Monday, December 25, 2006

Knowing and Not Knowing How to Win

The Oracle travelled for Christmas weekend outside the Tennessee Titans' television coverage region, so he was unable to view the dramatic victory over the Buffalo Bills yesterday. The Titans now have a winning record for the first time since 2003.

On Saturday, when it was learned that the Bills had not sold out the game, I nearly made the precipitous decision to make the drive. In retrospect, I wish I had. The Titans have become the cardiac kids of the National Football League. Not only did they start out 0-5, but they have been outscored on the season by 59 points. Yet, they now possess a winning record and hang by a thread on to hopes of a playoff berth.

On the other hand, I did watch on television yesterday a team that does not seem to know how to win, as the Indianapolis Colts trailed most of the day and lost on a last minute field goal to the lowly Houston Texans. I can only suggest that if the Colts would like to pay a few hundred thousand dollars a year to a defensive player who can't get in good defensive position or tackle anyone, that I would gladly sign up for the job.

Go, Titans

Worthless Drivel for Christmas

Given that it is Christmas, perhaps it would be charitable to overlook expressions of Utopian nonsense; however The Oracle could not help but notice this nugget of fool's gold in a The Tennessean editorial this morning:

Children offer hope for the world. It's in their eyes we see the future. It's why we want to shower them with special, magical gifts, the tangible and intangible. Because what we really see in those children's eyes are our own hopes for a brighter world, a brighter future, a safer, cleaner more trouble-free existence.

If the adult world would only allow itself to think in the terms of wonder and joy that lie in the hearts of children, Christmas really could become the ideal that is meant when people say Merry Christmas.

Who writes this stuff? A junior high student?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Little Historical Reading

The Oracle has finished reading about half of Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower. It is highly recommended.

They'll Regulate Calories Next?

For an interesting read on the politics and realities of trans fats, see here.

Blackburn Goes Soft on Earmarks

Tennessee Congressman Marsha Blackburn wrote an op-ed defending the use of earmarks, saying that the $33 billion spent on earmarks in fiscal 2006 is minuscule when considered alongside the entire federal budget. When ever a Congressman talks this way, The Oracle wonders that his or parents failed to teach them the value of a billion. Even so, it can be admitted that Blackburn is partly right: earmarks by themselves do not account for the federal budget deficit. Of course, shoplifting by itself does not account for the failure of retailers to make a profit. However, both earmark spending and other forms of thievery are important issues to be addressed, and it is sad to see Blackburn so dismissing the problem.

Blackburn doesn't like the alternative to the use of earmarks -- giving bureaucrats "control." In so arguing, the Congressman shows a blatant disrespect toward the appropriations process, which is subject to hearings and congressional oversight. The Oracle is not in the habit of defending the government bureaucracy, but he would note that congressional approval or rejection of funding requests by government agencies at least represents an orderly process and a responsibility for prioritization. Earmarks constitute funding not requested by an agency because the project was either not needed or not considered a priority. The beneficiary is not efficient government, but some favored entity within the Congressman's district.

While Blackburn seeks to differentiate the problem of earmarks from that of mandatory spending, she ignores the fiscal attitudes that contribute to both. Congressmen who cavalierly spend taxpayer money on favored projects are not likely to make hard decisions to save funds on larger issues. Those who find it acceptable to require taxpayers in Oregon to pay for a project that benefits only Tennessee are not likely to make tough choices on social security reform.

In supporting earmarks, Blackburn spends much time pulling out her anti Tennessee income tax bona fides. That is all very good, but Blackburn is aggressively vying for congressional leadership, and Americans know that their leaders frequently "grow." If Blackburn wishes to defend the view that election to Congress begins a foraging expedition for taxpayer money for one's district, then her growth has been most unfortunate.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Immigration System Reform

Given that immigration is a hot button issue for Volunteer Voters' A.C. Kleinheider, it is not surprising that he responded to this post yesterday. Kleinheider says that The Oracle's position "scares" him. He also associates The Oracle with "elites in this country." I wish someone would tell my banker.

Nonetheless, Kleinheider strikes me as being on the wrong side of an argument that has raged throughout American history. Our nation has always had an undercurrent of hostility toward immigrants, especially those who did not share various aspects of the American cultural consensus. In the 19th century, troublesome immigrants came from central and eastern Europe and China. In the last couple of decades, they have come largely from Latin America. In all instances, the concerns have been overblown.

Unfortunately, Kleinheider, with some sloppiness, associates my argument with advocacy of "open immigration," a position that I have never favored. I only suggest that our system accommodate "needed levels" of immigration. This implies a rational determination as to what is needed, and an allocation of resources based on that determination. That does not occur under the present system. Anyone who knows about the bureaucratic nightmare that exists under the name INS knows that the status quo is not sufficient for accommodating any level of immigration. Operationally and policy-wise, the current system fails, and fixing it should be a part of real immigration reform. Enforcement should be a part, as well.

American Military Might

Matthew Continetti surveys the American political divide between the "peace party" and the "power party." He argues that a general bipartisan consensus on foreign policy during the cold war began to break down near the end of the Vietnam conflict and has been widening ever since. The future implications of the divide are matters of concern.

While some of Continetti's piece merely states the obvious, he also includes enough insights into the growing division on the use of American power to make the essay very much worth reading.

Friday, December 22, 2006

There Are Some Things that One Can't Call the Cops About....

Moving in the Right Direction

For a quick, but compelling, synopsis of one man's trek from political left to political right, see Shrinkwrapped here.

The National Failure on Immigration Reform

The Wall Street Journal provides some needed perspective on the recent immigration arrests at Swift meatpacking plants:

Immigration restrictionists would have us believe that harassing businesses like Swift, the world's second-largest beef and pork processor, helps make America safer. But so far the Swift raids haven't uncovered any al Qaeda cells, merely a bunch of hard-working people trying to feed their families. The operation involved more than 1,000 federal agents in six states. And of Swift's 15,000 or so employees, a grand total of 144 have been charged to date with misidentifying themselves to get hired.

Put another way, 1,000 federal agents that could have been focused on potential terrorists or other dangerous threats were instead focused on a meatpacking company that hires thousands of willing unskilled workers and pays them more than twice the minimum wage with full health benefits after six months. How's that for government efficiency?

There's a common notion that businesses seek out illegal aliens to employ. So it's also worth noting that since 1997 Swift has voluntarily participated in a government program for vetting new hires known as Basic Pilot. Under this system, the names and Social Security numbers of all job applicants are checked against a federal database. Which is to say that the presence of illegal workers at Swift is not the result of a company's indifference to the rule of law. It's the result of a flawed government system for determining who's eligible to work here. A few years ago Swift's management attempted to go even further than Basic Pilot to screen job applicants, only to be sued by the Justice Department for employment discrimination in 2001.

This is an issue that has featured much demagoguery and little constructive policy making. Illegal immigration is a problem for the United States, but the problem partly results from a failed system that does not efficiently allow for needed levels of immigration. Unfortunately, that failure has enabled a fair amount of jingoism on both left and right, with virtually no one seeking realistic solutions.

The Best and Worst Christmas Music

National Review Online asked several of its contributors to name the Christmas music without which the season is not complete and music that makes them want to run. They got quite an array of responses.

The Oracle's answers: I have not heard a presentation of Handel's Messiah this year, and that failing has made a difficult holiday season worse. I am going to find a cd today as my present to myself.

The best Christmas carol: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." Modern hymnals don't include all of the verses, which is a shame. This is a Christmas song that includes nearly everything that anyone needs to know about Christian belief.

Honorable mention: any of Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas cd's.

Worst music? Among traditional Christmas carols, "Away in a Manger." The song is pure sentimentality, without any redeeming content. Among modern songs, what was Paul McCarthy thinking when he recorded that hideous "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime?"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

If He Were an American, I Would Vote for Him for Congress

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, as quoted in Impromptus:

The provinces and regions should finance their own theaters. I don’t see why the worker from northern Italy should pay for the opera house in Sicily.

Being Named Person of the Year? Value-less

Time Magazine named The Oracle person of the year without ever reading this blog? That's no big deal. The Oracle thinks their choice is bunk without having even read the article.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's a Wonderful Theme

Joe Carter writes about the movie "It's a Wonderful Life:"

Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. In the end, George is saved from ruin but the rest of life remains essentially the same. By December 26 he’ll wake to find that he's still a frustrated artist scraping out a meager living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. In fact, all that he has gained is recognition of the value of faith, friends, and community and that this is worth more than anything else he might achieve. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: it is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve true greatness.

Carter contrasts that theme with that found in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."

Competence and Ideology

For an apt illustration of the myopia that sometimes afflicts conservatives, to the detriment of conservatism, see Terry Frank here. With state senator Joe Haynes possibly looking to challenge John Wilder for selection as Tennessee's Lt. Governor, Frank is worried about the relative conservatism of the two candidates for the position. In this instance, that consideration is largely irrelevant.

The Oracle is not certain that Joe Haynes is a raging liberal, but that is hardly the point. It is certain that Haynes is at least competent to hold the position -- and to succeed the governor should some unforeseen and unfortunate circumstance arise. Wilder, who has been stretching the definition of ineptitude for decades, is manifestly not up to those jobs.

The goals of conservatism are not served by supporting the more conservative candidates irrespective of their competence. Conservatives, who sometimes complain that liberals glorify victimization, often think themselves victimized by liberal mainstream media. However, believing that the media have a liberal bias amplifies the importance of bringing forward thinkers and communicators who are capable of engaging the battle of ideas articulately. That does not mean that conservative leaders must be intellectuals. Ronald Reagan was effective in this arena without being one. However, conservatives who would be leaders must be able to argue for their ideas effectively. Promoting leaders who cannot do so is a disservice to the cause.

If the world made any sense, Republican senators, who are in the majority in the Tennessee General Assembly, would select Ron Ramsey as the next Lt. Governor. If that is not possible, Joe Haynes would be a clearly better choice than John Wilder.

Hat Tip: Volunteer Voters

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Even a Clock that Doesn't Run Is Right 2x/Day

Conservatives frequently complain about media bias -- often correctly -- but Rich Lowry of National Review points out that information is not wrong "just because it’s reported by the New York Times." He writes:

In Iraq, the media’s biases happen to fit the circumstances. Being primed to consider any military conflict a quagmire and another Vietnam is a drawback when covering a successful U.S. military intervention, but not necessarily in Iraq. Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right — that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war.

Partly because he felt it necessary to counteract the pessimism of the media, President Bush accentuated the positive for far too long. Bush allowed himself to be cornered by his media critics. They wanted him to admit mistakes, so for the longest time, he would admit none. They wanted him to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, so for too long he kept him on. They wanted him to abandon “stay the course,” so he stuck to it. In so doing, he eroded his own credibility and delayed making the major strategic readjustment he needed to try to check the downward slide in Iraq.

I Applied Logic to Tennessee Politics and Got It Wrong

When Nathan Moore broke the story that Democratic state senator Joe Haynes intended to challenge John Wilder for the Lt. Governor's spot, The Oracle expressed skepticism. It appears to have turned out that Moore was right.

As Haynes is hardly a political neophyte, and given that this is a risky move politically, there can be little doubt that considerable thought and behind the scenes effort have preceded this move being made public. It will be interesting to hear the rest of the story behind this as it emerges. In the mean time, The Oracle acknowledges that he will also owe Democrats an apology if they do the right thing by refusing to keep Wilder a heart beat away from the governor's mansion. That is crow that I would gladly eat.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Of Course Redistricting Matters

Gerry Cohen argues that gerrymandering "is not the cause of the lack of competitiveness in congressional races." He cites other factors, including "demographic changes, increased partisanship by voters, the power of incumbency and the inability of challengers to raise campaign funds."

Undoubtedly, those other factors contribute to a lack of competitiveness in races, but at least one of them (the inability of challengers to raise funds) may be in part linked to redistricting, since people are less likely to provide financial support to candidates that they believe cannot win. It is also arguable that partisanship is heightened in part because ideological candidates have safe districts that don't require them to reach out to centrist voters.

Beyond that, the idea that drawing districts with the intention of protecting the interests of the majority party does not have any effect on competitiveness does not pass the common sense test. If Cohen is correct, it should be a simple thing to convince legislators to draw their districts using a straight edge.

Helping One of Own

The satirist at Scrappleface "reports" that the Democratically controlled Congress will bail out the bankrupt Air America:

Air America insiders told The New York Times that the network was “top-heavy with management, inept at selling ads, unwilling to make program compromises that veered from the liberal message and overstaffed with more than 100 employees when two dozen would have sufficed.”

“In other words,” Rep. Pelosi said, “Air America represents the heart and soul of our great Democrat strategy for transforming government. It’s a model that deserves, in fact requires, preservation by the taxpayers.”

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Great Game; Annoying Spectators

Since being unceremoniously dumped by the girlfriend with the Titans' season tickets (a circumstance that The Oracle has finally started realizing is to his betterment), The Oracle has resorted to purchasing tickets on e-bay. Today, he found himself sitting in the nosebleed levels of section 343 directly in front of two very loud gentlemen who persisted in criticizing every Titans player and coaching decision over the course of the entire game. Of course, these individuals possessed less than a thimble of knowledge of football between them, though they seemed to consider themselves to hold barrell fulls of expertise.

They were annoying, but it was the only downside of an otherwise great day. Go Titans!

Twisting the Twist

Nathan Moore shares that a "well placed [Tennessee] Capitol Hill source" has informed him that state senator Joe Haynes may be exploring the possibility of challenging John Wilder for Lt. Governor. Moore adds that such machinations might help the Republican majority do the right thing and elect a Republican to the post.

While that thought is right, it is also the reason that The Oracle would tend to doubt that such a palace coup would be forthcoming. Democrats in the senate know that it is irresponsible to place Wilder one heart beat from the governor's mansion. However, they also know that by being responsible they would cede power to the Republicans. When responsibility has such a cost, they will choose to be irresponsible.

Sunday Morning Talk

For a quick synopsis of what happened on the Sunday morning news shows on the major networks, see Sonny Bunch here.

Trouble for McCain and Romney?

George Will points out that the two seeming Republican frontrunners for the 2008 presidential contest, John McCain and Mitt Romney, both have potentially serious credibility problems that will need to be addressed if either is to achieve electoral success.

McCain has a war problem: his advocacy of more troops for Iraq, while principled, runs counter to American public opinion and the recommendations of the much ballyhooed Iraq Study Group. Romney has a domestic policy credibility problem: his statements on issues of importance to social conservatives, gay marriage and abortion, seem inconsistent with those he has made in the past, making him appear to be an opportunist.

Romney's problems likely will cause greater difficulty. Modern communications, including blogs, are making it more difficult to change sides to a diametrically opposed position without offering at least some rationale for the flip flop. In addition, while much of the country believes they know McCain, Romney will be accused of inconsistency at a time when the electorate is just beginning to learn about him. Finally, regarding McCain and the war, it appears that the president is more likely to adopt the Senator's position than that of the Iraq study group. Should larger troop levels be successful, McCain will be able to claim credit. If, heaven help us, the changes are not, McCain will just say that the Bush plan changed too late.

While crystal balls are admittedly blurry when viewed two years prior to an election, the upcoming presidential contest would appear to be McCain's to lose. McCain's voting record as a whole is conservative enough to regain the trust of those on the right that he has alienated, and his crossover appeal is strong among independent voters and moderate Democrats who are ready for a known quantity to be elected President. McCain is famous for his hot temper and occasional lack of discipline. If he can keep those personal flaws in check, he will likely be the next President of the United States.

By the way, that is analysis, not an endorsement.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

He Said He Wanted a Debate, but He Meant a Monologue

America's worst and increasingly strident former President Jimmy Carter, who complains in a new book that one cannot have a debate in the United States taking a position critical of Israel, is ducking a debate with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Carter, with his insufferable arrogance in full form, said, "I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz. There is no need ... to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine."

Carter, thus, demonstrates the same disdain for a competent representative of a defensible position that he accuses his opponents of. Perhaps someone should tell Carter that civil exchange with principled opponents is becoming an "endangered value."

The Trouble with Lobbyists

Michael Barone explains the real locus of the problem: "The problem here is not free people; the problem is big government."

Read the rest of Barone's well-written piece here.

Neat Explanations

The blogger at Shrinkwrapped, a professional psychoanalyst, explains "the value of conspiracy theories:"

A random world is not only terrifying but poorly comprehensible; a world controlled by secret cabals of Jews, Americans, the CIA, multinationals, or some other nefarious grouping, may be frightening, but at least it is understandable.

Read the rest here.

The Background of Hanukkah

For a fascinating and well-written retelling of the historical events behind the celebration of Hanukkah, see Sharon Cobb here.

Because neither the Jewish nor Christian canon covers the period extending a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, most Christians have little knowledge of that time frame. That is unfortunate.

Politics and Inhumanity

The Oracle loves the give and take of politics, but does not consider politics to be everything there is. Thus, he finds this piece by Eleanor Clift discussing the political ramifications of Senator Tim Johnson's (D-SD) stroke to be the most crass thing he has seen in politics since the Paul Wellstone funeral rally. Of course, others are talking about this angle, as well, but Clift seems to manage unapologetically to plumb the depths of this low enterprise.

In a lame attempt to humanize her thoughts, Clift lapses into incoherence:

On a human level, everybody hopes and prays for Johnson’s recovery. But this is Washington, and with the Senate poised to do real damage to Bush and his war party, not everybody’s prayers will be answered.

Does that make sense to anyone? Everybody is praying the same thing, but some prayers will not be answered? If everybody is praying the same thing, is not the answer an all or nothing proposition, as well?

Clift later proceeds to claim that the appointment of a Democratic successor, in the event of Johnson's incapacity, would be crucial to the Senator's "recovery."

That type of argument is beyond satire.

Nonetheless, as with family inheritances, it would perhaps be nicer to let the body get cold before discussing the ramifications of the choice of Johnson's successor. Actually, at this point in time, it is only appropriate to pray and hope for Johnson's recovery -- for reasons beyond the pail of politics.

Left Far Behind

The Oracle just read Terry Frank's defense of the "Left Behind" video game and found himself repulsed by the concept.

The repulsion did not arise from agreement with the anti-evangelical critics with whom Frank, mostly correctly, disagrees. Rather, it came from reading the descriptions of the co-founder of the company responsible for creating and marketing the games. Jeffrey Frichner says:

Players can engage in battle, fire guns, even kill innocents in the game, but there will be severe consequences. In fact, you can win this game without ever firing a shot, using weapons of spiritual means, such as prayer and worship.

Frank may be correct that opponents of this approach are expressing their own commitments to pacifism and opposition to the series' expression of dispensational theology. Even so, can not an evangelical Christian be offended at the way that this game trivializes and demeans faith?

The Oracle admits that, though an evangelical, he does not have much sympathy for the theology behind the Left Behind series: my own theological underpinnings derive from Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, and the English Puritans. However, it would seem that even someone who accepts LaHaye's novel but popular concepts could still be concerned when a game reduces faith to, well, a game.

Hat Tip: NIT

No Pardon Required in Kentucky

Court officials and judges in Louisville, Kentucky are unhappy with a state court policy that has resulted in the destruction of all paper and electronic prosecution records for misdemeanors over 5 years old, the Courier Journal reports. The policy does not apply to felony records.

Opponents of the policy warn that it hampers prosecution of habitual offenders and that it has resulted in the destruction of records of many domestic violence prosecutions.

Bayh Not to Run

U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) has decided not to run for President in 2008. Because Bayh is a Democrat who has been able to be elected in a majority Republican state, many observers had considered him to be a candidate who could appeal to independent voters.

The decisions by Mark Warner and Bayh not to run in 2008 may signal that moderate Democrats realize they can not win their party's nomination at the national level. If so, that spells trouble for the Democrats at a time when they might be hoping to build on their 2006 congressional triumph.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hockey and Eye Candy

The Oracle saw the Nashville Predators play last night for the second time this week and the fourth time this year. It was nice to see a group nicknamed the Senators get thrashed.

Shortly before the Preds scored their first goal, the woman who sang the national anthem arrived at the section in which I was seated and settled into a seat several rows below me. We're talking about some serious eye candy here, but I noted that when Scott Hartnell scored the opening goal, and most of the rest of us were standing and cheering, that she remained in her seat looking down at her cell phone. She didn't at that moment seem to notice that a game was going on.

Fortunately, she sat far enough from me so that I was not distracted any further for the remainder of the game -- until she got up to leave at the end. Serious eye candy. She had a nice voice, too.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gone and Best Forgotten

For a rundown of the highlights of the 109th Congress, see here. This was not American government at its best.

Work Comp Benefit Review Conferences Criticized

According to a trusted source, Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development James Neeley got lit up during an emotional meeting of the Workers' Compensation Advisory Council today. Members of the committee representing business, labor, and attorney groups, as well as the advisory council's staff, all criticized the Commissioner and/or the Department over policies related to benefit review conferences conducted by department specialists assigned to mediate disputes between workers' compensation claimants and employers. Benefit review conferences became mandatory for employee's seeking various types of disability benefits under legislation passed in 2003 that was intended to reduce attorney involvement in workers' compensation cases.

When the Commissioner tried to fire back at critics in the meeting, it went poorly. After Neeley said that the system was improving, Nashville attorney Greg Ramos responded that he thought it was "deteriorating." He blamed Department policies that prevented specialists from exercising discretion that they are supposed to have by statute. As an example, Ramos said that specialists were saying they could not postpone conferences, even when both parties agreed to do so, when the statute clearly gives them the authority to do so. Neeley then alleged that Ramos requested more continuances than any other attorney in the state. Ramos responded that he had only requested two this year, and it is December. Later, Neeley criticized another attorney for not offering "constructive criticism." The attorney responded that he had submitted his concerns to the state and had received no response. Neeley caved in at that point, saying that he could not speak to that situation, but that the attorney would get a response.

Near the close of the meeting, a labor representative said that Neeley had the best interests of injured workers at heart, but that he was being poorly served by Department staff.

Foolish, but Not Unworthy

Michael Kinsley argues that Jimmy Carter's comparison of Israel to South African apartheid is "a foolish and unfair comparison, unworthy of the man...." Kinsley is half right: the comparison is foolish and unfair; however, it is very much what we have come to expect from Carter over the last decade or more.

I could quibble with some other statements in Kinsley's piece, but it is overall quite good. Read it here.

The Newness Wears Off

Beginning with the premise that "one can be an intriguing novelty only once," George Will argues that now is the time for Barack Obama to take his shot at the presidency. Describing Obama's voting record as a U.S. Senator as consistently far to the left, Will suggests that the potential candidate manages to be both doctrinaire and congenial, making him sort of a left wing version of Ronald Reagan.

One might point out in response that Reagan was in the public eye of the nation far longer than Obama has been. Reagan spoke at the Republican convention in 1964, ran for the Republican nomination for President in 1968, and came within a whisker of beating Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 before actually winning the office in 1980. Obama's current rock star status may not hold up any better than Howard Dean's did in 2004 or Gary Hart's did in 1984.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Genius and Hypocrite

In an opinion piece available at Opinion Journal, Peter Kann sets forth "10 current trends in the mass media that ought to disturb us." It is thoughtful and well-written and merits reading by anyone concerned about the state of 21st century journalism. The Oracle's enjoyment of the piece was only marred by Kann's introduction quoting Thomas Jefferson. The author of the Declaration of Independence, a champion of a free press during the Washington administration, said during his presidency, "I deplore the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity and the mendacious spirit of those who write them."

Jefferson, who was no stranger to blatant hypocrisy, revealed as much here to levels that few others are able. The one lamenting the malignity and vulgarity of the press during his presidency is the same one who, while Secretary of State, brought a newspaperman to Philadelphia (on the government dole) for the purpose of starting a paper designed to launch the same kind of attacks on the Secretary of the Treasury and, eventually, on President Washington, himself.

Gilmore for President?

Jonathan Martin has a piece at NRO about former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who is considering a run for President. While a candidacy by the nationally unknown Gilmore may seem far fetched, it would be unwise to think that those leading the pack of potential candidates now are the only ones who will have a chance. For one thing, most of the currently discussed candidates (McCain, Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Bayh) are U.S. senators, and no sitting senator has won the White House since John Kennedy, though many have tried.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Much Expense and Effort; No Benefit

It is unfortunate that so much emotional energy is directed into political agendas that don't produce any benefit for the persons whom the agendas are proposed to help. Thus, Thomas Sowell asks and answers:

Have black kids bussed into white schools had their test scores shoot up? No — not even after decades of bussing.

Read the rest of his argument here.

Balanced School Calendars

In response to an opinion piece in The Tennessean advocating a balanced school calendar for metro Nashville public schools, Bryce Inman argues that no research supports the notion that balanced calendars enhance academic performance. While The Oracle admits that he has not read the studies in question, and, thus, lacks the ability to evaluate the research methodologies and findings, it is a bit difficult to get beyond the rather common sense notion that children with a shorter break between class years will have forgotten less when school starts again. That should enable shortening the emphasis on review in the first quarter of the year, with the result that more time can be spent introducing new material.

In addition, in urban school systems for which the agricultural ebb and flow of life is not relevant, what is the compelling interest, other than a desire to grasp on to tradition, for retaining the traditional school schedule? The number of school days is the same under either system, and the only difference is in the spacing of the periods off. It seems that the traditional schedule really has no relevance to modern urban life.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Don't Take Kuharsky to Vegas

One thing that many prognosticators and pundits may dislike about the internet is the fact that bad predictions stay around for posterity. Old print versions might have been hard to find, but online pieces can always be googled. For example, The Tennessean sports writer Paul Kuharsky, who is generally a capable journalist liked by The Oracle, might regret writing this on October 12, a few days after the Tennessee Titans fell to 0-5 by losing a closer than expected game to the Indianapolis Colts:

The best teams in the NFL get the glass-half-full treatment, the worst get the glass-half-empty. So here are five reasons the Titans are even worse off than you might think as they prepare to play the Washington Redskins(2-3) on Sunday.

For the record, the Titans have gone 6-2 since Kuharsky gave his reasons for pessimism, which can be found here.

David Versus Gannett

Usually, when a writer speaks of a modern day battle between David and Goliath, he is implying a certain amount of sympathy for the little guy. Usually. One wonders if that is the case in a news article on an FCC hearing in Nashville today on ownership of broadcast outlets. In that article, staff writer Ryan Underwood refers to a "David-and-Goliath battle" between "corporate conglomerates" and "grass-roots voices of community-minded radio stations."

If sympathy is intended for the grass-roots and the community minded, one can be glad. Obviously, if The Tennessean is sympathetic toward community owned broadcast media, then it also is partial toward local ownership of print media. Isn't it?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Homework for Football Announcers

NFL games in which both teams have losing records will typically not get a network's top broadcasting crew; however, it is unfortunate when an experienced play-by-play man fails to do his homework and, thus, repeatedly conveys wrong information.

Thus, after Titan Drew Bennett failed to make an easy catch early in the game, CBS announcer Don Criqui explained that the play was an unusual miss for the "sure handed" Bennett. Criqui repeated that statement several times through out the game, contrasting the easy miss with several more difficult passes caught by the supposedly sure handed Bennett.

Of course, Titans fans know that Bennett has a reputation for making spectacular catches while occasionally muffing an easy one, which is exactly what the wide receiver did today.

Insufferable Fans

It is interesting to read about the large number of Houston Texans fans who are rooting for Vince Young today. Misery generally loves company, and those who have suffered through Titans fans rooting for Payton Manning can find comfort in those schizophrenic Houstonians.

Of course, part of the problem in Tennessee is that Manning fans tend to be so insufferable. One can hope that Young fans in Texas can be less so.

Neither Black Nor White

A front page story in today's The Tennessean discusses depictions of Jesus, in both pictures and in the performing arts, as a black man. Jesus, of course, was a Jewish man born in the Middle East, and he looks neither like the depictions of him as an epheminate European male nor like those picturing him as black. Nonetheless, such portrayals can be a harmless, or even beneficial, form of contextualization, but a statement by the director of a theater company presenting a nativity play at Tennessee State University shows how easy it is to cross the line into something else: "I think it's this idea that you can make God in your image or my image and that's OK."

Well, no its not. To remake God in my image is idolatry.

Years ago, The Oracle found himself to be the object of much anger when he suggested to a group of church members that a picture of the European Jesus was idolatrous when used as an aid to worship. It is unfortunate that other ethnic groups would copy the same mistake.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Opposed Aesthetically, Not Healthily?

Ann Althouse writes provocatively concerning those advocating government intrusion into people's eating habits:

I simply do not believe that the so-called health side is really composed of people who are solicitous about everyone else's health. I can't prove it, but my intuition is that all the strength on the "health" side of this war comes not from people who really care whether other people are healthy, but from people who don't like having to see fat people. They are concerned about their own aesthetic pleasures, and they think fat is ugly.

And that argument about how much money fat people are costing us? I say it's bogus... a strategy to win more support for more restrictions. Fat people burden the taxpayers? I simply don't believe it. I'm sure fat people have various ailments they need to put up with, and some of these are going to tap into public funding -- drug benefits for blood pressure medicine, amputations, and so on. But what about the offsets? They are going to die younger. (On average. Not you, of course.) I don't trust the numbers concocted by the people who want to intrude here. Those who want to be left alone don't work hard enough at putting together their own facts.

Correct Accent

I took this short quiz designed to guess what American accent I have, and it correctly identified the region of my origin (southern Indiana). They are also correct that I have a good voice for tv or radio, though I might add that my face is much more suited for radio.

Hat Tip: Hobbs, who was also identified correctly.

Here is my result:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The Northeast
The Inland North
The South
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Heavy Handed or Common Sensical?

Bruce Barry accuses Christian publishing company Thomas Nelson of being "a tad heavy handed" for reportedly implementing a new requirement that its published authors affirm the Nicene Creed. However, it would seem to make sense for a Christian publisher to desire to promote works written by Christians. There are certainly plenty of other publishers available for persons of other persuasions.

The Nicene Creed is a general statement of beliefs broad enough to have enjoyed adherence historically by virtually all Christians, including Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox believers.

Update and Correction. Note in the comments below that the CEO of Thomas Nelson says that the company does not require a doctrinal affirmation. The Oracle apologizes for the error.

Nanny Governments and Painful Writing

In a story that The Tennessean's editors evidently believed merited above the fold, first page attention, staff writer Jim Myers begins, "The New York ban on trans fats in food is trickling down to Nashville."

Fortunately for Nashvillians as a whole, though not for admirers of clear thinking and writing, the rest of the story does not support that assertion. Myers is referring to a decision by a local hotel to stop using trans fats in its food services. However, a decision by a local restaurant to stop using certain cooking substances is fundamentally different from a decision by a government to ban those cooking substances. One might add that the failure to understand the difference between an entity making arguably good personal choices and a nanny state imposing them is at the root of much of what is wrong with American government.

Myers also used his front page offering to describe trans fats as "the goo in our machinery." I'm not sure about the trans fats, but that phrasing in a front page news story caused The Oracle physical pain.

Tribute to the Late U.N. Ambassador

For a fitting tribute to the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, see Norman Podhoretz here.

Podhoretz describes her as a "neoconservative" who has had little to say about foreign policy since 9/11, but who seems to have had some discomfort with the "Bush doctrine."

Sometimes Inside Information Doesn't Help

As a part of an omnibus bill that passed in Congress on the last day of the session, a scheduled cut in reimbursement for doctors treating Medicare patients was stopped. The scheduled cut was due to occur as the result of a formula created by Congress several years ago for the purpose of determining annual adjustments. The formula is not realistic, with the result that this has been an annual issue for which Congress refuses to craft a permanent solution.

Even so, a lobbyist hired by an association of which The Oracle is a member told members back in October that Congress would not rectify even the annual problem this year. He added that they would definitely not manage to do it if either or both Houses changed majority parties as the result of the election.

Oh, how much money is paid for wrong prognostication!

The Tennessean columnist Larry Woody writes today that the recent success of the Tennessee Titans has silenced critics of coach Jeff Fisher. Regarding Fisher, Woody writes:

Ask yourself: Is there another coach anywhere who could have held a team together through an 0-5 start, Billy Volek's rant, Albert Haynesworth's stomp and Pacman Jones' membership in the Embarrassment-of-the-Week Club?

It is nice to see that the Titans' decision to stick with current leadership appears to be paying off. In modern sports, both college and pro teams frequently are quick to fire coaches (no, we're not talking about the University of Alabama, here) on the theory that it is easier to replace one coach than an entire team. However, firings frequently occur after a team has reached bottom and started its next ascent. Replacing coaches does not come without a cost, as new regimes create new systems requiring adaptation by the players, thus delaying their return to competitiveness. Fans should be thankful for the patience of Titans' management.

Bowled Over

Under the category of no one is special if everyone (well, nearly everyone except Vanderbilt) is special, one might note the following:

College football now has 32 post season bowl games. Considering that good college football teams are frequently identified by their inclusion in the "top 25," it is striking to realize that fully 64 teams have been chosen for a bowl game.

Of those 64 teams, 7 of them don't even have winning records (they are 6-6). In one game, the Independence Bowl pitting Alabama against Oklahoma State, it is guaranteed that one team will finish with a losing record.

One is told that this proliferation of games results from willing sponsors who find them profitable and who pass on part of those profits to the participating schools and conferences. If so, one wonders how it can be sustained. The Oracle is a big football fan and enjoys college sports, but he will not bother paying even scant attention to many, if not the majority, of these games.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gonzalez Tells States to Get Tough on Pedophiles

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, speaking by video conference to attendees of the National Conference of State Legislatures' Fall Forum, urged states to pass laws strengthening penalties for pedophiles and child pornographers.

The post reporting on Gonzalez' remarks includes links to the full text of the speech and to a compilation of state laws criminalizing the luring of children via electronic media.

Say It Ain't So

Facing changing priorities and responsibilities, Michael Silence of the Knoxville News Sentinel is wondering whether he should shut down his blog.

I hope he does not. Silence is by far the most professional and classy media blogger in Tennessee.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, RIP

Jeane Kirkpatrick, who by the appointment of President Ronald Reagan became the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, died today. She was 80.

Kirkpatrick considered running for President in 1988. The Oracle wishes she had. Perhaps she would have spared us all of the disingenuous talk we are about to hear in the coming 2 years about whether or not the United States is "ready" to elect a woman President.

The U.S. would be ready if it were a woman like Kirkpatrick. The one being discussed for 2008 is not.

Wilder than Cartoonish

Liz Garrigan explains that both Republicans and Democrats have good reason for not returning John Wilder to the Lt. Governor's seat: "Keeping a cartoon character behind the Senate podium is a good way to get Tennessee on The Daily Show, but that's about it."

My favorite personally viewed Wilder moment came at a Senate Commerce Committee meeting in 2003. At the conclusion of testimony provided at the hearing by a private citizen who's identity The Oracle does not recall, Wilder requested to be called upon. The following exchange then took place:

Wilder: "What effect will this have on TennCare."
Private Citizen (looking confused and stumbling): "Uh, Governor Wilder, I, uh, don't think this has anything to do with TennCare."
Wilder (looking as confused as usual): "Oh, I must not know what we were talking about."

Yes, indeed, the senate is the senate.

Hat Tip: Hobbs

Don't Send Kids to Hamilton College

An alumnus of Hamilton College offered to donate $3.6 million to assist with the projected launch of the Alexander Hamilton Center, which was to give special attention to the study of western civilization. After much political wrangling, a coalition of faculty members were successful in killing the project.

Read about it here.

The Right Choice for the Republican Study Committee

Earlier this week, The Oracle suggested the the selection of the leader of the House Republican Study Committee would largely determine whether Republicans committed to conservative principles of fiscal restraint retained any significant role in the House. Up until now, party leadership positions have gone to members with reputations for being cozy with K Street, the use of earmarks in legislation, or both.

Fortunately, Republicans made the right decision. In an election in which many party members stayed home, Jeb Hensarling, who has been a frequent critic of Republican spending habits of late, was selected for the position.

Bah Humbug!

According to The Tennessean, Christian groups fighting for the use of the phrase "Merry Christmas" at retail stores and other public venues are winning their battle over the more banal "Happy Holidays." Undoubtedly, these Christians are pleased that this annual celebration of material excess retains its religious veneer.

Don't misunderstood The Oracle: the insistence on the use of "Happy Holidays" (a greeting that could equally apply to President's Day as much as Christmas) is silly. However, given that even Christian churches cancelled services on Sunday last year so that their families could celebrate the holiday, there can be little doubt that the day has very little to do with the birth of Jesus for most Americans.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Restaurant Recommendation?

A friend has asked me to recommend a locally owned Mexican restaurant in the Nashville area. Any ideas?

Thanks for helping.

I Wish They Would Give Me a Car Just for Showing Up

The Tennessean editorializes favorably today toward a program by which local car dealerships have a drawing and give away automobiles to high school students with perfect attendance. While The Oracle has no problem with the program in principle, he doubts that it will have much positive effect. A certain amount of missed school is unavoidable due to sickness or other legitimate reasons for beingn absent. Beyond that, the potential gratification is too delayed and remote to change the behavior of most teenagers.

In addition, the editorial stretches credulity by implying that such incentives will have a positive impact on low graduation rates. Promoting perfect attendance will help some students do marginally better than they might otherwise; however, it is unrealistic to believe that doing so will keep students in school who are inclined to drop out or who are unable to meet minimal graduation requirements.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Any Role for Conservatives who Believe in Limited Government?

The battle for leadership of the House Republican Study Committee is insider stuff that won't make any difference to the general public, but it is an important bellwether that will show whether conservatives who believe in limited government retain any standing among Republicans in the House of Representatives at all. Fiscal conservatives already lost in all of the party leadership elections for the House.

Jeb Hensarling and Todd Tiahrt are both conservative on social issues, but they differ widely on other important matters. Hensarling, a protege of Phil Gramm, is a vocal advocate for limited government who has frequently criticized his party's leadership as they have taken to advocating spending like drunken Democrats. Tiarht is a connected member of the powerful Appropriations Committee who has mastered the art of greasing the wheels for wasting taxpayer money on pet projects.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans continue to respond to their electoral pummelling with an attitude of business as usual.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

I should have known better than to change my mind.

Before the start of this season, The Oracle thought that the Titans had addressed some of their most desperate needs (linebacker, safety, wide receiver) and had a chance to be a .500 team. However, just prior to the ides of October, I opined, though not via my blog, that The Titans might only beat Houston, if that, this year. Did anyone imagine that they would win 5 of 7?

Did anyone think that Bironas would hit a 60 yarder? I didn't. I was out of town, so I was not at yesterday's game. I wish I had been there.

Meanwhile, does anyone remember those commercials featuring a certain pompous Indianapolis quarterback suggesting that one might wish to switch channels to another game if the Titans/Colts game was a blowout? Heh. It couldn't have happened to a better guy.

The only downer: my fantasy team was terrible this weekend, which was bad fortune since all of my matchups looked really good. This is most dismaying. My fantasy football team is my only remaining connection to a now completely defunct relationship, and I would really like to use it as my one and only appropriate way to kick her annoyingly cute backside. I am losing at the moment, and I find that really irritating.

Go Titans.

More Serious Coverage of Straw Man

The Tennessean includes in its pages this morning another piece on a proposal for a per-mile based tax for funding road construction, this one being a guest column opposing such a tax.

It is amazing how much space is being expended on an issue that the newspaper misreported in the first place by claiming it was supported by a state senator who only asked questions about it and that, in fact, has no chance of ever seeing the light of day. Perhaps the paper could return to reporting news on real issues of importance to the state?

"Return to?" My bad. I meant "begin."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pastors and Pop Culture

An article in today's The Tennessean discusses the fact that most clergymen have less knowledge and interest in pop culture than many of their parishioners. In some ways that is a bad thing; in many others it is not.

For much of the last century, the dominant evangelical and fundamentalist forms of American Christianity have been characterized by an other worldliness formed by a commitment to separatist values. There has always been tension between those Christians who believe that their task is to engage culture as a means of glorifying Christ, and those who believe that the larger culture should simply be avoided as evil. In the United States, perhaps the Amish represent the separatist extreme. On the other end of the spectrum, liberal Christian groups have sometimes jetisoned virtually every foundational Christian belief in order to accomodate prevailing intellectual fads in the world around them.

Most Christians fall somewhere in between, though there is a strong separatist element in popular forms of American Christianity. Of course, the separatists sometimes only understand worldliness on a superficial level: they understand that naked pictures are a bad thing; but they do not understand that the values of the marketing world, when applied to churches, may also be antithetical to the mores of the Sermon on the Mount.

In the name of those marketing values, some Christian groups are trying so hard to be relevant that they have become irrelevant. There is no value in a Christianity that simply recasts itself in order to capture the moods and beliefs of the times. Christian churches that have decided their job is to find a need and fill it may be forsaking the gospel in the process. Answering the questions people are asking is important, but sometimes people ask the wrong questions. Christianity ultimately has answers about sin and redemption, judgment and forgiveness, hope and eternity. Sometimes people have to be prompted to believe that those are the penultimate questions. Pep talks about how to be successful on Monday do not really pass on the deep resources offered in the Christian faith.

That being said, the British pastor and writer, John R. W. Stott, has said that a preacher stands with one foot in each of two worlds: the world of the Bible and the modern world. His task is to bring the one world's vantage point to bear on that of the other. Much of the modern world, as embodied in pop culture, is trivial and banal, and it doesn't merit the time or attention of the modern pastor. However, it can be valuable to know at least enough to relate the deep riches of the Bible to the relative poverty of pop culture.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Purpose Driven Condoms

Scott Ott "reports" that the Rev. Rick Warren and Senator Barack Obama are working together to introduce the "purpose driven condom" in order to fight the global AIDS epidemic.

Funny stuff. Read it here.

Will a Conservative Run for President?

With the departure of Bill Frist from the 2008 presidential race, John Hinderaker notes that no mainstream conservative candidates appear poised to enter the race. John McCain has voted along conservative lines for most of his career, but has sometimes deviated from conservative orthodoxy in recent years. Neither George Romney nor Rudolph Giuliani can be described as consistently conservative, though Romney may come closer.

Frist always has struck me as more conservative pragmatist than consistent conservative, but Hinderaker is right that no leading conservative voice has emerged. Hinderaker is correct that Newt Gingrich packs far too much baggage to take on the mantel. If anyone else is to step forward, it will have to be within the next 6 months, given the fund raising realities of modern campaigns. Even so, one senses that some unexpected candidate has yet to be heard from.

Any thoughts as to who that might be?

How Many Legislators Does It Take to....

For an interesting discussion of the ideal size of a state legislature, along with helpful links addressing the issue, see Karl Kurtz here.

Dismayed by Both Media and Its Critics

A.C. Kleinheider makes an important point about media messages that completely escapes many on the right who get exercised on the subject:

I am distressed at the overall degradation of our culture but it seems like conservatives should be more up in arms about the basic nihilism of popular culture than a "liberal" political message on the environment here or there.

That is precisely correct, and it is not in the least understood by many who pontificate about liberals in Hollywood. Both Hollywood and its conservative critics frequently dismay The Oracle.

Its Hard to Be Humble

Across much of the last half of the 20th Century they were major players in American sports. Had they been practitioners of traditional humility, their extraordinary talents alone would have demanded that attention be paid. But there was nothing traditional about Ali and Cosell. A thimble would have contained their humility with room left over.

-- Dave Kindred, on the relationship between Muhammed Ali and Howard Cosell, in his new book, "Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship," quoted in a book review by Frederick Smock.

The Battle for the Soul of the Party

With Republican battles for the top party leadership positions in the House of Representatives having been resolved in favor of the status quo, The Hill reports that infighting continues between young conservative insurgents determined to return the party to fundamental principles and the moribund party establishment responsible for the public's perception that the party has lost its soul. The most recent battle involves the selection of the chairman of the Republican Study Committee. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Todd Tiahrt are vying for the position.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is mentioned as among those siding with the conservatives.

Highway Patrol Hubris

Considerable hubris is required for a state agency to claim to have ordered a "full investigation" of serious allegations of political corruption that were uncovered through detailed newspaper reporting last year. That such hubris is so freely exhibited at the Tennessee Highway Patrol is deeply troubling.

One would have thought that the firing of key leaders last year would have changed the course of the beleaguered agency. It would appear that no one in the Governor's office noticed that the problems run much deeper and that a more far reaching engagement of the culture at the state Department of Safety is badly needed.

The Tennessean, which has come under frequent and well-deserved criticism on this website for its tabloid like style, failure to cover significant news events, and juvenile editorial writing, deserves credit for its coverage of this story.