Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Doing so Little with so Much Quote of the Day

"The folks at the National Center want us to think that the U.S. is so prosperous because we have such a great "investment" in higher ed — and had better keep raising it. The truth is closer to the reverse of that. Only a very affluent country could afford to have a higher-education system that costs so much and produces so little."

-- George Leef (HT: Kay Brooks)

Did Katrina Undo the Bush Administration?

According to this report on an article that will appear in Vanity Fair in January, former George W. Bush aides Matthew Dowd and Dan Bartlett argue that the President lost the country with the failures, real and perceived, related to the government's response to hurricane Katrina.

History will probably remember it this way, but that interpretation is overly simplistic and largely untrue. A fuller picture can be developed from looking at this polling data compiled by the Roper Center.

Mr. Bush's presidency began under the cloud of controversy surrounding his election in 2000. However, the country rallied behind him in the aftermath of 9/11, and in late 2001 his approval ratings peaked at around 90%. However, they began to steadily decline, and by mid 2004 polls were beginning to show approval rates in the high 40's. Mr. Bush would have lost the 2004 election had the Democrats not nominated such an extraordinarily weak and unattractive candidate.

The President's approval ratings continued their slide after the 2004 elections. The Katrina catastrophe hardened and accelerated that trend, but it did not undo the President. His undoing was already accomplished.

Of course, some Republicans would prefer to think that Katrina undid the Bush presidency, as that re-telling takes focus away from the broader failures of the administration.

Speaking for myself, the President lost me -- along with many other conservatives -- with his speech at his second inauguration. While I had been unenthusiastic about his expansion of the federal government through programs such as No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D, I had been willing to give him a pass for the most part. However, with the second inaugural address, a utopianism -- with regard to foreign and domestic policy -- usually associated with the left became more fully apparent. In the President's defense, his utopianism didn't end as badly as the other efforts at creating ideological heavens on earth over the course of the 20th century. Of course, that comparison doesn't set the bar very high.

Keep the Criticism Real

The Oracle was opposed to the auto bailout by the Bush administration and has even publicly pledged to never buy a GM or Chrysler vehicle again.

That being said, the criticism of Chrysler for having spent money on "thank you" ads is just plain silly.

Sure, the full page newspaper ads were expensive, but advertising is a significant and necessary expenditure for car companies, and, at the end of the day, these advertisements were intended to help rehabilitate the brand and sell cars. The ads may have taken the form of a thank you letter, but the PR purpose is a feel good ad creating some sort of positive feeling for the company.

I am not sure that any objective observer really believes that Chrysler is going to survive this, but that remains the intention of the bailout decision. They can't possibly survive if they don't sell cars, and selling cars requires advertising. As such, it is silly for critics to complain about their spending on this.

Oh, and I notice that one of the critics was Grover Norquist. While Mr. Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, frequently makes loud noises about limited government, his associations with corrupt Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff make him a far worse offender than Chrysler on the cynical waste of taxpayer money. It is galling that he remains a spokesman that people look to on these issues.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Unwieldy Talent

Back in April, when reports circulated that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was pursuing a trade with the Tennessee Titans for Adam "Pacman" Jones, I wrote the following:

The Oracle is betting that ... Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had developed an obsessive interest in trading for his precious, Pacman, will eventually find him uncontrollable, both on and off the field, and regret making this deal.

After a summer during which the Cowboys endlessly paraded the notion that their state of the art counselling and player support program would successfully reform the recidivist cornerback, he proceeded to be suspended for 6 games for an incident that included attacking in a hotel lobby bathroom the security guard who had been assigned the task of keeping him out of trouble. Then, in yesterday's season ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, at a point at which the game was still in reach, he helped the Eagles to 10 end of the half points by committing a 15 yard personal foul penalty and then, after the Eagles proceeded to score, fumbling the ensuing kickoff with only five seconds left in the half.

It is unknown whether Jerry Jones has booked a trip to the fires of Mordor to rid himself of his precious.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Random Acts of Narcissism

The Oracle, aka Ebeneezer, was wondering how he would spread his own brand of cheer on this Christmas morning -- and then he found it: a story in The Tennessean on the highly over-rated yuppee feel good "movement" known as "random acts of kindness." One might find it difficult to oppose something so momentously nice sounding as "random acts of kindness," but leave it to me to try.

Actually, I am not opposed to being kind to strangers, which is always a good thing. However, I am opposed to praising a type of giving that is only tangentially about helping someone else and that primarily exists for the purpose of helping the giver to feel good about himself, imagining himself to have done something of greater value than what the random act really represents.

Paying someone's toll doesn't make you Mother Theresa. And, while the story in The Tennessean includes a nice feel good account of a woman with only $5 in the bank getting a free cup of Starbucks coffee (who submitted the press release for that? presumably the church that is featured in the account), one suspects that these acts usually result in little lasting good. For every cup of coffee randomly bought for someone in Starbucks that turns out actually to be upper middle class, someone might buy a whole meal for a person who really needs it at the rescue mission.

And speaking of churches: no one should imagine that "random acts of kindness" is a Christian concept. Christian giving is sustained and sacrificial, not random. Its primary ends are the glory of God and compassion toward others, not feeling good about one's self. Because those are the primary ends, it doesn't require a press release to let every one know how much good one is doing.

The Oracle is not really as much of a Scrooge as he sounds. He just doesn't believe in random acts of kindness: he believes in intentional acts of sacrificial giving -- without press releases. And actually, while I am criticizing random acts, I probably should look for ways to do more of that kind of intentional giving myself.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Inauguration Satire

The announcement that Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States while placing his hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln resulted in frenzied activity, as activists scrambled to determine the views of the 16th President on gay marriage.

"Our lack of information about Lincoln's views on gay marriage, or how he would have urged people to vote on Proposition 8, is disturbing," said one gay activist. "First Warren, now this unknown. We supported Obama, and this is the thanks we get." According to one source inside the GLBT movement, leaders are incensed that they were not consulted about the decision to use the Bible of someone whose views were unknown. "We would have thought we would have a chance to veto a decision of this magnitude," he said.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008: Change, Baby, Change

A year ago, your humble correspondent described 2007 as "the year of our discontent." Discontented people are prone to want change, and the American people determined that, right or wrong, they would do something different in 2008. They elected Barack Obama President.

At the start of the year, pundits declared the New England Patriots and Hillary Clinton to be "inevitable." Inevitability proved to be over-rated as a concept in both instances. Barack Obama stunned the political establishment by winning Iowa. He lost New Hampshire after his icy comment that Ms. Clinton was "likable enough" helped garner sympathy for the challenger, but then he won a series of contests in February in the aftermath of Super Tuesday that all but clinched his primary victory. Just as with a chicken with its head cut off, death did not come quickly for the Clinton campaign, which acknowledged Mr. Obama's triumph by attempting to change the rules of the campaign after the fact, arguing that Mr. Obama could not win a general election, and contending that the Illinois Senator was not qualified to answer the phone in the White House at 3:00 a.m. For his part, Bill Clinton made a series of remarks that resulted in accusations, by Democrats, that he was an angry race baiter. Ultimately, Mr. Obama would react to these indignities by announcing that he would nominate Ms. Clinton to be his Secretary of State.

On the Republican side, the candidates failed to arouse slumbering voters. In fact, Fred Thompson, who had briefly excited some conservatives, lulled them back to sleep with his own inactivity. Eventually, he woke up long enough to exit the race. Rudy Giuliani decided to try to win by losing all of the early races. It was a strategy that could have worked in 1968, but not in any primary year since. Mitt Romney took a lot of positions that conservatives should have liked, but voters also noticed that he had come to all of those positions lately. A former Baptist preacher, Mike Huckabee, from Hope, Arkansas, of all places, excited social conservatives while annoying others with his unabashed populism. Oh, and Ron Paul excited the fringes on the internet. John McCain kept plugging away as the candidate who was a somewhat known quantity and who had a compelling life story, and ultimately Republicans decided it was the best that they could do.

While these and other candidates were running for office, things were going on in real life. People had been talking about a housing bubble for years, but its bursting came as a surprise to financial experts who did not know that housing prices ultimately might have something to do with the ability of people to afford them. It was a bad year for experts. The same ones who failed to see the coming of the housing mess also speculated that the price of oil, which reached $150/barrel in the summer, would run straight up to $200. In December, it fell below $40.

The price of food also skyrocketed in the summer, helped along by policies that encouraged putting corn into the nation's gas tanks. Congress attacked high food prices by passing legislation subsidizing already high prices for crops and paying farmers not to grow them. Similarly, when oil prices were high, Congress went home without doing anything before eventually passing a bill allowing drilling where oil is either non-existent or unreachable. Once gas prices fell, Congress went back to tilting at windmills. However, in Oregon, environmentalists, heretofore seemingly unaware that generated electricity had to get to those who used it, opposed windmill farms because they would require the erection of transmission lines. However, candidate Obama did have a proposal for dealing with high fuel costs. Warned at a campaign event that the people had no oil, Mr. Obama responded, "Then, let them inflate," or something to that effect.

However, one should not think that Congress did nothing in the first half of the year while the nation struggled. A House committee subpoenaed Roger Clemens in order to lecture him about truth telling and steroid use. Regarding agriculture issues, another committee explored the use of drugs by thoroughbreds. At the end of the year, having solved all of the important problems, some members of Congress would like to take up the issue of a national championship in college football.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose pen helped fell the Soviet Union, and William Buckley, whose writing helped foster modern American conservatism, reached the end of their days. On the journalistic front, Tony Snow, after a long battle with cancer, and Tim Russert, after a sudden heart attack, left this world. Michael Crichton also passed away.

For different reasons, it was a bad year for politicians. Democrats showed themselves anxious to prove that Republicans don't have a monopoly on scandal. Eliot Spitzer will be forever known as Client Number 9, and John Edwards ran around on his cancer stricken wife. Charles Rangel, who chairs the committee in charge of recommending changes to the tax code, blames his inability to understand that code for what looks to many like tax fraud. The Governor of Illinois heard that Sarah Palin had tried (legitimately) to sell a jet on e-bay, and he thought he might do the same with a U.S. Senate seat.

American education remains in disarray, and events in north Texas illustrate the chaos of schools nationally, as well as the national quest for mediocrity. A high school in Grapevine declined to honor a graduating student as its valedictorian because she had excelled too much, completing her requirements in three years instead of four. The Grand Prairie School District petitioned the state to allow it to teach less to students as a reward for learning -- they wanted to give up to 8 days off to students passing the state mandated TAKS exam. The Dallas Independent School District, which has had 7 superintendents in the last 11 years, suddenly discovered a structurally caused $86 million deficit and had to lay off 600 employees after the school year started.

Religion also suffered from notoriety. Barack Obama's pastor was caught on tape vehemently imploring God to condemn the nation to hell. John Hagee caused Mr. McCain consternation by referring to the Catholic Church as a harlot. Joel Osteen inspired conservative Christians through his dismissals of basic Christian truths -- such as sin and salvation. American Episcopal churches faced the unhappy choice of accepting the loss of biblical authority in their denomination or leaving their communions. To date, three dioceses have left. On a happier note, megachurch pastor Rick Warren proved to be the only debate moderator (in contrast to an enormous array of journalists otherwise filling the role) who seemed to be up to the task of helping the nation learn things about the candidates.

The state of Texas made national news by removing over 400 children living at a polygamist compound in the western part of the state and charging that every one of them was a victim of abuse. After spending millions of dollars on case management and legal costs, the children were ultimately returned home when the state failed in court to justify their seizure.

Proving that some things never change, the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908, again failed to win it in 2008. The Dallas Cowboys brought Pacman Jones to the city and, not to be outdone in the lack of character department, the Stars signed Sean Avery. Both players ended up serving suspensions for conduct away from the field of play. On the other hand, there were some inspiring stories. In football, the Giants of New York proved to be giant killers, slaying the previously unbeaten New England team. Michael Phelps now has won more gold medals than he can count on his fingers. Josh Hamilton came to Texas and inspired the nation with a great story of personal redemption. The Tampa Bay nine went to the World Series for the first time.

The fall political campaign began with a rock star style performance by Barack Obama that was soon eclipsed by the vice-presidential nomination of Sarah Palin. Ms. Palin had risen to the governorship of her state by beating back the political establishment and taking on political corruption while maintaining high popularity ratings, but the Washington elite deemed her incompetent because she didn't have a good interview with Katie Couric. Nonetheless, any momentum the Republicans had hoped for was stymied by the emergence of a financial crisis. The President, who was of the same party as those that had taken to calling Barack Obama a "socialist," worked with Democrats to approve $700 billion to do something -- no one is quite sure what -- with the financial services industry, or with the auto industry, or somewhere. Anyway, Barack Obama raced to his historic triumph in November. Republicans, ignoring the unpopular President, the unpopular war, and the financial crisis, wondered if they should blame John McCain or social conservatives for their crushing defeat. Most Americans, deeply concerned over the current recession, are hoping the incoming President does well. Politicians in both parties, and lobbyists representing every imaginable constituency, are positioning themselves with regard to plans to spend unprecedented amounts of money in the early days of 2009 in the name of economic stimulus.

2008 was not a great year for movies. In arguably the most entertaining light film of the year, an overly earnest, dull, average looking, middle aged egghead was married to Charlize Theron. In previous years, I would have considered that story line to be entirely implausible, but personal events this year have taught me that it can happen and have caused me to look forward to more changes in the coming year.

Both personally and otherwise, it will be interesting to see what 2009 will bring. Personally, it will be change. In the nation, one can be pardoned for hoping for a little more stability.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Casualness about Legality"

George Will aptly points out that the Bush administration's use (praised by congressional Democrats) of TARP money to bail out Chrysler and General Motors is either outside the scope of the TARP legislation and hence illegal, or it is a program essentially without limitations, meaning that Congress has further eroded its role as a lawmaking branch and rendered itself essentially irrelevant. All of the above possibilities should be disturbing to those interested in constitutional government.

Read it here.

"Perfectly Situated"

Did you know that an evangelical college is located on three floors of the Empire State Building? From the New York Times:

The school’s core curriculum is modeled on Oxford University’s politics, philosophy and economics degree, sidestepping subjects like creationism while embracing the conservative tenets of lower taxes and small government. Visitors whose views are at odds with the school’s principles have appeared at the college, including Christopher Hitchens, whose latest book is “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”

The college’s mandate, Mr. Mills said, is to encourage students to engage people with differing viewpoints, and ideally to shape public discourse “in a way that is winsome, and not screechy from the Christian right.”

The NYT report is generally balanced, though the reporters seem overly surprised that the school doesn't enforce separatist standards common among conservative Christian institutions in past generations and still practiced among a few isolated fundamentalist institutions.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog. The provost of the college, Marvin Olasky, who is quoted in the article, is also the editor of World Magazine.

Promising Nothing

A couple of weeks ago, President elect Barack Obama announced that he was demanding that his economic team put together a program that would create or save 2.5 million jobs over two year period. The announced goal is essentially meaningless, as there is no way to measure whether it is reached. We have ways of capturing the number of jobs created, but there is no way of knowing how many jobs will have been spared elimination by any Obama program.

In spite of its emptiness, the promise must have sounded good to the focus groups, because the Washington Post reports that Mr. Obama has raised the stakes, promising to "create or preserve" 3 million jobs. The promise remains meaningless.

Speaking of news that does nothing more than repeat talking points: is anyone tired of the reporting that states as fact that there is universal agreement among economists, liberal and conservative, that massive federal spending is required to pull the country out of a recession. For example, the same Washington Post report simply states as fact that "liberal and conservative economists [are] calling on the government to spend $800 billion to $1.3 trillion to stanch the bleeding....." Really? Economists all along the political spectrum agree that the federal government should create new spending equal to almost 30 - 50% of what once was the entire fy2008 federal budget? I don't think so.

The Obama administration is obviously wanting to portray massive new spending as being universally agreed upon in order to marginalize anyone who disagrees with this massive enlargement of government. It is certainly true that a recession is not regarded as the right time to be a deficit hawk, but the notion that this kind of massive program is what is required is controversial, to say the least.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The NFL Network

I don't normally receive the NFL Network as part of my cable package, but tonight's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Ravens was simulcast on a locally available station so I was able to watch. As someone who is used to the football broadcasts of the regular networks, I was shocked at how bad the production values of the NFL Network are.

I found the announcers to be tolerable, but the camera work was substandard, with the camera angles frequently entirely inadequate to be able to see the play develop. Graphics content was nonexistent.

To compare the broadcast to football telecasts from the 1960's would unfairly denigrate those who worked with the technology that was available 50 years ago. The NFL has a reputation for quality in most of what it does. That they broadcast a product that is this substandard is indeed surprising.

Car Dealers and Other Republicans Worthy of Scorn

A story in the Dallas Morning News informs us that area new car dealers who are also Republicans are "deeply disappointed" that Republicans in Congress temporarily defeated the GM and Chrysler bailout.

Yes, of course. That is why one becomes a Republican: in order to promote the expansion of the federal government into the private sector.

I may start drinking heavily this Christmas.

But, wait. On a brighter note, many Democrats now seem to believe in trickle down economics. They're still not much on tax cuts to spur economic growth, but they are now on the record in favor of giving lots of money to big corporations on the theory that it will trickle down and help save jobs.

Well, that's really not quite the same as supply side economics. Drinking is sounding increasingly like a good idea. After the unbelievable expansion of government under the Bush administration, when Republicans complain about the "socialist" policies of Barack Obama, they will justly be laughed out of town.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Scoop on the Texas House Speaker's Race

With more and legislators throwing their hat into the ring to be the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, the scoop is that even the most highly connected insiders in Austin admit privately that they have no idea what is going to happen when the legislature convenes in mid January.

This is disconcerting to many of those insiders. Without knowing who the speaker will be, they also do not know who will hold committee leadership positions. Lobbyists are hamstrung, because they don't know who to lobby.

If deals are being made, no one seems to know about it. If the voting is public, that will improve the chances of current speaker Tom Craddick prevailing. If the voting is secret, one jokester suggests that every legislator might get one vote.

Who Will Buy a Car from a Bailed out Auto Maker?

Domestic U.S. automakers have attempted to support receiving handouts from the federal government by presenting polls claiming that people would never buy a car from a bankrupt manufacturer. However, they have not asked the question of how much resentment would be created toward the companies by the fact of their taking of taxpayer dollars.

People tend to complain about the instant loss of value that takes place when a car leaves the dealer's lot, but in this instance GM and Chrysler are taking my money, and I'm not driving away with anything.

My next car may be a Ford. Based on today's announcement, I will never in all of my life buy a GM or a Chrysler. Never.

These companies have nowadays taken to the thought that they are "too big to fail." In my mind, a company that is so big that it can claim that the taxpayer is obligated to bail it out to prevent the economy from crumbling is too big to exist.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"father murdered by uncle, raised by 2-male heads of household"

Jae Ran Kim takes a look at many of the most most beloved Disney characters and finds that almost all of them came from troubled families. It is kind of interesting to note the extent to which that is the case.

Hat Tip: Joe Carter

"Many conservatives appear to be tired, their ideas exhausted."

Paul Weyrich, a conservative leader who was the first president of the Heritage Foundation, died today after a lengthy illness. Earlier this year, Mr. Weyrich wrote:

Today, I am sorry to report, the majority of Americans are convinced that government is the solution. It isn't, of course, but by time the public again is convinced that government is the problem it may well be too late. Conservatives gave up some of their principles in order to retain power. The public has lost confidence in the conservative movement.


Barack Obama's choice of the Rev. Rick Warren to say the invocation at his inauguration infuriates the 10% on the far left who hate Mr. Warren for opposing gay marriage and the 10% on the far right who take it as evidence that the pastor is really a closet liberal. That leaves only 80% who think that the selection seems somewhere between nice and outstanding.

For a perceptive explanation of how this issue in a small way fits into Mr. Obama's overall political approach, see A.C. Kleinheider here.

Republicans, especially those wedded to the approach advocated by an array of talk radio hosts such as Sean Hannity and the execrable Mark Levin, this past year urged a sledgehammer campaign attempting to corner Mr. Obama as a left wing fanatic with questionable associations. Some conservatives think that Mr. Obama only won because Republicans did not do more of that sort of thing. The President elect is more liberal than one might wish, but he is too smart to be pigeon-holed in that way. If that is all that the Republicans have, chances are strong that we will eventually be speaking of the event held on January 20, 2009 as President Obama's "first inauguration."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Violin Tears

A chorus of angels vibrated on the strings of the small, hallow instrument cradled under the jaw of the young man. He closed his eyes as he felt every note drawn by his bow across the Stradivarius. He had announced that it would be the last time for him to play that violin, and he could not afford another.

The Stradivarius had been a gift from his parents, but when he chose to use his talents for the purpose of his faith in Christ, they decided to take the violin back. He played for the last time at the Christian school I attended when I was a Freshman as the attorney for the musician's parents waited patiently for the concert to finish.

His sacrifice had angered me because I felt it ridiculous for any artist to give up his dream and because a world that could be touched was being robbed of the sound of angels. Along with the anger, I also felt an inspiration as the music wafted through my soul. I felt a desperate desire to one day reach the heavens with such a sound. However, I had been told my entire life by the musical prodigy that gave me life that I was tone deaf and devoid of musical talent, so I kept silent and never mentioned my longing to her.

Years later, as an adult, I cried while listening to violins play, and I relayed the story of the young man that had performed at my school. Soon I was given a student violin for my birthday, and lessons were arranged. Almost a month went by before I started the lessons, and I would daily walk past the delicate instrument and stare with longing, almost afraid to touch it. When the lessons finally began, I played daily to the great annoyance of my family. Two years went by as my ability grew with my love for music. I had also traded in my student violin for the best one that I could afford- a wonderful instrument that I have cherished. When my son was born, I had been working on my favorite piece of music- Pachelbel's "Kanon" in D major along with another of my favorites- Beethoven's "Fur Elise". The high-pitched tones of the violin bothered my baby's ears, so I quit playing.

He's four and a half now, and I picked up my instrument for the first time in years the other day, and I am sure the sound of small cats feeding an owl would have been more pleasant. Despite the disappointing welcome back into the world of music, the passion has grabbed a hold of me once again, and even as I am writing this, I feel the music calling me. In fact, today I made a sacrificial commitment to this art- I clipped all the fingernails of my left hand. Now I am ready to make angels cry.

Blagojevich Wins Today in Court, and It's a Good Thing

The Illinois Supreme Court declined today to take up the issue of whether the Governor of the state remains fit for office. That is a good thing.

Attorney General Amy Madigan, on a desperate quest for a rationale for what most people want to do, submitted a widely panned brief relying on a dictionary definition, without any real effort at legal interpretation, to have the Governor removed because of "disability." Unfortunately for her, the term, as used in the state's Constitution, almost certainly refers to a mental or physical disability that prevents the office holder from effectively fulfilling the duties of the office.

While having to go through appropriate processes is frustrating, our political culture is becoming dangerously wed to the notion that claims of a crisis, whether real or imagined, require the suspension of appropriate processes and deliberations. Thus, Congress rushed to pass a bailout bill providing very little oversight and providing the Secretary of the Treasury with virtually unlimited power.

One suspects that Governor Blagojevich will be removed in the not so distant future. While one might wish it were sooner rather than later, the Illinois court was right to insist that it be done according to the law.

Embracing Beauty Inspired by Faith

Last night, I attended a performance by the Dallas Bach Society of Handel's Messiah. I try to attend a presentation of Messiah each year at Christmas, as I love the music. In addition to Messiah's musical brilliance, for anyone with ears to hear, it offers a remarkably clear presentation of what the message of Christianity is all about. I am not breaking the music down technically, but, roughly, Messiah can be outlined as follows (with one example from each section):

Promise of a Deliverer (Comfort Ye)
Fulfillment in the Birth of Jesus (For unto Us a Child Is Born)
Death of the Savior (Behold the Lamb of God)
Resurrection (Hallelujah)
The Meaning of It All (O Death, Where Is Thy Sting)
The End of the Age (Worthy Is the Lamb)

It is a tour de force expressing what Christianity is about, both Old Testament and New Testament, from the beginning to the end of the age. However, I have noted through the years that a large proportion of those who perform and attend these concerts do not describe themselves as Christians, and an even larger number are not evangelical in their faith. While many of them do not accept for themselves the message delivered in the music, they do appreciate the beauty of art produced during an era when western Christians, or persons whose worldview was informed by Christian themes, produced wonderful works of art as a part of their callings.

The sad irony of that is that many non-Christians appreciate this magnificent work far more than many Christians, some of whom sit in their culturally impoverished homes complaining about the "cultural elite." They should get out more.

Throwing it out there

Way too much attention has been given to the shoe throwing incident of last week, but I couldn't help laughing at this offering by a reader of Jay Nordlinger:

If you play baseball, you know that your first reaction to anything coming toward you is to catch it. I give high marks to the president for being quick on his feet, but I’d hate to think he’s lost some of his baseball mojo. Ah, if only he’d caught the second shoe and, in the same motion, hurled it back. That would have been something to behold.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Right to a Secret Ballot

The Hill reports that tech companies are becoming very active on the issue of "card-check," a union backed proposal likely to be pushed by Democrats in Congress that would deny workers the right to a secret ballot. Under the union proposal, unions could organize based on signatures on an open petition. Elections by secret ballot would no longer be required.

When thinking about this, I am reminded of the current controversy over selection of a Speaker of the House in Texas. The current speaker, Tom Craddick, is an imposing figure, and a number of legislators have told the press that they wish they could vote for speaker by secret ballot.

That brings to mind the question: if legislators fear retribution for voting the wrong way in an election, doesn't it stand to reason that workers might have similar concerns? The right to a secret ballot -- in political elections, and in union elections -- is an important one.

It's Cold: Just Deal with It

I realize that I live in the south and that people don't know how to deal with a little ice on the bridges, but am I the only one that tires of traffic and weather reporters on radio and television that talk of a dusting of frozen precipitation as though the onset of Armageddon has arrived.

Fear Based Medicine?

These days, men above a certain age are urged to have regular screenings for prostate cancer, even if they have no syptoms or family history. Is it really worth it? Before answering, you may want to look at the evidence:

The ugly truth about prostate cancer testing is it doesn't work. The most common test, a blood test known as PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) is terribly inaccurate. Men who have been tested have no better survival rate than men who have not. ....

OK, so what's the problem? Men get tested, no harm no foul? Actually there are lots of problems. First they aren't free - PSA tests range in cost from $70 - $200, dollars that could be saved or spent on more effective medical services. OK, what happens if you decide the heck with the cost, I'm going to get a PSA test. The PSA level can be abnormal even when a man does not have prostate cancer. Seventy percent of positive PSA tests are false positives; the patient does not have prostate cancer. (if you test negative, there's only a one-to-two percent chance you still have prostate cancer.) Of course, those who test positive worry about the result, and think they may well have cancer. I don't know how to place a value on peace of mind, but anyone who has worried about a positive cancer test certainly knows how scary it is.

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

He's Right about That

Saddleback Community Church pastor Rick Warren explains why evangelicals focus so much on homosexuality: we're self-righteous. He says:

“We always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than being overweight? Why do we hear more about anything else besides wasting time or gossip? … ‘My sins are perfectly acceptable. Yours are hideous and evil.’”

He's correct, and Christians need to learn the lesson to be more concerned about the two-by-four in our own eyes instead of the speck in someone else's.

A Dark Path

We have an example in the 1930's as a time when Americans embraced and approved of policies that in actuality prolonged economic weakness. Marvin Olasky asks whether it could happen again. He writes:

What if Obama is operating by a new paradigm, with the serious goal of stabilizing happiness by eliminating "chance" (as much as is humanly possible)? What if he's thinking as an imaginative political strategist rather than an economic logician? He clearly needs to stabilize the economy to maintain his popularity, but rapid economic improvement (even if that were possible) would let the moneychangers back into the temple. Might it be better to push for less wealth but also less envy, because the days of most people getting richer but the rich getting much richer will be gone?

That's contra-rational in terms of average economic gain, but what if that's politically popular?

The scenario seems disconcertingly possible.

Well Written Rockwellian Nonsense

Peggy Noonan is such a good stylist that sometimes it is easy to think that she writes beautiful prose that bears no resemblance to reality. That was my thought when reading this week's column.

I still wish I could write that well, though.

Obama Administration Will Result in More Jobs on K Street

Robert Samuelson writes that the number of lobbyists at work in Washington will increase dramatically during the Obama administration. All Americans should be glad.

The reason that the number of lobbyists will increase is that the Obama administration stands ready to change and expand the role of government in a variety of ways -- through a "stimulus package," health care reform, energy and transportation reform, climate change legislation and a variety of other ways. Mr. Samuelson says that these plans run counter to the only one way to eliminate lobbying, which he says is to eliminate government. Actually, there is a second way to reduce, if not eliminate lobbying, which is to put government out of reach of people. The elimination of government is anarchy, and an inaccessible government means tyranny. Neither of these solutions is good.

While many people want to vilify those who try to influence government policy as "special interests," Mr. Samuelson is right about this:

We are a collection of special interests, and one person's special interest is another's job or moral crusade. If people can't organize to influence government -- to muzzle or shape its powers -- then democracy is dead. The "will of the people" is rarely observable because people disagree and have inconsistent desires. Of course, the "public good" should always triumph, but what represents the public good is usually debatable. The idea that the making of these choices should occur in a vacuum -- delegated to an all-knowing political elite -- is profoundly undemocratic. Lobbyists sharpen debate by providing an outlet for more constituencies and giving government more information.

It is the role of elected officials to debate and decide what is in the public good. When they fail to do so, they should be held responsible by voters. It is the role of all of us -- as individuals or through groups -- to try to influence government in ways that we think best. The First Amendment right to do that must be held sacrosanct.

Tennessean Abuses Power

I'm not going to link to it, because I find it too irritating, but the newspaper of record in Nashville seems to find a need to publish online every month or two a database that it accessed or compiled under the state's freedom of information act that lists the salary of every state employee by name. Not just high level employees or appointees -- everybody.

Is this public information? Sure, and there is an argument that salary information must be public so that abuses could be identified, but how many of us would like to have our salaries published online, with new links publicized with some frequency by the local newspaper? I wouldn't.

By using this information abusively and irresponsibly, The Tennessean makes its own argument against open government. In so doing, they disgrace their profession.

The Trouble with Health Care Reform

For anyone who would like to read something brief that captures the problem facing those who would like to reform the health care system while containing costs, I would recommend starting here.

For that matter, it is a great read for anyone concerned about health care in general, or their own health care in particular.

Too much of medical care is not managed -- by physicians, payers, or anyone else -- and it is disconcerting to health care consumers to realize how much of the care that is delivered is unnecessary based on medical evidence. On the other hand, too frequently medical management means financial management, as opposed to management of the health care, and that leads us down a bad path, as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

She Told the Truth and They Called it Negative

The opponent of Rod Blagojevich in the last gubernatorial campaign hit the nail on the head. View the last two videos here.

Looking for a Good Ole Boy

Should disgraced Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich give into reality and resign, he will be replaced by Lt. Governor Pat Quinn. Mr. Quinn, also a Democrat, has a reputation as an outsider who has made his career outside Chicago machine politics. In most states that would be considered a strength given recent history, but The Hill suggests that Democrats are quietly raising concerns:

Quinn is a wild card in the ordinarily well-ordered deck of Chicago machinepolitics, someone who has built his political career on challenging theestablishment rather than playing along, according to Illinois politicalobservers."He's been kind of an outsider.

People have described him as a gadfly," saidEric Adelstein, a Democratic consultant based in Chicago. Quinn, Adelstein said, is "somebodywho's fought the system."

That unnerves some in the Chicago machine who would be uncomfortable withQuinn choosing a senator. At least a few top Democrats seem willing to risklosing the seat to Republicans rather than allowing Quinn to have his way.

One wonders exactly what it takes for the political class of a state to make up its mind that business as usual is not acceptable.

The Obama Express

While some pundits have pointed to the centrists who have been announced as part of Barack Obama's administration as evidence that he will tack a pragmatic course, Charles Krauthammer points out that those appointees tend to be found in areas that are not important to the President elect's ambitious plan to remake government. In fact, Mr. Krauthammer argues that conditions are ripe for Mr. Obama to push hard with a leftist agenda:

Ironically, when the economy tanked in mid-September, it was assumed that both presidential candidates could simply forget about their domestic agendas because with $700 billion drained by financial system rescues, not a penny would be left to spend on anything else.

On the contrary. With the country clamoring for action and with all psychological barriers to government intervention obliterated (by the conservative party, no less), the stage is set for a young, ambitious, supremely confident president -- who sees himself as a world-historical figure before even having been sworn in -- to begin a restructuring of the American economy and the forging of a new relationship between government and people.

Unfortunately, Mr. Krauthammer is likely correct. As an example, while many analysts have assumed that budgetary constraints will limit health care reform in the short term to low hanging fruit such as expanding SCHIP, my sources tell me that the new administration and its congressional allies plan to move full speed ahead with massive reform.

A Rant

Just as I was almost finished carrying 150 pounds of dialysis solution (not all at once), one of the nurses said to me, "I wish I didn't have to work hard, unlike you." Huh? While, I freely admit I have not worked in the physically demanding position of a floor nurse in almost nine years, research certainly has its own demands. These demands I do not need to explore because I am very well aware of what they are and the detailed responsibilities that accompany a job that requires one to be a sales person, pharmacist, regulatory specialist, vendor liaison, patient and staff educator, and a nurse. What I would like to view more in depth is how others denigrate white collar jobs that are not as physical as others. How many have heard or even whined themselves about how someone's boss does nothing while the subordinates slave away doing all of the work in the company? For example: construction workers may realize the building won't get built without them, but they would be short-sighted in believing it was only being built by their hard work. It also takes vision, architects, blue prints, and someone in an office coordinating scheduling, materials, investors, etc.

I don't want to dismiss the service and labor industries. The people that work in the fields are vital resources and should be appreciated, but those same people need to understand that we all work, and a less physical job may have untold responsibilities and pressures those who have never been in that position will never understand.

While moving dialysate is the most physical my job ever gets; it's also the easiest. It's true that while the dialysis nurses and technicians are on their feet performing direct patient care, I'm sitting in my office, but how much understanding or willingness to care about the work that goes into every single person I screen for a study is there? Do they know the frustration of spending hours on obtaining all the information required for the pharmaceutical companies on each patient only for at least half of the patients to fail screening? Do they even want to know an hour was wasted convincing a drug company that a two week supply of medication only lasts two weeks? Yes; that really happened.

I wonder how that same nurse would react if she was told by one of the patient techs how much harder they work than the nurses?

Mea Culpa

When the debate in Congress over whether to give Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson $700 billion with which to bail out the financial industry began, I reluctantly sided with those who argued that Congress should approve the funds. I was wrong.

That is not to say that I am agreeing that an infusion of cash into the system was not necessary. It may well have been. However, in this circumstance, Congress did two things that almost always should send up red flags: it adopted significant legislation on the fly, and it gave virtually unlimited powers to the executive branch to spend an enormous amount of money.

Thus, the $700 billion started out as a way to buy up bad mortgages, then it was going to buy stock in banks, then it was going to help out with credit cards and other things, too. Now, part of that money is going to be used for automobile manufacturers, after the U.S. Senate rejected spending funds on their bailout. The fact is that they can do pretty much whatever they want.

Thus, the approval of the $700 billion has resulted in a seizure of power unprecedented at any time in American history, with the possible exception of powers deemed necessary due to the conduct of a war.

If the system required liquidity, Congress needed to provide it in a way that created limitations and required accountability. What happened should not be allowed in a constitutional government.

Defending the Indefensible

Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has seemingly become so overwhelmed with her new found role as enemy of hoi poloi that she will excuse any kind of boorishness or aberrant behavior if criticism of it arises from the supposed enemy of good sense, the blogosphere.

Thus, Ms. Parker defends Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, who famously was caught on camera recently groping the breast area of a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton while an acquaintance pretended to grab Ms. Clinton by the hair and pour beer down her throat.

Ms. Parker rues the loss of "low tech America" and laments that "no one's having fun anymore."

All of which causes one to wonder how drunk an adult has to be to consider groping a cardboard cutout to be either fun or funny? Drunk enough to imagine that Ms. Parker writes well?

Cheap shots aside, in all of my days of walking down malls and seeing life sized cutouts of celebrities, it never occurred to me to entertain either myself or my fellow mall walkers by grabbing said cardboard in certain places. Has it ever occurred to any normal person above, say, age 12? Either extreme amounts of alcohol or some sort of mental illness would have to be involved.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the internet is sometimes abused to put people on the defensive needlessly. This is not one of those cases. Technology in this instance has not unreasonably imposed standards of decency; it has exposed a lack of them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is it possible?

I don't usually like to speculate, but since this speculation would be of a favorable nature, I will take a shot.

Some people are attempting, unsuccessfully it seems to me, to tar President-elect Obama with dirt from Governor Blagojevich.

However, when this story completely unfolds, is there not some possibility that the President elect's team participated in tipping off investigators that the Governor was attempting to shake them down.

It may not have happened, but it is possible.

"Out, &#@%ing spot"

Lady McBlago sounds rather cutthroat in those transcripts of conversations recorded by the FBI. Mimicking the tone of many other frustrated Cubs fans, she told her husband to demand that an advisor "hold up that ****ing Cubs ****. . . **** them.”

However, the recordings must be deceptive. Lady McBlago's father insists that she is just a "devoted wife...going through a rough time."

The Advocates of the Bailout Must Be Getting Desperate....

Harry Reid was on the Senate floor playing the Christmas card.

Need a new job? Try a sandwich board

After a year of being laid off by the investment bank Houlihan Lokey, Joshua Persky took the extreme approach of job hunting. Wearing a smart, well made suit, Persky looked as though he belonged in a board room, except that in his job search, he wore a board- a sandwich board boasting the words, "MIT grad for hire". His innovative style finally caught the attention of Elliot Ogulnick of the Manhattan firm Weiser LLP. As of last week, Persky is now the new senior manager for Weiser.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rod Blagojevich or Tony Soprano? You Make the Call

For a quiz with quotes from each, see here. Anyone familiar with either character should realize that the language is not suitable for grown ups.

Hat Tip: DMN Opinion Blog, where a commenter reasonably asks, "What the $&%^& ever happened to 'expletive deleted'?"

Road Trips

For a video of my co-blogger and I on a road trip, see here.

I apologize for the colorful language in the video, but it is just too funny to pass up. It starts a bit slow, but if the viewer hangs in, he will find it hilarious.

Teasing and Bullying: Distinctions with a Difference

Writing for the New York Times Magazine, Cal-Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner reminds us that teasing is not the same thing as bullying or harassment. The failure to distinguish teasing from more negative behaviors, and the resulting rejection of teasing as an appropriate social interaction, is emotionally and socially impoverishing for both children and adults. Regarding the former group, Dr. Keltner concludes:

In seeking to protect our children from bullying and aggression, we risk depriving them of a most remarkable form of social exchange. In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas. No kidding.

The loss of the ability to tease in constructive ways is also detrimental to adults, including romantic couples. He writes:

In seeking to protect our children from bullying and aggression, we risk depriving them of a most remarkable form of social exchange. In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas. No kidding.

The article is very much worth reading.

Hat Tip: Ann Althouse

How People Learn

Sometimes, things that we think we know because they are commonly referenced authoritatively turn out not to be true. For example, statistics about how people remember things turn up in all kinds of educational and corporate training materials, but they turn out not to be based on any actual research.

Hat Tip: Stuart Buck

People without Day Jobs

A group of environmentalist advocates with nothing better to do dressed up like Santa Claus and some elves for the purpose of delivering lumps of coal and bundles of switches to executives at the Tennessee Valley Authority. The video is here.

Whenever I get distressed at the antics of some conservatives, I find it helpful to realize that the far left can be just as bad or worse.

When High Culture and Pop Culture Were Closer

L. Gordon Crovitz takes a look back at the "Great Books of the Western World," a 54 volume set published in the 1950's that ultimately sold more than 1 million copies and inspired countless Americans to attend lectures and join discussion groups. To those who compiled the series, western literature had value for all Americans and was not to be relegated to study by academic elites. University of Chicago President John Maynard Hutchins explained:

"The best education for the best is the best education for all. I am not saying that reading and discussing the Great Books will save humanity from itself, but I don't know anything else that will."

Two unfortunate changes in our culture have conspired to relegate such thinking to the distant past: the acceptance by much of our society of the leftist notion that dead white males don't deserve any special attention for what they might have written and the dissipation of attention spans to the point where many people no longer accept either the possibility or the value of sustained thought. We as a culture have been impoverished as a result.

When Kissing, Proceed With Caution

I feel bad for the woman's loss of hearing, but I can't help but think, that must have been some kind of kiss!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cuban on the Auto Bailout

While I don't think that his proposed solutions will ever see the light of day, Mark Cuban is correct that the dire predictions about what will happen if the "Big Three" automakers disappear are vastly overstated. Cars will continue to be manufactured in the United States:

The reality of markets is this, If GM, Ford and Chrysler disappeared that doesn’t mean the demand for cars will disappear. We will still buy cars. The question is what brand we will buy, where will those cars be built, by what company and how many jobs will be created to fulfill the demand ? According to Cars.com the Toyota Camry is built in Lafeyette Indiana and has more than 75pct American Components. The Honda Civic is built in the US with more than 70pct of US made components. The Big 3 are not the only manufacturers making cars in the US. If they go away, buy American Made could still survive.

Mr. Cuban suggests alternatively, that either the automakers should be offered up for sale to Toyota or Honda similar to what has happened in the financial services industry or that they should be forced into bankruptcy under conditions that provide guaranteed warranty and repair protections to consumers.

No Veritas Allowed

Former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary and current Barack Obama economic advisor Larry Summers famously was forced out as President of Harvard University after suggesting that the relative lack of women professors in the scientific disciplines might result in part from inherent genetic differences between men and women. He did not say that was the only factor, but it was one possible contributor.

As Washington Post syndicated columnist Ruth Marcus points out, Mr. Summers' statements were consistent with current research. A somewhat higher number of males than females have test scores placing them in the highest percentile in math. In fact, such tests reveal that males are somewhat more likely to be either really smart or really stupid. Females, like males, can be found on all points on the spectrum, but they are a bit less likely to be found at the extremes.

Yet, in a statement that reveals how bizarre American society has become, Ms. Marcus concludes that Mr. Summers was "boneheaded" to make those statements because of "the job that he held." Really? He was the President of an Ivy League university. So, a bastion of academic inquiry is not a place where one can be bold about theoretical formulations or the pursuit of truth?

Hat Tip: Michael Barone

The Senatorial Circus

Nicole Stockdale points out that although Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested and charged with taking bribes in connection with the appointment of a U.S. Senator to replace President elect Barack Obama, he remains governor and, as such, is the one person with the legal responsibility to make the appointment.

One suspects at the end of this someone will be appointed with a squeaky clean reputation (if such a person can be found in Illinois) to serve out the term and not seek re-election.

Job Losses Leading to Recovery

See it here.

Paradise Past

Mickey McClean notes that today marks the 400th birthday of the great English poet John Milton.

I regret that I have not read Paradise Lost. Perhaps I will try to take it up next year.

From the Governor's House to the Big House

Given that disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's immediate predecessor, George Ryan, Sr., went to prison after leaving office as a result of improprieties committed during his administration, I was wondering what is the record for most consecutive governors to go to the slammer?

Surely, some state has had two -- New Jersey or Louisiana maybe? Does any state have three?

How To Talk To Girls

According to 9-year-old Alec Greven, be sure to comb your hair and don't wear sweats. This precocious pint-size cutie wrote the latest book of love. After observing how not to approach girls by his fourth-grade peers, Greven decided to write a common sense pamphlet and sell it at his school's book fair. It was soon picked up by Harper Collins and now Fox Broadcasting has acquired the film rights to the self-help tome.

More sage advice to be garnered from the book is be wary of pretty girls, and control your "hyperness".

However, for me the biggest shocker is that someone possessing of the y chromosome was observant.

Here a Trillion, There a Trillion

Talk of an enormous "stimulus package" continues to gain momentum. What began as a $300 billion dollar idea is now being bandied about as a Trillion Dollar plan, as members of Congress get giddy over the opportunity to do what they do best -- spend other people's money. In this instance, it is a lot of our children and grandchildren's money, as all of this is deficit spending.

Has anyone thought about the numbers of dollars being poured into this? $150 billion in tax rebate dollars back in the spring. $700 billion to the financial services industry. Now, $1 Trillion in infrastructure spending to the states. The auto industry feels slighted that they are being nickled and dimed over their request for a relatively paltry $50 billion.

Add all of this up, and we are approaching $2 trillion in spending for stimulus. Given that the entire federal budget for FY2008 was supposed to be less than $3 trillion, does anyone think that we might look back on this one day and decide it was a bit excessive? If we spend $2 trillion on stimulus, that would be more than the entire federal budget in the last year of the Clinton administration.

If none of that gives the reader pause, perhaps the reader should note these comments about the proposed state stimulus package, taken from a report in the Dallas Morning News:

"If they are going to hand out this kind of money, we are sure not going to walk away from it," said Texas Transportation Commission member Ted Houghton of El Paso. "Not if 49 other states are lining up for the money. ... Whether it's the right thing to do, that is an entirely different question."

But even as officials at every level have begun compiling wish lists for what California Sen. Barbara Boxer said Monday could be a $1 trillion spending program, few details of the stimulus effort have emerged other than its eye-popping price tag and a consensus that it should be spent quickly....

"We're playing the cards that are being dealt us," said Coby Chase, top governmental affairs official at TxDOT. "This may or may not be the highest and best use of these transportation dollars, but at this time, that's not the point of the money. The package is aimed at stimulating the economy."

Meanwhile, proving once again the axiom that if you talk about spending it, they will come, the Washington Post describes a "lobbying frenzy for federal funds" descending on Washington.

It is generally understood that deficit hawks don't define policy during economic downturns, but members of Congress and the incoming administration, anxious to dig our way out of a hole, are passing out shovels with an unseemly enthusiasm. Perhaps they'll dig a hole to China.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Shouldn't Post this, but....

While in Galveston over the weekend, I saw all kinds of debris that had washed up following Hurricane Ike. However, none of these items evidently lost at sea were noted.

Need a Bailout?

Here's a copy of the federal application.

By the way, I noted that mayors seeking a piece of the federal pie would like for us not to call it a "bailout" (HT: Post Politics). In the interest of fairness, I promise in the future to say that the mayors are seeking a handout.

Public Service Announcement for Young Men Christmas Shopping

Men, be very afraid.

On Straight Party Voting and Judicial Elections

I would vote in favor of this pair of suggestions:

1. Stop electing judges.
2. End straight-ticket voting.

I argued in favor of the latter of those proposals here.

As to the former, while those advocating the appointment of judges will inevitably accused of being anti-democratic, judicial elections are farcical because the candidates, unlike those for other offices, are prevented by judicial ethics from stating what positions they will take while in office. Every person who comes before a court has the right to a hearing before an impartial judge, and even the pretense of impartiality is lost if a judge has declared himself out on the campaign trail.

Additionally, too many voters are prone to think of judges in the same way that they think of legislators. Judges must not only consider ends, but they must also consider means to ends when deciding cases. That is too infrequently understood by Americans who failed to learn much in their high school civics classes.

Judges should be appointed, not elected.

First, Ignore the Harm

Those debating public policy often find ways to ignore inconvenient facts, but Drs. David Blumenthal and James Morone take brazen irresponsibility to rarely seen levels while arguing in favor of major health care reform in a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The piece goes into a fair amount of detail in describing how President Lyndon Baines Johnson fought for creation of the Medicare program before stating:

Cavalier as Johnson may sound here, especially in light of the huge subsequent costs of these programs, his comments signal an unpleasant reality worth pondering: Johnson underestimated the numbers and evaded economic projections to smooth the passage of Medicare and the rest of his Great Society program. An accurate economic forecast might have sunk Medicare. Moreover, Francis Bator, a national security aide to Johnson at the time, recently asserted that during 1965 Johnson also suppressed news of the escalation of the Vietnam War and its attendant costs so that Congress would not question whether the nation could afford the president's Great Society initiatives.

They then proceed to urge the Obama administration and lawmakers to take a similar approach to health care reform in 2009:

The expansion of health care to large populations is expensive, and presidents may need to quiet their inner economists. Johnson decided, in effect, to expand coverage now and worry about how to afford it later. Accurate cost estimates might very well have sunk Medicare. In fact, this generalization holds across every administration from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. Major expansions of health care coverage rarely fit the budget and generally drew cautions (and often alarms) from the economic team.

There is a legitimate debate in the United States over the role of the U.S. government in providing health care. That debate requires honesty on the part of all participants regarding the costs of all options, including the cost of doing nothing. The United States already faces a looming generational crisis over entitlement programs. It would be grossly irresponsible to add cavalierly to that crisis. The approach taken by Drs. Blumenthal and Morone can not be accepted by anyone who cares about the future of American health care.

Hat Tip: Joe Paduda

On Osteen and Serpents

Flipping channels early yesterday morning, I came across the television broadcast of Joel Osteen. Watching for about five minutes confirmed me in my impression that what he teaches does not bear even a remote resemblance to Christianity.

Given that Mr. Osteen is an exceptionally popular teacher who claims to be and is generally regarded as a Christian pastor, that statement sounds both rash and harsh, so I should defend myself. While Christian teaching gets into a great many things, at its foundation Christianity can be summarized in three words: God saves sinners. Thus, the Christian message is that a holy God has brought undeserving people into a relationship with Himself by means of the Cross. As the Apostle Paul explained it, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them...." (II Cor. 5:19, ESV). This is not everything Christianity teaches, but it is at the heart, and I would suggest that everything else flows out of this basic thought.

Yet, Mr. Osteen freely acknowledges that he does not talk about sin in his teaching because he worries that it will cause people to feel bad about themselves. Without a message about sin, there is no need for a Savior, and, so, the core message of Christianity becomes irrelevant in the context of Mr. Osteen's emphasis on positive thinking or positive living or whatever positive thing he's talking about. Of course, there is nothing wrong with thinking positively, as long as one is also thinking realistically, but one does not need Christ or the Cross to do it.

Somehow, it gets even worse. Yesterday as I watched, Mr. Osteen smiled broadly with what I guess some people regard as charm as he explained to his audience that many people tell him that, even though they don't like television ministries, they just don't seem to be able to turn his program off. He then explained that he knows why that is. He says he has claimed them. He has spoken positive words, and so his viewers are bound to be attracted to him.

Mr. Osteen was using his own example to explain to us how powerful God will make us if we speak positively, and he summarized that idea as follows: "We limit what God can do by the words we speak."

Really? That's not Christian, though it is a message found in the Bible. One should be careful about from where.

Limiting what God CAN do? I would have disagreed with Mr. Osteen even if he had said that we limit what God "will" do. However, the vaunted teacher went beyond that, claiming that we, mere finite mortals, limit what God is capable of by our actions. Of course, if God is merely the one responding, and we are the ones doing the limiting, one might legitimately ask who really is sovereign? Who really is God? If God is limited by us, then really we are the ones who are gods under Mr. Osteen's teaching.

Of course, that teaching is nothing new: it is an offer to fulfill a promise nearly as old as mankind.

In the Garden of Eden the crafty Serpent said to Eve, "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God...." (Gen. 3:5, ESV). This was the fundamental temptation from which all others flow: you can be God instead of depending on God.

I am fairly certain that he is not at all conscious of it, but Mr. Osteen, in line with many others, is attempting to help deliver on that old promise.

I somehow found the power to turn Mr. Osteen off.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Helping the Economy's Victims

With the price of oil continuing to spiral downward with no bottom in sight, Congressional Democrats proposed today a $10 billion bailout of oil speculators. Industry analysts have argued that if the speculators go bankrupt, the entire system by which energy products are delivered to consumers will be endangered, potentially leading to a catastrophic crisis deepening the economic recession and resulting in millions of lost jobs.

No, they didn't. I'm just kidding.

Benefitting from a Soft Housing Market?

The White House confirmed today that President George W. Bush has purchased an 8,500 square foot home on more than one acre in Preston Hollow for just over $2 million.

Must have been a fixer upper.

Seriously, real estate prices aren't as high here as they are on either coast, and Preston Hollow is not quite as ritzy of a zip code as Highland Park in Dallas, but, still, that's a good deal.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Don't Go There

Kay Brooks, writing about the newly Republican majority in the Tennessee legislature, notes that they are not constitutionally prevented from redrawing legislative districts prior to the 2010 census.

This is an example of the fact that not everything that can be done should be. When Texas Republicans performed a similar act earlier in this decade, it created a political circus and a loss of political good will, both inside and outside of legislative chambers. Even though Democrats had been guilty of gerrymandering for as long as they had held power, Republicans were blamed for an unprecedented attempt to grab power.

What would be better -- both as public policy and as principled politics -- would be a move toward eliminating gerrymandering by removing the drawing of political lines to an independent commission. Hopefully, their districts would include a lot of straight lines on maps, not the squirrelly looking districts designed to protect incumbents and the majority party.

Could Republicans Lose Texas?

Rod Dreher looks at a poll that calls upon the state party to wake up:

•Half the voters polled believe the state is on the wrong track; only 37 percent believe Texas is headed in the right direction.
•On nearly every measure, the Republican brand is "significantly less appealing" than the Democratic one.
•Voters believe the GOP is out of touch, lacks common sense and is more interested in looking out for special interests than the common good. When voters were asked which party "champions the needs of homeowners, small businesses and average taxpayers" – classic GOP constituencies – Democrats score an astonishing 13 points higher.
•Republicans lead in negative characterizations ("arrogant," "racist," "corrupt," "angry") by double-digit margins. Dems, by contrast, lead by double digits on positive descriptions like "smart," "fair," "innovative" and "party of the future." Perhaps most devastating to the GOP's future, only 14 percent of those polled agreed it was "open and welcoming" – a whopping 33 points lower than the Democrats' rating.

Movie Ideas

For a list and extensive comment on the best military movies, see here.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have only seen two of the top 10 (Tora, Tora, Tora and The Caine Mutiny, the latter of which I consider to be one of the best movies ever made). I have seen many of those that made honorable mention, though. Patton belongs in the top 10. The Hunt for Red October would possibly belong in the top 10 if someone other than Alec Baldwin had played the lead.

Hat Tip: Donald Sensing

Inhumanity with a Human Face

Agnes R. Howard, reviewing Matthew Connelly's Fatal Misconception: the Struggle to Control World Population, offers this chilling analysis:

Population control carries the implication that it would be preferable for some people not to be. Whether these undesirables are defined as a Yellow Peril threatening to sink the West, hordes of the hungry ready to kill each other or you, or even just slovenly neighbors bullying your babies or absorbing welfare checks, fear of other people's children has been a powerful engine of public policy. "Population control presented itself as a charity like any other," Connelly observes, "helping less fortunate people. But it was the only one that promised to make them go away."

That thought serves primarily as a condemnation of the population control movement, but it also is useful as a reminder to all of the human capacity to allow ideology to blind people to the cruelty inherent in their own ideas.

HT: Collecting my Thoughts

For Shame, for Shame

Tennessee state representative Stacey Campfield extols the virtue of using shame as a deterrent to bad behavior.

That can work, though one feels compelled to point out that it has done nothing to improve Mr. Campfield's grammar and spelling. Goodness knows, the entire blogosphere has tried.

Worse Job Security than College Coaches

Discussing the vacancy at the head of the Metropolitan Nashville school system, Roger Abramson suggests that anyone "dumb enough to want such a terrible job" immediately disqualifies himself. That reminds me of a friend -- a school superintendent in another district in Tennessee -- who told me, in response to my hypothetical question, that they would not consider the Nashville job under any circumstances.

Isn't that where many big city school systems have gotten themselves? In Dallas, Texas, the school system has had seven superintendents in eleven years. The current head, who has been here for less than two years, has tried to deflect the blame for the systemic organizational chaos that resulted in the sudden discovery of an $85 million budget deficit. He may deserve some blame, but candidly, an organization of that size that has had seven leaders in eleven years has given no one an opportunity to change the direction of the failing system.

The only people who take these jobs are either martyrs or people who relish the idea of living off money from guaranteed contracts for a time. Why else would anyone do it?

Prolonging the Suffering Housing and Financial Markets

Anyone under the delusion that FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair's ideas regarding helping homeowners who took out mortgages that they couldn't pay make sense should read this editorial from the Wall Street Journal. Once the reader understands from the editorial that Ms. Bair's program assumes that roughly a third of those receiving help will eventually be foreclosed on anyway, they should then also consider the following and get angry:

All that is being promised or discussed regarding using taxpayer money to bail out irresponsible mortgage payers is having and will have the effect of prolonging both the softening of the housing market and the recession. The housing bubble having burst, the housing market is now seeking to find its bottom. Once that bottom is found, prices will stabilize and eventually recover. However, the bottom will not be reached or known as long as the government entertains ideas of falsely propping up prices by enabling people to stay in homes that they cannot afford. Thus, the goal of eliminating short term pain for a relative few is helping guarantee the continued financial instability of the entire country.

Bureaucrats like Ms. Bair are not capable of understanding that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Texas House Hold 'em

For a good summary of the status of the impending contest for Speaker of the Texas House of Represenatives, see here.

This promises to be a battle royale. The current Republican Speaker, Tom Craddick, tends to inspire both intense loyalty and opposition, both within and outside his own party. An attempted coup from within his party two years ago nearly resulted in fist fights on the House floor. The smart money is now saying that he will lose this year, but it is certain that he will not go down without a fight.

All of us who have an interest in legislation before the Texas legislature this year are anxious to get this resolved.

Taking Them On

Mark Cuban, who is currently battling charges of insider trading levelled by the SEC, took the time this weekend to review findings from a just released OIG report describing, among other things, the lack of oversight of agency employees engaged in insider trading.

Mr. Cuban is likely right that there is a reason that this was released on the Friday following Thanksgiving.

Pirate Diplomacy

The Associated Press reports that Somali pirates operating in the Indian Ocean hijacked a chemical tanker being guarded by three unarmed British security guards. The guards jumped into the water to avoid capture.

Alan Henderson suggests sending in Steven Segal instead. Heck, I'd settle for Johnny Depp.

Grace Again Abounding

Joe Eszterhas cannot imagine why God would love him or listen to his prayers:

Why did He take the time and the trouble to save me? It certainly wasn't because I had written Basic Instinct and Showgirls, right? Was it because my wife and I had four little boys we were trying to raise? Possibly.

Or was it God's divinely impish sense of humor? "Who, you? You're praying? After everything you've done to break my commandments and after every nasty, unfunny thing you've written about Me and those who follow Me - now you're sobbing? Praying? Asking Me to help you? Hah! Okay, fine, I'll help you. But if I do, know this: My help will obliterate the old, infamous you. You'll wind up turning your life inside-out. You'll wind up stopping all of your excesses. You know what will happen to you? You'll wind up telling the world what I did for you. You'll wind up carrying my cross in church. Yes, I make all things new - and you will be new, too."

Hat Tip: Marvin Olasky (subscription required after four paragraphs) and Rod Dreher

For What It's Worth....

And that may not be much, but here goes:

If Congress approves a bailout of the so-called "Big Three" automakers, I solemnly vow before God and man that I will never, ever purchase another vehicle manufactured by Chrysler, Ford, or GM, or their affiliates, subsidiaries, or otherwise related entities, as long as I live.

I urge freedom loving people everywhere to make the same commitment.

Medicalizing Normal

Providing a new resource for drumming up paying customers, researchers released a study claiming that one in five young adults has a personality disorder and that nearly half of all young adults have some sort of psychiatric condition, ranging from anxiety to substance abuse.

The researchers lament that nearly half the population isn't rushing in for treatment. However, while psychiatric illness is a serious matter, one might be forgiven for being skeptical of a study that claims that half of the population requires psychological assistance in order to cope with life.

The Oracle is not a young adult, so he was not part of the study. However, readers need not worry about him having a personality disorder, since he lacks a personality.

However, referring to one's self in the third person might indicate some sort of issue.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Pyrrhic Victory

While it is nice that Dana Gioia has turned the National Endowment for the Arts in a better direction, it is still unfortunate that the agency survived eight years of a Republican Presidency.

I am a supporter of the arts -- I attend symphonies, opera, and theater on a somewhat regular basis. I just don't think that this is a legitimate function of the federal government.

Hat Tip: Michael Barone

Civility Amidst Barbarism

Jeffrey Rosen, discussing the high profile case involving the FCC awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, argues that the federal government cannot legitimately enforce "community standards" when the culture has already been coarsened to a point where most people aren't' offended. However, he remains concerned about that coarsening, particularly as it relates to the raising of children:

My two-year-olds won't be allowed to watch any television until they're older, but I still find it difficult to keep them away from the relentless assaults of the screen in public places--on airplanes, in restaurants, and at the doctor. The experience has helped me understand that the debates we like to discuss in terms of indecency are really about privacy--namely, how to protect ourselves from the unwanted intrusions of an increasingly ubiquitous digital culture. The government has no business enforcing norms of indecency that actual American communities no longer embrace. But, at the same time, that leaves those of us who are trying to carve out enclaves of respite from the intrusions of the screen more vulnerable than ever. As Barack Obama reminds us, the only solution, however imperfect, is to turn the television off.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

What Christians Should Do

Lately, I have been frequently critical of efforts by evangelical Christians (I am one) to impact culture, engage in politics, and fill their churches and evangelize. Rather than merely criticize, I thought I would offer some alternatives that would do more good, but, first, a little historical background is needed.

Around the start of the 20th century, under the influence of leaders such as Walter Rauschenbusch, American Christians began talking about something called the "Social Gospel." Advocates of this movement focused on the Christian imperative to meet the physical needs of people.

Of course, Christians have always done this to one degree or another, but Rev. Rauschenbusch took an either or approach that resulted in an unfortunate division. His idea was to focus on meeting physical needs instead of preaching the Gospel as most Protestants have historically understood it (that Christ died for our sins, rose again, must be received by faith, and so forth). It is not surprising that the liberals of his day embraced that idea, as by then they did not much believe in things like substitutionary atonement and the need for deliverance from divine condemnation because of sin anyway.

What is unfortunate is that the evangelicals and fundamentalists of that day reacted against the Social Gospel by regarding as suspect any ministry that focused on meeting physical needs instead of evangelizing. While conservative Protestants never abandoned an interest in meeting physical needs, they clearly became more focused on evangelizing to a point where they sometimes would not be involved in compassionate ministry unless there was some evangelistic goal. Some preachers would dismiss ministries meeting physical needs, saying it would do no good to give a man a full stomach with which to enter hell.

The role of the church, both conservative and liberal, in meeting physical needs was further eroded in the aftermath of the New Deal, as the government, rather than the church, became the primary focal point for meeting human needs. Again, this should not be overstated. Christian organizations have contributed billions of dollars and countless hours in volunteer time in meeting human needs. However, these efforts have tended to be ad hoc and uncoordinated. Arguably, they have never been a centralized focus for most evangelicals, nor have they contributed as much as they could have if they had been a greater area of focus.

Readers can criticize this broad brush overview with a thousand exceptions, but they are exceptions. The rule is as I have described.

And that divorce from compassionate ministry meeting physical needs has been both unscriptural and has done great damage to the evangelical cause. Evangelicals today are not for the most part known for their contributions in helping hurting people or to the culture. They are known mostly for what they are against.

There are two important things that evangelicals should do in a coordinated way if we want to minister to our world.

First, we should start schools that would allow the least among us to gain access to a quality, classical education. Of course, Christian churches have started lots of schools, but most of them have been for our own kids. These should be schools in the worst parts of cities, where we can provide hope to the single mother living in between two crack houses that her kids can have a chance at something better. We should not wait for legislatures to pass voucher programs before we do it. We should raise the money to allow the poorest children to enroll. Catholics have done some of this work with parochial schools in disadvantaged areas. Evangelicals have contributed very little. That should change.

Second, we should get in the health care business. Of course, hospitals still bear names showing that they were founded for charitable reasons, but that mission has been largely lost. Christian groups need to get involved in a big way in providing primary care medical services to those who cannot afford it. While everyone else argues about political solutions for those who cannot afford health care, Christians should find a way to provide it.

Objections? Well, it won't be evangelistic. True, but somehow, I think that people might be more prone to listen to our message if we demonstrate -- with no strings attached -- that we really care, and that the love has Christ has transformed us to care to such a degree.

It will also be expensive. These types of ministries would be costly and would require significant fund raising. We might have to cut back on the high tech glitz that we have become accustomed to in order to help pay for this kind of ministry.

In all seriousness, that would be a sacrifice. Sometimes, I like the glitz. However, it might also be refreshing for those of us who enjoy neon to recall that we worship a Savior who entered this world into a barn.

Senatorial Dominos

The Hill has a report on the impact of Barack Obama's cabinet appointments of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. Janet Napolitano on future races for the U.S. Senate.

The appointment of Gov. Napolitano, who was rumored to be planning a run at John McCain's seat in 2010, probably clears the path for the incumbent's re-election.

On the other hand, the situation in New York is complicated. Gov. David Paterson will appoint a replacement for Ms. Clinton, and there are a large number of candidates jockeying for the position. One popular choice would be Andrew Cuomo, whose appointment would eliminate a potential rival to Mr. Paterson in the next gubernatorial primary. In addition, the fact that the seat is being vacated by Ms. Clinton might increase the likelihood that Rudy Giuliani will make a run in 2010. If so, it would also eliminate him as a potential Republican opponent for Gov. Paterson.

Of course, a replacement for Barack Obama will also be required, but the Illinois Republican Party is in such disarray that it will probably have no impact on their hopes in the next election cycle.