"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Sunday, October 31, 2010

W Can Still Bring It!

George W. Bush threw out the first pitch tonight in Game 4 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas.  Here it is:

It would be too easy to contrast Bush's ease and grace with Obama's weak and girlish efforts at throwing out first pitches.   So I won't.  But, safe to say, history will be kind to Mr. Bush.  


Gallup's final polling before Tuesday's election has Republicans up by fifteen points in the generic Congressional ballot.   According to their modeling, that translates into Republicans picking up something like 60 seats, which would give them a substantial working majority of something like 240-195.   But Gallup adds this note:
It should be noted, however, that this year's 15-point gap in favor of the Republican candidates among likely voters is unprecedented in Gallup polling and could result in the largest Republican margin in House voting in several generations. This means that seat projections have moved into uncharted territory, in which past relationships between the national two-party vote and the number of seats won may not be maintained.
The New York Times' Nate Silver has posted a useful compendium of final polling data, organized by the time on Tuesday evening that polls will close in states moving from East to West.  If, as I think will happen, Republicans ride an unbelievable, unprecedented wave on Tuesday -- a political tsunami -- they will win every race in which they are at all close.  If they win every race where they trail by 4 points or fewer, I count them winning 77 seats.   That would give them a margin of 257-178 in the House, a huge majority.  

I think that's exactly what will happen.   What has happened in the past year regarding the Democratic Party of Barack Obama is what is known in sociology as a "preference cascade."   Once a few people started feeling that it was safe to say out loud what everyone was thinking -- that Obama is a hard leftist and an incompetent to boot -- soon everyone felt comfortable stating the obvious.  

Put differently, the Democratic Party has tied itself to an Emperor Without Clothes.   Tuesday is not going to be pretty for them, but it's going to be beautiful.   Like this:

Birthdays Today

Today's birthdays include Jan Vermeer, the great Flemish painter, born in 1632.  Here is a very beautiful painting of his called The Music Lesson:

Also, today is the birthday of the English Romantic poet, John Keats, who died in his early 20s after having written some of the more beautiful short poems in the language, including this sonnet, "When I Have Fears," which expresses an emotion many of us are familiar with -- the fear that death will come before we have acccomplished all that we hope:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
A very lovely movie made last year called Bright Star was about Keats and his lover, Fanny Brawne.  It's worth a look.

Girl Sunday - Peggy Lipton

I was talking last night with some men who were about my age, and we were remembering TV shows we had watched as kids.  Someone mentioned The Mod Squad.  None of us could remember the white guy on the show at all, and I was the only one to come up with the name "Lincoln Hayes," which was the black guy's fictional name on the show.   But we all came up with the name "Peggy Lipton," the girl on the show.  This is what teenage boys thought was beautiful in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  We were right. 

Smile of the Day

Ron Johnson will defeat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race on Tuesday, rescuing us from an arch-liberal who for 18 years has masqueraded as a "maverick."    That's good enough for the Smile of the Year, but we'll make it just the Smile of the Day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Birthdays Today

Today's birthdays include John Adams, born 275 years ago in 1735.   Many people might say that the single greatest act of political sacrifice in American history was Washington's decision to give up the Presidency, when he could have been President (or King for that matter) for life.   To me, however, the greatest act of political self-abnegation was John Adams' peaceful transition of power from the Federalist Party (his party) to the Democratic-Republic Party of Jefferson after the extraordinarily contentious election of 1800, the first American Presidential election involving political parties.  The election was a choice between two ideologies that are not much different than what we have now, a Burkean conservatism flowing from the political traditions of England (the Federalists), and a liberal-democratic-radical tradition flowing from the newly-minted political attitudes of Revolutionary France (the Jeffersonians).  Adams greatly feared what a French-style revolution might bring to America, yet he gave up power peacefully.

Adams' conservatism -- his fear that democracy would devolve into mob rule -- was based on a skeptical view of the sinfulness of men, as suggested by this letter he wrote in 1815 to Jefferson, long after both had retired from public life:
We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power ... All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continual vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people, when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions ... The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical.
Adams is also, of course, remembered for his long and happy marriage to his wife, Abigail Adams.   On her death, Jefferson wrote this short letter to Adams, which I think is quite beautiful:
MONTICELLO, November 13, 1818. The public papers, my dear friend, announce the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medi­cine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.
Adams and Jefferson as old men were reconciled as friends, and their correspondence in their last years is an American treasure.   The single greatest factoid in American history is that Adams and Jefferson, arguably the two greatest intellectual leaders of the American Revolution, fierce political rivals in their middle years, and fast friends in old age, died on the same day, July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day of the Declaration of Independence.  On his deathbed, Adams' last words were reported to be "Thomas Jefferson still survives."  But Jefferson had actually died hours before him.

David McCullough's great biography is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, and the HBO miniseries biography with Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams was also terrific.



On a somewhat lighter note, today is also the 64th birthday of Bob Gibson, the great Cardinals pitcher, born in 1946 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Gibson is my favorite baseball player of all-time, and perhaps the single most fearsome pitcher in baseball history.  My son wears number 45 when he plays Little League and our Golden Retriever is named "Gibby."   Happy Birthday, Bob Gibson!

Girl Saturday - Jean Arthur

Jean Arthur, one of my favorite actresses ever, was the love interest in three of the great Capra movies of the 1930s, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can't Take it With You, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  In the first, she was opposite Gary Cooper; in the next two opposite Jimmy Stewart.   I always thought she, almost more than the male stars, exuded the fundamental decency that made Capra, well, Capra:

As an extra, added bonus, here's the great restaurant scene from You Can't Take it With You:

Smile of the Day

Don't you wish Charlton Heston had lived to see next Tuesday? I think he would have been, well, about this happy:

Now, for Chuck's sake, GOTV!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Big Suit for Halloween

The Halloween parade at our neighborhood Catholic school is a big event for the kids.   Today, daughter #1 is going as Thing One from the Cat in the Hat; daughter #2 is going as a Pop-Tarts box; and thirteen year-old hipster son is going as David Byrne of the Talking Heads in the Big Suit from Stop Making Sense.   In his honor, I hereby declare this to be Big Suit for Halloween Day.  Hit it:

The Regular Guy's Movie Pick for the Weekend - Three Days of the Condor

The Regular Guy has cable.  The Regular Guy has Blu-Ray.  The Regular Guy has Netflix.   In short, the Regular Guy can watch whatever he wants, whenever he wants to.  That's why there's no excuse anymore for the Regular Guy (or the Regular Gal for that matter) to watch bad movies.  Bad movies are bad for your soul; they waste two hours of your time; they make you stupider than you were before.   Good movies make your world bigger; they show you places you didn't know about and people you didn't know about doing things you didn't know existed; good movies make you better and smarter.

So, this weekend, watch a really good movie.  My recommendation:  Three Days of the Condor, a brilliant action drama about a CIA analyst on the run in the 1970s, starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway.   Here's the original trailer to whet your appetite:

Birthdays Today

Not a lot of famous birthdays today.   But the one that jumped out at me was the great Bill Mauldin, cartoonist of the World War II infantryman, who was born in 1921.  It's surprising that he was so young himself when he was covering the young men who fought their way across Europe.   Anyway, happy birthday to a man who gave us the indelible characters of WW II grunts, Willie and Joe:

"I guess it's okay. The replacement center says
he comes from a long line of infantrymen."

Girl(s) Friday - Janet Leigh and Eva Marie Saint

The two best gals to meet on a train in the history of movies are Janet Leigh in The Manchurian Candidate and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest:

I guess it must help a little if you look like Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant.    Here are some headshots that are, as the young-uns used to say, mo better:

Smile of the Day

Nuff said.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are They Really This Shameless? Or Are They Just Stupid?

Democrats in Minnesota apparently think it's OK to smear a Minnesota Senate candidate, Dan Hall, who happens to be a Protestant clergyman, for opposing Obamacare, with the following image:

Did they really think that this image of a man in a Roman collar wouldn't register with readers of the ad as an image of a Catholic priest?  Did they really think that this wouldn't be offensive to Catholics -- the priest is wearing a button that says "Ignore the Poor" -- when the Catholic Church is extraordinarily active in providing healthcare services to the poor through Catholic charities and Catholic hospitals?

Let's be straight:  we are a sick, sick country, when people who call themselves "liberal" feel free to insult and degrade the religion that tens of millions of their fellow Americans follow peaceably, while most of the same people accuse a man like Juan Williams of racism for simply admitting that he has some trepidation when he sees openly Islamic men on airplanes after 9/11.  

Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Think of Obama as "Dude"?

I heard earlier today that the President had been on the Jon Stewart show last night.   Before I knew anything about the appearance, I told someone in our office that it was a very very bad idea for a President of the United States to go on a comedy program to discuss politics.   Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, it doesn't matter, I said.  He is the President of the United States.  He sits in the chair that George Washington sat in.  He sits in the chair that Abraham Lincoln sat in.  The elected President of the United States -- not a dictator, not an emperor, not a king -- is the single greatest political office in the history of humankind.   It is a position of extraordinary moral weight in the world.  There are places you simply do not go; there are things you simply do not do.  You cannot risk demeaning the office of the Presidency, because you are then demeaning the "last best hope of man."  

I didn't think it could be worse, but apparently it was, according to the Washington Post:
The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.
The Daily Show host was giving Obama a tough time about hiring the conventional and Clintonian Larry Summers as his top economic advisor.  
 "In fairness," the president replied defensively, "Larry Summers did a heckuva job."  

"You don't want to use that phrase, dude," Stewart recommended with a laugh.  

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief "dude" pretty well captured the moment for Obama.
It is a very very serious failure when the President of the United States puts himself in a position to be called "dude" by a comedian on national television.  Perhaps we are so decadent that we don't realize how much it hurts us when our President is laughed at.  But I think I know what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thinks when he sees Obama letting himself be called "dude" by a historical non-entity like Jon Stewart. 

To put it succinctly, he thinks:  Not serious.  

The Regular Guy Believes... Cutting the Federal Government Spending is Child's Play V

In the fifth of my ongoing series, I turn now to one of the really big fish we need to fry if we are ever going to get federal government spending under control... the Department of Health and Human Services.   God, what a whale!  $81.3 billion, and all of it ripe for the picking.   Let's look at page 1 of the proposed budget of President Obama, and see what things the Regular Guy can live without.

(An aside: I have been looking at just the first page of each department's budget as an experiment to show just how easy it would be to cut federal government spending substantantially.  You don't even have to read the whole thing, just a single page from each proposed budget section, and you've got billions and billions of dollars of savings!   As my dear departed old Dad might say:  Such a deal!)

(An aside within the aside: the comment that what we're cutting are "things the Regular Guy can live without" is more than folksy prose; it's a principle of the highest order.  America is teetering on the edge of disaster; and, make no mistake, military disaster will inevitably follow fiscal disaster, as it has throughout human history.  What on earth is the governing class thinking when they spend money we don't have on things we don't really need, i.e., things we can live without?)

OK, with those asides out of the way, here's what the Regular Guy sees on page one of the HHS budget:

The Budget includes $286 million in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for research that compares the effectiveness of different medical options, building on the expansion of this research begun under ARRA. The dissemination of this research is expected to lead to higher quality, evidence-based medicine, arming patients and physicians with the best available information to allow them to choose the medical option that will work the best for them.
Acronyms are fuzzy little monkeys that can fool you.   This all sounds fine, right, mo money equals mo health.   Maybe a little bit too much consultant-speak like "evidence-based medicine".... as opposed to what?   Voodoo-based medicine?   But wait just a minute, there, right in the middle there's this acronymy thing called "ARRA" and this $286 million in research was apparently begun under it.  What is that? 

Well, it turns out that ARRA is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.... that's right, this is "stimulus" spending President Obama enacted in 2009 that didn't stimulate anything.  

(Aside #3:  Don't believe me?   Believe the evidence:


Sheesh, I love this chart so much, I'd really like to take credit for it.   But this guy at Innocent Bystanders came up with it.)

Anyway, you can bet dollars to donuts that any "research" that began under ARRA was cooked up speedy-quick to qualify for the wheelbarrow full of newly-printed Fed simoleons that was being rolled out of Treasury.   It's like "shovel-ready" projects... the only thing getting shoveled is our money out the door.

At some point, I'll make a list of the principles we're discovering as we do this exercise.  Here's another one, though:  if the spending program started under a stimulus bill, it wasn't worth doing otherwise.  

Birthdays Today

The great British novelist Evelyn Waugh was born today in 1903.  Waugh wrote a lot of funny books -- including the great satire of journalism Scoop, which tells the story of William Boot, an innocent hick who writes essays about the habits of the badger.  Through a series of accidents and mistaken identity, Boot is hired as a war correspondent for a Fleet Street newspaper and sent to the fictional African country of Ishmaelia to cover an expected revolution.   Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

Although Waugh was a great comic novelist, his best novel is, of course, Brideshead Revisited, which in my view is the best short novel in the English language of the 20th Century.   Yes, better than The Great Gatsby.  

Brideshead Revisited was also made into what for my money is the best of all the BBC Masterpiece Theater productions, starring a very young Jeremy Irons.   Here's a clip, which makes me want to watch the whole thing again:

It is also Francis Bacon's birthday today, the great modern painter, born in 1909.   His work is very painful, but to me also very beautiful, as in this 1971 self-portrait:

Also with birthdays today are two men who, in different ways, have made all of our lives much, much better, Jonas Salk (1914), the discoverer of the polio vaccine, and Bill Gates (1955), the founder of Microsoft.  

Finally, today is also the birthday (1943) of the single songwriter who has done the most to make my life miserable, Randy Newman, the composer of the hit single, "Short People":

This is the sort of thing that gave a 5'6" guy like me a complex when it came out in the middle of freaking college! Thanks, Randy, thanks a lot.

But seriously, buy and read Brideshead Revisited.  Then go watch the BBC mini-series.   You won't regret it. 

Halloween Candy - Bon Appetit!

From an article in today's Wall Street Journal:

"Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger's Halloween candy."

Never.  As in not ever.

We tell our children they should be afraid of Halloween candy given to them by the nice old man who has lived down the street peacably for decades.   But at the same time, we tell our children they aren't allowed to be afraid of certain types of people who happen to espouse an ideology that preaches jihad against America, lest they be called "racist" or "Islamophobic."   If they admit that they are afraid of that real danger, they -- like Juan Williams -- will be punished for their thought crime.

Is it any wonder that middle-class suburban American kids tune their parents out?

Girl Thursday - Lee Remick

OK, so this is obviously the blog post that is the most fun every day.   Man, oh, man, a young Lee Remick:

By the way, Lee Remick in Anatomy of a Murder is as beautiful and sexy as a movie star gets.   One of my Top Ten all-time movies.   With Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, Ben Gazzara and Arthur O'Connell as Stewart's alcoholic legal partner in a great, great role.  

Smile(s) of the Day

From the first movie I saw that made me love movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

OK, so Newman was a bit of a lefty.  He's still cooler than I and cooler than you.   And Katherine Ross... mmmmmm, makes me want to watch the otherwise unwatchable John Wayne movie Hellfighters for the two hundredth time just to see her show up to put out Jim Hutton's oil well fire.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Regular Guy Believes... Cutting Federal Government Spending is Child's Play IV

To recap:  yesterday I looked at the first pages of President Obama's proposed budgets for the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce and the Department of Education.   Without batting an eye, I found $1 billion and $210 million in the first two departments that I would cut.  Then, concluding that no amount of trimming fat would make the remaining meat in the Department of Education at all tasty, I would cut its entire $50 billion budget.  See how easy it is?

Today, let's move on to the Department of Energy's proposed FY 2011 budget.   Again, we're just looking at the first page.  

I am actually happy to see the following:

The Budget substantially expands support for DOE loan guarantees for innovative energy technologies, by adding $36 billion in new loan authority (for a total of $54.5 billion) for nuclear power facilities.
Look, I drive four or five times a year across Iowa to my visit my wife's family in Omaha.  I've seen wind farms till the cows come home.   I like them; they're pretty.  But we aren't going to power a 21st Century economy with wind farms.  Anybody who thinks we are hasn't looked at the statistics.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, America in 2008 generated a total of 7.7% of its total electric power needs from "other renewables," which according to a footnote includes "[w]ood, black liquor, other wood waste, municipal solid waste, landfill gas, sludge waste, agriculture byproducts, other biomass, geothermal, solar thermal, photovoltaic energy, and wind."   Meanwhile, we get 76% from coal, petroleum and natural gas, and another 10% from nuclear.   So I am all for more nuclear.   For instance, I would be happy if we produced as much electricity from nuclear power facilities as France does... about 75% of their total electricity needs!  And they even export electricity!

Why we have let the Luddite ninnies on the left keep us from building nuclear power plants will be an interesting research project a hundred years from now when we are a third-class economy.   But never mind for now.  

Back to the DoE's budget's first page.  
Nearly $2.4 billion is provided for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, an increase of $113 million over the 2010 appropriation, including $302 million for solar energy, $220 million for biofuels and biomass R&D, $325 million for advanced vehicle technologies, and $231 million for energy efficient building technologies. These investments will help reduce dependence on oil and create long-term, sustainable economic growth in the low-carbon industries of the future, helping to foster long-term job creation.
Now we're getting somewhere.  Solar energy?  Let private companies do that.  Biofuels?  Sounds like subsidies for the ethanol industry.   Advanced vehicle technologies?  That's what Ford and Chrysler used to be for.   Energy efficient building technologies?  Let these "green" venture capitalists like Al Gore fund that.  

Which leads me to a grand theory of everything in cutting the budget:  cut every program where the government arrogantly presumes to pick winners and losers better than the market could.   If a government is subsidizing something, that means as a matter of economic freaking law that consumers won't buy it at the price that it can currently be produced.  

So, $2.4 billion.  Not bad for a lunch hour.  Again, makes you wonder what your Congressman does all day, doesn't it?

Oh, right, I remember... well, not for long, sister.  

Birthdays Today

President Theodore Roosevelt was born today in 1858.  While not a big fan of the Progressive movement he led, Roosevelt was almost entirely admirable as a man -- he was a true force of nature.   I can recommend heartily the two volumes of the Edmund Morris biography, and am looking forward to the third volume, which comes out next month.   Also, I loved Candace Millard's book The River of Doubt, about Roosevelt's ill-fated expedition up an unexplored tributary of the Amazon in the year after his defeat for the Presidency in 1912.   It seems odd now in the era of GPS to recall that, less than a hundred years ago, there were "unexplored" parts of the globe.  It also is remarkable that the world's most famous man (at the time), Teddy Roosevelt, went on an expedition of discovery that could have and probably should have cost him his life.

It is also the birthday, in 1901, of the great Marlene Dietrich.   One of my favorite all-time movies is Destry Rides Again, where Dietrich plays the femme fatale in a corrupt Western town cleaned up by Jimmy Stewart's cerebral sheriff.   Here's a fun scene:

Finally, today is also the birthday of John Cleese, born in 1939.   Hard to imagine Cleese is really 71 years old.   The Cheese Shop Sketch from Monty Python, on the other hand, will never get old:

Pretty sure that's #2 on my list of all-time favorite Monty Python sketches, behind only the Dead Parrot sketch.    

Girl Wednesday - Natalie Wood

I had thought that I would make a habit of posting the Girl of the Day around noon.   But I just couldn't wait, for obvious reasons:

Mmmmmmmm.... Natalie Wood. 

World Series Tonight!

Okay, so it's nearly November.  But this should be a great World Series, because it's got a great pitching matchup that we might get to see two or maybe even three times:  Tim Lincecum of the Giants against Cliff Lee of the Rangers.  

Lincecum aka "The Freak" looks like a high school kid and throws like a circus contortionist, but his record through the first three-and-a-half years of his young career is ridiculous: 56-27 with a 3.04 ERA and 907 strikeouts in 811 innings.   His appearance is punk, but he gets people out the old-fashioned way, with nasty, nasty stuff.  

Cliff Lee, on the other hand, is one of the most interesting pitchers I've ever watched.  He gets people out more with his mind than his arm, moving the ball around, changing speeds, getting the hitters guessing wrong.  It's like watching a higher order of intelligence on the mound.   And, perhaps the coolest thing, as good as Lee is during the regular season, he obviously turns it up several notches in the postseason.  Against what logically are the best teams -- the teams that make the playoffs -- his postseason record, 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA, is surreal.

Anyway, this is must-see baseball.   Enjoy!  I will. 

Smile of the Day

The first two Smile of the Day postings of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II capture the two great men of the latter half of the 20th Century, who were great precisely because of their optimism.  Today's is another great man, a thinker rather than a doer perhaps, but whose ideas have great resonance today in an era of increasing governmental arrogance.  Ladies and gentlemen, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Friedrich von Hayek:

Hayek, of course, is best known for his great work, The Road to Serfdom, which argues against central planning of economies by governments on philosophical, logical and economic grounds.  The main insight of Hayek was crystallized in a paper entitled "The Use of Knowledge in Society," in which he concluded that a centrally planned economy was not just inadvisable, but logically impossible, because knowledge in society is dispersed and fundamentally unknowable:
The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.
An indispensable corrective in the present era where, for instance, government bureaucrats think they can successfully run auto companies, the student loan industry, giant insurance companies, Wall Street, etc.   The political conflict in our society can be understood as a conflict of elites versus the Regular Guys; as the East and West Coasts versus Middle America; or as government bureaucrats versus individual entrepreneurs.   But, as Hayek suggests, perhaps the fundamental conflict is always between the arrogant who believe they know everything -- and, in particular, know what's best for us -- and the humble, who understand that there is always much that we not only don't know, but can never know.

The Road to Serfdom is a must-read for conservatives.  I also found rewarding the collection of Hayek essays entitled The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Regular Guy Believes... Cutting Federal Government Spending is Child's Play III

I've got ten minutes to kill, so I thought I'd see what I could cut from the first page of the Department of Education's budget:

The Budget supports the Administration’s new vision for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The reauthorized law would encourage States to adopt higher, clearer standards that set the expectation that every student will graduate from high school ready for college and a career. The new law would support dramatic improvements in the quality of assessments to measure complex skills and help teachers identify and respond to students’ strengths and needs. The reauthorization would also recognize and reward schools for helping students make important gains, even if they are not yet at grade-level, and offer new flexibility for successful States and districts to pursue new solutions to help all students meet high standards. At the same time, the law would require vigorous efforts to turn around persistently low-performing schools, applying comprehensive strategies that put children first. In support of these efforts, the Budget provides a $3 billion increase in funding for K-12 education programs authorized in the ESEA, including $900 million for School Turnaround Grants, and the Administration will request up to $1 billion in additional funding if Congress successfully completes a fundamental overhaul of the law. Together, these measures would represent the largest funding increase for ESEA programs ever requested. 
Oh, dear.   $3 billion of my money and I have no idea what this horseshit means.  And I'm a pretty smart feller.  The reauthorized law would encourage States to adopt higher, clearer standards that set the expectation that every student will graduate from high school ready for college and a career.   Really?   Every student?   Ready for college?   Hmmmm... not from the high school I attended; a lot of those guys couldn't have gotten to college with a map.   And then:  The reauthorization would also recognize and reward schools for helping students make important gains, even if they are not yet at grade-level.   Wait a minute.  The school gets rewarded for helping students get up to the point where they are still below grade-level?  Sounds like the "soft bigotry of low expectations" to me.     

But maybe I should just keep reading and things will become clearer:
The $4 billion Race to the Top, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), began a competition among States to spur systemic and innovative reform across four areas: supporting high academic standards; improving teacher effectiveness and distributing effective teachers more equitably; using data to improve achievement; and turning around low-performing schools. Not all States will receive Race to the Top grants, but the competition itself has galvanized key stakeholders across the Nation to reform State laws and to develop new plans for lifting student achievement. The Budget provides $1.35 billion to continue the President’s Race to the Top challenge and to expand the competition from States to school districts that are ready for comprehensive reform.
Oh, crap.   Worse and worse.   $4 billion for the Race to the Top program?   To "galvanize[] key stakeholders across the Nation to reform State laws and to develop new plans for lifting student achievement."   Sounds like the Race to the Trough - Full Employment for Otherwise Unemployable Education Consultants Program.   Hey, I've got a new plan for lifting student achievement... turn off the TV!  Where's my money, Uncle Sam?

Hell, cut it all.  We don't need a Department of Education.  If the description of the programs sound like horseshit, there's a fairly good chance that they are horseshit.   That's a cool $50 billion.  

Here's how I know this can be done.   The Department of Education didn't even exist until 1980, when it was created by the certified genius Jimmy Carter.   Ask yourself:  were American children smarter before the Department of Education or are they smarter after?   When they recentered the SAT in 1995, they didn't do it because scores were getting too high, did they?  

Wonder what your Congressman did during that ten minutes?  Probably too busy robo-calling for GOTV to do his job.

Here is the future of education.  It's called the Kahn Academy, it's on YouTube, it's better than your kid's algebra teacher, and it's free.   That's right, not $50 billion... F-R-E-E.   


And while I am on the topic of education, buy this book by Charles Murray.

Girl Tuesday - Greer Garson

I have it on reliable authority that a way to build readership on a blog is to include pictures of beautiful women.   Being a bit of an old coot, I don't see how anyone could do better than the great Greer Garson:

You can keep your supermodels and reality TV stars.

Birthdays Today

Today is Hillary Rodham Clinton's birthday.  She's 63, and I never thought I'd say this -- I sure wish she were President now rather than who we've got.   Anyway, Happy Birthday, Madame Secretary.

It's also Ivan Reitman's birthday, the director of the comedy classic, Meatballs, which I believe was Bill Murray's first movie.   Very funny, raunchy movie about summer camp.   Here's Murray in a great moment: 

On the other hand, it's also Seth MacFarlane's birthday, the creator of  the animated comedy Family Guy.   He's thirty-seven and undoubtedly rich as Croesus.   Anyway, my wife finds the program offensive, I think it's largely a waste of time although pretty funny, but my thirteen year-old son thinks it's Shakespeare.   You be the judge. 

Paul Among the People

I am also reading Sarah Ruden's book Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time.   A short, but remarkable and eye-opening book that makes a persuasive argument that much of what the popular culture tells you about the Apostle Paul and, by proxy, the doctrine of the Catholic Church, is wrong.  For instance, Ruden explains that the popular view of Church dogma as being homophobic misunderstands the origins of Paul's criticism of homosexuality, which in its context was an argument for the protection of male children and slaves, who were powerless in the pre-Christian era of the Roman Empire to oppose Roman "citizens" who had the "right" under Roman law to rape them with impunity.   Ruden, a classical scholar of the highest order -- her translation of The Aeneid is viewed to be one of the best, if not the best -- recreates what life was really like in the Roman Empire that Paul confronted through close readings of classical literature and erotic poetry.   Safe to say, it was "nasty, brutish, and short," at least for the weak for whom early Christianity tried to speak. 

Ruden's book does what real scholarship ought to do, and so seldom does:  it pushes the contemporary reader out of his comfort zone and forces him to see a familiar story in a new light.


Just got Robert Kaplan's new book in the mail from Amazon, Monsoon, about the importance of the Indian Ocean to the geopolitical balance of the 21st Century between the U.S., Islam, India and China.  Kaplan is one of the very best of what might be called "political travel" writers.   This book looks to be just as good as the three earlier books of his I've read:  Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts and Imperial Grunts, about the modern American Navy and Army, respectively; and The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War.   I will post some comments on the book as I get further into it.

The Regular Guy Believes... Cutting Federal Government Spending is Child's Play II

We knocked a cool billion out of the FY 2011 federal budget on page 1 of the Department of Agriculture's section.   Moving on then, let's try page 1 of the Department of Commerce's proposed budget:

  • The Budget also provides $80 million for the Technology Innovation Program, which invests in high-impact research that will address critical national needs and advance innovation.   Gone, Baby, Gone!   Sorry, but the private sector is better able to decide what research is worth funding and what research isn't worth funding.  This money will just end up as a payoff to politically-connected companies.
  • The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership will receive $130 million to enhance the competitiveness of the Nation’s manufacturers by facilitating the adoption of more efficient manufacturing processes.  Yeah, because U.S. manufacturers are stupid, and aren't as always trying to adopt more efficient manufacturing processes anyway.   You don't need to "facilitate this"... the market demands it every second of every day.   If it has to be facilitated, as a matter of basic economics it isn't more efficient.   Cut it!
OK.  So page 1 of the Department of Commerce only netted us $210 million in savings.  But I'm doing this in my spare time over lunch with Lay's Sweet & Spicy Buffalo Wing potato chips gooing up my keyboard.  Imagine what would happen if the Congressmen we elect would spend their days doing this exercise!   (Congressman is a full-time job, isn't it?  Or do they just eat rubber chicken and kiss smelly babies?)

Gee, this is fun!  You too can solve our country's fiscal problem in the comfort of your own home!

"Tax Cuts for the Rich" and the Free Lunch

Thomas Sowell -- the great Thomas Sowell -- has a new article on NRO on the liberal canard of "tax cuts for the rich."  The meat is in the historical record he recites:
Between 1921 and 1929, tax rates in the top brackets were cut from 73 percent to 24 percent. These were what the Left likes to call “tax cuts for the rich.”

What happened to federal revenues from income taxes over this same span of time? Income tax revenues rose by more than 30 percent. What happened to the economy? Jobs increased, output rose, the unemployment rate fell, and incomes rose. Because economic activity increased, the government received more income tax revenues. In short, these were tax cuts for the economy, even if the Left likes to call them “tax cuts for the rich.”

 This was not the only time that things like this happened, nor was Andrew Mellon the only one who advocated cutting tax rates in order to increase tax revenues. John Maynard Keynes pointed out in 1933 that lowering the tax rates can increase tax revenues, if the tax rates are so high as to discourage economic activity.

Pres. John F. Kennedy made the same argument in the 1960s — and tax revenues increased after the tax rates were cut during his administration. The same thing happened under Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. And it happened again under George W. Bush, whose tax-rate cuts are scheduled to expire next January.  The rich actually paid more total taxes, and a higher percentage of all taxes, after the Bush tax-rate cuts, because their incomes were rising with the rising economy.

Do the people who keep repeating the catch phrase “tax cuts for the rich” not know this? Or are they depending on your not knowing it?
All of this is exactly right as a matter of economic history, just as you'd expect from Dr. Sowell. 

However, I would tend to quibble with the mode of argument that says that tax cuts for the rich are OK because they help the larger economy, or because the rich through their investments and business ownership generate jobs for others, or because the government actually gets more revenue under the Laffer Curve with lower  marginal tax rates.  That is still an instrumental view of "the rich" as useful.   The "rich" are people, human beings.  They cannot be viewed morally as means to our ends, or as instruments to be used for our purposes.   They have just as much right to the fruits of their labor and investment as anyone else, and the government confiscating it is just as morally suspect at a lower tax rate as it is at a higher tax rate. 

Consider:  I have friends from college who have done very well for themselves.  They would certainly be termed "rich."  I suspect that some of my old chums have millions of dollars a year in income and tens of millions of dollars in net worth, if not more.   Imagine if we go out to lunch to reminisce about old times -- the nights in college when, wandering along Prospect Street, we would stagger in and out of clubs, beer cups in hand, looking for wherever fun could be had.   We sit down to lunch and a restaurant, we eat, we talk, we laugh.   We are equals in all ways.  

Then the check comes.   Would the Regular Guy -- me -- let his rich friend buy lunch for him?  I wouldn't.  Sorry, too much pride.  Just because my friend has worked harder or worked smarter or gotten marginally luckier than I did -- more likely he simply chose to do something that I would not have wanted to do -- that doesn't mean that I am going to debase myself by letting him pay my share.   Not a chance.  Won't happen.

But that is what the liberal regime of progressive taxation does every day in this country.  It says to half of the men in the country -- the 50% or so of the country that doesn't pay any income taxes -- "you don't have to pay for your lunch, buddy."  It's degrading and dehumanizing in both directions.   To the man that pays no income taxes, the state says "you, sir, are a freeloader."   To the rich man who bears a disproportionate share of taxes under the regime of progressive taxation, the state says, "you, sir, are our slave, because the fruits of your labor are at our disposal."  

The Regular Guy Believes... Cutting Federal Government Spending is Child's Play

There is a consensus in the country that the federal government is too large and spends too much.  Unfortunately, there is also apparently a consensus in the country that the federal budget can't be meaningfully reduced because.... well, just because.   We're like the teenager who has to do a chore who, although perfectly capable of figuring out how to download songs from the Internet, is suddenly incapable of doing the simplest task like making their beds or hanging up their clothes.   It's too hard!   It will take too long!   It might hurt a little!

Well, the Regular Guy -- the title character of this blog whom I conceive to be an American Everyman, a repository of the commonest of common sense, the man who pays his bills, raises his kids, refinishes his own basement, cuts his own grass, goes to work, comes home, loves his wife, walks his dog, greets his neighbors by name, and, in the words of Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, "does most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community" -- knows that cutting federal government spending would be easy.   There, I said it.  E-A-S-Y.   Forget about cutting funding for National Public Radio or the National Endowment for the Arts.  Let's get right to brass tacks... we can go department by department.  

Consider these entries from the very first page of the Department of Agriculture's section in President Obama's FY 2011 budget: 
  • "Expanding access to broadband services by offering $418 million in loans and grants to transition rural communities into the modern information economy."   Cut it... it's not my job to work to make money to pay taxes to make sure that teenagers in rural Idaho can play Call of Duty online or check out the latest Katy Perry boob fest video.
  • "Developing rural recreation and employment opportunities, including fishing and hunting for local residents and tourists by proposing more than $700 million to restore and manage public lands." Cut it... again, it's not my job to work to make money to pay taxes to make sure that the dads of the aforementioned Idahoan teenagers can get away from their snotty kids to hunt and fish.  Sorry, buddy, pay for it yourself.
  • And here's the big one:  "At a time of continued need, the President’s Budget provides $8.1 billion for discretionary nutrition program supports, which is a $400 million increase over the 2010 enacted level. Funding supports 10 million participants in the WIC program, which is critical to the health of pregnant women, new mothers, and their infants."  Cut it... sorry, I know this sounds bad, but it's not my job to work to make money to pay taxes to buy food for other men's children.  Your boyfriend/husband is a deadbeat who can't support his kids?  Don't let him touch you, much less get you "with child."  If he catches you in a weak moment and you get pregnant, you've got moms and dads and sisters and brothers and grandmas and grandpas and uncles and aunts and cousins who can help.  But don't expect the government to come shove a gun in my face and take my money so that you don't have to be embarrassed by asking your own family for help(which is essentially what the IRS does).  
OK, so maybe I'm being facetious there.   Maybe cutting WIC is too hard.  That's why they name things the "Women, Infants and Children" program.   That's how they name government programs... so that anyone who wants to cut them later will be accused of wanting to starve babies.   If they called it the "Let Deadbeat Dads Buy Cigarettes and Whiskey Instead of Food for Their Own Children" program, you could probably gin up a little more support for cutting it.  But let's put that aside.

Even so, on the first page of the Ag Department's budget -- the first freaking page! -- I managed to find at least $1 billion in cuts for things that any reasonable person would conclude we just can't afford.  Broadband for people living in the sticks who don't have it?  Tough, we can't do that.  Better hunting and fishing resorts in national parks?  Tough, can't afford it.  $1 billion, out.   Child's play.

It took me a minute to find that $1 billion to cut.  But it takes a couple hundred Regular Guys like me working full time for our entire lives to make that much money.  It's not just stupid for the government to take our money and piss it away.   It's immoral.  

Smile of the Day

Politics dominates the news right now.  But while the election next week is important, it is not the be-all-and-end-all that some believe.  After all, if the Truth is the Truth, then no election , no matter the outcome, can change it.  There are important things beyond politics, and those things survive no matter what.   And, as an added bonus, if we keep those things in mind, we tend to do fewer stupid things that need political solutions.

On that note, the Smile of the Day:

Makes it harder to get too worried about who's going to win in PA - 12, doesn't it?  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Looking Forward to the World Series

Every year I hope for a Cardinals World Series.  When I was five, I saw my first Cardinals game in October 1964 when the Cardinals beat the Yankees in the World Series.   When I was eight, the Cardinals won again in seven games over the Red Sox.  Then, in 1968, I listened to KMOX radio as Jack Buck and Harry Caray called the Cards as they romped to their second straight pennant behind Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA.  I would listen to Gibson's games on the radio and they would nearly always be over before I fell asleep... by 9:00 or 9:30, because Gibson would throw a three-hit or four-hit shutout that would last two hours or less.   The Cards lost the Series that year, but Gibson threw what is arguably the greatest World Series game by a pitcher ever -- yes, even better than Don Larsen's no-hitter -- when he struck out 17 Detroit Tigers in a Game One shutout. 

The Cards weren't in the playoffs this year.   It was a weird year.   When a team with Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright -- four of the top dozen or so players in baseball, in my estimation -- also plays a Pedro Feliz down the stretch at third base, there's something wrong with the team's makeup.   On the other hand, any year in which this man -- The Man -- turns ninety, ought to count as a good year in my book:

November 21, 1920 was a very blessed day in Donora, PA.  

Anyway, Gibson made me a fan of great World Series pitching.  So I am really really looking forward to a Cliff Lee versus Tim Lincecum matchup in Game One of the World Series on Wednesday between the Giants and Rangers.   The casual fan might like the long ball; I want to see a 1-0 or 2-1 game where those two matchup over eight or nine innings of nail-biting baseball.  

Mark Steyn: We're Doomed!

Mark Steyn is one of my favorite political writers:  funny, smart, clearheaded about what's happening in Europe and, more slowly, in America, unafraid of the nanny-state ninnies and PC thought-police.   His piece today about the upcoming election is on the money on how important it is that Republicans, if they do prevail in taking back the House and Senate, don't blow the opportunity to make real corrections to the current trends toward Bigger Government, Bigger Budgets, Bigger Debt:
A Republican victory is not the end but merely the means. The Tea Party and other members of America’s beleaguered productive class decided that this time round it suited them to work within the diseased husk of the GOP. This is really the last chance for the unloved Republicans. If the party establishment is sufficiently dimwitted to see November 2nd as the restoration of the 2004-2006 GOP, they will be setting up the conditions... for a serious third-force challenge in 2012.
But Steyn methinks goes too far when he says that the alternative to a conservative reformation is Götterdämmerung:
And, without serious course correction, America is doomed. It starts with the money. For dominant powers, it always does – from the Roman Empire to the British Empire. “Declinism” is in the air these days, but for us full-time apocalyptics we’re already well past that stage. In the space of one generation, a nation of savers became the world’s largest debtors, and a nation of makers and doers became a cheap service economy. Everything that can be outsourced has been – manufacturing to by no means friendly nations overseas; and much of what’s left in agriculture and construction to the armies of the “undocumented”.   At the lower end, Americans are educated at a higher cost per capita than any nation except Luxembourg in order to do minimal-skill checkout-line jobs about to be rendered obsolete by technology. At the upper end, America’s elite goes to school till early middle age in order to be credentialed for pseudo-employment as $350 grand-a-year diversity consultants (Michelle Obama) or in one of the many other phony-baloney makework schemes deriving from government micro-regulation of virtually every aspect of endeavor.   So we’re not facing “decline”. We’re already in it. What comes next is the “fall” – sudden, devastating, off the cliff. That’s why this election is consequential....
I live in the Midwest, in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, known as Wauwatosa.  I call it "Wawatopia," because it is, in many ways, still the kind of small town that made America great.  People work hard, they go to church, their kids walk to school -- my kids to the Catholic grade school a hundred feet from my door. They set their chairs out on the street the night before the Fourth of July parade so they'll have spots for the parade close enough so that their kids can catch the candy that the parade strollers toss out.   People around here volunteer  to do good works for their communities, their schools, their churches, at a prodigious clip.   A neighbor who is ill can expect more meals from their friends in the neighborhood than they can eat.  A parish festival is standing room only.  

Is it fragile?  Sure.  Could it all spin apart?   Sure it could.  I just don't think we're quite as close to it as Mark thinks.   I don't think we're one election away from the Weimar Republic, in other words.

Glad to see Mark back writing, though.   Missed him all summer.

Smile of the Day

As I think about what I'd like this blog to be about, the word that comes to mind is "cheerfulness."  The Regular Guy works hard, but works cheerfully.  The Regular Guy is cheerful at the dinner table with his family -- at least he tries to be!   The Regular Guy has a cheerful wife -- at least most of the time!   The Regular Guy loves the sound of children playing, children laughing -- a cheerful house.  The Regular Guy goes to church on Sunday to be refreshed in his cheerfulness, because life is a gift from God.   The Regular Guy drinks a beer with his friends watching a football game.   The Regular Guy shares his good fortune with his neighbors cheerfully.   The Regular Guy bears his burdens with a manly cheerfulness.   The Regular Guy goes to Fourth of July fireworks and Irish Dance contests and Little League baseball games and laughs a lot.  The Regular Guy loves his country.  

The problem with our politics today, of which I will have more to say, is that the elites that pretend to be our betters and presume to govern us don't really like us Regular Guys, and don't share our cheerfulness.   But we want -- we crave -- leaders who understand who we are, who don't condescend to us, who believe in us, like us, and rejoice in our pursuit of happiness.   In short, we want leaders who are cheerful.  

Toward that end, the smile of the day:

The Right Curmudgeon Reemerges Just In Time

A while back I blogged under the title "The Right Curmudgeon."   The title of that blog was intended to denote my generally conservative politics -- I will only semi-facetiously tell liberal friends that I am a right-wing extremist, which of course just means that I subscribe to the beliefs most Americans held as common sense up to, say, 1968 or so.   After a few years of intermittent blogging, I gave it up, or rather it gave me up: work, children, wife, church, Little League, house, dog, etc. all intervened.    Anyway, I have missed blogging, and hope I still have one or two interesting things to say.   My country seems to be careening out of control.  Might as well put down on paper my thoughts, before thinking becomes either illegal or a luxury.  

Best wishes to all who may read these humble missives.   More anon.