Thursday, May 31, 2007

With Friends Like This . . .

Is this guy serious? I particularly love this post -- explaining that heliocentrism is an atheist plot.

It has to be a parody, right?

Iconoclast Confused. Please Explain.

The House of Representatives just passed a bill which would ban "price gouging." According to the L.A. Times summary:

The legislation would give federal authorities the power during presidentially declared energy emergencies to investigate and prosecute anyone selling fuel at a price that is "unconscionably excessive" or "indicates the seller is taking unfair advantage unusual market conditions."

Forget for a second the absurdity of trying to define "unconscionably excessive," or what it means to take "unfair advantage of unusual market conditions." There was a country that tried this experiment in having the government, rather than markets, set prices. It was called The Soviet Union, and it collapsed in disarray. And, oh yeah, we tried having the government limit gas prices -- the result was long gas lines, back in the seventies.

This is four star populist economic idiocy of the worst sort. It's the kind of thing that makes you scratch your head and say "have they learned NOTHING?" And hey, my lefty blogger friends, call out your own party in this one. I challenge you. Worse, in the long run, it's political idiocy as well -- the folks who fall hardest for this sort of populist business-bashing are already Democrats. Right now, the Republicans have done everything in their power to alienate libertarians and small-government conservatives. So, shouldn't the Democrats be trying to convince this group -- a group that is seriously in play -- that, while they might regulate a little more and provide a few more goodies, they won't, you know. do anything massively stupid?

But forget all that.

Here's my question: aren't the Democrats the ones constantly telling us about Greenhouse effect, and how we have to consume much, much less in the fossil fuel department? One rather obvious way to reduce fossil fuel use is to raise prices. So, shouldn't price-gouging be a GOOD thing? Don't we want to encourage it, so as to give consumers to use less gasoline?

As greens, they ought to be cheering the price-gouging on, demanding more of it. "Go Big Oil, Raise those prices!" ought to be their cheer.

Meanwhile, as the Democrats make populist noises about Big Oil and price-gouging, a dozen states, including such right-wing havens as Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Michigan have minimum gas prices. Wisconsin's minimum price law, which requires that gas station owners sell gasoline for 9.2% over the wholesale price, has recently gotten a fair amount of attention because of a noteworthy case: Raj Bhandari, a Wisconsin gas station owner, was notified by state authorities that his two-cent-a-gallon gasoline discount for the elderly and those who support youth sports was illegal under Wisconsin law. Now, personally I don't hold with senior-citizen discounts -- I think that seniors should pay more -- but I also think that businesses ought to be able to charge whatever they want.

In these twelve states, you have laws requiring price-gouging. So, if the Democrats are all hot-and-bothered about price-gouging and want to do something to really help, why not pass a federal law preempting state minimum-price laws? Then they could go home and brag about how they had helped people -- and also get rid of a pernicious bit of government regulation at the state level.

How many Democrats have opposed such laws anyway?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Torture and Evangelicals

All of the Republican candidates, with the exception of John McCain and Ron Paul, seem to have taken the pro-torture position, using the euphemism of "enhanced interrogation" or some such. Presumably this is designed to appeal to the Republican "base," which includes a lot of Evangelical Christians.

There's something about this that I just don't get. Now, I am an atheist, and I don't want to mischaracterize other people's beliefs. Maybe I've been wrong all these years, but, as I understand it, when Christians read about the crucifixion, they're supposed to identify with Jesus Christ, and not the Romans, right? There's a bit in the movie A Clockwork Orange where Alex (played by Malcom McDowell in his finest role) is being indoctrinated in religion, and we see him imagining himself as one of the Roman soldiers whipping Jesus. That's supposed to be funny (in a dark way) because it's clear to the audience that Alex just doesn't get the point. Right? When Christians saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, they were supposed to feel empathy and compassion for the guy being tortured, not get off on it. Right?

Evangelical Christians consider Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior, somebody with whom they have a personal relationship with. And their Lord and Savior was tortured to death by the Roman state. They think this was capital-E Evil.

For Evangelical Christians, shouldn't this translate into a moral imperative to avoid torture? Or even something close to torture? Shouldn't they be particularly offended by the notion of their own country engaging in torture? Why is it that "appealing to the base" seems to require candidates to be if not pro-torture, in favor of coming as close to the "torture" line as possible? It seems to me that Evangelicals, of all people, ought to be absolutely outraged by "Enhanced Interrogation." And they, of all people, should be the least amenable to the sort of pragmatic "we've got to catch bad guys" arguments used to justify such practices. After all, I'm pretty sure the Romans could have come up with a reason why crucifying dissidents was necessary to national security.

Now, I will grant you that Christianity has previously been used to justify torture. There was that little interlude called The Inquisition, after all. "Get medieval on your ass" has meaning for a reason. So it's clear that ostensibly-Christian people can dig the whole torture scene.

But I thought they were supposed to be beyond that.

I guess not.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yes, Al Qaeda Is Still Evil

Instapundit links to this article by Don Surber, about a recently-declassified Al Queda torture manual, found at The Smoking Gun.

If you decide to click on that Smoking Gun link, well, I hope you have a strong stomach. The first few pages consist of drawings designed to illustrate various grisly torture techniques, which include drilling through hands, gouging out eyes, applying a blowtorch to the skin, and putting the victim's head in a vice. The drawings look like something done by a disturbed high school student -- the kind who ends up shooting up the school. They're almost comical, until you come to the photographs of torture devices, and the dirty little room where these sadistic thugs carried out their brutality. Worst of all are the pictures showing the scarred and burned burned flesh of surviving victims.

Don Surber is right when he points out that Amnesty International, which hasn't been exactly shy about criticizing the United States, didn't say anything about this -- and it should have. He's right that papers like the New York Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post didn't give this the coverage it deserved. He's right that something like this ought to take priority over a ginned-up story about flushing a Koran down the toilet. And yeah, Andrew Sullivan is being a bit obtuse when he says "I don't get the point" in response to this report. He even illustrates a report of al Qaeda torture with a picture of a bloody cell at Abu Gharib. As if Al Qaeda torture weren't independently worthy of reporting and condemnation absent reference to our own failings

Surber was too nice to say it, so I will: Many folks on the hate-America left have used the prisoner-mistreatment issue as a convenient club to beat the United States with. Lots of these people (not, I think, Andrew Sullivan) will hate America pretty much no matter what it does. If we put detainees up at the Ritz Carlton, some folks would say that only the Four Seasons is good enough.

But it's a club we gave to the enemies of the United States. Or, rather, a club that John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and President George W. Bush gave them. No, that's not quite a fair characterization. It would be more fair to say that Yoo, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush went into the woods and identified the stoutest tree they could find. They then felled the tree, and fashioned a portion into a club, polishing it to a fine sheen with all the care and attention the Louisville Slugger company gives to its justly-famous bats. After which they gift-wrapped the club and presented it to the enemies of the United States to beat Uncle Sam about the head and shoulders.

Our leaders knew darn well -- or should have known -- that our Islamist enemies and their de facto allies in the hate-America left would take every opportunity to score propaganda points against us. So what do they do? They give our enemies valid propaganda points. Sure, the media under-reports Al Queda wickedness and over-reports ours. And sure, sometimes they're credulous about claims of American wrongdoing -- like the Koran-flushing story. But isn't that a reason to be more careful about our own conduct?

And shouldn't we hold ourselves to a higher standard? Yes, al Qaeda consists of a bunch of degenerate sadists who are twisted by religion, hate, and fanaticism. So what? Does that mean we have license to become depraved ourselves?

If nothing else, by authorizing torture -- eh, "enhanced interrogation" -- the Bush administration has undermined America's ability to condemn our enemies for their barbarity. As I pointed out when the mini hostage drama involving the British sailors captured by Iran was resolved, we had a lot less room to gripe about their relatively mild mistreatment of British sailors when our own mistreatment of at least some prisoners was worse.

President Bush should have been able to wave the Al Quada torture manual like a bloody shirt, but he couldn't -- because to do so would raise questions of waterboarding and stress positions and naked human pyramids. Sure, I'd probably choose waterboarding over being branded with a red-hot iron or one of the other al Qaeda tortures. But "America: slightly less sadistic than al Quada" isn't a motto I feel comfortable with.

Yes, the New York Times and Washington Post ought to put al Qaeda torture on the front page. Yes! A thousand times, YES. But that doesn't for one second obviate the need to stop our own government from waterboarding people, putting them naked into an ice cold cell, forcing them to stand in "stress positions" for hours on end, or engaging in other forms of torture.

And one other thing that's worth thinking about. If you accept the George W. Bush notion of War as Social Work, then presumably we are in Iraq to help them build a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state. I haven't done a scientific study on it, but I am pretty sure that one difference between peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states and totalitarian hellholes is that in peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states, security services aren't allowed to go around torturing people. Yes, it can happen, but it's not supposed to, and there is a real norm against it.

So what are we teaching the Iraqis? Remember, the Ba'ath Party took power in 1968 -- many Iraqis alive today never lived in a non-totalitarian society. Sure, we talk about liberty and due process and all that good stuff. But shouldn't we be showing them how to maintain order without using what is, after all, one of the mainstays of totalitarian states? Hasn't our acceptance of "enhanced interrogation" made it far less likely that Iraq's future government will abstain from brutality in the future?

Way to go, guys.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More Monica -- Did I Hear The Right?

Did I hear this right? One of the U.S. Attorneys got complaints because he made his assistants go to a cabin in the woods with some sort of consultant and be analyzed. At least he didn't make them squeal like a pig.

I know that management consultants do weird stuff, but Jeesh.

UPDATE: Monica was just asked if Attorney General Gonzoles put his loyalty to the President above his loyalty to the rule of law. She said he was a good man, and that he tried -- but she couldn't answer because she wasn't sure about her own opinion on the matter.


Now she's talking about "inaccuracies" in Gonzales' testimony.

It says something that Monica Goodling -- who looks like a teenager -- is a better witness that the sitting Attorney General.

UPDATE 2: Gonzolas tried to get her to discuss their mutual recollections of what happened. She tries to spin it, but it sounds as if he was trying to get her to get their story straight.

UPDATE 3: Keith Ellison is sure a bully.


Representative Arthur Davis (D-Alabama) is on C-Span while we await Monica's return. It's quite amazing -- he says he doesn't favor amnesty, but he defines "amnesty" as letting illegals off Scot-free. Since there are some consequences, he says, the new bill isn't "amnesty."

To me, any bill that lets current illegals stay in the United States is an amnesty.

"We Have a Lot More From Harvard and Yale."

One of the more annoying things about this whole "scandal" is some of the simmering school snobbery. When asked about the number of people from Regents who wound up working for the Department of Justice, Monica said "we have a lot more from Harvard and Yale."

Go, Monica!

A Good Point

In response to a question about Deputy Attorney General Comey's assessment of the fired U.S. Attorneys, Goodling makes the quite valid point that different people have different experiences with a particular individual.

"Don't Be Evil" Indeed

It turns out that Dell and Google are installing a program that "borders on being spyware." I thought Dell was trying to repair its reputation?

Maxine Waters

What a moron. Maxine Waters is asking Goodling if she "used opposition research skills" that she learned at the Republican National Committee.

Goodling said she used Lexis and Westlaw and Google to research political appointees. Now that's ominous.

Thoughts On U.S. Attorney Firing

While Monica is on break, I had just a couple of thoughts on this whole thing.

Quite a few people seem pretty apoplectic about the "overblown personnel matter," but I have never known what to make of it.

United States Attorneys are political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the President. He can fire a U.S. Attorney because of the way the person parts his hair. For any reason, or no reason at all. President Bush was entitled to fire people whom he (or the Attorney General) thought weren't doing a good job. Or he could let people go just to shake things up, bring in new blood. Or, more likely, he could want to replace one political hack with another.

It would surely be improper to fire a U.S. Attorney to torpedo a case involving a political ally, or to bring a purely political case against one's political opponents. Or to punish a U.S. Attorney for prosecuting a political ally. At the same time, however, if the Attorney General believed that a U.S. Attorney wasn't bringing valid cases, it would be legitimate to replace that attorney with one who would.

I certainly don't trust the Bush administration at this point, and I thought that Al Gonzoles was singularly unimpressive in his testimony. But I have yet to see any evidence that these people were fired for improper reasons.

More Monica

"I don't remember that I did, but I'm not sure and I may have."

Doesn't that mean yes?

Sully on Ann and Mitt

Yes, I am still watching Monica Goodling's testimony.

But I'm multitasking. Sully pairs quotes by the Romneys -- Ann Romney says Mitt listens to her all the time, and Mitt says his views on policy are his own, with little input from her.

Well, I guess Andrew has never been married -- obviously. Of course he thinks he makes up his mind on everything, while she says she's very influential. Sounds like a good marriage to me!

By the way, to my Main Squeeze: Happy Anniversary, dear.

Ewwww . . . She's Getting Close

All right, she is getting close to admitting that her decisionmaking with Civil Service jobs was illegal. She admitted "crossing the line."

But she is standing firm on the main issue -- nothing she's said gives credence to the notion that U.S. Attorneys were removed in order to interfere with investigations or retaliate for going after Republicans.

Random Thought Re: Monica

So if I am the next president -- which isn't likely, I know -- I am not hiring anybody named Monica. It's just not worth the risk.

Monica Update

She just admitted that she had delayed the hiring of a potential Assistant U.S. Attorney because he struck her as being too liberal. She said she regretted the mistake.

OK, I'm sure that this was technically improper, for a career position.

But I have to wonder. Suppose a well-qualified right-winger with experience in the College Republicans and the Federalist Society and a clerkship for a conservative judge interviewed with the Department of Justice during the Clinton era. Isn't it possible that a rock-ribbed Republican wouldn't be hired?

Monica Goodling

I'm watching Monica Goodling testify live on C-Span as I write this.

Maybe others will disagree with me, but gosh, she is a good witness. Partly it's her looks -- she's quite pretty, in a girl-next-door kind of way, and she exudes this mom-and-apple-pie sincerity. Her opening statement was really good, particularly when she admitted going a bit far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions.

Maybe she's just slicker than Al Gonzales, but she's doing all the usual "to the best of my recollection" hedging, but she's accompanying such answers with enough information that you get the sense she's actually telling what she knows.

That doesn't keep Republicans from blowing it -- Representative Chris Cannon (R., Utah) is reading a bunch of crap into the record, enjoying the sound of his own voice, instead of letting the well-scrubbed and photogenic Monica Goodling do the talking.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This Is Your Brain On the War On Drugs (cont.)

A very moving comment was added to this post, a paramedic/firefighter who suffered serious on-the-job injuries -- and who now has cancer. It's people like her who suffer in this war.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More Pissing

He doesn't want to get into a pissing match -- or so he says. Rather than actually try to answer the arguments against his view, or to, you know, prove his case, Sully prints a fawning letter from a reader who makes broad-brush accusations he won't -- or can't -- support.

What a shock.

The Immigration Bill

It seems that the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration bill is provoking some harsh reactions. Even Hugh Hewitt is skeptical about the bill, and when Hewitt is skeptical of something George W. Bush is doing, well, it suggests that that Bush is in it deep.

I think that Jonah Goldberg has the politics of it about right when he says that there is zero trust for President Bush on this, right now. That is, even if the bill has some elements that immigration reformers might support, like an ending of chain migration and an English requirement, promises of future enforcement don't work, because such promises are not believed. We'll get the amnesty, but the tougher enforcement and English requirements will be vaporware.

The point is that several million illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Latin America, will get legalized nearly immediately if this bill passes. It is easy to make fun of those who have qualms about massive Latin American immigration as a bunch of racist bigots or know-nothings. At the same time, however, it's worth noting one raw fact: The United States has a per capita GDP of $43,500 per year. Mexico's per capita GDP is $10,600 per year.

Many take this is a fact of life -- we're a rich country and they're a poor country, and that's just the way things are. They don't ask why the United States is more than four times richer than Mexico, on a per capita basis.

It seems fairly clear that our culture is, in terms of creating the sort of society which produces material wealth, superior to theirs. Now, it may be that Mexicans are happier than Americans, or more spiritually-enlightened, or better in other respects. But, in terms of the ability to produce huge piles of wealth, we've got it. I don't pretend to know everything that goes into this. Maybe it's about corruption and the rule of law, or the value of education, or the nuclear versus extended family, or the role of the Catholic Church and religion. Whatever causes the differences, it's clear that, over the long run, American political culture has been more successful than Mexico's, and that the Mexicans who come to the United States will bring much of that culture with them.

As an American, much as I enjoy Tex-Mex cuisine, I do not want the United States becoming socially or economically more like Latin America and Mexico. If we legalize ten or twelve million immigrants now, it seems likely that we will move further in that direction. Particularly since it is is predictable that we will have another amnesty in 2026, just as we had one before in 1986.

I understand why George W. Bush is quite happy with the notion of the United States becoming a country where patrons live happily in big houses on the hill while peons gather below in their squalid huts. George W. Bush is constitutionally incapable of imagining himself or any member of his family ending up in one of the huts below. Same with Teddy Kennedy and quite a few of his buddies in the Senate. I understand why rich people want more immigration -- it means cheaper servants and cheaper meals at fancy restaurants. I even understand why Democratic politicians want it -- they believe, probably correctly, that the Democrats will end up the political winners.

What I don't understand is why ordinary liberals support this. Liberals claim to be worried about wealth distribution, about the gap between rich and poor. Well, surely adding tens of millions of poor people from Mexico and Latin America over the next decade or so will add to that gap. They claim to want to help the little guy, less skilled workers who have been left behind over the last couple of decades. My liberal friends, those less skilled workers whom you claim to be worried about are competing with illegal immigrants for entry-level and low-skill jobs. They want a generous welfare state, with lots of social services. Surely you know that a generous welfare state is less feasible when you have twenty million more relatively poor people in the United States. It's crazy -- this amnesty will won't help the cause of genuine liberalism, or the constituencies liberals purport to want to help.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lost In Space

All right, I'm a geek. As a child, I used to watch Lost in Space -- not the bad movie, but the late-sixties TV show. So I recently ordered the DVDs from Netflix, and I've been watching it. Certainly far inferior to Star Trek, but it does have a certain campy charm.

Here's my question: after the second or third time he endangered your whole family, wouldn't you have killed Dr. Smith? In self-defense, if for no other reason?

Prove It, Sully

Andrew Sullivan is being, well, a curse word associated with chickens. Earlier, he accused Glenn Reynolds of being pro-torture. (I blogged about that here.) As you might expect, Reynolds objected this mischaracterization.

So now he says he doesn't want to get into a pissing match with Reynolds. Then he invites his readers to search Reynolds' archives and make up their own mind.

Jeez Sully. Make an argument, or retract your position.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sullivan on Reynolds on Torture

I know that Glenn Reynolds probably doesn't need my defense, but Andrew Sullivan is going a bit bonkers in his zeal to attack Reynolds. Example: a post on Today's Daily Dish entitled Maguire and Reynolds on Torture. Money paragraph:

But what Reynolds and Maguire and others support is the permanent routine use of torture, legally protected, and a cadre of professional CIA torturers trained to do it on a regular basis.

Where the heck does that come from?

I find this a bit confusing, because Sullivan doesn't even link to an offending post on Reynolds' part. I mean, if somebody accused me of supporting the eating of Irish babies, I would appreciate at least a link to where I endorsed such a proposal. However, I think I know what Sullivan is talking about. Sullivan does link to this longish post by Tom Maguire, and Instapundit had linked to it earlier, so I guess that Sullivan's argument is a) Maguire endorses torture, and b) Reynolds agrees with Maguire.

I read Tom Maguire's offending post, and truth be told, I'm not sure what to make of it -- either the post Sullivan finds so objectionable or this one. I'm pretty sure I disagree with him, but his position takes more untangling than I'm willing to give it at the moment. In any case, I think he deserves more than a point-and-sputter condemnation. So let's put aside the question of whether Sullivan is being fair to Maguire.

That leaves part b) of Sullivan's argument: the notion that Reynolds agrees with Maguire.

Here's what Glenn Reynolds said:

TOM MAGUIRE LOOKS AT JOHN MCCAIN and the truth about torture.

I have omitted the link to Maguire's post, which I provided earlier. But other than that, I have quoted Reynolds' entire post, in full.

Reynolds doesn't say "Tom Maguire posts a really kick-ass defense of torture, and I agree with every jot and tittle of it. Nor does he say "great post by Tom Maguire." He said Maguire looked at the issue. Glenn Reynolds links to a lot of people, and sometimes he expresses agreement or disagreement, but other times he simply passes the link on.

Here's a thought: maybe Reynolds agrees with some aspects of Maguire's argument but disagrees with other aspects. Or maybe he read what Maguire had to say but didn't have time to give Maguire's argument careful consideration. Maybe he doesn't even have an opinion on Maguire's post.

I had this really novel idea: instead of reading every link as an endorsement, I thought I might actually read what Glenn Reynolds has to say about torture. So I went to Instapundit, and I typed "torture" into the "Search Instadpundit" box. I found this post linking to an article about Japan's "not-very-pretty" justice system, which features forced confessions. and this one, about torture in Egypt. This post might be (ahem) tortured into being pro-torture, but in fact all it is is an explantion of why something Megan McCardle said was not pro-torture.

And then there is this post which linked to Radley Balko's renunciation of his past support for torture. Reynolds made his own position plain:

Glad to have him join me in the anti-torture camp, which needs some sensible and non-hysterical members.

Ironically, that post is updated with a prior link to Sullivan, again accusing Reynolds of being pro-torture based solely on something he linked to without comment. What I didn't find were any posts that led me to believe that Reynolds supported torture.

I just don't get it. What is Reynolds' sin? Being insufficiently emotional about the issue? Not taking every opportunity to cast out heretics? Just what is it with Sullivan?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Give Obama Credit

Mark Kleiman comments on this story about the Presidential Candidates' tax returns. It appears that nearly all of the presidential candidates have failed to release their tax returns. McCain, Guiliani, and Romney on the Republican side, Clinton and Edwards on the Democratic side.

All but one -- it seems that Barack Obama has indeed released his returns. Kleiman is annoyed that the article doesn't emphasize this fact more heavily.

Well, credit where credit is due. Obama isn't my favorite guy, but on this one I give him credit for full disclosure, where other candidates haven't done it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Tale of Three Gaffes

The 2008 election campaign is already getting weird.

ITEM: Mitt Romney addresses a crowd at Regents University. He tells them that, in France, marriage is now often contracted for a seven-year term. The bloggers are all over him on this one, because it turns out that his claim is not, well, reality-based. The prevailing theory seems to be that Romney lifted this from a science fiction novel by fellow-Mormon Orson Scott Card. (Some folks seem to be crediting Anna Marie Cox with the theory, but she herself credits Bradford Plumer over at The Plank.)

ITEM: Barack Obama claims that 10,000 people were killed in the Kansas tornado when the real number is 12. His explanation? He was tired. This triggers an exchange between big-time bloggers Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds over whether Obama has an excuse to be tired at this point in the campaign. For what it's worth, I am with Glenn -- and Don Surber. Being President is hard. Hence the oft-noticed phenomenon of an outgoing President looking a lot older when he leaves office than when he went in. If Obama really wants to be President, he's got to prove he can make good decisions and control what he says even when he is out of sorts.

ITEM: Glenn Reynolds links to this video at Ace of Spades (also found here and here via Rob Port and Allahpundit). Watch the video for yourself, but the gist is that Edwards is asked about the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, which is apparently now the locus of "truther" inquiry. Edwards tells his interlocutor the he will look into it. Now, Ace, Rob Port, Allahpundit, and to a lesser extent Reynolds all jump on Edwards with both feet. In my last post, I fretted over a poll which purports to show trutherism being quite prevalent among Democrats. I would agree that if Edwards (or any candidate) were to adopt one of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, that candidate should be hammered.

But frankly I don't interpret the video the way Ace, Rob Port, and Allahpundit do. I think that Edwards didn't know what the guy was talking about. The guy's questions was pretty incoherent to start with, and Edwards didn't seem to be aware that "World Trade Center Seven" has become a catch-phrase among the truther set. Nor did Edwards promise a full-blown official investigation if he was elected -- he said he would look into the guy's question and get back to him. I don't think Edwards should be condemned, because I don't think he knew his questioner was alluding to these conspiracy theories, and I don't think his answer constituted an endorsement of them. Now, I do agree with Allahpunidt that the applause is a bit creepy, because the folks in the audience seemed to be fully aware of what the guy was talking about and they seemed to think Edwards was signing on to it. But I don't think he was. As I said, watch the video -- it really is ambiguous.

Now, if Edwards comes back and says "fire doesn't melt steel," or gives credence to the notion that Bush knew -- well, hammer away at him. But I think that the criticism being launched at Edwards at this time is overblown given the apparent confusion in this exchange.

Are we having fun yet?

UPDATE: I want to thank Instapundit for updating with a link to my take on the matter. Lance over at A Second Hand Conjecture is skeptical of my view that Edwards misunderstood the question, and I suppose I may be giving him too much benefit-of-the-doubt. (Although Lance is willing to cut Edwards slack if he disclaims Trutherism.) It really is my sense in viewing the video that Edwards was confused about what was being asked. But it would be nice if Edwards were to clarify his position.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Truthers Are Out There

I recently observed that a winning Republican candidate has to coddle the sensibilities of folks who believe stuff that just ain't so -- in particular, the creationist types who tend to support Republicans in great numbers.

Well, the Republicans aren't the only ones with nutty relatives in the closet. Via Photon Courier, this poll says that 35% of Democrats believe that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, while 26% aren't sure if he knew. It is, I suppose reassuring to find out that 39% don't think he knew. If the poll is right more than a THIRD of Democrats think Bush knew, and more than 60% think he might have known. That's crazy!

Anybody who looks at my posts on Bush knows I am a frequent and vociferous critic of this administration. I think that George W. Bush has been a spectacularly bad President, and that the damage he has done will take decades to be undone. But one thing that has helped him is that many of his harsher critics have become utterly unhinged, divorced entirely from reality. One is in a far better position to weather criticism if your critics are obvious lunatics.

It's not even logical. If Bush had known, would he have been reading "The Pet Goat" to schoolchildren? Would he have then spent the rest of the morning jetting around America and letting Rudy get all the TV time? If Bush had known, wouldn't he have leaped into action, jetted back to Washington, stood defiantly on the lawn of the White House and given a rousing speech?

Besides, if this administration had known, could it really have kept that under wraps? I mean, come on.

New Blog

A very talented Chicago artist has started a new blog, upon which she is showing some of her work. Check it out!

Help Wanted!

It appears that the Bush administration has a "Help Wanted" sign in the window. They're looking for a "war Czar."

Oh great. Another guy with an office in the West Wing. That's going to fix our problems, all right. I thought we already had one. You know, the Commander-in-Chief.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Breaking News! Presidential Candidate Embraces White Value System!

Breaking News! You heard it here first on the Cheerful Iconoclast.

It turns out a leading Republican presidential candidate is a member of a church which practices racial separatism. On their web page -- until it was recently taken down -- his Congregation explained that "We are a congregation which is Unashamedly White and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the White religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent." And his church has adopted a 12-point "White Value System" which it believes "must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Whites are gathered"

His church's 12-point White Value system:

1. Commitment to God

2 Commitment to the White Community

3 Commitment to the White Family

4. Dedication to the Pursuit of Education

5. Dedication to the Pursuit of Excellence

6 Adherence to the White Work Ethic

7. Commitment to Self-Discipline and Self-Respect

8. Disavowal of the Pursuit of "Middleclassness"

9. Pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the White Community

10. Pledge to Allocate Regularly, a Portion of Personal Resources for Strengthening and Supporting White Institutions

11. Pledge allegiance to all White leadership who espouse and embrace the White Value System

12. Personal commitment to embracement of the White Value System.

Now some of these virtues are unobjectionable, or at least expected. As an atheist, I would reject "commitment to God," but most people in the United States are religious, so I expect our next President will belong to a church, and whatever church he (or she) belongs to, they will claim to be committed to God. Likewise, nobody objects to education, excellence, self-discipline and self-respect.

Yet other aspects of this creed are quite troublesome. The commitment to the White Community implies that one is less committed to other communities -- Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. The commitment to the "White Family" implies that the families of other racial groups are somehow less worthy. And how exactly does the "White work ethic" differ from the plain old "work ethic"? The bit about pledging allegiance to White leaders who embrace the White Value System seems almost like a fascist "leader principle."

Even weirder is the bit about how they're supposed to disavow the pursuit of "middleclassness." Huh? Being "midlle class" is what Americans are supposed to aspire to -- it's the American dream. And middle class values (like, uh, the work ethic, education, and self-discipline) lead directly to economic success.

OK, everybody has probably figured it out by now. I played a trick: I substituted the word "White" for "Black." The candidate whose church embraced this creed is Barack Obama. The archived version of the "Black Value System can (for now) be found here. Bloggers were, as usual, head of the curve -- this was discussed by Illinois Review back in December, and I owe commenter Don Castella credit for the admittedly not-particularly-original idea of substituting "White" for "Black."

Now a few more bloggers -- including big-timers like Insty, Kaus, and Steve Sailer -- are all over this New York Times Story about Obama's ties to the afrocentric Trinity United Church of Christ and its pastor, one Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright.

This is some scary stuff. Wright isn't just the minister of a church that Obama happened to go to because it was in the neighborhood. Rather, Obama consciously chose Wright as his spiritual mentor. And he did it as an adult. The title of Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, comes from one of Wright's sermons. And Obama is a sincere follower of Wright's Afrocentric creed. The New York Times story quotes Jim Wallis, an activist and friend of Obama's as saying “His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story.”

Whoever is elected president is going to be an avowed believer, most likely a Christian of some sort, although I might hope for a secret freethinker. But Obama's conversion story is troubling because he chose to convert to a goofy Afrocentric church whose mission statement embraces everything Black (always capitlized) and eschews "middleclassness." Now, for an individual person, I suppose that's a voluntary choice. But Obama is running to be the President of the United States. And it's worth noting that, on the page I quoted, there are several references to Africa, but none at all to the United States. He was a grown adult. He chose a church which identifies exclusively with one racial group. I'm thinking that his interest in racial unity may be a bit less sincere than he would have you believe.

I have not yet gotten around to reading Dreams of My Father, but Obama's choice of churches does seem to provide circumstantial evidence favoring Sailer's side of the Sailer/Koznetzki debate. If nothing else, it is interesting: Barack Obama is a mixed-race man who is abandoned by his father and raised by his white mother and her family. As an adult, he joins an Afrocentric church led by a charismatic father figure.

We've had one President with Daddy issues who got religion as an adult. How has that worked out for us?

Unwelcome Gift?

Via Hit and Run, the apparently left-leaning guy who runs a blog called Marry in Massachusetts is mad because a friend sent him gift subscriptions to Reason, City Journal, and Commentary. I can see how it's a mischievous, slightly-obnoxious thing to send somebody subscriptions to magazines they disagree with politically. It's like something I might do. Um, come to think about it, it's like something I have done. More than once.

Wait a second -- here's the weird thing. So has Marry. (And to reiterate, Marry is a guy.) He gave his Mom, who is apparently a right-winger of some sort, a subscription to The Nation. So what's he gripin' about? Sounds like perfect turnabout to me.

But that's not the only thing that struck me as weird about his post. To start, he refers to these magazines as "neocon rags." First the rag part: how anybody who digs The Nation can refer to any other magazine as a "rag" is quite beyond me. In terms of quality of newsprint and overall production values, The Nation ranks well below any of the three magazines he got as gifts. Now, I suppose it lends the magazine a certain proletarian street cred that fits in with its editorial bent, but gosh, The Nation would be annoying for the smelly paper, regardless of the content.

OK, I'm being snarky. Forget the newsprint -- in what universe is Reason "neocon"? Reason is the canonical libertarian magazine. If anything, it's anti-neocon. City Journal is closer, although most of its topics tend to be focused on urban life (hence "City Journal") rather than foreign policy. It's a good magazine, but it really doesn't fit in with the whole Perle/Kristol neocon big government invade-the-world-and-spread-democracy shtick. While it doesn't do much on foreign policy, the sort of skepticism about state intervention which animates City Journal ought to counsel against the whole neocon war-as-social-work agenda.

Now Commentary, that's neocon to the bone. I suppose one out of three ain't bad.

Marry described the woman who gave him these mags thusly:

Our friend is an artist -- painter and sculptor. When she moved from the South to Manhattan and we all lived there, she seemed liberal enough. However, she kept company for years with a wealthy lawyer and businessman, who held very different views and got such publications as she has now visited upon us. He has died, but the damage was done.

How condescending. His artist friend seemed like such a nice girl, but then she fell into bad company and succumbed to their influences. It couldn't be because she weighed the arguments contained in these publications and found them valid. Oh no! It had to be that she was "damaged" by her wealthy consort. He describes this woman as a long-time friend and godmother to one of his boys, but, even so, he casually deprives her of any agency or intelligence.

Some friend!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Lady Jane's Run-In With the TSA

Megan McArdle, aka, Jane Galt had a bit of a run-in with airport security which she was nice enough to blog about. It seems that she wanted to bring home a few travel-sized containers of shampoo and such, but she had a bit of a snag: she hadn't acquired the requisite Ziploc bag, and the screeners made it clear: no baggie, no carry. As Megan noted, shampoo doesn't represent an independent security if it's not in a baggie -- the sole purpose of the Ziploc bag is to make it easier to inspect. Megan offered to put the offending soaps in some other sort of bag, but the screener apparently lacked the discretion or judgment to accept this offer, and so, her shampoo had to be abandoned.

Megan is offended by this rigid application of rules in a context in which they make no sense:

It's not that I particularly mind the loss of a travel size sleek 'n shine shampoo set. But I resent being treated to rule applications so blind that they zip past moronic and straight into The Kafka Zone. And I suspect that they are so moronically applied because we treat the TSA people like morons. How low does one's IQ have to be to indicate that one cannot comprehend the security purpose, and limits, of a Ziploc baggy? Whatever the cutoff, I am sure that this woman was above it. But hey, terrorism! So we create a bunch of silly rules, and then demand that our silly TSA people follow them blindly . . . and we all go merrily down the road to airport hell together.

Megan, we treat TSA screeners like morons because some of them are morons. Oh, not all of them, or even most. But, predictably, some of the people we hire for this (let's face it) really tedious job are going to be morons. Lest any screeners read this and offended, note the word "some." Some will be of ordinary intelligence; some may even be of above-average intelligence. But, predictably, some will be morons. I will say I know one airport screener, and, well, he's a pretty dull fellow. But the rest are probably smarter.

And so, rather than rely upon their discretion, intelligence, and judgment -- which, predictably, will be lacking in some cases -- we give them clear, rigid orders. Some of which, inevitably, will be stupid. But if you start letting them apply the rules in accordance with their understanding of the reason for each particular rule, well, somebody might make a stupid decision and some contraband might get through. Which could, theoretically, lead to trouble. (How much damage somebody could actually do with a pair of scissors in the post-9/11 world is a different issue.)

Moreover, if you allow screeners to apply their independent judgment, you will necessarily have a certain degree of disparity in how passengers are treated. Maybe one screener is smarter than another, more able to discern the purpose behind the Ziploc-bag rule. Maybe one is a jackbooted thug too dumb to land a job as a potbellied small-town Sheriff who applies every rule as rigidly as possible out of sheer sadistic glee. Maybe the guy next to him lacks the energy and just waves everybody by. But whatever the source of the differences, if you allow screeners latitude to exercise judgment, you will get differences.

In differences lie lawsuits. If it so happens that a tall, elfin, good-looking white female blogger is allowed to pass through security unhindered without the proper Ziploc bag, the Muslim fellow who got a different screener will inevitably complain when the screener insists on a proper baggie. Which will lead to a nasty discrimination lawsuit. Remember the flying Imams?

Also, in a purely practical sense, I don't want to be waiting in line behind the person who is rules-lawyering the TSA screener. For that matter, I don't want to be in the line when twenty people ahead of me are doing the rules-lawyering, many of them in a less sensible manner than Ms. McArdle.

Now, those who complain that our current regime is nothing more than "security theater" have a point. I think that the TSA should try to keep bombs, guns, and swords off of airplanes. If, in the post-9/11 world, somebody can hijack an airplane with box cutters or a pair of scissors, then we deserve to lose. But argue that with the idiots making the rules, not the idiots behind the x-ray machine. After all, as Megan observed, they don't have a choice.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Republicans and Evolution

In my last post, I talked about P.Z. Myers' reflexive partisanship. But his post raises an important question: how does a Republican presidential candidate handle the question of evolution. Now, if the guy is a scientific ignoramus who doesn't believe in evolution, it's probably not a problem for him: he just tells the truth about his own beliefs.

But you know, I'm betting Mitt Romney -- who seems like the most intelligent of the lot -- knows that evolution was true. I'd bet Nixon did. Reagan, I don't know -- he was more well-read than people give him credit for being, but his areas of interest were history, politics, and economics. Heck, I'll bet McCain even knows the truth about evolution.

I can be iconoclastic -- I can say what I believe about pretty much everything. Because nobody really cares what I believe. But a Republican presidential candidate has to tread a certain line. The fact is that there are people in this country who think that the theory of evolution is the work of Satan himself. Alas, those people vote Republican in large numbers. If a Republican candidate alienates them, well, he gets to watch the inauguration ceremonies on TV.

Just as a candidate who is an atheist has to lie about his or her beliefs in order to be elected, a Republican who fervently believes everything P.Z. Myers says about evolution would have to lie, or at least finesse it. "Teach the controversy" is one way to finesse the issues, for a national candidate. That's a fact of life for any Republican seeking higher office.

But lest our Democratic friends get to feeling TOO superior, there are crackpots on that side too. I mean, there really are some people in the Democratic Party who think that the wrong side won the Cold War, and who would still favor nationalization of industries because they think the government could do a better job. "Markets work" is nearly as proven as "evolution happened," but the Democratic Party contains a nucleus of hard-core anti-market zealots whom any Democratic candidate has to appease.

Both parties have a crazy aunt who shows up for the family reunion. The trick is to placate her and make her think she's getting her way while going ahead and doing the sensible thing.

Dissing Reagan

P.Z. Myers is one of my favorite bloggers on creationism/evolution stuff and atheism, but his reflexive leftism can be a bit trying. In this post, he asserts that "Reagan was almost as great an incompetent" as Bush. I know that many folks on the left had a visceral hatred for President Reagan, but you know, in 1980 there was this thing called the "Soviet Union" which was aiming thousands of nuclear missiles at us and seemed hell-bent on spreading its evil throughout the world.

It doesn't exist any more. Now, I know that the liberal line is that Reagan had nothing at all to do with that -- the fall of the Soviet Union was inevitable. But it sure didn't look inevitable in 1980. In 1980, they looked like the winning team.

Likewise, in 1980, it seemed that the United States had gone into a permanent economic decline. We were fading -- there was a "malaise" as Jimmy Carter famously said. Now, you can parse Reagan's economic policies if you want, and I certainly think that Presidents get too much credit -- or blame -- for things like the business cycle. But gosh, since the U.S. pulled out of the recession of '82, the economy has done pretty darn well. Yeah, we've had a few recessions (including the one that cost the first President Bush his job), but they've been short and mild. For the most part, it's been an upward trajectory, and that wasn't something people expected back in the late seventies.

Maybe Reagan was just lucky. Yes, he did some things that I didn't agree with -- the Meese Commission report on porn was a load of crap, for example. Yes, there were screwups and scandals. No, he didn't go as far as I would have liked in terms of rolling back big government.

And there's one other thing, P.Z. I know popularity isn't the only measure of a President's competence, but Reagen left office very popular, and George H.W. Bush won the presidency in large part because people thought Reagan had done a good job. That's a far cry from the current President, who has managed to lose his party its majorities in the House and Senate, and who will probably lose it the presidency as well.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Why I Could Never Be a (Modern Sense) Liberal . . .

Even if I do get really pissed off at George W. Bush and the Republicans.

Ezra Klein and his commenters had a vigorous discussion about whether it would be OK to kill Osama bin Laden. To his credit, Klein seems to be taking the obviously-right position.

Of course we should kill him if we can.

Wolfgang Puck Express -- Convention Center

Lunch at Wolfgang Puck Express. What do I expect -- it's a food court? Well, I don't expect a waitress to come by and see how I liked it, or advice from a Sommelier. Nor, honestly, do I expect Spago-quality food.

But hey, it's Wolfgang Puck, and he calls it his "gourmet" express. He's supposed to be a great chef, and he says he's bringing great chefery to fast food. Great idea -- Americans are now a nation of foodies, so there has to be a market for fast-but-good. Alas, while Wolfgang Puck Express might be an improvement on the institutional cuisine served in prisons or poverty-stricken school districts, it didn't raise the bar for food court food.

I had a little single-serving pepperoni pizza and a Diet Coke. On the bright side, the Diet Coke was good. The Wolfgang Puck Gourmet express pepperoni pizza was worse than a California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza. Lots worse. Let's start with the crust. It's kind of a cliche to call it cardboard, but it's the only word that fits. Annoyingly thick for thin-crust pizza, it was neither crunchy nor chewy, nor did it have a texture one normally associates with "food." I can't even describe the texture of the crust -- slightly-soggy stale crackers, maybe. But it was vile.

Atop the crust lay a schmear of tomato sauce, which tasted like generic tomato sauce out of a can, with no seasoning, no spices, no herbs, nothing to give it any zest or flavor. The cheese and pepperoni were of similar ilk. Everybody's got to make a buck, and I do understand that cheap fast food is going to have some compromises. But I have to believe that Wolfgang Puck could produce a better product. Something slightly less disgusting, at least.

Scamming the Scammers

Those of you who have e-mail accounts are undoubtedly familiar with so-called "419" or "advance fee" scams. Those are the scams -- often out of Nigeria -- where the scammer claims to have money or gold or diamonds or the like, and he wants help in smuggling it out of the country, or the like. "Give me your bank account number, and I will transfer it to your account" is a common ruse. Or maybe the scammer needs money to ship the gold bars to where they can be exchanged for cash. The variations are endless.

Believe it or not, scammers really do bilk some folks out of their money using ruses of this general type. But some valient cyber-vigilanties have arisen to fight them. "Scambusters" or "scambaiters" pretend to be taken in, and they get the scammers to jump through often-bizarre, increasingly-elaborate hoops.

Well, via Nobody's Business, we get this hilarious story of one particularly funny scambaiter. Warning: this is a long story, on multiple pages, and the site ain't particularly fast. It is also NOT work-safe. Unless you work in a VERY tolerant workplace, that is.

Put briefly, "Captain Pugwash," posed as four characters, two of them female: "Patricia Heliotrope Kearney," "Gwendolyn Paxo Kearney" (Patricia's sister), "Reverend William Farquar Felcher," (Head of the Church of the Kinky Mary Magdeline) and "Dr. Wilhelm Winkler" (Consultant at the International Circumcision Association), and he really put a scammer operating under the name Patrick Guilley Ngozi (son of a dead African General, wouldn't you know) through his paces.

So how many times could Cap'n Pugwash get "Ngozi" to photograph his own penis and send the pictures? It turns out the answer is "many."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

CP Steak -- DC

Over the weekend, the Main Squeeze and I had dinner at CP Steak, DC, Charlie Palmer's outpost in our nation's capital, along with a few friends. Gorgeous room, lovely view of the Capital Building.

The food and wine and of course the company was great, but you know, when I pay over $700 (tax, tip, and wine included) for a meal for five, well, I expect top-notch service. This . . . wasn't. Not that his restaurant is understaffed -- in fact, the floor was crawling with people. Nor was the place busy -- there were empty tables. But they seemed to prefer to stand around and chit-chat rather than, you know, doing their jobs. I think it's more fun to stand around and chit-chat too, and if Charlie wants to run his business that way, I can see the appeal. But it's not the best way to make customers happy.

We went and we're led past the really cool glass-walled wine room (which, alas, is not equipped with Wine Angels in catsuits). We took our seats, and the menus soon followed -- CP Steak has rigid one-page metal-rimmed menus which stick in little weighted stands. One reviewer said they made him feel like he was playing battleship with his date. Well, there were five of us, so it would have to be a more complicated game -- something involving dice and rulebook the size of the Internal Revenue Code. But you get the idea -- the menus look cool in the stands, and I suppose it's good to have your hands free. You can do a bit of knitting while waiting for the waiter to come and take your order.

Speaking of waiting . . . .

We sat down, got our menus, and then waited for somebody to come. You know, a waiter or waitress to introduce him or herself, talk about any specials, maybe give us a drop or two of water. Let's just say we had plenty of time to read the menu . . . memorize it . . . put it to song. Finally a very nattily-attired woman, whom I assumed was the Boss Waiter for our table stopped by and deigned to inform us of the specials and ask about our water preference. She also asked if we wanted wine -- and I told her I wanted to consult with their sommelier before deciding on a purchase. So she said she would send the sommelier by, and she left us to continue our contemplation of the menu.

In fairness, she did come back in a timely way to take our order, and she did a pretty good job of answering questions. Generally, she was pretty good, in terms of the information she provided, with one glaring exception. Too bad we didn't see more of her. So we gave our order, but still, no somelier. The little pre-appetizers come, and hey, they're good! Raw fish -- I got two servings, because one of my friends won't eat raw fish. But no sommelier.

At some point this bald fellow wanders by and asks about our wine order. I never quite figured out whether baldy was a waiter or assistant sommelier or general manager or what, but I did tell him we had been waiting for a sommelier. He said he'd sender her by. Unlike our waiter, he actually seemed to communicate something to somebody, because our sommelier did manage to stop by. She and I talked about what we like in a wine, and she offered several suggestions, all of them quite reasonably priced. Well, reasonably priced for restaurant wines, that is. I made my pick and she wandered off.

I expected her to, you know, bring our wine and pour it. But we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait. Appetizers arrive, and we start to eat. More raw fish for me! It's really good raw fish, I have to say. Tuna tartare, with a bit of zip Finally, midway through the appetizers, we got our wine. The sommelier shows it to me and then wanders off to open it She gives it sniff, and then takes a small taste. She decants it. I'm starting to get worried about whether something is wrong, but finally she brings it and pours. She tells us to give it a few minutes, so it will open up.

She was right! It did open up When I first tasted it, I thought it was OK -- not spoiled or anything, but no better than a $10.00 Lindeman's. Twenty minutes later, it was pretty darn good. The . . . leisurely pace of the service worked to our advantage here, because in the inevitable delay between appetizers and main course, the wine improved dramatically. So by the time the main courses arrived, we had gotten a pretty good start on the wine. Hey, there were five of us, after all. With my friends, that's two bottles of wine, easy.

We killed the bottle as we were eating the main courses, and we could have easily consumed another bottle. If, that is, somebody had bothered to, you know, ask us if we wanted one. Somebody finally did -- but by the time they did, we were almost done eating, and, based on past performance, I was pretty sure they wouldn't get it to us before we had finished, so I declined. Not only did nobody ever ask us if we needed more wine, the sommelier never even stopped by to ask if we were enjoying our selection. Like the waitress who was supposedly in charge of our table, she was AWOL after making a first appearance.

The food, by the way, was quite good. I got the Wagyu beef sampler -- three three once portions of Wagyu beef. American, Australian, and (allegedly) authentic Japanese Kobe beef. The meat was perfectly prepared and really good. I mean really good. I loved getting to contrast the three styles of Wagyu beef. My serving was nine ounces of meat -- and that was it. Oh, a bit of garnish, but basically just the meat. That's fine -- side dishes were ordered and served separately. But I needed a side dish or two to round out the meal. Hey, I'm an American -- don't expect me to eat light.

We ordered three side dishes, because the waitress told us they were "large, family-style portions." Maybe for a family of anorexics. Don't get me wrong -- they were pretty darn good, just like everything else. We ate every morsel and then licked the plates clean. No, not literally, but it looked as if we had. The goat cheese orzo gratin, which had to have about a million calories per bite, was particularly delicious. If somebody had asked, we might well have requested another order of it -- but nobody bothered to ask if we wanted more. (Our other side dishes were asparagus, which was good, and creamed spinach -- yuck! -- which I didn't bother to taste. But my friends said it was good, and they ate it all.) For that matter, our waitress never bothered to ask if the food was to our liking. In fact, we never saw her again after she first took our order.

There were other substandard aspects of the service. Water glasses that stayed empty too long; really good bread that we never got more of. Suffice it to say that the service was uniformly substandard for a restaurant of that price range. I don't want to give the impression that I want to be rushed through a good meal -- I like the whole slow food thing. I didn't particularly mind having a few moments to digest between each course. But there are times when alacrity matters.

More to the point, at a good restaurant, the customer should have the sense that the mob of people runnng around are part of a team that's working together in a coordinated way. Our waitress -- or "table captain," if you want to be old-fashioned -- should have noticed that the sommelier hadn't come, that our glasses weren't being filled, that we ran out of side dishes halfway through our main courses, and that we needed more wine. But I didn't have the sense that she, or anybody else for that matter, was paying attention to the details of the service.

So did I have a good time? Yes! Good friends, good food, good wine. I really did enjoy myself, despite the problems with the service. Nor do I want people constantly hovering. But I really do think it's a shame that a restaurant which consistently delivers such great food also delivers such lousy service. You know, at Red Lobster the waitress usually stops by and asks if the food is good and refills our bread and gives us more water. My entree cost $85, and while somebody on a budget could get roast chicken for a little over twenty bucks, most of the items aren't cheap. A restaurant of that caliber, with that many people "working" there ought to have better service than the average Red Lobster.

Our reservations were lateish -- not terribly late, but 8:30 or so. By the time we finished, the service had definitely started to wind down. There were a couple tables still filled, but we were the place was definitely emptying out. We had done the valet parking thing (and yes, we had a designated driver), and a helpful fellow in a white jacket took my ticket and made sure the valets were still around to retrieve my vehicle.

It was a very nice gesture. Finally, we saw the kind of attention to hospitality and service that a restaurant like this ought to feature start-to-finish. Somebody cared about doing a good job. As I walked past, I caught a glimpse of the words sewn into the breast of his white jacket. It said "Executive Chef."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day

Today is May 1, which means it's May Day -- still a holiday for unreconstructed communists. Over at Volokh, Ilya Somin proposes that May 1 be used to commemorate the victims of communism. The folks at Distributed Republic -- formerly Catallarchy -- have gathered a series of posts commemorating the victims of communism.

I heartily concur. The 20th Century knew two murderous totalitarian ideologies -- Nazism and communism. The victims of the Nazi Holocaust are often remembered, but the victims of communist holocausts -- plural -- are oft forgotten. Well, not by me.