Thursday, April 02, 2009
The New York Times
April 2, 2009
The new Yankee Stadium will sound different from the old one because Bob Sheppard’s authoritative voice will not be emanating from the public address system. Paul Doherty, an agent who is one of Sheppard’s friends, said Sheppard’s son Paul told him Wednesday that Sheppard was planning to retire.
Bob Sheppard, who started as the Yankees' announcer in 1951, hadn't missed an opening day until 2006 when an injury kept him out of the announcer's box.
“I think Bob just wants to take it easy and no longer have the pressure of ‘Can he? Will he? Or won’t he?’ ” Doherty said in an e-mail message. “And, at 98, who can blame him?”
Despite Doherty’s disclosure, Sheppard, who has been the P.A. announcer for the Yankees since 1951, declined to say that he was retiring. When asked if he was officially leaving the position, Sheppard said, “I never said it.”
Sheppard missed the 2008 season with a bronchial infection and will not work the exhibition games at the Stadium on Friday and Saturday or the home opener April 16. Sheppard also missed the final game at Yankee Stadium in September, although he prerecorded the lineups.
When Sheppard was asked about his plans for the season, he said: “I never said I’m not returning. I never, never said I’m not returning and I say it to you now.” Then Sheppard said “thank you” and hung up the telephone.
Jason Zillo, a Yankees spokesman, talked with Paul Sheppard and said that he “has not said anything remotely like” what Doherty said about his father. After the news was publicized, Doherty sent an e-mail message saying he misunderstood what Paul Sheppard had said. Doherty said Paul Sheppard was referring to his father’s missing opening day, not the entire season.
Sheppard is 98 and was not the P.A. announcer last year. Sheppard has a hallowed position in the Yankees’ rich history and is protective of it.
In a statement released by the team, Sheppard said his doctor had advised him to wait until he was ready to try to work again. The Yankees could not estimate when that might be.
“It’s in the hands of God,” said Sheppard, who has been a P.A. announcer for about 4,500 games. “I am looking forward to doing games in the new Stadium.”
In Doherty’s initial e-mail message, he noted that the last lineup Sheppard announced was also his first. Two months ago, Doherty taped Sheppard recreating the first lineup he ever announced 58 years ago and is adding crowd noise to it.
“Now, on to him seeing his 100th birthday in a year and a half,” Doherty said.
Jim Hall, Sheppard’s longtime and handpicked backup, will not replace Sheppard. Paul Olden will be the P.A. announcer for the exhibition games with the Chicago Cubs this weekend and for the first game at the Stadium against the Cleveland Indians in two weeks.
Beyond that, the Yankees have not said who will handle the P.A. duties.
Times Topics: Bob Sheppard
C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he read Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, but he wasn’t afterwards, prompting him to observe that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.
Of all of Chesterton’s literary monuments, this is perhaps his greatest, for he eloquently and concisely packs the whole human story between the covers of one book. He begins by pointing out that the main problem with the critics of the Church is that they are too close to it to see it properly. They cannot see the big picture, only the small picture that directly affects them. With their sulks and their perversity and their petty criticism they are merely reacting to the Church. What they need to do is back up. And that’s what Chesterton has the reader do in this book. Back up far enough and to see the Church in all its startling beauty and unexpected truth.
The book was written as a kind of rebuttal to H.G. Wells’ popular book, The Outline of History. Chesterton said that Wells was like an author who disliked the main character in his book. Wells glossed over the two biggest points in history. The first is the uniqueness of the creature called man and the second is the uniqueness of the man called Christ.
What do we know about early man? The one thing we really we know for sure is that he was an artist. The cave man left behind his drawings on the wall of the cave. The creature who made these drawings was truly different from all other creatures because he was a creator as well as a creature. “Art is the signature of man,” says Chesterton. It is just one of many things that demonstrates that “the more we look at man as an animal, the less he will look like one.” In addition to art are such artificial things as clothes and furniture and such unique reactions such as shame and laughter. And that other exclusively human thing called religion.
Religion is as old as Civilization. And civilization is as old as history. Chesterton says that when we study history, the curtain rises on a play already in progress. He argues that it was religion that advanced civilization. It was religion that dealt with the meanings of things, with the development and interpretation of symbols, which advanced communication and knowledge, or what we call the arts and the sciences.
If we study any civilization, we see that after progress, comes decay. Chesterton says men do not grow tired of evil, but of good. They become weary of joy. They stop worshipping God and start worshipping idols, their own bad imitations of God, and they become as wooden as the thing they worship. They start worshipping nature and become unnatural. They start worshipping sex and become perverted. Men start lusting after men and become unmanly.
The most ignorant of humanity know by the very look of earth that they have forgotten heaven.
But then something marvelous happens in history. And it also happens in a cave. A cave in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem, says Chesterton, is emphatically a place where extremes meet. It is where heaven meets earth. God comes to make a home in the world and finds himself homeless.
A mass of legend and literature has sprung from this single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, all the literature of our faith was founded. . . [it is] something too good to be true, except that it is true.
Chesterton says that if we approach the Gospel objectively we will see that it is not a book of platitudes. It paints a picture of a man who was indeed a wonder-worker, but who spoke in riddles and rebukes. His teachings were as difficult to accept in his own time as they are today. None of the critics of Christianity seem to appreciate the fact that Christ’s teachings were not dependent on the social order in which he lived but transcended their time altogether.
The critics of course try to create a different Christ from the one portrayed in the Gospels by picking and choosing whatever they want. They always try to make him merely human, whether they make him a socialist or a pacifist or a madman. “There must surely have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him.”
But the main impression one gets from studying the teachings of Christ is that he really did not come to teach. What separates Christianity from other religions is that its central figure does not wish to be known merely as a teacher. He makes the greatest claim of all. Mohammed did not claim to God. Buddha did not claim to be God. But Christ did claim to be God.
The story gets stranger still. All of Christ’s life is a steady pursuit towards the ultimate sacrifice. The Crucifixion.
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else…
Chesterton says that the strength of the world was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world was turned to folly. For what could be stranger than the fact that the local execution of a minor revolutionary in an obscure outpost would become the central event in all of history? But that is where the Cross stands: at the center of history.
This central dogma of the Christian faith, that God died, that, in Chesterton’s phrase, God was for one instant for one instant forsaken of God, that God sacrificed himself to himself, is more mysterious than anything, even the mystery of creation itself. And those who object to this dogma do so not because the dogma is bad, but because it’s too good to be true. The gospel sy does not end with God’s death; it ends with the most startling episode of all. An empty grave. And God again walking in a garden, as on the first day of creation.
It is this strange story that explains why Christianity has done something different than just survive. It has itself returned to life many times after having been apparently defeated. It has, as Chesterton says, “died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
If you would like to purchase this book, Click Here. Also available in Vol.2 of the Collected Works.
Dale Ahlquist is president of the American Chesterton Society.
It is simply false to say that the other sages and heroes had claimed to be that mysterious master and maker, of whom the world had dreamed and disputed. Not one of them had ever claimed to be anything of the sort. Not one of their sects or schools had ever claimed that they had claimed to be anything of the sort. The most that any religious prophet had said was that he was the true servant of such a being. The most that any visionary had ever said was that men might catch glimpses of the glory of that spiritual being; or much more often of lesser spiritual beings. The most that any primitive myth had ever suggested was that the creator was present at creation. But that the creator was present at scenes a little subsequent to the supper-parties of Horace, and talked with tax-collectors and government officials in the detailed daily life of the Roman Empire, and that this fact continued to be firmly asserted by the whole of that great civilisation for more than a thousand years–that is something utterly unlike anything else in nature. It is the one great startling statement that man has made since he spoke his first articulate word, instead of barking like a dog. Its unique character can be used as an argument against it as well as for it. It would be easy to concentrate on it as a case of isolated insanity; but it makes nothing but dust and nonsense of comparative religion.
–G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
April 1, 2009
Apparently, it's OK for Obama to fire the head of General Motors, but Bush can't fire his own U.S. attorneys.
It is generally agreed that the Obama administration's demand that Rick Wagoner resign as chairman of General Motors is the price of GM's accepting government money.
To promote the sales of GM vehicles, Obama says the government will stand by your GM car warranty. And all the taxpayers will get a lube job. The new GM owner's manual will come with a disclaimer: "Close enough for government work."
Now that we're all agreed that the government can make hiring and firing decisions based on infusions of taxpayer money, I can think of a lot more government beneficiaries who are badly in need of firing.
Just off the top of my head, how about Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and everybody at the Department of Education?
How about firing all the former Weathermen, like Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Mark Rudd, whose university salaries are subsidized by the taxpayer?
Nearly every university in the country accepts government money. Is there any industry in America more in need of some "restructuring" than academia? What's Berkeley's "business plan" to stop turning out graduates who hate America?
And what is Obama's justification for keeping Shirley M. Tilghman as president of Princeton University as long as Princeton employs prominent crackpot Peter Singer?
Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton's Center for Human Values, believes parents should have the right to kill newborn babies with birth defects, such as Down syndrome and hemophilia, and says there is nothing morally wrong with parents conceiving children in order to harvest them for spare parts for an older child -- or even for society to breed children on a massive scale for spare parts.
His views on these issues are so extreme I'm surprised Singer hasn't been offered a position in the Obama cabinet yet. Perhaps he paid his taxes and was disqualified.
Singer compares the black liberation movement to the liberation of apes, saying we must "extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be extended to all members of our own species." (Imagine if Rush Limbaugh had said that and then go lie down for 20 minutes.)
The esteemed professor Singer also believes sex with animals is acceptable and has no objections to necrophilia -- provided the deceased gave consent when still alive. We're still waiting to hear his views on sex with dead animals. Especially me, as I have no plans for next weekend.
Doesn't a "new vision" for Princeton -- which benefits from massive taxpayer subsidies in the form of student loans and government grants -- require firing the president of Princeton? That university is clearly teetering on the brink of moral bankruptcy.
When is the government going to get around to firing 99 percent of public school superintendents? They're clearly turning out an inferior product -- i.e., America's public school graduates -- as compared to some of the foreign models now available.
In New York City, spending on public schools increased by more than 300 percent between 1982 and 2001, coming in at $11,474 per pupil annually -- compared to about $5,000 for private schools.
But in 2003, a New York court ruled that graduates of New York City's public schools did not have the skills to be "capable of voting and serving on a jury." (Worse, some kids coming out of New York high schools are so stupid they don't even know how to get out of jury duty.)
If Obama can tell GM and Chrysler that their participation in NASCAR is an "unnecessary expenditure," isn't having public schools force students to follow Muslim rituals, recite Islamic prayers and plan "jihads" also an "unnecessary expenditure"? Are all those school condom purchases considered "necessary expenditures"?
Illegal aliens cost the American taxpayer more than $10 billion a year, net, in Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, free school lunches, prison, school and court costs. And yet cities, counties and states across the nation are openly refusing to enforce federal immigration law against illegal aliens -- all while accepting billions of dollars of stimulus money on top of a litany of other federal payouts.
Shouldn't somebody be fired over this? Like maybe Geraldo Rivera?
How about hauling San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom before a congressional committee and firing him? In fact, just being named "Gavin Newsom" should be grounds for dismissal. San Francisco is getting $18 million of stimulus money -- to say nothing of its residents who receive federal money in the form of Social Security payments, government grants, welfare payments, federal highway funds and on and on and on.
Doesn't PBS take federal funds? Obama should really ask Big Bird to step down. While we're at it, shouldn't Tim Geithner be fired?
Now that the government owns everything, there's no end to the dead wood that can be cleared out.
Except the problem is -- as this very partial list demonstrates -- most of the dead wood exists only because of the government in the first place. Capitalism has its own methods of clearing out dead wood, which the government keeps preventing by forcing the taxpayer to bail out capitalism's losers.
March 28, 2009
The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio (1603)
Vatican City, Pinacoteca Vaticana
A Lenten homily.
"Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Is there any doubt that the Cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal, a shame and embarrassment to anyone who chooses not to respond to God's grace?
Look at Jesus from a Jewish perspective in the time of Christ. They were awaiting a messiah, the anointed one of God — a deliverer who would reign in glory with the power and adornment of a king.
But who was Jesus? He was the son of a carpenter who came from a place of no stature or notice — "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46). He was an itinerant, poor preacher and would be condemned as a criminal, scourged, buffeted, spat upon and be crucified in total ignominy.
Of the coming Messiah, the Prophet Isaiah forewarned that:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed (Is. 53: 3-5).
Jesus had power, but not the kind the earthly leaders understood. Jesus claimed to be God ("I and the Father are one") and forgave sin by His own name - an authority reserved for God alone. His divine lordship is especially evident in Epistle to the Hebrews where St. Paul quoted the messianic psalm "The Lord says to my lord: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool…The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter…Rule in the midst of your foes!" (Heb. 1:13, Ps. 109:1-2).
(Some scholars argue that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Christian-Hebrew scholars who were receding to the view of the Messiah-King as a political leader, rather that who the Anointed One of God who came to save mankind from sin and death.)
The power of Jesus was not of this world. His kingdom is understandable only in Divine terms — as the suffering servant. Isaiah wrote: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is. 53:7). St. John Chrysostom wrote: "[Jesus] on His part also gives evidence of His power, loosing the man's sins with complete authority, and indicating in every way that He is of equal status with the One who begot Him."
St. Paul taught that Jesus is the true Christ, not anointed to be an earthly king, but to reign as the Divine King. But this kingship would be hidden from earthly eyes, because of sin. That's why the cross is a scandal. How could a King be crucified?
St. Paul warned the Hebrews: "[T]herefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness…'" Jesus is superior to the angels. He surpasses Moses as a son surpasses a servant. Jesus as intercessor makes obsolete the priesthood of the Old Covenant.
What did St. Paul instruct the Hebrews to do? They are to forgive others and repent of their sins, and show love, compassion, chastity, obedience, perseverance, avoidance of greed and strange teachings.
Is this epistle written only for the Hebrews who were considering rejecting Jesus? Absolutely not! This epistle is for all of us in need of a physician because of the illness of our souls; for all who need the healing hand of Christ. Jesus cures our infirmities and diseases, and bring light into our darkened hearts and souls. Jesus told us: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mt. 9:12). St. Matthew wrote: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Mt. 8:17).
Yes, the cross is a scandal and stumbling block. We need forgiveness. We need to forgive others. We love God because He first loved us. But we must forgive others if we want to know the forgiveness of God. Consider the words of our holy Father St. Ephraim the Syrian (1997):
But if you do not make peace with your brother, then how will you ask Me for forgiveness? I am your Master; I command you and you do not heed Me. You are a servant; how dare you bring me a prayer, or a sacrifice, or first fruits of your harvest, if you bear malice toward anyone? If you turn your face from your brother, so shall I turn Mine eyes from your prayer and from your gift. If your brother is angry with you, then the Lord is also angry with you. And if you have made peace with your brother below, then you have made peace also with the Lord on high. If you receive your brother, then you also receive your Lord.
Imagine if all of us could forgive one another in the name of Christ. How different the world would be! Forgiveness is healing (Morelli, 2004) and a scandal to all who reject the crucified Christ who hung on the cross for our salvation.
Morelli, G. (2004, December 07). Forgiveness is Healing. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliForgiveness2.php
St. Ephraim the Syrian. (1997) Spiritual Psalter. (Br. Isaac E. Lambertsen, Trans.). Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press.
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counseling-ministries) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
Fr. Morelli is the author of Healing: Orthodox Christianity and Scientific Psychology (available from Eastern Christian Publications, $15.00).
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Back during the election campaign, I was on the radio and a caller demanded to know what I made of the persistent rumor that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “I doubt it,” I said. “It’s perfectly obvious he was born in Stockholm. Okay, maybe Brussels or Strasbourg.” And the host gave an appreciative titter, and I made a mental note to start working up a little “Barack Obama, the first European Prime Minister to be elected President of the United States” shtick for maybe a year into the first term.
But here we are 20 minutes in, and full-scale Europeanization is already under way: Europeanized health care, Europeanized daycare, Europeanized college education, Europeanized climate-change policy… Obama’s pseudo-SOTU speech was America’s first State of the European Union address, in which the president deftly yoked the language of American exceptionalism to the cause of European statism. Apparently, nothing testifies to the American virtues of self-reliance, entrepreneurial energy and the can-do spirit like joining the vast army of robotic extras droning in unison, “The government needs to do more for me…” For the moment, Washington is offering Euro-sized government with Euro-sized economic intervention, Euro-sized social programs and Euro-sized regulation. But apparently not Euro-sized taxation.
Hmm. Even the Europeans haven’t attempted that trick. But don’t worry, if that pledge not to increase taxes on families earning under $250,000 doesn’t have quite the Continental sophistication you’re looking for in your federal government, I doubt it will be operative very long.
Most Americans don’t yet grasp the scale of the Obama project. The naysayers complain, oh, it’s another Jimmy Carter, or it’s the new New Deal, or it’s LBJ’s Great Society applied to health care… You should be so lucky. Forget these parochial nickel’n’dime comparisons. It’s all those multiplied a gazillionfold and nuclearized – or Europeanized, which is less dramatic but ultimately more lethal. For a distressing number of American liberals, the natural condition of an advanced, progressive western democracy is Scandinavia, and the US has just been taking a wee bit longer to get there. You’ve probably heard academics talking about “the Swedish model”, and carelessly assumed they were referring to the Britt Ekland retrospective on AMC. If only. And, incidentally, fond though I am of Britt, the fact that I can think of no Swedish dolly bird of the last 30 years with which to update that gag is itself a telling part of the problem. Anyway, under the Swedish model, state spending accounts for 54 per cent of GDP. In the US, it’s about 40 per cent. Ten years ago, it was 34 per cent. So we’re trending Stockholmwards. And why stop there? In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, government spending accounts for between 72 and 78 per cent of the economy, which is about the best a “free” society can hope to attain this side of complete Sovietization. Fortunately for what’s left of America’s private sector, “the Welsh model” doesn’t have quite the same beguiling euphony as “the Swedish model”. But, even so, if Scandinavia really is the natural condition of an advanced democracy, then we’re all doomed. And by “doomed” I’m not merely making the usual overheated rhetorical flourish in an attempt to persuade you to stick through the rather dry statistics in the next paragraph, but rather projecting total societal collapse and global conflagration, and all sooner than you think.
There are two basic objections to the wholesale Europeanization of America. The easy one is the economic argument. The short version of late 20th century history is that Continental Europe entirely missed out on the Eighties boom and its Nineties echo. A couple of weeks back, the evening news shows breathlessly announced that US unemployment had risen to seven per cent, the highest in a decade and a half. Yet the worst American unemployment rate is still better than the best French unemployment rate for that same period. Indeed, for much of the 1990s the EU as a whole averaged an unemployment rate twice that of the US and got used to double-digit unemployment as a routine and semi-permanent feature of life. Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe in the Sixties and Seventies, is now a country whose annual growth rate has averaged 1.1 per cent since the mid-Nineties; where every indicator – home ownership, new car registrations – is heading down; and in which government agencies have to budget for such novel expenditures as narrowing the sewer lines in economically moribund, fast depopulating municipalities because the existing pipes are too wide to, ah, expedite the reduced flow. Even flushing yourself down the toilet of history is trickier than it looks.
Of course, if you’re one of the seemingly endless supply of Americans willing to turn up at the president’s ersatz “town meetings” to petition the seigneur to take care of your medical bills and your mortgage and the gas in your tank, the Euro-deal looks pretty sweet. When they deign to work, even the French can match the Americans in hourly productivity. Unfortunately for boring things like GDP, the Euro-week has far fewer hours. There are government-mandated maximum 35-hour work weeks, six weeks of paid vacation, more public holidays, and, in the event that, after all that, some unfortunate clerical error still shows the calendar with an occasional five-day week, you can always strike. The upshot is that, while a working American puts in an average 1,800 hours a year, a working German puts in 1,350 hours a year – or 25 per cent less.
It’s tempting to assume these are deeply ingrained cultural differences. “It’s The Good Life, full of fun, seems to be the ideal,” as the Gallic crooner Sacha Distel smoothly observed. But, in fact, until the Seventies Americans and Europeans put in more or less identical work hours. What happened is that the Protobamas of the Continental political class legislated sloth, and, as is the way, the citizenry got used to it. Indeed, the proposed European Constitution enshrines leisure as a constitutional right. Article II-31: “Every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to an annual period of paid holiday.” There’s no First Amendment or Second Amendment, but who needs free speech or guns when life is one gentle swing in the government hammock?
When American commentators notice these numbers, it’s usually to crank out a why-oh-why-can’t-we-be-as-enlightened? op-ed. A couple of years back Paul Krugman wrote a column asserting that, while parochial American conservatives drone on about “family values”, the Europeans live it, enacting policies that are more “family friendly”. On the Continent, claims the professor, “government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff - to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family.”
As befits a distinguished economist, Professor Krugman failed to notice, that for a continent of “family friendly” policies, Europe is remarkably short of families. While America’s fertility rate is more or less at replacement level – 2.1 – seventeen European nations are at what demographers call “lowest-low” fertility - 1.3 or less - a rate from which no society in human history has ever recovered. Germans, Spaniards, Italians and Greek have upside-down family trees: four grandparents have two children and one grandchild. The numbers are grim, and getting grimmer. The EU began the century with four workers for every retiree. By 2050, Germany will have 1.1 workers for every retiree. At Oktoberfest a decade or three hence, that fetching young lad in the lederhosen serving you your foaming stein will be singlehandedly propping up entire old folks’ homes. Except he won’t. He’ll have scrammed and headed off to Australia in search of a livelier youth scene, or at any rate a livelier late-middle-aged scene. And the guy taking his place in the beer garden won’t be wearing lederhosen because he’ll be Muslim and they don’t like to expose their knees. And, come to think of it, he’s unlikely to be serving beer, either. The EU would need at least another 50 million immigrants – working immigrants, that is (they’re not always, especially with Euro-welfare) – to keep wrinkly old Gerhard and Jean-Claude in the social programs to which they’ve become accustomed.
To run the numbers is to render them absurd: It’s not about economic performance, public pensions liabilities, entitlement reform. Something more profound is at work. Europe has entered a long dark Oktoberfest of the soul, drinking to oblivion in the autumn of the year, as les feuilles mortes pile up all around.
Let’s take the second part of Paul Krugman’s assertion: These “family-friendly” policies certainly give you “more time”. For what? High-school soccer and 4-H at the county fair? No. As we’ve seen, kids not called Mohammed are thin on the ground. God? No. When you worship the state-as-church, you don’t need to bother showing up to Mass anymore. Civic volunteerism? No. All but extinct on the Continent. So what do Europeans do with all that time? Do they paint, write, make movies? Not so’s you’d notice. Not compared to 40 years ago. Never mind Bach or even Offenbach, these days the French can’t produce a Sacha Distel or the Germans a Bert Kaempfert, the boffo Teuton bandleader who somewhat improbably managed to play a critical role in the careers of the three biggest Anglophone pop acts of the 20th century – he wrote “Strangers In The Night” for Sinatra, “Wooden Heart” for Elvis, and produced the Beatles’ first recording session. If that sounds like a “Trivial Pursuit” answer, it’s not. Eutopia turned out to be the trivial pursuit; to produce a Bert Kaempfert figure right now would be a major accomplishment Europe can’t quite muster the energy for. “Give people plenty and security, and they will fall into spiritual torpor,” wrote Charles Murray in In Our Hands. “When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do, ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.”
The key word here is “give”. When the state “gives” you plenty – when it takes care of your health, takes cares of your kids, takes care of your elderly parents, takes care of every primary responsibility of adulthood – it’s not surprising that the citizenry cease to function as adults: Life becomes a kind of extended adolescence – literally so for those Germans who’ve mastered the knack of staying in education till they’re 34 and taking early retirement at 42 (which sounds a lot like where Obama’s college-for-all plans will lead).
Genteel decline can be very agreeable - initially: You still have terrific restaurants, beautiful buildings, a great opera house. And once the pressure’s off it’s nice to linger at the sidewalk table, have a second café au lait and a pain au chocolat, and watch the world go by. At the Munich Security Conference in February, President Sarkozy demanded of his fellow Continentals, “Does Europe want peace, or do we want to be left in peace?” To pose the question is to answer it. Alas, it only works for a generation or two, and then, as the gay bar owners are discovering in a fast Islamifying Amsterdam, reality reasserts itself.
In 2003, the IMF conducted a study of Eurosclerosis and examined the impact on chronic unemployment and other woes if the Eurozone labor market were to be Americanized – that’s to say, increase participation in the work force, reduce taxes and job-for-life security, etc. The changes would be tough, but over the long-term beneficial. But it’s too late for that: What’s “changed” is the disposition of the people: If it’s unsustainable, who cares? As long as they can sustain it till I’m dead. That’s the second and most critical objection to Europeanization: It corrodes self-reliance very quickly, to the point where even basic survival instincts can be bred out of society in a generation or two. In America Alone, I cited a headline that seemed almost too perfect a summation of a Continent where entitlement addiction trumps demographic reality: “Frenchman Lived With Dead Mother To Keep Pension.” She was 94 when she croaked, so she’d presumably been getting the government check for a good three decades, but hey it’s 700 euros a month. He kept her corpse under a pile of newspapers in the living room for five years, and put on a woman’s voice whenever the benefits office called. Since my book came out, readers send me similar stories on a regular basis: “An Austrian woman lived with the mummified remains of her aunt for a year, Vienna police said Wednesday.” In Europe, nothing is certain except death and welfare, and why let the former get in the way of the latter?
It’s interesting that it never occurred to the IMF that anyone would be loopy enough to try their study the other way around – to examine the impact on America of Europeanization. For that, we had to wait for the election of Barack Obama. Which brings us to the third problem of Europeanization: What are the consequences for the world if the hyperpower embarks on the same form of assisted suicide as the rest of the west? In quite the wackiest essay Foreign Policy has ever published, Parag Khanna of the Brookings Institution argued that the European Union was now “the world’s first metrosexual superpower”. And he meant it as a compliment. Mr Khanna’s thesis is that, unlike the insecure American cowboy, Europe is secure enough in its hard power to know when to deploy a little sweet-smelling soft power. Seriously:
The EU has become more effective—and more attractive—than the United States on the catwalk of diplomatic clout… Metrosexuals always know how to dress for the occasion (or mission)… but it’s best done by donning Armani pinstripes rather than U.S. Army fatigues… Even Turkey is freshening up with eau d’Europe… Stripping off stale national sovereignty (that’s so last century), Europeans now parade their ‘pooled power,’ the new look for this geopolitical season…
Brand Europe is taking over… Europe’s flashy new symbol of power, the Airbus 380, will soon strut on runways all over Asia...But don’t be deceived by the metrosexual superpower’s pleatless pants—Europe hasn’t lost touch with its hard assets…Europe’s 60,000-troop Rapid Reaction Force will soon be ready to deploy around the world… Just as metrosexuals are redefining masculinity, Europe is redefining old notions of power and influence. Expect Bend It Like Brussels to play soon in capital cities worldwide.
And on and on, like one of those pieces an editor runs when he wants to get fired and go to Tuscany to write a novel. The Airbus 380 is a classic stillborn Eurostatist money pit, the Rapid Reaction Force can’t deploy anywhere beyond a Europe Day parade down the Champs Elysee, and given that the governing Socialist caucus on the Brussels city council already has a Muslim majority I doubt they’ll be bending it themselves that much longer. This is the logical reductio of the Robert Kagan thesis that Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus. It’s truer to say that Europeans are from Pluto, which was recently downgraded to “dwarf planet” status. A dwarf superpower doesn’t have policies, it has attitudes – in part, because that’s all it can afford. An America that attempts Euro-scale social programs would have to reel in its military expenditures. After all, Europe could only introduce socialized health care and all the rest because the despised cowboy across the ocean was picking up the tab for the continent’s defense. So for America to follow the EU down the same social path would have huge strategic implications for everyone else, not least Europe. We would be joining the Continentals in prancing around in Armani pinstripes and eau d’Europe as the bottom dropped out of our hard assets. And Putin, Kim Jong-il, the mullahs et al might not find the perfume as heady as Mr Khanna does.
Even in its heyday – the Sixties and Seventies - the good times in Europe were underwritten by the American security guarantee: The only reason why France could get away with being France, Belgium with being Belgium, Sweden with being Sweden is because America was America. Kagan’s thesis – Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus – will look like paradise lost when the last conventional “great power” of western civilization embraces the death-cult narcissism of its transatlantic confreres in the full knowledge of where that leads. Why would you do anything so crazy? Ah, but these are crazy times: Europeans are from Pluto, Americans are from Goofy.
March 31, 2009
Michelle Malkin Archive
Deliberation in Washington is dead. We don't have legislators. We have lemmings. We don't have debates. We have high-speed hysteria sessions. After ramming through stimulus legislation that no one read and bailout bills that no one understood, Congress is now poised to stuff down taxpayers' throats a deficit-exploding $3.5 trillion budget that enshrines the largest tax increase in American history.
Welcome to the cap-and-trade crap sandwich.
The Democrats want to rig the game so you don't have time to figure out this latest act of collective thievery before it's perpetrated. They have been colluding on a plan to circumvent the Senate's 60-vote threshold and amendment process by attaching their massive green tax scheme to a special budget legislative maneuver ("budget reconciliation" in the parlance of the Washington sausage-makers). No less than Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd criticized this short-circuiting of debate as an "outrage that must be resisted" and "an undemocratic disservice to our people." But the eco-zealots on the Hill seem hell-bent on telling Americans to shut up and swallow.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Republicans valiantly tried to stop the cap-and-trade bullet train -- only to be met with histrionic entreaties from the likes of Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dick Durbin shrieking about floods, dinosaurs and The Children. Boxer and Durbin indignantly accused GOP senators of "fear-mongering" over the costs of radical greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Then, without missing a beat, the Democrats returned to their wild predictions of the earth fizzling up and their grandchildren perishing like the prehistoric creatures who once roamed our doomed planet.
GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and John Thune of South Dakota pushed back. President Obama, the Republicans noted, said last week that the cap-and-trade component of his budget is "nonnegotiable." This global warming reduction proposal amounts to an unprecedented national energy tax on every man, woman and child. Every household. Every business.
Far-reaching and regressive, the White House's own budget officials first pegged the price tag at $646 billion, but admitted to Senate staffers that the actual number would be "two to three times" that figure -- which means an estimated $1.3 trillion and $1.9 trillion between fiscal years 2012 and 2019 by the Obama number-crunchers' (or rather, number-cookers') own calculations.
There's no pretense about the impact these measures will have on taxpayers: "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket," Obama admitted during the 2008 campaign. "That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers."
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag again acknowledged last week that "much of (the) costs of the plan will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for energy and energy intensive goods." The GOP puts the cost at approximately $3,100 per family a year. Team Obama promises to offset these costs with some sort of tax credit for families, but by the budget team's own admission, families would still pay at least $500 per year in out-of-pocket increased energy costs above and beyond the credit. Retirees and college students wouldn't be eligible for the tax rebates.
This is not "fear-mongering." It's fact-mongering. And these facts deserve to be fully weighed and laid on the legislative table before Washington lawmakers take action again to drastically alter the economic landscape -- and stick us with the bill.
But once again, the big spenders in Washington can't be bothered with the deliberative process. They have learned nothing from the AIG bailout rush-and-take-back debacle. Or the porkulus waste debacle. Or the TARP-you-can't-believe-in debacle. The lemmings will only contemplate the consequences of their Chicken Little actions after they've sent the economy permanently over the cliff.
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Michelle Malkin [email her] is author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin's latest book is Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.
Last week was pretty rough for the global warming industry. First, California Sen. Diane Feinstein joined with the Luddite Greens to oppose placing a large solar power plant in the Mojave Desert. It seems a particular tortoise might experience anxiety if intermittent, expensive feel-good measures are located near its home. To which erstwhile green hero Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger replied, “If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it.”
Like windmills -- which we know can’t go up anywhere birds or bats fly or Kennedys live -- you don’t put them anywhere, Arnold, you just wistfully pine for their deployment. Near other people.
Possibly, the Governator was snippy because of the news which contemporaneously came out -- that his electric car, a Tesla roadster, isn’t working out because … he’s not able to climb in and out of it. Which, if you think about it, is not that dissimilar to the “green energy” NIMBY problem. Ann Coulter’s comment about not dating liberals because she won’t drive in their little cars never rang so damn funny.
Then Pravda, of all newspapers, piped up about the “Carbon Communism” of the U.S. elites like the Governator. Carbon communism results, according to Pravda (which is the Russian word for “truth”), in the situation where “Barack Obama keeps the temperature at 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the Oval Office while telling the rest of us to turn our thermostats down. …Al Gore has invested heavily in the ‘carbon trading’ brokerage business. All of these men jet around the world, live in oversized houses, and ride in limousines. If the common people are to be required by law to reduce our ‘carbon footprint,’ we need to demand that our leaders and the wealthy elite be restricted to exactly the same carbon allowance as everyone else.”
Ouch. But then things got really serious. On Friday, from Spain, the land of President Oprompter’s model for the new American “green jobs” economy where we all become millionaires from selling windmills to each other, an academic dared speak up to note that this particular emperor is stark, raving naked.
Economics professor Dr. Gabriel Calzada of Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University published an analysis of the economic miracle that Oprompter seeks to import here and for which he’s already grabbed billions of your, your children’s and your grandchildren’s money.
For full disclosure, I consider Dr. Calzada a friend and colleague, but also a very courageous advocate for sound public policy. What he found is already causing some discomfort among Enron’s successors pushing for these “green jobs” schemes, prowling the halls of Congress seeking hundreds of billions in rents -- requiring increased taxes and causing increased energy costs -- for their uneconomic pets.
I have the study. Highlights include:
* Based upon the Spanish experience that President Oprompter expressly cited as a model, if he succeeded in his (oddly floating) promise to further intervene in the economy to create 3 million (or is it 5 million?) "green jobs," the U.S. should expect to directly kill by the same programs at least 6.6 million (or as many as 11 million) jobs elsewhere in the economy.
* That is because green jobs schemes in Spain killed 2.2 jobs per job created, or about nine existing jobs -- I'll call them "real" jobs -- lost for every four that are created. The latter, the study shows, then become wards of the state, dependent on the continuation of the mandates and subsidies, subject to the ritual boom and bust of artificially concocted jobs (read: ethanol).
* The existing jobs most harmed were manufacturing jobs, of basic iron and steel products, basic chemical products, plastics, manufacture and first transformation of precious metals, as well as producers of cement, lime and plaster.
* This does not include jobs lost due to redirection of resources, but are only the jobs directly killed by the scheme.
* The study calculates that since 2000, Spain spent more than $750,000 (at current exchange rates) to create each “green job,” including subsidies of more than $1.3 million per wind-industry job. They are that uneconomical.
Dr. Calzada informed me that, as the study was being finalized, the European Commission, left-wing media and communist trade groups had all gotten wind of it and let him know of their displeasure. It seems that such gravy trains of squandered billions, funneled to well-positioned interests, is the kind of thing that some people don’t want exposed.
I have spoken in Spain on related topics numerous times to policymakers, university and general public audiences, often at the invitation of by the facilitation of Dr. Calzada. With this experience as guide, my response to reading these findings was to ask him, “What’s Spanish for ‘food-taster’ and ‘car-starter’?”
Mr. Horner is author of "Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed."
By Jonah Goldberg
April 01, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
In 1996, Miloš Forman directed The People vs. Larry Flynt, the propagandistic film that made a “First Amendment hero” out of the publisher of Hustler, a racist and filthy porn magazine. Frank Rich of the New York Times dubbed it “the most timely and patriotic movie of the year.”
Even if you’ve never seen the movie (or read Hanna Rosin’s contemporaneous debunking of it in The New Republic), it’s easy to guess why the film was a favorite of people like Rich. It whitewashed Flynt while demonizing conservatives as religious prudes.
Before it was screened in Washington, James Carville — who played a Comstockian scold in the movie — said in a speech introducing the film, “Miloš Forman lost his parents in the Holocaust.” And then he pressed the point home: “The first thing a totalitarian state goes after is pornography, and when they do, the public applauds. It gets worse from there.”
This is the sort of statement that is so stupid it almost sounds smart. Cracking down on porn was hardly the first priority of the Nazis or Soviets. More important, if a state is already totalitarian, it has already “gone after” the things that really matter — like liberty. Banning On Golden Blonde is an afterthought.
Now, I’m not in favor of a federal ban on porn (though it’s fine with me at the state or local level). But the notion that smut is the canary in the coal mine of our liberties is a profoundly asinine and dangerous myth, and it may be costing us the things that really matter.
The argument from supposedly liberty-loving liberals goes like this: We protect “extreme” and unpopular speech because if that is safe, they’ll never get to our core liberties. If they can ban trash, argue the slippery-slopers, what’s to stop them from banning criticism of politicians?
One problem: While Frank Rich et al. are preening on their soapboxes for making filth as American as apple pie, the government, under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, has been banning criticism of politicians.
Just last week, the Obama administration argued before the Supreme Court that it has no principled constitutional problem with banning books.
The case before the court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, involves a documentary-style film, Hillary: The Movie, that ran afoul of campaign-finance laws designed to censor so-called stealth ads as well as electioneering paid for by corporations or unions.
To be fair, the film does amount to partisan advocacy. It’s a scorching indictment of the former Democratic presidential front-runner, produced by an unapologetically conservative outfit. It’s as one-sided as a MoveOn.org-produced documentary about George W. Bush would be. But, some might wonder, should partisan advocacy ever be illegal in a democracy?
Several justices asked the deputy solicitor general, Malcolm Stewart, if there would be any constitutional reason why the ban on documentaries and ads couldn’t be extended to books carrying similar messages. Stewart, speaking for a president who once taught constitutional law, said Congress can ban books “if the book contained the functional equivalent of express advocacy” for a candidate and was supported, even slightly, with corporate money. Such advocacy, Stewart conceded, could amount to negatively mentioning a politician just once in a 500-page book put out by a mainstream publisher.
Virtually every newspaper in America is owned by a corporation; does that mean they can’t endorse candidates anymore? To even ask such a question as if it were reasonable shows how close to the heart of our democracy the poison has reached.
When the myth that the Patriot Act targeted libraries — it didn’t — was all the rage, liberals manned the parapets. When some citizens — not government officials — destroyed Dixie Chicks CDs, the collective response from liberals was to channel Martin Niemoller: “first they came for the Dixie Chicks . . .” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman compared it to Kristallnacht. When then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer made the off-the-cuff suggestion — in response to some unfunny idiocy from Bill Maher (and a bigoted comment from a Republican congressman) — that Americans needed to “watch what they say,” Rich (again) concluded that Fleischer’s comment was as significant for our domestic freedom as 9/11 itself.
But when the Obama administration approves the constitutionality of banning politically relevant books before the Supreme Court, where’s the outrage? Yes, there are some sober, responsible editorials. But the soapboxes stand unmanned by the self-appointed paragons of freedom.
But perhaps they’re right to be silent. It’s not as if anyone is trying to ban Hustler.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 31, 2009; 1:51 PM
North Carolina Tar Heels coach Roy Williams wears a cap as he stands next to game high scorer Ty Lawson after they defeated the Oklahoma Sooners during their NCAA men's South Regional finals basketball game in Memphis, Tennessee, March 29, 2009. (Reuters)
Almost five months after the college basketball season began -- and with one weekend to go -- it appears that everything has come full circle.
By the time the first TV timeout was called on Nov. 11, the experts were ceding the national championship to North Carolina. That is, unless Connecticut could find a way to stop the Tar Heels in the Final Four.
North Carolina dealt with some injuries -- Tyler Hansbrough early and Ty Lawson late -- and a couple of upsets, notably to Boston College at home on Jan. 4. Connecticut couldn't handle Pittsburgh during the regular season and lost an epic six-overtime game to Syracuse in the Big East tournament.
But now the dust has cleared and the carnival is setting up for the week in Detroit, and the consensus still holds that only the Huskies have a reasonable chance to deny the Tar Heels the national title. And even though the best story lines right now are those provided by Michigan State and Villanova, the best teams, in all likelihood, are the ones coached by Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun.
Michigan State, which plays Connecticut in the first game on Saturday night, will certainly be the sentimental favorite for most fans who don't have some kind of attachment to the other three teams. The Spartans will be playing 90 miles from their campus in East Lansing, Mich., but what makes their story compelling is all the heartache the city of Detroit has been through economically in the past year.
Throughout that time, much has been made of the fact that even the local sports teams have let Michiganders down. The Lions became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Tigers, after winning a pennant in 2006, finished fifth in the AL Central last season. The Pistons have become mediocre. Even Michigan football had a shockingly bad season. Only the Red Wings have continued to win championships and compete at a consistently high level.
Now the city and the state (outside of Michigan fans, no doubt) can revel in the Spartans' success. And even though Coach Tom Izzo has been down this road before -- this is his fifth Final Four in 11 years, and Michigan State won it all in 2000 -- he's never been there under circumstances quite like these.
Michigan State Spartans coach Tom Izzo celebrates while his team plays the Louisville Cardinals during the second half of their NCAA men's Midwest Regional finals basketball game in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 29, 2009. (Reuters)
"I just hope we've given people something they can smile about," he said after his team stunned top-seeded Louisville, 64-52, in the Midwest Region final on Sunday. "We all know how tough these last few months have been."
Villanova is also a good story, but for reasons not nearly as dramatic. The Wildcats haven't been to a Final Four since their "perfect game" championship victory over Georgetown in 1985. To put that in perspective, consider this: The other three programs still standing have been to 17 Final Fours since then (North Carolina has been to nine, Michigan State five and Connecticut three) and won five national championships.
However, the simple fact going into the final weekend is this: North Carolina and Connecticut haven't been in serious danger yet. The biggest challenge for Calhoun has been answering questions about what appear to be serious recruiting improprieties involving the very troubled Nate Miles. The good news in that for Connecticut is that this run won't be jeopardized, as Miles never played a game in a Huskies uniform. What is in jeopardy is Calhoun's legacy. He's already in the Hall of Fame, but a black mark like this will follow him into retirement if the allegations are confirmed by the NCAA, or even worse, if the NCAA goes in and finds there's more to this than just Miles.
There are some who think Calhoun may decide to step down as early as next week if the Huskies cut down the nets on Monday night. Calhoun is almost 67 and has had two bouts with cancer. A win Monday night would give him three national titles, tying him with Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski behind only John Wooden's 10 and Adolph Rupp's four. He would walk away a hero in the eyes of the Connecticut fans because -- like all fans -- they will fall back on the "everybody does it" excuse used by supporters of successful coaches who get into trouble.
Calhoun is so intense he can literally put himself in the hospital getting wound up about games. It might very well be that his doctors and the people around him insist he hang it up, especially if he wins another title.
The other three coaches aren't going anywhere soon. Villanova's Jay Wright is the kid in the group at 47 and just coming into his own as a coaching star. Izzo already is a star but is only 54 and has a lot of coaching left to do.
Williams is starting to put together numbers that may eventually challenge his mentor, Dean Smith, and their great rival, Krzyzewski. Williams has now been to seven Final Fours -- four at Kansas, three at North Carolina -- which puts him three shy of Krzyzewski and four away from Smith. A second national title would match Smith and put him one away from Krzyzewski. He's 58 -- more than three years younger than Krzyzewski -- and appears to have a recruiting pipeline in place that will ensure that the Tar Heels remain national contenders every year for a long time to come -- even without Hansbrough, who will finally graduate this spring.
It feels as if Hansbrough started playing college basketball in the 1980s because he was so good from Day One. In a strange way, he is a very under-appreciated player. Much has been made of the fact that he probably will not be an NBA superstar like some of the one-and-done players who have drifted through the college game during his tenure. People contend he gets all the calls -- get over it: great players get calls, folks -- and that white reporters have built him up to be better than he is.
Oh please. Can't we all just appreciate a truly great college player, one who has a remarkable work ethic that makes him better than what his athletic skills alone might make him. Who would you rather watch, Hansbrough or a kid like Josh McRoberts, who was more touted than Hansbrough when he arrived at Duke in 2005 and spent two years whining and not guarding anybody before going on to mediocrity in the NBA? There are plenty of other examples, but McRoberts fits best because the two were recruited by arch rivals at the same time.
University of Connecticut head basketball coach Jim Calhoun talks to reporters after a practice in Storrs, Conn., Monday, March 30, 2009. (AP)
Saturday's games should be more like the thriller between Villanova and Pittsburgh in the East Region final than the rest of the tournament -- and they better be. History proves that a great Final Four can wipe away the bad taste of an otherwise dull tournament, and this year's Final Four needs to do that. There have now been 61 games played, and no more than five were worth watching until the finish. After 14 of the top-seeded 16 teams advanced through the first weekend, the talking heads predicted a great second weekend because so many good teams had advanced.
Wrong. Eight of the 12 games in the second weekend were decided by double digits -- including Louisville's 39-point annihilation of Arizona in the Midwest Region semifinals-- and only Villanova-Pitt came down to the final seconds. Lots of yawns, especially with the late-night starts on Thursday and Friday. The "student-athletes" from Duke and Villanova tipped off at 10:08 p.m. in Boston -- on a school night no less.
That's another discussion for another day. The NCAA tournament is going more and more in the direction Major League Baseball went years ago, with late-night starts that might be good for TV in the short term but are bad for the growth of the sport in the long term.
The national championship game will tip off at 9:22 p.m. (if we're lucky) on Monday night. No one will be surprised by a North Carolina-Connecticut final: It's what most people have been expecting since November. But if either Michigan State or Villanova (or both) have a little magic left in their satchels, they can make this weekend less predictable and a lot more fun for most of us to watch. That in spite of the fact that it will be close to midnight on Monday by the time they make the victorious players stand on the podium -- they look like hostages up there -- for the playing of "One Shining Moment." Cue the music. Cue the tears. And if this weekend is like most of what we've seen the last two, cue the NoDoz.
The Doctor Will Kill You Now
By Daniel Allott on 4.1.09 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator
Last June in Eugene, Oregon, 64-year-old Barbara Wagner received a letter from the state-run Oregon Health Plan. Wagner, who was suffering from a recurrence of lung cancer at the time, was informed that her health policy would not cover the high cost (about $4,000 a month) of her life-extending cancer drug.
"Treatment of advanced cancer that is meant to prolong life, or change the course of this disease, is not a covered benefit of the Oregon Health Plan," stated the letter Wagner received.
But the letter informed Wagner that the plan would cover the cost -- only $50 -- of a much different treatment: doctor-assisted suicide.
"I think it's messed up," Wagner, who died in October, told reporters. "To say to someone, we'll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live, it's cruel," she said. "I get angry. Who do they think they are?"
Such is life in Oregon, which, until recently, was the only state where physician-assisted suicide was legal.
Euthanasia occasionally resurfaces as a front-page news story. A decade ago, Jack Kevorkian made headlines when he was sent to prison for second-degree murder after assisting in a patient's suicide (though only after having assisted over 130 other patients to end their lives).
Four years ago this week, Terri Schiavo's death by starvation and dehydration caused such a stir that it provoked our current president to commit what he would later call his "biggest mistake" in the U.S. Senate by voting for legislation allowing Schiavo's family to take its case from state courts to federal courts in an effort to stop her murder.
For the most part, though, euthanasia has remained a second-tier political issue, even in pro-life circles, where it has generally been subordinate to abortion, sex education, and stem cells.
But that's about to change. Last November, voters made Washington the second state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. In December, a Montana judge ruled euthanasia legal in that state.
Meanwhile in Oregon, whose voters legalized euthanasia in 1994, a record 60 physician-assisted suicides were reported in 2008. This year, assisted suicide legalization bills have been introduced in Hawaii and New Hampshire.
Add to these developments the perfect storm of record budget shortfalls, a looming entitlements crisis fueled by scores of millions of baby boomers on the cusp of retirement and end of life, and a president and Congress that embrace a utilitarian view of human life, and it's easy to see why euthanasia is reemerging as a top issue. This time it might be here for good.
Advocates of assisted suicide like to talk about compassion and choice. But utilitarian principles are driving the new push for euthanasia.
Environmentalists continue to speak about the threat of overpopulation. Last week, Jonathon Porritt, a top "green" advisor to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, called for cutting in half, from about 60 million people to about 30 million people, Great Britain's population, which, Porritt said, "is putting the world under terrible pressure. Each person in Britain has far more impact on the environment than those in developing countries so cutting our population is one way to reduce that impact."
A handy way to cut down on the living is to kill off the ballooning population of elderly, who strain government-run health care schemes. Though physician-assisted suicide is officially outlawed in Britain, a recent report found that approximately 2,500 patients a year are given drugs that accelerate their death in what some are calling "euthanasia by the back door."
Last week, the British government announced that Parliament will consider a provision to allow suicide tourism, making it legal for Britons to travel to other countries to commit suicide.
In the United States, where 30 percent of Medicare spending pays for care in the final year of patients' lives, the euthanasia movement has an opportunity. The American public is ambivalent about the morality of doctor-assisted suicide. According to Gallup polling, between 2004 and 2007, the share of Americans who considered assisted suicide morally acceptable actually decreased from 53 to 49 percent, while the share that felt it was morally wrong increased from 41 to 44 percent.
But an ambivalent public won't stop those determined to put us on the road to liberalized euthanasia laws and health-care rationing. In recent years, a number of state legislatures have considered futile-care bills, which permit doctors to refuse treatment to patients even if it violates the patient's written advance directive.
Tucked inside the "there's no time to debate" stimulus bill was $1 billion for research into creating guidelines to direct doctors' treatment of difficult high cost medical problems. The provision establishes within the Department of Health and Humans Services an Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, part of whose purpose is to "reduce health care costs resulting from inefficiency, medical errors, inappropriate care, duplicative care, and incomplete information." Soon Washington will have to agree that treatment you receive is cost-effective.
Recently, American Values President Gary Bauer and I argued that the abortion movement has undergone a philosophical shift, from being "pro-choice" to "pro-abortion." Policies enacted by President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress force all American taxpayers to underwrite abortion at home and abroad, and the repealing of conscience provisions will compel pro-life medical professionals to participate in abortion.
The debate surrounding doctor-assisted suicide is changing in the same way. Many of its advocates have moved beyond trying to secure "the right to die." Soon the burdensome will have a duty to die.
Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values, a Washington, D.C. area public policy organization.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
American Babylon by Richard John Neuhaus
Reviewed by Spengler
Asia Times Online
March 17, 2009
President Abraham Lincoln famously called Americans an "almost chosen people". That might qualify as America's national joke, for you can't be "almost chosen" any more than you can be almost pregnant.
Lincoln's oxymoron frames the tension between the religious impulses that made America and the reality that ultimately it is one imperfect polity among many others. America is "a country with the soul of a church", as G K Chesterton wrote, and by no accident, the only industrial nation (apart from Israel) in which religion plays a decisive role in public life. The central role of religion continues to polarize Americans and confuse foreign observers.
The working of faith in America's public square is more complex than Americans acknowledge, or foreigners understand, Richard John Neuhaus shows in this study of the heavenly city versus the earthly city of our exile.
Idolatry attracts both wings of American politics: the right tends to confound the United States of America with the City of God, while the left makes an object of worship out of its utopian imagination. Neuhaus was a pre-eminent social conservative and an advisor to former president George W Bush, but no less an even-handed critic for that. That quality that makes American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile one of the indispensable books of our time, of such importance that one wants to suspend debate of America's character until everyone has had time to read it.
Until his death on January 8, Father Neuhaus was America's pre-eminent Christian intellectual, and his posthumous book reminds us what a gap in public discourse is left by his absence. Starting in 1990, Neuhaus edited (and wrote a good deal of) the monthly journal First Things. It is hard for this writer to imagine intellectual life in America without First Things.
I have missed very few issues in the past 15 years, and could not have found my own journalistic vocation had Neuhaus not blazed such a broad trail. In 2007, I had the honor to contribute an essay on Franz Rosenzweig to his journal. Neuhaus was the rare sort of writer from whom one learned especially in disagreement, for his formulation of the issues was so lucid as to force those who did not share his views to rethink their own.
"There is in America," he wrote, "a strong current of Christian patriotism in which 'God and country' falls trippingly from the tongue. Indeed, God and country are sometimes conflated in a single allegiance that permits no tension, never mind conflict, between the two." Neuhaus added that "this book is animated by a deeply and lively patriotism", adding, "I have considerable sympathy for Abraham Lincoln's observation that, among the political orders of the earthly city, America is 'the last, best hope of mankind'."
On the left, utopian efforts to create a heaven on Earth expressed American idolatry, for example, in the Social Gospel movement of Walter Rauschenberg, "Christianizing America and Americanizing Christianity." The liberal philosopher John Dewey embodied the drift of mainline Protestantism into a social reform movement. The heir of this left-wing current is Rauschenberg's grandson, the late philosopher Richard Rorty, whose career was dedicated to proving the proposition that no proposition can be proven.
It is even sillier than it sounds, in Neuhaus' amusing account. As Neuhaus says,
Rorty writes that [John] Dewey and his soulmate Walt Whitman "wanted [their] utopian America to replace God as the unconditional object of desire. They wanted the struggle for social justice to be the country's animating principle, the nation's soul". He quotes favorably the lines of Whitman:
'And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God.'
"Whitman and Dewey," Rorty writes, "gave us all the romance, and all the spiritual uplift we Americans need to go about our public business."
That is the left-wing version of American self-worship. American nationalism harbors a civic religion as well. There is, Neuhaus explains,
a line of devotion that runs from the [Puritans'] "errand in the wilderness" to John F Kennedy's inaugural ... It is the American story, the American promise, that is invoked in Martin Luther King Jr's dream of the "beloved community" and in Ronald Reagan's vision of the "city on a hill".
Some readers will be surprised and others scandalized by the suggestion that George W Bush was in the tradition of Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, Kennedy, King and Reagan in sounding the characteristic notes of the American story, but so it is.
This is painfully clear, observes Neuhaus, in George W Bush's second inaugural address:
We are led [Bush said in his address] by events and common sense, to one conclusion: the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. America's vital interest and our deepest beliefs are now one ... We go forward with complete confidence in the even triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.
"Both the power and the danger of the story is in the sincerity with which it is told," Neuhaus commented. "Good intentions go awry; we blind ourselves to our own capacity for self-deception when we cast ourselves in the role of God's agents in history's battle between The Children of Light and The Children of Darkness, to cite the title of [a] book by [Reinhold] Niebuhr."
Bush's second inaugural was an exercise in American self-worship, in its assumption that the free institutions of the United States were an earthly manifestation of the divine, such that the American government should become a Bureau of Missions for the cult of democracy. But it is manifestly false that America's security depends upon the success of freedom elsewhere. China's political system is not free by Western standards, yet China poses no strategic threat to the United States. Dictatorships that support terrorism well may constitute a strategic threat to the United States, especially if they are able to employ nuclear weapons. But the United States could just as well wipe all of them off the face of the Earth through pre-emptive nuclear bombardment, or let them fight each other to exhaustion, as try to foster democracy in their midst. America had no strategic imperative to promote democracy, only a narcissistic one.
However high our appreciation of America's achievement and promise, and whether that appreciation is expressed from the left, as in the case of Richard Rorty's work, or from the right, as in George W Bush's speech, with its confidence in "a new order of the ages", the great danger is in forgetting that America, too, is Babylon.
From a Christian vantage point, Neuhaus means, every earthly city is an exile, like the Babylon whence the Jews of the 6th century were exiled after the fall of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as Neuhaus retells the story, saw themselves as a new chosen people founding a new promised land.
In some tellings of the story, they and the New World were Jerusalem, having escaped the captivity of the Babylon of the Old World ... And, in the more fantastical flights of theological imagination, America is something very close to the New Jerusalem.
That, as Neuhaus reports, was the view of the great 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards, whose "Great Awakening" preceded and by most accounts prepared the ground for the American Revolution. Yet the fervent Calvinism of the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards turned into the mushy transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson by the 1830s. With good reason, American critic Harold Bloom characterized this peculiar variety of American religion as Gnostic. Nonetheless:
In the 1860s the church of the novus ordo seclorum was shattered by the bloodiest war in your history, and from that catastrophe emerged the most profound theologian of the civil religion. Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, with its troubled reflection on the mysteries of providence, is in some ways worthy of St Augustine, except, of course, that it is without Augustine's Church, and therefore without the communal bearer of the story of the world by which all other stories, including the story of America, are truly told. American theology has suffered from an ecclesiological deficit, leading to an ecclesiological substitution of America for the Church through time.
There is no gainsaying Neuhaus' critique of the Puritans, who were in a sense play-acting at being Jews with their vision of a new chosen people and a new promised land. Gentiles do not emulate the Jews, or "Judaize", with success, perhaps because Jewish continuity depends not only upon faith but upon blood ties. By 1800, every formerly Puritan church in Boston but one had turned Unitarian, and the vapid Emerson became their intellectual heir.
Still, the tiny band of English separatists who departed Delft on the Mayflower in 1620 had better reasons to seek an "errand in the wilderness" than we easily can imagine today. Then in its second year, the Thirty Years War eventually would kill about two-fifths of the people of Central Europe, and destroy forever the Christian Empire of the Middle Ages, leaving the secular nation state in its place as Europe's principle of political organization.
A red line connects the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 to the Second Thirty Years War of 1914-1945. Whether the Puritans were right to conclude that Europe already had been lost for Christianity is a matter for historians to debate. But it is hard to imagine how Europe might have avoided the victory of communism or fascism were it not for the United States, now the only major nation in which Christianity remains at the center of public life. If the Puritans had not sailed to America in emulation of Israel leaving Egypt, the Gates of Hell well might have prevailed over St Peter.
Lincoln appeared not only "as the most profound theologian of the civil religion", as Neuhaus argues, but arguably as the most profound American theologian of any religion. That is the view of the evangelical historian Mark Noll in his book America's God. "Views of providence," Noll writes, "provide the sharpest contrast between Lincoln and the professional theologians of his day."
Noll muses that "the American God may have been working too well for the Protestant theologians who, even as they exploited Scripture and pious experience so successfully, yet found it easy to equate America's moral government of God with Christianity itself. Their tragedy - and the greater the theologian, the greater the tragedy - was to rest content with a God defined by the American conventions God's own loyal servants had exploited so well."
Because America is not a chosen nation, Neuhaus warns, "we should be uneasy even with Lincoln's sharply modified claim that we are an 'almost chosen' people". But "almost chosen" is like "almost pregnant", and the absurdity of Lincoln's joke suggests the possibility of a more benign reading.
America brought into the world a new political form, the non-ethnic democracy, a necessary but not sufficient condition for a Christian nation. America really is different, from, say, Poland, the homeland of the greatest religious leader of our times. Pope John Paul II's last book, Memory and Identity, "is about Poland and being Polish, both of which John Paul explores and affirms in a way that many might think scandalously chauvinistic", Neuhaus observes.
In some respects, Poland deserves the special admiration of her pre-eminent son. As a breakaway Soviet buffer state on the central front, Poland occupied center stage in the Cold War, and the Polish people led by the Catholic Church rose heroically to the occasion.
The trouble is that Poland's story is coming to an end. The country's population will fall by almost 30% by mid-century, and the median age will rise from 36 years to 56 years. Benedict XVI, for that matter, ranks by my reckoning as the best mind on the planet, but it is questionable whether today's Germany is capable of educating another Joseph Ratzinger.
America's story will not end, at least not in the same way. What we might call America's "Special Providence" is founded on its capacity to absorb the talented and energetic immigrants vomited out by the wars and persecutions of the Old World.
Europe's residual paganism, the persistence of ethnic self-worship under a Christian veneer, became the downfall of Christendom. America's fresh start made it congenitally receptive to Christianity.
Only in its potential is America "almost chosen"; the extent to which it actually is Christian will depend not on its constitution but on its churches. Ultimately, the Puritan hope of forming a new chosen people in a new promised land only could fail, but it is hard to see how Christianity could have prevailed in the West without it.
Sometimes, perhaps, Christians may have to emulate the Jews in order to remain Christians.
American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile by Richard John Neuhaus. Basic Books, New York 2009. ISBN-10: 0465013678. Price US$26.95, 288 pages.
March 31, 2009
Team Obama fired GM CEO Rick Wagoner Sunday afternoon, just a short time after Treasury man Tim Geithner told the television talk shows that some banks will need large amounts of new TARP-money government assistance -- even though the bankers don't want it. Does this smack of big-time government planning and industrial policy? Another lurch to the left for economic policy?
Remember, as bad as Wagoner's performance has been over the years, it was the federal government -- not shareholders or the board of directors -- that threw him under the bus. (By the way, GM's board is being thrown under that same bus.) And I'm not arguing in favor of Wagoner or his board; they've made a zillion mistakes. But I am wondering if we've officially entered a new era of government-controlled business.
Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), probably the most knowledgeable man in Congress about the car bailout, and someone who argued months ago in favor of a pre-planned government-sponsored bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler, calls the Wagoner firing "a major power-grab by the White House on the heels of another power-grab from Secretary Geithner, who asked last week for the freedom to decide on his own which companies are 'systemically' important to our country and worthy of taxpayer investment, and which are not." Corker calls this "a marked departure from the past," "truly breathtaking," and something that "should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise."
Mr. Corker has hit the nail on the head. And I think his idea of "a truly breathtaking" government departure from American free enterprise -- whether it's the banks or the bankrupt Detroit carmakers -- is exactly what caused stocks to plunge 250 points on Monday.
Incidentally, most of the big bankers who met with President Obama in the White House last Friday want to pay back their TARP money, not take more of it. But the Treasury is conducting stress tests that could stop the TARP pay-downs and force the banks to take more taxpayer funds in return for even more federal control.
The big bankers say they are profitable. And with an upward-sloping Treasury yield curve and some market-to-market accounting reform coming from the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the outlook for banks should be getting better, not worse. So why is the Treasury jamming more TARP money down bankers' throats, especially after announcing a new plan to use private capital to clean up bank balance sheets and solve the toxic-asset problem?
It kinda sounds like the Treasury doesn't want to let go of its new uber-regulator status.
As for Detroit, the carmakers should have been in bankruptcy months ago. And it is a bankruptcy court that should have fired GM's Wagoner and his board. Along with some serious pain for bondholders, bankruptcy would have broken the high-cost labor contracts with the UAW as well as carmaker contracts with dealers across the country. That's what bankruptcy courts are for. They're part of the free-market capitalist system.
Former SEC chair Richard Breeden is arguing against a systemic uber-regulator for banks, and in favor of special financial bankruptcy courts. Once again, the story is court-ordered restructuring, not government control by political bureaucrats who like their power so much they want to keep running the various companies in question.
And why isn't Obama's special auto task force ordering a replacement for Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW's president? Weren't their oversized pay and benefit packages a big part of the problem? Well, that's never gonna happen. The election power of the union is too strong. But this does reveal the political nature of these government bailout operations.
Incidentally, in President Obama's speech on Monday about the Wagoner firing, as well as in Treasury term sheets for GM and Chrysler, there are multiple references to "the next generation of clean cars," to new CAFE-standard mileage increases, and to green power-train developments. All this is a big green climate-change priority for the new administration.
But the simple fact is, small, tinny, and expensive green cars just don't work for consumers. And even if those cars are designed better, the cost structure of the carmakers will have to be brought down so far that UAW wages will be forced below those of the non-union shops in Detroit south (including Honda, Toyota, and other foreign carmakers who are now producing in the United States).
So add the green revolution to the industrial-policy plans of the White House. Expect a big increase in CAFE fuel standards, even though small cars are simply not profitable. And plan on bailout nation taking a new left-turn toward the kind of central planning that has held down economic growth in Europe and Japan for so very long.
Lawrence Kudlow is host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report and co-host of The Call. He is also a former Reagan economic advisor and a syndicated columnist. Visit his blog, Kudlow's Money Politics.