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Saturday, October 01, 2005

FREE IN SAN FRANCISCO: The city by the bay has embarked on a plan to wire the entire municipality for free, and no, I'm not talking about psychedelics. San Francisco's busy negotiating with Google to turn the city into one big wireless hot spot so all citizens can get online whether they're at home, in a cafe, at a park, cafe, or strip club. Here's the key word, really important: FREE. Now, for the fine print. San Francisco is a notoriously complicated city for blanket Wi-Fi coverage because of the steep streets, valleys, hills and tall buildings. The speed of the basic service will be 300 kilobytes per second, faster than dial-up but slower than some broadband. Free includes no customer service or technical support. If you want those "extras," they'll be available — for a fee (which rhymes with "free" but is different to this extent: it costs money). Here's the part that probably appeals most to the socialist instincts of San Francisco's political class: Google's experience in Wi-Fi is limited to tests at a single gym and a single cafe near its headquarters in New York City. (Sounds good to me, let's also ask them to run Medicaid.) See, Google will learn how to be an Internet service provider by doing! But hey, it's not like Google will be charging San Francisco money — nope, Google intends to install the whole system for free. How can Google make the enterprise worth its while? By charging fees to companies that want to use its newly installed network to offer paid Internet service to San Franciscans who want better service than what's available for free. Oh, and by the way: Google has no plans to share any of its revenue with San Francisco. So does this sound like the deal of the century, or what? Meanwhile, back in Reality: Similar service is already available in San Francisco. It's provided by non-governmental outfits with names like SBC and Earthlink. In other words: there's a market for wireless service. In that market companies compete, with real incentives, to provide first rate service. Keep this word in mind: upgrade. It's what wireless companies have to do to remain competitive. It's what Google would have no incentive to do. And so Google's "gift" to San Franciscans would become unsustainable over time — which has got to be another strong selling point for San Francisco socialists for whom good intentions are always just another way of never having to say: sorry.
"We've looked into free service, and we haven't found a model where free works," said [Earthlink spokesman Donald] Berryman. "At some point free becomes less sustainable because there's no way to upgrade service and the networks when no one's paying for it."
Oh, don't be such a capitalist!
Vince Vasquez, a policy fellow with the Pacific Research Institute, a think tank that supports free markets and receives funding from SBC, said he opposed any municipal involvement in Wi-Fi. Even if it's free, it may exceed the city's proper role in a sector that should be left to private industries, he said. "Our concern is with public money and publicly controlled Internet access," said Vasquez. "We take a lot of caution about how government should intervene in the market."
How quaint, how old-fashioned. And how fundamentally accurate. That said, full speed ahead. Free universal wireless service is a human right!
HOW THE G.O.P. MISSED THE BOAT: Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard makes a strong case that Capitol Hill Republicans have morphed "from agile insurgency to bloated establishment in just over a decade." The turks who took over the House in 1994 made the fateful decision to buddy up with the powerful lobbies of K Street, as opposed to transforming government as Ronald Reagan championed. From the vantage point of Continetti and other conservatives who feel the G.O.P. took the wrong road to reform:
First, looking at your party's troubles, you see perverse confirmation of conservatism's animating idea: that as the sphere of public decision-making expands, so do the opportunities for graft and wrongdoing. Next you note, with sadness, that while political power helped bring about some achievements - welfare reform, pro-growth tax cuts, an assertive, moralistic foreign policy - it may have also exhausted conservatism's fighting spirit, lowered the movement's intellectual standards and replaced a healthy independence with partisan water-carrying.
Newt Gingrich once remarked that his success in taking over the House was possible because he and his team convinced enough of the Republican power structure that the American people were tired of having Washington explained to America. It was time to once again explain America to Washington. Gingrich and company succeeded — for a brief shining moment. Here's the scary thought: the Democrats clearly aim to recapture the ground of "speaking truth to power" in 2008. They'll claim that Washington has lost touch with average Americans. Bill Clinton succeeded in 1992, but only with Ross Perot playing spoiler. Can Hillary run as an "outsider"? Hard to imagine. But then I didn't think George W. Bush would choose Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his role model for domestic spending.
EVOLUTION DEBATE: Tracking the growing argument between proponents of evolution and advocates of intelligent design, I've found myself suspicious of categorical claims on both sides. Disclosure: I believe both religion and science are valid modes of coming to terms with the kinds of facts that each realm is adequate to address. I'm a religious person who values scientific ways of investigating and knowing; also a scientific person who values religious ways of investigating and knowing. Evolution has obviously happened and is still happening; there's more to be understood about the mechanisms. So along comes Newsweek contributing editor Kenneth L. Woodward with a well reasoned NYT essay that examines the tenets of evolutionists and intelligent design advocates. He argues that scientists have every right to put religion to the side when doing science, yet this doesn't justify contempt toward religion per se.
It is one thing to bracket the divine in pursuit of scientific truth - after all, there is no way to include God as a factor in a scientific experiment. But it is something else to suppose that scientific methods and the truths thus arrived at constitute the only kind of knowledge we can have.
Woodward likewise expresses empathy for the intelligent design advocates who correctly understand that good science doesn't require atheism; yet he also takes exception to teaching intelligent design as science.
No less a religious authority than the late pope, John Paul II, said that evolution is more than just a hypothesis. It is a thrilling theory that has demonstrated its explanatory power over and over again in diverse scientific disciplines. Intelligent design theory has no such record. Why then, do some religious parents want intelligent design theory taught alongside evolution in public school classrooms? For some religious fundamentalists, this may indeed be a way of making room for God in science classes. But for many parents, who are legitimately concerned about what their children are being taught, I suspect that it is a way of countering those proponents of evolution - and particularly of evolutionary biology - who go well beyond science to claim that evolution both manifests and requires a materialistic philosophy that leaves no room for God, the soul or the presence of divine grace in human life.
Kudos to Woodward for highlighting strengths and weaknesses of both sides of an important debate.

Friday, September 30, 2005

BILL BENNETT: Read more »

Monday, September 26, 2005

OR, GO ASK ALICE: If the White House would prefer to avoid the altogether pitched battle that nominating Janice Brown would create, he could always consider Alice Batchelder of the 6th District Court of Appeals. She's smart, funny, terribly bright, experienced and possessed of the judicial temperament and philosophy for which the president says he's looking. Paul Rosenzweig of the Heritage Foundation has called her "the female equivalent of John Roberts," no small compliment. "Judge Batchelder is well-read, peppering her opinions with quotes from the lofty heights of Aristotle's Metaphysics to the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland," says political analyst Peter Schramm. "It should come as little surprise that she has written some of the most significant precedents in her circuit on complicated issues." Consider me torn between wanting to put liberal senators on the spot before a free-thinking black woman, and wanting to watch them squirm before a qualified, less controversial nominee who's got darned impressive credentials.
AFTER O'CONNOR: If President Bush wants to restore his flagging support at the GOP core, while at the same time taking a historic stand for civil rights, he'll move Janice Rogers Brown to the top of his short list. Qualifications? She's served as an associate justice of the California Supreme Court. Human interest? A child of divorce, she put herself through law school as a single working mother. Her family was involved in the voting rights movement in Alabama and became liberal Democrats. And she's black — and not just a little conservative. She's given more than a few provocative speeches, choice quotes from which will serve as fodder for her Senate opponents, including a guy named Ted Kennedy — who not that long ago sat in judgment of a guy named Clarence Thomas for committing the unpardonable crime of thinking conservative while black. Oh, how I would savor watching the civil rights and feminist establishments train their sights on this independent-minded black woman. One can only imagine what kinds of arguments would be mustered by the cacophany that so regularly condemns Bush for not caring about black people. On an practical note: I hope there's serious head counting going on among Bush's political tacticians, who need to be certain the president has the votes to change Senate rules if — make that when — the Democrats, including former Ku Klux Klansman Robert Byrd, who filibustered the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act for more than 14 hours — opt to use similar maneuvers to keep his next nominee from getting an up or down vote. If he taps Brown, it wouldn't be the first time she's faced a stacked deck. "Diversity is one of the strengths of the country," the president said today. Right on. Do it, Mr. President. Do it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

RELEVANT, BIG TIME: Enough about Supreme Court nominees — let's turn to issues of huge social and cultural import. Sarah Jessica Parker, actor, reveals she's given quite a bit of thought to her new line of ... perfume.
Q: What is it about your perfume that you like? A: Our goal was for it to be a fragrance that has social skills. It doesn't dominate a room. It does not cling to you when someone hugs you ... a fragrance you want to be downwind of -- not an interloper. It's feminine, not super-floral, with a little musk, and a little sexy, but not "of-the-moment." It's a timeless thing.
Perhaps those sentences will begin to make sense if I read them until my mind secures the numbness required not to care about mere meaning. I'm pleased to report I now vaguely understand what's being intimated when I overhear conversations about a coffee bean with "nuance." I didn't use to get it. It took some time to figure out why anything more than "hot" or "freshly brewed" mattered, but today I nod with the best of 'em when reference is made to "rare herbal undertones" and "spiciness" and "buttery." Yes, it's true. My Starbucks espresso maker (er, barista) told me yesterday about a new "buttery" coffee blend. I used to end up with buttery coffee back in my toast-dipping days, but now it's scones or nothing at all. Dip a scone? How uncouth, how nontimeless. Did I mention my favorite kind of scones don't cling, yet convey a bit of musk without daring to be too dominating? I deplore bossy baked goods...
FEINSTEIN FLUNKS: John Roberts is "an extraordinary person" possessed of a "brilliant legal mind and a love and abiding respect for the law, and I think a sense of its scope and complexity as well," says Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who presented Roberts with what she considered a really important question.
I asked him about end of life decisions – clearly, decisions that are gut-wrenching, difficult, and extremely personal. Rather than talking to me as a son, a husband, a father – which I specifically requested that he do. He gave a very detached response: “Well, Senator, in that situation, obviously, you want to talk and take into account the views and heartfelt concerns of the loved one that you're trying to help in that situation, because you know how they are viewing this.”
Feinstein says she'll vote against Roberts because he gives "detached" responses. Apparently this means she's opposing him because he uses his "brilliant legal mind" to think like a judge. She went on to castigate Roberts for not making clear how he intends to be in touch with “the problems real people have out there." It's actually almost funny, that a United States senator asks us to think she believes a Supreme Court justice's job is to take public opinion. The only thing that disappoints me is that she didn't ask Roberts what kind of tree he would choose to be.