Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jesus, the Pope, and a Rabbi

Jesus, the Pope, and a rabbi walk into a bar.

The bartender looks up and says, "What is this, a joke?"
A scholarly variation on that gag can be discerned from an article in Friday's edition of The Forward, a Jewish newspaper based in New York.

In the article, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a professor of the history and theology of Judaism at Bard College, explains how a 14-year-old book of his ended up playing a central role in a new book by Pope Benedict XVI called Jesus of Nazareth.

Rabbi Neusner writes:

In my 1993 book “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus,” I imagined being present at the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus taught Torah like Moses on Sinai. I explained why, for good and substantial reasons based in the Torah, I would not have followed Jesus but would have remained true to God’s teaching to Moses. Much to my surprise, Pope Benedict XVI, in his new book “Jesus of Nazareth,” devotes much of his chapter on the Sermon on the Mount to discussing my book.

“More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus’ words and to the choice that the gospel places before us,” the pope writes.

He ties this exchange of ideas to a lamentably lost tradition of disputation between religions, a tradition that was lively in the Middle Ages but began to decline during the Renaissance and nearly disappeared during and after the Enlightenment, when theories of religious tolerance gained ground (a good thing in comparison to the persecutions and pogroms that preceded it).

Says Rabbi Neusner:
In ancient and medieval times, disputations concerning propositions of religious truth defined the purpose of dialogue between religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity. Judaism made its case vigorously, amassing rigorous arguments built upon the facts of Scripture common to both parties to the debate. Imaginary narratives, such as Judah Halevi’s “Kuzari,” constructed a dialogue among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a dialogue conducted by a king who sought the true religion for his kingdom. Judaism won the disputation before the king of the Khazars, at least in Judah Halevi’s formulation. But Christianity no less aggressively sought debate partners, confident of the outcome of the confrontation. Such debates attested to the common faith of both parties in the integrity of reason and in the facticity of shared Scriptures.

Disputation went out of style when religions lost their confidence in the power of reason to establish theological truth. Then, as in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise,” religions were made to affirm a truth in common, and the differences between religions were dismissed as trivial and unimportant.

Disputations between religions lost their urgency. The heritage of the Enlightenment, with its indifference to the truth-claims of religion, fostered religious toleration and reciprocal respect in place of religious confrontation and claims to know God. Religions emerged as obstacles to the good order of society. Judeo-Christian dialogue came to serve as the medium of a politics of social conciliation, not religious inquiry into the convictions of the other. Negotiation took the place of debate, and to lay claim upon truth on behalf of one’s own religion violated the rules of good conduct.

Of course, religious toleration is a good thing. In the Middle Ages, after all, disputations often were not conducted in an atmosphere of civility. Jews frequently faced persecution, rather than respectful theological debate.

Rabbi Neusner views his interlocution with the Pope with optimism:
What we have done is to revive the disputation as a medium of dialogue on theological truth. In this era of relativism and creeping secularism, it is an enterprise that, I believe, has the potential to strengthen Judaism and Christianity alike.
Given this, wouldn't it be a marvel to be a fly on the wall when Jesus, the Pope, and a rabbi walk into a bar?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tinky-Winky, Revisited

Those looking for evidence of the transmigration of souls may have to look no farther than this news item, which comes just days after the death of evangelical leader Jerry Falwell:

The spokesperson for children's rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska, singled out Tinky Winky, the purple character with a triangular aerial on his head.

"I noticed he was carrying a woman's handbag," she told a magazine. "At first, I didn't realise he was a boy."
Perhaps the new soul failed to take root, as Ms. Sowinska has reversed her stance, according to Washington Post blogger Emil Steiner:
On Tuesday, her spokesperson announced that Sowinska "hasn't asked and won't ask" psychologists to investigate whether "Teletubbies" promote homosexuality in young viewers. Much like Jerry Falwell's 1999 battle against the colorful, rotund creatures, Sowinska was essentially laughed into defeat after suggesting mental health professionals should analyze the sexual orientation of what is essentially a puppet. As the roars of laughter and criticism, (even from her own party) poured in Sowinska was forced to make a hasty retreat which came in the following statement: "They are fictional characters, they have nothing to do with reality, and the bag and scissors and other props the fictional characters use are there to create a fictional world that speaks to children... We are not going to deal with this issue any more."
Too bad. We could have got laughs out of this one for weeks.

Should Libertarians Support Rudy Giuliani?

Two libertarian writers whom I respect (and, full disclosure, whom I know personally) have diametrically opposed views about former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and whether he deserves to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

On the pro-Rudy side is Deroy Murdock, an adjunct fellow at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a frequent guest on TV chat shows like the syndicated Chris Matthews Show. A New York-based syndicated columnist whose work appears in the Washington Times and other newspapers, Murdock wrote a gushing piece about Rudy Giuliani in the National Review back in March. In it, he provides details of the successes during Giuliani's eight years as Gotham mayor, including these compelling figures:

...Giuliani governed as a Reaganesque supply-sider:

Giuliani scrapped three taxes and slashed 20 others, lowering Gotham’s tax burden by 17 percent and saving individual and business taxpayers $9.8 billion. A family of four earning $50,000 saw its local taxes plummet 23.7 percent.

While inflation averaged 3.9 percent, Giuliani’s average spending grew 2.9 percent annually. If the departed GOP Congress were that fiscally disciplined, the next federal budget would be $2.275 trillion — $625 billion cheaper, Cato Institute fiscal analyst Stephen Slivinski calculates.

While hiring 12 percent more cops and 12.8 percent more teachers, Giuliani sliced other positions 17.2 percent. Overall, municipal headcount fell 3.1 percent.

These policies helped cut local unemployment from 10.4 percent in 1993 to 5.7 percent in 2001. Tourist arrivals rose 32 percent in that period, while the Big Apple’s population grew 9.3 percent. People who came stuck around, and those already here stopped evacuating, as they were doing before Giuliani Time. Not insignificantly, the personal incomes of New Yorkers ballooned 53 percent during Giuliani’s tenure.
In conversations with me, Murdock has told of his amazement at the way Giuliani, at press conferences introducing the city budget, was able to field questions about nearly every detail of New York's fiscal situation. According to Murdock, Giuliani is a master of detail, with much more innate intelligence than the average politician. Moreover, given the political demographics of New York City -- Republicans and conservatives are a minuscule minority -- Giuliani's achievements are even more remarkable, because he was able to accomplish so much, through sheer force of personality and adherence to principle, against otherwise unrelenting opposition.

Coming from the other side -- the anti-Rudy side -- is David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute in Washington and author of Libertarianism: A Primer. He has an op-ed piece in today's New York Daily News entitled "Libertarians, beware the rigid reign of Rudy."

Boaz acknowledges the same accomplishments that Murdock touts, but he adds some warnings:
Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush.

* * *

And it should distress many conservatives that Giuliani took umbrage at affronts to his dignity, perhaps most notoriously when he tried to stop city buses from carrying a New York magazine ad saying the publication was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." The First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes in his book, "Speaking Freely," that "over 35 separate successful lawsuits were brought against the city under Giuliani's stewardship arising out of his insistence on doing the one thing that the First Amendment most clearly forbids: using the power of government to restrict or punish speech critical of government itself."

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani's authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President's power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani's view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power." George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.

Both Boaz and Murdock are correct in their assessments of Rudy Giuliani. The question libertarian Republicans must ask themselves is, which side of Giuliani is more important to us? Are we swayed by the Rudy who transformed New York and made it livable and economically viable? Or are we repulsed by the Rudy who shows little respect for the limits of power and the individual rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution?

Taking Ron Paul Seriously

When Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) entered the contest for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, most observers wrote him off as nothing more than a gadfly, with less of a chance to influence the outcome of the race than fellow Members of Congress Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), who is running on an anti-immigration platform, or Duncan Hunter (R-California), who is running on his record as former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Who would have thought that, at this point in the perpetual election campaign, Ron Paul would be drawing attention from the mainstream media and from pundits of the left and right? (That Dr. Paul would have a lot of support on the Internet, including within the blogosphere, comes as no surprise -- libertarians have long been overrepresented in cyberspace.)

In today's Washington Times, for instance, syndicated columnist Bruce Bartlett -- author of Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy and of Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action -- writes:

... significant cracks have developed in the wall of conservative support Mr. Bush enjoyed at the beginning of the war. Today, much is known about the lack of verifiable evidence of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), about how the White House bullied those urging caution into reluctant support, and thoroughly screwed-up the Iraq occupation. Even Arizona Sen. John McCain, still a strenuous war supporter, has become outspoken on Bush's poor management of it.

Consequently, more than a few conservatives have gone over to the antiwar side. Unfortunately for Ron [Paul], they are mostly former Republicans today, unlikely to vote in a Republican primary.

Among conservatives, another factor is also at work: the growing realization that Mr. Bush has never really understood or shared a Goldwater/Reagan vision of the nature of conservative governance. And even those who still cling desperately to the view that Mr. Bush is better than the Democratic alternative mostly concede his performance in office on a wide range of issues has left much to be desired.
Bartlett concludes:
All this has made the Republican soil highly fertile for a dissident campaign based on a genuine conservative message, such as offered by Ron Paul.

I still don't think Mr. Paul can win the nomination, but he may end up playing a role not dissimilar to that played by Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic nominating process in 1968. He didn't win, either, but forced Lyndon Johnson to retire and ultimately shaped the Democratic Party's direction for decades.
On the other side of the country, another Bruce -- Bruce Ramsey, a frequent contributor to Liberty magazine -- writes in the Seattle Times:

Two-thirds of Americans can now see that starting a war in Iraq was a mistake. The majority of Republicans still do not see it. Eventually they will, but it's hard to go against their own president unless one of their own makes them do it.

That may be the usefulness of Rep. Ron Paul. There is no way this libertarian medical doctor from Texas is going to win the Republican nomination. His strict noninterventionist policy is too radical a change for Republicans. But on foreign policy the Republican Party could use a dose of criticism that gets to the root of things, and that is what Paul has to offer.

Paul says his party will lose the presidency in 2008 if they are still supporting the war, and he is probably right. He does not waste time arguing about surges or timetables. He says America ought to get out, and that America ought to adopt a general policy of staying out of other countries' wars.

Paul rejects President Bush's gum-drop idea that the terrorists hate us for our freedom. They hate us because of what our government has done in their part of the world.

Ramsey ends his column like this:

In foreign affairs, the Republicans are our nationalist party, and there is a role for that. But they need to question the idea of a "global war on terror." The 9/11 attacks were acts of desperation by 19 men with box cutters. What these men did looked and felt like acts of war, but really it was an audacious crime, planned and executed by a political gang financed with private money.

Fighting such gangs is the job of cops, security workers, customs agents, G-men, diplomats and alert citizens. It is an important task, but we are not at war. America hasn't been attacked in nearly six years.

Republicans need to settle on a foreign policy that asserts American interests in a realistic and humane way. Whether they go as far as the noninterventionism of Ron Paul is another question, but they have to jettison the Bush policy of preemptive war. That the leading Republican contenders refuse to question that policy is a sign that they have not learned and, 17 months from now, will not win.

Even the mothership of American conservative publications, National Review, is taking Ron Paul seriously. In an article posted on the magazine's web site and dated May 29, Peter Suderman writes:
Since entering into the crowded field of Republican presidential-primary candidates, Paul has become a lightning rod for conservative criticism as well as an unlikely Internet phenomenon. After serving in Congress for just over 16 of the last 31 years and attracting minimal national attention during that time, Paul has, in just a few weeks, begun to stand out — and apart — from the rest of the Republican candidates. Among fiscal conservatives, he is the purest of the pure, having steadfastly refused to enter into the sort of deal-making and political compromise on which Washington thrives. And, in a party where support for the war in Iraq runs high and often tops the list of voter concerns, Paul’s apostasy on the issue puts him decidedly outside the GOP mainstream, provoking harsh judgments from several prominent conservative pundits. Yet he is not without supporters either, most notably a zealous Internet fan base that no other Republican candidate can claim.

* * *

As a congressional representative, his steadfast refusal to support government expenditures of nearly any kind has earned him a reputation as a principled economic conservative in a time where political deal-making is the norm. He has been referred to as “Dr. No” for his lengthy history of opposition to bills that would have the government do, well, pretty much anything. On a question about government-cutting at a recent debate, other candidates hemmed and hawed about which programs they might like to cut; Paul responded that he’d get rid of the entire department of education.

Even on issues like global warming, where many Republicans — including staunch government-cutters like Newt Gingrich — have begun to warm to ideas like a carbon tax or an emission-trading system, Paul stands firm. “Nobody has a right to pollute, but I would rather approach the issue through property rights than through regulation,” he says. “Government should be there to protect property, not to divvy it up.” He departed from the free-market line to vote to give the government power to negotiate prices with drug companies, but only because he believes that, as long as the government is buying the drugs, it might as well get a good deal on them. On nearly every issue of note, he’s a small-government absolutist’s dream come true.
No wonder that Bill Howell, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, referred to Ron Paul as "a libertarian's libertarian" in a response to a question posed by the Daily Progress' Bob Gibson on last night's broadcast of Evening Edition on WVTF-FM.

Even the center-left is taking note of Ron Paul and his positions. The New Republic had a feature article on Dr. Paul by Michael Crowley in its June 4 edition, with the subhead, "The surprising relevance of Ron Paul."

Referring to the aftermath of Ron Paul's dust-up with Rudy Giuliani in the South Carolina GOP debate, Crowley reports:

Suddenly, Republicans were taking seriously a quirky 71-year-old Texas libertarian whose national support has hovered in the zero-percent range.

Nor was the attention all negative. Far from it. Paul won several instant polls on the debate, including one at the conservative and a Fox News text-message poll. Incredibly, Paul's name began beating out "Paris Hilton" as the number-one query on the popular blog-searching website Technorati. (Granted, it's possible that Paul's fervent supporters are manipulating such online metrics.) The incident prompted a feisty exchange among the ladies of ABC's "The View," of all places. And, to top it off, within a day of the debate, Paul's campaign had raised $100,000--about one-sixth of his entire haul for the first three months of 2007. Paul's spokesman says the campaign headquarters has been "inundated with phone calls" ever since--80 percent of them supportive....

As he approached his table [at a Washington restaurant], a man seated nearby extended his hand with a broad smile and a hearty "congratulations." Paul explained that he had received a similar reception among his colleagues in the House. "I've had probably ten people come up to me and compliment me--including people I thought were war hawks," he said. "It was a tremendous boost to the campaign."

When CBS News reprinted Crowley's article on its own web site, it offered a different headline: "Ron Paul, Rising Political Star."

That may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of these commentators include some remark in their articles about how Ron Paul has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. They are probably correct in their assessment. The Ron Paul campaign is running far behind Rudy McRomney (in Governor Jim Gilmore's felicitous witticism) in fund raising. Still, as long as sponsors of candidate debates include Paul (as well as third-tier candidates like Mike Huckabee), more and more Americans will hear his message, which resonates precisely because it is candid, deliberate, and plainspoken.

Even though we are both libertarians, Ron Paul and I don't see eye to eye (though the photograph next to this paragraph may suggest otherwise). I am unconvinced, for instance, by his heavy emphasis on returning to the gold standard. I think his views on immigration are closer to Tancredo's than to mine and to most libertarians. I am glad he opposed the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment as an intrusion into what is the proper responsibility of state governments.

What Ron Paul has going for him, more than any other candidate, is that you always know where he stands. He has never been shy about expressing his views. Agree or disagree -- and he will be civil with you even if you disagree -- you can always count on him to have a considered, thoughtful response to your questions or objections.

There are still about eight months left in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. If Ron Paul can keep his own campaign organization afloat until February 2008, he can still have a significant impact on the debate and discussion that accompanies him and the other candidates across the country.

Addendum: I almost forgot. If there's any sign that Ron Paul has hit the big time, it's that he will be the featured guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart next Monday, June 4. (I can't wait for Stephen Colbert to include Texas 14 on his "Better Know a District" segment.)

Carnival Quartet

A few recent blog carnivals have pointed their readers in this direction.

A new carnival, just launched this week, is called "Design or Oops?," hosted at the Global Conservative, who explains the purpose behind the carnival:

Some say the universe was designed, others insist it's all simply an accident. Either way it's an interesting topic, so send your thoughts in. I will post every Tuesday and I have no deadline for submissions. I'll take it as it comes.
The first edition of this carnival is rather modest, with only two entries:

Hell's Handmaiden presents MikeGene Tries Desperately to Miss the Point | hell's handmaiden posted at Hell's Handmaiden.


Rick Sincere presents There's a Huckster Born Every Minute posted at Rick Sincere News and Thoughts.
An ad hoc blog carnival (that is, one that is not ongoing) was set up at Pharyngula, with a collection of postings about the Creation Museum, including my own post that compares the "museum" to the Cardiff Giant. This one is quite comprehensive, including links to the mainstream media as well as to blogs of all types.

Bryan Norwood at Movement of Existence hosts the latest Carnival of Principled Government, noting my entry about Ron Paul's reading list for Rudy Giuliani.

Finally, though I'm not mentioned in this one, I just had to include a link to the latest Carnival of the Capitalists, which this week is hosted at The Marketing Whore. I like that name -- short, honest, to the point.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

There's a Huckster Born Every Minute

A 21st-century equivalent of the Cardiff Giant is set to open this week in Kentucky.

Back in the 1860s, an intricately carved gypsum statue of a large human was planted on a farm near Cardiff, New York. When it was dug up by unsuspecting workmen (who had been directed by the spot to dig a well by the people who planted the fake), it became an immediate sensation. Thousands of people traveled to see the "giant" and paid as much as a dollar a head to see it (an extraordinary amount for the average person in 1869).

When P. T. Barnum asserted (correctly, it turned out) that the giant was a "fake" -- he was displaying his own phony giant, asserting that it was real -- one of his competitors told a newspaper that "there's a sucker born every minute." That phrase has, ever since, been inaccurately attributed to Barnum himself, even to the point that it became the theme of a song in the Broadway musical, Barnum, almost three decades ago.

What has this got to do with Kentucky in 2007? One of the reasons the Cardiff Giant was such a successful hoax in the 1860s was that, as notes, "many an evangelist at the time had been preaching that there were giants in the earth." People were inclined to believe in the hoax because people they would otherwise trust planted a suggestion in their minds that it might be true, just as huckster George Hull could plant the fake giant and wait for the right moment to bring it out of the ground.

Now, according to Sunday's Washington Post, a group of extreme anti-intellectuals from the evangelical movement are set to open a "Creation Museum," in Petersburg, Kentucky (near Cincinnati), which cost $27 million to build, a "museum" that is every bit as much a hoax today as the Cardiff Giant was in its time:

The Creation Museum, a project of the socially conservative religious organization Answers in Genesis, mocks evolutionary science and invites visitors to find faith and truth in God. It welcomes its first paying guests -- $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for children, not counting discounts for joining a mailing list -- just weeks after three Republican presidential candidates said they do not believe in evolution.

Opinion polls suggest that about half of Americans agree. They dismiss the scientific theory that all beings have a common ancestor, believing instead that God created humans in one glorious stroke. Similar numbers say the world's age should be counted in the thousands of years, not billions, as established science would have it....

The Creation Museum is located for easy access near an interstate and an airport on 49 acres of rolling hills where woolly mammoth roamed until about 10,000 years ago. Designed to inspire Christian belief, the facility was largely built with contributions of $100 or less, although three families gave at least $1 million each, said Mark Looy, an Answers in Genesis co-founder.

To put together a museum with pizzazz, the planners recruited Patrick Marsh, the designer who created the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida. The exhibits, backed by dozens of professionally produced videos, keep the action lively, and the content coming -- "to create something of a 'Wow!' factor," said Looy, who expects 250,000 visitors the first year.

Set aside for a moment the shocking statistic that millions of Americans are either willfully or unsuspectingly ignorant enough to think that the universe is only a few thousand years old. The blame for that should most likely be laid at the feet of the government schools. (Though that does not fully explain those otherwise intelligent politicians who wish to lead our country, but whose egos are bigger than their brains.)

Fortunately, there are some distinguished scientists ready to speak out against this fraud. Physicist Lawrence Krauss pulled no punches in a commentary during Friday's edition of the National Public Radio program, Marketplace:
... if you want to renounce modern science as flawed, then an intellectually honest approach would be to also renounce technologies such as airplanes, cars and even radios that work using precisely the same scientific principles that tell us the earth is well over 6,000 years old.

But that's not the approach the Creation Museum takes. It renounces knowledge, but has spent lavishly on creating the illusion of science.

So, they've created a museum that appears scientific, but that simply lies about the science instead.
Krauss, who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, concludes, rightly in my view (as I have written elsewhere):
Religion doesn't have to be bad science. And, similarly, bad science shouldn't be defended simply because it might have a religious basis.

While religious tolerance is important, there should be little tolerance for promoting or consuming such religiously motivated scientific fraud.
He also laments, however, that
Alas, such scientific fraud is not subject to legal intervention unless there is a financially injured party.

But what of the intellectual injury to thousands of young children who might visit the museum — built to be within a day's drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population — and who come out confused about science, the very thing that can give them a competitive edge in the modern world.
I think Dr. Krauss concedes too much when he says this fraud "is not subject to legal intervention."

At $19.95 a pop for adults and $9.95 for children, with an expected quarter-million visitors in its first year, surely we can find some intelligent tourist willing to plop down a couple of Hamiltons or a Jackson to tour the exhibits, only to emerge disillusioned and disappointed at the lies told to him, with a willingness to pursue a class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and all the thousands of others who were subject to the high-tech Answers in Genesis con game.

Anyone heading to Petersburg, Kentucky, this summer? If so, I might be able to find you a good plaintiff's lawyer.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

So Totally Ich-du

For those who think that popular culture lacks depth, Elisa Albert posts these thoughts about the parallels between Legally Blonde's Elle Woods and Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.

If ever there was an odd impetus to see a new Broadway musical, this is it.

Be sure to scroll through the comments to see the answer to Albert's challenge to her readers to produce a similar comparison between Baruch Spinoza and Canadian chanteuse Avril Lavigne. It's priceless.

Rudy's Reading List

U.S. Representative Ron Paul, who stood his ground despite a verbal dressing-down by fellow presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani in the South Carolina debate on May 15, has issued a list of books he recommends to Giuliani (and, by implication, to others) with regard to how U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has led to unwanted and unintended consequences.

In a news release issued by his campaign today, Congressman Paul recommends several books that support his reading of recent history -- including the published findings of the presidentially-appointed 9/11 Commission.

Here is the full list:

Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback. Henry Holt and Company: New York, NY. 2000.

Pape, Robert A. Dying to Win. Random House: New York, NY, 2005.

Scheuer, Michael. Imperial Hubris. Potomac Books: Washington, DC, 2004.

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks. The 9-11 Commission Report, Final Edition. Barnes & Noble Publishing: New York, NY, 2006
The campaign news release says:
"I hope Rudy Giuliani reads these books from top foreign policy experts," said campaign chairman Kent Snyder. "We have also included some Cliffs Notes in case Mr. Giuliani is too busy giving $100,000 speeches on national security."
Unfortunately, Giuliani apparently thinks he is fully educated, according to a campaign spokeswoman:
Mayor Giuliani said it best -- it is extraordinary and reckless to claim that the United States invited the attacks on September 11th," [Maria] Comella said. "And to further declare Rudy Giuliani needs to be educated on September 11th when millions of people around the world saw him dealing with these terrorist attacks firsthand is just as absurd."
That retort rather misses the point. Nobody doubts that Mayor Giuliani responded with swiftness and courage when the 9/11 attacks happened. His response to that event helped Americans rediscover a mayor who, through fiscal discipline and force of will, converted New York from an economic basket case to a vibrant, safe city that its residents and leaders can point to with pride.

But it says nothing about whether "America's Mayor" has studied the causes -- direct and indirect -- of those attacks. To say "I was there" is not to say "I know why it happened." Observing a solar eclipse does not make a man an astronomer, if he still thinks that the sun is being eaten by a snake, rather than being obscured by the moon.

There is bound to be disagreement among scholars, policymakers, journalists, and average-but-informed citizens about issues like this. The disagreements arise through discussion and debate, and appear frequently in the popular press, on talking-head TV programs, in documentary films, in the blogosphere, and in academic publications. Giuliani's remark during the Fox News debate about Ron Paul's view -- that "I don't think i've heard that before" -- indicates that he has not been paying attention to the discussion of the past six years.

Now he's got a chance to catch up. There is plenty of time for reading -- or listening to audio books -- on the campaign bus.

Carnival Mea Culpa

I have to beg forgiveness of some recent carnival hosts. They have mentioned posts from this blog but I have failed to acknowledge them.

On April 30, the first edition of the Carnival of Commentary featured my post on the First Amendment and political speech, reporting on a forum held at the Cato Institute last month. Since it appeared, there have been two more editions -- #2 and Numero Tres.

Market Anarchy
describes itself as "the only blog carnival for anarcho-capitalists and lovers of freedom." Its second edition, published April 29, included a mention of my piece on Pope Benedict XVI and capitalism. The next edition of this carnival is scheduled to appear May 29 at Hellbound Allee.

This week's Catholic Carnival (number 120 in the series, headlined "The Catholic Worldview) is hosted by A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars. It leads with my reminiscence of my First Holy Communion at St. Agnes Church some 40 years ago.

Finally, it may be worth noting that the next Carnival of Principled Government is scheduled for May 28 at Movement of Existence. This carnival features submissions "from any political view on the relevant topic of the founding principles of the United States."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May 22, 1977

On Sunday, May 22, 1977, the world was three days away from the premiere of Star Wars (later known as Episode IV - A New Hope), a movie that changed popular culture and political discourse.

On May 22, 1977, actor Paul Winfield, Harvard theologian Peter Gomes, publisher Sasha Alyson, musician Morrissey, and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk all celebrated their birthdays.

The number one song on the Billboard pop charts was "Sir Duke," by Stevie Wonder. On the country charts, it was "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Laverne & Shirley, set in Milwaukee, was just finishing up its first season on ABC-TV. Milwaukee-born Tom Snyder was hosting The Tomorrow Show late nights on NBC.

Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. Queen Elizabeth II was celebrating the Jubilee Year of her reign (with an Underground line to mark it). Patrick Lucey was governor of Wisconsin, but was soon to accept the post of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, to be succeeded in July by Martin Schreiber. Henry Maier was 17 years into his 28 year ride as Milwaukee's second "singing mayor." William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson were Wisconsin's two U.S. Senators.

And in Milwaukee, the seniors at Marquette University High School were graduated.

Run with military precision by the Reverend John Crowley, S.J., the commencement exercises began promptly at 8:15 p.m. and were finished an hour later, with a student address by Dan Barboriak and a faculty address by Greg Meuler in between, as well as the bestowing of diplomas, one by one, to each of the graduates, by Principal Frank Majka, S.J., and President William Doran, S.J.

To give you a sense of how close-knit the Marquette High community was (and, one would hope, is), by the time Father Majka had finished reading off the names of the 238 new alumni, there were only three people listed whose names were unfamiliar to me. It was difficult to hide in the shadows at MUHS in the 1970s.

Much of this sense of community could be attributed to common action -- the little things we did together.

For instance, the year began with the annual production of Senior Follies, that year called "Blazing Seniors" (based on a class vote; the title had little to do with the show itself). Work on the show actually began late in our junior year, and continued through the summer. (I was privileged to be on the writers' committee that created the script for the revue, which was built on the premise that each scene represented a period in the school day -- homeroom, Latin class, lunch, gym, etc.) Here is some rare film of that production, including rehearsals (this is in two parts, to satisfy YouTube's 10-minute maximum requirement):

Sharp-eyed readers may spot me as Mr. Greenwald, the Latin teacher and astronomy club advisor, who lamented to his class that he had seen a UFO but nobody believed him. (His/my song: "Hey, Has Anybody Seen My Neat UFO?", a parody of the Tony Orlando pop ditty, "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?")

It was for this show -- the one that caused me to fall in love with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd -- that I memorized the world's most lethal joke, in Latin:
Erant duo homines.
Primus vir dixit, "Meus canis habet nullam nasem."
Alius vir rogavit, "Quomodo olfacit?"
Primus vir respondit, "Atrociter!"
Later, a number of seniors (as well as members of other classes and girls from other schools) joined together under the able direction of the Reverend Thomas N. Brennan, S.J., in a production of Frank Loesser's Guys & Dolls. Some of the backstage antics seen in this video may seem incomprehensible to today's high schoolers.

In early May, just a few weeks before graduation, juniors and seniors held their prom and post-prom party. I hosted a pre-prom party at my house. Again, 21st-century sensibilities may be offended by the sight of high-school students smoking and drinking openly. (I wrote about my prom experience earlier in this blog.)

Finally came the big day: Graduation, 1977. Sorry for the poor quality of the video. I did not have the camera in my hands that evening:

It didn't take much digging, but I was able to find the program from the commencement exercises, which includes a list of all the graduates and the various awards and scholarships they received (click to embiggen):

This year, Marquette University High School is marking its 150th anniversary, and the Class of 1977 is gathering for its 30-year reunion. This morning I made a reservation online to attend the festivities on the weekend of July 20-21 in Milwaukee. I hope to see many of my classmates there. One hundred fifty years is a milestone worth celebrating!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To Search, To Seek, To Find

I am sitting in the lobby of University Tire & Auto Center in Charlottesville, waiting for a diagnosis as to why my car's electrical system has collapsed. (I am hoping it is just a dead battery.) To pass the time, I have reviewed the search terms that brought the last 4,000 visitors to this blog and discovered, once again, odd and inexplicable examples of Googling.

After several other explorations of these phenomena, I have decided to retire -- at least for the moment -- substantial reflection on the numerous searches for nude, shirtless, or circumcised celebrities, or inquiries regarding the size of their genitalia. I am still struck, however, by the persistence of the rumor that actor Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") is or will be attending the University of Virginia (though you will note there is a new variation on this one, since people are now trying to find out if he has matriculated at Virginia Commonwealth University -- perhaps a judgment that Daniel was reaching too high with regard to UVa?).

Here, in alphabetical order, are the most recent illustrations of perplexing words and phrases that drove people here from Google, Yahoo,, AOL, Dogpile, and other search engines:

aaron carter's sex drive is high

catholic male masturbators

Corigliano + Flintstones

dick cheney dances at national press luncheon

dismally resuscitate

don ameche and log cabin republicans

flintstone lesbians

fried fish gay sex

harry potter going to virginia commonwealth university

lsd AND "history of the american flag" "stars and stripes"

naughty medieval limericks

"other uses" viagra

perpendicular milwaukee

Petition to have candidate removed from ballet Maryland template

ronald reagan's library and fundraising and assortment of foods

"Ron Paul" circumcision

"r. steven landes" idiot

star wars nursing scrubs

thought of son as a fellator

tony danza gay male prostitute

vomit sex

was pope benedict ix gay?

where to buy bongs charlottesville

why are gays always shirtless?

will they ever let the cowsills sing at fenway again
Of all these, the one that strikes me as the oddest and most inscrutable is "fried fish gay sex." Is this some kind of fetish that has heretofore had no proponents? Is it an expression of multiple hungers? Is there a restaurant somewhere in the world with a unique menu? Someone, please, tell me.

Monday, May 14, 2007

First Communion (Plus Forty Years)

As we all know, yesterday was Mother's Day in the United States. Forty years ago, however, May 13 was a Saturday, the day before Mother's Day. It happens that May 13, 1967, was also the day of what Catholics call "my First Holy Communion."

Those who do not grow up in Catholic families within largely (ethnic) Catholic communities like Milwaukee will probably find it hard to understand what a milestone a First Communion is for Catholic kids. In most families, a First Communion is celebrated with a big party, with extended family and friends invited. I should add that baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and weddings are all excuses for large celebrations, while funerals also usually merit a party, if a more subdued one. It seems that the only one of the seven sacraments that goes unmarked by food and drink is penance.

Receiving one's First Communion is seen as a step toward maturity, and -- since most first communicants are about 7 or 8 years old -- it is an acknowledgment that a child has reached the age of reason. All in all, for Catholic families, a First Communion is a big deal.

It was no different in my family. My parents threw a huge party for relatives and friends. I received many gifts (mostly in the form of cards and money). I still remember the real prize that day: My parents gave me my first wristwatch, a Timex that was required to be wound at least once a day.

I dug up a few remembrances of that day in 1967, and one that surprised me by its very existence.

That's me in the center, at the edge of the second pew. Note that all the boys are dressed alike, in black slacks, white shirt, and black (clip-on) tie. We look like mini-Mormon missionaries. The girls are not quite in the same cookie-cutter outfits, but white lace emulating a bridal gown was the rule. Why do all the girls seem to be seated behind the boys? I couldn't say.

Here's proof -- the official record of the event, signed by the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Butler, Wisconsin, Father David Wilbur. The typewriting bears evidence of the existence of an IBM Selectric in the church (or school) office.

And here is verification that the next day -- May 14, 1967 -- was Mother's Day.

Now comes the archival surprise.

Note how the record of my First Communion has all the artistic hallmarks of the early post-Vatican II era, with its stylized images of wheat, chalice, paten, and grapes, and its sleek lettering. It goes without saying that my First Communion Mass was one of the first using the vernacular, though it was largely a translation of the Tridentine liturgy; the Novus Ordo was implemented over the next few years.

I found something in a box of old photographs and newspaper clippings that was totally unexpected. Look below to see how the record of a First Communion was rendered 25 years earlier than mine, when my own father was just 8 years old:

This memento from St. Boniface Church in Milwaukee, dated May 31, 1942, is so ornate that it verges on baroque. The evocative picture is dated 1939, but it matches much of what I saw in books -- including those first- and second-grade readers featuring David and Ann (the Catholic equivalent of Dick and Jane) and their families -- and in church as a very young Catholic just before and during the Second Vatican Council. Within a few short years, though, it was a different world.

(Click on any of the images to embiggen.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Orwellian Regulation in Wisconsin

Citing the ironically-titled Unfair Sales Act, the government of the state of Wisconsin has ordered the immigrant entrepreneur of a small gas station to stop offering discounts to his customers.

That's right: According to the state of Wisconsin, it is "unfair" to take a couple of cents off a gasoline purchase, currently costing as much as $3.14 per gallon locally.

According to the Wausau Daily Herald and reported internationally by the Associated Press:

A service station that offered discounted gas to senior citizens and people supporting youth sports has been ordered by the state to raise its prices.

Center City BP owner Raj Bhandari has been offering senior citizens a 2 cent per gallon price break and discount cards that let sports boosters pay 3 cents less per gallon.

But the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says those deals are too good: They violate Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Act, which requires stations to sell gas for about 9.2 percent more than the wholesale price.
Offering the discount no doubt brings Mr. Bhandari goodwill among his customers, but it is unlikely to help his bottom line. Gas-station owners operate on a notoriously narrow margin, and they are unlikely to reap many profits -- if any -- from the sale of gasoline alone.

Rather, they rely on the sale of peripheral items, such as the odd candy bar, soda pop, or beef jerky, to fill their cash register drawers. Unfortunately, as gas prices rise, customers are less likely to spend their spare change on a snack or a drink -- and so the mom-and-pop gas station suffers a decline in revenues.

Given this situation, it is remarkable that the same newspaper that broke this story -- the Wausau Daily Herald -- has an editorial today that cruelly suggests that the state should regulate gasoline prices in such a manner that the small-time entrepreneur would suffer even more losses. In so doing, it completely misreads why the "Unfair Sales Act" -- a name George Orwell would relish -- is itself unfair to consumers and business owners alike:
Wisconsin requires all retailers to mark up the price of fuel at least 9.2 percent above its wholesale price.

The rule is intended to prevent retailers from undercutting competitors to drive them out of business.

But as gas prices rise, so do profits; at $1 a gallon, retailers make 9.2 cents on every gallon sold. At $3, they make 27.6 cents.

The formula needs to be changed. Make it a dime a gallon, no matter what the wholesale cost, to protect competition and consumers.
It is not the government's role to set prices for any product. If the state or federal government told supermarkets that the shelf price of cornflakes, for instance, must be 9.2 percent more than the wholesale price, there would be an uproar. If the government told furniture retailers to stop advertising "North Carolina prices" and to jack up the numbers on the price tags of sofas and coffee tables, consumers and store owners alike would be furious.

Somehow, the economically illiterate seem to think that the laws of supply and demand cease to have relevance when it comes to gasoline and that the government should play a role for which it is singularly unsuited.

Hat tip to Bart Hinkle for bringing my attention to this item.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Next: An Entertainment Weekly Cover Story?

From an ABC News report about Dr. Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican congressman from Texas who is seeking his party's presidential nomination, whose performance in last week's GOP debate landed him at the top of various on-line polls:

With strong support among libertarians who are unhappy with the top-tier Republican contenders, Paul has a robust online presence.

His MySpace profile boasts nearly 12,000 "friends." Today, his name ranks in the Top 10 among blog search terms at, behind Paris Hilton but ahead of Mario Lopez.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Billy Crystal to Receive 2007 Mark Twain Prize

This press release just arrived from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Kennedy Center will award the tenth annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to Billy Crystal on Thursday, October 11 at 8 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The award, named to honor one of America’s—and the world’s—greatest humorists, will feature a star-studded ceremony. The program, to be taped for the eighth year by WETA Washington, D.C. as The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2007 Mark Twain Prize, will air on PBS stations nationwide this fall. Tickets for the event will go on sale to the general public on Fri., Aug. 10.

“The Kennedy Center is pleased to give Billy Crystal the Mark Twain Prize for an extraordinary career,” said Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman. “The work he has created for stage, film and television, has made an indelible impression. It is the work of not just a humorist but also a humanist.”

“To be given the same award as Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and Neil Simon is a great honor,” said Crystal. “As my grandfather said, if you hang around the store long enough, once in a while they’ll give you something!”

He shared, “I told my grandaughter who is three that I won the Mark Twain Prize, and she said... ‘I have one too.’ I’m looking forward to a wonderful evening.”

Billy Crystal has created one of the most versatile and prolific careers in the entertainment industry, finding success in front of the camera, as a performer in film and television, and behind the scenes as a writer, director and producer. After touring with such stars as Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka and Sha Na Na, he became a regular on the popular series Soap playing the first openly gay character on a network television series. During the 1984-85 television seasons, Crystal was met with phenomenal national success on Saturday Night Live. He created, wrote and produced the critically acclaimed HBO series Sessions and became the first comedian to perform in the then-Soviet Union with his special Midnight Train to Moscow, one of four one-man specials he has done for HBO. He has hosted the Grammy Awards three times and, of course, the Oscars eight times.

He starred in Running Scared, Throw Momma from the Train, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers I and II, Mr. Saturday Night, Forget Paris, Hamlet, Deconstructing Harry, Father’s Day, My Giant, Analyze This and That and America’s Sweethearts. Crystal’s film 61* for HBO films showcased him as both director and executive producer. It garnered 12 Emmy nominations including nods for Best Director and Best Made for Television Movie and also earned him a prestigious Director’s Guild nomination.

Crystal made his Broadway debut in 2004 with 700 Sundays, an autobiographical one-man play. The play opened to stellar reviews, and broke box office records, becoming the highest grossing non-musical in the history of Broadway and garnered him the Tony, Outer Critics Circle Award and the prestigious Drama Desk Award. In fall of 2005 Crystal took 700 Sundays on tour to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto breaking box office records. In October 2005, he adapted 700 Sundays into a book that joined his two children’s books, I Already Know I Love You and Grandpa’s Little One on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. Recently he took the show to Australia down in Sydney and Melbourne to standing ovations and sold out crowds each night.

A dedicated human rights advocate, he has co-hosted with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg on all eight Comic Relief telethons on HBO, which have brought the plight of the nation’s homeless to the public and raised more than $40 million for housing and medical care for these people. Crystal, Williams and Goldberg reunited in November 2006 for a special Comic Relief to aid those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Crystal is the recipient of six Emmy Awards, six American Comedy Awards and seven Cable Ace Awards. He has been married for 36 years to Janice, and has two daughters, Jennifer and Lindsay, and granddaughters Ella and Dylan.

The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

The Kennedy Center, as the nation’s center for the performing arts, recognizes and presents all of the performing arts including opera, jazz, musical theater, drama, ballet and dance, as well as symphony and all kinds of smaller musical ensembles performing every imaginable kind of music.

The proceeds of the evening are used for the Kennedy Center Education Department’s programs. As recipient of the Mark Twain Prize, Billy Crystal will receive a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt (1853-1940). The bust and images of it are courtesy of the Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, Conn. The event is a joint production of the Kennedy Center, Mark Krantz, Bob Kaminsky, Peter Kaminsky and Cappy McGarr. Executive Producers for The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2007 Mark Twain Prize are David S. Thompson and Dalton Delan of WETA Washington, D.C. and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Kennedy Center Celebration of American Humor was instituted as an annual event in October 1998. Recipients of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005) and Neil Simon (2006).

Tickets will go on sale to Kennedy Center members on Wed., Aug. 1 and to the general public on Fri., Aug. 10. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Kennedy Center Box Office or charged by phone at (202) 467-4600 or toll-free at (800) 444-1324 for people calling from outside the Washington area.

Support for the Mark Twain Production is provided by USA Today.

For more information on the Kennedy Center, please visit