Thursday, July 29, 2004

Slate's dunderheaded Dahlia Lithwick raises an interesting point today: despite their outrage at the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore in 2000, the Dems aren't saying a thing about judicial appointments at their convention. She laments this silence, claiming that the Democrats just don't seem to understand how important judicial nominees are.

Lithwick, however, being a typically clueless Supreme Court correspondent, fails to understand that the truth is precisely the opposite. It's thickheadedRepublicans who've consistently underestimated the importance of the court (David Souter, anyone?). Lithwick seems characteristically oblivious to just how effectively her side has utilized the federal courts to implement a wholesale agenda that the American voters would never approve (and have never approved, incidentally).

Says Lithwick:
Something magical happens when judges are confirmed to the bench. They become oracles, and we as a nation just stop caring about their activities.
I couldn't agree more. We let the court get away with way too much. But amazingly, Lithwick sees the high court as a monolithic organ for conservatism (which ought to show us exactly how whacked out her own political agenda is). She whines:
We hear nothing about judges who refuse to grant abortion waivers. We hear nothing about judges who refuse to be bound by civil rights law. The fact that Bill Pryor, President Bush's recess appointee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, just cast the deciding vote not to hear a case challenging the Florida law preventing gay couples from adopting went almost completely unnoticed in the national media.
This is enough to agitate poor, dead Harry Blackmun even now (and I suspect he's already plenty agitated--and more than a little well-done--where he's at). I mean, what do you have to do to satisfy these people?

Over the past 30 years, federal courts have imposed on an unwilling nation--by judicial fiat --abortion on demand (resulting in over 40 million abortions), homosexual marriage, the constitutional right to sodomy, busing, racial preferences in school admissions and hiring, and a host of other "progressive reforms."

If this is a "conservative" judiciary, one wonders what acts of leftist judicial legislating would satisfy the likes of Lithwick. Court-ordered bong hits? Federally mandated transgendered grief counselors for pansexual goths? Better get to it, guys and gals, there's lots more work to be done. You have yet to a constitutional right to bovine beastiality.
Some Things You Might Not Know About Stem Cell Research

  • There are two different kinds of stem cell research: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells are taken from human fetuses, destroying the fetus in the process. Adult stem cells are taken from fat tissue, bone marrow, umbilical cords, and other easy sources without destroying anything.
  • Nobody is opposed to adult stem cell research. Not even the Republicans.
  • Though scientists have a theoretical interest in embryonic stem cells, in practice they have been shown to frequently cause tumors and to be rejected by the immune systems of those mice into which they were injected.
  • Major advances have been made in adult stem cell research. Adult stem cells in experimental trials have been used to grow new heart tissue in humans, bring about remission Parkinson's and cancer cases, and even treat blindness and reverse severed-spinal cord paralysis in mice. Hundreds of human diabetes patients have been weaned off of insulin as the result of adult stem cell therapy.
  • Embryonic stem cells have resulted in exactly zero advances to date. None. Nada. They can't even be used for human trials because they are so dangerous. As Wesley J. Smith points out: one recent experiment, [embryonic stem] cells were injected into a mouse in the hope they would rebuild the animal's damaged knee. Instead, the cells obliterated the knee by stimulating tumor growth. (More recently, an adult stem cell animal study successfully rebuilt joints without causing tumors.)
  • Not one human being has been cured or even successfully treated using embryonic stem cells.
So despite Ron Reagan's attempts to portray conservatives as anti-science, it's actually the Mengeles of the harvest-the-embryos crowd who appear to be ignoring the results of scientific study.

(For more information on this, I cannot recommend highly enough the work of Wesley J. Smith. He's no member of the Christian right, having co-authored at least five books with Ralph Nader.)
The always-excellent Robby George of Princeton University gives that little weasel Ron Reagan the slapping down he desparately needs on the facts of stem cell research.
Al Sharpton spoke to the Democratic Convention last night in prime time. Al Sharpton.

In saner times, just that mere phrase would have woken up even addled Democrats. No longer.

Al Sharpton--the same Al Sharpton of Tawana Brawley fame, the same Al Sharpton of Crown Heights fame, the same Al Sharpton of Freddy's Fashion Mart fame-- is now the mainstream of the Democrat Party.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

John Kerry's "Dukakis-in-the-tank" photo demands a caption.

I'll start: "And here we see the egg being fertilized...."
My friend Jack, responding to my previous post, said:
The "Bush stole the election" fantasy has to be maintained, in order to crank up the "28 Days Later" level of monkey rage they need to push this sputtering old train over the top of the hill.
I can't tell you how much I enjoy the phrase "monkey rage." I pledge to make it a regular part of my vocabulary from here on out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Few Observations on Last Night's Convention
  • As a conservative, I had to love last night's lineup. Al Gore. Jimmy Carter. Names synonomous with "loser" in American politics. If only they'd brought Dukakis in, they'd have hit the trifecta.
  • This is a convention that has put Al Sharpton out in front. Among the speakers today are Tom Daschle, Howard Dean, Tuh-RAY-zuh Heinz Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Carol Moseley-Braun. It just can't get any better. I'm actually praying for high ratings. People need to see this.
  • I can only hope that they'll continue to focus on national security. Jimmy Carter standing at the podium touting his party on national security is worth more than every dollar spent on Bush campaign ads this year. Oh yeah, national security. Let's see, this is the guy who practically put the Ayatollah Khomeini in power in Iran, then rolled over when Islamic militants seized our embassy and took hostages. (The captors practically admitted years later that they would have given the whole thing up in hours had the U.S. threatened a forceful response. We didn't.) Carter also micromanaged the disasterous rescue raid, criticized Americans' "inordinate fear of Communism," and ushered in a communist government in Nicaragua that led to the deaths of 40,000 people in the civil war there. Please, please, please, let's make this election about national security.
  • "Today, our dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America," Carter said. Ah yes, remember how Carter restored America's greatness? The international prestige we enjoyed during his term?
  • The Democrat Party's foreign policy is essentially "If we're nice to them, maybe they won't try to kill us." That's worked real well up to this point. Last night, Al Gore said, "I firmly believe America needs new leadership that will make us stronger at home and respected in the world." Gore and Bill Clinton spent eight years making us "respected in the world." They swore fealty to the U.N., engaged in nation building, and sent U.S. troops into dozens of "humanitarian crises." And what did all that supposed international goodwill and respect buy us? 9/11.
  • John Kerry will not win. I'm now convinced of it. Why? Because his party is not excited about him. Dems spent most of last night apologizing for him. "No, he's not exciting, but do you want exciting, or do you want good leadership?" they were saying. That's not going to get the job done. Yes, they hate Bush. They're quite outspoken about it. But hatred of the incumbant without excitement for the alternative has never elected a president. Nor will it this year.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ann Coulter's column from the Democratic Convention, which USA Today commissioned and then refused to print, is now available online.

Though the column is typically hilarious, there's no way USA Today was going to print this. I could have told Ann going in.

Here's the first sentence:
Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston, conservatives are deploying a series of covert signals to identify one another, much like gay men do.
Refusing to print it isn't censorship, it's simply a desire to avoid suicide.

Nonetheless, Ann Coulter rules.
As much as I believe that John Kerry's nutty wife Tuh-RAY-zuh is a Martha Mitchell waiting to happen, this whole "shove it" story is much ado about nothing.

Having watched the video, it just isn't that big a deal. She thought the reporter misquoted her, he is with a right-wing paper, and she gets a little annoyed with him.

It's not like she said to him what Dick Cheney said to Pat Leahy or anything. I wouldn't hit too hard on this if I were the Republicans. This wife stuff has a way of boomeranging.
My friend Anne left a comment worthy of discussion in my post regarding liberalism and conservatism below, which demands more response than can fit in my comments box.

Anne says:
It's odd, John, but I've always thought it was pretty much the opposite, with the Republicans being the ones convinced people will do the right thing if left to their own devices, therefore not requiring governmental interference.

You know, Big Business doesn't need a bunch of safety regulations, for the people running it will Do The Right Thing. We don't need environmental laws for people will Do The Right Thing. We don't need malpractice laws for doctors can be trusted to police themselves, i.e. Do The Right Thing.

Great snakes, John, the reason we have so many laws (and I'm not against all of them by any means, BTW) is because of the base assumption that left to their own devices, people will NOT Do The Right Thing.

And that's quite right. They won't.
And now, my too-lengthy response:

First of all, my original post concerned Right vs. Left (or conservative vs. liberal, if you prefer), rather than “Republican vs. Democrat.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of liberal Republicans, and I know of at least one conservative Democrat, so the party labels don't really nail it down. Far too many Republicans seem to believe in the perfectibility of man, judging by their actions in government.

Our system of government was institued by the Founding Fathers precisely because they believed that people will often not do the right thing. Because they believed in the falleness of man, they were adamant about keeping government power in check. Because those in government are just as prone to malfeasance as those in private life, conservatives (in the tradition of the Founders) are dubious of governmental power above all. The guy next door to me who thinks he knows how my life should be run is merely a nuisance; the government official who thinks he knows how my life should be run becomes a tyrant.

Conservatives believe in law (which is why I believe libertarianism isn’t really conservatism). However, conservative laws tend toward restraining evil. Liberal laws tend toward micromanaging human behavior to bring about a desired positive result (such as equality, tolerance, etc.)

I think you have a misunderstanding as to why conservatives favor deregulation in so many instances. Deregulation is not a statement about the goodness of man; it’s a statement about the ineptitude of government. The conservative notion is not that people will “do the right thing” if left to themselves, nor is it that they will “police themselves.” The conservative notion is simply that people will (because they are fallen) generally do what's in their own self-interest, and that they know better what this is than some bureaucrat in Washington. The genius of conservatism via the free market is that it has found a way to use man's self-interestedness in a way that benefits all of mankind.

For instance: cures for diseases are developed in the U.S. more than any other nation because there is a financial benefit for being first. Desire to be first creates competition. Competition drives ingenuity. There is a good reason China isn’t cranking out important new medicines.

The liberal notion is that such self-interest is crass, and that it can be bred out of people with the right education and training. Instead of a free market, we will have a few enlightened elites who know what's best for everyone and will impose that on them for their own good. Instead of having the market compete to produce, say, a miracle cure, they’ll institute a governmental Department of Drug Development, where people will have governmental job security (which means they can almost never be fired) and unlimited time and resources with which to produce miracle drugs. They’ll be paid the same whether they do or don’t produce these drugs (motivated only by their own, pure altruism), and shockingly, no actual miracle drugs will ever be produced. This sort of central planning has proved historically disastrous.

This same way of thinking is operative in all that liberals do. Think about it: “Our schools would work if we’d only fund them more!” How many times have you heard that one? And yet the more money that’s dumped into them, the worse the schools get. The city of Washington D.C. spends over $15,000 per year per student, and yet most of them are hardly even literate.

The reason conservatives believe in deregulation in favor of competition is not because corporations (or individuals) on their own will "do the right thing," but because free market competition will do a better job of developing efficient, responsive companies than some paper-pusher in Washington who’s never worked in a corporation nor lived in the area he’s “protecting.” The market does the policing.

People, out of self-interest, will tend to patronize the companies that produce the best products at the best prices without fouling their water and air too extremely. The people, as a market, will decide what level of water and air pollution they’re willing to tolerate in exchange for the product they desire. And corporations (out of self-interest) will do what they have to do to appeal to their customers. If they pollute more than the market will accept, someone who pollutes less will get their business. The market finds a way of striking a much better balance than bureaucrats ever seem to.

Regarding the medical issue, I don’t know any conservative who thinks there should be “no malpractice laws” (which, again, sounds to me like libertarianism, which I maintain isn’t truly conservative).

But a conservative recognizes that not all bad results in medicine are the result of malpractice. We live in a fallen world and bad things happen, and it’s not always someone’s fault. There are inherent dangers in health care. Sick people sometimes die or get sicker. Sometimes the mother or the baby dies in childbirth, and the only person to blame is Adam.

The liberal mind looks for someone to blame. Since imperfection is not inherent in the world, when something bad happens in the O.R., it’s someone’s fault and they must pay so that it doesn’t happen again. Thus we get lawyers like John Edwards who sue the pants off of doctors who deliver babies with cerebral palsy. As a result of such unfettered lawsuits, many places (like Florida) no longer have enough doctors who are even willing to deliver babies. Those who do deliver babies will frequently perform unnecessary C-sections rather than face such lawsuits. As a result, C-sections (and thus longer hospital stays, more risk of complications, etc) have shot up by huge percentages in recent years, while the birthrate of cerebral palsy babies has remained the same. The malpractice law that was supposed to “protect” the patient has actually resulted in fewer doctors, more dangerous procedures, and longer recuperation times. But the liberal is never responsible for the unintended consequences of his do-gooding.

Conservatives believe that, because man is fallen, no one of them should have too much power. The enlightened elites who have it figured out for the rest of us are the most dangerous of all. There must be laws to restrain and punish evil. But other value judgments (such as: would I rather spend my two dollars on gasoline or apples? How much clean air am I willing to trade for the ability to drive my own car to work?) ought to be left to individuals acting in their own interests.

I'll close with a quote from the website of Dennis Kucinich, possibly the most crazy-left member of the House of Representatives:
If you believe that humanity has a higher destiny, if you believe we are all ultimately perfectible, if you believe we can evolve, and become better than we are; if you believe we can overcome the nihilistic scourge of war and someday fulfill the dream of peace and harmony on earth, let us begin the conversation today.
Ultimately perfectible indeed.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Occasionally I host talk shows on a local Christian radio station, and whenever I do, without fail, someone will call into the program and complain about my "talking about politics when (I) should be talking about salvation." The compartmentalization of Christian faith from all other areas of "secular" life is nearly complete in the evangelical world.

Yesterday, a caller complained about my use of the terms "left" and "right," claiming that as Christians we ought not to get into these political differences, and that it was wrong to claim one side or the other for Christianity.

I certainly agree that we can't claim any particular political party for Christianity; there's no political party that is "God's party." But as far as "left" and "right" go, we can certainly claim one of them for Christianity. As I explained to the caller, here are the foundational, fundamental tenets of the two positions.

Left: Mankind is essentially good. Because of this basic goodness, man (and thus society) is ultimately perfectible under the right conditions.

Right: Mankind is essentially bad. Because of original sin, man is fallen. Without checks, he naturally tends towards the evil. He (and thus society) can never be perfected in this life, and thus we must take man's fallen nature into account in all governing endeavors.

Now, which view of mankind is laid out on every page of the Bible? If one claims that there is no Christian position on this, one is claiming that there's no biblical position on this. And if one is claiming that there's no biblical position on this, one has never even scanned the Bible.

It's almost superfluous to mention the fact that all of our empirical observations about man's nature also happen to support the view of the right. Those nations that have espoused the inherent goodness of man (which includes all Communist nations) have been responsible for more bloodshed in the last century alone than all other nations in world history combined.

There may be those on the left who believe in man's evil nature. And there may be those on the right who affirm the essential goodness of mankind. But if so, their political beliefs are not consistent with their foundational assumptions. If one believes that man is fallen and non-perfectable, something resembling conservatism must result--if he is at all consistent. And if one consistently believes that man is good and perfectible, something like liberalism must flow from it.

A Christian's foundational assumptions must be founded on biblical truth. Only one of these two positions is compatible with that.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

You know what I'm finally sick of? I'm sick of self-appointed critics whining about the church.

Of course the church isn't perfect. It's composed of sinful humans, so it has its flaws. But I've been in five churches over the past 12 years (we moved around a lot) and I happen to love the church.

Are there things about my church (or even evangelicalism, or even the Church) that I'd change? Of course there are. But I'm not obsessesed by those things every moment of every day. Yet I'm discovering (though hopefully it's just a publishing and internet phenomenon) more and more people who are absolutely obsessed with How Lousy Today's Church Is. They can think of little else.

Mind you, these aren't the people who happen to find a flaw, point it out, and set about fixing it (or forgiving it--when's the last time you saw that?). These are the people who can do nothing other than complain about their church, your church, and the Church. There are entire websites and forums dedicated to their complaints. People like Philip Yancey (who's done some work I really like) have practically built careers off of feeding their complaints.

To all such people I say: get over it. You had a bad experience in church when you were 11? That's too bad. Now get your butt out from behind the keyboard and go do something. Go minister to someone. Quit your incessant complaining. Stop being a noose around your pastor's neck. Repent of your pharisaical self-righteousness dressed up as astute ecclesiastical criticism. If you don't like the way your church is run, start your own. If you don't think your pastor is well-read enough, buy him a few books as a gift and then zip it. If you don't think your congregation is theologically astute enough, then have a little patience with them and start teaching them. If the pastor won't let you teach, then submit to him or leave--but quit whining.

If every church you've been in has been a bad experience for you, I've got news for you: you're the problem. Biblical Christians see problems in the church and address them. Self-important fools merely proclaim problems, under the narcissistic illusion that they're actually accomplishing something through their "prophetic" whining.

I feel better now. Maybe I solved the problem by proclaiming it.
Media bias is certainly not a new issue for anyone. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that it might be the most popular (read: overdone) topic in the conservative blogosphere.

Still, the conference I attended in Tampa last week, at which President Bush spoke, provides a compelling new example of this ongoing liberal bias. Larry Elder has written a cogent column today pointing out the oddities in media coverage of the event:
CNN's "American Morning" anchor compared an upcoming Kerry campaign speech to one being given on the same day by President George W. Bush:

"President Bush heads to the swing state of Florida today. He'll be in Tampa appealing to conservative voters (emphasis added) with an address on human trafficking and then to a rally in Beckley, West Virginia. . . . And John Kerry will be in Washington speaking to the American Federation of Teachers. He's promising full funding for the No Child Left Behind Act. Later he'll hold a rally in Arlington, Virginia."

And exactly what kind of voters did Kerry aim for in his teachers union speech? "Liberal" voters, perhaps?
The strange thing is, almost every media outlet framed these two events the exact same way.

According to Elder, Judy Woodruff echoed the same theme later in the morning, saying:
This hour, John Kerry is here in Washington to accept an endorsement by the American Federation of Teachers and to criticize the president's education policy in the process. . . . Over on the Republican side, President Bush has a rally in West Virginia the next hour, after stopping in another showdown state, Florida, this morning. In Tampa, Mr. Bush urged aggressive law enforcement to combat the crime of human trafficking, an important issue for evangelical Christians, a big part of his political base.
Though Elder doesn't note it, the Associated Press played the story the same way:
Bush's remarks at the first-ever national training conference on human trafficking address an issue of vital concern to Evangelical Christians, one of the most important components of Bush's political base nationally.
Now, I was at this conference. At the most--the very most--maybe ten percent of the invited attendees were evangelical Christians. The vast majority of the attendees were either prosecutors or law enforcement officers. From our mealtime conversations, I gathered that most of them knew no more about evangelical Christianity than the media do.

I'm mystified as to how human trafficking is supposedly a "conservative" issue. If anything, it's probably a liberal issue. Tons of government agencies are involved in trying to stop it, it costs tax money, the victims are mostly women, and all sorts of "touchy-feely" (a term jokingly used by some even at the conference) social services organizations are needed to aid rescued victims. It ought to be a liberal's dream. What, are liberals in favor of human trafficking? Even John Kerry's attack line against Bush that day was that he hasn't done enough.

So how is it that Bush was speaking to a "conservative base" that day while John Kerry was simply simply seeing to it that No Child will be Left Behind?

I remember thinking at the conference that this was as non-political, non-controversial an issue as one was likely to find. Who could be against stopping human trafficking? Yet the media was insistent in portraying it as a Bush campaign effort to court conservatives.

Even if that were somehow true, why would they fail to mention the political tilt of teachers' unions?
I hadn't caught this column when it was originally published a few days ago, but Sylvester Brown Jr. (a liberal, independent-thinking, black columnist for my hometown St. Louis Post-Dispatch) says that Bush was right to blow off the NAACP:
When asked why he skipped the convention, Bush didn't mince words.

"You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me," Bush said. "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically nonexistent."

Now, that's a refreshing, nonpolitical response. Basically, the president said, "Hey, they don't like me. I don't like them. Why should I kiss up to an organization that opposes my party and my politics?"

That would be a legitimate question. Another question is why the NAACP leaders even expected Bush to attend their conference given the way they've treated him.
Brown makes clear that while he'd like to see Bush booted from office, Bush would be wise to do an end-around on so-called "black leaders" in trying to attract African-American votes this fall:
I, too, worry about four more years of Bush, but I'm also sick of politics that patronize me. So I'd like to offer some advice.

To President Bush: Don't sweat the NAACP. Dust off your "faith-based initiative" plan and rework it as an "urban economic growth" plan. Target young people like Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit crowd. Promote a realistic plan to establish businesses, increase home ownership and rebuild communities. Recruit Rep. Jim Talent and hire former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, who have promoted such proposals.

Democrats: Lose the lip service and scary tales of racist Republican conspiracies. It's old and annoying.
Would that more folks from the black community would get fed up with the patronization of the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I've been laughing out loud at the hypocritical Democratic caterwauling about the "timing" of the Sandy Berger story.  Please.  Anyone recall the Bush DWI story the Democrats sat on and then leaked to the press three days before the presidential election?

Berger is rummaging through classified national security documents at the National Archives, his pants stuffed like Derek Small from "Spinal Tap," and the Dems want to make it a story about timing.

I was gratified to see this story snowball as the day progressed yesterday, and the Republicans would be wise to keep hammering away at it throughout the Democratic National Convention next week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

As you hear about the 35th anniversary of the first moonwalk this week, make sure to remind yourself that it's also the 35th anniversary of Ted Kennedy's driving Mary Jo Kopechne off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, leaving her to drown in a sinking car .
The car was discovered by fisherman the next morning about eight hours later, and Kennedy finally reported the accident to police about two hours after that--after Ms. Kopechne's body had already been removed from the car and its license plate traced to the senator.
Authorities believe she may have lived for as long as a couple of hours after the crash.  Sen. Ted Kennedy was safely back in his cottage 40 minutes after the accident.
At the Democratic National Convention this week, Ted Kennedy will be celebrating his 42nd year in the United States Senate.  As you watch them celebrate his life, career and accomplishments on the stage in Boston, and as he stands there being hugged by John Kerry, keep in mind that Mary Jo Kopechne has been dead for 35 of those years.
It's difficult to fathom yet how big this story about Sandy Berger could turn out to be, even though the media seems to want to downplay it right now. 
The former National Security Advisor to the Clinton administration, which has been accused of handling Osama Bin Laden with kid gloves in the days before 9/11, snuck out of the National Archives with classified administration documents shoved down his pants.  Berger is the official representative of the Clinton administration to the 9/11 Commission.
Oh, and while you would have had to listen awfully closely to know, Berger also happens to be an advisor to the John Kerry campaign.
Last night's 9pm Associated Press bulletin deigned to mention this little factoid in paragraph six.  CNN's online story, filed by John King, grudgingly mentions it in the final paragraph of a 24 paragraph report.

Friday, July 16, 2004

I shook hands with the President of the United States today. 
After we heard a couple of other speakers this morning, they asked us to remain at our chairs since there was no further traffic being allowed into and out of the room.
As we stood around in front of our chairs chatting, they put some patriotic music on the sound system.  I noticed (at the stage entrance I was closest to) as a well-dressed young guy popped into the room, slipped the presidential seal out of a blue, velvet sack, and hung it on the podium.  
Right on time (this administration is notoriously punctual), a voice said something like “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Attorney General John Ashcroft and Governor Jeb Bush.”  All turned and applauded as the two walked out onto the stage, and a few seconds later, without any announcement that I can recall, the president strolled in and the room erupted.
At the end of the speech, in which he made some strong remarks about Fidel Castro’s Cuba which have been the focus of the subsequent media coverage I’ve seen, he began working the “rope line” around the front of the stage.
My coworker and I were seated about 25 feet from the podium, so we were in good position for a quick meeting when the president got to our side of the stage.
There was an episode of “King of the Hill” a few years ago where Hank Hill meets George W. Bush and then decides he can’t support him because Bush gave him a limp handshake.  This made me a bit apprehensive going in, but I’m pleased to say that the president extended a good, firm handshake—it was a full-hand handshake, the way a handshake should be, rather than one of those wimpy politician girl-extending-her-hand-to-be-kissed handshakes.
The whole exchange probably lasted 1.5 to 2 seconds.  But it was still one of the more impressive days I’ve had in a while.  48 hours ago I didn’t know about any of it.  I guess you just never know in life.
(Regarding the issue of human trafficking, I'm still learning.  But swamphopper over at The Rough Woodsman did an excellent post earlier this year on the subject which contains some important links and info.)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

A few months ago, a colleague and I were invited to this thing in Ft. Lauderdale where the Secretary of Education was speaking at a luncheon.  They must have put our names on a list or something, because last Friday the Department of Justice called and invited us to attend a conference in Tampa this week.
As it turns out, Justice is increasingly addressing the issue of human trafficking, a sort of modern-day slavery which affects nearly a million victims, many of whom are children.  Police are discovering more and more cases of it even here in the United States.
I don’t know much about it (yet), but I guess that’s the point.  They wanted us to come and learn more about it (presumably so we can spread the word on it through the media entity we work for), and were willing to pay for us to fly up here and stay.
Well, we’re not ones to pass up a free trip, and we figured maybe we could do some good.  So we said “sure,” and flew up here to Tampa earlier today. 
There are, I would estimate, about 300 of us here who were brought in for the conference.  The itinerary has been kind of sketchy all week (and I didn’t even find out about the whole thing until six days ago), so I came up here not really knowing who would be speaking or what would be going on. 
So here's the thing.  After we checked into the hotel this afternoon and registered for the conference, they finally gave us an itinerary that announced the plenary speakers who will be here to address us in the conference room tomorrow.
As it turns out, the keynote speaker will be the President of the United States.  
Which is pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

As long as we're talking baseball, Seth Stevenson, in a beautiful open letter at Slate, departs a bit from the recent conventional wisdom and declares his undying hatred for Roger Clemens.

Stevenson, a deeply embittered Red Sox fan, has seized on the comic trait that I enjoy most: finding a hundred different ways to call someone fat.

Writes Stevenson:
Dear Roger Clemens,

Let me offer my hearty congratulations on starting the All-Star Game. Wow, that is really terrific. I'd like to note, however, that I hate you.

Also: You are fat. They say you've got this hard-core training regimen, with calisthenics and whatnot. I'm not seeing it. You're wicked fat.
He later adds:
Speaking of your kids, their names all start with K. Because K is the symbol for strikeout. That's lame, dude. If I named my kids after something I'm really good at, they'd all be named "Calling-Roger-Clemens-Fat Stevenson." And that's just too unwieldy.
My son and I watched the All-Star Home Run Derby on ESPN Monday night, which was quite entertaining (as opposed to the actual game last night, which was putrid).

However, Joe Morgan said something in passing that didn't sit so well. Now, while I think Morgan is an excellent baseball analyst, I'm not a huge fan of his. He always seems to be acting as some sort of commissioner-at-large while the baseball world breathlessly awaits his pronouncements on what's good, bad, acceptable, and unacceptable. He also seems to be almost totally lacking a sense of humor, which leads to many awkward moments since his partner Jon Miller is quite funny.

Anyway, during the Home Run Derby, Morgan and Chris Berman were interviewing the great Frank Robinson, who was a Hall of Fame player and also Major League Baseball's first black manager. While talking, Morgan said almost in passing (and I'm quoting from memory here, so don't hold me to exact verbiage), "You know, Frank, one of the things I appreciated was being able to play for an African-American manager. I think most guys, if they had their preference, would have liked a chance to play for an African-American manager."


If I were to give Morgan the benefit of the doubt, I could chalk this up to him trying to find something complimentary to say from a personal standpoint about Robinson. Perhaps instead of stating the obvious ("So, Frank, you were the first black manager..."), he wanted to frame it in the first person, and it just came out clunky.

On the other hand, nobody else ever gets the benefit of the doubt on these things, so why should Joe Morgan? He's practically the pope of Major League Baseball, with every organization required to kiss his ring in order to appear "diverse." Yet if the same words had been uttered by a white former player, we all know that my blog wouldn't be the first place you'd be hearing about it.

Just imagine:

Pat Riley interviewing the late Adolph Rupp: "Gosh, Coach, I've gotta tell you. It sure was great playing for a white coach on an all-white team when we won the national championship in 1966. I know a lot of other guys would have loved to have been on whiter teams."

Bret Favre commenting on Green Bay: "One of the great things about playing for the Packers is getting to play for a white coach like Mike Sherman. I know a lot of guys in Indianapolis and in the Meadowlands who'd love the opportunity to play for a white coach."

Think you'd have heard about those comments by now?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

After praising the great William F. Buckley in my last post, it's only fair that I should balance things out a little.

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has finally said something that I've thought (and believed I was perhaps alone in) for quite some time. There's no doubt that Buckley is a great man; in many ways, he's one of the most important Americans of the 20th century.

But his writing style stinks. It's not his vocabulary, which has been the source of many complaints; indeed, I like the unusual words with which he peppers his writings. The problem is that his syntax is odd, his flow is stilted, his grammar is often just plain wrong, and his sentence structure is often needlessly complicated to the point where the reader often has no idea which adjectives and verbs refer to which nouns.

I've always been a bit embarrassed that I found him virtually unreadable. After all, he's a Harvard man and he's known for his writing. But while his writings contain ideas that helped change a nation, I suspect those ideas carried the day in spite of the style in which they were expressed rather than because of it.

I think people have been afraid to point it out because Buckley is obviously so much smarter than most of us. But I think Joe's right, and I'm glad he had the chutzpah to say it.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Someone has finally taken a much-needed shot at that little putz, Ron Reagan Jr.

The someone is William F. Buckley, Jr. and he's been close enough to know better regarding some of the inane things Ron Jr. has claimed in the wake of his father's death. Bob Novak has the blow-by-blow in his latest column.

Says Novak:
The elder statesman of the conservative movement considered Ron Jr.'s remarks a public challenge that ought to be challenged publicly. Buckley wrote Reagan a letter that specifically addressed his claim in an interview with The New York Times that he, as a self-professed atheist, admired the Buddhist teachings of "mindfulness and loving kindness and compassion." Buckley told him: "You proceed in a single interview to profane/deride the faith of your parents, which is not very mindful."
According to Buckley, Reagan Jr. has even been lying about the small things:
RR Jr.: As for his father's reaction when he dropped out of Yale to join the ballet, "That was fine with him."

WFB: "It wasn't fine with him and he enlisted my aid in trying to persuade you to stay in college."
Word is that this talentless little poofter will now be speaking at the Democratic National Convention (as if he and his sister Patti didn't give their father enough grief while he was still alive).

The national period of mourning is over, and it's time for America to put Ronnie Jr. back in his deservedly obscure place. I hope more reporters and pundits with knowledge and facts will hit him hard over the next few weeks. What a weasel.
For the first time in the six years I've lived in South Florida, the Miami Heat are generating major buzz here. The town is rightfully intoxicated with the idea of Shaquille O'Neal clogging up the key at the American Airlines Arena next season.

Yes, his greatest days are probably behind him. But he's still an MVP-caliber big man who can tranform a franchise. And he's only 32 years old.

I myself would even consider buying a ticket to see the Heat if he were here--and that's something I've never done.

Friday, July 09, 2004

It was kind of fun watching John Kerry white-knuckle his way through Larry King Live tonight, trying to pretend not to be concerned that that crazy wife of his was about to say something that would implode his whole compaign.

Smiling always looks very painful for him, but never more than during that hour.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I'm in Wilmington, North Carolina right now (where the temperature as of 9:30pm Eastern time was 90 degrees) to interview a couple whose daughter brought home a book a few months ago called "King & King," which was included among the choices in her public school's advanced reading class list.

It's about a prince who, despite his mother's best matchmaking efforts, "never cared much for princesses." But then he meets the brother of one of the princesses--Prince Lee--and finally falls in love and gets married. The book ends with a kiss between the two princes.

The class with this book on the reading list is a first grade class. The book is written for ages six and up.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

John Kerry made the right decision in choosing John Edwards as his running mate. As a Republican, Edwards was the one guy on the list I didn't want them to choose.

Still, my main impression of John Kerry from the news this weekend is just what an absolute wuss he is. His comments on abortion over the weekend were positively Clintonian, and won't do much to ameliorate his much-deserved reputation as a gutless flip-flopper.

On the one hand, says Kerry, "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

But on the other hand, says Kerry in the same interview, "I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."

Let me make sure I understand this correctly. Kerry believes a fetus is truly a human life. And he also believes that there can be no laws against killing such a human life, since such laws would violate the "separation of church and state."

There is vast stupidity here far beyond only the narrow issue of abortion.

Do you have any idea what a pathological madman one must be to believe that religious viewpoints can play no proper part in formulating law? Why is it that the atheistic view (which is a religious view, incidently, requiring unprovable faith presuppositions at least as much as any other religious view) can be legislated on me, but my Christian view cannot be legislated on anyone else?

I believe that all murder is wrong because of my religious views. I believe that stealing is wrong because of my religious views. Does that mean we can have no laws against murder or stealing because of the so-called "separation of church and state"? Or does it perhaps mean that such laws, if passed, can only be passed by people who are atheists and thus not in danger of being influenced by some internal "religious" view? And since the Founders of our nation were deeply influenced by their religious views in formulating the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, does that paradoxically mean that these and all subsequent laws are "unconstitutional?"

Nobody can possibly be this stupid. I believe that Kerry, in his heart of hearts, knows that his stated position is pure idiocy. He is cynically trying to take both sides of the issue in a purely political maneuver. But I've never respected him less (and that's saying something). He doesn't have the guts to stand for what he says he believes--in fact claims it would be unconstitional to stand for what he believes.

As wrongheaded as the kooks at NARAL are, at least they don't run around claiming that they support abortion even though, in their "personal opinion" it's murder. Only a politician could be that amoral and disingenuous.

Friday, July 02, 2004

There is at least one good thing that comes out of the death of Marlon Brando. Namely, it puts me in the mind of Chris Elliott's demented imitation of him on David Letterman's old NBC show, in which Elliott would dance around a bunch of bananas in a circle to the tune of Al Hirt's "Alley Cat," pausing at the end of each bar to shrug and say "bananas?"

As Salon magazine once said, "His Marlon Brando may be the most unsettling celebrity impersonation ever." That's quite a tribute, and part of the reason Chris Elliott is the most underestimated comic genius of his time.

Makes me want to go out and buy the Rhino DVDs of Elliott's short-lived, twisted, and brilliant early 1990's sitcom "Get a Life." It would be worth the price just to again see the episode where Chris becomes a model and renames himself "Sparkles" ("Dad, I'm pacing and that's my model walk and for the last time my name is not Chris, I'm Sparkles. Chris is dead and he's never coming back.").

So I have Marlon Brando to at least thank for all of that.
I see Marlon Brando has died at 80. The tributes to "the greatest actor ever" are already pouring in.

To be honest, I always found Brando to be a bit on the overrated side. I know that he was certainly one of the most influential actors in history, almost single-handedly transforming film acting from the rapid-fire, sauve, Cary Grant style to the mumbling, raging, anti-hero style that has defined filmmaking over the past half-century. His method begat Pacino, DeNiro, Hoffman, and all the others.

But while I'm not old enough to be able to know what a shock Brando's new style must have been to filmgoers in the 50's, I am old enough (at least via video) to know that Al Pacino acted him right off the screen in "The Godfather." Now, Brando was fine in "The Godfather," which is my favorite movie of all time. But he won the Oscar for his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone because it was just the kind of gimmicky performance the Academy loves (see "Rain Man," "Forest Gump," "My Left Foot," and "Scent of a Woman," among others). He wore padding for extra weight (not yet being the behemoth he would eventually become), stuffed a bunch of cotton in his mouth, and played a character 20 years older than himself. He put on a show. Pacino acted.

It's Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone that carries the movie. His transformation from young, idealistic war hero to cold-blooded mafia don is one of the greatest acting jobs of all time. Pacino should have won the Oscar based on his eyes in the restaraunt shooting scene alone.

By the time Brando was in his 50's, he was already a caracature of himself. Perhaps it's something that often goes along with age; the Pacino who blew him off the screen in 1972 is now himself also also something of a gimmicky caracature ("hoo-ah!").

I'm sure Brando was a great, great actor in his early days. All subsequent actors pay homage to him as their inspiration. And perhaps evaluating the career of Brando by looking only at his post-1970 work is like evaluating Willie Mays on his seasons with the Mets. But to people my age, Brando is mainly the crazy fat guy who kissed Larry King.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Earlier this afternoon, I hosted a radio program on a local Christian station about Christians and literature: specifically why we don't seem to care about it and haven't produced anything worthwhile in it (with a very few notable exceptions) within the past 150 years.

It was spurred by the cover story in this week's World Magazine, and two learned seminary professors joined me to talk about it.

Here is how the conversation generally ran (it's not verbatim, but it captures the spirit of the thing):
CALLER: Well, what about those "Left Behind" books? Those have done very well, and they're Christian!

HOSTS: Well, I'm not sure that you'd classify "Left Behind" as literature. They're kind of poorly written, and their notion of the end times is a novelty in church history.

CALLER: Well I read them, and got out my Bible, and they go right along with the Bible.

HOSTS: Well, not really. The idea of a "secret rapture" of the church only came about in the 1800's and isn't found anywhere in the Bible. Many good Christians believe in it, but it's a new thing. But thanks for the call. We're talking about literature today, next caller.

CALLER: Hi, is it true that you don't believe in the rapture?

HOSTS: Well....yeah, it's true, but that's not really what we're...

CALLER: Because it says right there we'll be caught up with him in the sky.

HOST: Yes, but the question is: Does that mean it will happen in secret while everyone else remains? We don't believe it does, nor did the Reformers or the early church fathers. But thanks for the call. We're actually talking about the importance of great literature and the loss of real imagination in evangelicalism today. Let's take another call. Hello, you're on the air.

CALLER: Hello, gentlemen. Do you really believe that God would allow the church to undergo the Tribulation by not rapturing it?

HOST: (Eyes beginning to roll into back of head) Well, most of the apostles were martyred for their faith, and millions of Christians in China, Sudan and elsewhere are being persecuted. So yes, but that's not really what we're talking about today. Our topic is literature. Hello, caller, you're on the air. Let's talk literature.

CALLER: My pastor has done a detailed study of the chronological events that will take place in the seven-year Tribulation, and he says...

HOSTS: (Desperately begin rummaging through drawers in studio in search of cyanide pills.)
Great line from Ann Coulter on Michael Moore:
Moore has...accused the American people of being the stupidest, most naive people on the face of the Earth. And after last weekend, he's got the box office numbers to prove it!

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball of Newsweek (not exactly a conservative bastion) eviscerate more of Michael Moore's ridiculous "Fahrenheit 9/11" claims.

(Thanks to Bud for the tip.)