Friday, May 06, 2005

Rumors of its extinction . . .

The discovery that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct, as previously thought, gives Kimberly Strassel cause for faith in "individual environmentalism." I have been struck for a long time how wild animals learn to live around humans, contrary to the view that we always disturb and disrupt their lives. In truth, these days, we often enhance their habitats, not through laws and programs but by individuals seeing these creatures as something wonderful rather than pests to be destroyed.

I just started reading State of Fear by Michael Crichton. I can tell I'm going to like it. It deals with the nature of the environmental movement, which has become focused on fundraising and power more than in merely conservation. Even the acquisition of land by such groups, with the claimed intent of "protecting" it, makes me wonder what things will look like in 100 years and these groups are a huge, rich class of landowners like those in Mexico and South America, who prevent economic growth by concentrating wealth and stifling the aspirations of the common people.

The Doom of the Welfare State

According to George Will in the Wall Street Journal, General Motors is foundering in paying its retirees' benefits and health care. Today, we read that both GM and Ford stock have been downgraded by S&P to junk bond status "as the two iconic American automakers are losing market share at home to Asian automakers, seeing sales soften for their most profitable models and are facing enormous health care and post-retirement liabilities."

This is what the New Deal established as the future of this nation, because no entitlement program can ever be reduced, but is easy to add benefits to. It's quicksand, and the Democrats don't care, or they know that nothing can be done except wait and sink lower. .

There's a reason we call them 'dinosaurs'

Virginia Postrel explains blogs in Forbes Magazine:
Something about blogs makes a lot of respectable journalists hyperventilate. News pros seem terribly threatened by online amateurs.. . .

Generalizing about blogs is like generalizing about books. A blog is simply a Web page whose author adds new content, or posts, over time. Blogging is a format, not a genre.
She's reviewing a typical denunciation of blogging by David Shaw in the Los Angeles Times. Why does every stuffed shirt in the One-way Media have to take a crack at bloggers? They always end up revealing their own bias, ignorance and arrogance. The fact that Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize only makes his errors more egregious. His journalistic bias is clear from his presumption that all bloggers have the same point of view. He is, of course, criticizing bloggers who have received the most attention lately for pointing out the phoniness of documents presented by CBS News as proof that George Bush was derelict in his National Guard service in the 1970s.

It's true that bloggers aren't journalists, but what does that have to do with the validity of their opinions and analysis? As Postrel writes, "Newspaper-based critics like Shaw have a desiccated notion of their own profession." They have forgotten that their jobs aren't government sinecures, that they serve markets and that markets are multilateral, if you don't have feedback and respond correctly you'll lose customers as fast as the LA Times. Postrel sums it up: "In the intense competition for attention, bloggers have found new ways to give readers value. Journalists should be asking not what we can teach them but what they can teach us."

Thursday, May 05, 2005


WordPerfect exemplifies a basic truth about the software business. If you really make a terrific product, nobody needs to buy it again. The whole business is driven by bugs and unfilled promises.

Microsoft needn't worry, because every new advance in hardware makes an upgrade of the OS necessary, and it has proven that people are gullible when it comes to new "features." Hope springs eternal, like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football.

WordPerfect is about as near perfect as it could be. It handles footnotes, endnotes, tables and indexes much better than MS Word, which doesn't even allow you to view the codes embedded in the text. WordPerfect still has a few maddening quirks which have more to do with trying to automate things that shouldn't be and end up doing things you don't want.

The torpedoing of WordPerfect is the original sin of Microsoft, and the only way to atone for it is to separate MS's apps business from its OS and tools business. That's what the government's antitrust action should have accomplished, but it blew it, and now we're all stuck with a second-rate word processor as a result.

Tech boom?

Glenn asks, and I answer: Whatever. Just don't let it be another tech bubble.

Who's mixing religion and politics?

It's the latest round in the ACLU's battle to deprive the LDS Church of what it paid for, and promote harrassment of LDS members and others visiting Temple Square in Salt Lake City. This isn't public property. I used to be a section of street that nobody but delivery trucks used. It was dark and grimy and the city had been wanting to turn it into a pedestrian park for years. Then the Church decided to build a bigger hall to hold those who attend its semiannual general conferences because the Tabernacle couldn't accommodate all who wanted to come. For that, it needed to build increased underground parking, so it made the city an offer to buy this property for $8.5 million and turn the surface into a plaza extending Temple Square, which is the city's No. 1 tourist attraction. It became a walkway for pedestrians, with reflecting pools, flowerbeds and benches.

The trouble started when the church banned panhandling, leafleteering, smoking and street preaching. Agressive "preachers" with bullhorns are a common sight on the sidewalks around Temple Square, telling Mormons that they're going to hell, insulting them and their beliefs and generally being obnoxious as they can. They even began to interrupt wedding parties taking family photos around fountains and reflecting pools with the temple in the background. Mormons believe that marriages solemized in the temple are eternal, not just "until death do you part." It's the highest ordinance that they can receive.

The local Unitarians joined with the ACLU and brought suit, claiming that the city had retained a public easement to the plaza and that the restrictions were violative of the rights of the public, no matter how offensive, rude or unruly. The city's mayor, a former Mormon and ACLU attorney, supported the suit. The church won, but the decision was reversed by the 10th Circuit, which suggested that if the church bought the easement rights, it could reinstate its restrictions. After a boisterous public debate, the city and the church came to a deal by which the church bought out the easement, but the plaintiffs have persisted and the case is once more up on appeal. The plaza sans nuisances, vagrancy and activities that are inconsistent with the temple grounds is a bright spot in a downtown area which is in decline, but, the ACLU being what it is, the rest of society must be sacrificed in the name of free speech and the Establishment Clause.

This situation, along with the efforts of environmentalist activist groups to do away with public access to vast tracts of scenic lands in Southern Utah, opened my eyes about the consequences of radical libertarian thinking. I now believe that democracy means little if it is trumped all over the place by minority groups determined to impose their views on everybody else. The Constitution's Preamble lists "insur[ing] domestic Tranquility," as one of the purposes of its adoption, but that has been overwhelmed by the development of free speech and civil rights as a club for protestors and pornographers.

10.5 lbs of beef

25 slices of cheese--It's heartstoppingly good!

Amen, Brother!

George Will:
Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims.
This victimthink is hardly unjustified, given the frenzy on the left over the threat of a theocracy, but it is contrary to true Christianity to mix religion and politics. The worst thing for Christians was for Constantine made it the state religion of the Roman Empire, as the history of the Popes throughout the dark ages demonstrates. It is fine to stand up for the rights of the religious and to mobilize them on moral issues, but giving ultimata and acting imperiously are not the same as warning of God's judgment.

Will details the growing success of religious views and rightly points out that the religious right is doing better than it seems to want to admit. I expect that this will result in a revival of sectarian jealousy and recriminations, with a dissipation of its political influence. One of the things I keep thinking as I'm reading the early Christian apologists is that they criticize their persecutors for things that the Catholic Church itself later did to nonbelievers once it became dominant. Christians in politics need to remember that.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

My heart goes out to George Lucas

Apparently, Star Wars has ruined his life, "Lucas says in a conversation at Skywalker Ranch."

I'll bet having all that money has been terribly stressful for him.

The latest attack on freedom of speech and religion

Ian Reifowitz in TNR starts out with the premise that "the primary domestic threat to American pluralism comes from the Christian right, . . . " I don't subscribe, so I couldn't read the whole thing. However, Hugh Hewitt read large parts of it on his show and posted quotes on his website. It includes allegations about evangelical Christians running amok at the Air Force Academy, violating the separation of church and state.

It makes me wonder if this guy isn't taking "Onward, Christian Soldiers" a little too literally.

The problem for this kind of attack is that most people know at least a couple of born-again Christians and they aren't the boogiemen that people like Reifowitz portray. Christians believe in the Sermon on the Mount, as has been emphasized by everybody since Justin, the first Christian apologist, and while they may go over the top in political rhetoric, you have to remember that it's in an atmosphere where the Establishment Clause is assumed. There is a difference between testifying about your beliefs and trying to destroy the rights of others to accept or reject it.

When I was in law school, I read a famous law review article by Samuel Warren and Louis D. Brandeis called "The right to be let alone," which was very influential, because Brandeis became a Supreme Court justice and made it part of the Constitution, leading to Roe v. Wade decision and since then to our current enthrallment to Privacy as "the hobgoblin of little minds." (That last phrase is from Emerson, not Brandeis.) At the time, I recognized the appeal of the argument, but also the ways it could get out of hand. My forebodings have been born out.

Privacy is now equated with the rights stated in the Declaration of Independence. That thinking is now being brought to bear against religious activities and any kind of conservative standards for what behavior is allowed in public, even though those who believe in traditional values would maintain that it is liberals, with their demonstrations, Vagina Monologues and harangues by radical professors, who won't let the rest of us alone. Mormons walking into their semiannual general conferences in Salt Lake City must now pass a gauntlet of angry demonstrators denouncing them and their faith, because court decisions have made the First Amendment more important than the basic rules of living together in society. This issue is the subject of a thoughtful essay at Amor Mundi, which notes, "Louis Brandeis�s definitive and celebrated formulation of the right to privacy surely threatens quite as much as it secures in its pithy negativity, unless it is buttressed by a host of positive formulations." I expect that I would disagree with the author, Dale Carrico, a PhD candidate at U.C. Berkeley on much else, but I agree that the subject of privacy needs to be thought about in detail before we start invoking it on everything.

If he thinks his beliefs are being distorted,.

John McCandlish Phillips should try Mormonism. A lot of people still think we're Amish, but without the trendiness.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

"North Korea is rather worse than Orwell's dystopia."

I'm not sure what Christopher Hitchens stands for, politically, but he certainly isn't blinded by the Noam Chomsky Left. He's an equal opportunity critic. He writes and speaks bluntly about evil, in this case the North Korean hell on earth. I've railed in the past about the comparisons of American life to Orwell's 1984, but when he applies the trope to North Korea, it falls short of the true horror:
How extraordinary it is, when you give it a moment's thought, that it was only last week that an American president officially spoke the obvious truth about North Korea. In point of fact, Mr. Bush rather understated matters when he said that Kim Jong-il's government runs "concentration camps." It would be truer to say that the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea, as it calls itself, is a concentration camp. It would be even more accurate to say, in American idiom, that North Korea is a slave state.
The very name, Democratic People's Republic, tips you off that the regime protests too much--all three words refer to government of, for and by the people, and they all lie. In this case the "republic" is a slave state, a huge concentration camp.
In North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power. Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished. One tries to avoid clich�, and I did my best on a visit to this terrifying country in the year 2000, but George Orwell's 1984 was published at about the time that Kim Il Sung set up his system, and it really is as if he got hold of an early copy of the novel and used it as a blueprint.
My generation grew up under the threat of nuclear war, but I don't remember being frightened by it, because in the end, the Russians were rational, if ruthless, adversaries. The threats posed by the Axis of Evil acquiring nukes today are far more unnerving.

Read the whole thing.

If we had really objective media,

we'd be hearing a lot more about the effects of environmentalist lobbying and lawsuits on our ability to search for, develop and distribute energy our economy needs. People are hopping mad about gas prices, but they blame it on oil and gas companies, instead of where it belongs. An editorial in the Wall St. Journal today points out how, as the demand for natural gas increases (it burns cleaner than oil or coal) our ability to meet that demand is shackled by green groups blocking importation of liquified natural gas (LNG) and developing off-shore reserves. The most telling example of what's wrong occurred in a PBS special that examined the global warming phenomenon. At one point the producers asked a representative from Green Peace about options for generating power without releasing CO2, such as hydroelectric or nuclear. Of course, she was opposed to any proven technology, but supported windmills and solar power. Nothing further was said about the costs and engineering challenges these idea present, such as the fact that hydrogen must be manufactured by electrolyis and is far less energy-dense than hydrocarbon fuels, or that water vapor, by far the most important greenhouse gas, is the exhaust product of burning hydrogen.

Nobody has mentioned the effect that increased use of natural gas to generate electricity will have on the cost of home heating. I expect to see a lot more use of wood burning stoves, until the green police clamp down.

For their parts, the green groups keeping appealing to blue sky promises of fuel cells, solar energy, wind and hydrogen, none of which is capable of meeting our needs in the foreseeable future. Of course, any technology will grow if it doesn't have to compete in the free market. The only thing keeping these groups from being rejected roundly by the American people is the cover they get from supportive media which seldom go into sufficient depth or ask questions about the rosy claims for new technologies.

Filibuster Fibbers

Pejman Yousefzadeh gives us some history about filibusters of judicial nominees, while fisking David Greenberg for a column that misleads readers on the same subject, the Abe Fortas nomination.


Years ago, I read Chris Matthews' first book, Hardball. It needs a new editions that addresses methods like mischaracterizing your opponents' postitions and history, contradicting themselves, as quotes on blogs all over demonstrate, and whining about the great tradition of bipartisanship (meaning when they were in the majority). Maybe it should be a whole new book. It could be called Screwball or Spitball.

Why Democracy is on the march

Maybe because if you don't listen to the people and give them legitimate ways to respond to the government, you get riots.

Quote for the Day

From M Night Shymalan's film, The Village:
"She is led by love. The world moves for love, and kneels before it in awe."
And as the film illustrates, courage and trust are components of love.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Incredibles

Just when I think Hollywood has jumped the shark, a movie like The Incredibles comes along. One thing I noticed is how the ideal woman's figure has changed from Wonder Woman, especially the live action TV version, to ElastiGirl. Another is that messages upholding love and families still sell. I'm glad they're still being made.