View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Saturday, January 03, 2004

Dean Gets Religion

Just in time for the Southern primaries. When originally asked about religion, Dean brought up a little spat with a local Episcopal church over a bike path. Now, it turns out, he was just shy. Bruce Catton was fond of writing that the American public, having practically invented the con man, was the hardest of all publics to con.

He rarely attends church services, unless it is for a political event. When he talks about Jesus, he usually focuses on Christianity's teachings about helping the poor and less fortunate.

When asked Friday night about his favorite book of the New Testament, he cited Job, about a righteous man whose faith was tested mightily by God through great suffering. After thinking about the scripture, Dean pointed out an hour later that Job is from the Old Testament.

I have no way of knowing what's really in someone's heart, of course, but color me skeptical.

Spirit Bests Beagle

OK, no gloating. Joshua to Self, "no gloating." But to see that control room explode with joy when they made contact with Mars Spirit was still pretty moving. Not quite Apollo 13 moving, because there are no human lives involved. But someday, maybe in my lifetime, there will be.

Banning Spam

A Colorado State Senator, a Democrat, wants to ban camera cell-phones from locker rooms. The risks here are obvious, but the remedy seems to be a bit off base. This means that if one has a camera phone, he needs to buy a second phone? He needs to carry a second phone? The genie is out of the bottle, anyway, and if someone want to take perverted pictures, he'll just get a small camera.

The risks here seem kind of limited, anyway. Cell phone companies keep track of outgoing calls, and the number of places where you're naked are probably fairly limited. Tracking down who was in a restricted locker room at the same time as you is probably a matter of spadework. There will be switches, with visible lights, proving that the camera is off. A million ways to make it harder to take inappropriate pictures.

These cameras actually could be a pretty useful security tool. Remember that the Flight 93 passengers were alerted to their eventual fate by cell phones. Imagine the usefulness of a camera on the inside during a terrorist situation. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be concerned about their privacy. Only that passing another unenforceable law is liable to start a trend that does more harm than good.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Hooray for Ouray

In anticipation of life starting up again, I've retreated with the dog to a little town called Ouray, hidden in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Take a look at the picture on their site, and you'll see what I mean by hidden. Surrounded by mountains. The only way into town is, well, the only way into town. It's not hidden well enough, since all the hotels are booked.

Ouray started out as a mining town. Like most mountain mining towns, there's a stream running through the middle of it, carrying gold flakes. Once the mining dried up, the town became a tourist spot, taking advantage of its remaining resource - ice. That the town wasn't flattened by an avalanche 6 months after it was founded is a testament to the steep, rocky faces that the mountains turn towards it. But the water does melt, and forms these:

That's right, icicles bigger than your house. Icicles so big that Joe Nacchio wanted to put cell repeaters on them for Qwest, until somebody pointed out that they melt. They not only melt, they break - take a look at the remains over top that lady's head. People climb this stuff competitively. One of the restaurants in town has pay-binoculars so you want watch your favorite climbers slow ascent, and hopefully not-too-rapid descent.

The town itself is small, cute, and likely to stay that way. There's no place for the town to grow, sort of a natural smart-growth plan, so the housing prices actually rival those of Denver. It's been snowing the whole time, which is probably par for the course, but hides the mountains behind the ones you can see.

Dean's Strategy

There's some speculation that Dean will try to run to the left rather than the center in the general election. I don't think so, yet, but I don't see what other options he has. There's nothing in Dean's performance so far that indicates he wants to do anything other than win. Sealing the records, managing his money smartly, attacking the Washington party, which often works for the party out of power. In Vermont, he wasn't a raving lunatic. He was probably planning this campaign for several years, possibly since 2000. (Even Jimmy Carter decided to run as early as 1972. The staff of one of the Vermont newspapers has a book on him out, presumably compiled from their reports. It's worth taking a look at.

He's almost certainly counting on the convention to "reintroduce" himself to the public. Clinton had made many mistakes by the time of the 92 convention, but used it effectively. There are a couple of reasons this might not work for Dean. In 04, the public has seen much more comprehensive pre-convention coverage of Dean. Count on a lot of that coverage to be White House advertising. People aren't looking for a reason to vote against Bush. Unless something catastrophic forces people to give Dean a second look, nothing he does at the convention can help him there.

Also, 92's Democratic convention was stage-managed wonderfully by a party desperate to win. But a majority of Dean supporters want red meat, and the convention will have to feed that beast, or risk a listless floor. He's declared war on party establishment. If they don't think he can win, they have little or no incentive to cooperate with him. Dean probably won't listen to establishment advice that says he risks costing the Democrats a lot of races lower down, either. These factors may limit his ability to stage a moderate convention.

Hope for Hong Kong

This is a hopeful sign. Still, I can't think of any reason why the government should give in. Nobody's going to riot, and sadly, the government has plenty of legal ground to stand on.

More on Indian Casinos

Turns out that the proposal for an Indian casino near DIA is attracting opposition. Actual Arapahoe and Cheyenne from other states don't seem interested, local and state political opposition is building. Finally, the money for the project was supposed to come from compensation for the Sand Creek Massacre. Only the settlement was supposed to go to survivors and their descendents, and they don't seem to keen on having their settlement spent this way. Don't expect the idea to go away, though.

Dean the Scientist

I got my first taste of Howard Dean on Sunday on C-SPAN, and while the sample size was small, the idiocy-to-sense ratio was pretty high, including this whopper (not an exact quote):

As a scientist, I'm trained to think a certain way. You have facts (gestures right) and theory (gestures left). And when the facts conflict with the theory, you throw out the theory. This Administration, they throw out the facts. (Crowd laughs.) That's why we're in Iraq. (Applause.)

First of all, doctors aren't scientists, they're practitioners. Family practice doctors may come up with theories, but they're usually picking from a pre-selected, small set of theories, either diseases they're familiar with or fairly common ones. Mark Steyn has documented quite graphically how Canadian "scientists" pigeonholed all the SARS facts last year into a theory that quite needlessly allowed several thousand people to be exposed to, and several to be killed by, a deadly, communicable disease. Doctors don't create new theories. Doctors make use of the best science has to offer. But unless they're doing research, they're not scientists.

"That's why we're in Iraq?" Here Dean must be referring to the WMDs. As Hugh Hewitt points out, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. It's still a big country, and the WMDs would be small. Maybe they don't exist, but there's not an intelligence service in the world outside of Baghdad that thought so 10 months ago.

Dean then went on to explain that the Administration's theory was the "global warming doesn't exist." Well, not exactly. The Administration's position is that there aren't enough facts to prove that we're causing global warming. That's a very different matter, leaving a specifc hypothesis unproved, rather than claiming to deny actual data. Michael Crichton has discussed how global warming theory appears to be arrived at by consensus, when science doesn't operate by consensus. But apparently this small subtlety was beneath the notice of trained scientist Howard Dean.

ISM Gets Professional

The Islamofascist sympathizers over at the International Solidarity Movement are becoming more professional, and causing more trouble, according to the Jerusalem Post. There are hundreds of well-organized "activists" infiltrating the West Bank and living there now, according to Israeli police. Most recently, they have been implicated in taking part in violence at a border site a mere 5 miles from Ben Gurion Airport. The "Peace Movement" is not peaceful, at all.

Israel needs to aggressively target these troublemakers. They're rank amateurs compares with Hezbollah. But any incident involving deaths or injuries to them could be a public relations nightmare, a la St. Rachel of Corrie. More importantly, the false hope, the aid and comfort they bring avowed enemies of Israel and the US, can only extend the war, and get more Americans and Israelis killed.

If the ISM is seeking to comfort fascists and suicide bombers, you can help by letting Israel know she's not alone. Go over to one of the links there on the right, and give a few dollars to the Magen David Adom, or Friends of the IDF.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

New Year's Resolutions

Going through the Carter Center, despite the humor below, really was a profoundly depressing experience. I grew up in DC, and in many ways, those were my formative political years. Along with the emergence of Ronald Reagan, that explains my lifelong allegiance to the Republican Party. They were years of pessimism, but mostly, years of less. Less money, less time, less world influence. Wear a cardigan and turn down the thermostat to 65. The Brezhnev Doctrine, that Communism could never be turned back in any country, meant less freedom around the world. Small cars became popular, never mind that you just lugged all the stuff on the roof. Smaller houses started to be appealing. David Frum talks a little about this in his book on the 70s. From 1976 to 1980, we were told to expect less, and to make do with it.

This was profoundly un-American, and Reagan, with his expansiveness was the perfect antidote to it. The Left read his optimism as simplemindedness. The country ignored them, and rediscovered its will to do. We got back to being us. In that sense, George W. Bush really is an appropriate heir to his mantle, and thank goodness for that.

So, New Year's is as good a time as any to dream big, and resolve to make those dreams happen.

Separation of Powers

It hasn't started out as such a good year for Chief Justice Rhenquist. He's miffed about a new law that reduces federal judges' discretion in sentencing, and requires reports to Congress about judges who do depart from guidelines. He suggests that Congress should have consulted the judiciary before acting. Given this year's judicial Parade of Travesties, from the 9th Circus to the Supreme Court to the 2nd Circuit just a couple of weeks ago, I don't think he has much to complain about.

Separation of powers only works when each branch stands up for its own prerogatives. That's what Rhenquist is doing here, and there's not even a hint that he'd brook any violation of the law by a federal judge, only that he's displeased with it. But the judiciary has invited this sort of thing with it attempt to run the country from the bench. No doubt, it's only a matter of time before some federal judge declares that portion of the law invalid. Rhenquist's complaint is practically an invitation to do so. The executive and legislative branches have been much less vigorous in their own defenses.

Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Bonus Peanuts

Here are reprinted, in their entirety, the Carter Center descriptions of the Iranian hostage crises and the Palestinian question. They are presented as a public service. Further commentary would be superfluous.

Iranian Hostages

On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately seventy Americans captive. This terrorist act triggered the most profound crisis of the Carter presidency and began a personal ordeal for Jimmy Carter and the American people that lasted 444 days.

President Carter committed himself to the safe return of the hostages while protecting America's interests and prestige. He pursued a policy of restraint that put a higher value on the lives of the hostages that on American retaliatory power or protecting his own political future.

The toll of patient diplomacy was great, but President Carter's actions brought freedom for the hostages with America's honor preserved.

Palestinian Question

Palestine - Whose Homeland?

The growing Jewish presence in Palestine in the late 1940s brought trouble for Palestinian Arabs. When war broke out in 1948, tens of thousands of Arabs fled Palestine. While Jewish refugees became Israeli citizens, many Palestinian Arabs became homeless refugees

The 1967 War drove even more Palestinian Arabs from their homes. Those not trapped in refugee camps lived in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Fire by stories of a homeland taken from them, generations of Palestinians fought to create their own nation. The cycle of violence continued unbroken.

The Peanut Center

Well, it had to be done. You're in Atlanta, you check out the doings at the Carter Center. Maybe it's dinner with Jimmah and Roz. Maybe it's a Carter Center researcher explaining how human rights defenders are being attacked after 9-11. By us. Maybe it's someone discussing the benefits of unilateral diarmament. In this case, it's a 1/12 scale model of Mount Vernon. Home of the man who made history by quitting, hosted by the man who doesn't know when his term ended.

You enter through the museum gift shop. Usually on a tour, you exit through the gift shop, but many of the visitors actually remember the 70s, so the Center probably thinks it's safer to get their cash up front. I did actually see one man buying a copy of Why Not the Best? One answer in 1976, another in 1980.

After passing through the auditorium, you pass the Wall of Presidents. The lineup ends with Carter himself, something beyond even his mighty efforts. There's a portrait, some period photographs, and a few paragraphs describing the president's life, times, and contributions to arms control, or as Jimmy likes to call it, "peace." I'm not making this up. Harding's greatest accomplishment was the 1921 Washington Conference on Naval Disarmament, which led more or less directly to the War in the Pacific, 15 years later. Eisenhower's "eight years of peace stand as his greatest achievement," though there's no mention of how handy the bomb was in ending the Korean War. The 1967 Six-Day War is presented as an obstacle to arms control. Remade the map of the Middle East. Earned Jimmah a new best friend in a Kaffiyah. Obstacle to arms control.

Ah, yes. Arms Control Negotiations. My old friend, I hardly recognize you. Let's see, in 1955, the Soviets reject Eisenhower's Open Skies proposal. Next year's Budapest Tanks on Parade goes unmentioned. "Late in his term, President Johnson approached the Soviets about starting negotiations. Talks faltered, however, when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968." June 1979, Salt II is signed, Carter kisses Brezhnev on the lips. December 1979, and tanks roll into Kabul. Notice a pattern here? There's talk of an "arms race," the only actual balance-of-power numbers ever mentioned are the US's 6000-200 nuke lead in 1960. It's actually been proposed by the Left that we had to let them catch up so they'd have something to negotiate away. Why let the rape of a couple of dozen countries get in the way of a good arms-control strategy?*

As for the Middle East, "four wars and constant small-scale violence have ravaged Arabs and Israelis alike." Think this is related to "HRH King" Fahd of Saudi Arabia's status as a Center Founder, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a Center Sponsor? No, I didn't think so, either.

Then, there are the Hostages. We're informed that ordering a military strike would have been the "easy" thing to do. Um, no. Carter actually did the easy thing: negotiate while pretending not to, order a rescue operation sketched on the back of a restaurant napkin, hide in the Oval Office wearing out the carpet while agonizing through his "personal ordeal." Reagan, by threatening the "easy" solution, got to announce that the plane had left airspace during his inaugural address.

Then there's the whole Human Rights thing. Jay Nordlinger has amply shown how Carter's sympathy only extended to those suffering under military juntas. Maybe he was so tough on the South American dictators because we didn't have any canals to give back. Adam "Bigtime" Clymer gets the Senate ratification byline in the NYT: we were "moving to establish a new spirit of relations with Latin America." So evidently, if there's a retreat to be made in front of a dictator, in this case the much-beloved Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos, he of the white suits and fine cigars, it really doesn't matter what his persuasion is. If the canal had been built through Nicaragua instead, and the treaty negotiations had been going on at the same time as the Sandanistas revolution, the internal contradictions alone might have exploded poor Jimmy's head. Give now, or wait till you can give to Communists? It's a miracle that Panama didn't turn around and invade Colombia.

The museum doesn't talk much about the economy, but it does mention the "energy crisis," the "moral equivalent of war (MEOW)", and the "crisis of confidence." (Somehow, "malaise" didn't make the cut.) There's an actual yellow cardigan from one of his fireside chats, the fire a reminder of the heat people couldn't afford, and the sweater meant as a suggestion.

Carter clearly wants to focus on foreign policy. But if you look at his professed goals, almost all of them were achieved in the 12 years after he left office. Latin America is now run by democracies, with whom we really do have more in common. Nuclear weapons have been reduced. The hostages were free minutes after he left office. Actually defeating the Soviets was never on his list, but he did get to see all those newly-freed Olympians forget to thank him in Atlanta in 1996. The lone exception is Israel, which still exists, although President Clinton sure tried hard.

On the way out, the list of sponsors and founders makes interesting reading. We've already mentioned that the Saudis get double-billing. You would expect major individual and corporate donors, prominent Democrats, local companies, and so on. But did he really have to take money from avowed Communist Armand Hammer? Adnan Khashoggi is represented - an arms dealer donating to a center for "peace." And the Playboy Foundation gets Sponsor status - maybe in thanks for that interview.

Look, you don't go to a Presidential Museum and Library expecting an objective treatment of its subject. Certainly an element of popularizing - in this case, we call it "whitewashing" - is to be expected. But given his behavior after the fact, it's obvious that Carter really believes all this stuff. And the gymnastics necessary to recast his presidency in their light are a lesson in polemics that any student of politics can't miss.

* Couple of dozen:

  • Russia

  • Latvia

  • Lithuania

  • Estonia

  • Poland

  • Romania

  • Hungary

  • Czechoslovakia

  • Bulgaria

  • Vietnam

  • Laos

  • Cambodia

  • Cuba

  • Nicaragua

  • Angola

  • Ethiopia

  • Grenada

  • Finland

  • Armenia

  • Azerbaijan

  • Georgia

  • Kazakhstan

  • Kyrgyzstan

  • Uzbekistan

  • Tajikistan

  • Mongolia

  • Turkmenstan

  • Belorus

  • Ukraine

  • Afghanistan

Indian Gaming Moves East

The Rocky reports this morning on an effort to designate certain land east of DIA as an Indian reservation and put up a casino there. In theory, this would be compensation for the Sand Creek massacre. I, like most Coloradoans in a poll cited, am sympathetic to the Indians, and would like to see them do well for themselves. But this plan needs to be carefully considered before we act out of guilt for a century-old injustice.

First, the tribes apparently would like to claim the whole northeast quarter of the state as compensation, and then trade it for this particular piece of high-value real estate. Secondly, there's the question of taxes and political influence. California has seen its Indian tribes go from being poor cousins to perhaps the single most powerful political influence in the state. They have been able not only to get prime real estate deignated "reservation land" for the purposes of development, but have also been able to use vague references to un-designated "religious sites" to exclude others from development. (Under such rules, the tribes are able, I'm not kidding here, to prevent development within, say, 10 miles of a religious site, which they don't need to designate until they want to. The potential abuse of such a system is blindingly obvious.)

Also, the poll cited creates a false equivalence between the rejected effort to put slots at racetracks, which would have generated revenue for the state at the expense of increasing gambling's availability, and the proposed Indian casino, constructed to benefit a tribe with no other visible means of support. Obviously people are going to be more sympathetic to Indians than to out-of-state corporations with no tie to the community.

Dan Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee has mentioned these abuses in the past. "Historic Tribal Land" could be used to include just about anything between the oceans. Before we start arbitrarily handing over real estate to Indian casinos, we need to make sure that we're not creating a political monster. One thing the Colorado Indians have going for them is that they actually seem to be real tribes, rather than faux concoctions created for the purpose of putting up a casino. It adds considerably to both the credibility and sympathy factors.

Constructive suggestions: 1) makes sure the casinos pay state taxes; 2) make sure the tribes are bound by campaign finance laws, including full disclosure; 3) don't let them offer more or different games from what towns can now vote to offer.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Harrison Bergeron

Guy over at Damascus Road first noted this travesty of education a couple of days ago. Boortz points out that the guy never talks about earning money, but I think he misses the point. It's actually kind of a clever experiment, making the kids compete on unequal terms like that. But I don't think the mittens stand for what he thinks they mean.

The problem with the way the lesson gets taught is that the mittens only stand for externally imposed restraints. And they equate results with the means. So, for instance, if you have to try to pick up pennies wearing mittens, it's because it's already been determined that you won't end up with as many pennies. And it's because this thing called "society" has detemined that you won't end up with as many pennies.

Maybe the mittens should stand for something called "talent," or "ability" or "interest." Maybe you start the kids out with different numbers of pennies, unrelated to those talents. Maybe the kids with the mittens get to team up, shoveling the pennies into the scoops and splitting the haul. There are a million ways this cute project could be used to teach something really valuable and encouraging. There's about one way it can be manipulated into proto-Marxist propaganda. Leave it to an education "expert" to dig that one out.

Back when anyone cared what Kurt Vonnegut wrote, I read a short story of his, "Harrison Bergeron." The notion was that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, we'd be banned from discriminating on the basis of ability. Gifted dancers and athletes would have to wear weights. Smart people would have their thoughts interrupted every so often. And everyone accepted it in the name of fairness, and avoiding hurt feelings. There was a time when I thought it was just a metaphor.

Our Friends The Saudis

The Wall Street Journal reports on the growing European displeasure and frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Germans, in particular, seem to be getting fed up with the Saudi government providing diplomatic cover to radical imams, and the abuse of German law to promote their agendas.

European police and intelligence officials, however, say cooperation has been spotty. Although Saudi Arabia has won high marks in Washington recently for its willingness to cooperate in fighting terrorism, European law-enforcement officials say that they have found teamwork to be minimal. Germany, for example, waited six months before receiving a reply to questions about a Saudi diplomat alleged to have supported extremists. German federal police say cooperation with Saudi counterparts is almost nil, even though Saudi citizens are under investigation in Germany for links to terrorism. "Nothing has changed," says a German police official.

It seems that a Muslim school, initially intended for the children of Arab diplomats, applied to be able to teach German citizens. When the application was turned down, they used a loophole in the law to do so anyway, and now 40% of their students are Germans.

People involved in the school deny that it taught radicalism. Mohammad Hobohm, who retired last year as director of the academy, says: "The school offers much more than just Islam. The school offers the same curriculum offered at any school in Saudi Arabia."

For some reason, this is supposed to be comforting.

If the Germans, French, Dutch, and British really can be moved to take all this more seriously, they may rediscover what we have in common with them. Now, if we can only get them to understand the dangers of the home-grown variety.

This...Is CNN

The first thing you notice is a large billboard across the way saying:

Come Home, Connie
CNN Needs You
Brought to you by your friends at FOX News.

This sort of corporate jousting isn't unheard-of. At one point, Kodak Japan bought a blimp to fly around Tokyo, routinely buzzing the Fuji offices there. But it is more satisfying.

The next thing, after buying the tickets for the tour, is the airport-level security. I'm sure this is run by TSA, except the guards speak English. You disgorge every bit of metal you're wearing or carrying, just like at DIA, and go through a metal detector, just like at DIA. The unworthies are further wanded, just in case. (At the stop, someone asked where the servers were located. "Undisclosed location," we were told. Remember these things the next time Aaron Brown smirks when discussing airport security, or the whereabouts of the Vice President.)

As you get to the top of the escalator, awaiting Those Who Have Been Wanded to join you, there's a display where you can pick a date and watch it's news. No doubt some of the younger folks can pick their actual birthday, where I'd have to be satisfied with a newspaper or an old B&W of Uncle Walter. Now, the networks, including CNN, have enbargoed replaying the 9-11 footage out of fear of "inciting" something or other. Naturally, the date someone had chosen as I walked by was 9/11/01. As nearly as I could tell, nobody who passed the display began shouting anti-Arab slogans.

It's the same impulse that leads CNN-Airport to run CNN on a 10-second delay, so as not to show alarming images to people in airports. I can see where children might be upset by this, but the docent didn't mention "children," only "people."

Much of the tour was pretty routine, getting to see the studios of the various networks, the news floors with the gatherers, writers, producers, and editors tapping away. Pretty much all the talking heads use Teleprompters, and few of them actually write their own stuff. They're actors playing themselves, and they do a good job of it, I'm sure.

Sad and peculiar that as nice a place as Atlanta could have produced both Ted Turner and Jimmy Carter. I had a chance yesterday to tour CNN studios, and today the Carter Center. For the moment, CNN. (Carter needs a little digesting.)

Southern Hockey

Here's a tidbit: why the Atlanta "Thrashers?" Why not, say, the Atlanta Taras, or the Atlanta Mouths (they were owned by Ted Turner), or the Atlanta Marauders, or the Atlanta Fire? (I always thought the Atlanta Flames, before they moved to Calgary, was a bit of a "Gone With the Wind" Joke.

Turns out that, according to a historical marker outside the Georgia Bar building on Marietta St., that the original name for the settlement was "Thrasherville," after a Mr. Thrasher who founded the place in the 1830s. So, the Atlanta Thrashers.

Retention Woes?

Today's Denver Post reports on problems that the Army is having meeting its reserve retention goals. Actual recruiting doesn't seem to be a problem, and the active services are having no trouble meeting their recruiting goals, so the slight margins by which people are leaving the reserves don't seem to be much to worry about.

Watchdog Bites Man

The Sunday Times of London has a report (not available online) that the appropriately-named Lord Dubs, outgoing chairman of the Broadcast Standards Commission, the British equivalent of the private Standards Boards we have here, has been - ready for this? - biased towards Muslims.

The BSC recently upheld a complaint about the use of the phrase "Jesus f****** Christ" by Jamie Oliver, the chef, on Channel 4. The Right Rev Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh and a member of the BSC board, said this would not have been aired had it been about the prophet Muhammad. "There is much more sensitivity to disturbing Islam," he said.

"It is partly because the Muslim community does not have a tradition of humour about religion, although Christian leaders will stand up for things which are fundamentally important."

The Muslim community doesn't have a tradition of mocking and ridiculing things that are deeply important to it, anby more than any current Western religion, such as Environmentalism, does. It takes its religion seriously, in a way that the current Church of England, for instance, clearly doesn't. It takes some things a little too seriously, like comments about Muhammed and the Miss World pageant. It's obvious that the BSC has adopted this attitude, that Christianity isn't a serious religion, while Islam is. What's more alarming is that the Church seems to have, as well.

Powerline has noted that among the fundamentally important things that Christian leaders will stand up for is Saddam Hussien.

Judaism has a tradition of humor, even about things religious, but keeps it within bounds. On Purim, pretty much everything is fair game, but only on Purim. This allows for a certain level of humor, serious criticism levelled with a smile, while discouraging the corrosive effects of unbridled satire and laughter at the sacred.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Gay Marriage in Colorado

The Rocky today carries the results of a statewide poll on gay marriage, and the results are not encouraging. The state seems split on the Constitutional Amendment proposed by two Colorado reps., Rep. Marylin Musgrave and Senator Wayne Allard, and generally favors the notion of civil unions.

However, only about 35% on each side "feels strongly" about their position. This suggests that there's plenty of room for the debate to move. It's also discouraging that while the right, say, on NRO, has been vigorously debating both issues, the Left has just made up its mind not only to support gay marriage, but also that opposition to it cannot be principled, and de facto constitutes bigotry.

My own opposition has been based both on religious principles, but also on the fact that gay men are far less committed, both in polls and in behavior, to the notion of fidelity that marriage requires. Moreover, I consider it critical to distinguish between individuals and relationships. While we may not discriminate against individuals, we need not as a society provide public support and sanction to certain relationships.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Long-Term Politics

Bret Stephens has an insightful article parallelling the misfortunes of three of the West's most venerable political parties, Israel's Labour, Britain's Conservatives, and America's Democrats. He rightly traces the decline of all three to ideas: the lack of ideas, a split over ideas, or being on the wrong side of an idea. Sometimes the lack of ideas results from having your previous ideas win out. Stephens sees this as the problem with both Israel's Labour and the Conservatives. I think this analysis is about 75% right. There's no doubt that the Tories suffer from more than a style issue; New Labor has conceded most, if not all, of Thatcher's gains, and the Tories have little to offer in the way of an alternative.

Sharon has adopted some of Israeli Labour's ideas, if only to the extent of disengagement, and abandoning the notion of a Greater Israel. But to say that Labor will have the better of the argument when Israel is secure enough to focus on economic and social issues seems to me to be wrong. Likud, especially Netanyahu, has taken on Histadrut, looked to deregulate, and put the Israeli economy on a more capitalist and less socialist footing. Social issues may favor a greater secularization and religious pluralism, but the wildly left-wing Meretz and Shinui, currently in government with Likud, have made those their core issues. There's no particular reason for it to favor Labor over Likud.

Stephens almost certainly overestimates the long-term decline of the Democrats, however. It's true that the party has been in decline since at least the late 1970s, when it became clear that it wasn't up to the last major foreign policy challenge. But while the bench may look thin now, there's still a very skilled Clinton waiting in the wings. Georgia and Arkansas have both produced Democratic presidents, both smaller to mid-size states from the South, and with 50 states, new talents isn't constricted by a national pipeline to the same extent as in Britain or Israel.

Also, the War on Islamism could develop into a low-level throb rather than continuing as a sharp pain. If this were to happen, many, if not most, elections over the next few decades could be determined either by social or economic issues. Much as it pains me to say it, the Democrats seem more attuned with the country on the first, and the latter always offers opportunities to the party out of power.

Stephens has to go back to the pre-Civil War Whigs to find a major party that actually goes out of existence. This is almost certian not to happen to the Democrats, for many of the above reasons, but also because of the size and complexity of American politics. Third parties almost always have a short shelf-life. Their issues are almost always narrow; once they begin to make a dent, one of the major parties, with broader appeal, sees the threat and absorbs their issues into its own platform. Social fractures large enough to produce wholly new, comprehensive world views almost never arise.

Finally, even long-term minority status doesn't mean either impotence or extinction. Leave aside the obviously partisan control of the bureaucracy, education, judicial, and news establishments (this and other blogs notwithstanding). The Senate Democrats have been very adept at promoting their agenda. The Republicans didn't hold the House for 40 years, but elected Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I.

As a partisan Republican, and as a supporter of Likud, there's a side of me that can't help but want this. It's a temptation to resist. Parties are sharpened by opposition and in opposition. Political debate deteriorates when one side needn't pay heed to the views of the other. Political elites ossify when personal advancement depends mainly on party favors. One-sided control of government tends to breed radicalism on the opposition benches.

Politics is about substance. But politics is process. It is not only the laws that are enacted, but the to-and-fro that precedes their enactment. For that to work well, there's nothing better than robust government and healthy opposition. As in love and marriage, you can't have one without the other.

Perhaps the most telling difference between the two parties right now is that you can't really imagine any of the leading Democrats making such a statement.

The Gravitas of Print

Yours truly gets a "token conservative" mention in today's Denver Post, in an article about how the Western Left is using blogs to organization. Of course, there are many more Western conservatives than liberals, making far better use of the blogosphere than the Left is, but the focus of the article is on the "liberal rage" spurring their flight to the Internet.

While the article does a credible job of analyzing the self-destructive dynamics of the current Democratc party, it does make a couple of mistakes. Republican rage at Clinton was not only less psychotic, but also eventually resulted in a candidate and a platform that was positive and stood for something. It's worth repeating that Clinton presided over uniform losses for his party, which Bush has presided over gains for his.

More saliently, the article tries to make the blogosphere into a leftist version of talk radio - a place for the excluded to go develop an audience and an agenda. But the right was also first into the blogosphere, and has certainly made better grass-roots use of it so far. The left is playing catch-up, and, as with their "liberal talk radio network," the effort is top-down rather than bottom-up.

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