Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Monday, October 30, 2006

U.S. newspapers losing their grip

Wow, circulation really has fallen across the board for most U.S. daily newspapers (via DrudgeReport). We kind of thought so, and now data confirms it. As Michelle Malkin points out, one newspaper beats the trend:

Hemorrhaging left-wing newspapers could learn a thing or two about gaining and keeping readers from the NYPost, don't ya think?

The New York Post is increasing circulation:

"This is a joyous occasion for the paper and its readers," said Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. "The first question we ask every morning is what do our readers - our bosses - want to see in tomorrow's paper. And then we get it for them - the best sports in town, great gossip and features, hard-hitting news, and opinion that shapes the debate."

In other words, the staff of the Post run their paper the old-fashioned way, primarily as a business trying to serve customers instead of like a bureaucratic or philanthropic agency trying to shape public opinion and behaviors to their liking or to "make a difference in the world." I have a sense the Post is pretty well in touch with who their customers are and what their customers want for their money. You can think of this as crass commercialism that perverts the incentives behind journalism if you want to, but most of the time giving the people what they want is not so bad a deal:

At Dell Computers, employees are trained not simply to assemble computers to sell online but to address the individual problems of customers. "We used to focus on how many calls we could take per hour," says Manish Mehta, senior manager for Dell services online. "Now we focus on first-time resolves--solving the problem once and for all--even if that means talking longer with a customer." Michael Dell is now worth $16 billion because he has focused on consumers' needs....

Adam Smith noted that by pursuing his own interest the businessman advances the welfare of society even more effectively than when he tries to do so directly. Smith’s analysis of capitalism is entirely based on the beneficial social consequences of entrepreneurship. Indeed one could say that over the years the entrepreneur has in practice done more to serve people than all the goodwill efforts sponsored by governments, churches and philanthropic organizations put together....

Here's my personal anecdote about newspapers. I call it, "Did I get big, or did the papers just get small?"

Until the last few years I could call myself a lifelong newspaper junkie. I remember playing with newspapers, drawing lines around the text blocks, admiring the typefonts, and clipping the graphics out of the ads to save before I was even old enough to read. I began regularly reading my hometown newspaper as a kid when the comics and Ann Landers' advice column were not to be missed. These were the "gateway drugs" into that regular window on a larger world of "current events" beyond my humble domestic bliss that our newspaper offered. School projects and class assignments focusing on world and national events habituated me to becoming a more regular and wider reader. Alternative and competing newspapers became other interesting voices to consider and analyze as I reached my teens (and even began writing for a couple). By the time I was grown, I had the monkey on my back: I had to read my morning paper each day, and whenever I went anywhere on vacation, I loved to buy a local paper to see what was on people's minds.

The major newspaper here in my current metropolitan area was the final straw that turned me off and shut down my daily newspaper addiction. It wasn't just because our local rag leans profoundly left (an irksome trait, but not unbeatable, as I learned by living with and valuing the benefits of the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times in years and locations past). Admittedly, our local major paper's obnoxious editorial slant, blatently Bush-bashing headlines, and cherrypicked story coverage repelled me, but that was not the deal-breaker.

I would say the final blow was realizing that I just was not the market this newspaper was catering to. In fact, I felt invisible to my local newspaper. I could feel the wind whistling through me every time I read it. I did not care about the hiphop artistes, sports figures, or local icons and community figures my newspaper seemed to tout; I did not recognize many of the names of seemingly shallow celebrities the paper devoted many column inches to, while seriously slighting national and international news stories or commentary and coverage of what I'd consider pressing issues. I also did not appreciate the editorial focus and graphic nature of some of the news coverage (stories about, for example, what goes on inside local strip clubs), which made me think I was in actuality having a tabloid delivered to my home that needed to be put out of sight of the children instead of used to educate them about local, national and world events.

Worst of all, the paper was usually half-filled with Associated Press reprints I'd already read (and found commentary about) on the internet or heard references to on the radio, sometimes days and weeks before. And those were the best-written pieces. The killing blow was the bad writing and the horrible copyediting on the locally written stories. Sometimes I couldn't tell what was going on or who people were or where things happened until many paragraphs into an article. Often after reading a whole feature or news article I still wouldn't know important facts like when or where something took place, or what the background context for the story was (something which the Los Angeles Times in particular used to be very good at providing). I am not kidding: my son, then in middle school, could write with better organization, clarity, grammar, spelling, and punctuation than this major metropolitan daily could manage, even with the very obvious overuse of its spellchecker--and its pretentions of authority.

Ptui. Why pay good money to support such a poor performance and product and make these dunderheads think I actually needed or admired their work? Especially when I could find more news and much higher-quality commentary (and better writing) than I can digest each day, with the click of the mouse or the push of a TV or talk-radio button?

I still miss that crisp unread newspaper in my hand each morning as I have my second cup of coffee (now I head off to my computer with my second cup, instead of spreading the morning headlines out on the kitchen table). I miss being able to hand the folded-back paper to my husband or my kids and saying "Hey, lookit this!" An era has certainly ended for newspapers, at least, if not for news junkies. The stiff competition of the new media definitely looms over the dinosaur newspapers. But if you ask me, it was the newspapers that put themselves out of business, forgetting to provide what was important to the literate, thoughtful, educated and hardworking grownups who paid their bills.

Saddest of all is the thought that newly-minted Americans, those foreign immigrants who, as a group, for over a century turned to daily newspapers to hone their English and increase their understanding of American practices, traditions, and values, might soon no longer have such a cheap, easy tool of true assimilation within their reach. Television offers no substantive substitute for that noble use of the American newspaper. We'd better hope the New York Posts of our world can continue to fill the gap by making a profit.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Classic non-fiction for preteens and young teens

Just as I collected a list of classic fiction books for my daughter to read, I'm starting another list of classic non-fiction books to both entertain and educate youngsters from ages 10 and up. The books I'm looking for should be great reading for older teens and adults as well, while being appropriate for kids around fifth grade who are able to "read up."

I don't know why, but it's a little harder to find classic non-fiction books to suit this age bracket. There are many fine non-fiction books for kids, but I am talking about the essential, classic ones we all remember as being not only good reads, but an essentially common experience as well as great, memorable literature that contributed to and changed our lives. My question in compiling this list is, what are the classics of non-fiction we all should be reading, starting around age 10 or so?

For this list I generally try to stick to books written prior to 1960, to avoid inadvertently including any puffball, johnny-come-lately flash-in-the-pans, or books with modern offensive or age-inappropriate content given the seal of approval for "young adults" (lumping 12-year-olds in with all teens) by today's librarians (see my previous rant here).

The Accelerated Reading level of each book, where known, is included in parentheses (these A.R. levels roughly correspond to grades in school, but you need to take them with a skeptical grain of salt). My plan is to make the list and/or the books available to my daughter, and assume she will help herself to to the ones that will appeal to her (or that she finds accessible) in the coming years.

Please add your suggestions in the "comments" section below. Can you think of any classic non-fiction books for preteens and teens that I have forgotten?

My links here to editions are for further informational purposes only; purchase these linked editions of these classics at your own risk....

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (6.5)

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson (5.2) (this is a play based on the life of Helen Keller)

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (6.0)

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (6.7) (and others in the series if desired)

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (5.4)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (5.0)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (5.8)

The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom (6.4)

Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune (and the other dog books, Gray Dawn, Bruce, Wolf, etc.)

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (8.2)

I would also love to find some good biographies of famous people. We've been exploring the Childhood of Famous Americans series in our home, but these don't really cover the adult lives and deeds of historical figures that every American child should be very familiar with--people like George Washington, Ben Franklin, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King. Any suggestions, besides setting my children free in the children's "Biographies" section of the library? Or pointing them to this page?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Classic fiction for preteens and young teens

My daughter is in fifth grade but supposedly reads at the eighth-grade level. Some teachers say it is hard to find fiction that is content-appropriate for younger readers who are able to read above their expected age and grade. Recently I have been trying to supply my daughter with some classic and/or older (pre-1960s), best-loved novels to read in place of the too-easy, age-inappropriate, or scuzzy "contemporary" novels supplied by teachers or libraries (see my earlier rant here).

Here is the start of my list, which I thought I'd share with you. The Accelerated Reading level of each book (roughly corresponding to grades in school, but you need to take them with a skeptical grain of salt) is included in parentheses, where known. My list offers a wide range of reading levels from which to choose for both boys and girls.

Happily, my daughter is eager to light into this list, as she is already familiar with the film versions* of several of these stories, and is willing to be steered toward better books and challenging vocabulary. (She is amazed and delighted, for example, to learn that the book version of The Wizard of Oz is so very different from the beloved Judy Garland movie, and can't wait to see what L. Frank Baum will reveal next!) Many of these classics can be purchased new for around $4 in paperback; some you can find for very low prices in used book or antique stores. Surprisingly, almost all of these books on my list below are in my daughter's elementary school library. Perhaps the teachers and librarians who say it is hard to find appropriate literature for advanced younger readers have forgotten these old chesnuts still exist.

Beware that some book publishers try to pawn off abridged, dumbed-down, or excerpted versions of older classics without being very clear about it. Hold out for the unabridged, original versions--the real thing--good literature and entertaining, challenging, educational reads. Reading aloud to children from challenging books is a great way to acclimate them to tackling such books on their own.

Of course, a kid diving into some of these older books needs someone to chat with about unfamiliar words, outmoded practices, different places and cultures of olden times, and background contexts for the new ideas he or she will learn that won't be covered in the school classroom setting. A parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle (with or without a teaching credential) usually works just fine in this role.

Do you have any other good classics to suggest for preteens and younger teenagers? Please add them in the comments below.

My links here to editions are for further informational purposes only; purchase these linked editions at your own risk....

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott (6.2/8.2?)

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott (6.4)

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (8.1)

Little Women and Good Wives (Parts 1 and 2) by Louisa May Alcott (8.6 & 8.8)

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott (You can tell I liked L.M. Alcott, and read all these books)

The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Anderson* (1952 Danny Kaye movie is memorable!)

Peter Pan* by James Barrie (7.7)

The Wizard of Oz* by L. Frank Baum (7.0/8.1?) (and others in the series)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (6.0)

A Little Princess* by Frances Hodgson Burnett (7.6)

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (7.5)

The Incredible Journey* by Sheila Burnford (7.6/8.5?)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass* by Lewis Carroll (7.8/8.3?)

Pinocchio* by Carlo Collodi (original classic unabridged version)

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (9.2)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (6.7)

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (9.5)

Hard Times by Charles Dickens (9.3)

Oliver Twist* by Charles Dickens (11.5)

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (9.2)

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (8.0)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (8.8)

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (11.3)

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (6.6)

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (6.4)

Johnny Tremain* by Esther Forbes (8.1)

Follow My Leader by James Garfield

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

The Wind in the Willows* by Kenneth Grahame (8.3)

The Complete Grimms' Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (may be too Gothic for your child)

The Jungle Book* by Rudyard Kipling (5.5)

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (4.9)

Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (5.5)

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe* by C.S. Lewis (5.8) (and others in the series)

The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle* by Hugh Lofting (5.4) (and the sequels, if desired)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (7.3/8.0)

White Fang by Jack London (7.7)

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Treasury by Betty MacDonald (6.6?)

Winnie the Pooh stories and other books by A. A. Milne (the non-Disney version)

Gone With the Wind* by Margaret Mitchell (7.1) (I first read this in 6th grade)

Anne of Green Gables* by L.M. Montgomery (7.6) (and the rest of the "Anne" books if desired)

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara (8.2)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma B. Orczy (8.0)

A Dog of Flanders* by Ouida (see also this beautiful film for older children)

Pollyanna* by Eleanor H. Porter (5.5)

Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle (8.0?)

Men of Iron by Howard Pyle (9.0)

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood* by Howard Pyle (8.2)

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (7.3/7.7?)

The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney (6.8/7.9?) (and the sequels if desired)

Heidi* by Johanna Spyri (8.1)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (9.5)

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (7.6/7.8?)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (8.0)

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (my daughter wants to read this after watching the musical, "The King and I")

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (10.0)

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (5.0) (and the sequels, if desired)

Mary Poppins* by P.L. Travers (7.4) (and the sequels, if desired)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (8.0)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (8.3)

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (8.4)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea* by Jules Verne (7.6)

Charlotte's Web* by E.B. White (6.0)

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm* by Kate Wiggin (8.9)

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (6.2)

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (5.5)

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (6.7)

The Swiss Family Robinson* by Johann Wyss (8.9)

I also like the Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter books, but they are too recent to be called "classic children's literature" yet--though I think they will eventually make the pantheon. Some of my suggestions here you may feel are hopelessly outmoded, insufferably irrelevant, downright sappy, or lacking literary heft. You may have a point on a few of these, but remember, it is not an adult, but a child who is reading these books for the first time, with fresh eyes. Acknowledging this, do feel free to comment and suggest better titles.

I must say, putting this list together makes me long to curl up with a good book!

And I can't help but think: Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of passing out lists of books to children for "Banned Book Week," (or anemic attempts at lists of "all-time classic books" replete with modern and postmodern forgettables) librarians and teachers routinely passed out lists of books to children in every grade for "Reading Your Way to an Excellent Education Through Classic Literature Week"?

UPDATE: More great suggestions can be found here. And also here. See also Diane Ravitch's book, The Language Police, which contains the substantial "Atkinson-Ravitch Sampler of Classic Literature for Home and School" as Appendix 2, and Books to Build On: A Grade-by-Grade Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers, Holdren and Hirsch, editors (The Core Knowledge Series), for suggested reading in all subjects for grade levels Kindergarten through sixth grade.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Clash of cultures: we don't need to recreate the Dark Ages, they're still here

Victor Davis Hanson (one of my favorite historians) has written an essay I'd like to share with you. Every paragraph has a zinger (stings because it's true), like these:

The most frightening aspect of the present war is how easily our pre-modern enemies from the Middle East have brought a stunned postmodern world back into the Dark Ages.

Students of history are sickened when they read of the long-ago, gruesome practice of beheading. How brutal were those societies that chopped off the heads of Cicero, Sir Thomas More and Marie Antoinette. And how lucky we thought we were to have evolved from such elemental barbarity.

Twenty-four hundred years ago, Socrates was executed for unpopular speech. The 18th-century European Enlightenment gave people freedom to express views formerly censored by clerics and the state. Just imagine what life was like once upon a time when no one could write music, compose fiction or paint without court or church approval?...

Who would have thought centuries after the Enlightenment that sophisticated Europeans - in fear of radical Islamists - would be afraid to write a novel, put on an opera, draw a cartoon, film a documentary or have their pope discuss comparative theology?

The astonishing fact is not just that millions of women worldwide in 2006 are still veiled from head-to-toe, trapped in arranged marriages, subject to polygamy, honor killings and forced circumcision, or are without the right to vote or appear alone in public. What is more baffling is that in the West, liberal Europeans are often wary of protecting female citizens from the excesses of Sharia law - sometimes even fearful of asking women to unveil their faces for purposes of simple identification and official conversation....

Read the whole thing. (Hat tip to Laura Ingraham.)

Then there's this going on in Australia (via Drudge):

Outrage as Muslim cleric likens women to 'uncovered meat'

A Muslim cleric's claim that women who do not wear the veil are like 'uncovered meat' who attract sexual predators sparked outrage around Australia yesterday.

Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, the nation's most senior Muslim cleric, compared immodestly-dressed women who do not wear the Islamic headdress with meat that is left uncovered in the street and is then eaten by cats.

In a Ramadam sermon in a Sydney mosque, Sheik al-Hilali suggested that a group of Muslim men recently jailed for many years for gang rapes were not entirely to blame.

There were women, he said, who 'sway suggestively' and wore make-up and immodest dress "and then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years. But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he said, referring to the women victims.

Addressing 500 worshippers on the topic of adultery, Sheik al-Hilali added: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it..whose fault is it - the cats or the uncovered meat?

"The uncovered meat is the problem."

He went on: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab (veil), no problem would have occurred."

Women, he said, were 'weapons' used by Satan to control men.

But fear not, there are still men and women among us willing to claim their rightful inheritance of the achievements of millenia of Western Civilization and speak up to the barbarians:

Prime Minister Howard labelled the mufti's comments as 'appalling and reprehensible', adding: "They are quite out of touch with contemporary values in Australia. The idea that women are to blame for rapes is preposterous. I not only reject the comments, I condemn them unconditionally."

I love John Howard, and Hanson too. I love that "outrage around Australia." Some people still know when something stinks and aren't afraid to call it what it is. Thank-you, brothers and sisters of the modern world, keepers of the flame of human rights and reason.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Update on Muslim unrest in France

It's not good: "France Prepares 50,000 Riot Police for Muslim Attacks" (via Instapundit).

See also this: "Why 112 Cars are Burning Every Day"

This is what you get when you appease the "youth" and let them go on and continue to burn cars for fun--they learn how to be really good at it--and graduate to wanting to burn policemen.

Laughing all the way to the polls

If you haven't already seen David Zucker's new political ads, here they are:

The one about the Democrats wanting to tax everything

The one about Democrats being foreign policy appeasers

Sorry, these ads just make me laugh out loud. I haven't found this much amusement in a political election cycle since Reagan was around. It was he who once said,

If my opponent's campaign were a TV show it would be 'Let's Make a Deal.' You'd get to trade your prosperity for the surprise behind the curtain.

Still works for me. Wit, humor, and a grain of truth.

But then, I'm also feeling good lately because I am not convinced at this point that the Democrats will sweep Congress in this coming November 7th election, despite all the deceased citizens, household pets, and illegal aliens who historically and habitually seem to vote for Democrats across the land (Chicago's Daley always comes to mind as the master of these tactics, of course). Given how spectacularly poor the advance opinion polls have performed on predicting election outcomes in the past, I don't necessarily believe the ones that predict the Democrats winning either the House or the Senate, and neither should anybody else. Those who term elections "rigged" because they don't confirm the results of poorly designed and statistically biased advance polls are laughably deluded.

Neal Boortz feels the same way, and points out that the Democrats are already ramping up their excuse to explain a loss after the fact. A tactic, might I say, that insofar as it exaggerates or prevaricates, is not good for our country, nor has it been good for our country the previous times the Democrats have pulled it, either. Not that that consideration would stop a Democrat determined to win an election or hold on to a seat, or in the event of a loss, undermine the legal winner. Their party platform seems to be: "By whatever means necessary." Not surprising, given the number of left-wing socialists, marxists, and anarchists who rally behind Democratic candidates. (Speaking of "by any means necesssary," I wonder who these people will vote for on November 7th? They're still around.)

You don't have to agree with my ascerbic, right-wing views. I'm just voicing my opinion on a blog. I think the realm of ideas, conversation, argument, is where we should be focusing, during elections and always. Above all, we all need to remember to focus on the process--in fact, the proud achievement--of the peaceful passing on of the reins of power in our country under the rule of law. And how we can not only talk about this, but joke about it along the way. We can care about the election outcome, and then manage to live quite well with whatever the results are. We work together as Americans to govern ourselves and our nation. What a rare luxury we Americans enjoy.

UPDATE: Dreamboat reminds me that Republicans are no strangers to "dirty tricks" when it comes to elections, since Richard Nixon came to personify the type. We could argue all day about which party, Republican or Democrat, attracts, supports, and offers cover to more "unhinged" (as Michelle Malkin puts it) or institutionalized dirty election antics. I am not so interested in counting anecdotes (all of them reprehensible) as I am in stressing that any person who runs for public office should be making it clear to ALL of his supporters and staffers that dirty tricks, coercion, bribes, cheating, and dishonesty should not be tolerated and will be punished--and should mean it. And the rest of us (including the election losers) should ultimate be invested more in supporting our election processes and laws than in tearing them down or undercutting other fellow Americans for selfish or partisan purposes. This democratic republic we hold here is fragile and precious. In government of the people, by the people and for the people we must play fair.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Get 'em!

Corrupt U.S. officials on our side of the Southern Border.

Social Security fraud by illegals continues to fund our government. Think of this when you wonder why our politicians are dragging their heels on securing our borders, although a big majority of U.S. citizens want this.

Both links via Neal Bootz, whose quote for today is:

If a person can't tell me why I should vote for them, instead of why I should not vote for their opponent ... perhaps they have nothing to offer!

That's a truism of Civics 101, for you young people. Thomas Sowell amplifies the point in his essay:

The Republican strategy [in 1994], crafted by Newt Gingrich, was to spell out their stands on key issues and to promise to bring those issues to a vote in Congress. They called their agenda "The Contract with America."

It is now clear to all that this year's Democrats are deliberately avoiding spelling out any coherent policy program of their own.

Their strategy is to second-guess, denigrate and undermine Republicans instead of offering an agenda of their own. Rather than having a contract with America, they are seeking a blank check from America. Moreover, they may get it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Time off for real life

Blogging here will be light for several days while I host visiting houseguests.

In the meantime, I hope you are all enjoying autumn to the hilt. I am. I think it's my favorite time of year, despite the increased work of having to rake leaves. I like raking leaves. Plus, having kids in the house who are excited about Halloween's coming is one of life's joys. I am a blessed woman and I know it, as one of those endangered and evidently rare (or not?) species, a howlingly happy housewife.

Dove's "Campaign for real beauty"

I have used Dove soap all my life, and was gratified when a friend recently sent me this, an eye-opening Dove-sponsored graphic video showing the artificiality of media beauty. As the mother of a little girl, I am intensely interested in the subject of pop culture's and advertising's bad effects on female self-esteem. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty is a clever way to examine "freeing our girls from beauty stereotypes." Hear, hear.

It's heartening to find a company working for the good of their customers, instead of taking advantage of and manipulating kids and women to make a buck. I'm going to seek out and start using more Dove products in support of their efforts.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A better way to fund our federal government

As the November 7th elections loom, candidates and incumbants are debating whether it is good fiscal policy to raise taxes or lower them. This tiresome seesaw between Democrat and Republican worldviews has gone on for years and years (as if nothing ever gets learned from experience). Talk about reinventing the wheel!

Me, I think it's past time for a new way to raise the same amount of revenues necessary to fund our government. How about this?

The FairTax plan is a national grassroots campaign to replace federal income and payroll taxes with a progressive national retail sales tax, a "prebate" to ensure no American pays federal taxes up to the poverty level, dollar-for-dollar revenue neutrality, and the repeal of the 16th Amendment. The FairTax legislation is pending in Congress as HR 25/S 25.

Before you laugh, check it out. And do beware, along the way, of detractors who distort what the FairTax actually is. The idea of a national sales tax replacing the current income and payroll taxes has a lot going for it, including a growing level of support in Congress. I believe it would be the best step our country could take to improve its domestic and global fiscal footing. But few elected representatives will get behind the idea without a shove in the back from their informed constituents. Politicians have gotten used to holding the power to tinker with our so-called "tax code" to play favoritism games with special interests.

And who is most against this reform?

Tax favoritism is one of the biggest things lobbyists have to sell. The FairTax renders obsolete those lobbyists [and tax attorneys] whose livelihood depends on further complicating the law. More than half a million Americans are vocal supporters of replacing the current income tax system with a simple, transparent, pro-growth, pro-savings national retail sales tax, and the FairTax now has over 60 congressional co-sponsors. Although some politicians may attack the FairTax, you won’t hear many of them defending the 60,000 page monstrosity that is the current tax system. The truth is that the FairTax is defensible, while the income tax is not.

This book explains more.

What I especially like about the FairTax is that with no more income taxes, the IRS is abolished and never again holds the power to stick its intrusive, abusive, bank-examiner nose into the business and private lives of law-abiding U.S. citizens. Where did our Founding Fathers ever decree that in paying our fair share of taxes we must allow the Government to oversee each and every paycheck we draw and expense we make? How did we ever forfeit our freedoms to an unaccountable Big Brother bureaucracy in this way in the first place? Answer: incrementally and in good faith and ignorance, of course. But our "tax code" has become an unwieldy, arbitrary, marauding devil strangling our nation's citizens and economic well-being, and costing billions in compliance with its arcane rules (even the IRS can't correctly counsel citizens how to comply with its own code).

Enough! We can now figure out how to raise the same revenues in a fairer, simpler, easier way, that incentivizes (instead of penalizes) savings, investments, and wealth-creation.

Let's be smart and do this. What say you, Sons and Daughters of Liberty?

UPDATE: Scott Burns's blog has a good discussion with comments concerning the FairTax (National Retail Sales Tax) replacing the current income tax mess.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Good news for good parents

A warm family life can overcome a genetic disposition toward depression.

It's about time good parents caught a break.

"An election is a choice between two futures"

Conservative idea man and historian Newt Gingrich lays out (with his usual eloquence and pith) the basic issues at stake in the upcoming elections, what we are voting for, and what the consequences may be. It all boils down to terrorism, taxes, and values. Looking at the past voting records of Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel, I think he's right:

The future with a Speaker Pelosi based upon the historic record...

The Democrats' record is clear.

Nancy Pelosi voted against every Republican tax cut. She voted for the largest tax increase in history.

Nancy Pelosi voted 19 times against eliminating the death tax.

Nancy Pelosi voted five times for raising gasoline taxes.

Nancy Pelosi is so pro-high taxes she was one of only 27 members to vote against tax relief for poor neighborhoods in the inner city (presumably including her constituents in San Francisco).

The Future with Charlie Rangel as chairman of Ways and Means based upon the historic record...

Charlie Rangel is the perfect Ways and Means chairman for a Nancy-Pelosi-San-Francisco-values majority. Rangel recently said he "cannot think of one" of President George W. Bush's first-term tax cuts that deserve to be continued.

As the Washington Times noted: "Mr. Rangel, of course, voted against the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, he voted against the 2006 measure that extended the 2003 cuts from the end of 2008 to the end of 2010, and he has vociferously opposed making the 2001 and 2003 cuts permanent."

Failure to sustain the tax cuts would have real impact on people's lives. As the Heritage Foundation reported, the Rangel position would have the following results:
  • Tax rates will rise substantially in each tax bracket, some by 450 basis points;
  • Low-income taxpayers will see the 10-percent tax bracket disappear, and they will have to pay taxes at the 15-percent rate;
  • Married taxpayers will see the marriage penalty return;
  • Taxpayers with children will lose 50 percent of their child tax credits;
  • Taxes on dividends will increase beginning on Jan. 1, 2009;
  • Taxes on capital gains will increase, also beginning on Jan. 1, 2009; and
  • Federal death taxes will come back to life in 2011, after fading down to nothing in 2010.
Heritage estimated that these tax increases would lead to the loss of "more than one million lost jobs each year between 2011 and 2014; more than $100 billion less in economic output per year; slower wage and salary growth; and slower savings growth."

Read the whole thing, there's much more.

Texas Rainmaker hits the highlights and underlines the important points.

I keep wondering which future, if any, will secure our national borders before the next 9/11 (or worse).

Betsy ruminates about the upcoming election and pretty much sums up my feelings:

I guess I just don't expect all that much from our national leaders. I look for the least bad choice when I vote. I rarely am enthusiastic about my choices. So, I'm one of those voters persuaded by the Republican argument that it's enough to vote for them because they're not the Democrats. The GOP might [not] be doing much of what I'd like, but at least they wouldn't be turning the war on terror into a legal exercise....

So, I'm left with this thought: do I really want to vote for politicians who don't even pretend to believe in the issues that are important to me? Or do I want to stay home self-righteous in my conservative indignation? What will be the result - a possible long stretch under the Pelosi and Reid Democrats or a return in two years to a Republican majority that will disappoint me yet again? Given those rather depressing choices, why go and vote for the Republicans? I figure that life is made of choices and those choices are often between two poor alternatives. And, it might not be inspiring, but I figure that I always want the least bad alternative. And this year, the Republicans are the least bad choice. And that's enough for me.

Homeland Security evaluates the threat at the Southwest Border

It's not going to make you sleep any better at night:

The Texas-Mexico border region has been experiencing an alarming rise in the level of criminal cartel activity....

During 2005, Border Patrol apprehended approximately 1.2 million illegal aliens; of those 165,000 were from countries other than Mexico. Of the non-Mexican aliens, approximately 650 were from special interest countries. Special interest countries are those designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism."... [countries like Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Cuba, and others]

Federal law enforcement estimates that 10 percent to 30 percent of illegal aliens are actually apprehended and 10 to 20 percent of drugs are seized. Therefore, in 2005, as many as 4 to 10 million illegal aliens crossed into the United States....
[my bold]

This report describes in detail (with photos and specific examples) the "triple threat" of drug smuggling, illegal and unknown southern border crossers, and rising violence in our border and interior communities, thanks to our porous southern border. It notes that "not all illegal aliens are crossing into the United States to find work.... dangerous criminals are fleeing the law in other countries and seeking refuge in the United States." "Sophisticated and violent" Mexican drug cartels with military-grade equipment (bazookas, grenades, IEDs, assault rifles, sniper sights, bulletproof vests, etc.) are operating on both sides of the border, utilizing terroristic techniques (including beheadings and other murders, kidnappings, and rapes) and working with gangs already operating deep inside the U.S. The report notes that murders and kidnappings on both sides of the border have significantly increased in recent years, directly due to illegal border crossings.

The toll on the U.S. is enormous.

Perhaps most upsetting is the reality of terrorist infiltration:

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigations have revealed that aliens were smuggled from the Middle East to staging areas in Central and South America, before being smuggled illegally into the United States....

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller has confirmed in testimony "that there are individuals from countries with known al-Qa'ida connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic immigrants.["]

Read the report.

Is this an "election issue" or not? Our elected Congressional representatives and our President are utterly and collectively responsible for failing to protect us and our nation in this case. What does your incumbent Congressperson and/or the challenger have to say about this as November 7th approaches?

Hat tip to Denny Shaffer.

UPDATE: The Washington Times covers the release of the Homeland Security report (via Neal Boortz's "Reading Assignments"). But what other media are featuring this?

Monday, October 16, 2006

An autumn weekend at Disneyworld

My ears are still ringing from our family's visit to Disneyworld near Orlando, Florida this past weekend. They sure have some loud P.A. systems there! Plus all that grinding and whooshing and shrieking of machinery and overamplified, nonstop music and announcements and train whistles and boat whistles.... And those roaring vacuuming cleaners now wielded by the groundskeepers, who no longer use those silent 1920's-style carpet sweepers to spirit away litter. After 12 hours spent at large in the Magic Kingdom I was afraid my eardrums would start bleeding. But what a small price to pay for those magical smiles of delight on those fresh younger faces, right? Young eardrums never seem to bleed!

That's how you can tell I am now officially classed as a geezer.

The plusses far outweighed the negatives on this visit for us, and I am so glad we went. The negatives were few. There were the expected crowds at certain times of the day (but the crowds were smaller than they would have been at other times of the year, of course). There was the infamous overpriced food (the only defense here is a mental resignation to forking over $20 every time a kid wants an ice-cream or a drink--and the food is good). And surprisingly, this time we found several FastPass vending machines and even some rides not working smoothly. "Pirates of the Carribean" opened late, while "Snow White," "Splash Mountain," and the "Haunted Mansion" all stopped momentarily while we were riding them. This has never once happened to me before, in all my forty-some years of Disneyland and Disneyworld rides, so three in one day was rather remarkable. But the stoppages did offer us a backstage kind of peek at the "tricks" revealed while we waited. We also cracked jokes, laughed, and sang.

The worst part of the day was at the very end, awaiting in a mob for the ferryboat to take us back to the parking lot, where we were forced to watch looped commercials for Disney attractions featuring a simpering, capering teenage doxy on blaring overhead TVs (the coup de grace for my eardrums). But the mob (with its fleet of baby-strollers) around us was docile, being made up entirely of that endangered species, the American family, in its most exhausted and placidly zombielike state. God bless 'em.

The plusses were countless but included perfect autumn weather, a gorgeously designed and flawlessly maintained physical plant, intelligent and mostly invisible crowd-control and security measures, the FastPass system to speed us to our most-wanted rides, and a day spent together enjoying ourselves, making wonderful memories.

I will always remember us stuck at the top of the plunge on "Splash Mountain," bellowing all the words to "Zip-a-dee Doo-dah." I will always remember my daughter's first "driving" experience at the miniature Indianapolis Speedway. I will always remember my son's first ride (with me behind him--my first ride too) on "Space Mountain." And the "Hall of Presidents," the "Carousel of Progress," "Tom Sawyer's Island," "Small World," and so much more--including seeing all those teensy little visiting children dressed in the costumes of their favorite (or their parents' favorite) Disney characters. For me, visiting a Disney theme park is part nostaglia, part reliving my youth, and mostly, enjoying my children's and all the other children's enjoyment. For them, it is a day of big fun with their family they won't forget.

I don't know who else remembers Walt Disney when they spend a day at Disneyworld or Disneyland, but I certainly do. I recognize that all of this rather significant part of my own past and present was the gift of his imagination and vision to his fellow Americans. Thanks, Walt. You were one of the best.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Muslim woman calls for reform

The New York Times has called her "Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare."

I've just finished reading Irshad Manji's book, The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. What a relief to find a Muslim publicly asking the questions about her faith and of her co-religionists that need to and should be asked these days if Islam is ever to join the modern world as a respected (not feared) and civilized (not barbaric) religion. And as she explains, curiosity and intellectual questioning ("ijtihad") were once a part of Islam (during its much vaunted Golden Age) and need to be reclaimed.

Though I don't buy everything she says and stands for (I am not a feminist in the current definition that entails being a socialist), I think I would like and admire this outspoken, humorous, and fair-minded woman. There is much thought-provoking material in this book, and many ideas for positive reform, like this:

What if a Western coalition of Muslims and non-Muslims endowed women in the Islamic world to own and manage local TV stations? What if Oprah Winfrey led the coalition? Oprah knows how it feels to be an outsider, doesn't let victimology paralyze her, and above all else, is passionate about the education of women and children. ...What the printing press did for the Protestant reformation--relax the stranglehold on knowledge--indie TV channels can do for Islam.

We could begin modestly, with the tried-and-true means of radio broadcasts. For one thing, radio would protect identities in the critical years.... Not everybody wants to be picked out (and picked off) in the street as the one who said that Prophet Muhammad declared women to be partners with men rather than their subordinates....But I'm sure I'm not the only Muslim who hungers to hear freethinkers candidly debate their truth and pertinence on the airwaves. Dr. Ayesha Imam, a human rights advocate in Nigeria, says it's crucial to popularize discussions like these 'so that people who have been profoundly uncomfortable about the very conservative nature of the new Sharia acts have a basis on which they can legitimately criticize, rather than feeling that they don't know enough to be able to speak.' In other words, exploring doubts can feed confidence, including that of female entrepreneurs. Expressing doubt affirms the possibility that you can counter the tribe. If any 'reform' initiative avoids introducing doubt, it will certify Islam as a religion not just for the hardhearted but also for the fainthearted--those with neither the guts to question nor the outlets to do so....

Before democracy can have legs in Arab Muslim countries, these countries need to be exposed to a competition of ideas.

There is so much material I liked in her book that it is hard to pull out just a few items. I especially appreciated her historical explanations, her emphasis on how women in Islam are an untapped resource for reform and modernization, how "desert" (Arab) Islam is not all of Islam (and shouldn't be allowed to think itself so), and how many practical suggestions she has for spreading reform and intellectual freedom.

Read the entire book and share my feeling of being heartened to learn there are Muslims like Manji standing up for tolerance and free and critical thought to be exercised and embraced as a part of the Islamic heritage. She is a brave woman, and whenever we are tempted to exclaim, "Where are the moderate Muslims?" remember her. I am not so sure she is as much moderate as she is radical, but in my opinion she's a good, productive, life-affirming and fair-minded radical. She and others like her just might be able to wrest back and reclaim the Islam being held hostage by the Islamofascists around the globe.

Irshad Manji's website.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Freedom of religion in the U.S.--an unfair advantage?

In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide “war on religion” that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations — from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples — enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.

A friend sent me a link to this lengthy New York Times article, "As Exemptions Grow, Religion Outweighs Regulation" by Diana B. Henriques.

It summarizes recent stories in the news concerning what seem to be unfair advantages invoked by religious groups in escaping regulations and taxes imposed on the rest of U.S. society (corporations and businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals). It cites examples of religious child-care centers not having to be licensed by the state of Alabama (while private non-religious centers there must pay a hefty fee to be licensed); religious employers not having to provide all the perks or adhere to all the regulations and taxes that non-religious employers do; and churches seeking land-use and zoning exemptions in the courts.

I gather this is what some people are frightened of--and envious of--when they see religious institutions being granted "favors" in the legislatures and by the courts:

As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy. And the new breaks come at a time when many religious organizations are expanding into activities — from day care centers to funeral homes, from ice cream parlors to fitness clubs, from bookstores to broadcasters — that compete with these same businesses and nonprofit organizations.

As a libertarian, I can only wish that all individuals and businesses were granted the same exemptions from regulations and taxes that the religious entities still get. What looks like a class of "special favors" for religious groups amounts to a state closer to a hands-off free market which all Americans should enjoy.

And as a religious person, I can only advocate that religious groups emphatically NOT accept any of the current so-called "Faith-Based Initiative" grants and earmarks being funneled to them by the Federal government--on the principle of maintaining a strict, productive, and defensive separation of church and state. Boy, how the waters have been muddied in the name of the ends justifying the means. Churches and people of faith should know better than to participate in this moral boondoggle, but how many have the strength of character to say "no" to the government's money (extracted by force from all taxpayers) when they think they can put it to a God-sanctioned good use?

I think one of the problems here and in this article is that most people don't make a distinction between the government's actions being on two different planes when it a) doesn't tax or regulate and b) actively gives money to special interests. I think whereas most people assume that both of these actions are a direct subsidy from the government to the "recipient," I consider not-taxing and not-regulating to be the government keeping its nose out of the recipient's business. I don't see "not-taxing" and "not regulating" as a "grant" of benefits from the government--I see it as not taking something by force that belongs to the "recipient" (not the government) in the first place. This is the contrast of positive and negative liberty, which I have found most people are not aware of.

I blame our government for its usual currying of special interests when it seeks to add religious groups to the cesspool of the so-called political process. I hope a transparency in publicizing religious "earmarks" along with all other "earmarks" will accrue thanks to the recent legislation governing Federal spending achieved by the Porkbusters.

I blame our churches when they put growth over principle. I blame churches that advocate for a separation from the state's regulations and taxes, and then take the state's money for their own programs.

But I do not blame religious institutions for having "special" exemptions. They have managed to hang on to some of the freedoms the government has taken upon itself to take away from the rest of us. We should not be calling for the churches to be taxed and regulated--we should be calling for the government to return to the rest of us these "special favors," our rights and freedoms.

And if it is true that private businesses and individuals are being squeezed out of the marketplace of commerce and/or of ideas and services by religious entities on one side, and governmental entities on the other, that says that someone is not looking out for the rights and ensuring the freedoms of the individuals. Guess who?

UPDATE: Instapundit links to, "a new transparency website created by OMB Watch, lets you search over $12 Trillion of federal spending for free." Keep your eyes on Congress and follow the money trails, not just for religious entities, but for all "special interests" seeking a place at the political money trough.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Let the free market work and everybody is better off

--even those who at first were frightened and frowny:

"Blogs are not competitors and not problems," he said. "Instead we have a very interesting symbiotic relationship. Our largest driver of traffic is Matt Drudge."

While it's true that competition for print media has increased tremendously due to the Web, the Washington Post's overall audience has now become huge compared to what it once was, Downie added. And instead of weakening the paper's brand, as he said it was feared, it has strengthened it and made the Washington Post well known around the world.

Via Roger L. Simon. Yet again the happy "invisible hand" of Adam Smith at work.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Made me laugh, makes me sing

I've never liked rap music, and I avoid it whenever possible--its rhythms are monotonous and boring, and I can't understand half the "lyrics" (which is just as well). But I like this. I'm so glad Weird Al Yankovic represents me & my homies in the soup of ethnic multiculturalism (and modern pop culture).

Meanwhile, instead of rap, here's what I boom from my minivan's open windows at stoplights.

Is this a great country, or what?

UPDATE: Bonus track! (Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers). Enjoy your Friday!

Teaching our children: moving toward a more nuanced (and true) view of abortion

Kathleen Parker writes today at RealClear Politics ("Abortion Chic"):

The problem with petitions and "I Had An Abortion'' T-shirts, such as those hawked by Planned Parenthood, is that they trivialize the deeply emotional and spiritual consequences many women suffer. They also deny girls and young women access to the nobler feminist position that knowledge is power.

We insist on informed consent for appendectomies or tooth extractions, but not abortions. As a result, American daughters now coming of age will see only the go-girl aspect of sexual freedom without the whoa-mama revelation of maternal awe.

The latter isn't learned from a textbook, but is experienced during that moment of personal reckoning when one realizes that a fetus is unequivocally a baby. My own transformative thinking -- from an unflinching pro-choicer to a disclaiming pro-lifer -- came with childbirth and motherhood.

After experiencing the humbling power of creation, it was impossible for me to view abortion as anything but the taking of a life. That is the truer lesson feminism should impart to its little sisters.

This I agree with. I too can make this same claim: "My own transformative thinking -- from an unflinching pro-choicer to a disclaiming pro-lifer -- came with childbirth and motherhood." Ignoring this discovered truth, that came with female maturity and experience, and not teaching our children (both boys and girls) about this when discussing abortion would be wrong. Feminists who attempt to ignore the wisdom that comes with motherhood are living with blinders on--and have little to teach any of us.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The chilling effect on civil discourse and the heroes who speak anyway

ENVY.... Mental debilitation.... A derelict upbringing.... Or, for whatever reason, a deliberate rejection of The Golden Rule (which means, to those unfamiliar with it, treating others with respect, civility, and kindness, as you'd want to be treated)....

All of the above reasons partially answer the question of why some adults (not immature children who don't know any better) feel compelled to bully and intimidate other adults in an attempt to force them into silence and submission. None of it is legitimate or moral. Not the religious bullying. Not the misogynist bullying. Not the political bullying. All of it is childish and thuggish, and unworthy of sentient adults. None of the above should be happening, especially not here in America, where such behavior reveals a deliberate perversion of our freedoms in this, the greatest country in the world....

"Land of the free, home of the brave." And sadly, too often a refuge of thugs who, when they can't debate ideas on their merits as part of a free exchange of views, resort to violence and intimidation, trampling on the rights of others.

It still takes bravery these days to speak freely in the face of deliberate cruelty, real or threatened violence, and menace.

But then, it always did require bravery to secure and maintain the land of the free--where even cowards are free to speak, launch personal attacks, and to bully.

UPDATE: Victor Davis Hanson comments on the endemic lack of such brave heroes in Europe.

UPDATE: More Islamic bullies rampage in France (via the Drudge Report). Does Europe have the spine to recognize what's going on and deal with it?

Do we?

Following the page scandal

It's been a bad week for news. I can't remember when, since 9/11, I have felt so sickened and depressed by an accumulation of events revealed in the national media as over the past week or so. Along with the school shootings, the Congressional page scandal has been a shocker. It's been an especially emotional week for parents, I'd venture to guess.

Foley is gone from the public scene, as he should be. (Republicans, as a rule, know when to resign, thank God). One of the questions remaining now seems to be whether or not Hastert should also resign over this. The point hinges on what Hastert knew and when, and whether he should've known more and done more. Leaving all politics aside (which I think should be the only way to evaluate this situation), should Hastert have done more, as a leader and as a reasonable human being, or was he left in the dark so as to have been reasonably blindsided by the events that have unfolded?

Michelle Malkin, whose opinion I respect, has highlighted others calling for Hastert's resignation based on the ick factor and on the moral high road and "the buck stops here" grounds. As did Tony Blankley and the Washington Times. Yet Michael Medved, whose opinion I also respect, points out that whatever information Hastert had beforehand was not enough to warrant more action than was made.

I think I stand with Power Line at the moment:

Certainly, it would have been better for Hastert to have found out more about the investigation and the underlying issue. However, I'm hard-pressed to call it negligent for Hastert not to have reopened a matter he reasonably could believe properly had been resolved. And even if one does perceive some amount of negligence here, or in what I think was poor work by Hastert's staff earlier on, I don't see how it rises to the level of a "firing" offense.

I would have no hesitatation to throw out anybody and everybody who helped Foley prey on children (in fact, I hope Foley and anyone like him or enabling him gets jail time). But I can't get behind a political, media-oriented purge just for the sake of feeding the politically correct publicity maw, if Hastert had been actually in the dark. I don't have a political axe to grind in that fight; if Hastert's not the majority leader, someone else will take up the reins and that's just the way the cookie crumbles. I just want justice done. I want the true victims recognized (that does NOT include Foley, no matter what his sorry revealed excuses are at the moment) and I want all of the predators and their enablers punished, whoever they may be. Somehow I am not sure that is the motivation of the Democrats in calling for Hastert to fall.

But what is all-important is the truth of who knew what when, not who is calling for what or who is revealing what. Let's discover the truth and figure out how to fix the page program so that this never happens again.

And parents of teens can take this opportunity to have a little talk with their kids about sexual predators, including how to protect themselves from those who use the internet and instant messaging to reach out to both boys and girls.

UPDATE: One week later, TexasRainmaker gives a concise overview of what's going on here, politically.

Global creative collaboration

Having a teenager in the house is one good way to hear about new developments on the internet. Here are three I recently learned about:

Writely - an online word-processing program that allows long-distance collaborators to work together in real time on the same document in a WYSIWYG format. My son uses it to write and edit his original movie scripts with his friend.

Global Virtual Classroom - "a free online educational program to promote communication, collaboration and understanding among students around the world." This software allows long-distance collaborators to build common websites. Here is the page of award-winning sites among primary and secondary schools worldwide.

Nicenet - "volunteer, non-profit," "donated" software that allows "classes" of students to post texts and send messages among themselves. The system was originally designed as a "web-based classroom," for college students and their teachers, but is not restricted to educational use. My son's AP Literature class is using this program to post their comments on various readings, while the teacher also uses it to post the course schedule and other documents.

The latter two programs have a sort of "kumbaya" feel to them at present (Nicenet's philosophy seems to be self-righteously anti-commercial), reflecting their originators' world views thus far. I am eager to see how "free" software like this evolves in the hands of creative users of all kinds, and ultimately ends up changing the way our world thinks, interacts, and works.

We certainly live in interesting times.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Capitalism is the optimal and best economic system in the world. Period."

Disagree? Then read this: Captain Capitalism, with his usual pananche, proves (with charts) that capitalism is the superior economic system. He sums up with this:

Sadly, I could go on and on with empirical, anecdotal, but above all irrefutable evidence that capitalism is hands down the best economic system, but for some people it wouldn't matter. Some people, frankly know socialism doesn't work, but know it's the best way for them to get money for doing nothing and thus will advocate it regardless of the data. Some people, hold dearer to them a sort of "noble crusade" to promote socialism and fight "evil corporate capitalism" even if the truth doesn't warrant such a crusade because their egos are more important to them than the advancement of society. And some people are just plain brainwashed to the point of no return where they will deny everything and subscribe to conspiracy theories about black helicopters and Haliburton before they entertain the possibility that maybe capitalist countries do better than their socialist counterparts.

But economists, free-marketers, Republicans, Libertarians and other varied sorts of capitalists need not be such hypocrites. For unlike the left, our ideology is not based in wishful thinking.
Our ideology is not based in theory or hope. Nor is our ideology based in falsehoods, misinformation and outright lies. No, our ideology is based in truth. What makes us capitalists, true economists, Republicans, Libertarians and other varied sorts of free-marketers is the fact that our belief in capitalism is not a belief at all, but rather a knowledge, a knowing that capitalism is the best system. And it is because the truth forms our ideology, while the left's ideology forms their truths that capitalism will always surpass socialism and communism as economic systems.

I love it when economists share what they know and love with people of good will who haven't yet thought about these things.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday morning roundup of links

Those of you who have already gathered these links in the morning, I hope will excuse my passing them on to my friends and readers who are not, as a rule, readers of blogs. I find these items very interesting, and trust that many of my good friends who also would find them interesting would otherwise not have the time to find them:

Don Surber writes about the recently released video of 9/11 hijackers made in 2000, being proof that Clinton had ample chances to deal with bin Laden and didn't ("the '9/11 blue dress'") and that the U.S. doesn't create terrorists, terrorists create themselves (via Instapundit):

We are dealing with madmen, caught up inj the psycho-drama of a religious sect funded by the multi-millionaire spawn of a Saudi construction magnate.

The crazy thing is, had we picked them up on Jan. 8, 2000, and thrown them in jail, people would have said they are insane and begged for mercy toward them.

The tape and the report come a weekend after Bill Clinton wagged his finger and said he tried to get that man, that Osama bin Laden. This tape is a stained blue dress to that lie.

The tape also shows the importance of allowing the military to capture detainees, interrogate them and keep them locked up. These men act as moles for years on end. There was a 20-month gap between the time Jarrah and Atta met with bin Laden and the time they executed their plan. It also shows the merit for keeping Johnny Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, locked up for as long as possible. He had met bin Laden. Who knows what awful, wicked plan Lindh was involved in.

Betsy's Page has had some very good posts recently, including "We Are in a War of Civilizations," which highlights an excellent essay by Jonathan Last:

After the founding of Islam, Muslims spread their faith by the sword. Islam conquered North Africa and pushed into Europe, where it ruled in Sicily, Spain, Portugal, and parts of France. Twice, the forces of Islam laid siege to Vienna. For 1,000 years, Islam advanced and Christendom retreated.

As Pope Benedict XVI explains in his book Without Roots, the very concept of "Europe" emerged as a reaction to the surge of Islam. Not until the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 did the Islamic tide recede definitively. For the next 300 years, Western civilization was ascendant and the Islamic world stagnated.

But the conflict between the two cultures never fully abated. Throughout the 20th century, Western countries tussled with Islamic states or their non-state proxies. And, as columnist Mark Steyn points out, when you gaze at conflicts around the globe today, the one constant is Islam. Muslims are fighting, or have recently fought, Jews in the Mideast, Hindus in Kashmir, Christians in Nigeria, atheists in Russia, Buddhists in Thailand and Burma, Catholics in the Philippines, and Orthodox Christians in the Balkans.

Some argue that these conflicts arise not from a clash of civilizations, but from specific grievances, such as the West's support of Israel. This is an unsatisfactory argument. In his 1990 essay "The Roots of Muslim Rage," professor Bernard Lewis pointed out: "The French have left Algeria, the British have left Egypt, the Western oil companies have left their oil wells, the westernizing shah has left Iran, yet the generalized resentment of the fundamentalists... against the West and its friends remains and grows and is not appeased."

The cause of conflict is not what the West does, but what the West is....

And here is Betsy's commentary on the digusting Foley scandal.

Meanwhile, the Bookworm Room writes about the ongoing clash between herself and her husband's political orientation (she left the Democrats after 9/11) as they watch two recent DVDs.

I admit that I like all of these pieces because they say much more succinctly and eloquently than I could some important things I already agree with.