The U.S. Supreme Court recognized today that protest, even when done by abortion protestors, isn't racketeering or extortion. Good. Better will be when the high court admits that neither the "right" to an abortion nor the "right to privacy" is found in the Constitution.
UPDATE: Here's the PDF of the court's unanimous ruling in favor of Operation Rescue and against the National Organization for Women.
Many FlynnFiles readers have telepathically communicated with me about the need for an open thread about Uncle Rico. I accede to their wishes. For the uninitiated, Uncle Rico drives an orange van, frequently reminisces about '82, and earns his living selling various items door-to-door. He is also Napoleon Dynamite's uncle. Share your thoughts, in a non-telepathic manner, about Uncle Rico with the FlynnFiles readership in the comments section.
In Arizona, a man registered a blood-alcohol content of .345. In Scottsdale, that's called news. Where I come from, there are some guys who call that Friday night.
George W. Bush is really unpopular. Just 34 percent of respondents to a CBS News poll approve of how he's doing his job as president. Bush has gotten off to a horrible start in his second term. But what president's second term bested his first? Bill Clinton suffered through Monicagate. Ronald Reagan endured Iran-Contra. Richard Nixon became the first president to resign. FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court. Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke. Abraham Lincoln got killed. All of these calamities occured in term two. How might presidents avoid the sophomore slump? Quit while you're ahead like James K. Polk. And if they don't? Jimmy Carter them. Put them on the first train to William Howard Taftsville. Give them the Herbert Hoover.
"One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed," William F. Buckley concludes. Let no one say that conservatives marched lockstep behind President Bush's war of choice in Iraq. Buckley, George Will, and Tucker Carlson all demonstrated second thoughts about the war after initially going along. Pat Buchanan, Donald Devine, Joe Sobran, Ron Paul, Paul Craig Roberts, and Robert Novak all opposed the war from the outset. Big-government projects, nation-building, altruism as foreign policy, and visionary crusades, these conservatives recognize, are liberalism, not conservatism. Of greater importance, relying on such principles is a recipe for disaster--whatever their political genealogy. So when does National Review run a sequel to David Frum's "Unpatriotic Conservatives" smear, this time including the magazine's founder? Or is that ugly description reserved for conservatives who had the foresight to oppose this foolish war before it started?
Did you ever get a big black eye? Did you ever give a big black eye? Shane Mosley gave Fernando Vargas a big black eye this weekend. It's one of the worst ones I've ever seen. I need your help determining the worse welt: Hasim Rahman's forehead hematoma inflicted by the hands, and head, of Evander Holyfield; or Vargas's left eye, which, before it failed to see Mosley's right, saw Mosley's right more than it cared to? Cast your vote in the comments section.
Only at Harvard University could a Clintonite be labeled a radical right-winger. Well, okay, maybe there are a few other schools where this could happen, but you get the point. Harvard University President Larry Summers supported the restoration of ROTC, wondered aloud whether genetics plays some role in sex disparities in math and science, and questioned the value of a faculty that shunned classroom instruction in favor of other pursuits, such as Cornel West releasing a rap CD. All of this sparked Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences to pass a "no confidence" motion on Summers last year, as well as political hostility toward Summers that last week persuaded him to resign his post, effective this summer.
"I'm clearly in the left 20 percent of the country, nationally. I'm a Ted Kennedy liberal," Alan Dershowitz explained to the Associated Press. "In the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I'm in the 10 percent side of the conservatives." Dershowitz laments Summers' resignation as well as the narrow range of political views at Harvard. "That doesn't show I'm out of sync with the country," the Harvard law professor noted of his position vis-a-vis his fellow Harvard faculty members. "It shows how out of sync Harvard is."
This is not mere rhetoric. My own study of political giving among employees at top schools gives statistical backing to Professor Dershowitz's words. In Deep Blue Campuses, I found that 406 donations went to John Kerry from Harvard employees in the '04 election cycle, while just 13 donations went to George W. Bush. In monetary terms, Kerry received $25 for every $1 donated to George W. Bush from Harvard employees. Dershowitz gave generously to liberal Democrats, and Summers got his Ph.D. from Harvard, worked for Brookings Institution, and served as Bill Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury from July 1999 until January 2001. That the school's liberal arts professors consider these Democrats at the far-Right of the political spectrum tells you quite a bit about the missing colors in the political spectrum at Harvard.
I haven't seen any of the five films the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated for Best Picture. Not a lot of people have. This year's nominees have drastically underperformed at the box office vis-a-vis past nominees. Critics seem to like them. Movie goers don't--at least compared to past nominees.
Brokeback Mountain, taking in a domestic gross of $73 million, is the top earner of this year's nominees, followed by Crash ($53 million), Munich ($46 million), Good Night, and Good Luck ($30 million), and Capote ($22 million). Good Night, and Good Luck and Munich have been the recipients of negative word-of-mouth. Aside from this common reason for lackluster box-office performance, there is a peculiar reason that explains the poor performance: heavy-handed political messages--anti-anti-Communism, homosexuality, etc.--that surround the Best Picture nominees keep people away. Ironically, the same thing that repulses movie goers (politics over entertainment), attracts critics.
Take politics out of the story of several recent Best Picture nominees (The Cider House Rules, The Insider), and all you have is a boring, bad movie. Put the politics back in, and you have a boring, bad movie with a left-wing bent. That's apparently all it takes to get nominated. Your movie can stink, but if your politics don't--at least according to the critics--you might find yourself vying for an Oscar. Just don't expect big ticket sales. (And perhaps defenders of such low-budget flicks as Capote, Brokeback Mountain, and Crash can justifiably say that the makers of those movies weren't expecting to put up big numbers).
My sense is that this politics-over-quality phenomenon occured with this year's nominees. But since I haven't seen any of the films yet, I can only offer a guess (and an uneducated one at that). For all I know, Brokeback Mountain, or Crash, or Munich is a great film. It's just that so many of the nominees in recent years haven't been great films, but rather average (Million Dollar Baby, The Green Mile) or bad (Gosford Park) films that happen to have a political theme. Occassionally, politicized movies will deserve the praise heaped upon them (American Beauty, Mystic River). But more often than not, the critical praise stems from ideological solidarity and not actual quality. The easiest way to get critics to call a bad movie good is to slip in numerous genuflections to left-wing idols.
This year's nominees, by all accounts, are especially political. They are also, by historical standards, especially weak comercially. Consider that of the Best Picture Award winners of the past twenty years, all but four have eclipsed the $100 million mark. None of this year's nominees has reached that mark, and even with a generous post-Oscar boost, none likely will. In fact, one has to go all the way back to 1987's The Last Emperor to find a Best Picture winner that made less money at the box office than any of the five films nominated this year. In other words, if the Best Picture award were handed out today, the winner would rank 19th at best, and 20th at worst, for its gross domestic take out of the last 20 Best Picture winners.
Granted, a comparison between Best Picture winners and Best Picture nominees is a contrast between two different things. But so is comparing the inflated box-office receipts from 2006 to movies made in the '80s and '90s.
This year's nominees, as is the case with most movies, will all make money. But the point is that even after this year's winner receives its post-Oscar bounce, and even though this year's winner will benefit from inflated ticket prices, this year's winner will be one of biggest commercial "flops"--relatively speaking--of Best Picture winners of the last two decades. And the public's distate will be reflected in future rebellions against what movies the critics tell them to see.
"The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is about as rock n roll as Wilfred Brimley," I wrote last year on FlynnFiles. Perhaps The Sex Pistols were reading. The one-album wonders (buy it here) scoff at the idea of attending their induction ceremony. "Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain," the group announced on its website. "Were not your monkey and so what?" In case of confusion, they added: "Were not coming." Sometimes eloquence comes wrapped in an ungrammatical snarl.
The Winter Olympics is a lot more like high school than like a GOP convention (What was Bryant Gumbel thinking?). You have the stoners. You have the jocks. And then you have the homecoming queen who everyone wants to date (Sasha Cohen is a star whether she knows it or not. I think she knows it.). The fact that several of the competitors actually attend high school makes the analogy all the more credible.
Though the usual demagogues have had a field day with the UAE-port story (as this Wall Street Journal piece demonstrates), there are some legitimate reasons to be suspicious of an Arab company running six of America's most heavily trafficked ports. Starting with the fact that we are at war with Arabs in Iraq (and with their co-religionists in Afghanistan), the idea of handing over our ports to those sharing the ethnicity and religion of our enemies just doesn't make a lot of sense to Joe and Josephine Six Pack. A couple of UAE natives took part in the 9/11 attacks. Might a couple more, working for this UAE company, attempt to sneak some dangerous materials--or dangerous people--into America through its ports? The nation already has served as a conduit for uranium enrichment centrifuges smuggled into Iran. Might it also curry prohibited materials into the United States too?
Sure, America retains the security of those ports. And the same company that runs those ports now will run them in the future--just under new, UAE ownership. But the people at war with us are primarily Arabs, and so are the people--for those unaware of what the "A" in UAE stands for--who live in the UAE. And, even if analogies to past wars don't completely work with Iraq or the war on terrorism, one would be hard pressed to imagine a scenario where FDR okayed outsourcing our ports to say, an Austrian company, during World War II. Heck, it's hard to see Bush the Elder outsourcing our ports to a Colombian company during his Drug War. So why, during a war against terrorism, should the president allow the outsourcing of our ports to a company run by Arab Muslims?
But the UAE isn't at war with us, and President Bush rightly points out that their government, if not their citizens, generally cooperates in the war on terrorism. Snubbing them might alienate one of the few governments friendly to the United States in the region. Reciprocation against American companies will be bad for business. And certainly there was no public controversy about foreigners running American ports when an English company began overseeing Baltimore, New Orleans, and other important commercial points of entry.
Talk of discrimination and double standards now that Arabs have taken control of that English company, however, rings false once one grasps that Arabs are not Englishmen and Englishmen are not Arabs. If it makes Arabs feel any better, few Americans would have favored outsourcing American ports to the English during the War of 1812.
Part of the outrage, one suspects, stems from the behind-the-scenes manner in which this deal has been conducted. Why on earth would the particulars of a government-to-government "business" transaction remain classified? President Bush says that Americans "don't need to worry about security" when it comes to this deal. Fine, but just to confirm that: could we--the people who "don't need to worry" about our own security--see the evidence that government officials saw to come to that conclusion?
Both sides of this argument make valid points. But for President Bush to brandish his veto pen on this issue, after presiding over the longest stretch without a veto since the 1820s, calls into question his priorities, his passions, and his prudence. To make a stand here, when declining in the past to make a stand on grounds so much more worthy, threatens to transform the president's image even among his staunchest supporters.
Was it his counsel to the "shoplifters of the world" to "unite and take over"? Or might it have been his call to "hang the DJ"? Or perhaps it was his obsession with the brothers Kray, those '60s-era, gangland, British ne'er-do-wells? Maybe calling George W. Bush a "terrorist" had something to do with it? We may never know what prompted the FBI to question Morrissey. We may never know if they even did question him. We only know that the morose, asexual antidote to Up with People says that they did.
Iraq is an artificial nation-state jig-sawed-puzzled together by colonial powers. Divided by religion, ethnicity, and language, Iraqis might have been better off living in separate Iraqs--Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni states--than in one Iraq. One way to keep such disparate groups together is force, the method favored by Saddam Hussein. But Iraq without the gun to its head may seek to divide. A war of separation could be bloody, just as America's own war of separation was bloody. If a parting of ways occurs, and it is by no means a certainty, Wednesday's Sunni attack on the Shiite Askariya Shrine doesn't bode well for a peaceful goodbye. Kill a person and you make enemies of his family. Bomb a 1200-year-old holy site and you make enemies with an entire religious sect. In addition to the dangerous religious passions already inflamed, there are other negatives to consider: irresponsible neighbors, geographically concentrated wealth that would make division economically costly for Sunnis, and a recent history of violence and brutality. Iraqis hoping for a quick American exit should be careful what they wish for. Order has a tendency to breakdown, as the American military knows too well from its Iraq experience, when the old order suddenly goes away.
"The epoch of rapping spirits, and all the wonders that have followed in their train--such as tables, upset by invisible agencies, bells, self-tolled at funerals, and ghostly music performed on jewsharps--had not yet arrived. Alas, my countrymen, methinks we have fallen on an evil age! If these phenomena have not humbug at the bottom, so much the worse for us. What can they indicate, in a spiritual way, except that the soul of man is descending to a lower point than it has ever before reached, while incarnate? We are pursuing a downward course, in the eternal march, and thus bring ourselves into the same range with beings whom death, in requital of their gross and evil lives, has degraded below humanity. To hold intercourse with spirits of this order, we must stoop, and grovel in some element more vile than earthly dust. These goblins, if they exist at all, are but the shadows of past mortality, outcasts, mere refuse-stuff, adjudged unworthy of the eternal world, and, on the most favorable supposition, dwindling gradually into nothingness. The less we have to say to them, the better; lest we share their fate!"
--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance
The Associated Press reports that the Supreme Court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of a ban on "a type of late-term abortion." A type of late-term abortion? What "type" of late term abortion? The piece gets a little more specific when it notes that this "type of late-term abortion" is "what critics call partial birth abortion." The nerve of such "critics"! Calling it a a "partial birth abortion" when a mother gives birth to part of her baby so a doctor can more easily kill the baby? What's next? Calling a stand held up by three legs a "tripod"? How can language withstand such semantical assaults! My apologies for the sarcasm. Anyhow, the AP piece finally gets around to describing this "certain type of abortion": "The federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act prohibits a certain type of abortion, generally carried out in the second or third trimester, in which a fetus is partially removed from the womb, and the skull is punctured or crushed." That's an improvement over the verbal gymnastics displayed earlier in the piece. But is the AP aware of the word for a "fetus" that is "removed from the womb"?
"So, Klaus, what are you in for?" "I murdered a man in Linz." "How about you, Herr David?" "I'm doing three years for Holocaust denial." "Sie machen wohl Witze!" "No, Klaus, I'm perfectly serious. But it's coolio. My books have skyrocketed on Amazon."
The Bush administration awarding a contract to the United Arab Emirates to operate six U.S. ports, including Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York, divides the president's Republican coalition just as it divides the Right. "The company should be evaluated on its qualifications to operate the ports, not on McCarthy-like litmus tests for Arabs or the UAE," Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute writes. "Besides, although Dubai Ports World will operate the ports, U.S. federal and local authorities will remain in charge of security." Cal Thomas disagrees: "There have been some dumb decisions since the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, including the 'welcoming' of radical Muslim groups, mosques and schools that seek by their preaching and teaching to influence U.S. foreign policy and undermine the nation. But the decision to sell port operations in New York, Newark-Port Elizabeth, Baltimore, Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans to a company owned by the UAE may be the dumbest of all." Free-market economics and national security are important conservative principles. Where one comes down on the important issue of who runs America's ports generally reflects which of these two principles one values more.
George Washington was born 274 years ago Wednesday along the Potomac River in Virginia. If you had asked Washington his birthday, he would have answered February 11--as it was on that date of the old-style calendar that he was born. On our current calendar, that date is February 22. It was on February 22, until fairly recently, that Americans celebrated Washington's birthday. To confuse matters further, America currently celebrates Washington's birthday today, the third Monday in February, which falls this year on February 20. That third Monday in February, however, never actually occurs on Washington's birthdate. (It could be worse: Georgia celebrates Washington's Birthday on December 26!).
In some quarters, today's holiday goes by "Presidents Day." Although a few states designate it as such, most states, along with the federal government, officially regard it as "Washington's Birthday" (So stop calling it Presidents Day.). Washington's birthday has been an offical federal holiday since 1885, when Chester A. Arthur, the twentieth man to succeed Washington, signed legislation making it so. Like a lot of bad ideas, the decision to celebrate Washington's Birthday on a day that is not his actual birthday--but merely the third Monday in February--came during the 1960s.
My favorite Washington's Birthday tradition actually predates the federal recognition of Washington's birthday as a holiday. Starting in 1862, and becoming an annual event in 1896, a senator has read Washington's Farewell Address on the floor of the Senate. Such Senate heavyweights as Carter Glass, Robert Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, Frank Church, and Barry Goldwater have taken part in the tradition. This year, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar had the honor of reading the address. And never have the members of the Senate needed to hear "these counsels of an old and affectionate friend" more than they do now.
Washington's Farewell Address is one of the most interesting documents in American history. It was neither an address (it was printed in a Philadelphia newspaper six months before Washington left the presidency), nor was it really Washington's (Hamilton having been its primary author). But Washington played a role in its drafting and Hamilton wrote it with Washington's sentiments in mind. And hey, what president hasn't had a speechwriter? During the early republic, Washington's Farewell Address was read in schoolhouses alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Save for the Senate custom, the "disinterested warnings of a parting friend" have been lately ignored by the Founding Father's progeny. That's too bad. We would be wise to heed the first president's warnings, particularly on three of the document's main themes.
First, Washington told us to beware of usurpers bypassing the amendment process to alter the Constitution. "If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates," Washington counsels. "But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."
Second, Washington explained that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Washington may not have been a Bible-beater, but he understood that sound religious instruction affects righteous conduct in a manner that law alone cannot. "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity," he noted, "Religion and morality are indispensible supports."
Third, Washington encouraged free movement of goods across borders but discouraged a loose movement of troops across borders. "The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible." Stay out of wars that don't involve "our interest guided by our justice." This involved eschewing permanent friends and permanent enemies in favor of permanent interests. "Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?"
Washington's points no doubt strike many contemporary politicians as "antiquated," "intolerant," and "isolationist." More interesting is how Washington would have characterized the views of present-day politicians.
The further Americans get from Washington's principles, the further those Americans want Washington to get from America. Once "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen," Washington is now just one of 42 men who share something called "Presidents Day." A few years back, New Orleans removed Washington's name from a local school because the first president, despite making provision in his will for his slaves' freedom, once owned many African Americans. The Bush I-devised and Clinton (I?)-delivered "National Standards for United States History" gave just a passing reference to the "father of his country."
Though schoolchildren no longer read Washington's Farewell Address, we can take heart that a U.S. senator, at least once a year, does. How happier our nation would be if these senators actually believed what they read.
Bruce Bartlett sacrficed a $172,000-a-year salary to write the book Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Might you sacrifice $17.16 to buy it here on Amazon?
The Dallas Observer has an in-depth article detailing Bartlett and his firing from the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis because he wrote a book, Imposter, that calls Bush a big-government, pseudo-conservative whose economic policies are worse than Bill Clinton's. John Goodman, NCPA's president, remarks of firing Bartlett, "No one asked me to do this, no one suggested it would be a good thing, nothing like that." Did anyone have to? The conservative movement has, unfortunately, become, in large part, the lapdog of the Republican Party. On principle, I don't feel bad for people who lose $172,000-a-year, do-nothing jobs. But I do worry about the chilling effect a person losing a $172,000-a-year, do-nothing job from a conservative think-tank for the sin of espousing conservative ideas will have on conservative writers, policy analysts, and intellectuals who don't have such posh jobs but might desire one someday. Money clashed with principle, and Goodman chose the former while Bartlett opted for the latter. But Bartlett's is clearly the road less travelled. The knowledge that being a party guy pays will ensure fewer future Bartletts and more future Goodmans. Goodman intuitively knew that keeping Bartlett meant angering board members, drying up donation streams, and alienating powerful friends, such as Karl Rove. So, he fired his longtime employee.
When your business is ideas, it is not all about the Benjamins--at least it shouldn't be. Dollars should chase principles, not the other way around. The purpose of a think-tank is to support ideas and policies, not to settle on the ideas that will raise the most money. Subordinating ideas to money is self-defeating.
That no one had to direct Goodman to fire Bartlett, that he knew what to do without receiving the order, demonstrates just how tethered the conservative movement has become to the Republican Party and its donor base. This relationship has been good for Republicans (they get to trample over conservative principles and still retain conservative support) but bad for conservatives (they get fired for complaining about Republicans trampling over conservative principles).
"Count me among those who don't care about them and won't watch them," Bryant Gumbel remarked about the Winter Olympics. Gumbel points to the obscure nature of many of the contests and the large percentage of events decided by subjective judges. So far so good. Then he complains of the "paucity of blacks that makes the winter games look like a GOP convention." Bryant, I hate to break the news to you: Not only do most black people on our planet live in warm climes, but blacks make up a very small percentage of the world's population. In fact, the percentage of blacks in President Bush's cabinet is greater than the percentage of blacks in the world. Did Gumbel expect a Nigerian hockey team? I would tell Bryant Gumbel that he now knows the alienation many race-fixated non-blacks feel watching the lead pack at the Boston Marathon, the medal ceremony after any Olympic 100-meter-dash event, or the ten guys on the court at the NBA all-star game, but I wouldn't want him to call me a racist.
Vice President Dick Cheney did himself a lot of good by taking responsibility for Saturday's hunting accident. "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend," Cheney told Brit Hume on Wednesday. "It was not Harry's fault," the vice president explained. "You cannot blame anybody else." You can't get much clearer than that. No passing the buck. No "but" in the sentence. No excuses. The public statement is late, but in this case it's "better late than never" rather than "too little, too late."
Multiple Cheney defenders, speaking from the same sheet of music, had inferred that Cheney's victim, and not Cheney himself, was at fault for the accident. That's pretty gross. It's literally adding insult to injury. Since none of these talking heads witnessed the event, and the vice president remained mum, it's a mystery where they got their information. Certainly not from Harry Whittington, who lies in a hospital bed. (Perhaps they got it from some verbal contortionist who gets paid to spread fictions--talking points--for the Republicans, but would gladly do so for the Democrats if they paid him more.)
All of this is not to say that the shooter always bears full responsibility in such accidents. Given that the Marine Corps is my only frame of reference, I draw an example from my experiences in it. About ten years ago at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, I was part of a small-arms live-fire exercise on a night range. The maneuvers consisted of several fire teams closing in on an objective while engaging various targets. As the fire team I was a part of did the ususal "I'm up/They see me/I'm down" movements toward the objective, the fire-team leader decided to call for an enveloping maneuver. Basically, think of a vertical line becoming an "L" by way of one fire team moving like a door on a hinge to form the "L". This was a bad idea. It was very dark and the movement hadn't been properly rehearsed. Since I was along the hinge of what was basically a swinging-door of Marines, I faced no danger. But I noticed that the guy who called the flanking movement started edging dangerously close to the line of fire of the main body of Marines. I immediately called a cease fire. Others noticed the hazzard and did so too. Had the fire-team leader who called for the enveloping manuever been shot, I would have placed most of the blame on him. It's not a good idea to get within the lateral limits of a squad assault weapon.
But if you accidentally shoot someone, it's not your place to blame the victim. If you pull the trigger, you should know what it is that you are shooting at. Awareness of surroundings is especially true when firing a shot-gun, as its contents obviously spray out over a wider area than a rifle. Like so much of what Dick Cheney does, this bizarre incident occured outside the public's eye. Absent a Zapruder film, we may never know exactly what happened. We do know, and this is important, that it was an accident.
My apologies for Wednesday's light blogging. Blame the government of the District of Columbia. They conscripted me into jury duty. This is the third time since 2003. DC is the site of federal courts, not to mention the site of many crimes. So its residents, provided they're not recent felons, get called into jury pools quite often.
I served on the jury of a drug case a few years back, the details of which I found quite interesting. The crime occured outside a methadone clinic, which struck me as very Willie Suttonesque. If you remember, Sutton was the Depression-era bank robber who, when asked why he robbed banks, replied, because that's where the money's kept. Anyhow, after a lot of ridiculous deliberation, which included discussions of jury nullification and the movie Minority Report (A juror somehow found that germane to the case. Thankfully, impatient jurors did not.), we reached a compromise by convicting on one dealing count and dropping two other distribution charges to mere possession charges. The defendant's decision to testify did her in, and helped me to understand why defense attorneys are so reluctant to put their clients on the stand.
Wednesday's case was much more peculiar, in a bad way, than the case I had several years back. When I glimpsed the juror questionnaire, which asked potential jurors if the case made them "uncomfortable," I knew I was in for a long day. My fears were confirmed when the presiding judge told the jury pool that the case they might sit for involved forgery and...nonconsensual, male-on-male sex. When she added that the case might take more than two weeks, I feared my long day would turn into a long month. I noted on the questionnaire that the case did indeed make me "uncomfortable." Was it a trick question? I mean, if such a case doesn't make you uncomfortable, you're not normal enough to sit on a jury, are you?
I did not want to get picked for this jury. With too much time on my hands, things to say to the judge that would make me appear so insane as to automatically disqualify me passed rapidly through my mind:
"Do the particulars of this case bother me? Heck, yeah. Forgery is a vile, terrible, heinous crime, which should be punshed severely... Oh, you were talking about the other charge?"
"What? I get to hear descriptions of nonconsensual homosexual encounters, and you're going to pay me the $30 per diem!!! Sign me up, your honor."
"Biased? Against the defendant? Well, the fact that he keeps eyeballing me the way King Kong Bundy looks at a jelly doughnut does strike me as incriminating. But I can assure you, this behavior won't influence my judgment one bit."
Alas, my respect for the jury system, as well as my self-respect, prevented me from sharing these bizarre thoughts with the judge (but not with you). My fantasy of deliberately acting like a lunatic gave way to honest answers that provided the judge no cause to dismiss me. The alleged victim, and the defendant, deserved the best jury possible. It's just not in me to sabotage justice. But I still wanted out. My only hope lay in the lawyers' peremptory challenges. Please, no. Please, no. Please, no. The clerk of the court calls me into the jury box. NOOOOOO!!! I begin to feel nauseous. But just as quickly, I hear: "Juror number 731, you may go back to your seat." I have completed my civic duty, and without exposing my mind and soul to dark tales of wickedness.
"[A]n enormous amount of modern ingenuity is expended on finding defences for the indefensible conduct of the powerful."
--G.K. Chesterton, Heretics
Blogger Glenn Greenwald has started an argument. "It used to be the case that in order to be considered a 'liberal' or someone 'of the Left,' one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day--social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, 'judicial activism,' hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies," he writes. "Now, in order to be considered a 'liberal,' only one thing is required--a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush."
I agree with Greenwald's general point but disagree with the main example he uses to support it. "One can see this principle at work most illustratively in how Bush followers talk about Andrew Sullivan," Greenwald claims.
While Greenwald is weirded out by conservatives calling Sullivan a "liberal" now, I was weirded out when I heard some Republicans refer to Sullivan as a "conservative" during the first years of the Bush presidency. I have always thought of Andrew Sullivan as a liberal--perhaps occassionally a maverick liberal, a social liberal, an idiosyncratic liberal, but a liberal still. Up until the Bush presidency, by which time I had worked in the DC-based conservative movement for more than seven years, I had never heard a single conservative refer to Sullivan as a conservative. Sullivan supports the pro-choice position on most abortions, favors so-called gay marriage, wants higher gasoline taxes, supports grandiose nation-building projects, and backed McCain-Feingold campaign finanace reform.
Sullivan supported John Kerry in '04 and Bill Clinton in '92, edited The New Republic, fears the same boogeymen (John Ashcroft, Pope Benedict XVI) as other liberals, and buys into the same leftist myths (Lincoln was gay!). While this isn't direct evidence that Sullivan is not a conservative, as the aforementioned policy examples are, it does pass the Jeff Foxworthy test: "You might be a liberal if..."
What makes Greenwald's choice of Sullivan especially mystifying is that of the nine policy issues he cites as legitimate indicators of "liberal views on the important policy issues of the day," Sullivan comes down squarely in the liberal camp on a majority of them. Death Penalty? Check. Gay Rights? Check. Immigration? Check. Abortion? Check. Judicial Activism? Check. I'm tempted to add that Sullivan supports a "utopian" foreign policy, but no doubt Greenwald and Sullivan, not to mention their Bush-groupie critics, would object--"utopian" being quite a subjective word. Defining conservatism through a checklist of policy issues is certainly faulty. But it's worth noting that on the checklist that Greenwald devises, Sullivan falls short on a majority of issues. Conservatism is more of a general attitude than a specific line of policies, so that when one bucks other conservatives on a specific policy or two, the majority of conservatives--if they are actually conservatives--generally don't begin shouting "unclean! unclean!" But when one finds himself fighting against traditional conservative positions on a majority of issues, he can't complain when conservatives view him as a liberal.
In other words, Greenwald has it reversed. The problem was that Republican hacks called Sullivan a conservative when he merely supported George W. Bush to earn that tag, not that they call Sullivan a liberal when he no longer fawns on the president. Sullivan is free to label himself however he chooses, and Greenwald is free to follow suit. But actual conservatives are also free to determine whether the "conservative" label fits or not. Sullivan may be hard to pigeonhole in either the liberal or conservative camp, but it requires a redefining of conservatism to associate that label with him.
Sullivan aside, Greenwald's general point stands. As the concept "conservatism" has gained popularity, it has attracted Republican hacks who want the rub from conservatism without having to stand by the principles associated with it. Thus, "Republican" has been confused for "conservative" in some minds. Rebelling against Republicans, as Donald Devine and Bruce Bartlett could tell you, can get you in trouble with "conservatives." Railing against conservatism, as Andrew Sullivan could tell you, will not inhibit your popularity among Republicans.
Five draft deferments do not excuse you from learning the basic rules of weapons safety. I've neither hunted nor shot a single round outside a Marine Corps firing-range. But I think I could teach the avid hunter Dick Cheney something about weapons safety. That's because before laying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of their ammunition down range, I was forced by the Marine Corps to learn four basic safety rules:
1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
2. Never point a weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.
3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
4. Keep the weapon on safe until you intend to fire.
Those are the ABCs of weapons safety. Dick Cheney: memorize.
Rolling Stone informs us that kids are listening to classic rock again. "According to the market-research firm NPD, kids ages thirteen to seventeen bought twenty percent of all Floyd and Zeppelin albums sold from 2002 to 2005, and seventeen percent of Hendrix and Queen discs but accounted for just three percent of Creedence Clearwater Revival sales, six percent of Rolling Stones sales and a paltry one percent of Cat Stevens sales." (What? Teenagers ain't got no love for CCR?)
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'm glad these kids are not listening to rap, slut-pop, or payola rock (Def. Boring, guitar-driven, allegedly rock music that gets played only by the grace of bribes to DJs and the corporations that control them. See Nickelback. See also, Evanescence.) On the other hand, kids wouldn't be reverting to thirty-five-year-old music if rock music were riding a popularity wave today. Do you think that when The Beatles came out, kids were listening to Al Jolson, The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Pinetop Smith, and Eddie Kantor? Because that's what was popular thirty-five years before The Beatles hit. Kids weren't listening to 1920s music in the 1960s because music at the time was fresh and exciting, not stale and boring.
The Strokes, The Killers, Coldplay, and The Darkness on the radio waves are more welcome to the ears than what (dis)graced the airwaves, say, in 1998. But let's face it: good rock music has punted in recent years. Since Nirvana, it hasn't been cool to be big. Pearl Jam eschews videos. Radiohead refused to make the jump to stadium band. The Smashing Pumpkins started making music with computers and hi-tech gizmos. The Strokes' Julian Casablancas feigns disinterest while mumbling his lyrics. Ryan Adams regularly releases albums-worth of unmarketable B-sides. Rock "stars" even cut their hair to look like normal people.
Where's the screaming banshee who stuffs a sock in his trousers? Where's the lunatic with a mane of bleach-blond hair who does karate kicks on stage? Where's the iconic frontman who wildly swings the microphone around but catches it everytime? In other words, who gave prozac to all the rock stars and made them act like the lead singer of The Cure?
Today's rock stars, unfortunately, rap. That won't do for some kids. But neither will a good rock singer who looks like he could work at the Starbucks down the street, or your local record store. In the age of the anti-rock star, it's no wonder kids crave Robert Plant, David Lee Roth, and Roger Daltrey.
The paucity of cultural dissidents within Islam inspires pessimism. Following 9/11, the beheadings of journalists, and the cartoon riots, the West patiently listened for the Islamic voices of common sense to speak up. But all we heard were the crickets chirping. Where is the Saudi Arabian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Where is the Iranian Vaclav Havel? Where is the Sudanese Harry Wu? Andrew Sullivan believes such a figure may have arrived in Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a playwrite and member of the Dutch parliament. Sullivan remarks that the Somali-born Ali's speech in Berlin last week "will one day be a critical historical document of our time." Time will tell. But Ali's Right To Offend is definite must-reading for the present.
Funkadelic counsels its listeners: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet. FlynnFiles counsels its readers: Speak! It Ain't Illegal Yet. It's an open thread. Say what you want. Be loud. Be proud. Be loud and proud in the comments section.
Leaving aside the rent-a-mobs and the opportunists, there is a not small segment of the Islamic world that is genuinely offended by the visual appropriation of Muhammad for the purpose of comic relief. For them, mocking God's prophet--even in making a political point--is no laughing matter. Americans, accustomed to Jesus appearing on South Park and Alanis Morrisette playing God on the silver screen, don't get the outrage. And if we don't get it, Europeans certainly don't get it either. God, though treated irreverently, still lives here. Europe, once a synonym for Christendom, is now the godless continent.
Westerners should be thankful that they would never react in the barbaric manner of the Islamic mobs in response to any cartoon on any subject. Free expression, particularly in America, is sacred. But is God held sacred?
Americans profane God, mock God, ban God. But the First Amendment is so sacrosanct (except when we're banning God) that even its enemies deny they oppose it. Mock it, and amputate yourself from polite society. Mock God, and you're invited into polite society.
The reverence awarded to freedom of speech is healthy. It is a demonstration of society's appreciation for something that is good. But is not God, our Creator, good too? If He is not held sacred, then what (and I am addressing cultural practice and not legal proscription here), precisely, deserves reverence?
A devout Muslim looks at our society and sees a thousand things we would protect from abuse before we would shield God. Misplaced priorities, they certainly think. A Western secularist wonders why an imaginary deity provokes Muslims into the streets the way foreign invasions, domestic oppression, and economic hardships fail to do. Neither understands the other. The taboo that surrounds blasphemy in their culture and the taboo that surrounds condemning blasphemy in our culture point to a divide along religious lines that is more powerful than any divide along class, ideological, linguistic, or ethnic lines. This chasm won't be sutured. Middle-Eastern Muslims will not become Westerners, just as Westerners will not become Middle-Eastern Muslims.
The world can get better, but it will still be the world--no matter how many nation-building projects embarked upon. If you want another world, build a spaceship. This is a more realistic course of action than attempts to transform Muslim Arabs into New England town-meeting members. As the Hamas elections and cartoon riots prove, Muslim Arabs are anything but New England town-meeting members. And they are not going to become them anytime soon. What makes them Muslims is not their relative poverty, the oil beneath their sands, or the Arabic language they speak. What makes them Muslim is their religion, a concept that Westerners don't acknowledge in their own lives and pretend away in the lives of others.
Muslims are outraged by Western cartoons. Westerners are outraged by Muslim outrage. Muslims are outraged by Western outrage at Muslim outrage. And so it goes with two cultures that don't understand the other's attitude toward God.
Funerals are to commend the souls of the dead to heaven, not to condemn the souls of the living to hell. Liberals don't get this. The nation does, which is why the politicized Coretta Scott King funeral, just like the politicized Paul Wellstone funeral, doesn't sit well with normal people--and not simply for the reasons that all funerals don't sit well with normal people.
Do Muslim immigrants flee oppression to enter freedom, or do they bring oppression with them to the free nations that accept them? Muslims in the United States haven't reacted to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad in the uncivilized manner that, say, Muslims in the United Kingdom have reacted. Is this because the United States attempts to assimilate immigrants while European nations tend to opt for a multicultural approach? Is this because Islamic migrants choosing the United States also choose its values? Should the cartoon flare-up cause American policymakers to be more discriminating in what migrants they allow in and what migrants they keep out? Or, does the American Muslim community's non-violent reaction to the cartoon controversy demonstrate that the United States integrates immigrants better than Europe?
I'm back in the United States after travelling in Austria, the Czech Republic, and Poland. I saw a Fin punch an Aussie in the face, witnessed dozens of Czech high-school marching bands play contemporary music while dressed in outlandish period costumes, and drank lots of Coca-Cola from glass bottles. But none of this made my trip's top-five list. Here are the five coolest things that I did on my vacation:
5. Celebrated Mozart's birthday in his birthplace during the 250th anniversary week of his birth.
4. Survived the Survival Pub Crawl (with the help of blood-warming Zywiec beer) through Krakow with the mercury at two-degrees fahrenheit.
2. Imbibed the delicious contents of giant clay steins of Augustiner Brau, a beer brewed in Salzburg by Benedictine monks since 1621. It's the official beer of God.
1. Stayed in a Czechoslovakian secret-police jail cell that once housed Vaclav Havel, whose writings, as well as The Communist Manifesto, I read--with great appreciation for the history of my location--from the Communist-prison-turned-capitalist-hostel.
What does the face of Middle Eastern democracy look like? Right now it's ugly, angry, and surrounds a large hole that emits variations of the phrase: "Death To Infidels." All of this over a cartoon? The mass will is often scarier than the designs of the rulers of those masses. Awarding the vote to a mob who would use it to behead Christian converts, order hits on politically-incorrect cartoonists, support anti-Israeli terrorism, and prohibit women from showing their faces in public is imprudent. The clamor for Middle Eastern democracy--majority rule--is misplaced. It won't stop terrorism, emancipate women, eradicate anti-Semitism, or allow cartoonists to lampoon Muslim violence. Rather than giving power to the people, the Middle East needs to give power to the person. Rights prevent majorities from imposing their will on minorities. Before those flinging Molotov cocktails at random Western embassies get the vote, they should demonstrate a respect for the rights of minorities to say what they want, worship the god they want, and print what cartoon they want in the newspaper. King Numbers can be just as oppressive as any King Muhammad.
Today is the 95th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, the only great president of my lifetime. Reagan cut taxes, which helped unleash a 93-month period of economic growth. After a decade of Watergate, defeat in Vietnam, stagflation, Soviet expansion, and the Iranian hostage-grab, Reagan reinvigorated the American spirit. And Reagan's policies of rolling-back, rather than coexisting with, Soviet imperialism, affected the fall of Communism in Moscow, Prague, East Berlin, Warsaw, and countless points beyond. It is for these reasons that Ronald Reagan is worth celebrating today, and not as part of a generic "President's Day," which groups the likes of Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton with the likes of Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge. A man does not deserve our honor simply by becoming president. But a number of presidents, Ronald Reagan in particular among recent men to hold the office, deserve our appreciation and remembrance.
When I was five, cartoons would make me mad too. I would be given to fits of rage if the Banana Splits played Micro Ventures instead of The Arabian Knights or The Three Musketeers. But even when I was five, I never wished death upon my enemies or burned down an embassy in response to a cartoon that I disliked. I just turned the station.
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time Super Bowl champions. Congratulations also to Homer Fong, winner of the FlynnFiles Super Bowl pool.
I blog from somewhere in Steeler country (yes, I am back in the US of A), and I have a few thoughts on the game. That the AFC's six seed beat the NFC's one seed tells you what you need to know about the strength of each conference. The AFC has won seven of nine. The refs jobbed the Seahawks on several calls (the TD-negating pass-interference call, the Hasselbeck low-block call, a non-hold hold call), but reversing the bad calls doesn't add up to a Seahawks victory (Perhaps the zebras were making up for the terrible calls against the Steelers in the Colts game). Aside from the W, Big Ben was very Vince Ferragamo-like, very David Woodley-esque, dare I say almost Craig Mortonian. When Chris Berman announced a halftime performance by the greatest rock n roll band of all time, did you also respond: "But John and George are dead"? Seattle beat the Steelers in total yards, first downs, and time of possession. They did not beat the Steelers in points scored. The ads were pretty weak, but two stand out: the "FedEx caveman" ad and the "touch football just got darker" ad. What's the best Super Bowl-era NFL franchise: 49ers, Cowboys, or Steelers? The Bus should stop here. Jerome Bettis is a Hall of Famer, the best supersized back in NFL history. Winning is the best way to go out. Who would have thought that Antwaan Randle-El would throw the game's sweetest ball? The Super Bowl belongs in a party city. When I think "party city," Detroit is about the 673rd city that comes to mind. Being the best team in the regular season isn't as important as getting hot at the right time. The Steelers, having to claw their way into the playoffs and win four in the postseason on the road, had the big mo like few teams have had the big mo. That's why the Steelers, and not the Colts, are champions: the Steelers were the best team at the best time to be the best team.
Betty Friedan, one of the intellectual morons examined in my book by the same name, died this weekend. She was 85. Friedan launched the modern feminist movement with the 1963 publication of The Feminine Mystique, which (in)famously called the home a "comfortable concentration camp." In 1999, I wrote about the exposure of Friedan's self-misrepresentations in her book. It would not be the first time a feminist would spare the facts for a good story. A few years after the publication of her landmark book, she helped establish the National Organization for Women. Like Robespierre and so many other revolutionaries, Friedan was ultimately devoured by the revolution she helped start. Friedan criticized feminism's increasing identification with lesbianism, noted that she rejected abortion as a value, embraced motherhood, and even confessed a fondness for the missionary position. None of this sat well with feminists even more radical than Friedan, a postwar radical who had worked for several Communist fronts prior to her success as an author. Grandmotherly, Freidan presented a likeable, more mainstream image of feminism than presented by, say, Andrea Dworkin. Nice-old-lady image aside, it was only within the feminist continuum that Friedan could be considered mainstream. That Friedan increasingly became a voice of reason within the feminist movement says more about the movement than it does about Friedan. America is worse off because of Betty Friedan, but who am I, or anybody, to wish her anything but eternal rest? Betty Friedan, rest in peace.
Conservatives used to express skepticism about the federal government's ability to deliver the mail, run a railroad, or educate children. Now conservatives--or at least people attaching themselves to the popular label "conservative"--cheer a president who, as his state of the union address proves, wants the federal government deeply involved in private industry at home and nation building abroad. And the people who criticize President Bush, whose overarching philosophy can be summed up in the word "interventionism," are not real conservatives? Beam me up, Scotty!
"Instead of shrinking the federal government, Bush wants to grow it," Bob Novak writes. In his state of the union address, President Bush "proposed that the government preside over a wide array of non-petroleum energy options. That has all the characteristics of an 'industrial policy,' with the federal government picking winners and losers. While violating the Republican Party's free market philosophy, this is a course with a lengthy pedigree of failure all over the world."
Bush's big-government designs extend beyond America's borders. The president claimed in Tuesday night's speech that "our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal...the end of tyranny in our world." Bush rejected the notion that this amounted to "misguided idealism," maintaining that "the future security of America depends on it." Pat Buchanan counters, "this is noble-sounding nonsense. Our security rests on U.S. power and will, and not on whether Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria, Cuba or even China is ruled by tyrants. Our forefathers lived secure in a world of tyrannies by staying out of wars that were none of America's business. As for 'the end of tyranny in our world,' Mr. President, sorry, that doesn't come in 'our world.' That comes in the next."
The president's state of the union rhetoric is the rhetoric of a liberal.
"I urge members of Congress to serve the interests of America by showing the compassion of America." "Our government has a responsibility to provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility." "I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative--a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research--at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas." "I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years." "I ask Congress to reform and reauthorize the Ryan White Act, and provide new funding to states, so we end the waiting lists for AIDS medicines in America." "Through the Helping America's Youth Initiative, we are encouraging caring adults to get involved in the life of a child--and this good work is being led by our First Lady, Laura Bush."
The president's actions are the actions of a liberal.
Nationalizing airport security, creating a massive prescription-drug benefit, calling for a mission to Mars, increasing funds for the National Endowment for the Arts, signing the anti-free speech McCain-Feingold bill into law, supporting affirmative action before the Supreme Court and reauthorization of the assault-weapons ban before Congress, foisting an amnesty plan for illegal aliens on the American public, nation-building in Iraq and beyond, enourmous farm, energy, and transportation bills, federal financing of stem-cell research, and the No Child Left Behind Act's federal intrusion into local classrooms puts him squarely at odds with the (shrinking) Goldwater/Reagan-wing of his party.
Ronald Reagan called government the problem, not the solution. George W. Bush believes government the solution, not the problem.
George W. Bush has out Woodrow Wilsoned Woodrow Wilson on foreign-policy adventurism and out Lyndon Johnsoned Lyndon Johnson on domestic-policy interventionism. The president's 2006 state of the union address further confirms this. Conservatives who go along to get along will soon wake up and discover that they're conservatives no more, if they haven't already. But don't expect them to drop the "conservative" name anytime soon. That comes when they've so thoroughly discredited it by attaching "conservative," in the public's mind, with big-government schemes that the term no longer holds any political value. Then all real conservatives will be left with is bigger government and a discredited label.
Super Bowl 40 is here, and so is the FlynnFiles Super Bowl pool. The pool will consist of three picks. To win, you must correctly pick the team that covers and if the game will go "over" or "under." The tie-breaker will be a numerical pick of the total number of points scored. If there is a tie, the player whose point total--the third pick--is closest to the actual point total will be the winner. Here are my three picks:
1. Steelers -4 over Seahawks
2. Under 47
3. Steelers and Seahawks will combine to score 43 points.
Make your picks below. Good luck.