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Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Saturday, May 13, 2006
The Week's Readings

George Will, Stephen Moore, Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas Sowell, William Bennett, Peggy Noonan, and Orson Scott Card lead the list.


George Will writes of a remarkable movie, United 93. But his subject is larger than that. Note what he says about Hollywood, the superb Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., quotation near the end, and the final paragraph about "a citizen's general responsibilities in a free society." Note also that George Will can flat-out write.

Stephen Moore introduces Charles Koch to those of us who never noticed him before. It's also pretty good lesson in economics: why private companies have a competitive advantage over public companies, these days; and how perverse incentives unsurprisingly yield perverse results. (Why is this not universally obvious? Politics?) And perhaps there's a useful insight or two here about management, too. 

Victor Davis Hanson offers a laundry list of historical precedents for things we suppose have gone uniquely wrong in the current war.

Thomas Sowell wonders if thinking is finally obsolete, where politics and economics intersect. The immediate subject is gasoline prices. The analysis is not new -- but if you're looking for good sense rather than novelty, here it is.

If the profit per gallon of gas were reduced to zero, would that be enough to reduce the price by even a dime? If the oil company executives were to work free of charge, would that be enough to reduce the price of gasoline by even a penny a gallon? . . .

The very politicians who have piled tax after tax on gasoline over the years, and voted to prohibit oil drilling offshore or in Alaska, and who have made it impossible to build a single oil refinery in decades, are all over the television screens denouncing the oil companies. In other words, those who supply oil are being denounced and demonized by those who have been blocking the supply of oil.

William Bennett offers an informative account of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

A critically important feature of the Northwest Ordinance was its treatment of religion. The first article stated: "No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship, or religious sentiments, in the said territory." This enlightened principal was little short of revolutionary for its time. No other government had ever laid out such a principal for administering newly acquired territories.

Peggy Noonan explains why the base may stay home in November. (Note that this may explain why local Rep. Chris Cannon shows signs of being in trouble, too. With luck, so is Jim Matheson.)

Orson Scott Card writes, "American Soldiers and How We Use Them." You should read it, because no one in Hollywood or the Democratic National Committee will. The soldiers I know fit Card's descriptive praise.

What's In a Movie?

Best of all, see the George Will article under Favorites above.

Andrew Klavan's piece is a close second. Here's a long excerpt:

There's a difference between a humble nation confessing its sins and a country of flagellants whipping themselves for every impure thought. Since the '60s, we have had, it seems, an endless string of war movies, from "Dr. Strangelove" to "Syriana," in which the United States is depicted as wildly aggressive and endlessly corrupt -- which, in fact, it's not; which, in fact, it never has been.

In taking our self-examining ethos to these extremes, we have lost a kind of wisdom, wisdom that acknowledges the complexity of human life but can move through it to find the simple truth again. While assessing the intricate failings of our moral history, many of us have lost sight of the simple truth that the system that shapes us is, in fact, a great one, that it has moved us inexorably to do better and that it's well worth defending against every aggressor and certainly against as shabby and vicious an aggressor as we face today.

Not only have we lost this kind of wisdom, but I think that a handful of elites -- really only a handful of academics, journalists and artists — has raised up a golden counterfeit in its stead. With this counterfeit wisdom, they imagine themselves above the need for patriotism; they fantasize they grasp a truth beyond good and evil, and they preen themselves on a higher calling than the protection of our way of life. And all the while they forget that they imagine and fantasize and preen only by the grace of those who fight and die and stand guard to secure those freedoms that our system alone guarantees.

When war comes, as it always will, and when it is justified, as it is now, some nuances and shades of gray have to be set aside. It is time, instead, for faith and for ferocity. Our enemies have these weapons, after all. Our movies should inspire us to have them too.

Mona Charen says United 93 doesn't deserve its R rating, is an important movie, and surpassed her expectations. She took the kids.

Religious Freedom and the Culture

Maggie Gallagher on the developing conflict between gay marriage and religious freedom. It's a lengthy analysis; here's a short excerpt:

The imbalance in terms of free speech remains clear: People who favor gay rights face no penalty for speaking their views, but can inflict a risk of litigation, investigation, and formal and informal career penalties on others whose views they dislike. Meanwhile, people who think gay marriage is wrong cannot know for sure where the line is now or where it will be redrawn in the near future. "Soft" coercion produces no martyrs to disturb anyone's conscience, yet it is highly effective in chilling the speech of ordinary people.

Don't underestimate the impact of a church losing its tax-exempt status -- the church having to pay property taxes and its members being unable to deduct contributions to it from their taxable income. The prognosis is ominous.

Precisely because support for marriage is public policy, once marriage includes gay couples, groups who oppose gay marriage are likely to be judged in violation of public policy, triggering a host of negative consequences, including the loss of tax-exempt status.

Massachusetts is the test case . . .

[American Jewish Congress general counsel] Marc Stern is looking more and more like a reluctant prophet: "It's going to be a train wreck," he told me in the offices of the American Jewish Congress high above Manhattan. "A very dangerous train wreck. I don't see anyone trying to stem the train wreck, or slow down the trains. Both sides are really looking for Armageddon, and they frankly both want to win."

Homeland Security, Terror, Immigration, Etc.

In telling the tale of one company's work, Jonathan Rauch chronicles the ineptitude of the Homeland Security bureaucracy.

Diana West thinks there might be hope for immigration reform at the state level, while Washington reads the polls and wrings its hands.

Niall Ferguson explains why the next Cold War may not be cold at all -- and might be plural, too.

Joel Mowbray catalogs revelation revelations of Saddam Hussein's terror ties and activities, and the Big Media Acronyms' indifference to the story.

Thomas Sowell wonders if reading the polls on illegal immigration will give Republican Senators a spine.

Jack Kelly explains the meaning of changes in al-Qaida's Iraq strategy.

Max Boot talks about supporting despots, and in the process notes what happens in the world when a weakened American president is believed unable to oppose tyranny as he once did.

Boys and Girls

It seems very old-fashioned of Betsy Hart to suggest that girls should wait for boys to call them. Find out why she does it anyway, and discover the new "List Men." (Okay, okay. What does this have to do with politics? That's almost a non sequitur, since we're all about culture here, too, and the local culture includes a lot of boy/girl stuff. Then again, marriage is the ultimate politics.)

Tom Purcell's mother wants him married. Soon.

Everything Else

Don't look know, but federal tax receipts are up in the wake of tax rate cuts. R. Emmett Tyrrell notes that this fact is nearly unthinkable in Washington.

Mike S. Adams lists his top ten recent conspiracy theories. They're pretty wacky, but don't laugh too quickly. I'll bet at least one of your neighbors believes at least one of them.

Walter Williams asks and answers, "What human motivation leads to the best most wonderful things getting done?" It's basic economics again, but there's a good line here from George Orwell on why we should rehash the basics.

Thomas Bray takes us on a nightmarish little foray into the future, if Congress ends up in Democratic hands after the November election.

George Will probes Senator John McCain's philosophical opposition to freedom of speech. Will describes the essential contradiction in the presidential candidate's position:

Proof that incumbent politicians are highly susceptible to corruption is the fact that the government they control is shot through with it. Yet that government should be regarded as a disinterested arbiter, untainted by politics and therefore qualified to regulate the content, quantity and timing of speech in campaigns that determine who controls the government.

Debra Saunders tells about a California judge who is undermining that state's high school exit exam.

Cal Thomas has a man's book for us to read.

Ryan Krueger and Mike Catalano offer a sensible but rather ho-hum piece on preparing for college costs for children when they're still very young, but the last paragraph is quite insightful. After all the discussion of investments and tax shelters and such . . .

What I want my daughter to learn is more important than any of the above. I want to talk to her about how all of this stuff works. I want her to eventually know how a public school gets built, explaining her bond was an “IOU” so that she will then wonder, as I do, why more people do not understand this simple concept. . . . I want her to know why there are lines at some stores and not at others. I want her to think about how to own the stores, not the stuff on their shelves. If you try this, instead of teaching kids how to wait and hope that something works out, they will learn about decision making instead. This lesson might prove more valuable than all the classes we are saving for.

David Yepsen writes from Iowa about Mitt Romney answering the religious question there. It's an interesting piece with a real howler at the end: Someone asked if Romney's membership in a church that teaches abstinence from (drinking) alcohol means that he's opposed to ethanol. I think my IQ took a momentary ten-point hit as I contemplated such a . . . dizzying . . . intellect.

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