Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Still-Not-Getting-It Quote of the Day

"You never say never."

-- Adam Jones, explaining to radio host and former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin why he refused to say that he would never again go to a strip club. Mr. Jones did promise not to go to such venues for a couple of years.

The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly interested in trading for Mr. Jones.

Less News Reporting; More Editorializing in the News Sections

Since moving to Dallas, I have generally had a favorable view of the Dallas Morning News -- it certainly compares favorably to the local newspaper of my previous home. However, in the wake of yesterday's announcement (which I discussed here) that the newspaper is making changes that will reduce the amount of news content come problems in a couple of stories today, one of which may be the result of the reduced space.

A report cobbled together and severely truncated from AP and LA Times reports is printed under a headline that could have been written by the Democratic National Committee -- "McCain offers no major solutions for economy." The article inadequately covers a speech by Sen. McCain in which he expresses a preference for helping homeowners rather than corporations and calls for greater transparency from lenders. However, the article begins with a statement that he "offered no major prescriptions" and concludes by saying that Democrats claim that he lacks the ability to lead a country in a recession. The DNC could have written the headline: they almost could have issued this as a press release.

Note: I could not locate the article, which I read in the actual newspaper, on the DMN's website. The much better report on the speech by the LA Times can be found here. That article also concluded with attacks by Democrats on Sen. McCain, but it also adequately covered the content of his speech. It is a balanced report.

Meanwhile, a news report on a Texas Department of Insurance ruling in a case pitting Farmers Insurance against some of its policy holders begins, "Score one for Farmers Insurance and zero for consumers."

Though clever, that is not a statement for a news report. It is an editorial comment. One might hope that those running the lighter, more "readable" version of the DMN have not forgotten the difference.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lessening the News That's Fit to Print

The Dallas Morning News proudly announces above the fold on page 1 this morning that it is now providing its readers with less content. Of course, that's not the way that they explain it. The paper is adopting a somewhat larger font size, narrowing the width of the page, and adding category labels above the story headlines.

Of course, the Dallas Morning News is not unique in this regard. Newspapers all over the country have been convincing readers that they are doing their customers a favor by making their products more "readable" while giving them less to read.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hope or Wishful Thinking?

Guys like me should hope that this news is widely disseminated:

The best marriages are those where women marry men who are less attractive than themselves, research has found.

Psychologists who studied newlyweds found men who were better-looking than their wives were more likely to be unhappy and have negative feelings about their marriage.

In couples where the wife is more attractive, both partners tended to be very content.

According to that criterion, The Oracle should be an excellent prospect.

Of course, it is possible that the research resulted from wishful thinking on the part of the researcher.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy to Be an Alum!

How 'bout them Toppers!

If they win Sunday, and my interview goes well on Monday, The Oracle might have to find his way to Phoenix for the Sweet 16!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Politics and Strange Bedfellows

This morning brought forth a couple of random ruminations about the latest developments in the strangest presidential election campaign in at least a generation:

Considering the enormous efforts that conservative talk radio hosts (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, etc., etc., etc.) are making to use his relationship with former pastor Jeremiah Wright to discredit Barack Obama, wouldn't it be ironic if credit for the resurrection of Hillary Clinton's campaign rightly goes to a vast, right wing conspiracy? Do you think she would say, "Thank you?"

On a different note, back before Watergate and his conversion to Christianity, it was said of Charles Colson, sometimes known as "Nixon's hatchet man," that he would run over his own grandmother if it would get Richard Nixon elected President. With his speech yesterday, did Barack Obama show the same willingness with regard to his own election and grandmother?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anti Political Posturing Quote of the Day

I will absolutely refuse to distance myself from this one:

I think all the “denouncing” and “demanding that denouncements be made” and “denouncing whoever doesn’t denounce” and “disbelieving the denouncing” is beyond absurdist theater - it is an intellectual wasteland of expedient “gotcha-ism” that is utterly shredding our political process.

Best Last Lines from Novels

American Book Review compiles this list of "100 Best Last Lines from Novels." Of those they list, my favorite is number 8. However, I wonder how they could have left out the ending of this one:

He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’d swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d gotten over it. A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days. The three extra days were for leap years.

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Ferraro Was Wrong

Scrappleface is always good for a satirical response to the news of the day. I just came across this response to the Geraldine Ferraro dust up from last week:

Sen. Clinton added, “The fact that Sen. Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, served six years in the Illinois state legislature, got elected as a U.S. senator, and now runs a 50-state presidential campaign that’s raising more money, winning more votes and capturing more delegates than mine, all points to a disturbing pattern of hard work and vigorous competition. His whole life is an endorsement of the kind of meritocracy that Democrats have rejected for decades.”

Read the rest here.

"Christian" Art that Is Not Christian

In a provocative post, Tony Woodlief contends that what many religious people would refer to as "Christian art" is less than Christian, in that it fails to account for the realities that Christianity, though frequently not Christians, address:

Good art, in short, is excluded from the Christian domain if it depicts depravity, while terrible art [such as the "Left Behind" movies] is included so long as it is explicitly Christian and purges itself of realism.

Mr. Woodlief goes on to describe two negative effects of the contemporary Christian approach to the arts:

First, bad Christian art denudes our aesthetic sense. A benefit of a very fine book, movie, or song is that it either helps us see truths about the world that we have not seen before, or it articulates — if only indirectly — a truth we have always known, but could never put our finger on....

Second, bad Christian art cripples our compassionate imagination. When the bad guys practically have signs in a novel or movie labeling them as such, and the soon-to-be saved characters are similarly cordoned off, we lose sight of the wickedness that inhabits saints, and the despair that inhabits the hearts of the lost.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Newspapers Doing Blogs

Mark Cuban provocatively argues that newspapers have made an enormous mistake by creating their own blogs. Here's an extended snippet:

A blog is a blog is a blog is a blog. The NY Times Blogs on their website are blogs. People who have blogs have a hard enough time coming up with a definition of what blog is. Potential or even current readers have no real idea of what the term blog reflect in terms of quality or content.

I'm sure the NY Times, like all major media outlets hopes that because it is branded a NY Times blog, that readers will have the perception and expectation that it will be of a higher quality than say, . That when readers actually read the blog, they will see that its of a higher quality than say, It may well be that some do.

The marketing reality however is that there is a significant risk that they will not. That rather than assigning the brand equity of the NY Times to the blogs hosted, they will take the alternative path of assigning their perception of what a blog is to the NY Times, there by having a negative impact on the brand equity of the NY Times. That's an enormous risk for any mainstream brand to take.

If I worked for the NY Times, or any other media company with any level of brand equity, I would have done everything possible to define the section of our website that offers ongoing as anything other than a blog. I would make up a name. Call it say.....RealTime Reporting.

Mr. Cuban's argument could be strengthened further by noting that many newspapers freely admit that they lower standards with regard to their blog content. I regret that I cannot locate the link, but a few weeks ago, a blogger on the generally well-done Dallas Morning News weblog responded to criticism of something posted by telling the commenter that he should lighten up. After all, he said, this is just a blog. It's not like it is in the real newspaper.

Admitting that you have degraded your standards is no way to improve the reputation of the brand. Media outlets who see new media in that way do themselves a disservice.

Watching Our Language

Grammar Girl lists her "Top Ten Grammar Myths." For her number one myth, she provides the following:

1. You shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition. Wrong! You shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition. That means "Where are you at?" is wrong because "Where are you?" means the same thing. But there are many sentences where the final preposition is part of a phrasal verb or is necessary to keep from making stuffy, stilted sentences: I'm going to throw up, let's kiss and make up, and what are you waiting for are just a few examples.

While it doesn't happen much on my blog, I find myself frequently at work correcting those who imagine that they are properly correcting me on this point. As Grammar Girl has illuminated the point quite nicely, The Oracle will refrain from making reference to the statement frequently attributed to Winston Churchill on this point.

However, I would add that I also appreciate Grammar Girl permitting me to begin a sentence with "however." The usage has always seemed perfectly natural to me, but memories of a high school English teacher from long ago always cause me to pause when starting a sentence thusly.

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost

Democratic Party Presidential News Items

While most Democratic Party leaders continue audaciously to hope that somehow the party's nominee for President could be determined sooner, not later, Hillary Clinton is trying to delay the selection further, at least in Texas.

The Clinton campaign is requesting that the district conventions be postponed and that the state party take on the task of verifying the eligibility of more than a million people that attended the caucuses.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party superdelegates continue to show themselves to be the polar opposites of the average primary voter. Most voters in late primaries in past years complained that their votes really didn't count because they didn't go to the polls until the nominations were already in hand, a complaint that encouraged many states this year to move their votes to earlier dates. However, the superdelegates desperately seem not to want their votes to count, which begs the question, why should they even have votes if they regard their preferred task as being the rubber stamping of an already made decision?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama's Religion

The present controversy over the relationship of Barack Obama with his bellicose former pastor has generated more heat than light. Certainly, the strident anti-Americanism of the cleric creates one problem for the presidential candidate, but that is only one aspect of the trouble this causes for him. Most Americans, whether liberal or conservative in their beliefs, tend to have a certain view of how ministers speak and behave. Even leaving aside the fact that the statement was directed against their country, most would be shocked to hear their ministers say G** D*** anything. Regardless of the particular object being cursed, the rhetoric sounds extreme to the average person.

Leaving that aside, it was interesting yesterday to hear an interview between Sean Hannity and Jack Kemp. Mr. Hannity, never known for the fairness of his interviewing style, tried unsuccessfully to box the typically civil Mr. Kemp into a corner. Mr. Hannity, as one might expect, sees this as a smoking gun that destroys Sen. Obama's candidacy. Mr. Kemp argued that certainly the Senator needed to distance himself from the radical minister, but said that he hoped that the campaign would be decided on issues, not associations.

Meanwhile, Paul Mirengoff has an informative post on the controversy, in which he suggests that Rev. Wright's embrace of liberation theology merits examination with regard to Sen. Obama's philosophy. That would seem to be fair. It has been some years since The Oracle has read any liberation theology, and most of what I read was in a Latin American context (contextualization is important with regard to liberation theology, as it has been embraced in somewhat differing ways by Latinos, feminists, blacks, and other groups), but it can generally be described as an attempt to fuse Marxism with the language of the gospels. It is also suffused with a vehement hostility toward the west and western values, so the type of rhetoric used by the Chicago reverend is not all that surprising in that context, though it is still reprehensible.

Examining religious views is always touchy business in American politics. The U.S. Constitution itself declares that there must be no religious test for holding office. But those who insist on religion being an entirely private thing fail to recognize that one's religious views form a portion of a person's overall philosophy of life. What one might call "common sense" is the need of the day here. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to get it. Frankly, such sense is not all that common in our current political environment.

In Search of a Friend with HBO

For a favorable review of the upcoming 7-part miniseries on the life of John Adams, see here. The first part airs tomorrow evening.

The miniseries is based on the superb biography of Mr. Adams by the late David McCullough.

Kleinheider Out at Volunteer Voters

At the end of the day yesterday, A.C. Kleinheider announced that he was signing off as the blogger at Volunteer Voters for the final time due to budget cuts at WKRN television. His dismissal brings to an end that station's experiment with combining new and old media. It is rather odd that they have gotten almost completely out (they still maintain Nashville Is Talking as nothing more than a shadow of its former self) of blogging at a time when it is finally becoming accepted at numerous other media outlets, particularly newspapers.

Mr. Kleinheider was a controversial choice at the time he was first hired at WKRN. Because Nashville Is Talking was run by the left wing Britney Gilbert, the station had sought to hire a conservative writer for Volunteer Voters. However, in choosing Mr. Kleinheider, they added a self-described paleo-conservative who had become popular with local liberal bloggers in part based on his harsh denunciations of the war in Iraq. In addition, Mr. Kleinheider was known for a bomabastic, "South Park Conservative," style that seemed unprofessional to bloggers who envisioned a more seamless approach to the new and old media offerings of the station.

In that regard, The Oracle was for a time an occasionally harsh critic of Mr. Kleinheider, accusing him of crossing the line into incivility at times and labelling as "intellectual laziness" his proclivity for judging motives and painting with a broad brush rather than digging into the specifics of a story. I should mention that Mr. Kleinheider responded to those posts graciously, usually defending himself but occasionally giving ground. He also continued linking to this blog on a regular basis. His work also improved with time, and he occasionally dug into issues and broke local stories before other Nashville media outlets had them.

After the resignation last summer of Ms. Gilbert for all practical purposes ended Nashville Is Talking, Mr. Kleinheider reportedly was asked to tone down Volunteer Voters, and for a time it took on a rather vanilla quality. However, over time he adapted to the new expectations, and the blog became a quality local media offering, as Volunteer Voters combined a focus on what Tennessee political bloggers were talking about with news commentary and occasional scoops of the local media. Comments indicate that it had become widely read by both political and media leaders in Middle Tennessee and across the state.

Mr. Kleinheider never quite lost his longstanding Captain Ahab-like obsession with going after local blogger Bill Hobbs, an obsession he shares with his former colleague Ms. Gilbert, who continues to seem to need to frequently comment on Mr. Hobbs, though she has moved to San Francisco.

Mr. Kleinheider has not indicated his future professional plans, though he did state that he would resume writing at his personal blog, Hard Right.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sugarcoating Life

Tony Woodlief has an interesting discussion of Flannery O'Connor's ruminations regarding the influence of her Christian commitments on her writing. He writes:

Her stories were notably violent, and filled with depraved characters. She constructed a milieu of fallen men in order to reveal the grace of God in a sin-stricken world. Nonetheless, she didn’t sit well with many good Christians....Unfortunately, this instinct [to exclude evil from works of art], in the realm of art, carries us toward artificial truth — which is to say falsehood — in the form of sentimentality and unreality. Following that line of reasoning leads me to conclude that many of the novels labeled as Christian are sinful, because they portray the world of God falsely, with dimensionless characters, unrealistic dialogue, and pat resolutions.

He then concludes provocatively:

This leads to an interesting possibility: that our local public library has more genuinely Christian literature — which is to say books that tell a truer story of the fall of man and his redemption by Christ — than most Christian booksellers.

No Big Picture Thinkers in Presidential Politics

In the course of offering advice as to how John McCain could jump start his campaign, Peggy Noonan suggests the following:

He has positions, but a series of separate, discrete and seemingly unconnected stands do not coherence make. Mr. McCain, in public, does not dig down to the meaning of things, to why he stands where he stands, to what understanding of life drives his political decisions. But voters hunger for coherence, for a philosophical thread that holds all the positions together.

That is true, but voters have not had that kind of choice offered by either party since Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan was the last politician to combine real world political engagement with a big picture philosophy of what it was really all about. He was the last serious candidate for President from either party who had spent much of a lifetime developing a coherent picture and dominant theme of the role of government.

Some of those who speak like this get accused of holding on to Reagan nostalgia, and certainly some of the politicians who have held themselves up as heirs to Reagan's mantel have done nothing more than play in to that. On the other hand, some of us who take seriously politics and public policy, as opposed to merely the gamesmanship, would love to see again a political figure who stands for more than his or her personal ambition and who is bigger than the consultants and image managers who privately brag that they create him or her.

We don't have that kind of candidate this year from either party. We have not had that kind of candidate for a long time. If one wonders why there is so much negative campaigning, one reason would be that there is really nothing positive to fire anyone up on either side. The biggest motivation for both liberal and conservative: the shared sense that we sure don't want the person on the other side to win.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How Could He Ask Her?

I had decided that I was not going to write about the Eliot Spitzer resignation. With seemingly everyone else writing or talking about only a handful of themes, it is hard to think of anything unique that I could say. In addition, I find distasteful the circus that routinely occurs around these sexual downfalls due to the voyeuristic enjoyment that much of the public seems to find in them. Undoubtedly, Mr. Spitzer deserves the approbation that he is receiving. However, the people involved, both the guilty and the innocent, are real human beings and real families with real emotions. It is a tragedy, but much of the public treats them like actors in a soap opera.

That being said, I did think of one angle to this that I have not seen addressed elsewhere. In this story, as in all the others, people have wondered about the wives: why does she "stand by her man?" I have a somewhat different question: how could he ask her to?

Of course, we all know the reasons for asking her. The public relations ploy involved is the calculation that people will reason that if the aggrieved wife forgives him, then perhaps the rest of us can do so, too. This is the calculation in what is now being offensively referred to as a "repentance ritual." Actually, the point is not repentance: it is the saving of one's own backside.

But knowing the calculation, one might still wonder: how could he ask her to do that? At the point when a wife, who he presumably once loved, and perhaps loves now, is grieving a fundamental betrayal of trust and trying to stop the world from spinning around her, how can he ask her to reduce herself to the status of a prop in this drama that needs to be played out and walk out there to become a spectacle before the whole world.

It is often said in a sexual sense that men objectify women, but isn't this use of women as props nothing more than reducing them to objects in a different sense?

Having to confess sexual unfaithfulness to a partner in a monogamous relationship involves a swirl of emotions created by shame and guilt in both the objective and subjective senses. Asking a wife to play this role adds another element of objective guilt to the mix. It should bring forth feelings of guilt, as well.

The public relations experts seem to consider this to be good public relations. Public reaction should tell them a different story.

Scarlett O'Hara Sound Alike Quote of the Day

"We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Senator Obama."

-- Hillary Clinton, explaining remarks made by her husband following the South Carolina primary. She said she was "sorry if anyone was offended" by the former President's comments.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Union Leaders Count on Union Ignorance

Given that Republican presidential nominee John McCain has been widely portrayed as despising President Bush ever since their contest for their party's nomination in 2000, the effort by the AFL-CIO to present Messrs. McCain and Bush to its membership in an ad campaign as "two ducks in a row" must be said to rely on a belief in the political ignorance of its rank and file. Thus, the AFL-CIO's leadership demeans the intelligence of its membership.

In any case, if any union members still are under the illusion that union political advocacy efforts are intended to represent them, this campaign should disabuse them of that notion. The AFL-CIO, at least with regard to its political efforts, does not represent members. It only attempts to herd them.

Forgetting His Place

The statements by the feckless Geraldine Ferraro that Barack Obama is only ahead of Hillary Clinton, who admits that she lacks Sen. Obama's ability to inspire people, because he is " very lucky to be who he is" (that is, a black man), are so blatantly outrageous that The Oracle is tempted to use offensive terms to paraphrase her. I only refrain because I fear that readers might misunderstand and imagine that to be the way that I think or speak.

However, should you choose to use your imagination, I don't think you would be guilty of unfairness to Ms. Ferraro.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bloggers in the Locker Room?

When Dallas Mavericks owner and blogger Mark Cuban realized that an employee of the Dallas Morning News whose primary duty is blogging had been given credentials to go into the locker room to interview players, he intervened and had those credentials taken away. For his interesting discussion as to why, see here.

Mr. Cuban also takes some shots at "newspaper blogging" in general.

Unexpected Costs

Any time a politician promises that the savings from some new entitlement will enable the program to "pay for itself," taxpayers should get a firm grip on their wallets. That is certainly true of health care, regarding which we are being told that current inefficiencies are so great that an offer of universal care can come about with minimal costs. However, Statenet notes that the experience of Massachusetts, which has adopted a mandate for universal coverage, is different:

MASSACHUSETTS employers spent more on their workers' health insurance than employers in any other state. According to a recent survey by United Benefit Advisors, one of the country's leading employee benefits advisory organizations, the Bay State's average annual health care cost per employee in 2007 was $9,304, more than 35 percent higher than the national average of $6,881 and about 8 percent up from the state's chart-topping total last year ($8,631).

Jimmy Carter in a Pants Suit

The Hill reports that Hillary Clinton is now dismissing the candidate she last week disingenuously suggested could be her vice-president as having nothing to offer but "just words."

This is her means of differentiating herself from her opponent. Sen. Obama, she declares, inspires, but has no record. This distinguishes her from him. She neither inspires nor has much of a record of her own.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Will We Compare Ourselves to Churchill Next?

In a newspaper guest column that leaves one speechless, Tennessee state representative Stacey Campfield, who has on occasion made national news by his guileless approach to politics, not to mention his semi-literate elocution, manages to compare himself to one of the most brilliant and successful politicians in the history of the English speaking world.

William Wilberforce's crowning achievement as a member of parliament was the ending of the British slave trade. Although The Oracle is not sure what would be Rep. Campfield's crowning achievement, one would suspect it is something a bit less than that.

Sadly, Rep. Campfield finds inspiration in the wonderful movie based on Mr. Wilberforce's life, Amazing Grace. He fails to note the sharp differences between Mr. Wilberforce's skillful approach to politics and his own flame throwing.

Hat Tip: Volunteer Voters

Republican Actions and Words on Pork

Conservatives who imagine that there is absolutely no reason to justify voting for John McCain might reconsider after reviewing this column by Robert Novak. However, you might question why one would bother with voting for many other supposed conservatives in the U.S. Senate. Sen. McCain has pledged to eliminate earmarks, but pork-addicted Republicans disagree. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has resorted to one of the best of all reform busting techniques: the study committee:

McConnell has appointed a "task force" of five Republican senators to study earmarks, headed by the universally respected Richard Lugar of Indiana. But Lugar has never shown much interest in the subject. The dominant member is Thad Cochran of Mississippi, ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee and the Senate's reigning king of pork. Cochran, who not long ago suggested McCain is unfit to be president, has secured $774 million in earmarks this year. Add the earmarks of three other members -- Lugar, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Mike Crapo of Idaho -- and the task force itself accounts for more than $1.1 billion in pork.

Putting Thad Cochran on a committee to study pork is a bit like putting the devil on a committee to study hell.

I can remember the good old days when Republicans could sneer at Democrat Robert Byrd as the most embarrassing practitioner of the art of enriching his state at taxpayer expense. Unfortunately, Republicans in positions to do so have been just as guilty of abuse of power.

When I first typed this post, I accidentally referred to Sen. McConnell as "majority leader." Fortunately, I caught the error before publishing it. Of course, he was once majority leader. As long as the Republicans continue governing this way, neither he nor any other member of his party is likely to be such again.

It's Monday and I Hate Springing Forward

I will consider voting for any candidate who promises to repeal Daylight Savings Time.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

America's Secular Political Fundamentalism

Today, the term fundamentalist is used primarily as a substance free pejorative. Essentially, the word is used by someone meaning to describe a religious person that they find objectionable. The word really has no substantive meaning.

That was not always the case. Over the years, the meaning of the word has evolved. In the period of time from roughly the 1920's into the early 1980's, the word had a discernible meaning that identified a particular brand of American Christianity.

Many of the things that fundamentalists believe are common to all forms of historic Christianity -- the authoritativeness of Scripture, that Jesus was the Son of God and died for sins, the resurrection of Jesus, and so forth. Of the characteristics that differentiated fundamentalism in the 20th century from other forms of American Protestantism, the most significant was an obsessive interest in "separation." Fundamentalists took the Scriptural injunction to "come out from among them [i.e., the world] and be ye separate" as a begin and end all statement of the nature of Christian living, and it almost turned the movement into a sort of Protestant monasticism, though without walls. Of course, Christians were enjoined to avoid all forms of "worldliness." In addition, fundamentalists emphasized what is sometimes termed "second degree separation." That is to say, it was not enough merely to avoid worldliness one's self. One must also avoid close relationships with others who might lead them into worldliness.

All of this is very much like today's public political culture, as exemplified recently, and these are only the most recent examples, by supposed controversies surrounding presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. Sen. McCain has been endorsed by a televangelist named John Hagee who has said some rather intemperate things about Roman Catholics. Meanwhile, Sen. Obama has received an unsolicited endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made anti-semitic remarks.

All right thinking people would consider some of the statements made by Messrs. Hagee and Farrakhan to be somewhere along a line between nutty and despicable. However, no one with as much as half a brain considers either of the presidential candidates to adhere to any of those disreputable views. Yet, even though no one seriously thinks that either Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama is guilty of holding nefarious views, commentators and partisan hacks line up to speak to the necessity of them repudiating their endorsements, and those commentators and hacks chalk up any hesitancy to so repudiate as some sort of evidence of moral or political weakness or pandering on the part of the candidates.

Secondary separation. And nonsense.

Of course, there have been rare important occasions when the rejection of a supporter held larger significance -- the rejection by the late William F. Buckley of the support of Birchers is a notable and laudable example. But much of this is posturing that diminishes our political culture and distracts from genuine issues of policy and character.

One wishes that we would stipulate that an endorsement or campaign donation in no way implies or suggests full agreement by the recipient with everything the supporter has said and done. Really, that should be the end of the matter.

Baseball and Lots of Hot Dogs

The USA Today reports that numerous major league baseball teams, including the Texas Rangers, are now selling seats in sections deemed "all you can eat." Fans who sit on those areas, for a flat price, are allowed unlimited concessions.

One might think that whether teams have such promotions, and whether fans choose to indulge, would be a matter of each individual's personal choice. Not so in modern America. USA Today reporter Michael McCarthy deems the practice "controversial." He quotes Christine Gerbstadt of the American Dietetic Association calling those who participate in this bit of fun "disgusting" and "insane." Responding to reported statistics related to average consumption, she adds, without any sense of jocularity, "This is something you do once in a lifetime, and pray you don't get a heart attack."

Remind me not to invite Ms. Gerbstadt to dinner.

The jeremiads in the article are based on the assumption that these consumers do this regularly, but this is almost certainly not the case. Rather, fans buy the tickets to get around the exorbitant cost of concessions, then make the decision to "get their monies' worth." It is likely that by next morning they decide never to do it again.

Of course, lessons learned by the next day are never enough for those who take on the role of national nanny.

Forrest Gump's America

In an article, and in a new book, Susan Jacoby laments that America is getting dumber, and the statistics she provides in support of that thesis are disturbing:

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book – fiction or nonfiction – over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing more than doubled between 1984 and 2004.... Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that from 1968 to 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate – featuring the candidate's voice – dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, it was down to just 7.8 seconds.

Voting for Obama, and Only for Obama

An analysis by the Dallas Morning News suggests that as many as 30% of voters favoring Barack Obama in the Texas Democratic Party primary did not vote in any of the other races, including a contest for the party's nomination for election to the U.S. Senate. That number differs significantly from the estimated 20% of Hillary Clinton's voters who did not vote in the other races.

The newspaper admits that its approach to this study was inexact. The reporters contrasted voting numbers from districts that favored Sen. Obama with those that provided a majority for Sen. Clinton. Nonetheless, the information should concern Democrats, as it raises the question of whether the large number of new voters that have come out for Sen. Obama will return to the polls in November if his name is not on the ballot.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The ClintonTalk Express

Hillary Clinton seems to be continuing to drop hints that she would like to have Barack Obama on her presidential ticket. Her saying this less than a week after the Texas primary leaves The Oracle confused:

Sen. Clinton won the popular vote in Texas, at least in part, by an exercise in fearmongering. She suggested that she was the only candidate who was ready to rise to the occasion at 3:00 a.m., and that Sen. Obama was not. Given that much of her argument as to why Democrats should vote for her, and not him, is based on the premise that she has the experience to do the job, and he does not, how could she with a straight face advance him as vice-president? She would be foisting upon the nation a candidate she has assured us is profoundly unprepared for the position.

Of course, it is easy for her to do it with a straight face. Shamelessness runs in the family.

Hat Tip: Knoxville Talks, by way of VV

Facetious Friday

Reading today of the advisor to Barrack Obama who has resigned her position in the wake of published remarks in which she referred to Hillary Clinton as a "monster" brought to mind an old joke from the days of the Soviet Union. Two friends ran into each other on the streets of Moscow, and the English translation of the conversation went something like this:

Boris: "Did you hear that a man ran through the Kremlin today screaming, "Brezhnev is a fool! Brezhnev is a fool!"

Vladimir: No, what did they do to him? Arrest him as a political prisoner and commit him to a mental asylum?

Boris: "No, they executed him for revealing a state secret."

Democrat Rules

With the Democratic Party having enough trouble determining who its nominee for President will be, the Dallas Morning News points out that no one will really know the final outcome of Texas' complicated primary and caucus system until June. While Hillary Clinton's thin popular vote victory yields her a four delegate advantage among delegates allocated by the primary, the final outcome of the caucuses, which choose a total of 67 delegates, will not be determined until June, when the county party conventions are held. According to the DMN's report:

"It is important to remember that what happened Tuesday night was the first step in a three-step process," said Hector Nieto, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. "The final allocation of the 67 delegates that the presidential candidates are vying for won't be determined" until the party's state convention in June.

Reasons for the delays in knowing the winner: while many of the caucuses have submitted their results, reporting is purely voluntary. In addition, if delegates do not actually show up for the county conventions in June, their votes will not count.

As of this writing, it is being widely reported that Barack Obama's victories at the caucuses will give him an overall 3 delegate victory in the state, but stay tuned.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Down with the Hatch

The generally knowledgeable and responsible Michael Silence asks if President Bush has "ever heard of the Hatch Act." While I cannot speak to what the President has heard of, I would question whether Mr. Silence has ever read it. 5 USCS § 7322 specifically excludes the President and Vice-President from the provisions that concern Mr. Silence.

Hat Tip: Volunteer Voters

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mutual Admiration

The inimitable Roger Abramson, who I have never met, was kind enough to plug my blog the other day. As I have long thought -- going back to his days as a token conservative at the Nashville Scene -- that Mr. Abramson is one of the most, if not THE most, engaging journalistic writers in middle Tennessee, I take that as high praise.

They Couldn't Run U.S. Ports; How about the New York Yankees?

Mark Cuban suggests that the decline of the U.S. dollar increases the likelihood of foreign investment in U.S. professional sports franchises. How that plays out would be interesting, to say the least.

The title of this post probably caused John Hutcheson to pass out! But could it really be worse than George Steinbrenner?

We Don't Need No Education

Anthony Bradley laments that, at least in the short term, the level of student loan indebtedness required is turning college into a bad investment. While that suggestion might at this point still be debatable, this point is not:

As the cost of a college education balloons, the capacity to pay back school loan debt has not followed suit. Many argue that federally subsidized loans are part of the problem. Because colleges are under no market constraints to control costs associated with tuition dollars administrators have been less responsible with budgets.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Is It a Recession?

It now is for The Oracle. My employer today eliminated about 40 positions, one of which was mine. My 7 and 1/2 years of employment with this company will conclude at the end of March.

If you're hiring, let me know!

The Difference Between McCain and the Democrats Quote of the Day

"Regardless of the doubts about Mr. McCain's conservative credentials at home, the thought of him in the White House strikes fear into authoritarian leaders everywhere."

-- Former world chess champion and Russian dissident Garry Kasparov. Mr. Kasparov's opinion piece contains numerous interesting observations about elections, both Russian and American, that make it a must read

Recommended: Jan Crawford Greenberg's "Supreme Conflict"

I just finished reading Jan Crawford Greenbergs' "Supreme Conflict." I thought it was an outstanding read.

The book, which is written in a way that is accessible for a general audience, is a survey of the attempt by conservative Republicans to re-direct the court going back to Ronald Reagan's appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor. Ms. Greenberg regards these efforts to have largely failed until recently due to the leftward drift of Justice O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, as well as the unmitigated disaster, from a conservative vantage point, of the appointment of David Souter to the Court. However, she contends that President George W. Bush's appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito may have succeeded in bringing about what his predecessors failed to accomplish.

While it might be argued that Ms. Greenberg (not to mention conservative partisans) overstate the liberalism of Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, it is clear that they fell short of conservative ideals, even while they moved the court more to the center and away from the extremes of the Warren Court.

This reviewer would quibble with Ms. Greenberg's characterization of the Bush v. Gore decision as deviating from the majority's philosophies of federalism and judicial restraint. To the contrary, the extra-legal power grab by the Florida Supreme Court left them with little choice. Otherwise, the book is outstanding. A couple of highlights:

1) The revelations related to Justice Clarence Thomas' role on the court. Justice Thomas has frequently been portrayed as Antonin Scalia's puppet, but Ms. Greenberg shows, relying heavily on the now released papers of Justice Harry Blackmun, that Justice Scalia frequently followed the leadership of his younger colleague.

2) The nuanced explanation of the disagreements of conservatives over the failed Harriet Miers nomination. Conservatives divided into two groups: those who wanted guaranteed results such as an overturning of Roe v. Wade; and those who wanted a commitment to judicial restraint. Those are two very distinct conservative approaches to the judiciary, and, because the approaches frequently lead to similar results, many non-conservatives fail to appreciate the important differences.

I thought the book made for an enjoyable read and highly recommend it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Will Mother Nature Revive the Clinton Campaign?

As Lone Star State voters prepare to go to the polls for their first meaningful presidential primary in a generation, north Texas is freezing over. By 7:00 pm this evening, it was sleeting in north Dallas, and at present a steady snow is falling outside The Oracle's humble abode.

While the snowy weather should clear out by tomorrow morning, it does raise questions about whether any lingering ice and snow will suppress voter turnout in the northern part of the state, where Barack Obama is hoping to pick up a clear majority in order to offset the expected advantage of Hillary Clinton in the more heavily Hispanic southern region.

Voters are already feeling snowed under by all of the commercials. The Oracle rarely watches television, so those cannot be commented on. However, in just over an hour in the car over the weekend, a series of commercials by both candidates were heard repeatedly. Sen. Obama is running an ad featuring a veteran explaining that he is the only candidate that has consistently opposed the war. Sen. Clinton is running with the theme that even though she doesn't inspire anyone, she knows how to get things done. Emily's List is also doing heavy buys in this market, with an ad featuring two Hispanic and one white voices, one of whom identifies themselves as a "reverend," explaining that she will make the economy better, make college cheaper, and generally bring about utopia.

One more day, and it will be mercifully over.

Doubling Down on a Bad Bet?

Mark Rogers notes that the new governor of Kentucky is ratcheting up an effort to open casinos in the state. Mr. Rogers encourages his own state of Tennessee to join in on the games, saying that it is crucial if the Volunteer state is to avoid losing entertainment dollars to its neighbor to the north. Perhaps he is right, but a few additional points need to be considered.

At some point, states are going to have to come to grips with their increasing reliance on this type of activity as an easy means of producing economic growth. Already, four states get over 10% of their revenues from gambling, and 17 get more than 5%. At some point, gambling will become sufficiently wide spread that returns will diminish. Additionally, one would think that eventually the novelty of putting tokens into slot machines will wear off.

Casinos are an option superior to state run lotteries primarily because they are not state run. Thus, states merely allow you to blow your money, rather than actively encouraging it. Nonetheless, it is not an economic activity that produces good paying jobs. One might well wish that the worm would turn on the trend toward its expansion.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Freedom of Religion, Speech, the Press, and Lobbying

Before discussing the dust-up over the New York Times' recent inept attempt to smear John McCain, Charles Krauthammer makes the correct and frequently ignored observation that lobbying is a practice that is protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees Americans the right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Of course, that doesn't mean that all lobbying should thrill us, any more than all exercises of free speech should make us happy. However, Mr. Krauthammer goes on to remind us that much of the "bad lobbying" has come about for a reason:

There is a defense of even bad lobbying. It goes like this: You wouldn’t need to be seeking advantage if the federal government had not appropriated for itself in the 20th Century all kinds of powers, regulations, intrusions, and manipulations (often through the tax code) that had never been presumed in the 19th Century and certainly never imagined by the Founders. What appears to be rent-seeking is thus redress of a larger grievance — insufferable government meddling in what had traditionally been considered an area of free enterprise.

That is a point well made, and it points to the best kind of political reform: conservatism -- not the kind of conservatism of Tom Delay and some of the ongoing Republican leadership in Congress, which has as its goal the rewarding through taxpayers of those enterprises that support Republican causes, but the sort of conservatism that legitimately believes in limited government.

Going for Broke While Morally and Politically Bankrupt

Most people who have followed -- or at least read about -- modern presidential politics will recall the famous ad run by Lyndon Baines Johnson against Barry Goldwater in 1964. The ad features a young girl playing in a field of flowers before a mushroom cloud begins to rise. Since that time, it has become more or less universally accepted that the commercial represents the worst in over-the-top political fearmongering.

This advertisement by Hillary Clinton is not as bad as that, though it does take a walk in that direction. That it was run against a fellow Democrat is rather remarkable.

Spinning out of Desperation

Immediately following Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton, based largely on an enormous advantage in the votes of Hispanics and elderly white women, held a double digit lead over Barrack Obama in Texas. She also held a substantial lead in Ohio.

Yesterday, Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson explained that "Senator Obama has every advantage going into Texas and Ohio and declared that if Sen. Obama does not win ALL FOUR elections (Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont) on Tuesday, it will say "something profound about Democratic unease." The comments were made on a conference call with reporters, so no one can be certain whether Mr. Wolfson managed to maintain a straight face. However, Christy Hoppe of the Dallas Morning News reported that Mr. Wolfson further explained that the failure to win all four races would suggest "buyer's remorse" on the part of Democratic voters.

Those statements can only be described as a desperate attempt to ward off calls for Sen. Clinton to suspend her campaign after Tuesday and to convince previously committed superdelegates that there remains some rationale for them to remain in her camp.

Perhaps next the Clinton campaign will float the idea that Sen. Obama must win every precinct for it to be a real victory?