Thursday, December 17, 2009

Poll: Americans Nostalgic for Good Old Days of Dubya

Bloomberg reports interesting polling data today.

Americans approve of Obama's surge in Afghanistan. His approval numbers on the Afghan War are up to 52% from 42% a year ago. Not bad for a drawn-out, foreign war.

Meanwhile, disapproval of the healthcare initiative stands at 47%, versus 32% who approve.

In sum, America likes BHO when he follows Dubya's approach and dislikes it when he does what Dubya didn't do. That's tough for a guy who continues to campaign against his predecessor.

Copenhagen Reality

Those who say that global warmism is not intrinsically connected to faux-socialist totalitarianism have a lot of explaining to do.

Aussie reporter Andrew Bolt notes that Copenhagen Summit delegates accorded thunderous applause to one Hugo Chavez, lately the tyrant of Venezuela, for such chestnuts as
[O]ur revolution seeks to help all people…socialism, the other ghost that is probably wandering around this room, that’s the way to save the planet, capitalism is the road to hell....let’s fight against capitalism and make it obey us.
Nice reality check there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At Last: Real Writers Call Out BHO's Fave Rhetorical Moves

Reason's Jacob Sullam is the first we've seen in a real publication to point out Obama's favorite rhetorical trope, the false-false choice. Along the way, he also notes Obama's penchant for the phrase "there are those who say . . ." to introduce something that no one really says, and to introduce his own assertions with "let me be just clear," a clause that regularly introduces a statement that is a clear as it is counter-factual.

Good. Let's hope others start drawing attention to this tired stuff.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From Gitmo to Thomson

The administration's anticipated announcement that is at last, as promised, closing the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center and moving the detained terrorists to the former Thomson Correctional Center will satisfy the President's restive leftist base.

It will not, however, do what it's advertised to do, namely, to take from Al Qaida a recruitment tool.

As long as alleged terrorists are detained without trial, as they should be and will be, and as long as those detainees can advance the notion that they're being abused, which they have done and will do, and as long as many in the West champion the detainees as victims, as they have done and will do, a few of the world's billions will make the romantically unrealistic decision to join the anti-American jihad, as they have done. Moving detainees from Cuba to Illinois, where the weather is worse in winter, hardly seems to make a difference that even a jihadist could recognize.

For those keeping score, once again the left has registered its preference for symbolism over substance.

Oral Roberts, 1918-2009

As announced on the Oral Roberts Ministries web site, evangelist Oral Roberts died today at the age of 91.

Of the various things that might be said about Roberts, we will say this: he is the person most responsible for popularizing what is now derisively called the health-and-wealth gospel. With his concept of "seed faith," Roberts successfully promulgated the idea that those who by faith invest something with God will reap material abundance.

That notion has been around the world multiple times since Roberts first preached it. Today the prosperity gospel is a global, not just American phenomenon, especially powerful in Pentecostal circles but hardly confined to them.

So as Oral Roberts has passed from this life to the life to come, it is worth assessing the future of seed faith and the good news of prosperity. We think that Roberts' distinctive concepts are in for a rough time in the near future. Bad theology yields massive disappointment, and health-and-wealth is bad theology for sure. As it spreads, it also withers.

But we also think it's here to stay. Something deep inside people wants to believe that wealth can be conjured. Roberts' surviving disciples will always have an audience ready to have its ears tickled while hoping to have its pockets filled.

Like pyramid marketing, we will always have the prosperity perversion of the gospel--and its casualties.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fanfares and Flourishes for Louise Nippert

Quiet local philanthropist Louise Nippert has given $85 million dollars to support classical music in Cincinnati. Most will got to the Cincinnati Symphony, with some to the Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet.

Our cold, reptilian heart is strangely warmed. We'll all be going to symphony concerts for the foreseeable future. That's a very good thing.

Next step for local music: establishing the Blue Wisp Big Band as a foundation-supported jazz repertoire orchestra, like the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Someone want to ante up for that?

Blair: Without WMD, Still Right to Remove Saddam

Tony Blair yesterday stated flatly that invading Iraq to remove Saddam was right even though Saddam was faking the WMD. Per Reuters:

He said in the interview that the threat Saddam posed to the region was uppermost in his mind and the possibility that Iraq had powerful weapons was only one factor behind his decision. Others were Saddam's 12 years of stalling United Nations weapons inspectors and his use of chemical weapons on his own people.

Thanks, Mr. Blair, for articulating the SWNIDish position for the wider public. We ask everyone again to engage in the exercise of imagining a world in which Saddam was still in power.

Note that this statement could have been made in Oslo by another prominent global leader.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

SWNIDishly Parsing Obama's Nobel Speech

In response to overwhelming popular demand, we offer a few words about President Obama's several words in Oslo.

First, we applaud the President for escaping his leftist patrons to articulate a relatively clear notion of just war. His speech was frank about the realities of persistent human violence. We particularly applaud this passage (even if it contains a misplaced semicolon as presented on the White House web site):

For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Even more than this commonsense observation, Obama stepped out of the left's control to argue for American exceptionalism, at least recently:

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

Of course, it would take a fool to miss the implied criticism of the Iraq War, in such passages as these:

I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks. . . .

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

So the best that one can say about the Iraq War is that it is "winding down." It doesn't rank as "a conflict that America did not seek," or as one that the world recognized was necessary. Never mind the coalition that joined the United States in Iraq. Never mind the UN resolutions authorizing action if Saddam didn't abide by treaties and resolutions. Never mind that the outcome is a nation liberated of one of the most murderous dictators on the world stage.

Of course, if Obama had affirmed the justice of overthrowing Saddam, if he had gone as far as to affirm that wars can be just if they defeat tyrants and liberate the oppressed, he would have undermined every campaign speech he has ever made, include the ones he's delivered since being elected. So he remained complicit in the rationale for the award: Obama is not Bush.

We have other objections to elements of the speech. Obama rightly implies that other nations must take responsibility for global order, that the United States cannot be expected always to clean up the mess. But he offers no compelling vision to motivate that action. Yes, he said that genuine peace involves the "inherent rights and dignity" of individuals. But he gave no ringing call that the world's peoples should vigorously pursue that end. Apparently a call for freedom and justice sounds too much like the rhetoric of his predecessor. Worse, he suggests that nonmilitary actions like sanctions can somehow be made painful enough to force dastardly regimes to become less dastardly. We remain unsure on how trade embargoes will motivate murderous dictators to relinquish power. We do know that sanctions can impoverish the oppressed while the oppressors continue to enrich themselves. Slapping Myanmar's brutal dictatorship with something that hurts probably means more than expelling diplomats and restricting trade.

But most naively, Obama talked, albeit briefly, about a world without nuclear weapons. We excuse the young President if he was not yet interested in international affairs in the 1980s when Baroness Thatcher made the trenchant observation that nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented. Even if they could be effectively banned, if war broke out or even threatened, or if a nation had aggressive ambitions, there would simply be a highly dangerous, unstable race to build weapons first.

And of course, he had to triangulate in the middle of a false choice:

[W]ithin America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists -- a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices.

It's like hearing "Free Bird" at a Lynard Skynard concert: no one is leaving until we get the "rejected false choice" trope. Hey Barry, reject a false choice!

Others have noted the inappropriate references to Nixon in China or Reagan negotiating nuclear treaties. Those diplomatic moves were potent precisely because they came from leaders distinguished by their uncompromising confrontation with the bad guys. Obama so far has been noted for wanting to improve America's PR, and despite his premature Nobel, he's been largely ignored. They'll only listen to the soft speaking if you carry a big stick.

Ending on a call to love as the teaching of all the world's religions was nice, if hackneyed. Acknowledging that military force is a grim necessity was excellent, even if muddled. Calling for diplomacy and development was pointless preaching to the choir, and dull preaching at that.

Shall we grade the speech? We shall. It was fluent and clear. It managed to say something important that we fully expected to be ignored. It ungraciously joined the Nobel Committee in giving Dubya a wedgie. It was downright stupid on nukes. It weakly resorted to cliches, especially at its end.

But we are a generous grader who likes to acknowledge what is good more than punish what is wrong. So we would assign a B-, except that it was articulate even in its banalities. So we reward the President with a B.

That's the kind of grade we figure he got at Columbia and Harvard, though no one knows, since Obama, unlike recent Presidential candidates, never released his transcripts.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Reid: The Sum of All Fears

And as if on cue, Harry Reid combines in one half-minute both rhetorical tropes recently called out by SWNID:

Senator, you've got this one backwards and inside out. Present Republicans haven't said, "Slow down." They've said, "Do something else entirely, and soon."

The previous Republican President advocated the kinds of reforms that would begin to correct the market distortions that exacerbate healthcare inflation and provide greater insurance coverage. But the Democratic majority in Congress wanted nothing of it, declaring that Bush wanted to "dismantle" our "employer-based healthcare system" (surely one of the greatest debasements in the usage of the term "system" that one can imagine).

Also, Mr. Reid, this issue of extending health insurance, serious as it is, hardly bears comparison to the slavery problem. But if you want to make the comparison, we invite you to bring it on.

You see, soon-to-be ex-Senator, the party that on the present healthcare issue most resembles those who opposed an end to slavery is, well, the party that opposed an end to slavery, namely, the Democrats. Your bill is most like the awful compromises that sought to placate stubborn Southerners with ever more elaborate jerry-rigging to effect passage through Congress, not to address real problems with real sense. Rather than go back to the beginning and say that slavery was wrong, Ds sought to preserve it with elaborately reasoned, complex formulae, all of which fell apart because they didn't get at the root of the problem, that slavery was allowed to continue at all.

The root of America's problem today is preferential tax treatment for employer-provided health insurance, compounded by the government's massive over-intervention in the marketplace. It takes 2k pages of legislation for Dems to "reform" what needs simply to be removed, and would have been had Republicans been heeded in the last presidential term.

Our analogy beats yours, soon-to-be-lobbyist Reid.

So there.

Panic Is the Enemy of Clear Thinking, But an Excellent Sales Tactic

We are deeply resentful of all those who attempt to sell us something on the basis of false urgency, as in the following:

"This price is only good if you act today."

"Someone in the parts department wants this car, but the sales manager said you can have it if you match his price."

"This is the last one in stock, and I don't know if we will get any more."

Many such statements are factually false. Every such statement is an attempt to panic the buyer into a decision without gathering all the facts, including especially the relative merits and prices of comparable products from other sellers.

And these are exactly the tactics of last resort in politics, presently on display in the issues that have occupied much of this blog lately, namely global warming and healthcare reform.

For the former, note the Guardian's opinion piece which declares:

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days.

Wow! Let's applaud the geniuses who managed to schedule the Copenhagen summit at the precise fortnight, amidst millennia, in which the fateful decision must be made! But mark your calendars: the winter solstice of 2009 marks The End of the World as We Know It.

And on healthcare, Sen. Diane Feinstein is saying what nearly every Democrat seems to be saying these days:

If we miss this opportunity to pass this bill, it's lost. . . . This is the opportunity for health care reform. Some people say, well, we should do it next year, there are too many things. Y'know, there's an element of truth to that. But this is it. . . . If we don't deliver, we've got a problem.

Thanks, Senator! Even when you're willing to admit that no one in the parts department actually wants to buy that car, you're still hounding me with questions about how we can make the deal today. Apparently you think we're too much of a fool not to realize that a problem that's been brewing slowly for decades can stand some time for deliberation.

By contrast with such huckster tactics, we endorse instead the celebrated principle of the celebrated Stephen Sample, retiring president of the University of Southern California and author of the celebrated Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, which he styles "thinking gray":

Wise leaders can 'think gray." Most people take a binary approach to life, instantly categorizing things as good or bad, true or false, black or white. Effective leaders study the shades of gray inherent in situations before making decisions. They may put off making a decision until tomorrow, when new information might be available. They suspend judgment--not unlike a judge considering all the facts in a case--before making a final decision.

So we urge all thoughtful Americans to "think gray" by demanding that politicians debate these issues through 2010 and so make the upcoming elections a referendum on them. Lefties, if you're so right, what have you got to lose? Won't time make all the more obvious the needs which you insist drive your solutions?

Interestingly, federal law demands that any sale made in an individual's home may be canceled by the buyer within 72 hours. Our nanny-state Congressmen once acknowledged the duplicity of pressure tactics and gave consumers a statutory cooling-off period enabling them to get the pressurizing salesman out of the house so that they can do some thinking and comparing.

We simply ask for the same consideration with something much bigger.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Political-Economic Education in Comic-Book Form

Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is a classic of political and economic analysis. But who has time to read it?

So, Look Magazine (Motto: We were the first to demonstrate that print media was obsolete!) helpfully presents the contents of the Austrian genius's work in an illustrated brochure.

Note that it is not necessary to see every step of Hayek's scenario as inevitable, simply that one step did indeed lead to another in the rise of totalitarianism and that the same assumptions will have similarly disastrous results whenever they are applied. So his tale is not strictly predictive but cautionary: people aren't smart enough or good enough to plan centrally, so leave them mostly alone.

We gladly accept gentle readers' thanks for drawing attention to this up-to-the-minute resource.

Baucus, Clinton in Love: How Ds Differ from Rs, Mostly

Hillary Clinton has a crush on the British Foreign Secretary.

Max Baucus nominated his romantic interest, whom he started dating before his divorce, for US Attorney.

Generally, Republicans get canned when they stray sexually (Gingrich), though the canning can proceed in slo-mo (Sanford). For Democrats, boys will be boys (the other Clinton, every Kennedy ever), and so girls should be girls, too (Rodham-Clinton).

Democrats are the perfect party of free sex. Republicans are the utterly imperfect party of traditional morality.

Vote your conscience.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A SWNIDish Christmas Gift: The Shop Around the Corner

Thanks to Google video, we offer you, our gentle readers, a gift: the opportunity to view on this blog in its entirety the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner.

Pauline Kael called it a nearly perfect movie. We agree. If you don't agree, too bad for you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Blowing Hot Air

Since the revelation of "Climategate" emails, it's impossible to write about global warming without acknowledging at least the perception that the data has been "mishandled." Right?

True, unless you are an opinion columnist for the Guardian.

In that storied organ of the left, Jeffrey Sachs does the impossible. The essence of his column, which doesn't bear reading in detail, is that the time to act is NOW.

Well, it doesn't bear reading except for these parts:

We've debated for years about who should control emissions, by how much, when, and according to binding or non-binding commitments. Yet we can't settle these issues without also getting into the details about the deployment of low-carbon technologies, social behaviours and the quantitative realities of energy systems, transport technologies, food production, water scarcity, and population trends. We will continue to go around in circles until we are much more systematic in bringing scientific and engineering realities to the table. Our negotiations need much greater grounding in our true options and their costs. . . .

Let's start by recognising that most of the human-made crisis emerges from a few pivotal human activities: how and what we grow to eat; how we mobilise and distribute energy; how we transport ourselves and our freight; and how we build our buildings and lay out our cities. Each related sector requires its own intensive strategy – to identify the kind of research and development activities, public infrastructure investments and public policy to accompany a positive price on carbon emissions, through permits or taxes. Countries would have a lot to share – for instance in new technological options – and a lot that would distinguish them, according to geography, resource base, development level, and more.

In other words, let's empower the diplomats and bureaucrats at Copenhagen to micromanage the lives of seven billion people. The crisis is here! We need the central planners to get busy to save the world from its awful self!

Recommending response: smirking. Sachs is the equivalent of a French general in 1940 saying the Maginot Line was a good idea.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Department of Bubble Bursting

Were you one of the many who enjoyed Julie and Julia for its pleasant, romantic narrative of young married life in the big city, embellished by French cooking?

Well, here comes a cold dose of reality, courtesy of authoress Julie Powell.

Her latest book is another memoir: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. Per a review in today's WSJ, Powell chronicles in the book her apprenticeship with a butcher and her obsessive, sado-masochistic extramarital affair.

For those of us who enjoyed the movie's sweet portrayal of a wife and husband making their way through the vicissitudes of modern marriage with loyalty and patience, the contents of this new book are a bitter reminder of the realism of most Hollywood movies.

We won't venture a guess as to whether Ms. Powell's literary agent or publisher saw this one coming when they inked the deal for multiple books after the first one. What's left to explore after a book that combines such disparately distasteful themes?

Another fantasy destroyed, though we do appreciate the clever ambiguity of the book's title.