tank] and certainly a lot of really well-esteemed Nobel awards tell us that both scientifically and economically, it's not a very good way to spend our money.

And so my point is to actually say, "Shouldn't we have that debate?" I know you've sort of dodged that bullet before, and I don't mean to corner you. Well, maybe I do mean to corner you. Do you want to have a debate on that? Would you be willing to have a debate with me on that point?

MR. GORE: Look, I think that I want to be polite to you. But the scientific community has gone through this chapter and verse. We have long since passed the time when we as a civilization, let alone we as the United States of America, should pretend that this is an on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand kind of situation.

You know, the tobacco industry for many years after the surgeon general's report collected the epidemiological evidence that was already very, very damning. They had strategic exercises with the PR experts to try to divert people down into the details of this and that. And they delayed public-health action for 40 years. And millions and millions of people died as a result. The stakes this time are so high.

The issue, of course, is the way Gore moves from science to policy. Lomborg doesn't dispute that climate change might exist or even be humanly caused, though he insists that some responsibly do dispute that. He disputes that it's going to be doing humans any good to spend enormous sums to try to reverse that.

For further reference, see our remarks on Obama's disingenuous use of "science."

Let's Amend the Constitution So This Guy Can Be Our President Too

Vaclav Klaus is President of the Czech Republic. This little video makes us wish he were constitutionally eligible to be President of the United States.

Of course, he could be at least listened to in this country.

Obama's Orwellian Doublespeak on Science and Politics

In the fateful year 2000, SWNID paid a visit to the magnificent Israel Museum (and other parts of Israel, Egypt and Turkey, for that matter, but that's off point) with a group of students and colleagues. Availing ourselves of the free guided tour, we listened to the volunteer guide explain the museum's context. Israel, we were told, is the most excavated country in the world. Generations ago, those who excavated it styled themselves "biblical archaeologists" and sought "to prove that the Bible is true." "But today," she intoned solemnly, "archaeology is a science, and today's archaeologists aren't trying to prove anything."

We glanced around our group and were gratified to see smirks of skeptical amusement on all faces.

Our guide then showed us the museum's first display, a stone-age burial site, each detail of which she explained precisely as a part of the primitive culture thousands of years gone, a preliterate culture from which we have by definition not one shred of text to explain what "scientists" have determined so positively and without bias.

Such epistemological naivete is to be expected from wealthy, elderly ladies who have left the Upper West Side to spend their winters in Jerusalem and who fill their days with volunteer work before afternoon cocktails.

Apparently, it is also to be expected of Presidents with law degrees from our Republic's leading university.

After signing an executive order lifting Bush's limits on federal funding for stem-cell research, the President had one of his many assistants (so many assistants, so few appointments: whatever became of "advise and consent"?)--Melody C. Barnes, director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council--announce that he is signing a memo to keep politics out of science.

Yet another authoritative figure untouched by Senate hearings, Harold Varmus, co-chair of Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, said that the memo, as yet unreleased, will "assure a number of effective standards and practices that will help our society feel that we have the highest-quality individuals carrying out scientific jobs and that information is shared with the public."

In other words, to shield science from politics, the Obamanoids assure Americans that they are led by suitably brilliant folks in lab coats, all much smarter than the rest of us. These Uebermenchen will share their wisdom with us plebs, despite the fact that we won't be able to understand or question it.

Nice. The guarantee that politics stays out of science is an overtly political program, a public-relations campaign that uses language as skilfully as any character in Orwell's books.

One more time, we state the obvious--our specialty:
  • Science is not a better way of knowing than other ways of knowing. It tells us much about the natural world. It tells us nothing about meaning, ethics, aesthetics, and other matters.
  • Whether embryonic stem cells have properties that could be therapeutic is a question that "science" might be able to answer. Whether destroying embryos to carry out such research is right or wrong is not a scientific question but an ethical one. Any decision to limit or not limit such research is not scientific and has nothing to do with the importance of science.
  • Bush never restricted all stem-cell research, only federally funded research on embryonic stem cells that were not from the lines already subject to research. In effect, he made certain that more human embryos would not be destroyed on the taxpayers' dime, since many taxpayers believe that such destruction is murder or something approaching it. The decision was to respect the ethics of millions of taxpayers, not to stop scientific research. In that respect, it sought a balance between the two ethical conclusions at odds with each other in the body politic.
  • By saying that politics will not interfere with science, Obama either confuses what science can do or cynically announces that no ethical considerations will limit his administration's funding of scientific research.
  • Or more likely, Obama is announcing that science will be restricted only in those matters that do not fit his administration's ideology. It just takes some effort to understand that from the announcement.
  • Obama's move is first of all to ingratiate his administration to all who depend on federal grants for research. He's promising, in effect, that while bankers, brokers and businessmen will be subject to stricter regulation in the future, researchers in the pure sciences will not. MBAs bad; PhDs good.
  • Obama's longer-term move is to clothe his entire administration in the sacred priestly garb of "science." Policy decisions can now be advanced as the results of unfettered science, unquestionable in its objectivity, acuity and efficacy.
Who do we call next, Dr. Mengele or Dr. Science?

Weingarten on a Distinctly Modern Tragedy

WaPo journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten yesterday offered a disturbing, thoughtful, emotionally wrenching account of the tragedy of children who are left in hot cars when their caregivers, usually doting parents, forget that they were there.

For those who wonder how such things can happen, Weingarten explains in both experiential and neuroscientific terms.

For those who wonder why people can be so bitterly committed to the idea that these parents should be prosecuted, Weingarten offers explanation as well, which we quote for its impressive, if unintentional, grasp of what we deem a sound theological view of why some condemn others:

A substantial proportion of the public reacts not merely with anger, but with frothing vitriol.

Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. "We are vulnerable, but we don't want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we'll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don't want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters."

Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate is considering a bill that would make leaving a child in a vehicle "negligently" a misdemeanor of various degrees, depending on the degree of harm to the child. We find the proposed statute unsuitably unclear as to whether the act of leaving must be conscious. There is not point to punishing those who, like the subjects of Weingarten's essay, experienced the failure of memory that afflicts all humans, in their rare cases with unspeakably tragic and horrible results. No threat of punishment is worse than the specter of losing a child or capable of making human memory infallible. The law needs an explicit exclusion of acts done without knowledge or intent.

On another front, we commend the organization Kids and Cars for its campaign to raise awareness and find solutions for the tragic deaths of children caused by vehicles that are not in traffic accidents.

Regular readers of this blog will know why SWNID writes of this matter.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Markets,Virtue and Faith

With the kind recommendation of gentle reader JB in CA, we commend today's First Things featured essay by Hunter Baker (a rather interesting name derived from two common nouns of agency; compare Tinker Tailor).

Baker's reflection is that while there is wisdom in markets, markets are far from perfect. Populated by sinners, markets can allow injustice, even perpetuate it.

What to do about it? Here's Baker's conclusion:

For a long time my natural instinct, the one that kept me deaf to the complaints of those claiming to have been treated unjustly, has been to defend the corporate estate against all criticisms. We must not be so passive even toward a system that has provided so well for most of us. Is the answer more government? No. The answer is to consistently call for righteousness.

We, of course, agree mostly. That's why we don't describe ourself as libertarian. Those Cato Institute guys have a lot to say, but without virtuous marketeers, free markets don't serve the common good as consistently as they ought.

The "call for righteousness" needs some explication in our view. We think it's possible to persuade many toward wisdom and justice, a little. But we think that decisive change requires conversion. We don't expect to convert most. So we will stand in the public square to call for the promotion of virtue, but mostly we will stand in public and private for something beyond virtue, something needed by people who recognize their ultimate inability to obtain virtue. The former we do to mitigate injustice. The latter we do to eradicate it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Baptism: Slam Dunk

The writer with whom we agree most has an article on the unnecessarily contentious topic of Christian baptism in this week's Christian Standard. The articles appears here.

Dems Jumping Ship on Obama Spendathon

Since the Obamanoids introduced their budget resolution, we've been waiting quietly for the phrase "Democratic Party discipline" to be proved again an oxymoron. It has begun, notably with Evan Bayh's op ed in today's WSJ.

The article itself is completely unremarkable in every way, just like its ostensible author. Filled with the stale bromides about overspending and how governors, unlike the feds, have to balance state budgets, Bayh provides shallow analysis and bland rhetoric. He's right and boring at the same time: otameal without raisins and brown sugar, or to use the metaphor long-ago applied to Mr. Bayh, a Ken doll, well groomed and utterly uninteresting.

What Bayh does, however, is give cover to Democratic Senators, not just members of the House, to object to the profligacy that is a $1.75 trillion dollar deficit (we apologize for the understatement in a previous post). In that regard, he's the vanguard of what just might save the Republic from fiscal disaster.

We say that there's nothing notable about Bayh's piece, but we will call attention to one amazing feat. He somehow manages to imply the Obama had nothing to do with producing the omnibus. Without stating as much, it's as if the current omnibus is merely a carryover of the previous year's, not the definitive statement of policy priorities for the Obama era (when everything is a "priority"). Bayh calls on Obama to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, even though everyone knows that the new President directed its construction and approved its massive size. Such are the machinations of a Senator who wants to burnish his national reputation without being blamed for betraying his party's most successful national standard bearer in a generation or more.

But that's how politics works among sinners. Others will doubtless join Bayh out of sheer political interest (e.g. the forty-some Dems in the House whose districts voted for McCain), and one can hope that the worst will be whittled away.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ah, That's What He's Been Up To!

As the DJIA has dropped 25% since January 2, half its total bear-market plunge, it might seem that investors have been giving Obama's stimulus, bailout and budget proposals a series of emphatic raspberries.

But no! Today the President revealed what he's up to.

He's been restoring P/E ratios to their proper level so that Americans can invest again. As quoted by ABC, the President said:

What you're now seeing is ... profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you've got a long-term perspective on it.

Too bad that the long-term perspective is for higher corporate and individual taxes, including a tax on productivity disguised as carbon cap-and-trade. Incentives to take risks are tough to find in an Obama-led future that focuses on redistributing wealth instead of creating it.

After 9/11 Bush told us to shop. Now Obama is telling us to buy stocks. All we need now is Carter telling us to wear sweaters.

Solution to Budget Deficit Found

Yet another Obama appointee has tax problems. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, appointed but not confirmed as trade representative, owes $10k in back taxes on honoraria and gifts. Now that he's being appointed to a cabinet-level post, he's going to pay what he owes.

But here's the genius of it all. With such things, the deficit can be eliminated.

Let's run this logically:
  • All Obama appointees owe back taxes and pay them when appointed.
  • Obama is appointing more people than any previous POTUS.
  • So if Obama appoints enough people to office, he can generate enough revenue to close the deficit. Say, one appointment from each household in America.
But wait! That won't work. Here's why.

Let's assume that everyone appointed would owe $10k like Kirk. There are about 110 million households in the country. That comes out to $1.1 trillion dollars. The Obama deficit is $1.5 trillion or so. We're short.

So next we annex Canada and appoint all of them to the Cabinet.