Numbers and Words Put Together
David Berlinski's new book, One, Two, Three is on the desks of several of my colleagues this week. David Klinghoffer has read it, and offers a reflective review.
David Berlinski's new book, One, Two, Three is on the desks of several of my colleagues this week. David Klinghoffer has read it, and offers a reflective review.
Yuri Mamchur, head of Discovery's Real Russia Project, is printed in The Daily Star in Beirut today.
The Museum of Biblical Art, located in New York, is getting increased attention and respect. It might seem unlikely, but the rich tradition of Bible-inspired art and music make for a fine thematic museum of collections and special events. The latest is "On Eagles' Wings: The King James Bible Turns 400."
Only 400? It seems as though the KJV is as rooted in our very language and mental imagery as anything could be. Regardless of your religion or lack of it, an educated person has to know the KJV.
What MOBIA, the new museum, does is enable people to think of their culture in new ways--based on the old.
Standard and Poors downgraded US credit today for the first time. So much for assertions that the S&P gets contracts from the US government and would never bite the hand that feeds it.
A downgrade was what was supposed to happen if Congress did NOT approve a debt deal. A stock market drop--which we are having--was supposed to happen also if the deal did NOT go through. The deal went through.
Maybe Standard and Poors and the market know something about the quality of the budget reduction package that the President does not; namely that it is tenuous and trivial in comparison with the size of the problem America faces.
There is a lot President Obama could do to revive the economy. Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal thinks the crisis in his presidency might actually force Mr. Obama to confront the need for pro-growth tax reform. As Moore points out, among the many ideas for a budget deal put forward in recent weeks was a bi-partisan proposal with such tax reform at its heart. Close business loopholes and reduce personal deductions--in other words, increase taxation of consumption--while lowering tax rates on investment--the creation of new jobs.
I see no reason rich people need a deduction on a $750,000 mortgage for a second or third home. I do consider it in the public interest that such persons be encouraged to put their money directly into investments.
Imagine if, instead of the gargantuan waste of "stimulus", the President had promoted a pro-growth investment strategy two years ago!
One of the favorite tropes of the New York Times is to find some development it deplores, then find someone who shares the scorn of the editors--and then report the reaction it sought as the news peg. This approach is on full display in a revelation of a "debate" growing over the religiosity of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. The debate really starts with the TImes.
Perry is expected to announce a race for President this week. But instead of reporting on that, the progressive New York Times seeks to make an issue out of Perry's conservative Christian faith. They do that by looking for people to interview who don't like that faith--at least not in a candidate.
This is shooting ducks in a barrel for the Times. Perry is the kind of politician one often sees in Texas, and much of the rest of the country--and in much of American history--who wears his religion on his sleeve. In Manhattan, however, that is considered dangerous, subversive, and certainly "fundamentalist".
Do you have a sense you've seen this movie before?
One of the most intriguing political writers today is Mustafa Akyol of Turkey, a journalist and commentator in Istanbul, whose book, Islam Without Extremes: An Islamic Case for Liberty, has just been published by W. W. Norton. It is Akyol's argument that freedom in the ways recognized in the Western tradition, will be best promoted in Islamic countries if the government is in some sense Islamic rather than secularist.
He has a point, indeed, several points. Most 20th and 21st century Arab dictatorships have been secular and have feared and siuppressed Islamists--Syria, Iraq, even Egypt and Tunisia. These regimes have been ruthless, as we see now in the cities of Syria.
But we also see a different extreme in Iran, and, for that matter, in de facto daily governance in Pakistan. There Islamists cruelly attack people of other faiths and impose a tyrannous brand of Islam on their own co-religionists.
Unfortunately, Akyol's model of a best path in contemporary life is Turkey. Its government has repudiated many of the excesses of the former secular government and turned its economy, at least, toward the West. However, Turkey is also a poor model on many accounts; press censorship, for example. True freedom of religion for another.
Akyol therefore is most interested in historic examples of the kind of liberty-loving government he thinks is possible for Muslims. For these one must go back a long ways, and the record isn't clear.
On the other hand, the models of republican freedom for the American Founders were not untainted, either. Think of democratic Athens and Reublican Rome. In other words, the American Founders had to invent the system they wanted. The historic "models" were mainly points of reference.
At his strongest, Akyol holds out the hope for a brand new version of government within an Islamic context.
President Obama addressed the nation about the S & P downgrade of U.S. credit, with the Dow already down at that hour by 426 points. It continued down even as he spoke, like some horrifying approval meter used to test audience reactions at a debate. A few hours later the Dow--definitely not inspired or encouraged by the Orator in Chief--was down 635 points.
President Obama talked down to the Markets, treating them like some political crowd at a fundraiser. People who invest money in U.S. equities, including many from overseas, are not partisans, nor are they uninformed. They have been following the economic news closely. When the President, who thinks he is the model of persuasion, tried again to blame others for the economy and offered almost nothing hopeful on his own behalf, he misjudged his audience. Investors didn't like what they heard and they didn't believe him.
The one thing that might have redeemed his talk was his promise to put forward a new budget proposal. But he even stepped on that line.
I don't know how many more confidence inspiring talks by President Obama the economy can stand.
The death in England of Nancy Wake, 98, has given rise to hundreds of obituaries that chronicle the spectacular spy career of a feisty, lovely young Australian woman who saved hundreds of allied soldiers and airmen from the Nazis in World War II. Dubbed the "White Mouse" by the Gestapo, Wake's life is a brilliant saga of wartime derring-do.
Wake was charmingly feminine in style, up to the point where she went into spy action, when she could strangle a man with her bare hands.
I had never heard of Nancy Wake. Apparently, there were biographies of her, a memoir in 1985 and a TV miniseries Wake scorned for its inaccuracies. Wake was proud that she had run a network of spies herself, as well as being a spy herself.
"'For goodness sake, did the allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men?,' she asked. ''There wasn't an egg to be had for love nor money, and even if there had been, why would I be frying it when I had men to do that sort of thing?'"
For goodness sake, make a high quality movie of this amazing woman's life!
A peculiar hit piece on Michelle Bachman by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker tries a guilt by association technique: Bachman says she was influenced by certain books, so Lizza carefully examines these books for ideas or phrases that can be used to denigrate Bachman. One particularly offensive misuse of investigative journalism is to accuse Bachman of "Dominionism" because, the writer imagines, this term reflects a Christian committment that is not satisfied to express itself in Sunday church services, but wants to apply a Biblical perspective to all of life.
Get it? Bachman supposedly wants to shove the Bible down people's throats. Such an assault on the separation of church and state!
But, at least in the case of the late Francis Schaeffer, the influential Calvinist philosopher who taught for decades in Switzerland, and one of his students, the author Nancy Pearcey, the "Dominionist" label is just a made up slur. It derives from the Genesis admonition of God to man to seek "dominion" over the Earth.
Nancy Pearcey answers today in Human Events. . But I would stress the fact that the most important insight of the civil rights movement in this country (and earlier in Britain) was to apply Christian principles to the generality of public life. Who was Martin Luther King, after all?
Do atheists not also have a worldview? Do they not test their actions against it? Are they not suspicious of ideas that come from outside it?
Religious bigotry is becoming a theme on the left, and now it is entering the Presidential race. One of the most popular plays on Broadway right now is The Book of Mormon, an out and out smear of Mormons. In another time, it might just be a no-hold-barred expression of cultural satire, but today there are two Mormons running for President, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Both probably expected opposition from the far right, but now it appears that a campaign of bigotry against them by secular elites can be anticipated.
Meanwhile, the national media also have looked scornfully on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prospective because of his prominence at a prayer rally in Houston last week. Especially worthy of condemnation, it seems, is Perry's contention that one can pray for the economy, American success in Afghanistan and any number of other public subjects, in addition to personal salvation. A challenge to separation of church and state? Try telling that to Abraham Lincoln or FDR.
Here's a thought experiment: if you want to understand someone's point of view, look at it from the inside, not just the outside. How does the person think about the world? Pope John Paul II made that request of critics of the Catholic Church and it can applied more broadly. When you do that, the paranoia that the political left is trying to engender, and then exploit, starts to dissipate. Ask less about seemingly peculiar rituals or obscure doctrines of a church, for example, and more about what are that church or other body's record of accomplishments--and the same of a candidate who practices that faith.
If the New York Times is right, the main consideration for Democrats regarding the economy is what approach will help them most politically in the 2012 election--not the well being of the American people in the intervening 14 months. If the Times is wrong (including the quotations it used from people in the White House and on the Hill), then maybe the Democrats should protest this story. If the story is true, maybe the Repubicans should talk about it.
Britons are trying to understand what would cause people to riot. It hardly seems to be about police relations (that choice old political excuse everywhere) or even government budget cutbacks. All kinds of people joined in. Unlike justifiable protests in Syria, for example, these demonstrations were opportunistic and cynical.
What the Cameron government proposes to do, inter alia, is punish those convicted rioters who are on the dole by slashing their benefits. That will show them! The Government also is going to look at other programs of the state that might be leveraged to encourage lawfulness.
How about looking at the materialism of English culture that has been cut off from religious roots and is mired in consumerism? Materialism of the philosophical and scientific sort--the sort advanced by Richard Dawkins and celebrated on the BBC and the pages of British papers and magazines--is echoed in the consumerism promoted on TV and the Internet, on bus cards and billboards. If there is nothing to life but one's possessions and no morality but what one wants and can get away with, why not take a jolly good chance to loot?
Vancouver, BC recently was humiliated by burning and looting after the season's hockey championship game. Vancouver lost to Boston that night, but even if it had won, anarchists and looters were prepared for action. They gleefully took advantage.
The void is not in the law, but in the culture. The morally disabled are trying to fill the hole in their lives--with action and things. Did people riot like this 100 years ago?
If David Mamet (Wag the Dog) were to do a new satircial movie about politics, he could do worse than start his picture at the highly hyped "Iowa Straw Poll" held in Ames yesterday. The "poll" required people to pay $35 to take part; there was nothing official about it, even as an opinion survey. Many a voters' poll tax was paid by the campaigns of the candidates. How is that representative of anything? Nor was participation notable. The winner, Rep. Michelle Bachman, got a grand 4800 votes. Whooee!
There may have been more reporters and cameramen around than there were paying "voters".
Yet on the basis of this faux democratic test--five or six months before actual primary action, or even Iowa Caucus action--Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race for President because he came in only third. And at the state fairgronds where the "poll" was staged, Rep. Bachman exploded in gratitude as if she had won the Miss Iowa beauty contest instead of a rigged, phoney carnival game.
Are people crazy? Or only the media and the political class?
By Yuri Mamchur (cross-posted at Real Russia Blog)
Coincidentally, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored the Fanagoria archeological expedition, and my friend, just like Putin, retrieved a similar vase; it's now resting at our family's dacha (country home) in the Moscow suburbs. A photo of our vase is coming, after my family back in Russia takes it and sends it over to Seattle where I am currently.... -- YM
What do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck have in common? They are celebrities, and nothing more! Everybody knows them, but no one is too sure what exactly any of them is doing. Karl Rove's article in The Wall Street Journal "Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week" nails all the necessary points in regards to the American president. Obama talks, blames, and smiles i-n his white unbuttoned shirt. That, apparently, is not enough to curb the worst financial crisis in world's modern history.
Ben Affleck? He is a celebrity and a handsome man. But no one can really remember his most recent hit movie. To help out Russia Blog readers who are his fans -- the movie is called The Company Men, and features another now-irrelevant star, Kevin Costner. With a production budget of $15 million, the movie grossed only $4.9 million worldwide. An "ouch" moment for the film's investors -- a feeling similar to that which the Chinese government is experiencing in relationship to Obama's White House economic program.
However, in our weekend stardom marathon, Vladimir Putin takes first place with his new action movies of diving underwater and retrieving ancient Greek artifacts. By a pure coincidence, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored archeological expedition in Fanagoria--a Russian town that is the location of an ancient Greek city. The Russian government under back-then President Putin didn't want to do anything with the expedition, leaving the sponsorship to Russian private businessmen, some of whom fell out of Putin's favor... But that's a different story. Today, when Putin is prime minister, the government donates about 50 rubles (one dollar and eighty cents) per day to the income of each of the scientists and archeologists working on the site. That is, not much. However, uncomfortable facts and unwritten rules of ethics do not prevent the prime minister from going on a lavish vacation to the site he never supported. Meanwhile, Russia's ruble--backed by piles of gold, diamonds, gas, oil, and zero innovation--is slipping alongside the "evil" dollar (the ruble has lost 10% of its value next to the struggling dollar in the past several weeks).
A few days ago (August 11), noting the death of Nancy Wake at 98, I suggested that the life of this remarkable woman would make a great movie. (A mini-series on TV was constructed more or less about her, and the fictional Charlotte Gray was inspired by her.) Well, a reader advises me that it is being made into a movie, named, appropriately, The White Mouse, the code name the Gestapo gave the Allied spy. The true story of Nancy Wake needs no embellishment, just dramatization.
The film-maker is the famous Australian, Bruce Beresford, director of a long parade of films with great stories, often with dramatic but understated didacticism. Breaker Morant, Black Robe and Driving Miss Daisy are some of them. It appears that Beresford may be producing rather than directing this one.
Shooting of the film starts next year. Wish I could be there.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn
Though one hesitates to say something in Seattle is ever actually
finished, in the land of indecision, it appears that a decision has
finally been made. With nearly 60 percent in favor, Seattle voters told
their elected officials on Tuesday to move forward with a tunnel
replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
As The Seattle Times reports, the defeat of the effort to recall the earlier decision to build the tunnel sets into motion the final bureaucratic and regulatory approvals that will move the project forward rapidly and allow "the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to tell its tunnel contractors by Sept. 1 to move into final design and construction."
The streams of freeways that now flow across the land were built for transporation purposes, and that's about it. Like so many good ideas, the "parkway" designs of mid-20th Century suburban New York were not widely copied. Put in the concrete, plant a few trees on the sidings and move on; that has been the common modern approach. It may be changing. Public pressure and better education for planners help.
Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center has urged freeway "lids"--green, active spaces atop freeways where the road cuts make them feasible--and especially in dense urban areas where land is expensive. The "Freeway Park" in downtown Seattle is over forty years old, but its design is still advanced. Fountains provide white noise to cover the traffic sounds. Flowers bloom in profusion, thanks to the wisdom of civic planner, Jim Ellis, who realized that a privately raised fund would be needed for such purposes; otherwise, the City Council would vote to remove the flower beds as soon as the City had a financial strain--which cities have just about every year.
Discovery urged freeway lids for all new construction, because that's when funds are most available as "mitigation" expenses. Some five years ago we urged that lids be used landside for the expansion of Route 520 that branches
Fighters in the early news stories out of Libya were wearing heavy jackets; now it's T-Shirts in the searing sun. But finally Gaddaffi's fate appears more certain. Tripoli is surrounded. Government ministers and military are defecting, each undoubtedly bringing new intelligence to the insurgents and deepening fear in Gaddaffi's circle.
Think of how Bashir Assad, in Damascus, must be viewing the news of Gaddaffi's peril. When Libya's prospective liberation is realized as fact, Syrian rebels will take fresh courage and determination. More arms from Iran and goons from Hezbollah in Lebanon won't change the calculus then.
If Syria goes, how long can Hezbollah hold on in Lebanon?
Pessimism is in vogue in the West today, given the economy and the seeming intractability of the Taliban. But as the tenth anniversay of 9/11 approaches, think of all the positive changes that have taken place in the MIddle East. Even the situation of Israel may be improving, thanks to its decade-long boom and an increasing technological prowess that--among other things--is allowing the tiny dynamo to create new defenses against the Iranians as well as Hamas. Bin Laden is dead. Saddam Hussen is gone and a democratic government operates in Iraq. Gaddaffi is failling fast. The end of the duplicitous Assad family would be an excellent new development.
The fall of Gaddafi in Libya will lower price expectations for oil prices further. Libyan oil is "sweet" and accessible. Remember that when the civil war began six months ago, prices rose. What goes up, must come down.
Libya's revolution is bad news for Assad in Syria (see below), but it also is bound to be unwelcome in Venezuela, where free-spending anti-Western Hugo Chavez is wobbly, and in Iran, where the mullahs need oil money to still criticism from the masses. Less money equals less support.
In America and Europe, lower oil prices will assist economic recovery more than any government "stimulus" one can think of.
Maybe there are Canadians who knew Jack Layton, who died yesterday, and have something bad to say about him. But I rather doubt it. From this Yankee's distant viewpoint he was a gentleman of the Left who gave a fervent, yet happy, sheen to Canadian politics. The Hubert Humphrey of Canada's New Democrtatic Party, Layton was a gallant champion of labor and the disaffected. He managed in the last election to oust the Liberal Party as the nation's Loyal Opposition and did so while still suffering from cancer.
Indeed, as the campaign proceeded, Layton seemed bouoyed by the crowds, nearly throwing away his cane. He savored Parliamentary life and reveled in campaigning.
Only 61, Layton will long be honored by the Canadian Left as a heroic standard-bearer, and by everyone else as an exemplar of the worth of democratic politics. As Canada graces the free West, Layton graced Canada.
The Conservative Government of Canada should gieve, especially. They may not again have such a worthy opponent.
In the telling of the Russian Orthodox Church, freedom began 20 years ago when the attempted coup against Gorbachev was defeated and Yeltsin took over.
Ann Coulter is so funny that people fail to notice the well read public intellectual behind the laughing smile and endless blonde tresses. In this piece in Human Events she reminds us (she is not shy) that she had produced a No. 1 bestseller on the evolution topic (Godless: The church of Liberalism)--even though the New York Times, the top of whose list she graced, did not bother to review it.
She jokes of Chris Matthews, who plainly has not had a bestseller or any-seller on evolution, and yet thinks he is an expert, "The definition of hell is being condescended to by idiots. It will probably be MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Contessa Brewer sneering at you for all of eternity for not believing in evolution."
Matthews, as Coulter notes, likes to nag presidential aspirants with a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife question on evolution. I would like to ask Matthews if he believes in asking intelligent questions and allowing guests to give a full answer before interrupting them.
Are you lazy? Well, little darlings, it may not be your fault. It is probably your parents' fault. That is the latest insight from genetic determinism--Darwinian theory applied to practically everything.
The ABA Journal is very interested in this issue. Someone may get sued. Operating principle: What can be imagined can be litigated.
Until someone figures out how to put one's ancestors in the dock, however, the only solution for the laziness gene is a big federal program funded through the next federal stimulus program--the one we get once taxes are raised.
I'd put that program together myself, but it's mid-afternoon and time for my nap.
Climate heat on Earth is mostly controlled by cosmic rays and the Sun, says a prestigious article by an international scientific team, published (reluctantly, it seems) in Nature. In other words, the shrillness on the subject of global warming that one hears from Al Gore and The New York Times, and, for that matter, the "consensus of Science", is becoming less credible and more annoying.
David Brooks of the New York Times--erstwhile conservative--last week espied great danger in the mindset of the Right: doubting global warming, evolution and Obama's birth in America. Putting all of these together was a way of stigmatizing those who, with reason, doubt global warming and/or Darwin's unguided process of evolution. The birth issue is something else altogether.
Gore might like to have polite society rule skepticism about man-made global warming out of order, but he's not succeeding. In similar fashion, misrepresenting and then assailing critics of Darwinism is bound to deteriorate as an ideological strategy.
Free speech to most of the establishment means free speech for unpopular liberal causes. The position of the left is that conservative positions--especially on cultural issues--do not deserve to be heard on their own terms. Their advocates do not get to speak on the record; they only are spoken about.
So the just-announced $100,000 settlement of a First Amendment case against the publicly-supported California Science Center in Los Angeles is an important breakthrough in establishing the right of Darwin-doubters to air their views in public museums and universities. In this instance, the controversy was over the museum's decision, under pressure, to cancel the airing of a documentary film, Darwin's Dilemma, that was to be followed by a discussion led by Dr. David Berlinski.
The sad thing is, most media, including some political pundits, don't bother to study the issue because they think they already understand it. They are like some scholar in the Middle Ages who thought he could understand a banned book by reading what someone who prepared the Index had to say about it.
Congratulations to Avi Davis and American Freedom Alliance that brought the suit against the California Science Center, The Rutherford Institute that financed much of the legal challenge and Bill Becker, attorney.
We all consider it safer to live in England than in Israel. But is that assumption correct? Judith Levy says "no".
Reason TV has just put up its Nick Gillespie interview of George Gilder from the recent Freedomfest in Las Vegas, and, as usual, George is entertaining and provocative.
Gilder thinks President Obama is a "hard leftist" by background who has done more damage to America's economy than a "nuclear bomb". He would take any of the Republican alternatives, but when asked who would be best, he says, "Newt Gingrich, if he weren't such a jerk."
But mainly the 21 minute program is a tour of Gilder's works over 40 years and his efforts to link supply side economics with technology futurism and social conservatism.
(Also at Freedomfest, Gilder "debated" Peter Thiel on whether the future of technology is bright or dark. See Richard Rahn's article in The Washington Times.)
See him on TV, read an article by or about him (such as economist Peter Ferrara's excellent online piece at American Spectator) or hear him speak, and one's respect for the mind and political imagination of Newt Gingrich is rekindled.
For example, the former Speaker--the man who forged a GOP House majority in 1994 that endured until 2006--has sage advice for today's Republican House Leaders: pass another jobs and growth bill now, and explain it to the public so that the strongest contrast can be drawn with the Obama Administration's cut and paste agenda of more spending, regulation and taxes. Show how past reforms--such as the welfare law passed when he was Speaker and that President Clinton signed--not only saved money, but also got poor people out of poverty and created jobs. Smart reform is the best "stimulus".
Newt, the public policy strategist, can't be beat. He is far ahead of any other candidate for President in this regard. Newt's problem, then, is not related to his ability to synthesize strategic themes; indeed, those are his greatest strengths. Unfortunately, you need more than bright ideas to get elected President.
A Slatest column by Jack Shafer demands that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resign because of a Wikileaks report that cables "under her name" went out asking U.S. diplomats to spy on their counterparts overseas. Shafer is repeating a demand of Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange.
Simply put, what do Slate and Jack Shafer (and Julian Assange) really know about the State Department? Are they aware that virtually every State cable not about a very specific item goes out under the Secretary of State's name? In other words, the likelihood that Hillary Clinton sees, let alone approves, any given cable of the hundreds or thousands sent daily is next to nil.
The reason for this procedure, I guess, is to make sure that whatever someone sends out from Foggy Bottom has the full force of the Department behind it. But, the custom does lead to preposterous conclusions like Shafer's. If Secretary Clinton did organize a spying expedition, the leaks would, indeed, be embarrassing. But it is highly doubtful that she would have the time, let alone the interest.
Secretary Clinton, to the surprise perhaps of former critics, has done an impressively professional job at State. Let's leave it at that. As for the news that U.S. embassies spy on other embassies, pass me my smelling salts; I'm so shocked. Next thing, we'll have foreign diplomats spying on us! You think?