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Archive for June, 2008

Sickening

Israel is set to release savage killers in exchange for bodies. I hope they also release teams of assassins to follow and eliminate them. Or, better yet, give Hezbollah their bodies. Fair is fair.

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Obama’s Experience

Some people say that Obama has little experience relevant to governing. It was a striking spectacle when Kirk Watson, asked by Chris Matthews to describe Obama’s achievements, couldn’t list any. Here‘s an example of his experience, but I’m not sure it counts as an achievement:

The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can’t afford to live anywhere else.

But it’s not safe to live here.

About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale – a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.

Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing – an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing.

As a state senator, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee coauthored an Illinois law creating a new pool of tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.

But a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies – including several hundred in Obama’s former district – deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama’s close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama’s constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted….

Prominent among the developers involved was Tony Rezko:

Campaign finance records show that six prominent developers – including Jarrett, Davis, and Rezko – collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama’s campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors. Rezko alone raised at least $200,000, by Obama’s own accounting….

All the while, Tony Rezko was forging a close friendship with Barack Obama. When Obama opened his campaign for state Senate in 1995, Rezko’s companies gave Obama $2,000 on the first day of fund-raising. Save for a $500 contribution from another lawyer, Obama didn’t raise another penny for six weeks. Rezko had essentially seeded the start of Obama’s political career.

As Obama ascended, Rezko became one of his largest fund-raisers. And in 2005, Rezko and his wife helped the Obamas purchase the house where they now live.

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Obama and Ellison

Scott Johnson notes some powerful parallels between Barack Obama and Keith Ellison and wonders what it means. So do I. How do you feel about Hamas’s endorsement of Obama, or about Obama phone banks being run from the Gaza Strip?

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That’s how Jon Randal describes the bloggers who exposed the “death” of Muhammad al-Dura as a sham. Anne-Elisabeth Moutet asks how Charles Enderlin and French 2 TV perpetrated a fraud, and finds a culture of unaccountability and closing ranks that has little interest in the truth.

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In Memoriam: Caramel

Caramel was born on March 13, along with four brothers and sisters. He seemed to thrive, growing well and playing with the other kittens. He had the most remarkable blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He also had a sweet, gentle personality. My daughter made him a necklace to match his eyes so that we could tell him apart from his brothers more easily.

A week ago we took all five kittens to the vet for a second set of shots. Caramel weighed only one pound, less than half the next smallest kitten. Clearly, something was going wrong. Diagnosed with giardiasis, he started on medication. Soon thereafter, he stopped eating. We switched his medication and force-fed him cream and some high-calorie food. It seemed to help; he got more active, and was last seen during the night with his brothers and sisters playing with a piece of straw.

Today, however, we couldn’t find him. I came home early and searched for him for hours. Finally, I glimpsed a bit of fluff under a work table in the kitchen. It was Caramel. He was gone.

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The Supreme Court upholds the Second Amendment:

Answering a 127-year old constitutional question, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have a gun, at least in one’s home. The Court, splitting 5-4, struck down a District of Columbia ban on handgun possession. Although times have changed since 1791, Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority, “it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Examining the words of the Amendment, the Court concluded “we find they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weaons in case of confrontation” — in other words, for self-defense. “The inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right,” it added.

But the decision was 5-4; it could easily have gone the other way, and, if we had had a President Gore or Kerry, almost certainly would have.

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Are We Too Good to Win?

That’s Joshua Trevino‘s question as he reflects on our tendency to think that all disagreements can be addressed through dialogue. I’m reminded of Churchill’s motto to The Gathering Storm: “How the West Through Their Unwisdom, Carelessness, and Good Nature Allowed the Wicked to Rearm.” Our virtues may well prevent us from taking necessary action while it is easy. This raises two important questions: (a) Are the virtues compatible? Perhaps a good nature leads inevitably to unwisdom in the face of threats. (b) Can the good guys win without immense sacrifice? Does a good nature lead to postponement of the day of reckoning until the balance of power shifts in favor of evil?

Trevino observes that enemies of the United States always seem to prefer Democrats to Republicans, and infers from that one ought to be a Republican. Certainly, Democrats have become the party of postponement.

One flaw: The quotation he cites,

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?

is of course from Rabbi Hillel, in the Babylonian Talmud, Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers), 1:14.

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For some time now, rates of violent crime in Europe have been far higher than in the United States. Now, increasingly, it has a racist and religious edge to it, as gangs of North Africans and Turks attack native Europeans. Links to Muslim immigration are obvious, though information suggesting as much is officially suppressed. What strikes me, but Europeans rarely remark upon, is the role of gun control. Europeans cannot protect themselves the way Americans would in similar circumstances. Even the police use rubber bullets, allowing criminal rampages to take place without consequences for the criminals. Gun control opponents in the United States have often argued, “If having a gun becomes a crime, only criminals will have guns.” The European experience suggests taking it one step further. If you keep guns out of the hands of criminals as well as the law-abiding public, all the criminals have to do is arm themselves with knives, rocks, or a board with a nail in it (thank you, Simpsons!) and attack in groups.

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Religion in America

The Pew Center has released a report on religion in America. Among the interesting findings:

A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.

I have no objection to these views per se, but according to other research they suggest that the people who hold them will have trouble passing their religious views on to their children and grandchildren.

Another interesting finding is divergence on the question whether other religions may offer paths to salvation. 83% of mainline Protestants agree, putting their version of Christianity in a category with Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. Only 53% of evangelicals, 39% of Mormons, and 56% of Muslims agree.

Another interesting divergence is over conceptions of God. 62% of mainline Protestants believe in a personal God, as opposed to 79% of evangelicals and 91% of Mormons. Only 41% of Muslims, 31% of Hindus, and 25% of Jews agree.

There are also some strange findings. 21% of self-styled atheists believe in God (6% in a personal God), suggesting that they don’t know what ‘atheist’ means. 55% of agnostics believe in God (14% in a personal God), suggesting a similar confusion there.

There’s a strong connection between religion and politics. 50% of conservatives attend church weekly, but only 12% of liberals do. 46% of conservatives consider religion very important; only 14% of liberals do.

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Wretchard (in his new home in Pajamas Media!) writes of the political correctness of academia, with some optimism that it is now around halfway through its life-cycle. Picking up on his theme that higher education functions primarily to sort students by IQ, a commenter remarks that the growth of higher education stems from Griggs v. Duke Power, the case in which the Supreme Court held that employee testing is discriminatory, and permitted arguments from discriminatory effect, without the need to establish anything about intentions. It became impossible, in short, to identify smart people in any other way than demanding credentials. (Why the Court has not extended its reasoning to that demand is an interesting question, since it too is discriminatory in effect.) There’s something to this, though the large expansion in higher education preceded the decision, coming about in the 1960s for a variety of reasons (Sputnik, economic growth, Vietnam).

Many other commenters advise getting a degree in engineering, business, math, or the hard sciences, but avoiding the other parts of the university.

My perspective on this is somewhat more optimistic. Those fields are indeed still solid and offer excellent intellectual training. But so do philosophy, psychology, economics, and linguistics, fields minimally affected by political correctness at most universities. Even within fields rife with PC, there are large areas that are little affected. Empirically based social science is generally quite solid. Departments of English and History that house many leftist scholars who bring politics into their teaching still contain legions of professors who teach literature and history brilliantly without doing so. In all these fields, it remains possible to get an excellent education in reading, analyzing, writing, and problem solving.

It’s fairly easy to avoid most political correctness. Stay away from most _____-Studies programs. Look at course descriptions and book lists. Stay away from anything that talks about “theory” (not as in “quantum theory,” but sans phrase). Stay away from any mention of race, class, or gender. Stay away from PC buzzwords: “problematizing,” “contextualizing,” etc. Look at student evaluations from previous semesters. Talk to other students.

It’s easier to avoid political correctness at some universities than others. At my own university, it’s easy. At Duke, Brown, or Haverford, good luck. Students could learn a lot by looking at recent course offerings and descriptions when they’re applying.

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