Thursday, April 28, 2005

George Will on America's Therapeutic Culture

In the Scottsdale, Ariz., Unified School District office, the receptionist used to be called a receptionist. Now she is "director of first impressions." The happy director says, "Everyone wants to be important." Scottsdale school bus drivers now are "transporters of learners." A school official says such terminological readjustment is "a positive affirmation." Which beats a negative affirmation.

Manufacturers of pens and markers report a surge in teachers' demands for purple ink pens. When marked in red, corrections of students' tests seem so awfully judgmental. At a Connecticut school, parents consider red markings "stressful." A Pittsburgh principal favors more "pleasant-feeling tones." An Alaska teacher says substituting purple for red is compassionate pedagogy, a shift from "Here's what you need to improve on" to "Here's what you have done right."
Read about this menace here: Have a Nice Day, or Else

Facts Behind the Filibuster Debate

Wendy E. Long provides some background on the judicial filibuster debate (the problem the "nuclear option" is aimed at) in a Washington Times Op Ed piece: Filibuster Myth-Busters. Among the facts Ms. Long points out: the filibuster is nowhere in the Constitution.

Other Commentary

Blogs for Bush

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Understanding Jihad

Mark Gould, writing in Policy Review, looks at the theological underpinnings of "holy war" in Understanding Jihad. Mr. Gould contrasts Islam's focus on eschatology, or final judgment, with Christianity's focus on soteriology, or salvation.

This difference, and Islam's legalistic structure, emphasizes external actions, rather than internal beliefs, as the basis for achieving paradise:
According to some Muslims, including Maududi, while Christians have the obligation to believe, Muslims have, as an aspect of their belief, the obligation to act, to impose and live in terms of shari'ah, which, they believe, frees all to believe what they will, but most important, frees them to believe what is true, Islam. Thus, freedom of religion for many Muslims requires the imposition of shari'ah in an Islamic state, both of which are necessary for correct practice. Freedom of religion for Christians, in contrast, requires only that the Koranic injunction not to coerce belief be implemented. While from a Christian perspective the asymmetry seems outrageous, from within a Muslim perspective, there is no inconsistency.
Gould argues that Jihad is not, as some suggest, an aberration but rather is a true tradition within Islam and is understandable within its structure as a "short-cut" to their eternal reward:
Those in the 'subculture of Islamism' might not participate in 'jihad', but persons within a 'subculture of Islamism' are not hostile to it.

Islamists share the conviction that they know how they must act to garner God's favor. One obligation, the neglected obligation that they assume, is jihad, war to impose shari'ah, first on their own societies and then on other societies. This obligation stems from an authentic tradition within Islam. They have not hijacked Islam; instead, they are working out their convictions, convictions with a history that reaches into Islam's formative years.

Their motivation stems from the eschatological premises of their religion, from their certainty that God has laid down for them a straight path and that if they follow that path they will, at the Last Judgment, be deemed worthy of everlasting life in paradise. The promise of an immediate entrée into heaven for the martyrs of jihad reinforces their motivation to comply with their understanding of God's will. They may not know whether God has predetermined them to die or to gain victory in jihad, but they know that in the first instance their reward is immediate, while in the second instance they have enhanced their chances of being rewarded at the Day of Judgment.

Other Commentary on this Article

One Hand Clapping

Sunday, April 17, 2005

What's the Point of Rules if You Can Simply Say You Forgot Them?

Earlier this month, the NY Times ran an exclusive on Columbia University's internal report on anti-semitism. Columbia passed an early copy to the Times on the condition that it not follow-up with the school, a journalistic no-no. The Times' excuse:
"Under The Times' policy on unidentified sources, writers are not permitted to forgo follow-up reporting in exchange for information. In this case, editors and the writer did not recall the policy and agreed to delay additional reporting until the document had become public."
I'm told that this rule is a basic of journalism, so is the excuse believable?
(Hattip: Best of the Web Today)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Europe's Demographic Destiny

Pavel Kohout's Where Have All the Children Gone? at Tech Central Station, takes a look at the policies that are partially behind Europe's falling birth rates:
"State pensions systems eliminated the natural economic incentive to have children. At the same time, the welfare state is an enormously costly luxury that has to be financed from taxes. High payroll-tax and social security contributions reduce the earning capacity of people in fertile age. Thus, they push down birth rates as well...Today, children no longer represent investments; instead, they have become pets - objects of luxury consumption."

Friday, April 15, 2005

Gay Marriage and Unintended Consequences - addendum

One great quote that I overlooked from Asymmetrical Information's "really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other":
"Indeed, to this day, I find the reformist side much more persuasive than the conservative side, except for one thing, which is that the conservatives turned out to be right."
The same can be said about music. I always loved The Clash and Rage Against the Machine even though I thought they were commies. In fact, I'd bet that a lot of people that became communists around the turn of the century did so because of "The Internationalle" - that's still a pretty good song for riling people up.

Gay Marriage and Unintended Consequences

There's a very thoughtful post about the unintended consequences of meddling with complex systems at Asymmetrical Information:. The author warns that its long and doesn't reach a conclusion, but is one of the better posts I've seen on the subject. The bottom line: some things are very complex and before we start messing around with them we should make sure we understand the consequences. One very appropriate example for Tax Day: "
However, I am bothered by this specific argument, which I have heard over and over from the people I know who favor gay marriage laws. I mean, literally over and over; when they get into arguments, they just repeat it, again and again. "I will get married even if marriage is expanded to include gay people; I cannot imagine anyone up and deciding not to get married because gay people are getting married; therefore, the whole idea is ridiculous and bigoted."

They may well be right. Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality. Every government programme that libertarians have argued against has been defended at its inception with exactly this argument.

Let me take three major legal innovations, one of them general, two specific to marriage.

The first, the general one, is well known to most hard-core libertarians, but let me reprise it anyway. When the income tax was initially being debated, there was a suggestion to put in a mandatory cap; I believe the level was 10 percent.

Don't be ridiculous, the Senator's colleagues told him. Americans would never allow an income tax rate as high as ten percent. They would revolt! It is an outrage to even suggest it!

Many actually fought the cap on the grounds that it would encourage taxes to grow too high, towards the cap. The American people, they asserted, could be well counted on to keep income taxes in the range of a few percentage points.

Oops."
Read the whole thing - it's well worth the time. (Hattip: Instapundit)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

If Not Vast, Then at Least Well Funded

One more factoid from Jacob Laskin's review of Byron York's new book "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy":
"Mr. York puts paid to the meme that Republicans are the party bankrolled by the rich. Mr. York records that 92% of contributions of $1 million or more went to Democrats."
So much for Republicans being the party of the rich.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy...well not that vast

Byron York has a new book out titled "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy", about "the biggest, richest, and best organized movement in American political history". Jacob Laskin reviews it today in the WSJ:

"All the usual suspects are here: Bush-bashing billionaire George Soros; politicos like Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean; squadrons of Democratic strategists and spin-men; left-wing luminaries like Michael Moore and Al Franken...

Beneath the patina of confidence, however, the left-wing conspiracy often seems pitiable, as desperate as it is determined. Above all, its members are angry--at the perceived injustice of the 2000 presidential election, at the prospect of long-term Republican governance, at John Kerry's inept campaigning. Even, it appears, at being called angry."

Elsewhere at OpinionJournal, John Fund points out that the left wing conspiracy isn't that vast, or at least not as vast as it was, electorally:
"In 2000, Mr. Bush carried 228 congressional districts to Al Gore's 207 on his way to one of the closest victories in American history. This year Mr. Bush carried 255 congressional districts, nearly six in 10."
While David Brooks in the NY Times posits the cause for the growth in the vast right wing conspiracy:
"Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine. Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with."
The times they are a'changing...

Why the Left Loves Canada

How about government censorship of the press and speech for a start? No wonder the socialist utopia to the North is attracting so many disenchanted Kerry voters - it's the next best thing to Harvard! Actually, its probably better since Larry Summers would have been jailed up there.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Left's Culture of Death

In the period leading up to Terri Schiavo's death there's been a lot of talk about the Right's "Culture of Life" and the Left's "Culture of Death". Most of it is overblown rhetoric caused by the polarization in America today, but I can't help thinking that there's an element of truth to it.

Back in the beginning of March, the NY Times ran a review of a special on the National Geographic Channel called "In the Womb", a technologically updated version of one of those "miracle of birth" shows that have been around for years. Ordinary enough, but here's how Times critic Virginia Heffernan describes it:
Full-frontal images of a vagina are available on cable Sunday night, but they come at a price. You have to watch a bloody, hairy baby burst through that vagina, and before that you have to watch the little creature in utero, growing in all its Operation Rescue propaganda detail, in the National Geographic Channel's latest unveiling of the hideous miracle of life.
(emphasis added)
Isn't this language a little extreme? And this is a favorable review of the special. The animosity toward birth is palpable and is to be expected if one views the process, as Ms. Heffernan (and a good portion of the Left) clearly does, through the prism of abortion. In this twisted view, the birth of a child isn't something to be marveled at, but rather some hideous mistake - isn't this what abortion is around to prevent?

Proponents of abortion raise many justifications, but those dealing with "a woman's right to choose" somehow ring hollow - one person's rights end where another's begin and if a fetus is a human being then it has the same rights as its mother and clearly its right to life trumps its mother's right to choose.

So other justifications are needed; that a fetus isn't human; it's not aware; that it has no separate existence; that's its continued survival depends on another and that other had the right to terminate that existence.

These are the same justifications that, in turn, required abortion proponents to argue for Terri Schiavo's death; she wasn't human any longer; she was in a persistent vegetative state; her continued survival depended on another and he had a right to terminate it.

I'm not inventing this perspective out of nothing; Ms. Heffernan makes it clear in her second paragraph:
It exhibits a minimum of politics, probably because it appears to have been made in England, where the acknowledgement that humans in the womb are complex, dreaming, pain-experiencing, memory-having, walk-practicing, music-enjoying entities does not instantly put you in the same camp as doctor assassins and purveyors of ''The Silent Scream.''
And there's the rub. This is why this show elicited such a reaction; because it shows what "humans in the womb", not fetuses, not parasitic clumps of cells but humans, experience before they're born. Simply admitting this strikes a blow against the justifications for abortion.

The tool used to elicit this response is the new generation of "4D" Ultrasound:

The ultrasounds are in four dimensions, meaning that they show not only shaded, nuanced, highly detailed images of the fetus, but also her (it's female) moving in real time. The downside is that the images on the fancy ultrasounds look kind of warty and off-color, not like the cute black-and-white blurs on regular ultrasounds.
Here again, we see the perspective imposed by abortion: blurry black and white images on regular ultrasounds are better than "warty and off-color" images on the new 4D ultrasounds. How could that be? Because regular ultrasound dehumanizes the fetus - it's not a human being, just a cute blur. For abortion proponents, less is more.