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Thursday, May 25, 2006

DA VINCI: I haven't seen the movie and didn't read the book, owing to lack of interest rather than principled objections. That said, I'm struck by the Vatican's boycott campaign. If this movie is indeed blasphemy, just urging Catholics to stay away seems rather tepid. Surely there are more effective ways to make objections known. Ask Salman Rushdie. If the Pope wants to get serious, he might start by finding a Latin equivalent for "fatwah." Other options might include: Wait for the filmmaker to take a bike ride, then trap him in an alley, shoot him dead, then stab a five-page note to his body. Get a bunch of men wearing hoods over their heads to kidnap the movie's producer, then saw his head off while the scene is recorded on videotape, then release the video as a warning to other blasphemous filmmakers. Why not hire some devout Christians to fly airliners into a Hollywood skyscraper? I hope it's clear I'm not slamming Christians here, nor religion in general. Neither am I suggesting that anyone should commit such horrendous acts. To the contrary, consider this my broad-brushed way of making the point that a rather large chasm of moral intelligence differentiates the way American Christians are responding to The Da Vinci Code, and the way certain representatives of Islam have chosen to respond to doctrinal issues in recent years. Nutshell: We don't do that here; it's not our collective way. I have to laugh when I hear the usual secular leftists mock Christians who have chosen to protest the book and the movie via boycott. People of faith are well within their rights to speak out, precisely as people of faith. My own view is that their opposition is likely to sell tickets, but that's another matter.
DON'T PASS GO, UNLESS YOU CAN SHOW THAT YOU KNOW: In a temporary outbreak of sanity, California's highest court has reinstated the exit exam requirement for high school seniors, setting aside a lower court's ruling that it is "unfair" to expect graduating students to be, um, educated. Not surprisingly, among those most disappointed are: students who won't get to experience yet another opportunity of social promotion. "It's devastating news," says Raul Alcaraz. "...Robbing the students of the diplomas" is his characterization. Johanna Arroliga, 17, decries what she sees as "messing with people's emotions." What's more clear is that these students' high school years managed not to mess with their minds, in the way that a successful education is supposed to. "Some students feel left in the lurch," declares a San Francisco Chronicle headline. (Get used to it, kids. Lots of lurching in any life worth living.) I think the court's ruling is actually good for students who won't be carrying home a high school degree in the next few weeks. This qualifies them to get busy doing some of those much-discussed jobs that "Americans refuse to do." Close the borders, let failed students pick the lettuce and change the hotel sheets. Problem? I see two solutions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

OWNING IRAQ: Once upon a time there was an opportunity to persuade the people of Iraq — Sunni, Shia, Kerd, et al — why democracy is in their best interests. Not by making them read essays by Locke and Madison, but by giving them ownership of their nation's oil fields. Not ownership in the collectivist sense of communism and socialism but, says Milton Friedman, in this sense:
"Who, I ask opponents [of privatization], owns the government enterprises? The answer is, 'The public.' Well, then why not make that into a reality rather than a rhetorical flourish? Set up a private corporation and give each citizen one or one hundred shares in it. Let citizens be free to buy and sell their shares."
Sharing oil wealth, through dividend payments, would surely advance economic democracy, not to mention serving as a compelling model to other Middle East regimes. Next time we get serious about helping a formerly people learn how to be free, hopefully we'll remember how privatization can help diffuse economic and political power in the ways that self government requires.
ESTRICH EPIPHANY: In rising to defend Fox News against typical left-wing rancor, Susan Estrich reveals — or perhaps lets slip — her understanding that the left cannot win political campaigns or cultural battles by openly advocating leftist ideology:
I not only have worked for every network, I also worked, formally or informally, for every Democratic candidate to run for president in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I understand the difference between running on the left and losing, and running in the center and winning. I wrote three Democratic Party platforms. I see no honor in defeat. I’d rather win in the middle than lose on the left...
Estrich (whose credits include managing Michael Dukakis's 1988 comedy of errors, aka presidential campaign) is supporting Hillary for 2008. Which of course means Susan still believes its possible for a successful candidate to govern from the left, after pretending to be a moderate during the campaign. It's the safest guess of the year that skilled GOP operatives are busy assembling a take-no-prisoners effort to pull back the curtain on this last-gasp left-wing strategy. Hillary has been a fierce leftist ideologue a lot longer than she's been a "come let us reason together" moderate. Much life history to work with.

Monday, May 22, 2006

THE WORLD IS TO BLAME: Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey is eager for us to know the depravities of his personal life, so he has published a book with all the sordid details of the extent to which he tried to keep his homosexuality a secret — including from the woman he married even though he knew he wanted to be with men. There's something else McGreevy wants us to know — that none of it is his fault, oh no. Check out his tortured syntax:
"The closet starves a man, and when he gets a chance he gorges till it sickens him," he writes in his book, titled "The Confession."
It's the fault of the closet, you see. McGreevey had no choice but to keep his gayness hidden, don't ya know. Thus forced to remain in the shadows, there he was starved and therefore had no alternative but to cruise truck stops for anonymous sex. More blame for anyone but Jim:
While his parents' working-class Irish-Catholic identity comforted him, he knew "deep down . . . that this American ideal excluded me."
Get it? It's not that McGreevey himself fell short of a certain American ideal — heavens no, the ideal "excluded" poor, beleagured Jim. Look: I don't argue the point that many homosexuals fear coming out. Just how about taking responsibility for the choices we make in response to our fears about how society will respond if we reveal who we really are? How about knocking off the really lousy habit of blaming circumstances for the choices we make — like lying to a woman so she'll be your wife so you can pursue your political career at all costs?
SEMPER FI HIGH: Sometimes walking gets you there faster than running. This insight came to me on Saturday as I was making my way up a steep mountain trail with some 400 other sweating, hard-breathing athletes in the Toiyabe National Forest of eastern California. We had come to the Marine Warfare Training Center to run a 10 kilometer (6.1 miles) race that began at 6,800 feet above sea level and gained 1,000 feet in the first mile, a stretch known affectionately to local Marines as Heart Attack Hill. The idea that running can be slower than walking is counterintuitive, until you figure out that at a certain level of steepness people who are taking long walking strides are moving up the hill faster than people taking shorter running steps up and down. "Established in 1951 specifically to provide mountain and cold weather training for replacement personnel bound for Korea, this intense training ground is one of the Corps’ most remote and isolated posts, and one of its most difficult training grounds." No kidding. Obstacles on the Marine Warfare Training Center included tire course, low crawl, five-foot wall climb, and tunnel crawl. I arrived 36 hours prior to race time, hoping to get at least somewhat used to the high altitude before deciding to run at race speed straight up a hill, sucking air much thinner than most of us were used to. The last mile of the race was blessedly downhill, and exhilarating in ways that I won't even try to describe. I was the 166th contestant to cross at finish line, at 1:08:21. Injury free, and no post-race pain that a couple of Tylenols couldn't handle. But the biggest high was the opportunity to spend a day with some of the bravest, most fit, most dedicated young men and women you'll ever hope to meet. Here's to every member of America's armed forces and the spectacular work they do to keep our nation free.