Sunday, December 26, 2004

See you in 2005


Merry Christmas. Thanks for visiting, but I am out of here until the New Year. See you soon.

Friday, December 24, 2004

One More Brevity

Andrew Klavan writes in today's Wall Street Journal:
"One may refuse to accept that there is a meaningful concept of God as one may refuse to accept that there is a meaningful concept of beauty or love. But what is such a refusal in balance with the kiss of your soul mate, or the playing of a Bach cantata, or the overwhelming awareness of God's guidance and care?"
Which rings of the couplet ending this delightful poem published at the very end of Robert Frost's long life:

Accidentally on Purpose

The Universe is but the Thing of things,
The things but balls all going round in rings.
Some of them mighty huge, some mighty tiny,
All of them radiant and mighty shiny.

They mean to tell us all was rolling blind
Till accidentally it hit on mind
In an albino monkey in a jungle,
And even then it had to grope and bungle,

Till Darwin came to earth upon a year
To show the evolution how to steer.
They mean to tell us, though, the Omnibus
Had no real purpose till it got to us.

Never believe it. At the very worst
It must have had the purpose from the first
To produce purpose as the fitter bred:
We were just purpose coming to a head.

Whose purpose was it? His or Hers or Its?
Let’s leave that to the scientific wits.
Grant me intention, purpose, and design –
That’s near enough for me to the Divine.

And yet for all this help of head and brain
How happily instinctive we remain,
Our best guide upward further to the light,
Passionate preference such as love at sight.

( -- Robert Frost, 1962)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Who's being transparent: the Archbishop or the Globe?

Today’s Boston Globe has a story covering an unreleased partial audit of the Archdiocese of Boston, a copy of which it received from a church dissident group (no disparagement is intended by calling them dissidents, it is simply a fact that they are now engaged in a dispute with the Archdiocese). The audit is by Grant Thornton LLP (you may have heard of them in connection with one of their European clients who recently made news – Parmalat). The audit declines to express any opinion about the financial statements of the Archdiocese, which is what G-T wishes they had said earlier about Parmalat.

The Globe story makes a big deal about the difference between the operating deficit figure in the audit compared to one mentioned in a letter of the Archbishop ($20M vs $10M). The Globe story correctly notes the following:
The audit covers only the archdiocese's central fund, which covers the centralized spending and administrative expenses of the archdiocese. The archdiocese's parishes, its endowments, a revolving loan fund, and insurance funds are not included in the audit, nor are the statements of other Catholic institutions affiliated with the archdiocese, such as schools, seminaries, hospitals, charities, and Boston Catholic Television.

The financial openness of the archdiocese has become an issue of growing concern to critics of the archdiocese. Voice of the Faithful, a lay organization, has called for greater disclosure by the archdiocese, and 33 legislators, led by state Senator Marian Walsh, a West Roxbury Democrat, have responded by sponsoring a bill that would require more detailed financial reporting by religious organizations.

The archdiocese has in the past released only the financial statements of its central fund, also the subject of the current audit, and not the statements for parishes or other archdiocesan funds.
Now here is what the Globe story did NOT report. The Archbishop’s letter of November 13, referred to in the Globe story as the source of the $10M deficit figure, said quite a few things about the financial state of the Archdiocese. Here is what the Archbishop wrote (emphasis mine):
The financial situation of the Archdiocese is much worse than most people realize. This is not so much a result of the settlements for the sexual abuse cases which have been paid in great part by the sale of the Archbishop’s Residence and adjacent property, as well as by insurance. The 50 % reduction of annual income to the diocese caused by the scandal has dealt a very serious blow to our local Church. At the same time troubles in the stock market that have adversely affected pension plans and retirement accounts across the country have left us with an unfunded pension liability of $80 million.

The Archdiocese’s operating budget has been slashed by $14 million over the past three years, and we still have an annual $10 million deficit. Subsidies to poor parishes, ethnic apostolates, formation programs, and Catholic schools all are affected. Many parishes are unable to pay their bills. The pension plans for laity and clergy are in danger. $35 million borrowed three years ago to pay operating expenses is exhausted and needs to be repaid. Many communities who meet their expenses do so by selling land and buildings and spending down savings. (In the last nine years parishes have sold 150 pieces of property mostly to pay bills). Some people think that reconfiguration will mean a great surplus of money for the Archdiocese. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have asked the Finance Council to work on a strategic plan for the Archdiocese which I shall share with you. I am committed to financial transparency and to using our human and financial resources for the mission of the Church.
The Finance Council that the Archbishop refers to includes Peter Lynch (famed for the Fidelity Magellan Fund), Thomas Flatley, and other prominent and finance-savvy Bostonians, as well as the CFO of the Archdiocese.

Contemplate this. Faced with a financial crisis, the Archbishop engages Peter Lynch and Co. to develop a strategic financial plan. The haughty pukes at the Boston Globe do not deign to report this fact to their readers in the context of a story about...the Church's financial crisis!

Who is being more straightforward in reporting this financial crisis, the Archbishop or the Boston Globe?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Preparing for the last war

Not all the dinosaurs at Yale are kept in the Peabody museum. Today on the Globe op-ed page Paul Sabin of Yale Law School argues that “Liberals must refight the battles of the past”. Here are some examples of Mr. Sabin busy preparing for the last war:
Who thought that the progressive income tax, authorized by constitutional amendment in 1913, would be up for discussion or that the nation was prepared to revisit fundamental aspects of the New Deal's social compact for retirement security?
Mr. Sabin is perhaps surprised to find that predictions of the end of history were premature.
The liberal consensus on taxes, entitlement programs, the courts, and resource management has become hollow over the past generation, lacking a coherent and vigorously articulated rationale. A generation of progressives who grew up taking these policies for granted have [sic] forgotten how to fight for them effectively. While conservatives have mastered how to incubate and promote radical new ideas like flat or consumption taxes, progressives are poorly organized to articulate the fundamental principles of fairness that underlie the progressive income tax…
Conservatives did this work mostly outside of academia, Mr. Sabin, because they and their ideas are no longer welcome where you work. If you want to “incubate and promote” new ideas, then try to develop a climate of free inquiry, ideological tolerance, and mutual respect, rather than cultivating race consciousness, class and gender struggles, feelings of victimization, and leftist ideological purity imposed in forms like speech codes.
The conservative movement has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few decades developing ideas and leaders, including at the state and regional level…No similar investment has been made on the left.
I would argue that if you added the budgets of college faculties, the left has spent far more money, but in a much less productive environment.

Interestingly, Sabin says “progressives need to push forward a new approach to land management and property rights”. He is on to something there. Deep thinking about property rights could help the left immensely. I am surprised even to hear the term mentioned! And finally:
Yet the Bush presidency is, as Thucydides said, showing that history can be as circular as it is linear. Progressives need to break the current circle open.
Allow me to circle back and note that a just few paragraphs above Mr. Sabin said that conservatives had “incubated radical new ideas”. Hmmm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Globe hits for the cycle

Today's Boston Globe is quite a feast. The op-ed page especially is outstanding. Should one say it is better than the NY Times' op-ed page? Actually, that would be an insult to the Globe. There are five items in today’s paper that caught my attention right off, which is not to say that the other items were uninteresting. Rather, just to say that there is quite a bit of content today. Of the five items, two I found poor, one mediocre, and two simply outstanding. Let us regress then from best to worst.

The highlight of the Globe’s op-ed page is a column written by a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital relating her personal experience as a relief worker in Darfur. This woman "speaks with authority, not like the scribes". It is a superb piece entitled “When the tears came”. Read the whole thing, but remember that Darfur (like any other case of genocide that is euphemistically referred to in the press as a “humanitarian disaster”) is a purely man-made disaster.

Second, Joan Vennochi continues her streak as a Democrat of startling candor by noting that a presidential nomination of Hillary Clinton would likely be a huge disaster for the Democrats. A few of tasty samples from Joan's column:
Anyone but Hillary. The political year ends with Democratic Party leaders searching for a new moral compass -- and concluding, foolishly, that morality is only a focus group away. Blaming the November loss on issues like abortion, they want to be for and against it. With finesse and spin, Democrats long to believe red-state voters will return to them in 2008 -- even though it didn't work in 2004.

It definitely won't work if Hillary Clinton is leading the charge.

Democrats lost the values debate, first to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, before losing ground to abortion and gay marriage. It explains why George W. Bush was able to sidle into the White House in the first place. Hillary Clinton is part of the party's problem, not part of the solution. Whether you view her as Bill Clinton's victim or co-conspirator, she helped take the country down the path of half-truths and bold lies, from "I didn't inhale" to "I did not have sexual relations with that woman . . . "

The bumper stickers are correct. No one died when Clinton lied. But something was extinguished: respect for the office, the man, his wife, and the truth. It is difficult to imagine red state voters separating Hillary Clinton from the personal immorality of the Clinton presidency.
Thanks, Joan, but remember that among others, folks like Marc Rich (and through his work, Saddaam) benefited greatly from such “personal” immorality.

Joan ends with a small year-end note thanking her readers especially those who could “express their passion with eloquence and civility”. Joan is certainly close to the most eloquent columnist in the Boston Globe. She is doubtless the most civil.

Moving on to mediocrity, Ollie has a column on Putin and the Yukos case.
…Yukos is a classic example of what Putin is doing to Russia in the interests of his increasingly powerful clique. The Yukos case should be seen as an integral part of a disturbing pattern -- the brutality associated with the suppression of the Chechnya rebellion, the meddling or worse in Ukraine's recent election, sharply higher military spending, and escalating anti-US rhetoric in Russia's public square, press intimidation, and actions against political opponents.
Compared with what? Sure Putin is one scary bastard, Ollie. But if you allow your time horizon to extend back to 1917 instead of 1991, the pattern is one of vast improvement and even Putin also appears to be an improvement -- certainly preferable to most of his predecessors; Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev, Breshnev, or Andropov.

The real problem with this case is that Yukos’ Khodorkovsky is nothing but a larcenous oligarch, and there has NEVER been in Russia any regime that respected either property rights or the rule of law. If you wanted to find the Russian regime that came closest to such respect, you would have to go back to the Czars. Even in the fertile fantasy world of Ollie, one can't paint Khodorkovsky or any other Russian oligarch as some kind of democrat. Ollie can glibly paint Condi Rice with a little slime, though:
Given that Russia is just about the only subject that incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice actual [sic] has expertise in…
Unlike the vast sea of knowledge represented by certain mild-mannered op-ed columnists for Boston's finest broadsheet. At least he didn't use the N-word in print.

Now moving on to journalistic poverty, cranky James Carroll comments on the de-politicization of the Gospels' Nativity narratives in the popular imagination. A fair theological point, but Carroll cannot help but use this point to again bludgeon George HW Bush. I suppose if he is going to wrap the Gospel stories all around his viceral hatred for Bush, it is better to do this from a liberal newspaper than from a pulpit. Example:
...if the [gospel] story were told today with Roman imperialism at its center, questions might arise about America's new self-understanding as an imperial power. A story of Jesus born into a land oppressed by a hated military occupation might prompt an examination of the American occupation of Iraq.
Finally, former Globe Ombudsman Mark Jurowitz writes a very unbalanced and press-centric story (!) about the need for a new shield law to protect journalists who are compelled by state and federal courts to reveal their sources. In the whole story, he never once touches on the most fundamental question involved; In today's world of unfettered information distribution, Markie, how would the new law determine who is a journalist and who is not?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Transparency: a virtue for the 21st century

For some time I have been thinking about and wanting to write about "transparency" -- a term used by economists and businesspeople to describe the degree of corruption present in business dealings and in dealings between business and government. Not surprisingly, there is a very high correlation between the level of transparency enjoyed by country (as measured by these economists) and the standard of living and liberty which citizens of that country enjoy.

Today's Boston Globe carries a story on page A10 which illustrates clearly the hazards of doing business in a country that has a conspicuously low degree of transparency; Russia. It reports on an auction for assets of Yukos, the giant oil producer whose oligarch chairman is under legal assault by the Russian government allegedly for avoiding taxes, but likely because he used some of his vast financial resources to support politicians who were in competition with the Putin government.

The irony here is that in the auction for assets of Yukos an unknown firm bid $9.3 billion and entered the only two bids in the auction, in effect raising its own bid. This mysterious firm applied for permission to enter the auction the day after a U.S. court ruling caused an international banking consortium to pull its financial backing from the state-owned Gazprom, the other (non-bidding) auction participant. This interesting excerpt appears in the printed Boston Globe, but not yet in the Globe online:
"It would be unprecedented for a new player to both perform its own internal due diligence and to raise the $9.3 billion in 3 days", said attorney Rhett Campbell, a specialist in energy bankruptcy issues with the Houston firm Thompson & Knight.

The auction started at 4 PM Moscow time; bidding lasted 10 minutes. The Baikal group opened with the starting price of $8.6 billion, then raised its bid to $9.37 billion.

"When does that ever happen?" Harris said. "I'm thinking they did this to a misguided efforts to show that the auction was fair because the assets actually went for more than the minimum bid."
UPDATE: The NY Times has a far better story on the same event here.

Sure you have enough troops, Rummy?


Martyrs for freedom (AP Photo)

Monday's Boston Globe carries this disheartening photo of the murder of 2 Iraqi election workers in Baghdad by terrorist "insurgents". This is their latest tactic in their strategy to terrorize the nacent democracy of Iraq.

How much happier the outcome might have been had a few US soldiers or Marines armed with M-16s been in the area, instead of a photographer. While they might not have been able to save these poor men from being murdered, they would have been willing and able to dispatch the murderers into the waiting arms of 92 virgins -- thus preventing them from repeating this crime against democracy.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Taxing Blues

Saturday's Boston Globe has a front page story concerning the future of the alternative minimum tax. The AMT was devised in 1969 as a means to tax those high income individuals who hide large portions of their income in tax shelters. Enacted to without an inflation index and thus exhibiting the phenom know as "bracket creep", given Bush's federal tax cuts the AMT will impact large numbers of Americans in the upper and upper middle incomes over the next 5-6 years unless repealed or restructured. Ironically, the greatest proportion of individuals who will be subject to the AMT reside in states with generally high incomes and high state and local taxes -- the Blue states.

There is certainly a measure of rich irony in hearing stalwart Democrat Congressman Marty Meehan fretting (in front of microphones and camera of course) that the Bush administration's future tax policies will hit the well-to-do among his constituents. Says Meehan, "if this tax is not fixed, virtually every four person family in Massachusetts making $75,000 a year will have its taxes automatically increased by the AMT".

Wasn't just a month or two ago that Mr. Meehan's party was proclaiming to anyone who would listen that President Bush's tax policy was to lower taxes on the rich in place this burden on the backs of lower income Americans? Oh well.

One conservative tax advocate wants to extract a pound of flesh in return for reforming the AMT:
Some Republicans have suggested leaving the minimum tax in place because those hardest hit tend to be in states that did not support Bush, including Massachusetts, California, and New York. ‘‘It is a tax of people living in ‘blue’ states,’’ said Grover Norquist, the conservative activist who heads Americans for Tax Reform.

He said the tax was originally conceived by liberal Democrats as a way of imposing higher taxes mostly on wealthier Republicans, and he suggested that it be used as a bargaining chip by the White House when Bush tries to enact his tax agenda. The minimum tax should be repealed only when Democrats ‘‘say they are sorry and offer to give us something in return,’’ Norquist said.

The 10 states with the highest percentage of people paying the minimum tax all voted for Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts for president last month, according to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice. But the state with the 11th highest percentage was Ohio, the state that went narrowly for Bush and decided the election.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Admitting the obvious at KSG, but not at MSM

In today's Boston Globe there is a report on a seminar last night at the Kennedy School of Government where both presidential campaign managers spoke. Reporting on Mary Beth Cahill, who for certain was one of Kerry's campaign managers:
"At another point, Cahill dwelled on the 'Swift Boat ads' -- anti-Kerry advertisements about his war service initiated by a group of former Vietnam veterans. Cahill appeared still vexed by the ordeal, calling the initially small advertising buy 'the best $40,000 investment ever made by any political group.' Whether the campaign reacted quickly enough has been the source of some of the greatest post-game disputes, with some Kerry advisers insisting they had argued for a tougher response."
Such a big deal it was that at the time for 2+ weeks the Boston Globe, the New York Times, network news, and CNN all decided to say absolutely nothing about it. Exchanging their own credibility for…for what?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Claudia

I admire Claudia Rosett more than any other journalist. Since Michael Kelly died in Iraq, Claudia has become #1 in my book. Here is a clip from her Wednesday OpinionJournal column:
"Ukraine is telegraphing around the globe a reminder that freedom brings with it the great gift of dignity. That is precisely why it is so stirring to watch such revolutions. They speak to the best part of the human spirit, because we are witnessing people, often against big odds and at great risk, recovering their self-respect. "
I agree. Read the whole thing.

One reason why this blog's readership is small


DOH! Why didn't I think of this?

Leaving Show Business to the Pretty Folks

Today’s Boston Globe has more interesting stories than can be blogged. The continuing fiasco of Catholic parish closings is covered here. In OpEd territory, Scott Lehigh gives the Democrats a good j’accuse over the party’s destructive relationship with narcissistic Hollywood stars. The choices bits of his critique:
The avidity with which some prominent Democrats later embraced Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- a film whose thought-provoking antiwar message was cloaked in cockamamie conspiracy theories and drenched with disdain for Bush -- reflected their misreading of the country's anxious, uncertain mood. The image of Moore ensconced in former President Jimmy Carter's box at the Democratic National Convention showed that that mentality had infected even the highest reaches of the party…
Exactly right. I have tried to find an image of Moore and Carter sitting together on the Internet without success. That image is seared – seared – in my memory as an icon of the malady that has so damaged this poor party.
Other stars may have helped Kerry raise money, but they also served to embarrass him, putting their unbridled contempt for Bush on proud display during a July fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall. Whoopi Goldberg indulged in a long riff that used the name Bush as a sexual pun. Chevy Chase belittled Bush's intelligence and mocked his pronunciation of "terrorist" and "nuclear." (Didn't Jimmy Carter mispronounce the latter word too?) John Mellencamp sang a song that called Bush a "cheap thug who sacrifices our young." And so it went. Kerry then made the mistake of saying that the stars had conveyed to the audience "the heart and soul of our country." His campaign was soon on the defensive, left to assert the performers' right to express their opinions, while stipulating they did not necessarily reflect Kerry's views.
This is just political common sense. So why did it go unsaid during the campaign?
Now, the celebrities' contempt may well mirror the sentiment of confirmed Democrats.
Hmmm. Hatred animating the Democratic Party mainstream? Surely not, Scott! Unmentioned by Lehigh is the 42nd US president, who elevated the Washington-Hollywood connection to a core party value.

Of local interest in today’s Globe is a story on WBUR, the PBS radio station owned by Boston University, but run until recently as the personal fiefdom of its former general manager, Jane Christo. Christo’s lawyer states that “The reality is that oversight of WBUR's financial affairs, personnel practices, legal and contractual policies is and was rigorously determined by Boston University."

Later even more hilariously, the BU Veep who allegedly oversaw the operation of the radio station says ‘''I have never had a complaint by an employee about Jane, [and] I've never had anybody criticize Jane who were members of the [WBUR] advisory board."

"See no evil", indeed! Take a management hint, sir, that nobody complains too much about dictators when they are known to be ruthless. I guess he never tried asking Christopher Lydon about how it was to work for Christo.

Finally a story that conservative Christians are trying to put the mention of Christmas back into what has become “the Holiday Season”, including local boycotts of stores that refuse to identify the Christmas holiday.

What I find interesting about our culture’s hedging on this point is that the religious meaning of Christian holidays is not a topic that is mentionable in polite public or press conversations, and certainly not in schools! One can respectfully mention the religious significance of Hanukkah or even Kwanzaa, but discussion of Christmas is largely limited to Rudolph and Santa, while Easter is all eggs and bunnies.

A note to slower-learning Democrats: becoming the party of Scrooge will not help you win more states in 2008.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Fund on Blogs

John Fund writes on blogs in OpinonJournal:
"Online journalism gives critics of the media a way to talk back, a platform from which to point out bias, hypocrisy and factual errors. And if the criticisms are on target, old-media institutions can't help but take note."
While the end of John’s article is a bit too fanciful, the beginning is right on. Blogging means the possibility of wide distribution to anybody with an idea that appeals to some audience. It is the most fundamental change in the state of the equilibrium between individuals and media since the printing press. It is important not because bloggers are any better or worse than anybody else, but because it gives a voice (but not an audience) to anyone who is motivated to seize the opportunity. Believers in a free press delight in this. Elitists do not. I hold with the former. John Fund reports that some in South Dakota’s media elite are unhappy with the development:
"Patrick Lalley, the [Sioux Falls] Argus Leader's assistant managing editor, acknowledges that the blogs had an impact on how his paper covered the [Daschle-Thune] Senate race. They certainly got under the skin of some of the paper's executives. Randell Beck, executive editor of the Argus Leader, called some of the bloggers work "crap" and said they represented an organized effort by conservatives to discredit his paper. In July, he explained to readers that "true believers of one stripe or another, no longer content to merely bore spouses and neighbors with their nutty opinions, can now spew forth on their own blogs, thereby playing a pivotal role in creating the polarized climate that dominates debate on nearly every national issue. If Hitler were alive today, he'd have his own blog."
That last sentence is no doubt true, but think of the implications! Blogs can only play a "pivotal role" when they fill a vacuum left by the mainstream [influence-driven] media. Take for example the Swift Boat Vets in this context. Their work was explictly ignored by the MSM for quite some time, but to no avail. The Swities won. Nobody any longer believes that Kerry spent Christmas in Cambodia, and that fact is now seared -- seared-- in our collective memories.

As for Hitler, he could never open his own blog up for comments without getting flamed, and he would be driven insane by the comments that other bloggers would make concerning his nut-case ideas. Would that blogs had been around to criticize a nascent Hitler (or Lenin for that matter).

Another near miss for the KGB

Somebody in the Lubyanka muffed this assignment and now they likely have poisoned the future PM of Ukraine. This is reminiscent of their most famous blundered hit in May 1981, when their colleagues in Bulgaria tried to do away with a stubborn Pole who was causing much trouble for the Soviet Union, Poland, and the Warsaw Pact.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Getting The Tree




How does the Christmas season work? Is there not one moment for each person that marks the start of this season, changes our attitude, and softens our hardened hearts?

For me this year, as usual, it was the moment when our family went out to find our tree and bring it home. That event happened tonight in spite of rainy and miserable weather. The idea of tramping around a muddy lot in the dark and the cold rain looking for a tree seemed flatly insane. But who is to say no to a family tradition when others are willing and eager? Off we went.

Negotiating, discussing, sinking into mud, complaining, deciding, and finally purchasing the precious item, we tied it securely to roof of the family minivan and drove home. With the right tree resting on our deck and waiting to be put up tomorrow, it now feels as though the season is beginning.

I hope that yours begins soon. Merry Christmas.


DUST OF SNOW

The day a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-Robert Frost

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Re-branding the Democrats

Today’s Boston Globe OpEd page has an interesting piece by Douglas J. Hattaway about an effort to re-brand the Democratic Party. Hattaway essentially equates branding with the party’s platform:
The most critical element of all is a strong brand identity that resonates with voters. All the marketing savvy in the world won't work without a compelling message. A team of political communications, marketing, and branding professionals is being gathered now to set about re-branding the Democrats.

This effort will produce a strong statement of the party's values, vision for the country, and governing philosophy. The DNC can play a leading role in delivering this message skillfully and consistently.
No doubt that message delivery is the DNC’s proper role, but consensus about a new party platform isn’t the same thing and will be far more difficult to develop. That is for the politicians to figure out, not for unctuous political consultants.

Another remark that made me chuckle is this:
To his credit, [DNC Chair Terry] McAuliffe made investments in infrastructure with a powerful new voter database…
Yes indeed he did, with a little help from the folks at PBS.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Having the whole enchilada

The honeymoon is over for same-sex cohabiters. A front page article in today’s Boston Globe is headlined “Unmarried gay couples lose health benefits”. True enough, but this is not another case of gay-bashing by the Religious Right. Instead, now that Massachusetts has legalized gay marriage some large employers in the state are applying identical benefit eligibility criteria to both straight and gay couples.

Does this cause rejoicing among the special interest groups who litigated for the legalization of gay marriage? Not exactly. For a reaction the Globe turns to its usual source, GLAD (an acronym that could also stand for Gays Litigating with Ampersands Doubled). What response do they get? A whine! Here it is:

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, a New England advocacy organization, argues that taking [benefits for unmarried couples] away is an unfair hardship, because the decision to marry is still more difficult for gay and lesbian couples. Unlike opposite-sex married couples, gay married couples will have to pay taxes on their benefits to the Internal Revenue Service, because federal law defines marriage as a partnership solely between a man and a woman. Gay marriage can also jeopardize enlistees' military status, and gay couples who marry may be barred from international adoptions. Some said they simply aren't ready to marry just because a longstanding barrier to marriage was suddenly lifted.
An unfair hardship, indeed. Welcome to legal matrimony, folks! While now open to all couples in Massachusetts, it is still advisable only for adults. Please grow up.

Is that the world’s smallest violin I hear?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

We are all Natalists now

In the latest explaining of the Red/Blue phenomenon, it reduces to one's attitude toward one's role as a parent. People who take this responsibility very seriously are now labeled as natalists. David Brooks explains in the NY Times.

"If you wanted a one-sentence explanation for the explosive growth of far-flung suburbs, it would be that when people get money, one of the first things they do is use it to try to protect their children from bad influences."
Meaning chiefly low achieving and unresponsive school systems. School systems that are both dysfunctional and so dogmatically egalitarian that they offer no enrichment track or other option to their more academically oriented pupils, because that policy is “elitist”. Out of fashion. Racist. Not PC.

My Asian friends -- natives of Singapore, Taiwan, and China -- shake their heads in utter disbelief at the stupidity of such a policy. Me, I just live in the burbs where it is very possible for the school superintendent to know my name...and to listen seriously to my concerns. Brooks continues:

"So there are significant fertility inequalities across regions. People on the Great Plains and in the Southwest are much more fertile than people in New England or on the Pacific coast.

You can see surprising political correlations. As Steve Sailer pointed out in The American Conservative, George Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and 25 out of the top 26. John Kerry got the 16 states with the lowest rates.
Those are interesting statistics, but I don’t believe the causation. It comes down to schools. If cities offered a superior education to superior students, those programs would have waiting lists, as does Boston Latin. But city school systems by and large don't. So the exodus of families continues, for those with the means to choose an alternative.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Thin-skinned Academics

Two OpEd pieces caught my eye in today's Boston Globe. First, Oliphant insists that Kofi Anan is being made a scapegoat for the massive corruption of the UN’s Oil-for-food program.
Just what is it that the guy has done? The answer is nada. It turns out there is no evidence that he did anything while the notorious and corrupted oil-for-food humanitarian program was operating in Iraq during the 1990s and beyond. This lack of even a charge comes in the face of Annan's unequivocal denial that he ever had a single thing to do with, or any specific knowledge about, any of the deals made while the mess of a program was operating.
If he didn’t know this UN-sponsored program was corrupt, then he and a few editors of liberal newspapers were the only folks on this planet who didn’t. Ollie goes on:

Oil-for-food was a mess, and Annan made a world-class goof in appointing an apparently corrupt official to run it. Instead of easing the impact of UN sanctions on Iraqi civilians, the program was an opportunity for profiteering both by businesses and by Saddam Hussein.

The problem, as Senator Levin points out, is that the US government as well as the entire Security Council had complicit knowledge of just how dirty the program was. Members worked hard to make sure Iraq did not use earnings for weapons of mass destruction.

However, as Levin also points out, Presidents Clinton and Bush decided against cracking down on allies like Jordan and Turkey that were buying oil illegally from Iraq in violation of the sanctions regime, which makes current attempts to put the mess on Annan's shoulders borderline ludicrous.
There is a point for Ollie here. The root cause of the problem is that Bush “41” decided not to overthrow Saddam’s regime during the first Gulf war. This cost hundreds of thousands of Kurds their lives. They had staked their own lives on that expectation because the US had urged them on. While the US was not willing to overthrow Saddam, it insisted on maintaining economic sanctions.

The oil-for-food program was a classic case of the bleeding-heart response to the hardships which prolonged economic sanctions (rather than regime change) imposed on the Iraqi people. It was promoted as a UN-administered program that would provide food and medicine to the needy in exchange for oil, while preventing the regime from using the money to acquire weapons. The best the US could do was work to keep the program from financing WMDs, but in dealings between the Iraqi regime and the UN, nobody could prevent wholesale corruption (except perhaps the leadership of the UN…and who might that be?). The fact that this program turned into the largest example in history of corruption in place of humanitarian aid is just another “unintended consequence” of do-gooders gone wild. It is hardly a case for keeping Kofi in place at the ethical hell-hole that the UN has become under his leadership.

Second, and of lesser interest but still amusing is Ellen Goodman’s whine about the shocking discovery that college faculties in the liberal arts are overwhelmingly populated by staunch political liberals. Ellen responds:
But as someone who has long argued that people tend to hire those they feel comfortable with, I get the idea. I also get the idea of ideological diversity. You can, after all, have ethnic and gender pluralism along with intellectual uniformity. The Bush Cabinet is the case study of a multicultural rainbow of political clones.
This remark conveniently ignores the huge difference between the mission of the Cabinet and a university faculty. The former is charged with administration of the executive branch; with executing the policies of the President. Wide sharing the President’s point of view is a real asset in this endeavor.

On the other hand, an organization whose very mission is the exploration of new ideas handicaps itself in that mission when it becomes a comfortable enclave of people who are ideologically like-minded. Both organizations can have too much group-think, and must maintain some balance. However open ideological challenge and free inquiry are supposed to be the stock-in-trade of any academic discipline. The fact that this is no longer the case is likely a root cause of the decline in academic influence in our culture and politics since the 1960s.

Rather than calling for another program of affirmative action, I would hope that bringing such a situation to light repeatedly might bring about some change just through shame, even in the shame-averse post-Clinton era. A letter to the Globe by a professor at Tufts shows how difficult that will be though:
Given that these conservative ideas now drive the actions of the world's lone superpower, it's frightening that, when many of them are subjected to rigorous and honest critique, no one can make a legitimate argument to justify them. Instead, held up to the light of careful consideration, the simplistic assumptions sustaining our economic, foreign, scientific and social policies disappear like the emperor's new clothes. That's why they have so few disciples among those trained to think, analyze, and understand.
Ah, so that’s why college faculties are so liberal. Would that we poor unfortunates working outside of college faculties had been “trained to think, analyze, and understand”. Maybe they should do some more teaching in colleges. I personally spent 4 years studying at this professor’s current employer and apparently somehow missed the boat.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Half the world would be thankful for this

A page 1 story in today’s Boston Globe headlined “Libido drug for women poses debate” has me on the floor. Here is the story with my honest reactions sprinkled in:

Government science advisers are expected to decide today whether to recommend approval of the first ''female Viagra," a hormone patch that supporters say will reignite the sex lives of millions of women. But critics [there are always critics, even for this!] worry [don’t they, though!] it will be overused and expose women to unforeseen long-term side effects.

Intrinsa, a testosterone patch made by Procter and Gamble, is one of about a dozen medications that companies are scrambling to get on the market after the success of Viagra and other male sexual dysfunction drugs, which analysts estimate will gross $1.8 billion this year.

Supporters of Intrinsa say sexual dysfunction, like many other women's health problems, [a problem for whom, she asks] was long neglected by medicine [perhaps due to male domination of the field] and that the drug will draw much-needed attention to a problem most women did not realize was treatable [or realize that it was a problem].

''This is the nuclear bomb of women's sexual health -- it doesn't get any bigger than this," . [Don’t say that to a woman!] Dr. Irwin Goldstein, director of the Institute for Sexual Medicine at Boston University, said of Intrinsa. He said the drug could transform female sexual dysfunction into a curable disorder [from a characteristic of gender?] in much the same way antibiotics changed the treatment of infectious diseases. Goldstein has been a consultant to a number of companies, including Procter and Gamble, but said he was not involved with any of the Intrinsa trials.

However, some doctors and sex therapists contend that arousal is more complicated in women than men [There is one startling scientific discovery! Hold this year's
Nobel Prize in medicine for these folks.], involving a mix of psychology, evolutionary biology, hormone balance, and age. [plus yard work, garage-cleaning, showering, cajoling, flowers, and groveling, etc.] They believe that women's sexual problems [!] are less likely to be treatable with a drug alone.

Moreover, they say that Intrinsa is the latest example of drug companies trying to expand their markets by manufacturing a disorder and a cure. As it has done with other lifestyle drugs, such as the hair-loss treatment Propecia, the industry is seeking to ''medicalize" middle age, these critics say.

''A shift in how we view normality . . . will be subtly imposed on the public through advertisement," said Leonore Tiefer, a clinical psychologist from New York University. ''There are people who are suffering, but there are far more people who are just curious."

The scientific advisory panel's recommendation will go to top administrators in the US Food and Drug Administration, whose decision will be closely watched because of recent concerns about the adequacy of the agency's monitoring of the safety of drugs after they are approved. Merck recently withdrew the painkiller Vioxx after five years on the market, because of an increased risk of heart attacks in patients taking the medicine. Critics say the FDA should require longer-term studies of drugs' side effects before approval and should scrutinize drugs more carefully after they are on the market.

Critics worry that the testosterone patch, which is worn on the abdomen, could have negative long-term side effects, like the increased risk for breast cancer that was discovered years after replacement therapy for another hormone, estrogen, became a popular treatment for side effects of menopause.

''Women have been subjected to horrible hormone experiments by the pharmaceutical companies. I hope we don't have amnesia about this," Tiefer said.

Female sexual dysfunction, defined [by whom?] as decreased interest in sex and an absence of sexual fantasies, was estimated to affect 43 percent [thank God for the Heinz 57!] of adult women in the United States in a much-cited study published in 1999, but the data's credibility has been challenged because of the methods used and the fact that one author was a consultant for six drug companies and another helped advise Pfizer during the development of Viagra.

Procter and Gamble is initially seeking approval of Intrinsa for only a small percentage of these women: those who have had their ovaries removed and are taking estrogen. The ovaries produce testosterone, which is thought to have a role in sexual desire.

In studies of women who had undergone ovary removal surgery or were menopausal, women taking Intrinsa for six months reported that they experienced an average of one additional episode of intercourse, masturbation, or oral sex every four weeks compared with women given an inactive patch [that’s a start!]. The women on Intrinsa also reported greater sexual desire, with less feelings of distress. Side effects like acne, hair growth, or deepened voices occurred in women taking the drug, but were rare. The studies were reported at medical conferences.

Dr. Alice Mark, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who was not involved in Intrinsa studies, said they were ''well done," but she noted an interesting effect: ''Even women using a placebo patch also had an increase in sexual functioning, and probably what that indicates is that anyone who is willing to go out and do something for sexual function will have some results." [thanks for that tidbit!]

If the FDA approves Intrinsa for women without ovaries, doctors would be allowed by law to prescribe the drug ''off label" to any patient. Critics fear [there they go again!] that the drug would be widely advertised to consumers, and that the ads, by playing on women's insecurities about sex [I hadn’t noticed those!], would spur millions to seek prescriptions.

Before prescribing the patch to women with functioning ovaries, a group that was not included in the Intrinsa studies, doctors would probably use blood tests of hormone levels and questionnaires about sexual satisfaction to determine who might benefit from the drug.

But Mark said it is difficult to tell whether women have normal or low levels of testosterone because tests are inexact and no norms have been established. Without an accurate testosterone level, she said, it would be hard to say whether a woman was a good candidate for the patch.

Goldstein already treats some women for sexual dysfunction with an ''off-label" testosterone patch intended for men. One of those patients, a 58-year-old Andover woman, is eager for Intrinsa to be approved.

After her daughter was born 29 years ago, sex dropped off the radar screen for the woman. ''Desire was gone, arousal was gone, everything just disappeared."

Two and a half years ago, she went to Goldstein and began getting testosterone therapy, and six weeks later something strange began to happen, she said. ''I was walking down the canned-food aisle in the supermarket and I started to think about sex." [Shocking behavior for a female. Can't she hold off such thoughts at least until she gets to the meat aisle?]