Friday, July 31, 2009

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Good points made by Jonah Goldberg, writing for National Review Online:
Obama undoubtedly has major accomplishments ahead of him, but in a real way the Obama presidency is over. His messianic hopey-changiness has been exposed for what it was, and what it could only be: a rich cocktail of pie-eyed idealism, campaign sloganeering, and profound arrogance.

As president, he’s tried to apply the post-partisan gloss of his campaign rhetoric to the hyper-partisan dross of his agenda. And he’s fooling fewer people every day.

Indeed, the one unifying theme of his presidency so far has been Obama’s relentless campaigning for a job he already has. That makes sense, because that’s really all Obama knows how to do. He’s had no significant experience crafting major legislation. He has next to no experience governing at all.

But he’s great at giving speeches, holding town halls, and chitchatting with reporters. So that’s largely what he does as president. The problem is that campaigning is different from governing. The former requires convincing promises about what you will do; the latter requires convincing arguments for what you are doing. He’s good at the former, not so good at the latter. Or as columnist Michael Barone puts it, he’s good at aura, bad at argument.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

All Obama, All the Time?


From the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa:
A 78-year-old Carroll woman says she's so tired of seeing President Barack Obama on the airwaves that she's selling her television sets - two of them.

Deloris Nissen, a retired nurses' aide and former Kmart employee who was raised on a farm near Audubon, placed a classified advertisement with The Daily Times Herald for Friday's paper.

In the $5.50 ad, Nissen tells readers she has two television sets for sale.

The reason: "Obama on every channel and station."

In an interview Nissen said she is serious about selling two TVs - and genuine about her disgust with what she believes to be an overexposed president.

"I just got tired of watching him on every channel," Nissen said. "I thought, my gosh, does he ever stay at the White House?"

Can you blame her? With age comes wisdom, right? Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Timeless

The substance of Reagan's speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention can be applied, almost word for word, to the present situation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One "Yea" Too Many


Senator Lindsey Graham provided the solitary Republican vote for Sonia Sotomayor on the Senate Judiciary Committee. His reasons were laudable but, at their core, misplaced and naive. He urged Democrats to remember his favorable vote when, down the road, a conservative president puts forward a conservative nominee. It was just the kind of useless bipartisan statement that John McCain would have made. The problem is that convicted liberals will never acquiesce in their unrelenting opposition to all conservative judges. They never recall Republican deference to their nominees (Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, for example) as an example to follow. Obama himself continued the precedent as an Illinois senator when he voted to filibuster Alito and, ultimately, voted against both Alito and Roberts.

The Preferred Kind of Laity


This short pronouncement should be inserted in every Sunday bulletin.
I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. - Cardinal Newman
The next time anyone lectures you about the waste and greed of avaricious CEOs and Wall Street stock jobbers, forward along this link, which tracks the amount of debt our beneficent government is amassing. It's pretty unbelievable. And somehow, we are well positioned to afford the "public option" (a euphemism if ever one existed) when it comes to health care.

Somebody, stop the bleeding.

Tea with the Taliban


Is it reasonable to express the desire, on behalf of the British and American military presence in Afghanistan, to engage in dialogue with "moderate" members of the Taliban in the far-fetched hope of attaining some level of stabilization? Nile Gardiner, writing for the Telegraph says "no!" I agree with him. Such an overture toward a ruthless enemy would undoubtedly (and accurately) be perceived as a veiled acknowledgment of defeat. What would that do to our morale and to the enemy's determination? The question of whether the war in Afghanistan is winnable or not is receiving far greater attention in Great Britain than in the United States, as British casualties mount following a step-up in combat operations. Polls show a majority of British believe that the war is not worth the fight and that the government should begin looking for a way out, and fast. We can only ask what Churchill would say about this. Perhaps we can discern his echo in the rousing piece written by Gardiner. He bolsters his point by way of analogy. Opening up a dialogue with the Taliban would, mutatis mutandis, be the moral and strategic equivalent to the allies sitting down with the Nazis for purposes of accommodation prior to their surrender or with the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
In effect Miliband is saying that Britain and the United States must be willing to place cooperative, supposedly more reasonable wings of the Taliban back in local power in Afghanistan. This would be like putting the Nazis back in office after the fall of Berlin or the Khmer Rouge in charge of Cambodia again. No matter how much spin is placed on this negotiating strategy, it smacks of defeatism and appeasement, and a failure to place the conflict in Afghanistan within the broader context of a global war against a brutal Islamist ideology that seeks the destruction of the West and the free world.

Hayek's Relevance


From The American Spectator:
In his book The Fatal Conceit, Nobel laureate Friedrich A. Hayek provided some insight into this lethal combination of arrogance and stupidity.

"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design," advised Hayek.

Before the "obvious economic failure of Eastern European socialism, it was widely thought that a centrally planned economy would deliver not only 'social justice' but also a more efficient use of economic resources," wrote Hayek. "This notion appears eminently sensible at first glance. But it proves to overlook the fact that the totality of resources that one could employ in such a plan is simply not knowable to anybody, and therefore can hardly be centrally controlled."

In other words, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama just don't know enough -- can't know enough -- to design or run a complex economy. It's not just that neither of them has even run a successful hot dog stand. The problem is that there are too many millions of transactions in an economy, too many interactions and unintended consequences, for any one person or any single committee to understand -- even if they all went to Harvard.

Emphasis added

Monday, July 27, 2009

Getting to Know Newman


I've recently dabbled in the life, times and thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman. For some time, I have felt a persistent curiosity about the man but never diligently committed myself to learning more about him. Why the Newman appeal? It's a timeless thing, really; the intimate story of one's spiritual struggle on the long road to conversion, the granitic reluctance to budge on matter once thought immutable and which finally, liberatingly, folds to grace and faith. This is a process, an experience, that is always intriguing and, well, so very human. Such is the case with Newman's life. How, for so long, he adhered faithfully to the Anglican proposition which viewed its communion as the felicitous via media bridging Protestantism and Catholicism and how he gradually came to see this an an untenable position.

Greatly admired by the Holy Father, Cardinal Newman is set to be beatified next spring in what is sure to be a momentous occasion for Catholics in England and, perhaps just as important, a much-needed time for soul-searching among the ranks of the increasingly fissure-ridden Anglican communion.

Why Pelosi is Right, Sort of


When confronted with the sobering results of a national poll showing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as one of, if not the least popular political figure in the nation, she replied with a cool, "I don't care."

Now, I think the results of the poll are well-deserved and totally justified. I don't like Pelosi either; she's feckless, catty, disingenuous and shrill. However, truth be told, I found her smug retort just a little refreshing and couldn't help smiling. Why? Because, in an age of undiluted populism that recommends shameless pandering as the sole method of advancement in politics, Pelosi gave short shrift to the idea that being liked is the alpha and omega of politics. Being everyone's pal should not be the endgame of a true statesman. He should be more concerned with doing the best thing in terms of the interests of the state, based on the information before him and not whether this or that poll says it's a good or bad idea. Ask yourself: How often do you hear a politician in today's touchy-feely, "What can I do for you?" climate say, "I don't care about being popular." Certainly Washington, Adams and Hamilton, to name a few, would not have cared if faced with such a poll.

Now, Pelosi being Pelosi, I think that deep down she does care and is quite concerned over her dismal status in national opinion polls. That said, I'm happy with the findings of the poll (because they are well warranted) and with Pelosi's reply (because it spurned populism).

Sartorial Lament


Is George Will being too harsh here in his blistering critique of America's love affair with denim? Perhaps. But at the same time, I think he puts his finger on an important point, i.e., the uniquely American knack for general sloppiness and blah when it comes to deciding what to wear and the perception that, if a guy does care a wit about his appearance and eschews the egalitarian pull of denim, then that is perceived as somewhat odd. Jeans may have a place but that place should be a confined one.
Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

Edmund Burke -- what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted "the decent drapery of life"; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim -- said: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely." Ours would be much more so if supposed grown-ups would heed St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and St. Barack's inaugural sermon to the Americans, by putting away childish things, starting with denim.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ronald Reagan


Along with a few other book selections on Amazon, I placed an order for The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. I remember coming across it not long ago at Borders and almost picked it up on the spot but, in the end, I mustered enough discipline and put it back on the shelf, knowing that eventually I would be able to find it online at a much cheaper price. As always, patience pays. The shipment should arrive within the next couple of days. I'll be sure to post some thoughts on The Crusader (a nomenclature most appropriate for the man) as I make my way through it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hagia Sophia's Treasures





A fascinating story, from Turkey:
ANKARA, Turkey – Restoration workers have uncovered a well-preserved, long-hidden mosaic face of an angel at the former Byzantine cathedral of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul, an official said Friday.

The seraphim figure — one of two located on the side of a dome — had been covered up along with the building's other Christian mosaics shortly after Constantinople — the former name for Istanbul — fell to the Ottomans in 1453 and the cathedral was turned into a mosque.

Here's more on the history of the mosaic and the last person to have seen it.
According to the Hürriyet newspaper, the last person to see the image of the celestial being, known as a seraph, is believed to have been the Swiss architect Gaspar Fossati, who led the church’s reconstruction under the reign of Sultan Abdulmajid (1839-1861).

Restorers recently removed the metal mask and six or seven layers of paint to uncover a mosaic believed to date to the ninth or fourteenth centuries. To their astonishment, the mosaic, located on the structure supporting the dome, was very well-preserved.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Sultan Abdulmajid commissioned Gaspar Fossati and his brother with the restoration of the Hagia Sophia. The two Swiss architects removed the paint and cement layers from the mosaics, thus uncovering the images and restored them. They were later covered in paint again and were, until recently, only known from the album made by Fossati.

Dear Mr. President,


Robert Goldberg posits some tough questions for the president regarding his plan to revamp our health care system. We're still waiting for the answers. I've listed a few of my favorites here:

2. Why should American taxpayers pay for the health insurance of millions of young single Americans making over $80,000 year who are offered health insurance at work or can afford it but don't get it?

3. Why should American taxpayers pay for the health insurances of millions of illegal immigrants? Shouldn't there be a better way to provide people who are here illegally basic care?

9. Some of the "experts" have suggested that two-thirds of hospital admissions for people on Medicare in the last two years of life are wasteful because those people are going to die anyway. That includes a lot of cancer patients like Ted Kennedy. Do you think Ted Kennedy should die instead of being readmitted to the hospital? Should anyone else be denied care in order to subsidize paying for the health insurance of people who are not eligible or who can afford care they refuse to pay for?

14. You say if you have health insurance you like you can keep it. But both the CBO and independent studies say that up to 120 million Americans will lose their group coverage at work and join either Medicaid or a government-run plan because government will pay much lower prices to doctors and hospitals. And these doctors will also be paid 30 percent less and denying care based on pre-existing conditions determined by your expert panel. Yet you said the goal is to improve health. I am just a reporter and not used to asking hard questions, so maybe you can explain.

15. Final question Mr. President: If the public option is so good, will you try it out before we do? Like your first ball throw at the All-Star game, your initial response to the question kind sort of fell short and the media didn't cover it very well then either.

Leszek Kolakowski: 1927 - 2009


A touching tribute from George Weigel:
Cracow, Poland — Leszek Kolakowski, who died at 82 on July 17, will be remembered by the world of letters as one of the leading philosophers of the late 20th century, a man whose magisterial Main Currents of Marxism will be read centuries from now by anyone interested in getting at the intellectual roots of one of modernity’s most consequential — and lethal — bodies of thought. His native Poland will remember Kolakowski as one of a small group of intellectuals who, in the aftermath of Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968, turned their backs on theoretical Marxism as well as on the Communist Party, wrecking their own academic careers but laying some of the paving stones that would eventually lead to the Solidarity movement, the nonviolent collapse of European Communism, and the triumph of freedom in much of Central and Eastern Europe.

Another Blow to the "Public Option"

And to top off a miserable week for the left, here's the latest from Politico:
For the second time this month, congressional budget analysts have dealt a blow to the Democrat's health reform efforts, this time by saying a plan touted by the White House as crucial to paying for the bill would actually save almost no money over 10 years.

A key House chairman and moderate House Democrats on Tuesday agreed to a White House-backed proposal that would give an outside panel the power to make cuts to government-financed health care programs. White House budget director Peter Orszag declared the plan "probably the most important piece that can be added" to the House's health care reform legislation.

But on Saturday, the Congressional Budget Office said the proposal to give an independent panel the power to keep Medicare spending in check would only save about $2 billion over 10 years- a drop in the bucket compared to the bill's $1 trillion price tag.

Ouch!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lost and Found


Centuries after his death, Mozart continues to supply us with fresh doses of his immortal music. Here's a story from the BBC on two piano pieces uncovered in Salzburg.

An Austrian Remedy for Japan


In his latest post, Professor William Luckey follows-up on a piece that appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal on the demise of the Japanese economy and its relation to our own sorry situation in the US. Thank you Mr. Keynes.
It is very seldom that economists have a laboratory in order to test theories. For an Austrian, this is not a problem because the axioms of economics are apodictic, meaning they are self-evident. But even so, to the average non-economist, some verification is nice as an illustration. Normally, a specialist in economics is necessary to delve beyond the host of activities in the economy and the government to isolate the economic factors that lead, say, to a recession. Praise God! Besides the Great Depression, which I find easy to diagnose, we have such a laboratory—JAPAN...

So, you the reader, tell me, will this gigantic stimulus plan work? As any economics student knows, productivity only grows by investment, not consumption. If you doubt this, take the rest of the summer to read Jesús Huerta de Soto’s book Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles, available at Mises.org. What President Clinton started to call “investment” was a euphemism for the same kind of government spending we have now, just smaller. It was not investment at all. Take the recent housing boom. It was caused by expansion of the money supply by the Federal Reserve, artificially lowering interest rates, making buying houses more attractive, and because of rising demand, building them, and putting a huge strain on the building industry, forcing wages and prices of everything used to build, up until it became too expensive to buy a house.

Church and Science

Yet another timely article from The American Spectator outlining the long history of support that the Catholic Church has given over the centuries to various scientific ventures:
Modern astronomy may be said to have begun with Copernicus, a Catholic priest, who dedicated his 1543 work, On the Orbits of Heavenly Bodies, to the Pope of the day. Galileo might have avoided trouble as easily as Copernicus did if he had shown a little more diplomatic skill and common sense, for example if he had refrained from mocking a Pope who had befriended and honored him.

The contribution of the Catholic Church to astronomy was massive and unequalled. Without it astronomy might very well never have grown out of astrology at all. The cathedrals in Bologna, Florence, Paris, Rome and elsewhere, for example, were designed in the 17th and 18th centuries to function as solar observatories. Each cathedral contained holes through which measured rays of sunlight could enter and meridian lines on the floor.

Coming Home to Roost


A timely piece from the BBC on China's demographic catastrophe resulting from its draconian one-child policy.
Officials in Shanghai are urging parents to have a second child, the first time in decades the government has actively encouraged procreation.

A public information campaign has been launched to highlight exemptions to the country's one-child policy. Couples who were both only children, which includes most of the city's newly-weds, are allowed a second child. The move comes as China's most populous city becomes richer and older, with the number of retired residents soaring.

Incredible.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ryan's Reason

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan wrote a thoughtful piece in The American Spectator on the broader implications of the healthcare debate. Drawing on the thought Blackstone and Tocqueville, Ryan underscores the dangers involved in trading off individual liberty and civic virtues in favor of expanded entitlements.
A very short description of the American character would be: this ensemble of moral qualities that make it possible for persons to live under self-restraint, without dependency, in personal relationships with others in community under God.

As Tocqueville discerned in Democracy In America, a human being who fails to practice these fundamental habits, especially the key virtue of practical wisdom, will gradually lose the ability to sustain basic human qualities and sentiments. Lacking the habit of making prudent decisions every day about one's well-being and learning to accept the consequences of those decisions, one becomes a victim of necessity, passively serving unaccountable rulers who take it on themselves to define and satisfy the victims' needs, desires, and pleasures. Tocqueville's chief worry was something he described as a new kind of despotism. In generations to come, many citizens in democratic nations might be tempted to trade their liberty, which demands risk-taking, hard work, and self-restraint, for the easy security and benefits a "soft despotism" would bring. Tocqueville saw the path to this gray future in the growing centralization of government which had been at work in Europe for centuries. America's Founders, for their part, risked their whole experiment in free market democracy on preserving the character of citizens in order to resist every such design to turn Americans into European-style servants of the government.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aperçu

Take note:

"A Democrat congressman last week told me [Senator Grassley] after a conversation with the president that the president had trouble in the House of Representatives, and it wasn't going to pass if there weren't some changes made ... and the president says, 'You're going to destroy my presidency.' "

Waterloo on the horizon?

Abortion Enters the Health Care Debate

From Politico
A coalition of anti-abortion groups is set to open a new front against Democrats’ efforts to restructure American health care, claiming the plans open a back door to publicly financed abortions.

The groups, which are launching a broad campaign on the issue this week, claim that existing health care proposals constitute a stealth “abortion mandate” that will spend taxpayer money on abortions and require insurance companies to cover abortions — allegations that health care reform supporters call misleading.

“President Obama keeps on talking about common ground, and there is really, really common ground on funding issues,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, the group organizing the planned three-week campaign on the issue. “Almost no one wants to fund abortion, regardless of their position on abortion as a whole.”

This revelation will only further stoke the flames of controversy regarding this worthless piece of legislation. It also puts the lie to the idea that Obama genuinely seeks compromise and common ground on the issue of abortion, as though finding common ground on an intrinsic evil were even plausible or desirable.

Meltdown


Looking down on the scene in Washington, one cannot help but feel a deep, lasting sense of schadenfreude at the rank disarray of the Democratic caucus. Happiness over the left's divided ranks is certainly justified, as their sickening arrogance in previous months has redounded to undercut their most cherished desideratum, i.e., the socialization of America via universal health care.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Recommended Reading


In light of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings last week (what a trip those were, by the way) and what we can be certain to expect from her rulings once seated on the high court, here's an excellent book to help understand the apotheosis and unrivaled power of the judiciary. The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom, by Robert A. Levy & William Mellor


No doubt, if the publisher ever issues a revised or expanded edition down the road, the "wise Latina's" judicial reckonings will be featured prominently.

Post-Partisan Chimera

William McGurn, writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, dispels the myth of a soi-dissant "post-partisan" age under President Obama.
Only last summer we were told that Barack Obama’s political appeal rested on his vision for a “post-partisan future.” The post-partisan future was one of the press corps’ favorite phrases. It served as shorthand for the candidate’s repeated references to “unity of purpose,” looking beyond a red or blue America, and so on.

Six months into the president’s term, you don’t read much about this post-partisan future anymore. It may be because on almost every big-ticket legislative item (the stimulus, climate change, and now health care), Mr. Obama has been pushing a highly ideological agenda with little (and in some cases zero) support from across the aisle. Yet far from stating the obvious—that sitting in the Oval Office is a very partisan president—the press corps is allowing Mr. Obama to evade the issue by coming up with novel redefinitions.

A Reassurance


John Adams, ensconced at Quinsy and retired from public life, fretted that a publicized statement of his made years earlier and sharply critical of his old friend Thomas Jefferson might rupture their recently restored friendship after years of estrangement. A nervous Adams wrote a hurried letter to the Sage of Monticello, seeking reassurances of his affection, despite the dredged up slight from years past. Jefferson wrote back with a touching reply:

"Be assured, my dear Sir, that I am incapable of receiving the slightest impression from the effort now made to plant thorns on the pillow of age, worth, and wisdom, and to sow tares between friends who have been such for nearly half a century. Beseeching you then not to suffer your mind to be disquieted by this wicked attempt to poison the peace, and praying you to throw it by."

With a pen like his, it's no wonder Jefferson was selected to draft the Declaration of Independence. Of course, Adams was deeply relieved. The letters would continue for years, becoming what Joseph Ellis has called the "intellectual capstone to the achievements of the entire revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen in all of American history."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Picking Apart Obama's "Public Option" Myth


Writing in the New York Post, Betsy McCaughey eviscerates the president's specious arguments for his dangerous Euro-styled health care scheme.
PRESIDENT Obama promises that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it," even after he reforms our health-care system. That's untrue. The bills now before Congress would force you to switch to a managed-care plan with limits on your access to specialists and tests.

Two main bills are being rushed through Congress with the goal of combining them into a finished product by August. Under either, a new government bureaucracy will select health plans that it considers in your best interest, and you will have to enroll in one of these "qualified plans." If you now get your plan through work, your employer has a five-year "grace period" to switch you into a qualified plan. If you buy your own insurance, you'll have less time.

The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll (June 21) finds that 83 percent of Americans are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the quality of their health care, and 81 percent are similarly satisfied with their health insurance.

They have good reason to be. If you're diagnosed with cancer, you have a better chance of surviving it in the United States than anywhere else, according to the Concord Five Continent Study. And the World Health Organization ranked the United States No. 1 out of 191 countries for being responsive to patients' needs, including providing timely treatments and a choice of doctors.

Clinton: Exit Stage Right


My apologies for the Barack-Hillary one-two punch with these recent posts, but I found this story from the Telegraph, commenting on the remarkable fall of Hillary Clinton in the age of Obama, right on the money. It's hard to believe that someone as cunning and narcissistic as Clinton is reported to be would take on a side-show role like this one, playing second, even fourth or fifth fiddle to the man who beat her in the primaries. What was she thinking? And Bill Clinton as Special Envoy to, ah, Haiti? How the mighty have fallen.
If President Obama’s goal in appointing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was to neutralize his biggest rival, he has certainly succeeded. Clinton looks a shadow of her former self, and has been the most low-key Secretary of State in recent times. Her immediate predecessors Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell were far more prominent figures on the world stage during their first six months in office. Clinton, in contrast, looks tired, disinterested, and largely going through the motions.

There is little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s star has significantly waned since January. Hugely overshadowed by a White House that dominates US foreign policy, the former first lady rarely makes headlines on policy questions. She has gone from fiery senator and presidential contender to increasingly marginalized run of the mill bureaucrat.

Obama Owns This


Government bailouts are projected to total an inconceivable $23 TRILLION. Where, pray tell, are we to come up with that amount? A sobering economic report from Politico:
A series of bailouts, bank rescues and other economic lifelines could end up costing the federal government as much as $23 trillion, the U.S. government’s watchdog over the effort says – a staggering amount that is nearly double the nation’s entire economic output for a year.

If the feds end up spending that amount, it could be more than the federal government has spent on any single effort in American history.

Embryos and Science

A well-written essay by Robert George, Maureen Condic and Patrick Lee on the science of embryology and human development.
The somatic cell is something from which a new organism can be generated; it is not itself, however, a distinct organism. On its own, it remains just what it is (a constituent cell of muscle, skin, etc.). For it to contribute to the generation of a complete living being, significant interventions are needed, including the addition of critical molecular factors provided by a human egg cell.

A human embryo doesn’t need that. It already is a distinct, self-developing, complete (though immature) human organism. If someone tried to implant a somatic cell in the prepared uterus of a woman, nothing would happen — just as nothing would happen if someone tried to implant a sperm or an unfertilized egg. But a human embryo implanted in the prepared uterus of a woman will, barring some defect or accident, grow and develop, emerge from the womb some months later, soon begin walking and talking, and in a few years be asking mom and dad for the car keys.

Falling


A new poll reveals a rising sense of doubt among Americans over the president's plans for the economy. Will Republicans be able to capitalize on this opening? Obama's feathers get ruffled when he and his ideas are belittled and teased. We've seen displays of this unravelling in the past few weeks; abandoning the Teleprompter, he goes off script and usually makes some kind of gaffe. His pride does not allow him to keep silent when provoked. The GOP should relentlessly exploit this weakness, as they also present a clear, positive alternative to the American people, such as the one outlined today by House Republican Leader John Boehner in an op-ed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Speedy Sisters

Here's a humorous story from the Telegraph about three elderly nuns who were were pulled over and ticketed by local police for pushing 110mph on the highway. Apparently, they were concerned about the pope's health in the wake of his slip and were rushing to see him.

Now, anyone who has been to Rome and waited in line at Saint Peter's or elsewhere learns quickly that sometimes, the seemingly meek, unassuming nuns are often the most aggressive and pushy church-goers in the city. I'm not too surprised by this anecdote. Simply put, you don't want to be in these sisters' way if they are determined to get from Point A to Point B.

India Gets It Right, Tells Hillary to Butt Out


More concerned with elevating the standard of living for millions of its impoverished people via innovation, economic growth and free exchange than in kowtowing to the economically crippling demands of the environmentalist lobby, Indian officials told the perennially preachy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a hike. A refreshing story to close out the weekend.

Cool Factor

From Politico:
Finally, we’re starting to see him sweat.

President Barack Obama made his personal icy cool the trademark of his campaign, the tenor of his White House and the hallmark of an early run of successes at home and abroad. But as the glamour wears off and a long, frustrating summer wears on, he is being forced to improvise — stooping to respond to political foes and adjusting his tactics and demeanor for the trench warfare of a legislative agenda.

The root of the change is one that faces every president: Economic and international realities that resist political charm. Iran and North Korea have shown no interest in the president’s outstretched hand. The economy has delivered a double-whammy, with rising unemployment stirring voters’ concerns while sluggish growth deprives the government of tax revenues Obama would like to spend on new programs.

Health care reform, which once appeared flush with momentum from earlier congressional victories, is now on a slog through no less than five committees, which include Democrats who either aren’t sold on Obama’s expansive vision or can’t figure out how to convince voters to pay for it.

That Obama's putative "coolness" and celebrity persona would eventually wear thin was never in doubt. Does this necessarily translate into votes for the Republican Party? Assuming they play their cards right (always an IF), I think so. Time will tell.

More on the Church "Renovation" Front

I paid a visit to the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. The website laughingly describes the renovations in the 80's as the start of a new "golden age" in the history of the church. While there is still much beauty to admire today in the cathedral (it avoided the fate of Milwaukee's St. John the Evangelist), I would hardly describe the end result of the renovations as a step up from its previous state. The Blessed Sacrament is not even reserved in the main body of the cathedral. One must pass through doors at the front of the church, which open to a curved hallway, which then leads to another set of doors, which then leads to the Blessed Sacrament chapel. How can an inspiration that resulted in the removal of Christ from the main body of the church to some back room be understood as a good thing?

Before the iconoclasm (too small a picture to fully appreciate)

After: the now gutted sanctuary. The high altar and communion rail are gone.

Vaulted ceiling with restored fresco of the Virgin Mary (how did that manage to escape the destruction?

Beautiful organ

The requisite trickling pool-baptismal font, parts of which were harvested from the old communion rail (gasp!)

Comfy red chairs that replaced the oak pews

For those interested, the doors leading, eventually, to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel

The sing along area

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Wisconsin

My home state appears to be immune from pressure on the subject of global warming. We're set for our coldest July day since 1900!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Memory in the Unborn

Here's a remarkable new study presented today on Good Morning America about pre-natal memory development. (I am unable to post the video here, for some reason.) Will this jolt more people into thinking seriously about the bigger question implied here? It's fascinating to listen to the language used in this story. When the discussion isn't specifically about abortion, nobody seems to doubt the humanity/personhood of the unborn child.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Manners and Elegance


Confronted by the left's apotheosis in domestic politics, here are some timely thoughts for consideration from Professor Daniel J. Mahoney, reflecting on the political theory of Bertrand de Jouvenel:
European chivalry had tied manliness to gentleness and had “subdued the fierceness of pride and power.” In Christian Europe, authority had been tamed by elegance and “subdued by manners.” But modern rationalist philosophy, vulgarized by the revolutionaries, had no place for taste, elegance, or even moral self-restraint. Its cold, calculating rationality undermined the “love, veneration, admiration, or attachment” that connect people to their commonwealth. In Burke’s view, public affections, combined with manners, are required as “supplements,” correctives” and “aids” to the law. The French Revolution left “another inheritance: it…hallowed violence.”

Taken from Bertrand de Jouvenel: The Conservative Liberal and the Illusions of Modernity

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Weight of the "Personal Story"

Estrada's "story" didn't matter all that much

Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings solidify the prominence of the "personal story" era in contemporary politics. Candidate Barack Obama, perhaps the most narcissistic politician ever to descend on the political scene, was the forerunner in this movement. Throughout the campaign, we witnessed how personality and background consistently eclipsed experience, qualifications, issues and philosophy. To this day, he rarely gets through a speech without making some conspicuous reference to his personal story or background. But, as several Republican senators pointed out during today's confirmation hearings, it's a one-way street, this personal story bit. Miguel Estrada, a brilliant conservative Hispanic, had a similarly impressive personal story, like Sotomayor, but he saw his prospects for judicial advancement derailed by Senate Democrats, who gave scant notice to his story and labeled him an ideologue. Ditto for Janice Rogers Brown, who barely survived the senate's gauntlet and was eventually (barely) confirmed as a federal judge. Personal stories, you see, matter only if you're a doctrinaire liberal. If you happen to be a qualified conservative with a great personal story, you're out of the mainstream and you're story is totally irrelevant. Just ask Clarence Thomas.

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As a rough, unpolished afterthought, could the explosion in popularity of things like blogs, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc., have something to do with the heightened importance placed on one's "personal story" in politics and pop-culture? Not that these things are bad in themselves (if used properly) but for many, they appear simply to be shallow outlets for endless self-promotion.

"Change" in Store for the Military?


Anyone searching for an intelligent, concise rebuttal to those arguing in favor of allowing open homosexuality in the military will find a superb resource in MacKubin Thomas Owens' essay, Ask, tell, whatever? Gays-in-the-military comes up again.

I think I've linked to this piece before, but the controversial subject has been resurrected of late in the wake of Obama's election. The president repeatedly promised while on the campaign trail that, were he to be elected, he would overturn the current "Don't ask, don't tell" policy enacted by President Clinton (who utterly botched his attempt to change the policy more radically) and supported overwhelmingly by military personnel. Lately, the left has been turning up the heat on the president to finally make good on his word.
But let's address the broadest question: Why prohibit open homosexual service at all? Congress provided the answer in 1993, when it passed the current law: "Homosexuality is incompatible with military service and presents a risk to the morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that underpin military effectiveness."

An important element of war is "friction," which Clausewitz described as "the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper." Clausewitz's friction describes the cumulative effect of the small, often unnoticeable events that are amplified in war, producing unanticipated macro-effects. Military effectiveness aims at reducing the impact of friction and other obstacles to success on the battlefield.

Most research has shown unit cohesion is critical to military effectiveness and battlefield success. The key to cohesion is what the Greeks called philia--friendship, comradeship, or brotherly love. Philia is the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery together. Its importance has been described by J. Glenn Gray in The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle:

Numberless soldiers have died, more or
less willingly, not for country or honor or
religious faith or for any other abstract
good, but because they realized that by
fleeing their posts and rescuing themselves,
they would expose their companions
to greater danger. Such loyalty to the
group is the essence of fighting morale.
The commander who can preserve and
strengthen it knows that all other physical
and psychological factors are little in comparison.
The feeling of loyalty, it is clear, is
the result, not the cause, of comradeship.
Comrades are loyal to each other spontaneously
and without any need for reasons.


The presence of open homosexuals (and women) in the close confines of ships or military units opens the possibility that eros will be unleashed into an environment based on philia, creating friction and corroding the very source of military excellence itself. It does so by undermining the non-sexual bonding essential to unit cohesion as described by Gray. Unlike philia, eros is sexual, and therefore individual and exclusive. Eros manifests itself as sexual competition, protectiveness, and favoritism, all of which undermine order, discipline, and morale. These are issues of life and death, and help to explain why open homosexuality and homosexual behavior traditionally have been considered incompatible with military service.
Emphasis added

Learn more about Carl von Clausewitz here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Iran, Vindicated

In stark contrast to the steely resolve of the administration of Andrew Jackson, here is a sobering piece by Andrew McCarthy on an under-reported decision by the Obama Administration to release Iranian operatives responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. It represents a sorry capitulation more in the tradition of Clinton and Carter than with Jackson, T. Roosevelt and Reagan.
There are a few things you need to know about President Obama’s shameful release on Thursday of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds — yes, hundreds — of American soldiers and Marines.

First, of the 4,322 Americans killed in combat in Iraq since 2003, 10 percent of them (i.e., more than 400) have been murdered by a single type of weapon alone, a weapon that is supplied by Iran for the singular purpose of murdering Americans. As Steve Schippert explains at NRO’s military blog, the Tank, the weapon is “the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s IRGC specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field.” Understand: This does not mean Iran has killed only 400 Americans in Iraq. The number killed and wounded at the mullahs’ direction is far higher than that — likely multiples of that — when factoring in the IRGC’s other tactics, such as the mustering of Hezbollah-style Shiite terror cells.

Second, President Bush and our armed forces steadfastly refused demands by Iran and Iraq’s Maliki government for the release of the Irbil Five because Iran was continuing to coordinate terrorist operations against American forces in Iraq (and to aid Taliban operations against American forces in Afghanistan). Freeing the Quds operatives obviously would return the most effective, dedicated terrorist trainers to their grisly business.

Old Hickory


What to make of President Andrew Jackson? On the one hand, he loathed the secessionist and nullification movements that were flaring up in South Carolina, led primarily by his arch-nemesis John C. Calhoun. Thus, Jackson opposed one interpretation of Jeffersonian political theory, i.e., the underlying thesis behind the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. On the other hand, one of Jackson's primary objectives as president was to stamp out, once and for all, any vestige of the national bank, setting himself squarely against the Hamiltonian camp. A fierce nationalist who saved New Orleans and perhaps even the Union in the War of 1812, maybe the best way to read Jackson is to see him as his own man who paved his unique path, embracing some of Hamilton and a little of Jefferson. Anyone curious to learn more about the fiery Andrew Jackson should pick up Jon Meacham's Pulitzer Prize winning biography: Andrew Jackson: American Lion. While I do not agree with all of Meacham's conclusions, overall, he does a fine job in presenting Jackson's virtues and faults to the reader. One of my favorite lines from the book is a quote from Jackson to his doctor.

"Now doctor, I can do anything you think proper to order and endure as much as most men. There are only two things that I can't give up: one is coffee and the other is tobacco."

Judging Thomas


A thoughtful piece by Michael Barone on the reticent Supreme Court justice.
Justice Clarence Thomas has now served on the Supreme Court for 18 years, longer than most of the other 109 men and women who have sat on that high bench. Yet he remains an enigma to many. In the court’s open hearings he sits mute while most of his colleagues pepper counsel with questions. Yet he can be seen trading quips with his seatmate, Justice Stephen Breyer — a hint of the gregarious Clarence Thomas whose close friends describe him as a man with a wide-ranging intellect and gutsy sense of humor that takes flight in what they call “The Laugh.”

The Rain in Spain


When a political party controls all the levers of power in government, it often becomes the victim of its own success and, by extension, its ambition and arrogance, regardless of the strength or position of the opposing party. (This political truism could apply, in a qualified sense, to the GOP in the United States.) Spain is already suffering from the highest unemployment rate in Europe, which augurs poorly for the ruling socialists. And now, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his leftist cohorts are trying to railroad a bill through parliament that would make it legal for a 16-year-old obtain an abortion without parental consent.

From the Associated Press:
MADRID – Spain's Socialist prime minister has irked his natural enemies on the right and in the Catholic church by legalizing gay marriage and instituting fast-track divorce. Now he has hit a raw nerve even among his supporters with a proposal to let 16-year-olds get abortions without parental consent.

The debate is harsh and emotional, showing that for all the changes Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has introduced with his trailblazing social agenda since taking power in 2004, abortion remains sensitive in a country where most people call themselves Catholic, even if few churches are full on Sundays.

Polling numbers are against him: A survey published last month by the newspaper La Vanguardia said 71 percent oppose the teenage abortion reform, and the proportion among Socialist voters was 60 percent. A poll in El Pais put the figures at 64 and 56 percent, respectively. Both surveys gave a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama, Joe Catholic and the Pope


An article in Newsweek is provocatively titled, More Catholic than the Pope. To no ones surprise, it was penned by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a name that should immediately betray the article's slant. The point of her screed is to limn why Barack Obama is a better representation of Joe Catholic than the pope himself. While arrogantly put forward and, considering the source, totally predictable, there is more to the story. There are elements that Kennedy Townsend conveniently glosses over in her attempt to place her own conscience at peace, to make Obama look mainstream and the pope out of touch. What the article fails to grapple with is that, if there is any truth to its claim, it is the result of one of two factors: ignorance regarding the faith or rank infidelity...or a little bit of a both. For generations now, the Kennedy clan has unapologetically demonstrated its proficiency in both schools: ignorance and infidelity.

Truth be told however, there is indeed a festering wound in the Catholic Church in America; a problem derivative of the horrendous catechesis that stretches back several decades and of which people like Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are the prime beneficiaries. The pope is clearly aware of this disparity, even if some in our own leadership stateside prefer to turn a blind eye to the fact.

The Protestant Obama embraces, along with many American Catholics, the alluring lie of relativism and utilitarianism. Many American Catholics have incorrectly transfered the checks and balances/separation of powers political formula to their approach to theology and ethics. In other words, it is okay, even commendable, to disagree on the fundamental teachings of the Church, just as it is commendable to disagree on matters of state in the agora of civil society. This infidelity (or declaration of independence, as otherwise falsely construed) signifies to the believer a certain protection of his individuality and autonomy from meddling outside forces. But, as Bertrand de Jouvenel stressed in his firm rejection of Hobbes, it is false to conceive of man apart from his connection to the community, to others, and by extension, the moral obligations to which he is bound as a result. Enlightenment notions of radical sovereignty are misplaced, erroneous, even dangerous. But many American Catholics have imbibed this modern doctrine and applied it to the practice of the faith. Hence, the article from Newsweek and hence, the Kennedy problem.

Friday, July 10, 2009

For the First Time



From TIME:
Body language says a lot about a world leader's audience with the Pope. During his 2007 visit to Pope Benedict XVI's private library, President George W. Bush sat down across the desk from the Pontiff as if he had just landed on his own porch in Crawford, Texas: leaning back in the velvet chair, legs crossed, apparently eager to show his command of the situation.

When President Barack Obama sat down in that same spot on Friday, July 10, for his first papal meeting, his posture was altogether different. Leaning forward from the front edge of the chair, his shoulders slightly hunched, his crossed hands resting softly on the edge of the Pope's desk, the leader of the free world looked more like a schoolboy who'd arrived to humbly plead his case to the principal.

WFB: Catholic


Here's a rich first-hand account of the Catholic William F. Buckley Jr., told from the perspective of (gasp!) an Episcopalian and close friend Neal Freeman.
I was introduced to the woman who would become my Catholic wife, of course, by Bill Buckley. It was part of his indefatigable campaign to enlist me in the legions of Rome. Every few years for a half-century he would inquire, “Mon vieux, are you still a stalwart Episcopalian?” I would reply that I was. He would then say in a pained tone, “Ohhhh, I see,” as if he had been reminded yet again that my ignorance was invincible.

Bracing for the "Common Ground" Spin


We can expect Obama's fast-acting spin doctors, people John Adams would derisively call "puffers," to kick it into high gear in order to dress-up the president's highly anticipated meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. I can only hope that the Vatican's communication department is sufficiently savvy and prepared to beat the Obama team to the punch. I'm not optimistic though, on that question. A master of co-opting language and situations to his advantage, the president (not to mention his bumptious mouthpiece Robert Gibbs who kissed the pope's ring at the audience today) is sure to emphasize the ample "common ground" that he shares with the pope on a wide range of issues, all the while giving scant notice to no doubt the pope's primary concern: the president's militant support for abortion.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Lecturing the World

As predicted, this global warming nonsense is spinning out of control, even as more and more scientists are questioning its dubious assertions. In Italy for the G8 Summit, Obama has taken to lecturing the poorer nations of the world to join in the effort to curb the effects of global warming, suggesting that there is no tension between such measures and economic growth.

"There is no contradiction between environmentally sustainable growth and robust economic growth," Obama said at the conclusion of a forum of the world's 17 major economies, which account for about 80 percent of emissions of heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. "We can either shape our future or we can let events shape it for us."

This is patently absurd. The cap and trade bill, which passed the House a couple weeks ago, is a legislative wrecking ball aimed squarely at the most dynamic edifices of our economy. If it ever passes the Senate, heaven forbid, and is signed into law by the president, it will prove as painfully wrongheaded and disastrous as the stimulus packages are playing out to be right now. If poorer nations have any real desire to elevate their people from the abject misery and poverty to which they are subject to on a daily basis, they should encourage free enterprise and responsibility and tell the incompetent snobs at the G8 to cut the horsefeathers and mind their own business. Don't hold your breath though.

Where Credit is Due

From the Telegraph: Obama offered some refreshing comments about the tendency of many in the third world and elsewhere to blame the West for every manifestation of misery on the African Continent. This one surprised me, to be honest.

"I think part of what's hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we've made excuses about corruption or poor governance, that this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism – I'm not a big – I'm not a believer in excuses...The West and the United States has not been responsible for what's happened to Zimbabwe's economy over the last 15 or 20 years. It hasn't been responsible for some of the disastrous policies that we've seen elsewhere in Africa. And I think that it's very important for African leadership to take responsibility and be held accountable."

Presidents and Polls


From Politico:

In a potentially alarming trend for the White House, independent voters are deserting President Barack Obama nationally and especially in key swing states, recent polls suggest.

Obama’s job approval rating hit a — still healthy — low of 56 percent in the Gallup Poll on Wednesday. And pollsters are debating whether Obama’s expansive and expensive policy proposals or the ground-level realities of a still-faltering economy are driving the falling numbers.


How about both? It's such a shame, as conservatives predicted the disastrous results that we are now witnessing play out before us. Turns out, we weren't just whistling Dixie. We can only hope those poll numbers continue to fall, fall, fall.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Meeting


A thoughtful piece by George Weigel touching on Friday's meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and President Obama:
Should the president reply (as both his May commencement address at Notre Dame and his July 2 interview with religion reporters suggest he might) that people of good will ought to be able to find "common ground" on reducing the incidence of abortion and providing more effective aid for women in crisis pregnancies, Professor Ratzinger would likely thank Obama for such efforts—and then point out that any "common ground" will become slippery and untenable if it does not rest on the firm foundation of reason and moral principle. That, he might well add, is the lesson to be drawn from the two most impressive moral revolutions of the late 20th century: the American civil-rights movement, and the human-rights revolution that produced the Revolution of 1989 and the demise of European communism.

Another thought: Obama is not at all interested in reducing the number of abortions. How can he be when he promises and attempts to knock down any and all restrictions to abortion? He always offers this "common ground" approach to the pro-life side. It's yet another example of his rhetorical chicanery. When has he ever sought to limit access to abortion?

Bernardin and Obama


Speaking days before his audience with Pope Benedict XVI, President Obama lauded the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and his "seamless garment" approach to social issues.

After strong criticism from the pro-life movement for its apparent ambiguities, Bernardin clarified things somewhat, singling out abortion as a unique, intrinsic evil that cannot be placed on the same plane as the death penalty. The distorted form of the "seamless garment" view, while discredited and flatly rejected by the pope (see his '04 letter to US bishops, written while still a cardinal), nonetheless remains a powerful and preferred weapon of the left to neutralize and muddle the strength of the pro-life position. It's frustrating to hear Obama resurrect this, yet even more maddening that he can disingenuously make reference to a Prince of the Church for the ratification and vindication of his own erroneous view. Should Obama bring this up in his meeting with the Holy Father it will prove an awkward moment.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Unreal Real World


Not to be needlessly controversial or smug, but does anyone else have a sense of "Is this for real?" when they see the community organizer on the world stage. I keep waiting for the SNL skit to end and for the adults to step in...

Moving on, Henry Kissinger offers some insights on world politics in a wide-ranging interview. This story appeared under the one entitled Malia Obama: a budding fashionista?. Hence, our priorities are in order.