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Ephemerides (December 2003)
December 31, 2003 So, just when everybody had forgotten it, the Plame Game is revivified for a few more months. Tout le blogosphere is speculating about John Ashcroft's motives for recusing himself and naming a famously hard-nosed U.S. Attorney, fresh from indicting a former Republican governor, as special prosecutor. If forced to add my guess, I would say that the attorney-general expects that, once the investigation is done, it will be clear that somebody in the White House told Bob Novak that Mrs. Plame-Wilson worked for the CIA and will not be clear at all that the telling violated any law. Under those circumstances, it will be politically most palatable to leave decisions about prosecutions to an outsider with a sterling reputation within the law enforcement community. But there are plenty of other possibilities, ranging from The President did it personally to Valerie Plame is a fantasizer who never saw the inside of Langley. We shall see what we shall see. Meanwhile, no one seems to be talking about the most peculiar and worrying aspect of this affair.
When trying to figure out who revealed a secret, the logical starting point is the group of people who knew it. How many people ought to know the identity of covert CIA operatives? Their direct superiors within the organization, agents with whom they have worked, a handful of other government officials with a "need to know" — that's what one would assume. How many people, judging by what has been disclosed so far about the investigation, knew, or could plausibly have been thought to have known, Valerie Plame's secret? Hundreds, evidently. The investigators are reportedly going through the phone logs and e-mail of practically the whole White House staff. La douce Valerie's own husband (a nutcase, concededly, but one who should know a bit about CIA procedures) thinks that it is quite plausible that Karl Rove, a man with no position in intelligence or defense, might have known. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the "secret" was about as well concealed as a K Street lobbyist's fax number.
What kind of cloaks and daggers are these? At this point, the CIA's approach to covert operations can't help but look utterly frivolous. It's hard enough to keep a secret inside the Beltway when nobody knows it at all, yet our country's premier intelligence agency apparently puts its agents' names into every rolodex — or is fantastically careless about limiting access to them.
Then, too, one wonders about the seriousness of an agency that gives covert missions to the wives of antisemitic loons. I doubt that, during the Cold War, spouses of known communist sympathizers were called upon for such assignments. That standards would have been relaxed during the pleasant interlude between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11, 2001, is understandable, but haven't the spymasters noticed that there's now a war going on? And that a guy who thinks that U.S. policy is directed from Tel-Aviv isn't really on our side? Somehow, my sense of security is not being enhanced. [To comment, click here.]
Update, 1/3/04: From Mike Lion of McLean, Virginia (not far from Langley):
I think your prediction that there will be no prosecution in this case will prove correct.
I think that it will be the case that Ms. Plame is not really a covert agent at all. According to the law (50 U.S.C 15, Sec 426), an agent must be overseas within the past 5 years to qualify as "covert."  Ms. Plame is the mother of 4-yr old twins. Also, the CIA must take "active measures" to protect her identity (Sec 421), but the CIA spokesman confirmed her employment to Robert Novak. At the end of the day, she will be the most famous undercover agent in the world; sort of like the world''s oldest kamikaze pilot.
On the pessimistic side, one must remember that hard-nosed prosecutors can come up with highly imaginative theories, as in the case the destroyed Arthur Andersen. (The partnership was found guilty of obstruction of justice, because a non-partner on the legal staff asked that her name be removed from a memorandum summarizing a conference call.) Still, unless the facts are much different from appearances, it will require truly Homeric imagination to produce a conviction in L'affaire de la Plame.
December 29, 2003 Last year I succumbed to the temptation to prognosticate, with success that the charitably inclined could label "mixed". Some of my predictions were no more than wild guesses (e. g., two Supreme Court vacancies). Others were events that are close to inevitable but haven't happened yet (e. g., revolution in Iran, the deaths of Fidel Castro and Kim Il Jong). A few were more or less on the mark (e. g., "timid tax cuts, a misguided prescription drug subsidy for senior citizens, too much domestic spending, too little follow-through on welfare reform, and inertia on civil rights and social issues"). Many were wrong to the point of absurdity.
Perhaps the furthest off base was my forecast of the contest for the Democratic Presidential nomination: "Daschle, Gephardt and Dean will be all but out of contention by the end of the year. Senators Lieberman, Edwards and Kerry are the serious Democratic field. Which one is in the lead position at the end of 2003 will depend, I think, on whether Senator Lieberman can make himself tolerable to his party's intransigent Left without losing his moderate base. If he can't, the Democrats will pick either Kerry or Edwards." Yeah, and the Cubs won the World Series.
Still, one year's miss could be next's home run, at least if one pays attention to the rapidly changing conventional wisdom. On December 12th, Howard Dean was the Democratic victor except for the formalities. By December 14th he was in trouble. The upshot is that the period leading up to the first round of primaries won't be nearly so boring as anticipated. It's not inconceivable that the Dean bubble will deflate rapidly, as has happened to many a promising primary campaign in the past (anybody remember Ed Muskie or George Romney?), that Wesley Clark's penchant for conspiracy theories and crackpot comments (imprisonment in the Netherlands is worse than death?) will prove fatal and that Dick Gephardt will remain in the doldrums — which would bring us back, against all of last month's reasonable expectations — to a Lieberman-Kerry-Edwards race.
If something of that sort occurs, the surviving contenders would have one characteristic in common: All are challengers who present only fuzzy alternatives to the incumbent and whose chief hope of victory lies in bad news. Bill Clinton was that kind of candidate, as was Bob Dole. Clinton won because the public misperceived steady recovery from a shallow recession as "the worst economy in 50 years". Dole lost because Beltway scandals were not enough to disturb the general impression of peace and prosperity.
In 2004, "bad news" will mean a short circuiting of economic recovery, a turn for the worse in the war or a major terrorist attack on American soil. Whether any of those misfortunes will take place is unpredictable, nor can we know whether the electorate will believe that the Democratic nominee is better fitted to deal with them than the incumbent. In 1992 candidate Clinton seasoned his speeches with promises of a "middle class tax cut" and fiscal restraint, both of which are popular remedies for economic disorders. This election's Democrat will have to change course conspicuously to avoid being tarred with advocacy of higher taxes, which the public seldom associates with prosperity. Similarly, men whose party is identified with deemphasis of the military and hostility toward anti-terrorism measures may gain little favor if terrorists inflict serious wounds in either Iraq or America.
The contrasting style of candidacy is belief that a particular set of principles and policies is best for the country regardless of transient circumstances. Ronald Reagan thought that we would be better off with low taxes, limited government and a strong national defense, whether the GDP happened to be rising or falling. Governor Dean and General Clark have this much in common with the Gipper: Their campaign strategy doesn't hinge upon unlucky breaks for America. They believe (or want us to believe that they believe) that high taxes and "re-regulation" are vital to a just economy, that terrorists are best caught through police procedures, and that a United States that acts without the approval of a broad spectrum of foreign governments is a dangerous force in the world.
A Dean or Clark candidacy would not thrive on bad news. Their economic program is directed toward "fairness" rather than prosperity and hence doesn't depend for its persuasiveness on stagnation or recession. Al Gore argued the same case in 2000 in the face of what still seemed like a continuing expansion. As for their military and foreign policies, they are the sort that appeal most strongly to Americans who feel safe, secure and disinclined to bear many burdens or pay much of a price for the well-being of foreigners.
One Democratic commentator went so far, a couple of weeks ago in The Washington Post, as to call Saddam Hussein's capture "a present for the Democrats", one that he was afraid that they would refuse to accept. It will, in fact, be difficult for a candidate sprung from the Angry Left to do anything other than kick this gift horse in the teeth. To do otherwise would be to imply that George W. Bush has done something right and is perhaps not the embodiment of Vast Sauronic Evil.
Therefore, returning to the subject of prognostication, I foresee that, whoever is the Democratic nominee, his campaign will be broken-backed or self-contradictory. If he comes from the "fuzzy wing", he will be mired in gloom and forebodings of disaster while simultaneously decrying all ameliorative measures. If he's of the Dean-Clark ilk, he will bear the burden of arguing that the Nation is perfectly safe but that no credit is due to the man who was on watch when dangers threatened. That line of reasoning leads ineluctably (and unelectably) to the contention that the dangers were phony and thence to the fever swamp of what Governor Dean has labeled "interesting theories". My own, unoriginal "interesting theory" is that half the Democratic "challengers" are secret minions of Karl Rove. [To comment, click here.]
December 29, 2003 Traveling by air during an "Orange Alert" Christmas season seemed no more strenuous than flying at any other time. The only sign that I glimpsed of heightened security was two TSA agents' interest in my pewter money clip. It is a gift from a girl friend of many years ago, inscribed with my initials in Tolkien Elvish runes. (That was back when only people who could read knew about The Lord of the Rings.) I had put it inside my briefcase when passing the security checkpoint, and the x-ray reader spotted the inscription. Her colleague then removed and closely examined the suspicious artifact. After a minute or two, she evidently concluded that the writing wasn't Arabic and the clip contained no knives or explosives, and returned it with a scowl.
My mother, being an old-fashioned soul, still subscribes to general interest magazines, so it was at her house, rather than on the Web, that I read U.S. News & World Report's piece on current Presidential candidates who went to Yale. I can't comment on what USN&WR says about Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean. The former graduated just before my freshman year (though he was a famous name for some years afterward), and I never met or heard of the latter. The section on George W. Bush corresponds to my own recollections, though it's a pity that it leaves out one of the key events in discouraging young George from involvement in undergraduate political life. That was also the only occasion on which his path and mine crossed noticeably, but I won't go into the incident here and now.
What most attracted my attention was the portion devoted to the figure whom I had known best among those profiled, viz., John Kerry. A paragraph covers his career in the Yale Political Union, and it is sadly sanitized:
By spring of sophomore year, Kerry had won the presidency of Yale's Political Union, even though his Liberal Party was the PU's second smallest. With virtually no political base, Kerry often took to the phones, making deals. "[Kerry] spent the whole night talking to people, pure politicking," Barbiero says. PU, a debating club that hosted guest lecturers, was gaining new stature as issues like civil rights and Vietnam encroached on campus.
Interesting facts left out: (i) Kerry was elected chairman of the Liberal Party after a bitter race, in which (I was later told by the defeated candidate and his supporters — I have no personal knowledge) his principal talking point was the importance of avoiding the domination of the party by Jews. (ii) Under his tutelage, the LP shrank to the smallest (not "second smallest") in the Union. At the end of his tenure, it had only 13 members qualified to vote in the PU elections (roughly a six percent share of the electorate). (iii) The deal that secured him the Union presidency was devised unilaterally by his ideological opposites in the Party of the Right; all that John did in the way of "making deals" was to accept the proffered terms. As a result, the PoR gained three of the organization's five elective offices (the maximum permitted to one party under the constitution), a minor allied party got one, and Kerry gained the presidency. He then showed his gratitude by supporting the successful PoR candidate for chairman of the Rules Committee and handing out half of the appointive offices to PoR members. (In the interests of full disclosure, let me note that I was appointed Union Historian). (iv) John was certainly eager to enhance the Union's stature, but he never quite figured out how to do it. Membership remained level during his two terms as president, and he was unable to attract national press coverage, despite strenuous efforts. It was his successor, Jay Wilkinson (now a right-wing federal judge), who more than doubled the Union's numbers and made it, for a short while, an important force on the Yale campus.
I don't mention these facts to deride the Kerry candidacy — his showy but ultimately unsuccessful career in the Political Union is no more disqualifying than George W. Bush's beer-swilling at Deke — but merely because I am annoyed by the historical inaccuracy. The truth really is more interesting than the magazine's anodyne semi-fiction. [To comment, click here.]
December 23, 2003 Being about to depart for a few days of Christmas vacation out of range of high-speed Internet access, I wanted to be sure to leave on a cheerful note. And it would hard to find a note more conducive to cheer than Kathryn Jean Lopez's interview with David Aikman, author of Jesus in Beijing. Mr. Aikman, who used to head Time magazine's bureau in the Red Chinese capital, sees the growth of Christianity among mainland Chinese as the most important and underreported trend of the new millennium. There are currently, he estimates, over 80 million Chinese Christians, a bit less than ten percent of the population. The Roman Empire before Constantine had about the same proportion, and Mr. Aikman sees analogies between the two situations:
Christianity thrived in the Roman Empire, but it was frequently — though inconsistently — suppressed harshly. Yet it is interesting that, by the end of the third century A.D., that is, before Constantine issued a decree of religious tolerance in (I think, 311 A.D. [sic — it was the Edict of Milan in 313]) there had been a "tipping point" in Roman culture and philosophy. The most celebrated Roman intellectuals and teachers were increasingly Christian.
Modern Chinese Christianity has both undergone persecution . . . .
 During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) every single church building (and mosque and temple as well) was closed in China. The formal, permitted structures of Chinese Protestantism and Catholicism had also been dissolved by Mao's Red Guards. Christians become used to gathering in totally clandestine situations, in homes, fields, forests. . . .
 In some parts of China, notably Henan province, where there are large communities of Christians, and in Anhui, the persecutions have been repeated and severe. There have been reports in the past few weeks of at least one Christian woman beaten to death in prison, and several more seriously injured as a result of beatings. One Christian whom I met in 1998 when I attended a gathering of house-church leaders was sentenced to two years in a labor camp for having written in his private prayer journal, among other things, that he was praying for a Christian constitution for China. The journal was seized during a fishing-trip search of his home. When a Chinese friend phoned the interrogator up to ask on what conceivable grounds this non-political and irenic citizen was being punished, the interrogator replied, "Mr. Zhang doesn't have a criminal problem, he has a mind problem. He is too superstitious." Translation: Zhang is a man of prayer.
. . . and gained a following among the leaders of intellect and culture:
Several of the Chinese students and scholars studying in the U.S. and other foreign countries become Christian. Many of these also returned to China and meet up with colleagues of similar professional attainment who were holding private Christian meetings. Those attending these meetings then began to invite others. Word spread that Christianity "worked," that is, that people who were Christian were genuinely concerned for each other's welfare and that prayers often produced remarkable physical healings from difficult illnesses.
But another factor has been a very open-minded approach by many Chinese intellectuals into such phenomena as the remarkable historical primacy of Western civilization around the world. How could this happen? What were the core principles of Western civilization that enabled it, time and again, to correct itself rather than plunge into cyclical and eventually permanent decline? Many concluded that it was Christian ethics and the dynamism of a faith based on a profound hope in the future and a belief that history was not cyclical, as Buddhism and even Confucianism proclaimed, but linear, and with a specific end goal.
Finally, Christians in the fine and performing arts have shown that there is a way out from the often-nihilistic cycle of modernism and postmodernism. This can be very attractive to artists who would prefer a hope-filled universe in which to develop their creative skills.
Needless to say, no Christian believes that "the remarkable historical primacy of Western civilization around the world" is the primary — or even a good — reason to put one's faith in Christ.  Christianity was just as true in the Seventh Century, when it seemed destined to be overrun by Moslem hordes, as it is today. Nonetheless, the utilitarian appeal may open the way to deeper truths.
Those who believe that Christianity fosters characteristics that are favorable to economic and political success can find confirmation from an odd source. Dave Shiflett ("Judge Not, All Ye Faithful") calls attention to the views of David Wenner, author of a highly regarded manual for tort plaintiffs' lawyers. Counselor Wenner advises his readers to keep veniremen with "strong religious beliefs", by which he pretty clearly means practising Christians and Jews, off of juries. He is refreshingly candid about his reasons. Religious people fall into "the personal responsibility group", which is not a desirable category:
"It is helpful to divide the jurors into two groups: the personal responsibility group and compassion-altruistic group," Wenner writes in the guidebook. "Jurors who are extreme on the personal responsibility bias, or who have a high need for personal responsibility, will strongly favor the defendant. In contrast, jurors who are extreme on the compassionate-altruistic bias, or who have a high need for compassion, will strongly favor the plaintiff." . . .
Wenner, of course, is entirely correct. Jurors who believe in personal responsibility can destroy the best-laid plans of an attorney on the make. They do believe, as Wenner warns, that human beings "should be self-reliant, responsible, and self-disciplined. When people act irresponsibly and are not self-disciplined, there are consequences." They also believe that individuals "must be accountable for their conduct. The motto of these jurors is that if a person is committed to personal responsibility, then he or she must first accept blame before blaming others. That means playing the blame game is unacceptable if the plaintiff was in the best position to avoid the injury."
Spotting the undesirables is no big problem: "The personal responsibility jurors tend to espouse traditional family values," the guidebook explains. "Personal responsibility jurors often believe that when someone harms you, the best response is to turn the other cheek. A lawsuit is viewed as revenge and unproductive ... often, these jurors have strong religious beliefs."
It would be hard to find more blatant code words for Christianity than "traditional family values", "turn the other cheek", not going to the law with one another and "strong religious beliefs". It is likewise hard to imagine a successful society in which personal responsibility is not widespread. If any Chinese reader should ever happen across Mr. Wenner's book, he will, I think, take it as further evidence that "wise men still follow Him". [To comment, click here.]
December 18, 2003 A good line from the Bush-ambivalent New Republic (via Oxblog): "If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, Howard Dean would demand to know what he is doing about AIDS." [To comment, click here.]
December 18, 2003 Instapundit prints a reader's plug for Webscription, an on-line e-book seller. It's doubtless a worthy site, and mention by The Professor will bring it an Instalanche of traffic, but it has top-flight competitors, among them Fictionwise, which I have reviewed elsewhere and which is currently running a year-end sale. [To comment, click here.]
December 18, 2003 James Bowman, who is something of a specialist in the history, culture and psychology of honor, has a typically incisive piece on why the humiliation of Saddam Hussein is good for the Western cause.
Saddam did us the huge favor of looking like a coward in giving up without a fight. In an honor culture like that of the Arabs, the importance of such a humiliation cannot be over-estimated. One way you can tell its impact among Iraqis is that the paranoid conspiracy-theorists are already working overtime to insist that U.S. forces must have drugged him first in order to prevent him from resisting. How he could have been drugged before he was captured they are still trying to work out. . . .
[T]he vast middle range of Arab opinion belonging to those who feared and respected Hussein without loving him will surely be affected for the better. Insofar as Saddam and those who have carried out the resistance to American occupation in his name have controlled such people by intimidation, and prevented them from co-operating with occupation forces, they are sure to find their job harder as the awe which they have hitherto been able to count on among ordinary Iraqis begins to dissipate. However much its public voices may wish to take the Arab world’s sense of humiliation out on the Americans, Saddam’s disgrace itself will make that increasingly difficult. And if they can no longer resist for his sake, for whose sake do they resist?
Professor [Daniel] Chirot [author of a Washington Post op-ed deploring "Hussein's embarrassing end", which he attributes to "U.S. arrogance"] would say in the name of Islam, since "religion is seen by many of the most idealistic Arabs and Muslims as the last, best hope." He has more contempt for the Bush administration, seemingly, than for the cowardly Saddam, since he doubts . . . that it understands the idealism of our enemies. "Some of those who oppose us," writes the professor, "have a vision, too, no matter how grim it may seem." Yet "our leaders" seem to regard them "as mere criminals or psychopaths." Such a view, he says, "entirely misses the point" — which might indeed be the case if anyone actually held it.
Instead, it is the professor who misses the point. . . . The high ideals and "vision" of those who are trying to kill us and to kill our soldiers are neither here nor there for those they are trying to kill. Doubtless those ideals are very beautiful. But so long as they are prepared, as Professor Chirot says, "to inflict death and destruction in order to advance their utopian dreams," we are bound to do all in our power to stop them — and to be skeptical of anyone naïve enough to suppose that our being publicly sensitive to our enemies’ motives will make them in the slightest degree less willing to kill us because of them. On the other hand, seeing their leader groveling and humiliated might well have such an effect.
[To comment, click here.]
December 18, 2003 Though I remain, as I was two years ago, optimistic about the future of Christmas, secularist resistance does seem to have reached an unprecedented shrillness this year. In the new spirit of the season, I pass on the following "Holiday Wish", forwarded to me by a friend:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. . .
And a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2004, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only "AMERICA" in the Western Hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.
[By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.]
Incidentally, opposition to the public celebration of Christmas was a leading principle of the Puritans, from which it follows, by the sort of logic that appeals to modern jurists, that the abolition of Christmas observances would itself be an "establishment of religion" and therefore quite as unconstitutional as the opposite. [To comment, click here.]
December 16, 2003 Two of the most leftward judges on the far-left-dominated Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have finally found a limitation on federal power that they like, ruling that banning the cultivation of marijuana for "medicinal purposes" is beyond Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause (Raich v. Ashcroft [PDF file]).  Little though I sympathize with the notion that marijuana use is a harmless hobby (an idea that can't be seriously held by anybody who has seen the devastation that it causes to the portions of the populace not cocooned by bourgeois support mechanisms), I'm always delighted to see the scope of the commerce power trimmed — except that I know, as in their hearts do the libertarian lawyers cheering this decision, that Judges Pregerson and Paez are not engaged in serious jurisprudence: Their goal is to mock Supreme Court precedents that they dislike (recent cases holding that "commerce" doesn't include activities with no potential economic significance) by twisting them for liberal ends. Another panel of the same circuit tried the same trick three months ago, though their colleagues quickly overturned them. Applauding such subversion of the rule of law, even if one likes the outcome, is irresponsible and only encourages more of the same. [To comment, click here.]
December 14, 2003 How long will it be, I wonder, before the same folks who have been declaring the Iraqi campaign a "failure" because we hadn't captured Saddam Hussein will begin pointing that Saddam wasn't all that important, has been running and hiding rather than leading the enemy forces, wasn't worth expending any effort to find, etc., etc., so that getting him isn't really a cause for jubilation?
All in all, Pearl Harbor Week 2003 has been a bad one for our country's ill-wishers: a tyrant brought closer to justice, the European Union's equivalent of a Constitutional Convention collapsing over a problem (how to allocate power between large and small states) that the unsophisticated Americans resolved two centuries ago, Axis of Weasel countries deprived of a portion of their opportunity to profiteer in Iraq at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer. Perhaps history will look back on the past seven days as the period when what Victor Davis Hansen terms the "Critical Mass" for American victory came together:
In all major wars there reaches a critical tipping point when the ultimate outcome of the conflict begins to become clear. Then the pulse of war really quickens, as allies, neutrals, and observers all scramble to adjust their allegiances to match the inevitable verdict to come on the battlefield. For all the scary ante bellum rhetoric about thousand-year Reichs and the defiant slogans of "We will bury you," no one wishes to lose, or even be associated with defeat. . . .
This war against the Islamofascists and autocrats of the Middle East is no different. Do not be cowered by their sick videos, the bombs with rat poison and screws, or the promise of a new Dark Age run by the likes of bin Laden. If we are now dismayed by Islamist terrorists from Turkey to Indonesia, and from the West Bank to the Sunni Triangle, it doesn't mean it will always — or even for long — be so, given our increasing success and the unchanging nature of mankind that values power over principles, often quite tragically so.
Such a cynical assessment need not mean that we must deprecate the power of ideas, or must subscribe to such an amoral creed ourselves; but rather that we must not be naïve when we discover new allies who admire us for our strength and military prowess rather than our ideals and values. The reason that states are not rushing to install imams as rulers or open their borders to al Qaeda training camps is not that they like democracy, but rather that they are just now beginning to fear the dire consequences of such action.
Our enemies instead are now reeling — if ever so insidiously. They have lost the free use of Afghanistan. Saddam's Baathists are little more than criminals and thugs in hideouts — soon to follow the fate of Saddam's progeny, statues, and "Hammurabi Division." Gone are Iraqi subsidies for suicide murderers, help for al Qaeda, and the stockpiling of huge caches of imported weaponry. . . .
We are beginning the third year of this multi-theater conflict, and it resembles the Punic War after the Carthaginian defeat at the Metaurus in 207 B.C., the year of decision of 1863, or the autumn leading to Alamein and Stalingrad. Ever so slowly the momentum is building. If we stay resolute and tighten the noose around the Baathists, the days of the extremists in Iraq will be numbered even as the rest of the country begins to prosper. And the final victory will only embolden us and discourage our enemies. . . .
[T]he key is not to look at the present from the present but rather to imagine what it most likely will appear like ten years from now. From the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates, from the papers in Cairo, and from the videos of the fundamentalists, one would not believe the United States is turning the corner and on the road to a stunning victory, characterized by both competence and idealism. In the last two years our enemies have lacked not the will but the power to defeat us; we in contrast had more than enough power but not enough will. But all that is changing as we ever so slowly become angrier while they get weaker.
So we are witnessing right now the war's critical turning point in these the most historic of times. What has been amazing about the war so far is not that we have been winning, but that we have been doing so — quite unlike our increasingly exhausted enemies — without the full mobilization of our vast economic, political, material, and human resources.
As Winston Churchill said at the tipping point of World War II, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." [To comment, click here.]
Update, 12/14/03: Well, that didn't take long. Here's how a reader of National Review Online describes major network coverage of yesterday's events:
I don't have cable or satellite (live in the boonies, and frankly it's not worth the money), so I've had to rely on the main network stations for news on Saddam's capture. I've been struck by the dour faces and the almost pained looks on all the reporters' faces. They seem almost disappointed that we caught the SOB. In the time I've been listening, I've seen Sandy Berger and Dick Holbrooke and a number of other hand-wringers telling me not to celebrate and a bunch of network types telling me that this really isn't all that good.
[To comment, click here.]
December 14, 2003 What does a brutal, immoral, failing war against terrorism look like? Not Iraq, but Chechnya, one of those conflicts in which one would gladly arm both sides with nuclear weapons, if only they would use them only against each other. Bjørn Stærk has a fascinating review of a new book published in Norwegian, Livvakt i Helvete — Aleksandr og krigen i Tsjetsjenia (Bodyguard in Hell — Aleksandr and the War in Chechnya), which presents a Russian soldier's first-hand account.
The image he presents of the Russian army is frightening — or perhaps relieving, if you fear a reawakening of Russian imperialism in the near future. The lack of professionalism is appalling. 18 year old conscripts are sent into battle without training. Drinking has run amok, and nobody cares. It's more dangerous to sleep in your own camp, among your drunken, thieving comrades, than out in the open. At every level of command, the war is about one thing — getting rich. Money is the primary objective, whether you're a conscript emptying a civilian house, a small-level officer holding civilians for ransom, or a higher-level officer making a lucrative oil deal with Chechen guerillas. Even corruption fighters have found their niche within this scheme. And Aleksandr Voda is a witness to all of it.
There's also treason. What else can we call it when Russians are ordered to fire on their own troops to create an impression of war, and when generals call for "more bodies" — Russian and Chechen — to present back home? Aleksandr is a witness to this too, when he ambushes a group of FSB men firing at his camp. Like something out of Catch-22, they get angry with him. "What are you doing? We're trying to get you money! And you shoot at us!" "What do you mean?" "When you're shot at you're in a war zone. Then you get combat pay. Don't you get it?" The whole war is a Milo Minderbinder scheme. Even worse, on the day of an election, Aleksandr escorts forces from GRU to the outskirts of a village, and picks them up later. The next day he learns that the village voting station was attacked that day, and one Russian soldier killed. The attack was made with a grenade launcher he saw the GRU men take in, but did not bring out again.
American commentators talk blithely about "quagmires" and complain because downtown Baghdad is more dangerous than Des Moines. Reading about a real quagmire furnishes useful perspective. [To comment, click here.]
December 13, 2003 President Bush signed the Medicare Drug Prescription, Improvement and Modernization Act on December 8th. December 7th would have been more fitting. Politicians must, I know, bow occasionally to the pressure of electoral whim, but how much real pressure has the American electorate been exerting in favor of a colossal expansion of Medicare? Democrats made prescription drug subsidies one of their leading cries in the 2000 and 2002 elections. Perhaps it helped them marginally, but the issue was drowned out by others. Would it have been more attention-grabbing in 2004, when certain other matters might conceivably be on voters' minds?
The media are already hard at work catechizing Medicare beneficiaries with the lesson that the Republican drug benefit isn't all that impressive and that what they really want is the shiny Democratic alternative. In the end, Medicare is bound to be a net loser at the ballot box for Team Bush. The President may have shepherded through Congress the biggest addition to the Welfare State in nearly forty years, but liberals will continue to proclaim that his goal is to abolish the New Deal. Conservatives may meanwhile wonder how much zeal they ought to put into reelecting the second coming of FDR. (The answer is, lots. President Bush's economic policies may make the country poorer in the long run. President Dean's foreign policies will make a lot of our countrymen dead in the much shorter run.)
As a gimmick for winning by a landslide next year, the MDPIMA is further proof of the maxim that the only thing wrong with pragmatism is that it doesn't work. On the other hand, the new law may conceivably have a trace of redeeming social value. In fact, I half suspect that the President pushed for it out of sheer despair over bringing about sensible Medicare reform. Any rational restructuring of the program (for example, to something like the health program for federal employees, where all insurance is provided by private carriers who compete for workers' business) will be filibustered by Senate Democrats. So why not kick the contraption hard and see whether that does any good? The worst that can happen is that it'll stop working, but, then, it wasn't working anyway.
The hard kick is a new savings vehicle, the health savings account ("HSA"), which goes into effect next year, two years before any meaningful prescription drug benefit. An HSA is like the familiar individual retirement account. Contributions are tax-deductible. Earnings accumulate tax-free. The key advantage over an IRA is that money can be withdrawn tax-free to pay medical expenses. (Withdrawals for other purposes are taxed as ordinary income, with a 10 percent additional tax unless the account owner dies, is disabled or has reached age 65.)
There is one important limitation on HSA contributions: They cannot exceed the deductible for the account owner's health insurance coverage and are not permitted at all unless the deductible is at least $1,000 for individual, or $2,000 for family, coverage. (Contributions are also capped at $2,250 or $4,500, depending on whether the owner has individual or family coverage.) The idea is to entice people back to spending their own money, not a distant insurance company's or HMO's, for a large proportion of their routine medical needs, thus reintroducing badly needed market discipline to pricing mechanisms that currently allow everybody to pass exorbitant costs on to everybody else.
A corollary, if HSA's become wildly popular, is that the public will relearn the meaning and purpose of health insurance. Nobody expects fire insurance to cost the same for ordinary  homeowners and those who live in thatched huts with oily rags stored in their attics, and most of us can figure out why equal premiums for unequal fire risks would be foolish. We have largely forgotten, however, that the same principle applies to insurance against the risk of personal injury and illness: If the healthy and unhealthy pay the same for coverage, insurance is transformed into a form of socialism, and socialism turns economics into hash.
Left-leaning think tanks have identified HSA's as a major threat to the continuation of the present pseudo-insurance system. If healthier workers leave traditional plans for high-deductible alternatives and take steps to save to pay for their future medical needs, instead of relying on the generation after to bear the burden, economic rationality may return to medicine. From some points of view, that would be a dire development.
The odds are heavily against any such outcome, of course. It isn't clear that HSA's will flourish. A similar device, the Archer Medical Savings Account, already exists (albeit with severely restricted eligibility) and has not been much of a success. If HSA's do not quickly become widespread, they may not survive very long. (Senator Daschle has already introduced a bill to repeal them.) In any case, they may not be sufficient to counter the predictable effects of the drug entitlement: Subsidies will increase the demand for pharmaceuticals, putting upward pressure on prices, which the government will sooner or later try to stanch with formal or informal price controls, leading to shortages and cutbacks in research. (State attempts to control drug prices foreshadow the impact, as I have noted elsewhere.) The picture is grim, and the only ground for hope is a long-shot gamble. If it pays off, George W. Bush will have managed one of the greatest feats of political jiu-jitsu in history and will deserve remembrance as one of our greatest leaders. [To comment, click here.]
December 13, 2003 If David Brooks keeps on punditing for a hundred years, he will be amazing indeed if he ever tops his effort in today's New York Times, "A Fetish of Candor". The opening paragraph arrests the eye and mind:
I think we are all disgusted by the way George W. Bush's administration has allowed honesty and candor to seep into the genteel world of international affairs.
Then, after an overview of the President's dangerous lack of hypocrisy, particularly with regard to the allocation of U.S. taxpayers' dollars for rebuilding Iraq, he reaches the devastating conclusion:
This is a policy based on candor, and therefore it is a mess.
If the U.S. is going to right its foreign policy, it is going to have to rein in President Bush's tendency to be straightforward. It is going to have to acknowledge that honesty is a good thing when it comes to international affairs — in theory.
The administration's fundamental problem is that it is not very good at dealing with people it can't stand. The men and women in this White House are exceptionally forthright. When they come across someone they regard as insufferable, their instinct is to be blunt. They seek to be honest rather than insincere, to not sugar things up but to let these people know how they really feel.
Sometimes you've got to be slippery to accomplish real good. The Bush administration is thus facing an insincerity crisis. It has become addicted to candor and forthrightness. It needs an immediate back-stabbing infusion.
Perhaps Al Gore could be brought in to offer advice.
Alas, willingness to administer "an immediate back-stabbing infusion" can probably be found no further away than the Department of State. [To comment, click here.]
December 10, 2003 What better proof of the stupidity of clever political moves than today's Supreme Court decision striking down the First Amendment, er, upholding the McCain-Feingold Act against almost all constitutional challenges? President Bush signed the law because a veto would have incurred some political cost and he was confident that the Court would throw the whole mess out. And why wasn't it thrown out? Because, two decades ago, President Reagan sought the transient political benefit of appointing the first female Supreme Court Justice. Sandra Day O'Connor has over the years undistinguished herself as one of the feeblest judicial intellects ever to sit on our highest tribunal, in a league with fellow majority member David Souter, whom the first President Bush picked as a politically safe "stealth candidate". Trouble was, he sneaked up on the Right, not the Left.
At least, McConnell v. FEC, clarifies one long obscure constitutional conundrum. Everyone knows that some manifestations of speech are more worthy of First Amendment protection than others, but the precise hierarchy had never been clear. McConnell, combined with other recent Court decisions, shows us the order of preference:
1. [Most protected] Any and all speech incidental to recommending, procuring or carrying out abortions.
2. [Dear to the hearts of the Founding Parents] Flag burning; anti-American advocacy.
3. [Else the terrorists will have won] Disclosure of state secrets.
4. [Run-of-the-mill] Pornography, indecency, blasphemy, anything having to do with sex.
5. [Tolerable now and then] Advertising and other commercial speech.
6. [Under suspicion] Advocacy of political positions (unless elevated to category 2).
7. [An avenue for corruption] Support of and opposition to candidates for office.
8. [Ya gotta be kidding!] Expression of Christian or Jewish sentiments in public places.
Who could have imagined that the same Court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restrictions upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography...tobacco advertising...dissemination of illegally intercepted communications...and sexually explicit cable programming...would smile with favor upon a law that cut to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government?
 — Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting
[To comment, click here.]
Update, 12/11/03: Jim Dickey of Alexandria, Virginia, adds further discouraging words anent Justice Sandra:
I entirely agree that in retrospect, the nomination of O'Connor as Reagan's first Supreme Court appointment was a huge error.  O'Connor herself in her opinion on the Univ. of Michigan case admitted that she herself had benefitted from affirmative active.  Indeed!  If a list of the 100 most qualifed conservative jurists had been drawn up in 1981, she would have been nowhere on it.  Just imagine what would have happened if Reagan had appointed Robert Bork instead?  With a Senate majority of 53, before the current poisonous atmosphere regarding judicial appointments, he would surely have been easily confirmed.  Think what that would have meant.  Roe v. Wade probably overturned, banning flag burning by simple legislation approved, affirmative action declared to be unconstitutional discrimination by the state! What might have been. . . .
[To comment, click here.]
December 10, 2003 The spin will make you dizzy. According to The Wall Street Journal's incorrigibly leftist lede writers, "The U.S. excluded key allies [emphasis added] from bidding on Iraq rebuilding jobs." Does that mean that Britain, Australia, Japan, Italy, Spain, Poland, etc. are shut out? No. It means that only the 61 nations that sent troops or other assistance for the liberation of Iraq get preference in making money (mostly furnished by American taxpayers) from reconstruction projects. It isn't an absolute preference, because the "nationality" of multinational corporations is rather shadowy, and nothing prevents prime contractors from subcontracting to French, German, Russian or Chinese firms. The economic impact on countries that worked actively to keep the Ba'athist regime in power will, sadly, be rather slight, and their screams seem aimed mostly at casting further doubt on the legitimacy of liberation. Indeed, excluding the "coalition of the unwilling" from bidding might not be worth the effort, save for indubitable security concerns. The pro-Saddam governments had intimate ties with the Ba'athists. We can't be certain that those ties don't linger and that putting primary responsibility for major projects into the hands of companies close to those governments (which means virtually all companies that operate in the France, Germany, Russia and China) would run an undue risk of furnishing cover for anti-democratic activities.
To the extent that the exclusions do matter economically, as Jonah Goldberg points out, "punishing the weasels is a way of rewarding our allies. By denying France, Russia and Germany from getting contracts in Iraq, we are making it more likely that Japan, Spain, Poland and Britain will get them. They took risks for us and, frankly, this is the least we could do for them. It's all about carrots for some sticks for others."
For the record, here is the list of eligible nations:  Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, U.S., Uzbekistan.
It is striking  how little friendship for Free Iraq (not to mention the U.S. or the West in general) it took to win clearance to compete. Turkey denied right of passage to American ground troops during the war. The Norwegian, Danish and Dutch governments were consistently unenthusiastic toward anti-Ba'athist endeavors. Most of the eligible Arab countries condemned military action, and some covertly aided the enemy. (To be frank, they would probably be excluded if there were any chance that any of their companies might submit serious bids.) Pentagon spokesmen went so far as to suggest that the current ineligibles could change their status by belatedly taking a more benign attitude.
Also striking, though not unexpected, is a notable omission. Look between "Iraq" and "Italy", and what name don't you see? This preemptive concession to presumed Iraqi antisemitism shows the silliness of the notion that a Jewish neo-conservative conspiracy dictates American policy. If Paul Wolfowitz takes his orders from Ariel Sharon, the duce must have been asleep this morning. [To comment, click here.]
December 9, 2003 The e-crowds are flocking to Robert Mugabe's Web site. Don't miss it if you can! Also worth checking out is its apparent sponsor, Benco Boardgames, a fledgling South African company whose first product, Banana Republic (not to be confused with the Doris & Frank game of the same title), carries endorsements from inter aliis Fidel Castro:
Banana Republic is just another way in which the devious, imperialist Americans and their Miami lackeys are trying to discredit the great, and ultimately irreversible, strides that the Cuban people have made during the glorious, and ongoing, Cuban revolution! Viva!
The Great Mugabe Himself, however, finds it a bit confusing:
A Banana Republic? What is that? Commandeer an aircraft so that we can go shopping in London! My wives need shoes!
Sorry, Bob, London's terra prohibita now. [To comment, click here.]
December 8, 2003 Not widely noticed in news stories about last weekend's Florida Democratic convention, but picked up by OpinionJournal Political Diary [paid subscription only], were invocations of the nutcase theory that the Republican Party is plotting to steal the 2004 election by tampering with the nation's voting machines.
Walden O'Dell had a lousy convention too, though he was nowhere near the place. A Bush "pioneer" fundraiser, he put his name on a memo last August saying he hoped to help win his home state of Ohio for President Bush. Mr. O'Dell is CEO of Diebold, maker of electronic voting machines — all the evidence candidates Kerry, Dean and Edwards needed to include in their patter a suggestion that a new GOP plot to steal the 2004 election had been uncovered. . . .  Democrats are already practicing blaming the umpire for next season's strikeouts. Maybe they should try batting practice instead.
I'll forgo the obvious comment on the significance of paranoid ravings by supposedly serious Presidential candidates. Instead, I'd like to make a point that is generally ignored in debates about electronic, Internet and other high-tech balloting. Hardly anybody seems to pay any attention to the impact of proposed voting systems on the secrecy of the ballot. For instance, an oft-made suggestion is that electronic voting machines issue paper receipts, both to preserve an audit trail and to enable voters to check whether their votes were recorded correctly. What greater boon could there be to electoral intimidation and bribery? Joe Voter takes his receipt to Boss Sleaze, who gives him ten bucks or assures him that he won't be fired from his job this year. Internet and postal voting, where third parties can peer over Joe's shoulder as he marks his ballot, have equal or greater possibilities.
Low tech methods likewise give no assurance of secrecy (as I have discussed elsewhere). Maintaining the absolute privacy of the polling booth is one of the key conditions for fair and democratic elections. I wish that more people paid attention to it. [To comment, click here.]
December 8, 2003 I doubt that many Congressional sponsors of the proposal to mint Ronald Reagan dimes (superseding the image of Franklin Roosevelt, who himself replaced the Statue of Liberty) take the idea very seriously. It's just an emotional reaction to the recent CBS/Showtime pseudo-documentary. Many though FDR's faults might have been, he was a great wartime leader, and removing his image from the nation's coinage isn't "the right message" to send in the middle of the current war.
On the other hand, there is an obvious numismatic tribute to President Reagan that does deserve consideration. Putting John F. Kennedy on the half-dollar was understandable in the wake of his assassination, but forty years have now passed, and it is clear that Kennedy was, at best, an insignificant President — closer to Franklin Pierce than Franklin Roosevelt. Ronald Reagan, by contrast, was one of the two or three most important American leaders of the Twentieth Century. While the 50-cent piece isn't Mount Rushmore, Mr. Reagan is definitely worthy to join Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Washington (to say nothing of Sacajawea) in our countrymen's change purses. [To comment, click here.]
Update, 12/8/03: The Wall Street Journal's invaluable, but not inexpensive, Political Diary [paid subscription only] reports that, according to one of the bill's principal sponsors, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind), the news stories about the proposal are "misinformed".
 He notes that it doesn't require that Reagan be on "every dime" or on both sides of the coin. The U.S. Mint makes more than 2.5 billion dimes a year. "This is not an anti-FDR move," he insists. "Coins are not national monuments. Quarters have been changed to honor every state." [As the Diary also notes, coin designs are determined by the Treasury Department; Congress only kibbitzes.]
This statement suggests a marvelous idea: a two-headed dime, with a former President on each face. That would add a new dimension to coin tosses: "Roosevelt or Reagan?" [To comment, click here.]
December 6, 2003 The Kay Report, despite strenuous media efforts to obscure its message, revealed that Saddam Hussein's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs were even more extensive than Western intelligence sources had portrayed before the Iraqi campaign. Now The Daily Telegraph carries a credible interview with a former Iraqi army colonel, who says that chemical weapons were issued to front-line troops late last year.
Local commanders were told that they could use the weapons only on the personal orders of Saddam. "We were told that when the war came we would only have a short time to use everything we had to defend ourselves, including the secret weapon," he said.
The only reason that these weapons were not used, said Col al-Dabbagh, was because the bulk of the Iraqi army did not want to fight for Saddam. "The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight," he said. . . .
Col al-Dabbagh, who was recalled to Baghdad to work at Iraq's air defence headquarters during the war itself, believes that the WMD have been hidden at secret locations by the Fedayeen and are still in Iraq. "Only when Saddam is caught will people talk about these weapons," he said.
Col. al-Dabbagh had been serving for several years as a spy for an Iraqi exile group and passed on information about the weapons that his unit had received. Even if he was mistaken or lying, no responsible Western leader could take the risk that his information might be true. That is why President Bush, Prime Ministers Blair and Howard, and the heads of other pro-Coalition governments believed that the Ba'athist regime could no longer safely be left in power. It would be interesting to ask the Democratic Presidential candidates, "If you had been President and received these reports, would you have ignored them? Faced with a hostile tyrant, just how much proof would you demand before disarming him?" [To comment, click here.]
December 4, 2003 Are you among the 11 percent of taxpayers who checked off a three dollar contribution to the Presidential campaign fund? If so, you may be dense enough to be pleased to learn that some of your money is subsidizing Lyndon LaRouche, whose conspiracy fantasies are even wilder than Howard Dean's or Wesley Clark's. The LaRouche campaign will get almost a million bucks from volunteer taxpayers, which will enable him to tell more people about how the Queen of England controls the international drug trade. (Vide John Fund, "Money for Nothing".) [To comment, click here.]
December 3, 2003 Optimistic reports of medical breakthroughs that lie just a few years beyond our reach are a journalistic staple. Though many turn out to be wishful thinking, some aren't, and no one denies that they are worth covering — unless, that is, the potential breakthrough involves adult stem cells. Then, as Wesley J. Smith laments ("Stem Cell News That Isn't Fit for Print"), the press isn't interested.
As a consequence [of media indifference], many Americans are woefully unaware that the best opportunity to obtain regenerative medical treatments in the soonest possible time is most likely with adult stem cell therapies, not therapeutic cloning.
Brain function in five human patients with advanced Parkinson's disease was partially restored using a natural body chemical known as glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). One year after the infusion of GDNF, all patients had clinical improvement of motor function and in the ability to perform activities of daily living. Demonstrating the tremendous potential of this experimental therapy, three patients had their senses of taste and smell restored within a few weeks of starting therapy. "Phase II" human studies are now being contemplated that would include double blinding and use of placebo.
In another Parkinson's case, a patient treated with his own brain stem cells appears to have experienced a substantial remission with no adverse side effects. Dennis Turner was expected by this time to require a wheelchair and extensive medication. Instead, he has substantially reduced his medication and rarely reports any noticeable symptoms of his Parkinson's. Human trials in this technique are due to begin soon.
Bone marrow stem cells, blood stem cells, and immature thigh muscle cells have been used to grow new heart tissue in both animal subjects and human patients. Indeed, while it was once scientific dogma that damaged heart muscle could not regenerate, it now appears that cells taken from a patient's own body may be able to restore cardiac function. Human trials using adult stem cells have commenced in Europe and other nations. (The FDA is requiring American researchers to stick with animal studies for now to test the safety of the adult stem cell approach.)
Harvard Medical School researchers reversed juvenile onset diabetes (type-1) in mice using "precursor cells" taken from spleens of healthy mice and injecting them into diabetic animals. The cells transformed into pancreatic islet cells. The technique will begin human trials as soon as sufficient funding is made available.
In the United States and Canada, more than 250 human patients with type-1 diabetes were treated with pancreatic tissue (islet) transplantations taken from human cadavers. Eighty percent of those who completed the treatment protocol have achieved insulin independence for over a year. (Good results have been previously achieved with pancreas transplantation, but the new approach may be much safer than a whole organ transplant.)
Blindness is one symptom of diabetes. Now, human umbilical cord blood stem cells have been injected into the eyes of mice and led to the growth of new human blood vessels. Researchers hope that the technique will eventually provide an efficacious treatment for diabetes-related blindness. Scientists also are experimenting with using cord blood stem cells to inhibit the growth of blood vessels in cancer, which could potentially lead to a viable treatment.
Bone marrow stem cells have partially helped regenerate muscle tissue in mice with muscular dystrophy. Much more research is needed before final conclusions can be drawn and human studies commenced. But it now appears that adult stem cells may well provide future treatments for neuromuscular diseases.
Severed spinal cords in rats were regenerated using gene therapy to prevent the growth of scar tissue that inhibits nerve regeneration. The rats recovered the ability to walk within weeks of receiving the treatments. The next step will be to try the technique with monkeys. If that succeeds, human trials would follow.
In one case reported from Japan, an advanced pancreatic cancer patient injected with bone marrow stem cells experienced an 80 percent reduction in tumor size.
I could go on like this for many pages. But you get the picture. Adult stem cell and other experimental regenerative treatments are moving forward toward eventual clinical use at a breathtaking pace. Meanwhile, therapeutic cloning offers no immediate prospects for treating human ailments. If this trend continues, the day will soon come when people realize that the great hope for regenerative medicine does not come from human cloning. The question is whether or not this good news will be reported.
These hopeful signs may prove misleading. Therapeutic cloning, involving the creation of human beings for the sole purpose of "harvesting" (the word used by advocates of the procedure) embryonic stem cells, may prove efficacious and present society with a terrible moral dilemma. It's surprising, though, how many bien pensants seem to be rooting against developments that would relegate the dilemma to the realm of theoretical ethics. [To comment, click here.]
December 3 ,2003 It's a great relief to discover that the blatantly unconstitutional McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan Abolition of Free Speech Campaign Finance Reform law doesn't really mean anything. The "soft money" that was allegedly corrupting American politics, that had to be rooted out notwithstanding petty obstacles like the First Amendment, turns out to be benign, if not salvific — or so last year's red-hot M-F-S-M proponents seem to have concluded, as they ragingly raise scores of millions of unregulated dollars to deploy against the Great Satan George W. Bush. (Vide "Big Night for Dubya Detesters".)
The loony left, funded by George Soros,the prototype of the self-hating Jewish self-hating billionaire, already has an ad campaign ready to roll. will begin broadcasting the 30-second ad Thursday in major media markets in Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia. The TV industry estimates that average viewers will see the ad about 10 times over the course of its run. . . .
In the ad, an announcer suggests that Bush misled the country and describes ways the $87 billion Bush wanted for Iraq and Afghanistan could be spent domestically.
"We could have built 10,000 new schools. Or hired almost 2 million new teachers. We could have rebuilt our electric grid. We could have insured more of our children," the announcer says. Images of children, teachers and a woman reading by a flickering light illustrate the point. "If there's money for Iraq, why isn't there money for America?" the announcer asks. [No images, I presume, of Iraqis being raped, tortured, gassed or fed into industrial-strength shredders.]
Well, John Bricker was quite popular in Ohio, albeit half a century ago, so perhaps this self-absorbed isolationism will find an audience. In any event, much as I deplore the message, I applaud the vindication of free speech. I also hope that, when conservatives start speaking out in support of the President, the media won't suddenly be aflame with denunciations of loopholes and calls to enforce M-F-S-M against those who use their freedom for the "wrong" purposes. Hope, but, needless to say, don't expect. [To comment, click here.]
December 2, 2003 Mike Potemra, one of National Review's more adamant resident libertarians, has decided that his principles don't necessarily lead him to embrace same-sex marriage, at least not as a judge-imposed Law of the Land:
 When gay friends, or just gay people in the general public, say that they consider themselves married, that's good enough for me. They are making a commitment, before God, and telling me about it. They are married, as far as I am concerned. So far, so good: I am in favor of gay marriage. But now let's look at the legislation being discussed — by actual legislatures, and by courts acting as legislatures. The proposed measures codify gay marriage as a government-approved status. What has been added by this extra step? Let's take off the table issues such as health benefits and hospital-visitation rights, which most people admit can be taken care of without recourse to formal recognition of gay marriage. What's left then? Public, democratic recognition of the marriage of gay couples. In short, what gays are being denied is not a definable good or benefit but merely the formal approval of their fellow citizens acting collectively. What they are being denied is a particular status in the minds of other people — in other words, exactly the sort of thing that, to be meaningful, must not be coerced or imposed undemocratically. I am willing to recognize gay marriages; but I am not gravely troubled that a majority of my fellow citizens still choose not to recognize them, as long as gays are harmed in no tangible way. . . . The day may come when large majorities favor gay marriage, and are willing to issue pieces of paper to that effect. But gays should not wait for that day; they should look to their conscience, and their partner, and make whatever commitments are prompted by their heart.
The point of same-sex "marriage", to put it bluntly, is not to relieve homosexuals of any genuine burden but to stamp their relationships with a state imprimatur of legitimacy. The most likely immediate effect — particularly if this affirmation of the goodness of homosexuality is forced on the country by the courts in the face of overwhelming popular opposition — will be widespread revulsion against homosexual practices. To contain that reaction, the organs of government will have to resort to the instruments of repression, as is already starting to happen north of our border.
Indeed, it has apparently become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex. For example, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ordered the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Hugh Owens to each pay $1,500 to each of three gay activists as damages for publication of an advertisement, placed by Owens, which conveyed the message that the Bible condemns homosexual acts.
In another incident, after Toronto print-shop owner Scott Brockie refused on religious grounds to print letterhead for a gay-activist group, the local human-rights commission ordered him to pay the group $5,000, print the requested material, and apologize to the group's leaders. Brockie, who always accepted print jobs from individual gay customers, and even did pro-bono work for a local AIDS group, is fighting the decision on religious-freedom grounds. [David E. Bernstein, "'You Can't Say That'"]
Homosexuals in America are free in every meaningful sense of that term. They should be content with freedom. Coerced respectability, even if it were worth anything, negates the libertarian impulse that has carried them to their present state. [To comment, click here.]
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