Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Defying the Nation

Democrats planning to assign corrupt Congressman William Jefferson to the Homeland Security Committee, less than a year after Republicans lost control of the House partly over their indifference to scandal, promote the idea that both parties are either in the business of intentionally promoting cynicism or are simply so far out of touch with the average American as to defy description.

One Democratic staffer defended the assignment, saying, "Republicans who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." To a Washington insider, that sounds like a defense. To the rest of the country, it simply sounds like everyone is doing it, which is indefensible.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Considering Sources

James Cameron claims to have found bones in Jesus' tomb. Tennessee blogger Terry Frank claims to have found proof of WMD in Iraq.

The last week has not been good for finding credible sources.

The Log in the Eye

Given the wide chasm between the rhetoric and the lifestyle reality, it is perhaps not stretching too far to suggest that Al Gore is the Ted Haggard of environmentalism.

Gore is explaining that he uses solar panels. However, if the former vice-president really believes his overheated rhetoric about global warming he should be setting the example by installing those panels in a double wide and driving a Prius to his personal appearances.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Instant Analysis: a Tale of Sports and Politics

It has been an interesting year for Nashville sports. The Titans began the year 0-5, then got on a roll and could have finished with a winning record and made the playoffs if they had won in their final week. The Predators started 0-3, but are now among the NHL's elite and are considered among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in spite of a recent slide. Vanderbilt's men's basketball team lost to Furman and Appalachian State in December, but they have since knocked off #1 Florida and may be the second best team in the SEC.

With each of these teams, the early instant analysis and fan panic about the prospects for their seasons and the future of their coaches turned out to be wrong. Instant analysis is always an iffy proposition, and those who engage in it are frequently wrong. Journalists are often glad that few people bother to check back issues, and bloggers are thankful that most people don't dig deep into the archives.

Shifting to politics, the Presidential season started earlier this year than ever, and the conventional wisdom suggests that anyone who is not already in the race and a front runner cannot win. That may be correct. The ever increasing front loading of the primaries clearly gives an advantage to candidates with money and organization, and it will be difficult to come by those things late in the game. Even so, it was not long ago that candidates feared getting in too soon, and they would be coy about whether they intended to run or not in order to enjoy publicity without scrutiny. The wisdom then was that one did not necessarily want to peak too early. To use another sports analogy, the leader of the first half mile of the Kentucky Derby never wins and rarely finishes near the front of the pack. Early leaders in the race for presidential nominations also frequently fade.

Most likely, the winners of the Republican and Democratic nominations will come from among the frontrunners out there today. However, it is not difficult to envision a scenario in which someone late catches lightening in a bottle and runs a sprint to a winning finish. One almost wishes that will happen. It might encourage would be candidates to take a break before 2012.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Whimsical Thoughts on Arrogance and Third Person References to Self

The Oracle read somewhere recently that one sounds arrogant when speaking of himself in the third person. For the record, The Oracle denies being guilty of arrogance as long as he does not capitalize the first letter of the third person singular pronoun when referring to himself.

The bright line in the law is this: capitalizing the first letter of the definite article is acceptable; capitalizing that of the pronoun is not.

And the Winner Is....

Of all of the politicians to inhabit Washington in recent decades, who would have ever thought that Al Gore would become the one most likely to win an Oscar. Gore was always so wooden even when playing himself.

Maybe there's hope for Matt Damon, too?

KFC and Irresponsible Journalism

By now, most people across the country would seem to be aware of the existence of a rat infested KFC restaurant in Greenwich Village. The story provides another example of media coverage that values sensationalism over substance. In this instance, major media have crossed the line into irresponsibility.

The story is that video cameras caught footage of numerous rats roaming an empty but dirty restaurant in New York. Somehow, the story of that local restaurant has caused reporters to question whether the national parent company's stock will fall. One local television station in the city where The Oracle is visiting this weekend even sent its reporter to stand in front of local restaurants, thus needlessly impugning eateries that had nothing to do with the story.

The Oracle has occasionally in the past read the health inspection reports in The Tennessean to see if any of the places he frequents have had problems. However, if a KFC in Belle Meade fails to pass inspection, that would not prevent The Oracle from eating at one in Antioch. What is going on in Greenwich Village certainly is not relevant, unless some enterprising reporter wishes to show a national management problem unique to this company.

Some have tried to relate this story to the e coli concern of last month, but that is a totally different matter. Because the distribution of tainted food could have spread to multiple restaurants, that created legitimate concerns about food across the restaurant chain.

If Yum Brand's stock drops, it will be the result of a media generated frenzy. The reporting in this instance has not been criminal, but it is thoroughly lacking in responsibility.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

How Sweet the Movie?

For a lengthy review of the movie Amazing Grace, see Ed Morrissey here. Morrisey gives it a thumbs up.

The Oracle is hoping to see it next weekend.

A Bad Match up for Democrats

Roger L. Simon perceptively argues that David Geffen's strong denunciation of Hillary Clinton results from Geffen's belief that she cannot win a general election.

Assuming (unsafely, to be sure) that the Republican nominee will be Giuliani, the Democrats' best weapon of attack will involve Giuliani's personal issues. However, that is not an argument that Clinton or her friends will be able to make without eliciting snickers.

According to Darwin I Have Polygamous Apes in My Family Tree

The antics of immediate family members have always been fodder for rival political campaigns, but perhaps this AP attack piece on Mitt Romney is the first time that a candidate has been put on the spot for actions by a great grandfather more than a century ago.

Is it too strong to call this an attack piece? Scroll through the posts below and one will find that The Oracle is no fan of Romney. However, an article that begins by contrasting Romney's current view on polygamy with what his great grandfather and great great grandfather did is an attack piece.

Hat Tip: Ed Morrissey

Who Was William Wilberforce?

For some biographical information and links about William Wilberforce, whose story is the basis for the recently released movie about the ending of the British slave trade, Amazing Grace, see here.

Should Romney Have a Chance?

The Editors at National Review opine that it would be unfortunate if Mitch Romney's campaign is derailed by public attention to his numerous changes in position. They argue that Republicans have for years been kind to candidates who have moved rightward in order to win the nomination.

However, not all moves are created equal, and Romney's fundamental changes of position on numerous issues (taxes, campaign finance, abortion, gay rights) look more like a move from one coast to another than like one from the city to the suburbs. Even principled politicians inevitably will change their minds or modify some positions or emphasis in order to woo voters. However, a politician who lacks the ability to show that he possesses a core of political beliefs does not deserve a party's nomination to be President.

Time has not run out for Romney to show that core, but he had better get busy.

Best Legal Fiction

John Mortimer lists his "five best" works of legal fiction, and The Oracle is glad that he included Charles Dickens' Bleak House. That novel, though not as good as David Copperfield or A Tale of Two Cities, is one of the best of Dickens' less noticed works (that is, those that tend not to be read by unappreciative high school students). Dickens' satire of the delays of a self-satisfied legal system and their impact on real people is as relevant to American jurisprudence today as it was to the Victorian Age.

A Little Vice a Good Thing?

Will it hurt or help Barack Obama's candidacy that he is a cigarette smoker? That he is trying to quit?

Hat Tip: World Mag Blog

It's Never "Only" about Money

In leaving the race for the Democratic nomination for President, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack explained his decision by saying, "So it is money and only money that is the reason that we are leaving today."

This statement is being quoted widely, in part because it reinforces commonly held notions and policy positions related to the role of money in politics. In allegedly writing a news report on Vilsack's withdrawal, Washington Post staff writer Dan Balz editorialized that Vilsack was "a victim of the prodigious fundraising demands...."

The decision to run for President, or for almost any public office, generally requires a considerable amount of self-confidence, so it is perhaps not surprising that candidates have a difficult time admitting that their failure to raise sufficient money is tied to their inability to convince people that they are a viable candidate. In other words, Vilsack's failure to be a viable candidate did not result from the lack of money; the lack of money resulted from his failure to be a viable candidate.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Center Holds?

Those who view the courts only through the lenses of political ideology may be surprised at the groupings found in yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in Phillip Morris USA v. Williams. Justice Breyer wrote for the majority and was joined by Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, and Souter.

Justice Ginsberg's dissent was joined by Stephens, Scalia, and Thomas.

For a somewhat critical look at how the case impacts the issue of punitive damages, see The Wall Street Journal here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gramm Endorses McCain

Former U.S. Senator from Texas Phil Gramm is endorsing John McCain for President:

Today we have an unnecessary budget deficit, the result of wanton waste and dishonesty. John McCain has been a lonely but clarion voice on this issue: "Bills that perpetuate wasteful spending should be vetoed," he says. "Not some of them, all of them. The numbers should shock us; indifference to them should shame us."

This is not a concern he discovered when he decided to run for president. I first heard him say these things when we served together in the House many years ago. To ask if he would really take on the spending establishment that runs Congress is to ask if water will wet, if fire will burn. If you want to end the spending spree in Washington, he is your man.

Read the rest here.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Near Collapse

Five members have resigned from the 21 member Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and several more are threatening to leave the group, in the aftermath of its controversial chairman, Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), calling one of the members a "whore."

Read about it here.

Too Much Campaign Spending???

The editorial page of The Tennessean today calls for the regulation -- dare one say suppression -- of political speech by politicians in order to address its concern that there is now an "excess" of campaign spending. The immediate cause of the paper's jeremiad is the realization that the two major party nominees for President next year may spend a combined $1 billion, an amount which the newspaper confidently declares to be excessive. The paper also claims to know the proper value of a political advertisement, making the claim that such ads are "overpriced." One suspects they are not speaking of newspaper ads.

Of course $1 billion dollars is more than pocket change -- or is it? If accurate, that would mean that Americans will spend about $3.50 per person next year electing the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. That is about the price of a 12 pack of soft drinks -- on sale.

Unfortunately, all of the arguments given by the editorial writer in favor of restricting political speech are poor ones.

First, the argument is made that this amount could feed some entire impoverished nations or start funding universal health care. The former of those suggestions is more realistic than the latter, but this sort of argument could be made regarding all kinds of spending. If The Tennessean wishes to advocate that every subscriber of a daily newspaper cancel their subscription for a week in order to send the money to feed a small third world country, The Oracle will hop on board that movement. Alternatively, this writer would prefer encouraging citizens to save money for world hunger by rationing soft drinks (see above) rather than political speech.

Second, the editorial writer seems dismissive of the notion that this is a free speech issue, saying that opponents of the regulation of campaign spending amounts merely "latch onto the First Amendment." However, those who think this is only about money and not at all about speech should ponder the following: if a government proposal were made to regulate the amount of money that The Tennessean could spend on its operations, without making any mandates related to content, the argument would quickly be made that such restrictions would amount to suppression of a free press. They would be correct. The same is also true of restrictions on political campaign spending. It is the suppression of political speech.

Third, the paper argues that "those with deep pockets...squelch the voices of smaller political parties and individuals .... [that] have a right to be heard." However, "squelch" is the wrong verb here. No one with deeper pockets is silencing or suppressing others: drowning out perhaps, but not squelching. In this instance, the distinction is important, as it is actually The Tennessean that is arguing in favor of squelching speech. Everyone else is engaged in a battle over what voices will be heard. Speaking of hearing, The Tennessean is wrong in saying that people have a "right" to be heard. If that were the case, The Oracle should demand the right to take temporary ownership of The Tennessean's printing press in order to exercise his right to be read. The freedom is that of speech, which again is what The Tennessean wishes to suppress. It is not the right to be heard. Finally, what the paper is suggesting here is becoming less true by virtue of technology. Anyone with an internet connection and a little creativity, more than at any point in history, has the possibility of being heard.

Finally, the editorial argues that candidates have to spend too much time raising money rather than devising solutions to complicated problems -- as though that would become the automatic filler of newly found free time. The paper doesn't bother noting that the imposition of strict campaign contribution limits is one of the reasons that candidates have to spend so much time raising money. If the goal is to reduce the amount of time needed to raise money, then eliminate restrictions on contribution amounts and require full and immediate disclosure.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When Did Lutherans Stop Being Protestants?

This headline in The Tennessean has The Oracle scratching his head: "Study: Protestants, Lutherans most loyal."

The first line of the brief story states, "Research conducted for Facts and Trends magazine shows that Lutheran and Protestant denominations are the most likely to have people attend the same church for years." That would seem to indicate that Lutheran denominations are not Protestant denominations. Somehow, The Oracle failed to get the memo on this amazing new development.

The story was "compiled" by Anita Wadhwani, who as The Tennessean's religion writer would presumably have some knowledge of religion. However, unless The Oracle has somehow missed out on a major development in the world of religion, the following history would apply: the Protestant Reformation (which would seem to have something to do with Protestantism) began when Martin Luther (who would seem to have a connection, though admittedly a reluctant one, to Lutheran denominations) nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg. Thus, historically, not only are Lutherans Protestants, they are founding Protestants.

I feel so much better now.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mr. Smith Had to Go to Washington for This

In recent years, both Democrats and Republicans have used the filibuster in the United States Senate to impede the ability of the majority party to get its way. Karl Kurtz shares that this tactic is not available in the majority of states. For his rundown of which state legislative houses require more than a majority of members to close debate, see here.

Slavery in the 21st Century

As the western world celebrates the 200th anniversary of the ending of the British slave trade, World Magazine reminds us that today over 27 million people around the world are slaves, mostly in parts of Africa, Asia, and India.

The story, which includes links to organizations attempting to address the problem, can be found here.

It's Not Just the Payments that Have Become More Plastic

Peggy Noonan writes about plastic people:

The most dismaying thing I've noticed the past 10 years on television is that ordinary people who are guests on morning news shows--the man who witnessed the murder, the housewife who ran from the flames--speak, now, in perfect sound bites. They also cry on cue. They used to ramble, like unsophisticated folk, and try to keep their emotions to themselves. Anchors had to take them in hand. "But what happened then?" Now the witness knows what's needed, and how to do it. "And when she didn't come home, Matt, I knew: this is not like her. And I immediately called the authorities."

Why does this dismay? Because it's another stepping away from the real. Artifice detaches us even from ourselves.

The column actually concerns the reasons the election season is beginning so early. Noonan perceptively suggests that it has more to do with society at large than with the political professionals. Sure, there are other reasons such as the need to raise money, but Noonan captures an important strand that explains that the world of men has changed. Read the rest here.

Giuliani and "Social Conservatives"

Nashville resident Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says that "social conservatives" will not support the presidential candidacy of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Land cites Giuliani's support of abortion and gay rights, as well as character questions raised by the New Yorker's well publicized affair with the woman who is now his wife, as reasons for non-support. All of those are valid concerns, but Land's certainty that people who sit in pews will not vote for Giuliani -- even if he is eventually pitted against Hillary Clinton -- may ultimately undermine the movement he represents.

Conservative Christians, who are often portrayed as a monolithic group, consider these types of issues to be important, but like most other Americans, they are not single issue voters to the extent that their own leaders and their liberal opponents unite in believing them to be. In spite of Giuliani's deficits, many will support him because of the perception that he led New York competently and valiantly in the wake of 9/11.

And many Republicans who are not socially conservative would like to see Giuliani win because his doing so would marginalize social conservatives inside the party.

Should evangelicals throw their support to Giuliani? Probably not. But instead of Land's empty assurances about an ability to deliver votes, it might be smarter to remain silent.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Football's Problematic Future

Mark Yost argues that former NFL players who now have permanent, severely disabling injuries do not merit sympathy from the public at large. The Oracle agrees in part and disagrees in part. Yost is correct that these players chose their occupations with their eyes wide open as to the risks of injury. He is also correct that even players from eras of much lower salaries (such as the 1970's) than today nevertheless made considerably more than the average working stiff. That being said, it should be noted that football players, even more so than other young adults, often consider themselves to be somewhat invincible, and on that basis they are perhaps not positioned to make the best long term decisions in that regard.

It is also concerning that as football players continue to get larger -- a 320 pound lineman was considered enormous 20 years ago but is average today -- these problems will worsen. NFL football is currently the most popular sport in America, but there are no easy solutions to the problems faced by injuries that inevitably result when fast men of ever increasing size engage in an occupation that requires frequent and violent collisions.

The Michigan Primary

At this early juncture the Michigan Republican primary looks to be a key race next year that will go a long way toward determining the fates of two of the frontrunners for the nomination, John McCain and Mitt Romney. For an interesting analysis of how that race is taking shape, see Mark Hemingway here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Economies that Don't Work

Economists frequently suffer from an overconfidence in the reliability of their numbers. The complexity of economies makes the isolation of variables difficult. As a result, many economists often fail to consider the inadequacies of their particular models or the limitations of their studies. On the other hand, some economists will become so focused on one set of cause and effect relationships that they fail to discern other elements of the big picture.

Thus, Edmund Phelps discounts the notion that the prevalence in Europe of extensive and expensive social insurance programs is a contributing cause to the failure of European economies to keep pace with those of the United States and Canada. Phelps explains that the "consequent reduction of after-tax wage rates is unlikely to be an enduring disincentive to work, for reduced earnings will bring reduced saving; and once private wealth has fallen to its former ratio to after-tax wages, people will be as motivated to work as before." However, the accumulation of wealth is not the only relevant factor in worker motivation. A floor that is sufficiently high may also disincentivize a person from seeking to achieve more. In addition, Phelps explanation suffers from the standard and inaccurate economic assumption that people will know what is in their economic best interest and act rationally. Frequently, in reality people are not aware of the range of available options and, in any case, make decisions based on considerations other than economic self-interest.

Phelps continues to explain that the real distinction between American and European economies lies in the differences in "economic dynamism." Continental economies feature less economic innovation and drive for achievement. Unfortunately, Phelps fails to note that this lack of dynamism and drive may also result from confiscatory levels of taxation and the prevalence of welfare programs that reduce the incentives of achievement.

Funding Coverage for Mental Illness

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has agreed to introduce legislation creating so-called "mental health parity." The legislation would require health insurers to provide coverage for mental illness that is on par with the coverage provided for treatment of physical illness.

Undoubtedly, this will be a popular concept, but, at a time when health insurance costs are rising dramatically, it will also be an expensive mandate if it passes. The difficulty with providing extensive coverage for mental illness is that the definition of what it includes is so fluid, given that it is less easily concretely defined than most physical ailments. Every one's health coverage will cost more if this mandate is adopted.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Denying the Secret Ballot

A piece of federal legislation, deceptively entitled the Employee Free Choice Act, "would replace secret ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with a 'card check' process in which employees would be forced to make their choices out in the open, in front of union organizers and fellow employees who support unionization, making them vulnerable to threats and other pressure tactics," according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce press release.

The Chamber opposes the bill.

While Wondering if the Middle of That "O" Logo Is the Sun or a Hollow Center....

Of course, people who care about politics will get excited about political candidates -- especially when a candidate emerges that gives the appearance of offering something new and fresh to the country.

Even so, one can't help but find such enthusiasm to be unfounded and over the top when local blogger Sharon Cobb says that Barack Obama reminds her of BOTH John and Robert Kennedy.

The excessive exuberance becomes even more painful when realizing that Cobb is talking about an excerpt she provides from yesterday's announcement of his candidacy for President. Cobb seems to regard those words as inspiring, but they strike The Oracle as being rather ordinary and cliched.

Obviously, Obama's more left wing track record -- to the extent he has a track record -- is more consistent with Cobb's views than with those of this humble correspondent. However, even while trying to allow for that difference of political opinion, the hype seems to be rather empty at this point in time.

Yes, the Hype Is about That Bad

Mitch McConnell talks about some of the Democrats' presidential candidates:

The Democrats look like they're going to have some great candidates running in 2008. Also, Dennis Kucinich will be running. Seriously, they have an interesting group. They've got a New York senator whose home was Arkansas ... an Iowa governor who was born in Pennsylvania ... and a senator from Illinois who was apparently born in a manger.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Giuliani and Federalism

For an interesting discussion of the subject of federalism, framed by the context of Rudy Giuliani's recent remarks about judicial appointments, see Ann Althouse here.

Flip Flop, Flip Flop

Professor Bainbridge links to an article reporting that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney only four years ago publicly opposed the Bush tax cuts. Now, candidate Romney is calling the cuts "absolutely critical."

Romney has previously been criticized for doing a 180 on his positions on abortion and campaign finance.

At least on flip flopping, Bainbridge compares Romney unfavorably with John Kerry in 2004.

Experience Matters

Leaving political views aside, it is difficult to argue with Paul Mirengoff's assertion that there is a "stature gap" between the three presidential aspirants currently leading the Republican field (Giuliani, McCain, and Romney) and those leading the Democrats (H. Clinton, Obama, and Edwards). Mirengoff suggests that the better resumes, not the ideologies, of the Republican pacesetters may offer the best hope for a GOP victory in 2008.

Among the Democrats, it could be credibly argued that only Clinton has adequate political experience for the position.

Alito Discusses His First Year

For an interesting interview with Samuel Alito looking back on his first year on the U.S. Supreme Court, see here. Among other things, Alito discusses the reasons that the Court's docket has shrunk in recent years and the issue of cameras in the Supreme Court.

Hat Tip: Orin Kerr

Much Ado....

Without intending any disrespect for the late Anna Nicole Smith, can it not be said that the obsessive media coverage of her death epitomizes what is wrong with modern mainstream news coverage, which values the salacious over the significant.

The Oracle does his best to avoid watching any television news, but even his elderly mother asked him what he thought about Smith's death.

This unfortunate woman, who is receiving more attention than a recently deceased President of the United States, never did anything that merited this kind of coverage. As a young woman, she married an elderly, wealthy man whose children did not approve. She was embroiled in a lengthy legal matter over said marriage. She posed naked for a magazine. She gained and lost weight.

There is nothing there of newsworthy consequence.

Again, this is not criticism of Smith, who simply went along for the ride, evidently without much enjoyment. It is intended as criticism of news media, which more and more engage in the business of Seinfield (without the humor): delivering programs about nothing.

The Case of the Neglected Neglige

Christopher L. Perry of Villa Hills, Kentucky, was arrested on charges of stealing over $10,000 worth of Victoria's Secret lingerie from a warehouse where he worked. His ex-girlfriend turned him in.

She not only wouldn't wear it, but she also had him thrown into jail for possibly getting it for her. Man, that's cold.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Not That Open

Bill Hobbs provides a valuable public service by persistently arguing in favor of open government, but, in discussing the proposal by Governor Phil Bredeson to create an ombudsman position to assist with public records requests, he takes a step too far in this statement:

But I also look forward to the day when the ombudsman is no longer needed because government at all levels simply routinely posts all documents online to an indexed, searchable public database.

The difficulty here is that a large number of government documents contain information that is legitimately outside the scope of a public records request. The Oracle, himself, has engaged in the painful process of sifting through proprietary information and offering rationales as to why some documents included in a filing should not be accessible should a citizen request it. Decisions on these types of documents have to be managed by human beings. Because of legitimate concerns about the confidentiality of some types of personal and business information, the process will never be quite as open as Hobbs envisions.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Renting It Out

As cities such as Chicago look at leasing infrastructure and other assets to private companies, George Will suggests that those cities may be confirming the view that governments could do more good by doing less.

Daley stresses that the assets sold are not "core competencies" of the city government, such as public safety and education. Actually, what competencies are really "core" is debatable. Leasing -- privatizing -- some cities' school systems probably would make the systems more competent. Perhaps the moral of Chicago's story is that what government can shed, it should shed.

This lesson was illustrated exactly 50 years ago by Murray Kempton, the finest practitioner of the columnist's craft, when he heard the great defense attorney Edward Bennett Williams deliver his successful closing argument for Jimmy Hoffa's acquittal. Kempton's conclusion: "To watch Williams and then to watch a Department of Justice lawyer contending with him is to understand the essential superiority of free enterprise to government ownership."

They Really Said This

Driving around New Orleans yesterday, The Oracle was listening to local talk radio. The host and a guest who seemed to have some sort of function related to local Mardi Gras activities joined in lamenting that out of state people had ruined the reputation of Mardi Gras. It is really about neighborhoods and families, they explained. The celebration's reputation had been ruined by out of state people promoting a wilder understanding of what it was all about -- the Girl's Gone Wild version. Mardi Gras, they said, really has nothing to do with Bourbon Street at all.

The Oracle can only say that New Orleans tourism has flourished under this misunderstanding. One suspects that the Chamber of Commerce will not be aggressively seeking to correct it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Does Opposition to Restrictions on Political Speech Make One a "Social Conservative?"

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has had his credibility questioned over his change of position on abortion, has evidently also had a change of heart on campaign finance reform. The Hill reports that recent remarks opposing measures such as McCain/Feingold are counter to comments he made while running for the U.S. Senate in 1994.

People -- even politicians -- can change their minds over a 15 year period. However, if Romney does much more of this without providing some big picture explanation of a fundamental change in political philosophy, he will end up being thought of as a candidate who will say anything to win.

One might also wish to note an odd statement made by the author of the report in The Hill. Alexander Bolton explains that campaign finance reform measures are "anathema to many social conservatives who believe such rules place unconstitutional limits on free speech."

There are many people with such concerns who will be surprised to hear that they are "social conservatives."

Worship with the Mind

Joel Rosenberg posts regarding the 55th Annual National Prayer Breakfast, at which the Director of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins spoke:

"But you're a scientist," Dr. Collins said people say to him so often. "Doesn't [all this talk of Jesus] make your head explode? Doesn't this create a huge conflict for you between faith and reason?" His answer, simply, is "no." True, only 40% of scientists believe there is a God, but he said he sees science as a means both of discovery as well as worship. The more he learns of how God has created and wired us, the more he feels he has "caught a glimpse of God's mind."

Read the rest here.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

For Those Considering Speed Dating....

Sharon Cobb has a short 10 minute comedic film that she produced and wrote about speed dating a few years ago. It is hilarious.

See it here.

One Too Many People Know about This Blogger

In response to a couple of recent posts, my ex-wife, who refuses to leave me alone, asked me last night to stop writing, even sarcastically, about my ex- girlfriend, who refuses to talk to me.

My life is way too complicated.

Rumors of Ruin Greatly Exaggerated

Those who looked ahead to 2007 and saw a downward economic spiral would appear to have seen a mirage. For a description of the current strength of the economy, see here.

One of the amazing facts of modern life has been the general flattening of the business cycle since the combination of Reagan's tax cuts in 1981 and a change in monetary policy in favor of an emphasis on controlling inflation.

Desperately Seeking Real News

The Tennessean evidently considered it to be above the fold, front page news that gas prices fluctuate.

You don't say.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cartoonish Writing

Perhaps The Oracle is simply insufficiently political (yeah, right) to imagine that the whole world should be seen through those lenses, but the notion that Super Bowl commercials were unusually artless because of the war in Iraq strikes me as just bizarre.

However, the "cartoonish writing" of the critic in question could perhaps be blamed on the cultural environment created by his employer.

Hat Tip: The Anchoress

They Aren't Postmillenialists

Much of A.C. Kleinheider's criticism of the religious right is fair, but he also shows that he has drank a little bit too much of Kevin Phillip's cool-aid. Kleinheider claims that the "new religious right" is "postmillenialist."

That is simply untrue. 95% of the evangelicals and fundamentalists who compose the religious right, including those in leadership, have read The Late Great Planet Earth at some point in their lives and believe that the Left Behind series describes something close to how things really will come out.

Those facts are concerning, but they make these people dispensational premillialists. They are not postmillenialists. Some critics want to have it both ways. Noting the dispensationalist proclivities, they will claim that evangelicals give blind adherence to Israel in order hasten the return of Jesus. But then, the same critics will wish to take advantage of some outrageous reconstructionist statement written by some writer for the Washington Times that no one who has sat in a church pew has ever heard of, or some careless comment by the famously careless broadcaster from Virginia Beach (who is, by the way, a dispensationalist), and spread fear of this latent desire to impose theocracy.

Religious conservatives have their faults, many of them serious, but this whole critique is nonsense.


Bad things can happen when people confuse genuine ethical concerns with vague concepts of possible appearances of impropriety. Thus, in Colorado, citizens passed a ballot initiative amending the constitution on matters they supposed to be related to ethics. In fact, the new language in the Colorado constitution is so broad that the state's attorney general has opined that it would violate the constitution for a university to give the child of any state government employee, including, for example, a school teacher, a college scholarship. It would also appear to be unconstitutional for a university professor to accept a Nobel Prize.

The technical term for this situation is "mess."

Helping by Killing?

For an interesting psychoanalytical oriented discsussion on troubling trends in western society's treatment of the terminally ill and the mentally ill, see here.

An Amusing Realization on Monday

The Oracle was conducting some research the other day and came across some provisions in Tennessee law regarding the practice of nursing. He is sure that his ex-girlfriend finds satisfaction in the knowledge that it is within her scope of practice to pronounce him dead.

Funny stuff.

Giuliani on Judges

Ed Morrissey provides excerpts from a transcript in which the socially liberal Rudy Giuliani says that he would appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court:

On the Federal judiciary I would want judges who are strict constructionists because I am. I'm a lawyer. I've argued cases in the Supreme Court. I've argued cases in the Court of Appeals in different parts of the country. I have a very, very strong view that for this country to work, for our freedoms to be protected, judges have to interpret not invent the Constitution.

For principled conservatives who value the means and not just the ends, that should be sufficient. However, one fears that if Giuliani were actually in the position of appointing a justice that he would cave in to those who only desire outcomes in favor of Roe and would forget about these strict constructionist ideals.

Profiles of Persistence and Courage

For the interesting story of how a state wide school choice bill passed in the Utah House of Representatives, see here.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Needs Not Met

Nathan Moore, who seems to have been too busy practicing law of late to engage in blogging (where are the priorities in that?!), has a superb post today providing an early evaluation of the presidential frontrunners for 2008. Moore hits dead on the deficiencies of the current field in light of the needs of the times.

Overutilization of Prescription Drugs a Bad Thing

The Tennessean reports that the state of Tennessee leads the nation in per capita prescription drug prescriptions. The number of prescriptions per person in the state is 53% above the U.S. average, according to information provided in the story, which was based on a study by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. The most frequently prescribed drug: Hydrocodone, a highly addictive painkiller. The third most frequent was Nexium, an antacid probably prescribed frequently to help patients with the stomach problems caused by all of the painkillers they are taking.

With those statistics in mind, today's head in the sand award must go to Tennessee representative and physician Joey Hensley, who presumably with a straight face said, "It's not necessarily a bad thing. To me, that high number means we have a high number of sick people. I'm certain there are physicians who over-prescribe, but I don't think that a big percentage of doctors do."

What percentage of doctors overprescribe is not a question that can be answered. In fairness, it may not even be the fundamental problem. However, to claim that 53% above the U.S. average is "not necessarily a bad thing" is ridiculous. If that many more of us are sick, we should fire all of the doctors.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Shedding Light, Not Adding Heat

Since global warming became a moral crusade, it has become difficult to find anything sensible to read on what is essentially a technological issue. For a rare sensible article on the subject, see Instapundit here.

Steal My Number, Please

This report on a pending treaty between the United States and Mexico that would permit illegal aliens to obtain social security benefits fails to answer a very basic question: since illegals typically use forged identification, including fake Social Security numbers, how will the government be able to figure out who is owed compensation and in what amounts?

Given that multiple persons will sometimes use the same fake Social Security number, it would seem that this would be an impossible quandary.

However, it could provide an example of a circumstance in which it would be good to have one's identity stolen: if a couple of dozen illegal immigrants all use The Oracle's Social Security number, then the benefits should really start rolling in some day.

Well, perhaps not. The article makes reference to "fat Social Security checks." The author must not have talked to anyone on Social Security.

Ending the British Slave Trade

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the vote in the House of Commons to end the British slave trade. World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky pays tribute to William Wilberforce, a Christian member of parliament who was at the center of efforts to oppose the slave trade. It was a cause that Wilberforce engaged for decades before this landmark vote was finally achieved.

Wilberforce emphasized teaching about Christianity but not imposing it, and wrote that Christians should "boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christian are ashamed of Him. Let them be active, useful, and generous toward others. Let them show moderation and self-denial themselves. Let them be ashamed of idleness. When blessed with wealth, let them withdraw from the competition of vanity and be modest, retiring from ostentation, and not be the slaves of fashion."

Why Evangelicals Fall

The Washington Post reports that the burgeoning Brazilian evangelical movement is coming under increasing public scrutiny in the wake of a series of scandals involving evangelical leaders. Given that similar problems have plagued evangelicals in the United States, one might wonder why this malady seems so common.

Of course, it is possible the problems aren't that common, and that they only seem to be so because of the relatively large number of high profile evangelical leaders and megachurches. Admitting that may be the case, it is important to note that evangelical Christians claim adherence to a moral code based in Scripture. That being the case, the number of scandals should trouble thoughtful Christians.

While evangelicals would typically say that they are led by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, to a large degree many of the most successful churches are much more centered around charismatic leaders exhibiting considerable entrepreneurial zeal and skill. Of course, the Bible and the Holy Spirit can co-exist with charismatic leaders -- we might even for the sake of argument stipulate that they frequently do -- but one still should not discount the importance of this type of leadership to evangelical success.

The combination of charismatic and moral authority is powerful, and it all too frequently leads to a level of trust in leaders that is unwise. In this matter, evangelical practice runs up against the Christian doctrine of original sin -- the notion that all people, including the most devout, are afflicted with a sinful inclination that makes us all susceptible to evil (think of The Lord of the Rings, where all members of the fellowship are susceptible to the corrupting power of the ring). While some people will cynically argue that any Christian who falls into hypocrisy never believed what he told others, the reality is that those who fall may be either complete charlatans or sincere believers who strayed -- or some combination of both.

It is sadly ironic that churchly scandals don't really delegitimize the Christian message as much as they affirm the truth of it, at least as it regards human sinfulness. Christians should respect human leaders who are called by God while also praying for them and holding them accountable. Churches would also be better off if worship focused more on Word and Spirit, and less on the personalities of those given the abominable titles of "worship leaders."

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Roots of Prescription Drug Addiction

In the wake of the arrest of Williamson County's sheriff on allegations that he illegally purchased prescription drugs, The Tennessean published a story this morning reporting that this is a growing problem nationally, and particularly in the southeastern United States, including Tennessee. However, they do not delve into the issue of why that would be the case.

The root of the problem of prescription drug addiction is this: too many doctors too frequently prescribe controlled substances to patients suffering from chronic pain.

A key word in that previous sentence is "chronic." The Oracle should quickly state that he is not a medical professional and is not qualified to give medical advice, but it is his understanding that opiates can be appropriate for acute pain or for short term pain relief. However, they should not generally be prescribed for periods of more than two weeks (please bear in mind that this is a general rule related to things such as back pain -- I am not addressing issues such as appropriate treatment of, for example, terminally ill cancer patients).

Research indicates that somewhere around 10% of the population is genetically predisposed to addiction. No one knows in advance who is among the 10%. Prescribing opiates for lengthy periods of time is the equivalent of a roll of the dice. Of course, this is not entirely the fault of doctors. Some patients only know that they want out of pain and will change doctors until they find one to give them the drugs. Some physicians become resigned to this and acquiesce to patient wishes. This is both a social and a medical problem.

Nonetheless, the effects are devastating. One official from a western state says that he has documented over 300 instances of suicide: long term treatment using controlled substances prescribed by a doctor results in addiction, which in turn results in the loss of jobs, financial ruin and bankruptcy, and divorce and isolation. Fortunately, not everyone goes down that path, but it is all too common.

Of course, every drug addict is responsible for his actions. However, The Oracle, who has never suffered from such problems, has some sympathy for those who need help. And our society needs to confront the ways that we aid and abet the behavior.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What's in a Name?

Slartibartfast has an interesting post that The Oracle believes is mostly right. Those who call themselves "liberals" nowadays actually are in the business of conserving the status quo -- much of it based in New Deal or Great Society policies. Slartibartfast doesn't say it, but The Oracle might suggest that in some cases they are even reactionary. On the other hand, those deemed "conservatives often are promoting ideas for change.

This has actually been the case for sometime. One of the things that enticed The Oracle -- the son of died in the wool Democrats -- to embrace conservatism was the aggressive, against the grain polemics of the National Review crowd and the Reaganites back in the day that The Oracle was coming of age.

Hat Tip: NIT

Which Conservatism?

Charles S. Kelser has an excellent piece on the challenge presented to conservatives by the variety of understandings of what conservatism is. While the distinctions that Kesler points to are important, The Oracle still believes that dynamic leadership could successfully unite most of these groups around commonly held principles.

The other point that Kesler makes that is important is that conservatives must set out to persuade the electorate, not merely remind them of conservative principles. Those whose recollections of the decades before Reagan are either vague or indirect may not understand that the pre-eminence of conservative political principles cannot be assumed. Minds must be won.

Hat Tip: Voluntarily Conservative

In This Instance, Pay Government Employees More

Bill Hobbs notes that the Tennessee House's Republican Caucus is looking for a research analyst and argues that it is a mistake that the position is low paying. Hobbs is correct. A part-time legislature needs the best available and reliable permanent staff for research purposes. That it often is essentially just above an entry level position is unfortunate.

By the way, as a general rule the government would function better if it were possible to lay off 1/4 of employees and pay all of the remaining ones better so as to attract and retain higher quality employees.

Better than Ritalin?

At Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, the percentage of boys with satisfactory reading scores based on standardized tests improved from 10% to 66% in just one year after the school went to same sex classes. The school includes both boys and girls, but they go to class separately.

Read about it here.

A Good Pro-Choice Movement

George Will writes that there is hope on the horizon for families whose socioeconomic circumstances force their children to attend substandard schools:

The public school lobby, which apparently has little confidence in its product, lives in fear of competition -- the fear that if parents' choices are expanded, there will be a flight from public schools. But the tide is turning:

Will summarizes some initiatives by traditionally liberal politicians who have become advocates of school choice. Educational choice is no longer an entirely Republican cause, as those on both sides of the political divide realize that it is neither compassionate nor wise to require students to attend moribund institutions where they will have little chance of reaching their potential.

Another Attorney Group Cleans Up

The Tennessean reports that cell phone insurer Asurion has reached a preliminary settlement in a class action lawsuit alleging that the company did not properly disclose its phone replacement policies to its customers. Under the terms of the settlement, several thousand policyholders will get vouchers for new replacement phones. A larger number will receive $5 vouchers for phone service.

The article does not provide the more important number from the settlement: the attorney fees. In almost all class action suits, the members of the class receive a pittance, while the class action attorneys become wealthy.