Monday, December 31, 2007

For the Record

The Oracle wishes for his friends back in the Music City to know that he risked life and limb by wearing his Predators shirt to the game tonight against the Stars at the American Airlines Center.

Happy New Year to my friends in all locations.

Monday, December 24, 2007

2007: the Year of Our Discontent

In January 2007, Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. The American electorate had punished Republicans the previous November for their perceived failures with regard to the war in Iraq, the corruption in Washington typified by the Abramoff scandals, excessive spending as revealed by the growth in Congressional earmarks, and their penchant for posturing rather than governing on real issues. Democrats responded this year by doing virtually nothing on Iraq (except ignore the seeming improvements in the situation there and impugn the character of the general leading the "surge"), attempting to put a former judge impeached for accepting bribes in charge of the House intelligence committee, passing legislation including over 11,000 earmarks, and constantly preening for the political left. Americans were quite concerned about immigration, both legal and illegal, so Congress did nothing about it. By the end of the year, Congressional approval ratings are even lower than the historically low ratings for the President.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did attempt to use the power of his position to silence a specific broadcaster with whom he disagreed, Rush Limbaugh. He failed. A bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, causing lawmakers, who spend highway funds on all sorts of things unrelated to highways, to complain that taxes are not high enough to maintain roads. Privately, staffers explained that road maintenance is just not exciting enough. Perhaps we should elect lawmakers without ADD.

In spite of the bad reputation of Washington -- or perhaps because of it -- there was no shortage of desire to move to the top of its political hierarchy, as men and a woman set up residence in Iowa and New Hampshire in anticipation for next year, slinging mud and hoping for political momentum at a time when no ordinary Americans were paying attention. At the start of the year, a Washington Post column breathlessly warned that Hillary Clinton was not leading in Iowa polls. She had not yet campaigned there. At the end of the year, she stands in danger of losing her lead. Ms. Clinton's campaign was aghast that Barrack Obama had shown political ambition at an early age. Another Democratic mouthpiece, the Associated Press, printed a story warning that Mitt Romney's monogamy was inconsistent with the lifestyle of his great grandfather. Man of the people John Edwards got a haircut at the cost of a fairly high car payment. John McCain crashed and burned, and then seemed to get up again. Fred Thompson entered the race late to much fanfare, then seemed to go back to sleep.

Knowing that foreign policy is important in the post-9/11 era, many of the candidates sought to disqualify themselves. Mr. Obama, who opposed military action in Iraq from the start, threatened military action inside the borders of an uneasy American ally, Pakistan. Mike Huckabee distinguished himself by comparing the need to deal with terrorists with nuclear weapons to a skirmish among middle school boys. Bill Clinton, seeking to help his wife by drawing attention to himself, said that he had opposed the war from the start. Video clips demonstrate that the claim was what the nation has come to expect when Mr. Clinton's lips are moving.

The economy remained relatively strong through the year, though not without concerns. Lenders had made risky loans to borrowers who accepted the risk so that they could buy more house. When the risks proved risky, the stock market swooned and Congress ran over themselves looking for ways to help all the risk takers. The price of gasoline fluctuated, but seemed never to stray far from $3.00/gallon for very long, leading Congress to pass an energy bill that did little about domestic oil production, though they did considerable tilting about windmills. They also decided that we should divert the nation's food supply to energy. The cost of food began to rise.

Americans were also concerned about healthcare. The governor of California promised to make healthcare more affordable by raising state taxes by $14 Billion. Democrats opposed the plan vehemently, in spite of the fact that it is indistinguishable from the one proposed by Ms. Clinton. Mr. Romney, who signed a universal care plan in Massachusetts, complained that others proposing similar plans were socialists. National Review, preferring Mr. Romney's flips to his earlier flops, endorsed him as the most conservative candidate with a chance to win.

Proving that extremism in the pursuit of centralized control is no vice for some, Al Gore had a good year, winning both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. Mr. Gore, the Johann Tetzel of the 21st century, helped alleviate any guilt created by his moral certainty by promoting the sale of indulgences, uh, carbon offsets.

The Boston Red Sox won their second World Series since trading away Babe Ruth. The Mitchell Report destroyed the reputations of numerous current and former players, sometimes relying on corroborated evidence. Bud Selig, who presided over the steroid era, promised to punish others for the scandal. The Indianapolis Colts got a monkey off of Peyton Manning's back, but he refused to show gratitude by ceasing with the endless commercials. Confronted by mounting evidence of permanent damage done to players due to multiple concussions, the NFL dropped back and punted. In college football, everyone decided to lose this fall.

The media -- the Charlie Brown's of modern America -- had another losing year. Dan Rather sued CBS for not standing behind his incompetent use of clumsily forged documents. Philosophers questioned whether Katie Couric's evening news broadcast really made a sound. It was also decided that it is in good taste to ridicule, nationally and endlessly, an 18 year old who answered a question about geography badly in a beauty contest. In Hollywood, the writers went on strike. No one seemed to notice.

However, it was a good year for movies. Denzel Washington deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of the dangers of compartmentalized ethics in American Gangster. George Clooney also did well as a lawyer who fixed things, and Tom Hanks excelled as a playboy congressman. However, a screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 started in the spring, and the credits still are rolling.

In legal news, the Supreme Court appalled liberals by coming down in favor of free speech and against racial discrimination. In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court threw out a workers' comp claim originated by a woman who's boyfriend had murdered her ex-husband -- allegedly at work (hence the claim). It only took 14 years to resolve the claim. On the other hand, in Tennessee a dispatcher who saw a bloody scene on a monitor successfully argued a claim for permanent disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

In law enforcement, in Dallas the DEA found a large, developed marijuana field within a few hundred yards of DEA snack machines. Tennessee lawmakers, impressed by the growing length of lines at airports, required carding persons of all ages buying alcohol in stores. Mr. Gore's son was arrested with prescription drugs without a prescription, as was the sheriff of Williamson County, Tennessee. Lawmakers did little about the most crucial drug addiction problem in America today.

Lady Bird Johnson passed away. Before her death, she had made a large donation in support of a project of a church she had attended. No one would have known about it, except that her wish that her gift remain anonymous was violated following her death. Such public minded generosity and selflessness are rare in our day, and her example shines as a bright light in an otherwise dismal year for public figures. It is with the memory of that generosity we will close our summary of 2007 and look forward to 2008.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Nature vs.Nutrition Quote of the Day

She sure as h*** doesn't look like her daddy, and you can put that down!"

The real life former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, commenting on Tracy Phillips, who plays a bellydancer in the movie "Charlie Wilson's War." Ms. Phillips is the daughter of Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips.

In addition to the above quote, the linked article contains much interesting information gleaned from an interview with Mr. Wilson.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Don't Think so, T.O.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and notorious narcissist Terrell Owens now says that he was joking when he told reporters that quarterback Tony Romo had a bad game Sunday because he was distracted by the presence of his girlfriend, Jessica Simpson, in the stadium. He says that he has apologized to Mr. Romo, and he wants to make things right with Ms. Simpson:

I tried to get [Romo] to call her so I can explain to her that she doesn't really know me and that I can be funny.... It's not a big deal. I will try to rectify the situation between her and I.

Now, let's see. If Mr. Owens asked me to call my girlfriend (we're being hypothetical here) so that he could talk to her, would I do that?

Uh, no.

An Energy Bill that Could Cost Lives

I usually make it a point not to let politics become personal, but with regard to the energy legislation just passed by Congress and agreed to by the President, I have recent relevant experience.

Among other things, the legislation requires new cars to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Don't get me wrong: fuel conservation is an important value that I have personally emphasized for a long time. While many people have been buying SUV's over the last 10 years, I have been driving sub-compacts. However, conservation is not the only value, and perhaps it is not even the ultimate one.

The best way to improve fuel efficiency is to make cars smaller and lighter. Smaller and lighter cars are also less safe.

After driving Nissan Sentra's for 10 years, in November I purchased a Jaguar X-type. Though still a relatively small car, it weighed more than a thousand pounds more than the Sentra. Obviously, my fuel efficiency was cut by a third.

Two weeks after purchasing the car I rolled over in it and was life flighted to the hospital. There, they stitched me up and sent me home a couple of days later. A month later, except for some stiffness in a shoulder I am fully recovered.

If I had been in the Sentra, it is almost certain I would have died. Without my prompting, numerous people, including some who saw the damage to my car from the wreck, have said to me that the car I was driving may have saved my life.

Again, this is not to say that fuel efficiency is not an important goal -- for both environmental and national security reasons. However, it is not the penultimate consideration.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Solid South Saves Spending

While some questions on government spending create divisions based on political philosophy, others coalesce around geographic interests. Thus, this map demonstrates that U.S. Senators from the largely Republican south led the effort to save programs offering farm subsidies based on economic realities from the 1930's. Most of this money now goes as corporate welfare to large agricultural conglomerates, and the notion of their continuance is intellectually bankrupt.

But I only Drink Diet Sodas....

In his latest exercise in nanny-statism, the mayor of San Francisco says that he wants to add a city tax to the cost of soft-drinks, arguing that the colas are responsible for child obesity.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

Admired in this Quarter

NRO columnist Jay Nordlinger speaks of Tim Russert as "universally admired" before tearing into him for his grilling of Mitt Romney in a recent Meet the Press interview.

I disagree with Mr. Nordlinger that the news host is held in such high standing. In fact, whenever Mr. Russert interviews a prominent Republican, he seems to get pilloried by Republicans for his conduct of the interview. And, when he sits across the table from a Democrat, he gets ripped by those on the left for unfair treatment of the Democrat.

He takes them on whatever the side. That is why The Oracle likes Mr. Russert.

Investing in Historical Documents

Former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot just sold one of only two copies of the Magna Carta held outside of Great Britian. The sale via Sotheby's fetched over $21 million, according to this report in the Dallas Morning News.

Mr. Perot had bought the document in 1984 for $1.5 million.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Sometimes, one is glad that they made a mistake. Otherwise, one would never have the joy of reading the correction. From the Ontario, Canada Sentinel Review:

In an article in Monday's newspaper, there may have been a misperception about why a Woodstock man is going to Afghanistan on a voluntary mission. Kevin DeClark is going to Afghanistan to gain life experience to become a police officer when he returns, not to shoot guns and blow things up.

Hey, it was an honest mistake!

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost

Bush Lite?

In spite of the fact that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has recently garnered attention for his fairly sophomoric critique of President Bush's foreign policy and conduct of the war, Harrison Scott Key suggests that Mr. Huckabee bears a lot of similarity to candidate Bush in 2000.

Huckabee, in many respects, seems like just a more well-spoken, modest version of the current president. When President Bush was running in 2000, he ran as a plain-spoken, sometimes funny candidate (like Huckabee now). He had little foreign policy experience (also like Huckabee). And he seemed to be a non-politician in a field of Washington regulars (yet again, like Huckabee). Finally, he appealed to Evangelicals and Good Country People as folkish and regular (Huckabee).

If conservatives have learned something from Bush, it’s that plain-spoken regular nice guys might make good neighbors, but not necessarily the best presidents.

There is a fair amount of truth to that assessment.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some Pictures Worth 1000 Words; Some Pictures Just Worthless

A.C. Kleinheider asks questions suggesting that an unflattering picture of Hillary Clinton (she looks aged and wrinkled) posted on the Drudge Report website is below the belt.

I would agree with that suggestion. I criticized Ms. Clinton's campaign when following a debate they tried to make her out to be a girl ganged up on by those mean Democratic men. I will equally criticize those who try to use unflattering photos in a way that they would not be used were she male.

The Corrosive Effects of Blogging

Speaking for myself, I think the following is unfortunately and largely true:

...a lot of the habits blogging implants really are pretty destructive. I've obviously decided it's worth it to keep doing it, on net, but I try to remind myself of all the unhealthy tendencies blogging encourages. Most obviously, it is just absolute poison for a writer to get too accustomed to reading and writing in chunks that average 300-500 words. As you get hooked on the instant gratification of firing off "pieces" that each take a half hour, your inclination and facility at crafting sustained arguments really does get degraded. This is compounded by the bloggy focus on timeliness: It always feels as though the most vital thing you could possibly be writing about is whatever all the other bloggers are discussing right this second.

Hat Tip: Stuart Buck

Rev. Graham Went to Washington

For an interesting review of a new book on the unique relationship that the Rev. Billy Graham has had with U.S. Presidents since Harry S. Truman, see the Main Street Journal here.

ROI for Charities?

What is the answer to the problem of a lack of accountability of charitable organizations. This time of year, generous Americans will give millions of dollars to charitable organizations, often with little understanding of how the money will actually end up being used.

Some charities spend virtually all of the money raised on further fundraising. Others line the pockets of ministry founders.

Ideally, charities that do not make good use of donors' money would go out of business when the word got out and people stopped giving, but even people who give large amounts of money to charity often do not research these organizations. This is unfortunately especially true when a charismatic ministry leader garners support for supposedly spiritual causes.

For a further discussion of the problem, along with a link to a document lauding 30 Christian ministries meeting specified accountability standards, see here.

Shedding Light on Congressional Cockroaches

On the same day that one article in The Hill points out that the massive spending bill working its way through Congress is larded with earmarks, another piece claims that lobbying firms in the nation's capitol are diverting resources away from "appropriations lobbying" to other types of advocacy. Leaving aside the fact that the distinction between policy lobbying and appropriations lobbying is not always clear, one perhaps can be forgiven for suspecting that the lobbying firms doth protest too much, and that this is little more than a PR campaign designed to convince the public that the problem is being reduced so that said public will turn its gaze away from the unseemly mess.

That being said, it should not be forgotten that the problem here is not where it is often mistakenly put. People have the right to advocate positions before their government. The problem is not lobbyists. The problem lies with a Congress that is progligate with other people's money.

For further information on this bipartisan disgrace, see Robert Novak here.

On The Mitchell Report

Regarding The Mitchell Report on steroid abuse in Major League Baseball, a few observations:

1. Mr. Mitchell strongly recommends that the findings in the report should not be the basis of punitive action against the players. MLB Commissioner Bud "Lite" Selig seems to believe that punishment should be forthcoming. The Oracle will agree with the Commissioner and declare unequivocally that Mr. Selig should resign immediately, as his failures are the most contemptible and most worthy of immediate action. As the report makes clear, MLB knew, or should have known, that this activity was going on and willingly closed its eyes to it. This failure of leadership is inexcusable, and Mr. Selig should either resign or be fired.

2. The decision to name names in the report, often on the basis of flimsy evidence, was odd and surely a mistake. Jayson Stark may overstate his point in some cases, but his overall argument is sound: how can you single out a relatively small number of players and destroy their reputations on the basis of scanty amounts of evidence?

3. Is there any doubt that Roger Clemons will NOT be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot? Consider this: a fairly significant number of voters have said that they will not choose Barry Bonds, the game's all time home run king, due to his alleged (and somewhat obvious) steroid use. Mr. Bonds and Mr. Clemons may come up for consideration for the first time in the same year. Even if an argument can be made (and no one really knows at this point what the relative circumstances were) that Mr. Clemons abuse was less pronounced, it would be a PR disaster for baseball to put Mr. Clemons in ahead of Mr. Bonds. Charges of racism would be off the charts. It will not happen.

4. Players union chief Donald Fehr has proven once again that he cares nothing for either the future of the game or even the health of the players he represents. His refusal to cooperate with the investigation and his dragging kicking and screaming approach to remedial actions with regard to steroids put this on full display. Mr. Fehr gives union thuggery a bad name.

The Irrelevance of Romney's Religion

For the best brief explanation that I have seen of why Mormonism is not a Christian religion and why that is irrelevant to the presidential race, see Rod Dreher here. Mr. Dreher promises to say something to offend everyone, but his take is mostly right on this set of issues.

Nuance is usually a casualty in the sound bites of contemporary politics, but I will give this a try.

Some of the evangelicals who have charged that Mormonism is not Christian have been tagged with the charge of religious bigotry. That is because most people reflexively consider the statement that someone is not a Christian to be a judgemental comment on their heartfelt convictions or eternal destination. However, Christianity for nearly two millenia has been broadly defined by the statements of the Nicene and Chalcedon creeds. Historically, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians -- groups that disagree widely on other things -- have all affirmed the beliefs affirmed in those statements of belief. Even those Baptists who have never read these creeds and who claim not to be creedal unknowingly affirm the beliefs declared in them.

Mormon beliefs about Jesus are not consistent with what was declared in these creeds.

While that fact may or may not create concerns about the state of Mr. Romney's soul, it has nothing to do with his fitness to be president. Mr. Romney, like all other candidates, should be judged by his competence, ideas, and fitness for office, relative to the other candidates. The particular flaws of his apparent theological convictions are no more relevant than were those of another American president whose views did not comport with Nicaea or Chalcedon -- Thomas Jefferson.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Proving Its Possible to Spin Anything....

According to an Associated Press report, a couple of marketers have managed to turn a certain city's negatives into positives:

To hear a pair of Houston entrepreneurs tell it, flying cockroaches can be good. So can mosquitoes. And stifling humidity, oppressive prolonged heat and frequent floods.

In a new coffee table book celebrating these aspects of Houston's "charm," these entrepreneurs explain as follows:

If Houston were a dog, she'd be a mutt with three legs, one bad eye, fleas the size of corn nuts, and buck teeth. Despite all that, she'd be the best dog you'd ever know.

I think I will stay in Dallas

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Flash in the Pan

The ascension of Mike Huckabee's candidacy in Iowa has set off a most interesting set of dynamics among Republican pundits. Some on the religious right must be astounded that the candidate with the most consistent record on abortion and gay marriage is the one candidate that others in the party are singling out as not being conservative. It is also interesting that Mr. Huckabee is the polar opposite of the type of candidate that establishment Republicans have long suggested they would like. Those Republicans have longed for a candidate who would be fiscally conservative and socially moderate. Mr. Huckabee is the opposite on both counts. Of course, so are a lot of voters, including a fair number of independent ones and a lot of older voters who favored the New Deal but hated the '60's.

Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan, with some justification, suggests that the outcome in Iowa will determine what kind of party the Republicans have become and wonders if Ronald Reagan could today be the party's standard bearer:

I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I'm just not sure he'd be pure enough to make it in this party. I'm not sure he'd be considered good enough.

Some of the hand wringing over Mr. Huckabee's popularity arises from the fact that many pundits realize that he is one Republican who could not win in November. Messrs. Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, and McCain would all stand a fair chance against Ms. Clinton or Mr. Obama in the fall. Mr. Huckabee would be trounced.

Those Republicans need not fear. Mr. Huckabee will have his fleeting moments of fame and be a distant memory by the time of the Republican Convention next summer.

Message to Huckabee after Hiring Rollins: Watch your Back

With the hiring of campaign manager Ed Rollins, the campaign of Mike Huckabee is claiming that the consultant's stature confirms the former Baptist minister's seriousness as a candidate. However, it is notable that Mr. Rollins' bio continues to emphasize his work for Ronald Reagan. While I would not diminish Mr. Rollins' role in leading the Reagan campaign in 1984, when your primary career achievement occurred over 20 years ago, one wonders about what has happened since then.

What has happened since then is not terribly encouraging for Mr. Huckabee. His new campaign manager has supported a string of losing campaigns, including Jack Kemp in 1988 and Ross Perot in 1992, and has shown a penchant for throwing former clients under the bus. Thus, after working for Christine Todd Whitman in 1993, he claimed to have paid off black ministers to suppress the black vote. After he learned that such an admission could result in a criminal charge, he quickly resorted to the defense that he was a liar, but not a crook. He made it up. After working for Michael Huffington in 1994, he wrote a book complaining that his client, and his wife, were unprincipled and unscrupulous. And, after quitting the campaign of Kathleen Harris, he criticized her for failing to follow advice.

Undoubtedly, some of those criticisms of his clients were valid. Still, who wants to hire a consultant who later publicly demeans you in that way?

Thus, one might offer Mr. Huckabee some advice: once the dust clears from your losing campaign, watch your back.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Someone Told Me It Would Be a Chick Magnet....

Having survived the accident, The Oracle today acquired another vehicle.

In Opposition to Waterboarding

The Oracle agrees with Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost that it is unfortunate that conservatives have all to frequently lined up in defense of the administration's position on the use of waterboarding. I also agree with Mr. Carter that the silence -- or in some cases, I would add, acquiescence -- of Christians on the issue is deplorable.

It would be wise for the religious right to learn that the role of Christian belief in American politics should not be to sanctify whatever those claiming to be conservatives happen to be promoting.

With regard to the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture, advocates like to point to hypothetical encounters in which extreme measures must be used to obtain information to stop an attack. However, it is just as likely that such extreme measures will result in the victim (I use the term advisedly) telling the torturers whatever he thinks will get them to stop. Thus, the use of torture is as likely, if not more, to result in the receipt of false information as true.

Besides, that type of pragmatic argument could be used to justify any sort of inhumanity to man. Christians -- and American conservatives -- should reject it.

Kant Can't Win

For an attack ad that won't likely be seen widely in Iowa or New Hampshire, see here.

Hat tip: World Magazine Blog

Incremental Approach on Abortion Abandoned?

A report compiled by Statenet suggests that pro-life activists across the country are abandoning the incremental approach used in the last few years to create some restrictions or disincentives on the right to an abortion (parental notification, informed consent, support for adoption programs, etc.) and are instead focusing on efforts to get various states to adopt constitutional amendments granting the right of "personhood" to babies from the moment of conception. If so, they will be rejecting an approach that has successfully stopped some abortions in favor of an approach that will stop none.

The more radical approach, which allows for a significant amount of moral chest thumping on the part of its advocates, is the wrong path to take for any number of reasons. First, it is unlikely to be successful in the vast majority, if not all, states. Second, even if it were to be successful, it would be unlikely to pass a constitutional challenge, and another Supreme Court ruling upholding Roe v. Wade is hardly in the interest of the pro-life movement. Third, this approach fails to recognize that the fundamental need of the pro-life movement is not political, but personal. The pro-lifers cannot win the argument on capitol hills until they win it on main streets across the country, and while most Americans express a certain amount of discomfort with the subject of abortion and agree with some restrictions on it, most are not willing to go along with the sorts of bans favored by most pro-life groups (in all instances in which the mother's life is not in danger).

Pro-lifers -- many of whom spend most of their time only talking on the subject to one another -- may underestimate the degree of disdain in which they are held by the political class (Note: I am pro-life, but my professional dealings with politicians are on other types of issues and, as a result, I hear comments that are not often made for public consumption). Of course, those in favor of abortion rights are critical of the pro-life movement, but even many of those who publicly side with the pro-lifers (or at least their allies) wish that the issue would go away. In that sense, abortion resembles the slavery issue of a century and a half ago (which also was a debate over property rights versus human rights). In that debate, a fifth of the country favored emancipation and a similar percentage favored the extension of slavery. The remainder mostly found the subject uncomfortable and resented those who insisted on bringing it up. Americans ultimately waged a bloody war to resolve the slavery debate; fortunately, while the abortion debate will remain contentious, it will not be settled in the same way.

Pro-lifers -- like abolitionists -- cannot allow the subject of abortion to go away. However, their primary battle is not in state capitols. They must win the battle of ideas by engaging the public at large and convincing them that this is a fundamental civil rights issue, not merely a religious one. To do that, they must get their message beyond both churches and statet capitols, and into other venues.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nashville Plaintiff's Attorneys Play Scrooge

According to a report in The Tennessean, a group of Nashville trial attorneys are trying to back out on a promise made in open court that they would donate about 7% of their exorbitant fees under a class action settlement to charity.

Under the agreement in a case brought by shareholders against CVS/Caremark, the judge was going to go along with lawyer fees of $7.5 MILLION. The judge wanted to use a few hundred thousand of that to obtain hockey tickets for some of the poor of Nashville, and the attorneys agreed to the donation. As NHL hockey tickets are for the most part rather expensive, this would have been a nice gift for people who cannot ordinarily afford to go to the games.

However, the attorneys are now evidently balking at the deal they had made. Perhaps they could use a visit from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future to help them find their way.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Beauties and Beasts

In a report that is both interesting and disturbing, Dallas Morning News staff writer Scott Farwell describes a steady stream of European women who make their way to Livingston, Texas to find love with convicts on death row:

Marlin Nelson, who's been on death row 19 years, said money motivates many of the inmates.

"I think most of them have more than one woman," he said. "They do it to get whatever they can get, the money. It gets pretty lonely in here, and once you're with someone awhile, it gets boring."

He said the men also frequently persuade women to send semi-nude pictures in the mail. Pornography and au naturel photographs were banned several years ago, but the current rules allow snapshots in bathing suits and revealing underwear. Inmates on death row hang the pictures in their cells and trade them like baseball cards.

Mr. Nelson beat a man with a metal bar and stabbed him to death in 1987. He is married to an English woman who left her husband for Mr. Nelson about six years ago.

The report indicates that many of these women initially come into contact with these men's stories after joining organizations opposed to the death penalty. They later tend to idealize the convicts, imagining them to be victims of society and/or a corrupt system, and fall in love with them.

The "Sports Builds Character" Quote of the Day

"We're just as dirty if not dirtier than anyone else in the league, so we like that."

-- San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick, bragging that his team gave as much as it got in their victory over the faltering Tennessee Titans.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Paranoid Nation?

Washington Post syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson, discusses information presented at a panel discussion he recently participated in suggesting that Americans are becoming afraid of their own shadows:

To recap: We're afraid of one another, we're afraid of the rest of the world, we're afraid of getting sick, we're afraid of dying. Maybe if we study our insecurities and confront them, we'll learn to keep them in check. Before we turn the whole nation into one big, paranoid gated community, maybe we'll learn that life isn't really any better behind the walls.

The rest of the column merits the time of thoughtful readers. While I disagree with the way that Mr. Robinson characterizes some of his examples, his basic premise has merit. A combination of American marketing and political populism (of both leftward and rightward varieties) have contributed to making Americans unreasonably fearful of the communities and world in which they live.

None Left Behind Because Everyone Moves Backwards

While admitting that the No Child Left Behind Act will eventually be reauthorized ("doubling down on losing bets is what Washington does"), George Will provides three reasons as to why it, and other federal education reform, was wrong in the first place:

First, most new ideas are dubious, so the federalization of policy increases the probability of continentwide mistakes. Second, education is susceptible to pedagogic fads and social engineering fantasies -- schools of education incubate them -- so it is prone to producing continental regrets. Third, America always is more likely to have a few wise state governments than a wise federal government.

There is much more. This is one of those columns I wish could gain a universal reading.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Religion Does Not Require Freedom

Mitt Romney came to Texas yesterday to give his much anticipated speech on his religious views. He really did not have much to say about Mormonism, as he instead focused on embracing America's tradition of civil religion. High on patriotism and suffused with a certain kind of moralism, American civil religion was designed from the beginning to be general enough theologically to include Christian and deist -- and ultimately any other theist in the broadest sense of the word. Yet, even America's most conservative Christians have long convinced themselves that its generic language was somehow meaningful in a religious sense, and so they would be highly hypocritical were they now to criticize Mr. Romney for praising and claiming it.

Even so, one of the most widely noted statements and key points made during the speech should be regarded as erroneous by Christians who understand either their Bibles or their heritage. That Christian leaders who have been widely quoted in response to the speech seem not to have noted the mistake -- which is profound in its implications -- perhaps speaks volumes about the quality of current Christian leaders and their ability to think critically about their own faith.

Mr. Romney declared:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

American evangelicals, whose weekly worship all too frequently nowadays consists of singing sappy and repetitious choruses followed by sermons providing 6 steps to a happy life or some sort of similar insipidness, perhaps require reminding that they claim to worship a Savior who was executed by a civil government. Eleven of his twelve original disciples met somewhat similar ends. The author of most of the New Testament epistles was also executed by the Roman government. Does such an encroachment on the freedom of Jesus and the disciples represent a closed window that restricted His and their ability to "discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God?" In addition, through much of the last 2000 years, Christianity has survived -- and even thrived -- at times and in places that were most inhospitable to its existence. American Christians used to read classics such as Foxe's Book of Martyrs or The Life of David Brainerd and revel in the courage of their forebears. That they now are more likely to read books about how believing in God helped someone achieve personal success partly explains the lack of notice of Mr. Romney's comments.

It is generally true that what makes one a good Christian will also make him or her a good citizen -- and, thus, likely to contribute to exercise freedom in civicly responsible ways. Christians should also be thankful -- both to God and to the state -- when government acknowledges and protects the fundamental right of freedom of religion. That being said, religion without freedom does not perish. Christianity -- at least the healthy variety of it -- has never depended on the protection of the state. It only requires the transforming power of the Gospel.

Christians used to know this. That we have largely forgotten explains much of what is wrong with the religious right.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scary Legislator Quote of the Day

''I don't care if we stand people on their heads and shake pennies from their pockets.''

-- Pennsylvania state representative Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), explaining the lengths to which he is willing to go to fund universal health care coverage in the state.

That statement should provide bulletin board material for Republicans and other fiscal conservatives all over the country.