THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 645 October 18 - 24, 2010
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October 18, 2010
It was a hectic weekend. I'm still doing the column. If you missed the discussion of temperature measurement accuracy and its importance to predicting climate change, that was here last week. Part of the column will contain a review of il Postino; there's a preview of that here.
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|This week:||Tuesday, October
They're after O'Donnell again. Apparently the Democrats are unsure of Delaware.
O'Donnell correctly points out that the First Amendment mandates the separation of Church and State. The religion clause is carefully drafted: it says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." At the time seven of the States had religions by law established with tax paid clergy, and the First Congress 'established' the post of chaplain and opened with prayers. This was not "separation of church and state," in the sense of building a wall between them. An establishment of religion involves tax supported specific institutions. Seven of the states had them at the time they adopted the Constitution. The peculiar wording of the Bill of Rights was as much intended to prevent Congress from disestablishing the State churches as to prevent it from establishing a national religion.
After the Civil War Amendments the Courts purported to find an emanation from a penumbra that applied the Bill Of Rights as a Federal Power over the states. The actual intent of those Amendments was to give Congress the power to enact laws that would integrate the freedmen into the Republic as citizens, and make sure that they had "the equal protection of the laws" in their states. It was a noble intent, largely motivated by religion, specifically St. Paul in his epistle:
It is not likely that most of those who drafted and adopted the 13th and 14th Amendments were interested in any rigid wall between Church and State; most of them had sung the Battle Hymn of the Republic at public functions, and were opposed to slavery on religious grounds. The notion that liberating the slaves forbade a manger in the public square would have been ludicrous. No one would be stupid enough to believe they had meant that. Some would have argued that fairness would indicate allowing a menorah if requested by the local government that put up the manger, but the notion that the Constitution or the Civil War Amendments forbade local authorities to erect a manger in the public square would have been laughed down in ridicule. No one would be that stupid.
Over time the courts did find they meant that, just as they found that "equal protection of the laws" allows affirmative action, racial discrimination, and forbids employers to use IQ tests as part of employment qualification. Emanations and penumbras abound.
I do find it interesting that they thought it needful to bring in Clinton, the Democrats' biggest gun, to campaign in California. This means they have conceded a number of swing districts and states, and are shoring up what used to be taken for granted. This may be an interesting election -- but it ain't over until it's over. The ground game is crucial, and that's going on right now with distributing and collecting absentee ballots. You'll see the political operatives visiting nursing and retirement homes in droves now.
I have finished the October column, which ought to be up tonight. And I have constructed a Report on UFO and put it in reports; it's actually a summary of my views, and why I seldom write about UFO's -- and contains a description of a real UFO incident witnessed by thousands on multiple occasions.
October 20, 2010
We're off for our walk. I have added a bit to yesterday's notes on the O'Donnell Church and State brouhaha. More and other subjects when we get back.
I haven't really been following the News Corp vs. Cablevision battle close enough to have much of an opinion in the matter, but it does stir up old memories. There has been surprisingly little about it in the Wall Street Journal (which is owned by News Corp); no editorials and while there was news coverage, (News Corp., Cablevision Dig in Heels in Fee Fight ), it was sparse. Meanwhile the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times has a full editorial on the subject. Naturally it takes the side against News Corp and Fox, and in favor of more government power over the net.
All this reminds me of something most won't remember: the origin of cable networks, and a California Initiative that would have abolished them by law as a threat to free television.
For a long time TV was "broadcast". TV sets had an antenna ("Rabbit ears" or even more complex arrangements), or the house itself had a rooftop antenna, some fairly elaborate. Cable companies began as a means of providing good signals to subscribers: some "cable companies" were simply a co-op in an apartment house, where the tenants paid to maintain a large roof-top antenna, an amplifier, and a signal distribution system. Since this was all unregulated at the time, it didn't take long for neighboring apartments to want to get in on better TV than they could get with rabbit ears. Then suburbia got in the act, with neighborhood associations forming to maintain an efficient central antenna from which the signals were distributed to subscribers. From there to larger and larger networks was but a step. Cities found they could license these in effect selling a monopoly service, and tax them. The cable networks began as local monopolies, and as usual consolidation built them into giants. Cable Networks were born. Then came local shows, public access, city political coverage, and finally cable networks began producing their own shows.
Back in the very beginning some saw cable TV as a threat to free broadcast TV, and one group (mostly sponsored by theater owners) put forth an initiative banning cable TV. It actually passed.
Of course the fears were realized: Cable TV really did make "free TV" less and less relevant. How many TV antennas do you see on suburban houses now? You do see satellite antennae: another way to connect to cable, without having to pay for the monopoly cable service. Of course cable service provides high speed Internet access, and TV and Radio over the Internet are growing to the point of having more audience accessing through the Internet than through broadcast and individual antenna reception. Free Radio and TV are on the way back, now delivered by the Internet.
All of which affects "Internet Neutrality", but before Congress and the FCC get into this act, they need to think things through; that's not likely of course, since northeastern voters are being threatened with delays and denials in this provider vs. delivery system dispute, and for the moment the Cable companies still have the lion's share of Internet Access provision. I suspect the result may be a boost for DSL and The Phone Company, as well as new incentives for cities to rethink fiber optics networking.
The answer to this problem as well as many other problems is not more regulation and Federal power, but enhanced competition. It wasn't long ago that there was no way to get high speed Internet Access in Chaos Manor. I ran this place on dialup for years, then got a wireless connection using my own Linux box as a router (Dan Spisak set that up for me), then an EarthLink Satellite, and finally cable television. DSL wasn't available: too far away. That may have changed now, and I ought to look into it, since it is likely to be cheaper, but what I have ain't broke and there are other things that need fixing first. I'd think the lack of alternative ways to get high speed Internet and city cable monopolies are the heart of the problem. More competition beats more regulation every time.
October 21, 2010
When I was active in Republican Party politics -- I was a county chairman at one point -- I was not part of the Country Club leadership. I got into the game as an activist for Goldwater and had some influence over the Washington State delegation to the Republican National Convention. In those days conventions actually selected candidates; they weren't just a coronation ceremony for the winner of various primary elections. Many convention delegates were selected by state conventions, not primaries, and Washington was one of them. It cast its votes for Barry Goldwater, in defiance of the Republican national leadership and the Rockefeller Republicans. Rockefeller was Governor of New York state, and was the leader of the Country Club wing of the party. Same wing that in 1996 ran Bob Dole, the only man in the Party that Clinton could beat, and thus threw away much of what Reagan had built.
True to type, many Country Club Republicans cut the ticket in 1964. They preferred moderation -- which is to say cooperation with the Democrats in ramming through Johnson's Great Society -- to the populist principles of Goldwater and the "country wing" (as opposed to the Country Club wing; pardon the confusion) of the Citizens for Goldwater. In 1964 the Republicans carried California for the Senate, electing Reagan's friend George Murphy. The presidential election was a disaster, but it did lead eventually to Reagan as Governor of California and then President. It didn't lead to much change in the Country Club leadership of the Party. Newt Gingrich did that, but after his resignation the Country Club came back with a vengeance.
So in Alaska this year the Tea Party played by the rules. They ran a conservative candidate against an incumbent Country Club Republican Senator, and they won. Whereupon Senator Murkowski decided to run a write-in campaign in the general election. This is absolute repudiation of any vestige of party unity. Had a losing Tea Party candidate done that the establishment would have been horrified. The Republican leadership had a different notion. They allowed her to resign from a purely Party committee, but she remains the ranking Republican on the Energy Committee. She has not only cut the ticket, she is actively campaigning against the Republican nominee in a crucial Senate election -- and the Country Club has left her in place as their ranking member on a key committee. In other words, as usual, the Country Club is not playing by the rules; they expect conservatives to support them, or at least not actively try to destroy their candidacies, but when it's their turn the rules don't apply.
So what is the Tea Party to do?
Best advice: work harder and win. This is a crucial year. Don't waste energy on anger and thoughts of revenge. Don't daydream about third parties. Just get back to work.
The eventual goal is restoration of the Old Republic. That won't fully happen, but it is a vector; it's the right direction, and much of that is attainable. The goal is reviving the principles: limited government, leaving more to the states, stop the bleeding, stop the spending, get past the notion of government as the dispenser of entitlements, promote more responsibility. To get there will require some cooperation with the Country Club. Cooperation is not submission. In a family quarrel, least said, soonest mended.
Reagan understood that. Reagan's problem was that when he took office, the United States had a mortal enemy, the USSR, with 26,000 deliverable warheads aimed at the United States. The Seventy Years War was real, containment was in danger, and there was an existential threat not just to the Old Republic but to the United States as a nation. While most of the ruling class of the USSR was sane in the sense that they looked out for their own interests, the peculiar structure of the USSR required them all to pretend to be good communists, and to defer to the bizarre notion that if a series of nuclear wars ended with half the world population dead but the other half safely communist, this would server the ends of history. It would be worth it. This gave us a military strategy: threaten the ruling class itself. Make certain that the Nomenklatura understood that whatever happened they would personally not survive if it came to the ultimate conquest. Meanwhile, so long as the US could contain communist expansion so that war did not feed war and conquest did not feed conquest, the economic absurdities of the USSR structure worked at undermining Soviet capability. Mistletoe killing an oak, rats gnawing cables in two, Moths eating holes in a cloak, --- It wasn't a a dramatic strategy, but it did work. It just took time, and keeping on that target was politically costly. Reagan wasn't able to rebuild the Party. His energy was used up by the Cold War. He could stay on the vector, which is summarized in "government is the problem." while continuing to keep a government strong enough.
Strong enough: on no morning can the true believer communists on the PolitBuro ask "Comrade Marshal, if the war starts next week, can we win?" and get an unambiguous "Yes" answer; while every attempt at expanding the empire by anything less than total war costs more than it gains. And slowly, slowly, the answer got closer to "The capitalists can defend against our attacks, and we would be destroyed. They would not be. They would survive and we would not. All our policies are in vain. We have failed." Reagan lived to see that victory. It was costly, and left the Country Club in control of the Republican Party, because the Cold War had taken nearly all of Reagan's energy. He was elderly when he began, but full of energy; but after the assassination attempt, he was not the same man he had been. Those who knew him saw the effects. He couldn't save the West and rebuild the Republican Party at the same time. In 1984 he chose Bush I as Vice President because Bush was firm on the Cold War, and could be trusted in that. Rebuilding the Party had to be left for someone else.
I didn't set out to write a theory of history. Over time the liberal principles came back into vogue. The idea that there are "social problems" which can be "solved" by government took over in both parties. We had the creepy "big government conservatism" that continued to add "government solutions" without regard to principle. In 2007 the nation had enough of the Country Club. The Creeps were thrown out, but the result wasn't reform. Pelosi and Reid came in. More of the liberal policies were tried. The result has been more disaster. And the Tea Party.
This election may be the key to rebuilding the Republican Party. This time the only existential threat to the United States is our own government, which has been on the road to a fundamental transformation to a nation of subjects with entitlements, not free citizens with responsibilities. We need to get off that road and on another headed in the right direction. That is the goal. Taking revenge on those who put us where we are is not.
Wikipedia is on balance a great treasure, but it has to be used with care. It is reliable on some matters, and somewhat less so on others, and often a source of error on controversial matters. The Wall Street Journal has an editorial on WikiPropaganda (link) illustrating the point with the story of AGW, in which a Manmade Global Warming Believer Partisan was for a long time an administrator determined to delete all signs that there was less than a general consensus on the truth of AGW, promoting Michael Mann, and being sure to present all pro-AGW theories as undisputed facts. This has changed, but the story is interesting -- including the fact that it took years to correct. As the editorial notes
Bully for them.
Wikipedia is not a good place for scientific debate. When it comes to AGW, not many places are. I try to keep things rational here. Sometimes I succeed.
Now for something completely different.
The Wall Street Journal buried back on page D6 has an interesting article about a pair of architects who intend to improve the Barnes, having been employed by those who stole it. The article is entitled "The Barnes in a New Light", (link). Before you read that, read about Barnes himself, and what he intended when he built his school -- not a museum, but a school for teaching his unusual theories of aesthetics. It was intentionally allied with Lincoln University, an historically black college, in accord with Barnes' theories of equality. He intended the school to be not merely a memorial, but an operating school which allowed some visitors, provided that they came on his terms and saw his collection in the way he had intended.
The problem was that Barnes was the world's greatest art collector. He accumulated the most valuable collection of impressionist and "modern" (for his times) art in the world. Everyone wanted it, every museum executive thirsted for it. They offered every honor and inducement they had, but Barnes wasn't interested in that. He did not intend his collection for mass viewing, and one reason he did not give his school and collection to any existing institution was that he was pretty sure they'd sell it off for its enormous value; he had a pretty good idea of how such institutions operate. Moreover, Barnes hated the Philadelphia elitists and specifically intended that they never gain advantage or control of his art collection; indeed the Barnes Foundation was in every sense intended as a poke in the eye of the Philadelphia establishment. The whole idea was an anti-establishment art institute near Philadelphia. How good an idea this is, and how good his ideas on the subject were, is not under discussion here. The point is that he lived in what he thought was a free country, and was wealthy enough to hire the very best legal talent to set up his Foundation the way he wanted to prevent the establishment from stealing it.
Eventually the establishment used the courts to steal the collection, of course, in the name of "the people". That story is told in "The Art of the Steal" which is summarized pretty well in this trailer. Watch that, then read the Wall Street Journal article. Draw your own conclusions about our intellectual elites.
An incomplete history of the Foundation and Barnes is given on Wikipedia.
October 22, 2010
A few years ago my friend Congressman Dana Rohrabacher suggested that given the disgust of the American people over Congressional "earmarks" -- the practice of specifying specific projects in Congressional appropriations, making it mandatory for the Executive Department to spend that money on that project -- he was going to pledge to give up earmarks entirely. This sounds like a great idea. The earmark system is often used to "bring home the bacon" or a barrel of pork for the Congressman's District or the Senator's State, and can lead to absurdities like the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, crazy museums featuring exhibits no one wants to see honoring people no one remembers, and goofy "demonstration programs" of technologies no one will ever finance.
The problem is that swearing off earmarks can lead to congressional abdication of responsibility. It often means leaving all project selection to the bureaucrats who fouled up things in the first place. Not all earmarks are evil. Some are necessary. That's what I told Dana. It's one thing to give up porky earmarks. It's quite another to abandon responsibility for steering appropriations in the right direction. That's the job of Congress, and just because they often do it badly doesn't mean they can give up doing it. We have to cut needless spending, but some spending is important.
I was interested to see that former Almost-Speaker Robert Livingston says much the same thing in an important op-ed column in today's Wall Street Journal. The title is "The Tea Party Is Wrong About Earmarks" (link). His subtitle is his theme: "Why just accept the president's spending priorities? Congress has the right and duty to make appropriations in the public interest." This should be required reading for the Tea Party leadership. Yes, it's important to stop needless spending. It's important to stop rolling the pork barrel. There needs to be a lot of reform in the appropriations procedures to stop the midnight insertions of porky projects into major bills. There needs to be transparency in the earmark process, and earmark projects should be easy for all to see so that they can be challenged and if need be justified; but they must not be abandoned.
That's particularly important now when the Executive is likely to be hostile to the new Congress. Leaving it to the bureaucracy to choose science and technology projects is an invitation to disaster. Livingston was Chairman of Appropriations up to 1999; he wasn't part of the crazy "big government conservatism" spending spree that led to the "thumping" that threw out the Creeps -- but brought us the Nuts, who have managed to spend more money than the Creeps did. When, as seems probable, the Republicans take control of Congress again, they must cut spending and reform government; but they als0 need to be certain that important projects aren't crippled because a hostile bureaucracy doesn't want them.
The Tea Party has the right idea, but its leadership needs to understand this. Livington's article says it well. Earmarks need to be made transparent, not meat axed.
If you missed Steve Jobs "state of Apple" speech it had an important announcement. See mail.
October 23, 2010
Is there much to be said about the Juan Williams incident? Everyone on the planet knows that National Public Radio leans way left, and Williams, the closest thing NPR had to a centrist, was a former Washington Post liberal who tried to be objective in his views, and being basically a pleasant and honest fellow, often succeeded better than liberals usually manage. He'll be the liberal rep on Fox now, and that will help to keep the rest of Fox from becoming complacent. On the whole the outcome is for the good.
As to NPR, many of us find it amusing to listen to NPR news reports and, without listening to anything else, try to figure out what really happened. It's an interesting test of imagination, but it's not likely you'll be successful. They're pretty good at obscuring the facts assuming they ever learned them. NPR is National Liberal Radio and always has been, the public alternative to Rush Limbaugh without Limbaugh's frank acknowledgement of his views.
At one time I had a weekly half-hour NPR news analysis program. That was long ago, and Bill Buckley convinced me to give it up, on the grounds that I was being used as a fig leaf: they were pleased to tell people they had a Pepperdine political science professor on the air -- for half an hour a week, with no promotion. The only time they mentioned me was when their fairness was questioned. I hadn't thought much about that until Buckley called my attention to it on a visit to Pepperdine. I quit shortly after that. It was a lot of work without much return.
I am assured that NPR receives less than 2% of its annual operating budget from tax money, all through grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I suspect there are other hidden mechanisms for transferring taxpayer money to NPR, but that's not important. The real question is why do we have a Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the first place? We don't have a Corporation for Public News Pamphlet Printing, or a Corporation for Public Weekly News Magazines, or a Corporation for Public Daily Newspapers, nor should we have. What is there about broadcast media that uniquely deserves this kind of public support?
Full disclosure: shortly after I left city government to become a full time writer, I had a KCET Public Television program: I was co-host with Les Crayne of a national affairs analysis program. Guests over the year included McGeorge Bundy, Allard Lowenstein, Henry Kissinger, and a number of other national figures -- whoever the producers could get to show up when they came through Los Angeles. I had to join the show biz union AFTRA and was paid a bit better than scale, and I needed the money -- this was before Mote and Hammer. It was a straight out confrontation program, closer to Crossfire than to the modern shouting matches; people generally spoke one at a time, and we tried to maintain a sense of civility. I enjoyed it, and I liked not having sponsors to worry about. We did once appear on a KCET pledge drive, but I doubt seriously we pulled our financial weight for Public Television. I really don't know how much of KCET's budget in those days depended on Corporation for Public Broadcasting money, or whether our show depended on tax money. I certainly don't know why anyone should have been taxed to pay for our fun.
The Juan Williams incident has revived the periodic attempts of conservatives in Congress to close down all public support for Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio, but I doubt that much will come of it. Better to leave the Left with NPR and CPB than to have continuously to fight their efforts to re-impose the "fairness doctrine" of some years ago. And I'd miss Masterpiece Theater even if they are trying to make Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple into liberals.
I am pleased to see that The Phantom has finally stopped acting like an idiot and is about to discover that Diana is alive and in Gravelines prison. Maybe he'll bring the Pygmy Poison People to wipe out the awful place. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry. I haven't lost my mind, and you're probably better off not knowing. Some of us grew up with the Ghost Who Walks.
If you buy software on line, DO NOT PAY WITH PAYPAL. Use a credit card. Paypal has no mechanism for disputing a charge on the grounds that what is sold does not work or is useless. American Express does. I'll have something on this in the next column.
October 24, 2010
I tried to watch that but the ditzy interviewer was too much for me. When she insisted that Art says that his petition "disproves global warming" she is either deliberately distorting or unaware of what Art says, which is that his petition, signed by 30,000 scientists (including me; I am not a climate scientist but I sure have OR credentials) disproves the unanimity of acceptance of AGW. Obviously a petition doesn't prove or disprove an hypothesis. When you get 31,000 people with scientific credentials to question the AGW hypothesis, it certainly does disprove consensus. Anyway, I gave up watching after a while; but it does show the quality of MSNBC's rational discussions.
I didn't get to the part about the Henty books. I first heard of the Henty books in Jacques Barzun's Teacher in America, in the part where he was discussing what was fit for children to read: he said "Above all, don't worry about style. Sham medieval is as good as snappy Wild West badinage. Tom Swift and the Rover Boys -- if they still exist -- are as readable as the Henty books and far better than "approved" namby-pamby like Freckles or Black Beauty." I cheered. As it happens I had never heard of the Henty books, and forthwith went off to the Memphis library, where I found a slew of them, historical novels about boys my age in the Crusades, the Franco-Prussian wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and such. I enjoyed them a lot. I have no idea why the ditzy MSNBC interviewer disparages the Henty books but I suspect they are not politically correct, although I don't recall that from my reading.
Incidentally, Barzun says of censoring for youth "Do I draw the line anywhere? Only at vocabulary. There are a few modern works that use words which if unknown might puzzle in a disturbing way, or if known act too powerfully on the imagination of a child. But this is hardly a real question for any sane parent." He adds in a footnote "I might add for what the testimony is worth that at the tender age of eleven there fell by mistake into my hands a fiercely naturalistic novel by Mirbeau. The behavior of the characters struck me as decidedly odd, but I calmly attributed it to the inexperience of the novelist, not to mine."
Of course that sent me off looking for the naturalistic novels of Mirabeau -- I had heard of him, and never knew that Octave Mirbeau the pre-Freudian novelist existed. When I didn't find what I was looking for I concluded that no one had translated Mirabeaus's novels. It never occured to me there was anyone named Mirbeau. I also looked for Krafft-Ebing whom I had heard of one way or another, but the Memphis public library didn't have his book, or if it did pretended not to. When I asked Brother Fidelis, he got a copy from somewhere, read it, and told me that the good parts were in Latin and my Latin wasn't that good, and suggested something else. My attempts to find Havelock Ellis were even less successful.
Note that I bring up Ellis and Krafft-Ebing only anecdotally. There is absolutely no connection between them and Henty -- except possibly in the minds of MSNBC which seems to find Henty so objectionable.
But I did enjoy the Henty books, which were once very popular and highly recommended, and I still can't imagine why recommending those disqualifies one from being a Member of Congress. I keep recalling Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd and their famous "waitress sandwich" escapades. Perhaps the Senate has lower standards?
As to censoring reading for youth, Barzun in 1944 didn't contemplate the Internet and Facebook. He was pretty daring in suggesting that the only censorship should be common sense and sanity. Now there's none at all.
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