Saturday, February 27, 2010

SWNIDish Advice for Social Media

As a weekend feature, we release our pent-up urge to counsel the world on the use of social media.

Some of our advice we offer exclusively to our Christian sisters and brothers. Other advice applies to humans in general.

For those without the patience or time to read our advice, we summarize it in a sentence:

When using social media, temper honesty both with discretion and with the ambition to become the person you ought to aspire to be.

There's the positive statement. Here are the warnings:

  • Don't use social media for talk about politics or faith that is either constant or overtly polemic. This is akin to the old maxim about avoiding those subjects in polite conversation, with the qualifying observation that such talk is impolite when it becomes dominant or domineering. We have a few friends who do little with their social media but offer self-righteous comments and share highly partisan links, daring their friends to take issue with their pronouncements. Folks, that's what blogs are for. Don't pick a fight where people are posting pictures of their grandchildren or describing the yummy dessert they just overindulged in. (We know one habitual user of social media who expresses as one of his "interests" the pointing out of the hypocrisy of people with whose political and religious positions he disagrees. We find this so-called hobby disturbingly akin to making fun of the disabled.)
  • Confine statements about how wonderfully in love you are with your significant other to messages that can be viewed only by your significant other. Anything that would make people roll their eyes, avert their gaze, stick a finger down their throats or holler "Get a room," if done in their physical presence, should not be offered in their virtual presence. If you sense the need to strengthen your significant other's self esteem with public affirmation, offer congratulations for some public achievement, like cleaning the bathroom or bringing home the bacon.
  • Don't annoy your friends with your social-media gamesmanship, unless you are sure that specific friends are gaming too. Farms, fish, mobsters, pillows, hugs, and their kin are your gifts to the few and your curse on the many. "Spam" is too polite an expression for these unwelcome annoyances.
  • Jesus followers, don't flaunt your liberty. We insist that for Christians the boundaries of alcohol consumption, tobacco use and vulgar language are not marked with bright red lines. But we also insist that many in our family who struggle to recover from habits and addictions and are not well served by those who commonly share their use of alcohol, tobacco and vulgar language in the friendly forums of cyberspace. A little solidarity and support here would go a long way. Here's a guideline: if you wouldn't drop an F-bomb in the actual presence of SWNID,* don't abbreviate the same in your status updates and comments. Likewise for indulging in a substance or conversing enthusiastically about such indulgence. We add that those who think they display their sophistication with their use of alcohol, tobacco or bad words are really displaying their lack of imagination.
  • Closely akin to the previous observation, photos that show drinks and smokes in the foreground, and especially those in which the human subjects raise their glasses--or, worse, bottles--in a salute, put no one in a positive light. The same goes for beach and pool photos, in which no one, even the exceptionally fit, ever looks his or her best. We recommend leaving the camera at home on occasions where photos like these would inevitably result. But for those pictures that do exist, please refrain from sharing, thank you very much.
For those interlocutors who will counter that we are imposing a standard of hypocrisy on social media, we draw attention again to our thesis about aspiration. We hope that by consciously presenting oneself in social media along the lines of a high aspiration, one would become more conscious of such aspirations in private as well. Ultimately, of course, one who does good and well when alone does so because she or he knows that no one is ever genuinely alone. But just perhaps, discreet use of social media can be a stepping-stone to such a consciousness.

*N.B. that SWNID is here cast in the role normally held by "Mom."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Clients or Citizens?

In yesterday's massive pile of pony manure, the universally maligned healthcare summit at Blair House, there was indeed a buried pony. Here is said pony: the six minutes of Paul Ryan explaining with laser-like sharpness exactly what ails ObamaCare:

Ryan wasted not a word and neglected not a salient point, in our view. Everything he said about the financing is utterly and totally true, and it does no good to note that both parties have from time to time hidden the costs of their initiatives with budget tricks. The truth is out there, and this is the truth.

But amidst the costs of ObamaCare, Ryan also nicely lays out why Rs insist that this bill needs to be done over entirely. Republicans disagree with the fundamental premise of ObamaCare because they have a fundamentally different view of the body politic. Ryan makes this his pointed conclusion: that the essential difference between Ds and Rs on this issue is that Ds want the government to control costs and Rs want people to control costs.

The difference in effectiveness between fiat price controls and markets setting costs by supply and demand is well enough known not to need repetition. Need we cite the fact that those small segments of the medical industry where government subsidies do not play a role--like laser vision correction and cosmetic surgery--are also those where actual cost competition is strongly at work?

As a handy heuristic and mnemonic device, we recommend the following: Democrats regard Americans as clients. Republicans regard them as citizens.

This difference is so vivid and deeply ingrained in both parties that BHO at one point yesterday remarked that health insurance coverage must be first-dollar coverage because otherwise people won't go to the doctor. His Americans are clients who need care, not citizens who make decisions.

Oddly enough, Hollywood has a movie coming out in which a character loudly proclaims that because BHO is President, "We make decisions." Let's hope so.

SWNIDish postscript: If the election were held today, we would vote for Paul Ryan for President. We like what we saw in those six minutes.

Update: IBD notes what we note: Ryan lays out the facts, and BHO does not rebut them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Without the Dutch, BHO Is Not Much, Or Why the USA Is What It Is

The Dutch government has collapsed. Therefore, the Dutch are pulling out of Afghanistan.

That sounds terrible. Really it's not. But it is instructive.

The Dutch had a couple of thousand troops with NATO in Afghanistan. There presence was doubtless helpful but hardly strategically necessary.

The "collapse" of a Dutch government, like the collapse of any parliamentary government, simply means that a majority of members of parliament no longer support the present cabinet. So things go on hold for awhile, until a new majority emerges, often after an election.

What's instructive here has everything to do with the USA, who are not simply historic victors over Canada in Olympic men's ice hockey but are genuinely in a unique position in our world presently. And, one hopes, for some time to come.

We note the instructiveness of the Hollanders' situation concerning American exceptionalism.

First, BHO was elected to make things right--things including the hatred of America engendered by BHO's despicable predecessor, Dubya. They hated him, so the tale goes, and so they hated us. Exhibit A in the case for hatred was Europe's unwillingness to send troops to Iraq to help with Dubya's unjust war. BHO, a kind and gentle leader of wisdom and integrity, was going to fight the good war in Afghanistan. He would unite the world's solons in a campaign of universal love that would eliminate the evildoers: first the Republicans, then the Taliban.

Hasn't worked that way. Europe is still balky about fighting because it's Europe. They got all the fight kicked out of them in the 1940s, and they got used to relying on Uncle Sam through the Cold War. It's the tale of the Little Red Hen, militarized, with the United States as the noble chicken.

Second, the Dutch situation exposes the folly of those who say that the American system of governance is irrevocably broken and ought to be fixed. Tom Harkin (D-Irrelevancy) has introduced a bill to address this issue: a proposed change of Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster. Even his esteemed majority leader, Harry Reid (D-Ineptitude), notes dryly that a Senate rules change requires 67 votes. But the impetus of Harkin's move is to paint the Democrats' situation as doomed because the system is broken. His bill won't pass because of Republicans, as much a mathematical truism as 2 + 2 = 4.

Those with a memory will recall that the system was broken when Carter was POTUS. Then Reagan fixed it. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II all managed to pass some major legislative initiatives thanks to the exercise of political skill and thoughtful compromise.

Now it's broken again, and other countries can show us a better way.

The Dutch are exemplars of the better way. In a parliamentary system like theirs, the parliament can do just about anything with a simple majority. That can include sudden and radical change--like the British Labour government's establishment of a comprehensive welfare state in the wake of WWII, change that went far beyond what FDR could accomplish even with a massive congressional majority during the Depression.

But parliaments can also--and frequently do--dissolve governments. Said governments then are replaced with new ones, often representing the opposition party that rolls back the previous government's initiatives. Were it not for the sinister moderating effect of a Brahman class of civil servants who provide continuity, parliamentary systems would yo-yo their republics into oblivion (see, until relatively recently, Italy).

So we offer a SWNIDish thank you to the noble Netherlanders. Y'all have shown that it is a good thing that the United States has sufficient military power to extend Democracy singlehandedly in selected situations. You have also shown that the Framers were on to something with their slow-and-steady approach to governance.

Now, if we could repeal direct election of the Senate . . .

Obama's Latest and Greatest Defines Dems' 2010 Campaign Bogeyman

The latest Healthcare Plan to Save America is all that and a little more.

The all that is pretty much the same as what the House and Senate have passed but won't conference on thanks to the loss of the Democratic Senate supermajority that makes its passage impossible.

The little bit more is the empowerment of the federal government to roll back "egregious" premium increases by insurance companies. Google "WellPoint" for background. WellPoint is the new Osama.

Such an addition is entirely political for several reasons that are patently obvious. And since pointing out the patently obvious is what we do on this blog, here goes:

  • First, such a move would be entirely impossible economically. Rolling back a big increase simply because it's big while at the same time not addressing mandates for specific coverage or for open enrollment will make it impossible for insurance companies to do business. It's essentially saying that the government can eliminate profits at will.
  • Second, the previous point makes the provision entirely unconstitutional. Congress can regulate interstate commerce. It cannot outlaw it. There's settled precedent that regulated companies, like public utilities, have to be allowed to make a profit. The Supremes would deliberate about five minutes on this and rule 9-0.
  • Third, this provision makes it less, not more likely, that the bill will get sufficient support to pass. Even if the Ds resort to using reconciliation, it's very unlikely they'll get a House majority for this stinker and rather unlikely they can get 51 in the Senate. Right now, Democrats are the Democrats' problem, not Republicans.
So what's the point--to pass the thing, drive insurance companies out of business and introduce single payer? Our friends on the far left probably think this is the case. As always, they're wrong. Passionate, but wrong.

The point is to let the bill go down to defeat and then blame the Rs in the fall for not standing up to the insurance companies. It's putting some red meat in the populist freezer.

BHO and his Chi cronies know that everyone hates health insurance companies. They intend to link Republicans to this hated class and present themselves as Champions of the Little Guy. There's probably an element of payback as well: BHO courted the insurance giants for support and got it, but then he lost it as he started dealing sharp for the benefit of unions. It's not nice to mess with The One, and insurance companies are about to be demonized for the part they played in the unraveling of The Historical Legacy.

Bottom line: The White House is playing the electorate for stupid. We'll know around midnight on November 2 if they're right.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This Means Nothing, Of Course

In a massive show of political ineptitude that threatens to justify every negative characterization of conservatives, the CPAC straw poll has nutjob Ron Paul as the big winner with 31%.

Ron Paul is the man who wants to bring back isolationism and the gold standard (almost)--Republican platform planks from the 1930s. Ron Paul is the man who says that Osama Bin Laden has reasons for his anger and we should listen to them. Ron Paul, a man with two first names and no last name, finds himself at that far end of the right wing that meets up nicely with the far end of the left wing.

Here, by contrast, is the good news. Twice as many conventioneers didn't vote for Paul as did. They expressed themselves as follows, per CNN:

The announcement of Paul's win, a surprise victory unlikely to have a major impact on the 2012 presidential contest, drew a volley of loud boos from the CPAC audience.

And for those who voted for Paul, who are mad and won't take it any more, a few weeks of sustained exposure to Paul will certainly cool their ardor.

In the meantime, we can hear Democrats chuckling and rubbing their hands together. Tomorrow everyone on a Sunday talk show will receive an email instructing them on how to characterize conservatives as out-of-touch extremists who are consumed by hatred and negativity. And tomorrow there will be just enough truth in that for the characterization to stick.

Healthcare Bill Back from the Dead?

Will Dems get a healthcare reform bill though Congress, despite the loss of their fillibuster-proof majority that assumed the existence of heretofore invisible Democratic Party unity?

No. But acting like they might is for them presently an absolute necessity.

We parse the politics this way:

  • On the one hand, Obama is playing the "bipartisan" card, inviting Rs to a Big Meeting to Share Ideas. But since he insists on talking about the Ds' bill as it stands, Rs are rightly insisting that while they'll attend the meeting, they don't expect to do much without a pledge to start over with a clean slate. Gambit: offer some light revisions that look Republican, keep the essence of the bill intact, and when Rs refuse to support, hang the "obstructionist" label on them.
  • On the other hand, Ds loudly leak their "plans" to use reconciliation to get a bill through. This has little hope, not only because it's unclear that it will stand up to parliamentary scrutiny, but because it's extremely uncertain that the Ds could muster a majority in the House for any bill presently, and maybe not even 51 in the Senate, given the stink that would arise from a reconciliation move. Gambit: use the threat of a reconciliation bill as pressure to force Rs to make the best of what they can in the ostensibly bipartisan offer above, maybe peel off some nervous Rs and then make the rest of the party look like dolts.
  • Of course, few expect either of these matters to come to a vote. What Ds really expect is that they might make Rs look bad and recover some of their lost ground for November. Right now, the failure to pass a bill looks like BHO's failure to assess the public's mood and provide effective political leadership. The hope is that by keeping the issue "alive," its death can finally be blamed on the GOP.
Meanwhile, a genuinely bipartisan, genuinely rational bill is out there: Wyden-Bennett. It addresses the original sin of American health insurance--tax preference for employer-provided plans, addresses the problem for a society that refuses to let people go without healthcare--a mandate for insurance, and resolves the problem that mandates for specific coverage inevitably drive costs higher (see the latest attempt to blame the insurance companies with the deriding of WellPoint for raising rates in California to compensate for rising costs) by opening the market across state lines. Sounds good enough for everyone, except those intent on playing this for politics.

To our nervous Republican friends, we urge calm. This thing has always been a loser, and it's not about to win now. Take Douglas Adams's advice, conservatives: Don't Panic.

To our earnest Democrat friends, we urge careful thought. Do you really think that the mess your guys and gals have made of this is simply the outworking of principle or the inevitable sign of a broken political system? Could it maybe be what folks on both sides have said: the consequence of overreaching hubris ("This is our time!") and foolhardy belief that one's own political rhetoric ("America is dying for what we are doing!") actually reflects reality?

A Bayh Retrospective

Birch Bayh, long an object of SWNIDish scorn, is retiring from the Senate.

This is not bad news. It is not even news, really. It's just another symptom of what's really wrong: that a stubborn left wing controls one of two major political parties of a country that expects to be governed from the center right.

For some perspective, we cite the opinion of one Tim Swarens, opinions editor for the Indianapolis Star, in WSJ. Swarens lauds Bayh as a sort of hero, a "tenacious moderate." Yet he characterizes Bayh's moderation this way:

Mr. Bayh has earned a reputation as a careful tactician, one who measures every word and weighs every policy position to offend the fewest number of voters.

Wow! That's principle for you! Leadership with the courage not to offend will be sorely missed on Capitol Hill. "Speak softly and carry a big pillow!" No wonder the list of Mr. Bayh's accomplishments in the Senate is so extensive (here's a list: ).

For evidence of the same, note that Mr. Swarens's employer awhile back called out Bayh's no vote on John Roberts' confirmation as a failure to stand for the "Hoosier values" on which he campaigned, instead cow-towing to his party's financiers among the unions and leftist activists. Those, like SWNID, old enough to remember Bayh's father will remember that he too was not a terribly principled operator. Both Evan and his daddy Birch were more than happy to campaign with tasteless pathos on the memory of Evan's mother's tragic death from cancer, once in office deciding issues ad hoc to please whoever needs pleasing at the moment.

It's been a long time since the Dems had moderates who were such on principle and not political pragmatics. Of course, to read some, this is all the Republicans fault, as they've poisoned the political atmosphere to the point that extremism is all that's left for the Democrats who control every lever of federal government with massive majorities. If only the Republicans, who nominated far-right-winger John McCain in 2008, beating out unreconstructed John Bircher Mitt Romney, were just more moderate!

Vanity Fair Fairly Characterizes Creation Museum

No one reads Vanity Fair for its objective reportage. The title, ripped from the Thackery classic, simultaneously celebrates and ridicules narcissism, as does the magazine's ephemeral contents.

So it's no surprise that A. A. Gill's article on his trip to the Creation Museum of Answers in Genesis is replete with snide comments and impertinent jibes. We figure that lots of Christians, accustomed to finding offense in the "liberal media" (really, the adjective can be dropped as a redundancy), are deeply offended by Gill's characterization.

We are not.

Our disdain for the museum and the ideology and methods of its founder are well known, of course, though we hasten to add again that we celebrate those couple of occasions when we have found common ground for cooperation with AIG, not least because we have friends who work there. But concerning the Vanity Fair piece, we find more than just agreement with the author that the museum is awful. We think he captures well the experience of going there.

Gill doesn't get some of the details of AIG's creationism. For instance, he sneers at the classification of bats as birds and weirdly asserts that Cain appears between the Flood and Babel, both points that betray his loose grasp of the details. But he gets what's truly wrong with the "museum": that it's bitter, angry, argumentative, and tasteless.

Yes, young-earthers, we know that the Creation Museum presents "both sides." But note well that there aren't just two sides. We like the new book The Late Great Ape Debate that presents in very accessible form the range of opinions among people of Christian faith on matters of origins. So count the four views (three of which overlap considerably) among Christians, add naturalistic evolution, and you've got five sides. AIG presents three: young-earth creationism, naturalistic evolution, and non-young-earth faith approaches (merging the overlapping three). The latter two are presented entirely to be rejected. In classic sectarian fashion, the bitterest rejection is saved for Christians who disagree with Ham. There's no consideration of the considerations that drive Christians to a position different from Ham's, and any differences among those who differ are ignored. Dissenting Christians only matter because they're so very wrong and dangerous.

We'll say it again: any Christian who visits any "secular" museum of natural history is likely to find a better experience of creation than what's on offer at the Creation Museum. Our favorites are the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago, both magnificent collections of real artifacts (of which the AIG "museum" is virtually bereft) and representations of scientific findings that, viewed with the eye of faith, inspire the very wonder that Gill finds so utterly absent in Hebron. But for those who are in benighted Cincinnati, there's a very nice Natural History Museum at the magnificent Union Terminal.

We must add a supplementary point. Gill opens the article with this remark, which has prompted considerable anger in Our Fair City:

It’s not in the nature of stoic Cincinnatians to boast, which is fortunate, really, for they have meager pickings to boast about.

That, of course, is unfair, as Cincinnati has much to boast about, as anyone who lives here knows. But we are comforted that fairness in such characterizations is clearly not the goal of the article, which is more concerned with maintaining its tone of worldly cynicism. Take this remark:

The penchant for kitsch is something that gay men and born-again Christians share.

We'd say that that's probably unfair to gay men. And since there are probably more gay men who read Vanity Fair than Cincinnatians, we'll assume that Gill is just having fun in a Vanity Fairish way, which is disturbingly similar to a SWNIDish way. Cincinnatians will show their sophistication if they ignore Gill's remark instead of rebutting it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lawrence Harrison Again

Having previously lauded Lawrence Henderson for his powerful explanation of Haiti's endemic misery, we laud him again for his recent WSJ opinion piece on the same.

The essence of Henderson's view is found in the following quotations from the article:
Haiti has received billions of dollars in foreign aid over the last 50 years, and yet it remains the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere. Its indicators of progress are closer to Africa's than to those of Latin America. It has defied all development prescriptions. Why? Because Haiti's culture is powerfully influenced by its religion, voodoo. . . .

Wallace Hodges, an American missionary who lived in Haiti for 20 years, observed: "A Haitian child is made to understand that everything that happens is due to the spirits. He is raised to externalize evil and to understand he is in continuous danger. Haitians are afraid of each other. You will find a high degree of paranoia in Haiti."

But voodoo is not the only progress-resistant force at work in Haiti. The treatment of the slaves in French St. Domingue—the colony that would become independent Haiti in 1804— was particularly brutal. The Haitian slaves won their freedom through an uprising that left them in charge of their destiny, but they were left with a value system largely shaped by African culture and by the experience of slavery. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Sir Arthur Lewis, himself a descendent of African slaves, wrote that those who had experienced it "have inherited the idea that work is only fit for slaves." . . .

Haiti has received far more development assistance than Benin, the country in the Dahomey region of West Africa whence came the slaves the French imported into St. Domingue. And yet today Haiti's and Benin's level of development are strikingly similar. The British imported slaves into Barbados from the same Dahomey region, but Barbados remained a British colony until 1966, by which time the descendents of the slaves had become black Englishmen. Today, Barbados is a stable democracy on the verge of First World status.

Culture matters. Race doesn't.

We think that last line would make an excellent t-shirt slogan.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bushisms Plague BHO

The deleterious legacy of Dubya continues to plague the administration that still speaks of "the last eight years" as if 2009 never happened. It seems now that Bush's awful habit of misspeaking in public, dubbed the "Bushism" during the previous administration, now has overtaken our present, hyper-articulate President:

Of course, most blame the teleprompter and Obama's reliance thereof. But we note that had a previous GOP POTUS, Theodore Roosevelt, been successful in his personal crusade for spelling reform, this terrible event might never have happened.