Friday, December 30, 2005

Krugman is Back

At the New York Times today, Paul Krugman has a new column. Here is the title and subheading:

Heck of a Job, Bushie
How things have changed in a year.

From a reader's perspective, the title and subheading indicate to you 1) Krugman's level of maturity and objectivity, and, with a little more thought, 2) the entire content of the column.
As a writer or commentator, wouldn't you be personally embarrassed if your point of view were completely predictable all of the time? If people of average intelligence could look at just the title and subheading of your column each week and then deduce in a very short time and with remarkable accuracy the content of the column, wouldn't you feel alarmed at being perceived as a person with no original or unique thinking? I would be deeply bothered, and I would try my best to articulate at least occasionally a new point of view to startle my critics and keep things interesting.
Paul Krugman is steady, consistent, and completely predictable, week after week. And he gets paid for it, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

America's next economic boom, Part II

Here's an answer for those who say the Kyoto Protocol somehow harms economic activity:
Kyoto Pact a Boon For Some U.S. Firms

And here are a couple of articles that illustrate the business opportunity in the Chinese RE market:

Hydrogen Busses to Fuel China Modernization
China Commits USD$2.5 to Renewable Energy

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mexico Throws a Fit

From Drudge:

this be the reason Mexico is throwing a fit over the closing of our border?

The idea of a secure border is not at all in need of explanation or apology. It is the very most basic characteristic of a functioning state. If the Republicans were smart (is that a futile wish on my part?), they would challenge anyone who makes the ridiculous argument that this process is somehow anti-immigrant. It is not. It is pro-security, and pro-rule of law. Al Qaeda is very aware that the easiest way for them to get across our border now is to fly to Mexico and live there in luxury for a few years (all funded by U.S. petrodollars), learn Spanish, move to Ciudad Juarez or other easy entry points, and come right across the border to set up a cell.
It's a shame that the Republicans are once again allowing vast amounts of B.S. to go unchecked in this debate, with all kinds of people referring to this as an "anti-immigration" strategy. It is absolutely not. We have no problem whatsoever with legal immigration. This is fence is not anti-immigrant; it's pro- national security.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This is so funny.

Drudge is accepting submissions for captions for the latest picture of drama queen Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie.


Monday, December 19, 2005

On Wiretapping

So it looks like the brouhaha over Bush's wiretap authorizations has disappeared within approximately 48 hours. You get the sense that the Democrats get so excited over these earth-shattering revelations, until they realize that a majority of Americans really appreciate the fact that President Bush is willing to authorize wiretaps of Al-Qaeda members.
My dare for the Democrats: in the next presidential election, make this an issue. Run on a "no wiretaps without going through the often-lengthy court authorization process" security platform, and see if Americans take you seriously on national defense.
Democrats, answer me this: If you become aware of a conference call between Al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S. that is scheduled for tomorrow and you know it may take up to three months to get a warrant to wiretap the conversation, what are you going to do?
I really want to see that question asked in the debates.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Romney's (and my) Christianity

This post was linked by Glenn Reynolds; after the discussion of McCain comes a very interesting discussion of Romney and his faith. I chimed in a little; essentially what I'll say on that issue is, here is some advice to anyone that might be running against Romney in the Republican primary:
If you run against Mitt Romney in the Republican Primary and you or one of your campaign staffers insults my Christianity to score political points with your "Christian" base, I will write in another candidate on the ballot in the general election.
If you think you can disparage beliefs that define the very core of who we are as a people and then somehow we'll come around and play ball come election day, you are very wrong and you will learn it the hard way on election day when in four or five swing states with 4% or more LDS population, the LDS voters write in a candidate that recognizes their deepest beliefs, and you find yourself dusting off your concession speech.
The best option is for you to accept my Christianity and only hire staffers who fully accept my Christianity as well. Because if one of your staffers is found to be making asinine "Mormons aren't really Christian" remarks in mailings or in any other format or forum during the primaries, it will be understood by us to mean that you agree with that staffer no matter what you say publicly, and you're just having a staffer do your dirty work. We'll see right through it, and we will vote according to our fully Christian conscience.
Consider yourself warned - don't run a Takfiri Christian in the Primaries, and if you're running, don't hire staffers who are Takfiri Christians.

And a note to my fellow Mormons-
What is our relationship to the Republican Party? I wonder if it's like we're like a girl dating a verbally abusive boyfriend, and we stay with him year after year because he's the only boyfriend we've had and we're terrified of being single again.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Telecommuting According to TCS

Here's a good article at TCS on telecommuting. It goes some good places on both productivity and quality of life issues.

I addressed the implementation of it in this post.

Ted Strickland's Ohio Energy Plan

Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland is making alternative-energy-as-engine-of-job-creation into a centerpiece of his campaign. His plan makes it easier for companies in this industry to raise money to fund their operations. Link

Critics may wonder whether it is the government's business to incentivize investment in a particular industry like Strickland is proposing, and my responses are twofold: 1) Yes, if you as a government leader want to realize a more desirable social arrangement, as we have seen with Bush's "Ownership Society" and how low interest rates and mortage tax deductions during his administration have fueled housing-based economic growth, and 2) Yes, if that industry's success would positively affect our national security.

I don't know if Strickland's plan will work, because there are serious questions about the economic viability of Ethanol as an alternative fuel. But I agree with the principle- alternative energy is something to run on. It has huge potential both to create jobs while draining funding for the terrorists killing our soldiers in Iraq and civilians everywhere.

In contrast to Strickland's idealism, listen to this from Senator Charles Grassley (courtesy of
Tree Hugger):

"You know what? What makes our economy grow is energy. And Americans are used to going to the gas tank (sic), and when they put that hose in their, uh, tank, and when I do it, I wanna get gas out of it. And when I turn the light switch on, I want the lights to go on, and I don't want somebody to tell me I gotta change my way of living to satisfy them. Because this is America, and this is something we've worked our way into, and the American people are entitled to it, and if we're going improve (sic) our standard of living, you have to consume more energy."

Now, that's a man of vision and foresight, a guy who really knows how to connect the dots.
Grassley doesn't belong in the Senate; I think he would feel much more at home at GM.

Solar in Utah!

This makes me happy, because it's from my sort-of home state:

Here's an interesting quote:

Steven Bishop/ Solar Electrical Contractor: "Two years ago this type of work was five percent of my volume. Right now it's 90 percent."

Just more evidence that renewables could turn out to be the largest engine of job creation in history. And political parties and decision-makers who fail to embrace it, definitely do so at their peril.

Investing in the Sun

Here's a great article from the Contra Costa Times.

I like this quote:

"But long-shot bets sometimes pay off big especially in a hot growth market. And that's what alternative energy has been in recent years. During this decade, solar photovoltaic electricity generation has grown at an annual rate of 60 percent, while wind power capacity grew at a rate of 28 percent, according to the Renewables 2005 Global Status Report, which was produced by an international network of government and private sector renewable advocates.
And cash registers are ringing. Annual spending for solar equipment and components reached $7 billion in 2004 and is expected to quintuple over the next decade, according to Clean Edge."

GM's Hybrid SUV

This article is old, but hilarious:

My favorite quote:

After accusing hybrid supporters of Stalinist tendencies, the writer reveals that “insiders at GM… admit to not appreciating the emotional appeal of the segment” and “GM expects to become a major player in the model years 2007 and 2008.” Translation: GM didn’t make hybrids because they didn’t realize its customers are such PC morons, but now they do.”
Heads-up guys! Since when is a car NOT an emotional purchase? Are we to believe GM’s product planners are in tune with the emotional appeal of a gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalade, but couldn’t get their heads ‘round the idea that consumers are willing to pay a premium to do their bit for America’s energy independence and the environment-- even if their assistance is only marginal?

I love that blog.

RCP on Syriana

Real Clear Politics has an article by Dan Gainor on the Movie Syriana. The article is titled, "‘Syriana’: ‘Realism’ or a Left-Wing Assault on Oil?" The gist of the article is that Syriana is a movie that is not necessarily based in reality, but a lot of left-wingers have embraced it because it depicts the oil industry in an unfavorable light. Here is a quote I find problematic:
In a discussion session after a December 7 preview showing in Washington, D.C., director Gaghan said he tried to keep from being an advocate: “I don’t think anybody wants to be preached to, least of all by a Hollywood filmmaker.” Gaghan did add that he had a different, more upbeat ending originally but that offered “too much hope for these times.”However, Gaghan has used the film as part of an effort to complain about American dependence on oil. His discussion session included representatives from left-wing environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as self-described conservatives. Those groups are involved in an initiative called “Set America Free” that claims “the United States can immediately begin to introduce a global economy based on next-generation fuels and vehicles that can utilize them.”

The question I have after reading that quote is, is this a bad thing? Is it a bad thing for conservatives like me to agree with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups? I think a lot of other conservatives are so bothered by environmentalism that they can't stand to agree with anything an environmental group might agree with. It's a knee-jerk, reflexive response that probably comes from years of opposing environmental groups on other issues.
That our oil consumption funds terrorism against us is patently obvious. Which is why it is so baffling that there is so much defensiveness about oil consumption, from people who usually claim to be serious about our national security. If you resist change to alternative fuels and forms of energy, you are unserious about democratizing the Middle East and striking at the root of terrorism in our time. Period.
If you oppose initiatives to steer the U.S. away from its current patterns of oil consumption, then you must also admit that you are okay with the astounding transfers of wealth from the U.S. to the Middle East that occur every time there is a spike in oil prices, with portions of that money funding the logistics and weaponry involved in killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the funding the planning of attacks on our own soil.
If this makes you less uncomfortable than the idea of agreeing with environmentalists on an issue, then that's fine. Just don't claim that you are an individual who is serious about our national security.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Not sure what's going on, but...

It's late Saturday night, and there is a huge amount of noise in the city of Baghdad right now. There are cars honking in the streets, people yelling, and all kinds of gunfire. The base intercom just went on and informed us that this is celebratory gunfire, and the base is not under attack. From all the celebrating, you'd think they caught Zarqawi or something. I'm hoping we'll see some good news soon. Stay tuned...

It was celebration for the Iraqi national soccer team winning a match. Good heavens. Well, they went very far in answering questions about how well-armed the Shiia are. If the Sunnis want a civil war after we leave here, they definitely have their work cut out for them, because the Shiia have quite the stockpiles of weapons and ammo. Last night left a lot of the infantrymen here in utter amazement at the amount of ordnance flying around- really spectacular stuff.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Dotcom King & the Rooftop Solar Revolution

This is dated, but good. It's an article about dotcom multimillionaire Bill Gross's solar startup. I especially like this excerpt:

Gross talks the way the sun spews photons. During a 7 am breakfast in an empty local eatery that seems to be open early mainly for him, Radio Free Bill is broadcasting on all channels. The infomercial is pure energy - the kilowatt kind - and the pitch includes something for everyone.
For conspicuous consumers: "America's secret," he says, "is that each of us uses an average of 17 virtual horses' worth of electric power every day." He means that approvingly; no turn-the-lights-off Luddite, he.
For the no-blood-for-oil crowd: "The rest of the world needs cheap, reliable power too, if we're going to end the wars over energy and bring on a new age of global peace and toleration."
For investors: "Reinventing energy is a multitrillion-dollar opportunity. It's the next big disruption. It dwarfs any business opportunity in history."

Gross has some pretty fierce competition from companies like pyron solar.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

America's next economic boom?

This article demonstrates the opportunity we as Americans have to create a sustained economic boom that would also constitute dramatic forward progress in the GWOT by reducing our dependence on oil. I have worried, along with Thomas Friedman, that America will fall behind in developing this technology due to the engineering talent and low cost of R&D in China and India. But these numbers are very comforting; we are well in the lead in innovation in this area.
So if you are a member of the Bush administration, what do you do to get this economic boom underway so you can take credit for it and ensure a continuity of Republican victories in the coming elections?

The answer is multi-faceted, but simple.

1) Offer huge tax incentives to companies who are working in this field, as well as companies that are retrofitting their facilities to take advantage of this technology.

2) Offer federal tax incentives to individuals and families to retrofit their own homes and cars with solar, wind, microhydro, geothermal, biodiesel, etc.

3) Require that federal agencies meet aggressive targets of alternative energy usage and telecommuting, and put in place incentives and facilities for employees who wish to use public transportation or bike to work.

4) Require all government agencies to offer preferential bidding to contractors and vendors who are meeting aggressive targets of alternative energy usage, telecommuting, and accomodation of employes who use public transportation and/or biking to get to work.

Regarding telecommuting, Glenn Reynolds
posted on this issue a while back, and one of his readers responded with a very informative link. Here are a couple of things to pay attention to:

Congress further directed OPM to “specifically identify positions which would be appropriate for teleworking one day each week and offer those employees the option of participating in such an arrangement."


According to a survey, conducted by government-focused IT vendor CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), 35 percent of respondents said they are not eligible for teleworking, and another 14 percent were not sure. Only 36 percent of respondents said they've been given the option to telework, and 19 percent said they have used technology to work from home or other places away from the office. But 87 percent of employees surveyed would telecommute if given the chance.

In other words, if the telecommuting effort is top-down, adminstered by the OPM or even an agency "telework coordinator," it is not likely to produce the kinds of results we would like. I would propose that the telework program come from the bottom up, meaning, each employee would have the option of submitting a request to telecommute, which could only be denied on the grounds of security-clearance reasons, key personnel status, etc. If there were a material decrease in the employee's productivity, the employee could be called in to work for that reason.
If telecommuting were done effectively at the federal government level, it would result in huge savings to the government in terms of leasing of office space, energy consumption, physical facilities expenses, etc. If the government offered contractors and vendors a huge incentive to implement telecommuting, in the form of preferential bidding status, the savings would spread throughout the country.

I believe that energy is going to take a very prominent position in the next presidential election, since it is inextricably linked to national security. And whoever takes the lead in putting the incentives in place for us to wean ourselves of oil, will preside over the most sustained and far-reaching economic boom in our history, and will do more for the democratization of the Middle East than any amount of wars here.

As the first link showed, we are poised to lead in the development of alternative energy. This is a job- and wealth- creating opportunity that dwarfs any we've seen, including the Internet. So the question for Republicans and Democrats becomes, "Who wants it more?!!"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Gas prices constitute a failure of markets

Be wary of "good news" such as this:

Gas prices at any level nowadays do not reflect the actual price of the commodity. We pay a certain price at the pump, and then our government borrows hundreds of billions of dollars from Asian central banks in order to defend our country against threats around the world that are financed by the funds we pay at the pump. A low price of gas (or even 3+ dollars a gallon) bears no relation to the actual price we pay as a country, because our government's borrowing to defend against oil-funded threats to national security is not viewed as an immediate drain on our bank accounts.

If we were able to quantify the real cost of our oil consumption by taking the cost of defending against the oil-funded threats to our national security and adding those costs to the cost of production and distribution, the price we currently pay at the pump would be shown to be the great lie that it is. Markets are great for solving many -- if not most -- problems, but our government's ability and brazen willingness to borrow money renders markets completely ineffective when it comes to reflecting the real cost of oil.

Dean: We can't win

Here's the latest from Howard Dean.

There are some relevant questions here. Like, how many times has Dean visited Iraq? Has Howard Dean ever been here and spoken with the people actually conducting operations? Where is he getting his information, and how reliable is it?
Truth is, Mr. Dean, we already won this war, and we are now in a security and reconstruction operation. This place will never be completely secure; it never has been in the past. But there is coming a point where we will have put in place enough training and equipment for the Iraqis to secure their own country, and that point is coming sooner than you think. Already, almost a
third of our forward operating bases have been either transferred or closed, and a huge number will be following along very soon.
If you personally would like to believe that our troops are failing, then that is only a reflection of your worldview and what you believe about their ability to do their job. And if you personally desire to label their work as a failure because their success might reflect on a president who you personally hate very deeply, then I have no qualms about questioning your patriotism because your desire to see Bush fail is much stronger than your desire to see America succeed. Given the secondary or even marginal importance you attach to our troops' points of view, I am so glad you were never given the opportunity to be Commander in Chief.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Romney Factor, Part III

Take a look at this new article about Romney and the GOP.
It's an angle I hadn't though about before; what he did in turning around the corruption and scandal-ridden Salt Lake Olympics was really incredible. And right now, the GOP is absolutely dripping with corruption. I realize the Democrats in Congress are no better, but the Democrats aren't the ones who claim to want to spend taxpayer dollars responsibly. The Democrats don't even go there.
A Republican Congress passed a $250 billion transportation bill this year, and it was signed into law by a Republican president. It was absolutely sickening to watch. And our current president has never vetoed a bill. Has there never appeared on his desk a bill that crossed the line in terms of fiscal and financial responsibility? Were they all within the margin of acceptable use of taxpayer dollars?
As I have said before, Mitt is the only one with a track record on these things. As much as I love him, Giuliani left NYC's finances an absolute mess. And McCain has been part of the Congress that passed all of these bills. I have seen him voice objections, so that association may not be a fair one, but he was definitely there when these awful decisions were made, as was George Allen. If any of them want the approach Mitt's credibility on fiscal issues before the primaries, they had better start praying for a miracle, fast.

Tierney on Space

I love John Tierney's take on the space program.
His latest column in the NYT has some great ideas; he believes that funding for the space program should be structured more competitively, which is something I definitely agree with.

The new Virgin Galactic spaceship will be a larger eight-person version of the ship that last year won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for a reusable spacecraft. Its designer, Burt Rutan, backed by the billionaire Paul Allen, spent over $25 million to beat two dozen competitors.

That's the beauty of offering prizes: a little money buys a lot more R.&D. than you would ever get by giving the funds to NASA. Prizes spurred Charles Lindbergh and others to quickly turn aviation from a stunt into an industry. Competition inspires innovations that would never be approved by bureaucrats - like modeling a spaceship on a badminton shuttlecock.

And more...

Now that Rutan and Branson and other entrepreneurs are entering space, there's no need for NASA to poke around in Earth orbit with the space shuttle and the space station. Nor does it need to return to the Moon. Rutan figures that private spaceships will be going there before long, so he'd rather see NASA concentrate on ways to reach Mars.

So would I, but not all by itself. Instead of just financing NASA's plans for Mars, Congress and the White House should make it compete against engineers like Rutan. It could offer a prize, to be awarded by the National Academy of Engineering or the National Research Council, for the best plan on paper for a manned mission to Mars.

Branson told me he'd be willing to enter that competition for a prize of $10 million - a pittance next to NASA's $16 billion annual budget. Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, said he'd enter it, too.

An even better idea would be to offer prizes for making actual progress on a Mars mission, not just drawing up plans. Zubrin suggests that the federal government get entrepreneurs started by offering a $5 billion prize for the first flight of a vehicle that can lift 120 tons into orbit.

There could also be a grand $30 billion Mars Prize for getting a human to Mars and planting the American flag. That would be a bargain compared with the current plans of NASA, which wants to get to Mars by first spending $100 billion just to reach the Moon.
I think that's a great way of approaching this issue, and I think the same should be done for alternative energy research. Instead of offering ADM and others billions of dollars to subsidize ethanol production, why not offer a $10 billion prize to the first organization or group of researchers who can bring the cost of producing ethanol down to $20/barrel? Similarly, why not offer a $10 billion prize to whoever can demonstrate a way to store hydrogen on a car without a pressurized tank? (See post below on Hydrogen Tablets)

Either of those technologies would be a watershed discovery in terms of its implications for our national security. How nice it would be to see the funding for Pakistani madrassas and Iranian Islamist "foundations" dry up. People in this part of the world would actually have to develop a civil society, which is not possible as long as their bills are being paid by a resource, oil, which stifles individual initiative and a sense of individual and collective responsibility for the future.

Hydrogen Tablets

Developments like these are significant victories in the GWOT.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Neil LaBute and LDSness

A friend of mine asked me to write a few thoughts about Neil Labute, the LDS director of Nurse Betty and writer of several controversial plays. I went to see Fat Pig when I was in New York early this year, and that was my first exposure to Neil's work.

Fat Pig is a story about an attractive, health conscious, salad-eating, aspiring corporate executive guy who meets an obese girl in a diner at lunch one day. They hit it off immediately and begin dating, and the play explores the social consequences of this decision as our health-conscious guy deals with his superficial and even nasty co-workers at the office. Once they find out he is dating her, they do and say the most terrible, offensive things to make him reconsider dating this fat girl. The play is undeniably well-written; the dialogue was very smart, and you could see Neil's immense talent throughout the play.

My problem with the play was the impossible extreme poles these characters lived in. The fat girl eats like crazy, to the point of compulsion at times, and late in the play, when she and the guy (I can't remember their names) are having a heart-to-heart discussion about her weight, she understands the pressure he feels from his coworkers is really weighing on him. At that point, she offers the solution: "I can have my stomach stapled..." as if that is the only option available to her. We are presented with the proposition that fat people are driven to stomach stapling by the cruel, superficial rest of us, and reasonable suggestions, such as a healthy attention to diet coupled with exercise, are not even mentioned as possible lifestyle changes for fat people; either those lifestyle options don't exist or they are not useful to the playwright in his desire to make a point.

Furthermore, the play depicts only two kinds of observers of fat people; people who are either wholly accepting, open-minded, and able to focus only on the person's inner beauty, or people who are superficial, cruel, and nasty. Again, there is no reasonable middle ground here; the only people depicted in this play are at extremes of some kind: fat, compulsive overeater/obsessively fitness-conscious, or superficial and nasty/totally accepting of the whole person. Maybe that is a useful depiction of people for the purposes of the play, but my feeling is that most people are in between both sets of extremes. That said, even though I was bothered by the absence of a single moderate, reasonable voice in the play, I did enjoy the play and I was deeply impressed with Neil's talent as a playwright.

Now onto the broader question that comprises the title of this posting: should someone of the LDS faith be writing and directing works of art that are this vulgar, offensive and controversial?

My guess is that most LDS people would say no, and they might remark something to the effect that "Neil LaBute must be a lapsed Mormon, someone who doesn't really embrace his faith." But what if he is not a lapsed Mormon, and he is very active in the Church? I personally don't know this about Neil, but if he is an active, believing member of the Church, does he have a responsibility to always use his gifts to create uplifiting, inspiring works of art?

Orson Scott Card once addressed this question in an essay called "The Problem of Evil in Fiction," and I wish I had it on hand. He talked about people's reactions to his own depictions of evil in his books, and he mentioned the ruckus that occurred when he and the Ensign staff placed a graphic on the magazine that showed a tobacco pipe. Some members of the Church went berzerk, and if I remember correctly, people were calling in and threatening to cancel their subscriptions.

My personal feeling is that a lot of people have a worldview that successfully filters out a lot of the darker parts of human nature. I know a lot of LDS folks who seem to live in perpetual sunshine and inspirational bliss, and several offerings in the LDS film genre reflect this desire to avoid any portrayals of evil that the viewer might possibly be able to identify with. The bad guys are really bad, with unshaven faces and a drunken, vulgar demeanor. They even probably belch and stuff. They are sooo not like us.

On the other hand, artists like Richard Dutcher have shown evil and given it a much more familiar face. Dutcher's second movie, Brigham City, is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it explores the reality of evil among a group of very good people. I think a lot of LDS people shunned that movie because it was "too dark" for their sensibilities, and they couldn't believe something that disturbing would come from the mind of a fellow Mormon. I thought it was deeply inspiring, and I wonder if my ability to stomach the darkness in Brigham City may be due to my own exposure to a lot of human insanity growing up in Southern California. In any case, I was able to endure the evil in the plot and see a much greater good in the movie's resolution. It was fantastic.

But with Neil LaBute's work, there is no resolution, no lesson I can see that gives the evil he protrays a purpose in the play. He's not working towards a greater good, at least that I can discern. I guess if there was a moral or lesson one could take away from fat pig, it would be "Watch your back; people can be very awful and cruel sometimes." Putting on my amateur shrink hat for a moment, I wonder if the playwright is using these plays as some kind of therapy for his own soul, creating these phenomenally bad characters (who have some basis in reality given the state of our culture), and then sitting back and looking at them and feeling better about his own shortcomings because hey, "When it comes to badness, I've got nothing on these people I've created!" I'm not sure what Neil's motivations are for creating the art he creates, and that brings me to really the only useful question and answer we can ask and give about him:

Q: How should we feel about a member of the Church who creates very dark art for a living?

A: We should be overjoyed that he is one of us, no matter what is going on in his playwright mind. We should hope that someday he will use those talents (and they are exceptional) to produce something that will inspire people to be better than they are, instead of just depicting bad people and human failings. But even if he never changes the way he works, he is no less our brother and friend. We may wince at his work sometimes, but that should not detract at all from our acceptance of him as a member of family of the Church.

My irreverent message to Neil would be: Neil, we'd like you to write something pleasant at least once in a while, but if you're going to write plays about bad people doing bad things, then write them well.

And where do I get tickets?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hewitt's Straw Poll, Part II: The Romney Factor

In my opinion, the single most important result of Hugh Hewitt's Thanksgiving Straw Poll was Mitt Romney's showing.
Some things to think about:
If Mitt runs for president, it is going to be a very, very edgy primary. He is very sharp and has by far the most credibility on fiscal issues. Just look at his track record in business, with the Olympics, and with the budget in Massachussetts. The guy is amazing, especially on an issue where most Americans feel the Republican Party has deeply failed them for the past few years.

In the Primaries, where things usually get pretty nasty, someone might be tempted to bring up Romney's (and my) religion. The problem is, if any Republican primary candidate makes our religion a negative issue in an attempt to discredit Romney, that will be suicide in the general election(Scroll down). There are 7 or 8 states that absolutely swing Democratic if the Mormons stay home, let alone if some of us vote for a Democrat. And if our religion is made into a negative issue, all the Democratic candidate has to do is come and speak at BYU, hold town hall meetings in Utah, and publicly deplore the Republicans' unbelievable lack of religious tolerance for a group that has been so loyal for so long. That would be good enough to sway a lot of people and, ultimately, Mormon swing states.

Now, here's where I give Mitt some very direct advice going forward. Let's take the issues one by one, and here are my suggested policy responses and talking points (Don't mistake these quotes for Mitt's words; these are only my suggested responses!):

1) Mormonism.
"Do you have a specific concern about my religion?" (I love that one; it puts the interviewer in the position of having to articulate feelings that can easily be characterized as religious prejudice.)

"Are you uncomfortable with my believing in aspects of my religion that deal with the supernatural? If so, you might want to look at statistics that show how many Americans believe in prayer, divine intervention, angels, the divinity of Christ, and so forth. I have my reasons for believing what I believe, and I'm not going to go too much into these things because they are very personal. I feel that my religious beliefs are worthy of respect, and likewise, I respect other people's right to disagree with me on matters of faith. Religious diversity and tolerance are some of America's most precious founding principles, and a significant reason for our success as a nation."

"Would my policy views be dictated by the president of my Church? We have a very good precedent in other LDS policymakers, such as Orrin Hatch, Robert, Bennett, and Harry Reid. Their policy views demonstrate a remarkable amount of diversity and pluralistic thinking. So the answer is, no, I would not be beholden to anyone in matters of ideology or policy. I would execute the office of President according to my conscience alone, while giving a listening ear to the full spectrum of people's views."

"Are you uncomfortable with aspects of my Church's history? Guess what- I am too! There are a lot of things that I find perplexing and I can't say I have been able to reconcile them all. My religion was built by people in frontier America, and so there were many times where that worldview was reflected in things they said and did. I think we have done a good job of clarifying a lot of issues over the years, but if you're looking for someone who claims he has all the answers, that's not me. I have many more questions than I have answers, when it comes to religious things. But the answers I do have, I am very grateful for. They have helped me tremendously in living a rewarding life and giving me perspective in hard times."

2) The Deficit.
"I have by far the most complete track record of any candidate on this issue. I know how to bring runaway budgets under control, and there is no more runaway budget presently than our Federal budget. If you want pledges and promises and goals that are not achieved, that's one thing. But if you want results in the form of a balanced budget and our federal deficit being actually paid down as it was in the nineties, I am the only one here who can approach the task with credibility and a strong record of success in fiscal policy."

3) National Security
"The previous administration brought about a watershed moment in the history of the world by giving Democracy an opportunity to take root in the Middle East. My goal is to continue to facilitate those efforts, because they are instrumental in bringing about the ideological and structural changes we need to see in that region in order to make the world more secure.
But those efforts by themselves are inadequate. We need to provide incentives to the free market for developing sources of energy that drain the funding to terrorist states, and we need to urgently, urgently take much more comprehensive measures to eliminate the possibility of terrorists comong through our borders. I am willing to explore the idea of moving a significant amount of our already-existing military resources and training exercises to areas of our borders that are most in need of this additional security."

4) Abortion.
"Some people have criticized my position on abortion as being a flip-flop, or inconsistent in some way. I am most definitely pro-life; I think abortion is an awful moral tragedy and a reprehensible stain on our national conscience. But I think legalism is very inadequate as a remedy for this problem, and I would like to see more emphasis being placed on moral teaching, not simply getting certain laws passed or overturned. I believe we can do more to prevent abortions by making a heart-felt, articulate, thoughtful case to the American public for the morality and rightness of choosing to carry babies to term and give them up for adoption, rather than form picket lines, threaten violence, and yell insults at people.

Similarly, if we are relentless in the effort to legislate ahead of people's moral understanding, there will be a backlash that will reinforce bad behavior and work against our cause in the long run. Our cause is much better served when we focus more on helping people to understand the moral implications of this choice, and offering a tremendous amount of compassion and support for the alternatives, such as marriage or adoption. Legislation is definitely important, but as with many issues, education very important, and timing is absolutely critical."

Anyway, I'm looking forward to more news from the Romney camp. Honestly, who has more credibility on fiscal issues? And those are the issues (along with borders) that are dividing the Republican Party right now. As for these other issues, I don't think they are deal-breakers, if they are articulated well.

Hewitt's Thanksgiving Straw Poll

Hugh Hewitt did a straw poll over Thanksgiving weekend in which you see Giuliani, McCain, and even Gingrich polling strongly.
Giuliani has the twin albatrosses of Donna Hanover and Bernard Kerik to deal with, and he doesn't look or sound presidential. I know that sounds superficial, but it's true. And it's a shame, because I think he's an outstanding person and would make a great president. The Evangelical base would probably disagree, given Giuliani's moderate stands on moral issues and his inability to project the image of a family man to the public.
McCain is old. I know that Reagan was old as well, but a lot of people are concerned about McCain's age because he is also scarred from multiple cancer operations in recent years. The only other electoral problem he faces is a lot of opposition by the far right. A lot of Evangelicals don't consider him enough of a party-line Republican because he has stirred the pot with his party so many times, and they are unforgiving of his comments about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the 2000 primaries. Personally, I hope he wears Evangelical disdain as a badge of honor, because the way they treated him in the 2000 primary was reprehensible.
What McCain has going for him is he polls very, very well. He trounces Hillary in theoretical 2008 matchups, and he has a very broad appeal. People want change after all these years of Bush, but they are reluctant to embrace an agent of change who hails from the same group as Michael Moore and Howard Dean. To McCain's credit, everyone knows he will always put principle over party. That is what makes him my personal favorite candidate; given how much non-defense government spending has increased under this administration, wouldn't it be nice to have a president who actually knows how to say no to his party and who might (heaven forbid) veto a bill once in a while? Anyway, I happen to think he is the strongest candidate, definitely electable despite the objections of Gary Bauer-types.
As for the others, there are several relative unknowns and several will-not-runs. Condi Rice will not be running, but might make a good VP candidate. Instinctively, though, I don't think it would be a good idea to bring along members of the Bush administration; for many, that is just too uncomfortable an association. Gingrich is a great analyst and idealogue, but most definitely not a candidate for president.
There are several others mentioned, such as George Allen, Mike Huckabee, etc. At this point, I don't know enough about them to think one way or another.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Meta-debate for Partisans

Here’s a meta-debate for you.

Have you ever noticed how when a political partisan doesn’t have an answer to a particular argument, they usually flee intellectually to the realm of abstraction?

For example, when you present some people with a picture of a fetus with developing toes, eyes, a heartbeat, etc., rather than honestly acknowledging the profound implications of that developing humanity, they will flee the discussion entirely, and run to the less conscience-searing abstraction of “reproductive choice.” It then becomes a discussion (though a useless one) far removed from the glaring realities of heartbeats, eyes, and toes, which represent life.

Similarly, there are a lot of conservatives nowadays who love to flee the reality of our oil-heavy energy consumption, which consumption patterns leave us vulnerable to the influence of people like Hugo Chavez, and leave our terrorist enemies extremely well-funded and armed to kill us. Conservatives will often flee these searing hot realities for a little shade in abstraction:

We pay less for oil when adjusted for inflation than we did in 1980!
(Oil still funds the IEDs killing our soldiers.)

We have huge reserves of oil in our Western coal and oil shale!
(Oil still finances the travel and logistics behind the insurgency killing innocent Iraqis)

Environmentalists keep thwarting the exploration of new sources of oil!
(If you silenced the environmental movement for twenty years and drilled ANWAR, built more refineries, etc., the price of oil would come down to a point where cars would be built much bigger to reflect the cheapness of fuel. The Middle East would be taking less of our money, but not much due to increase in demand from our bigger cars. And even then, the oil supply is heavily influenced by natural disasters, speculation in the markets, and the whims of OPEC. Thus, no amount of increase in production can drain the sources of money that flows to Zarqawi’s pockets.)

Recently, this habit of fleeing to abstraction has been manifest in matters of fiscal policy as well. Bill Frist recently wrote an op-ed piece in which he lauded the Republican Congress’s spending habits with this sojourn into abstraction:

“Although tax rates have gone down, increased economic activity has made up some of the difference: Revenues soared last year and the 2006 budget deficit, as a percentage of GDP, is lower than it has been during 16 of the past 25 years.”
(How about if you tell me how much more money I and my family owe to Asian governments. I want a dollar amount, not a weird statistic about a percentage of GDP in x out of x number of years…)

Maybe this is the appeal of John McCain- his willingness to speak frankly on any number of issues.

Live from Baghdad

A couple of days ago I was back in the Green Zone; I drove between offices with a colleague of mine, and as we were nearing a traffic circle, an Iraqi Police car jumped in front of us and slowed us down. In the traffic circle, several Iraqi soldiers jumped out to secure the area for a convoy passing through. The Iraqi police and army units looked very well trained and well equipped, and I was reminded of the attack last July 14, where a group of these policeman successfully fought off a triple suicide bombing attack on a police station at the gates of the IZ. We heard what was happening through the intercom at that Presidential Palace, and it was so great to find out about the outcome and the Iraqi police’s bravery a little later. These kinds of things make us so proud to see; it’s definitely a perk of living and working here.

David Brooks had another great column in the Times a few days ago, talking about our failure to honor the current heroes of this war. Here is a very important insight:

…why aren't there more stories about war heroes like Christopher Ieva? The casual courage he and his men displayed is awe-inspiring, but most Americans couldn't name a single hero from this war. That's because despite all the amazing things people are achieving in Iraq, we don't tell their stories back here. That's partly because in the post-Vietnam era many Americans - especially those who dominate the culture - are uncomfortable with military valor. That's partly because some people don't want this war to seem like a heroic enterprise. And it's partly because many Americans are aloof from this whole conflict, and couldn't tell you a thing about Operations Matador and Steel Curtain and the other major offensives.

Brooks is absolutely right. But thanks to Michael Yon, we are learning more about the people who are fighting here, with more detail than we ever thought possible before.

Now allow me to digress:
I am a subscriber to Times Select, but I wish they would change the subscription process so you could subscribe to only the columnists you like. I would subscribe to Brooks, Friedman, and Tierney. Note to Mr. Keller- you will rake in significantly more cash from Times Select if you allow us to just subscribe to our columnists. Fact is, if you have read five columns from Krugman, Rich, Herbert, or Dowd, you have a representative sample and you don’t need to read them anymore. Doesn’t it trouble you that on any given day, a reasonably intelligent person can guess what the gist of these peoples’ columns will be? It would kill me to know I am paying these people to write the same column every week. In fairness, however, Krugman has explored some actual issues lately with his columns about health care. It’s such a refreshing change from the usual, predictable Christianophobic Bush-bashing.

Now, to address the broader issue of Brooks’ statement “And it's partly because many Americans are aloof from this whole conflict, and couldn't tell you a thing about Operations Matador and Steel Curtain and the other major offensives.” Why is that? Well, I don’t mean to stir the pot with my fellow conservatives here, but our President has never once asked us for a day of prayer coinciding with a major offensive. He has never gone on TV to ask us to support any particular operation, exercising the influence that only his office can. It is very regrettable that we hear about these major military operations from news sources who place them right between the news about Nick and Jessica, and the latest American obesity statistics.

Even more broadly, have we as Americans been asked to sacrifice anything in this war? Have we been asked to change our consumption patterns in any way so as to drive down the price of oil and drain the funding to the terrorists killing our soldiers? And if only military families are sacrificing in this war, how can the rest of us be expected to feel some sense of ownership of it and more than a passing interest in it? Unfortunately, the President wants things both ways. He wants our soldiers to perform remarkably well, and he wants our country to never be inconvenienced in our consumption of the oil that funds our enemies’ IEDs. So from David Brooks we hear of our troops’ valor, and in other places, we read of the oil-funded movement of people and munitions in support of the insurgency. Our President wants both, and he is getting both. The tragedy is, it doesn’t have to be that way.