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Saturday, August 26, 2006
The Week's Excellent Readings

This week's wide-ranging list has more favorites than usual and a broader range of topics than last week's. Topics in the Favorites category range from Wal-Mart and the Simpsons to war and presidential elections. Enjoy.


Michael Barone writes that we have overt and covert enemies in the present war, and what he says about the covert ones is right on the money. One small excerpt:

Our covert enemies don't want the Islamo-fascists to win. But in some corner of their hearts, they would like us to lose.

Beware a religion without irony, warns Roger Scruton (though those precise words may actually be his editor's). Along the way, you'll learn who coined the term "Islamofascism."

Chuck Colson defines fascism and says, yes, that's what we're fighting. Or at least that's what's fighting us.

This is a couple of months old, but Erica Klarreich's article on number theory and other math in The Simpsons tickled my math-geek brain, though I'm not an avid Simpsons watcher. Thanks to Oak Norton of American Fork for the link. Here's an excerpt quoting an episode which brings The Emperor's New Math to mind:

Gender issues in mathematics take center stage in "Girls just want to have sums," which aired on April 30. It lampoons the scandal that ensued in 2005 when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, suggested that women are innately inferior at mathematics.

In that Simpsons episode, Springfield Elementary School Principal Skinner is ousted after casually remarking that girls aren't much good at math. Skinner's female replacement divides the boys and girls into separate schools since, she says, girls can't learn math around "aggressive, obnoxious" boys.

Brainy 8-year-old Lisa Simpson is delighted until she attends the girls' math class. "How do numbers make you feel?" the teacher begins. "What does a plus sign smell like? Is the number 7 odd or just different?" Aghast, Lisa poses as a boy to attend the ghettolike boys' school, where real math is being taught.

At the climax, the Simpsons writers leave the issue of women in mathematics tantalizingly unresolved. As Lisa, aka Jake, accepts the award for best math student, she says, "I guess the real reason we don't see many women in math and science is. . ." only to be hurried off stage so that the award for best flautist can be presented.

Lorie Byrd evaluates the likely Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign. It's an interesting article, but what elevates it to favorite status on this week's list is this quotation from Kate O'Bierne:

Should Mitt Romney join a 2008 race that included John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and George Allen, the only guy in the GOP field with only one wife would be the Mormon.

Jonah Goldberg is enjoying the Democrats' anti-Wal-Mart histrionics, and I'm thinking of adding two acronyms to my repertoire: BDS and WMDS. (Goldberg will explain.)

Charles Krauthammer opines insightfully on the current applications and limitations of multilateralism, including in the cases of Iran, Lebanon, and North Korea. Here's a snippet from his discussion of Lebanon:

Lebanon is an example of the other category -- multilateralism that might actually accomplish something. The U.S. worked assiduously with France to draft a Security Council resolution that would create a powerful international force, and thus a real buffer, in south Lebanon. However, when the Lebanese government and the Arab League objected, France became their lawyer and renegotiated the draft with the U.S. The State Department acquiesced to a far weaker resolution on the quite reasonable grounds that since France was going to lead and be the major participant in the international force, we should not be dictating the terms under which the force would operate.

But we underestimated French perfidy. (Overestimating it is mathematically impossible.) Once the resolution was passed, France announced that instead of the expected 5,000 troops, it would be sending 200. The French defense minister explained that they were not going to send out soldiers under a limited mandate and weak rules of engagement -- precisely the mandate and rules of engagement that the French had just gotten us to agree to.

Kathleen Parker writes of the wonders and horrors, in our technological world, of trying to do anything in public.

Have I mentioned lately that Paul Greenberg can flat-out write? Here he reflects on traveling in a time of terror, but I think I'd enjoy his writing if he were telling me about the latest, greatest telephone book or notebook paper or something else completely banal.

Betsy Hart has some refreshing insights into parenting and being parented. Here's a substantial excerpt:

Even now I can envision my mom bent over her papers late at night, while none of us kids dared to interrupt. Her work was important to her, and for me to see that work as a blessing to her, not just a "necessary evil," is a lesson from which I've benefited to this day.

But I also grew up knowing that my mother's home and her family and her children were her lifeblood. Now that's different than saying her children were intrinsically interesting to her. I never felt she was particularly fascinated by any of us. I sense she saw her job as helping us to become people who would one day become intrinsically interesting. . . .

But along the way she did do field trips and scout meetings and sporting events, and I suppose I didn't have the impression those things were always pleasing to her on their own terms, or that she didn't have "better" things to do. Now, as a mom of four myself, I bet she saw some of those things as boring. So what? . . . My mom did those things because she loved us passionately -- and they were important to us.

Guess what? We also knew she had important things in her life besides us. It's not all or nothing.


Amir Taheri suggests that Hezbollah didn't win, after all, and then he makes his case rather persuasively.

Robert Novak muses on Iran's purported new willingness to talk.

Joel Mowbray reviews the case in support of this statement:

Almost nothing that is purported to happen in the Arab world can automatically be taken at face value. Not even if it's captured in a photo.

Mark Steyn recalls some of the swift progress in the weeks after 9/11 in obtaining international cooperation, and he notes that such things aren't happening any more.

Jeff Jacoby notes that Israel's airline, El Al, is the safest in the world, and discusses the difference between the US and Israel in the matter of airport security.

Jerry Bowyer tracks Wall Street's view of Arab companies through recent events. Here, in a nutshell, is his conclusion:

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the Israeli stock exchange rallied and fell in step with Israel's fortunes in the war. But as the above chart shows, the Arab Titans index did the same, rising and falling in step with Israel's success. Why? Because Israel's counter-attacks were not the destabilizing factor in the region. Hezbollah's failed-state warlordism was.

Israel's attack was part of the solution. That's because the conflict isn't between Arab and Jew; it's between civilization and chaos. The complex web of information that constitutes Saudi bankers, Kuwaiti phone execs, and their shareholders seems to have been voting that civilization is either winning, or that it must win.

Rich Lowry says the US is the world's only responsible power.

Paul Greenberg analyzes the recent US District Court decision declaring certain National Security Agency surveillance programs unconstitutional.

I'm not entirely certain that Alfred E. Neuman is fit intellectual company for people whose decisions actually matter. That may be part of Wesley Pruden's point, too.

National Politics

Robert Novak offers the latest news from inside the Beltway, including Senator Christopher Dodd's preparations to run for president.

Paul Jacob talks about "the great wage gap" -- between federal workers and the private sector, that is, and the federal workers are making a lot more.

Rich Lowry celebrates the success of welfare reform after ten years and suggests the next step. An excerpt:

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the most extraordinary cultural and policy shift in recent American life -- the revolution wrought by President Clinton's signing of a welfare-reform bill in August 1996. Pro-work reforms of welfare had been bubbling up from the states since the early 1990s, but the federal legislation completed a change in philosophy that rippled into the lives of single mothers, changing them dramatically for the better.

If the kind of social progress brought by welfare reform had been caused by a liberal policy, its architects would be enjoying Kennedy School sinecures and lionizing portrayals in a major motion picture. But the rebels who changed the welfare status quo were conservative intellectuals and officeholders. The only tribute to them is the facts

John H. Fund provides a bit of antidote to the tiresome BMA catechism that says President Bush is intellectually deficient, but also explains the need for the President to communicate much more effectively on key issues. (Amen.)

John Podhoretz analyzes the polls and their ability to forecast 2006 election results.

Kathleen Parker suggests an alternative to the "President Bush is an idiot" mantra: Washington politico-speak is not his native tongue.

Want to get angry? Read Debra J. Saunders' account of a truly ridiculous episode. (I'm thinking a presidential pardon would be a nice gesture.)

Mona Charen catalogs the various theories conjured up over the years by experts to explain why the Democrats will win a given election, including the next one.

Robert Novak reports the latest morsels from Capitol Hill, including doubts that Senator Lieberman will lose his committee positions if he wins after running as an independent.

There's a secret hold in the Senate on an interesting bill to promote open government. How's that for irony? Ed Feulner reports. It's an interesting bill, too. Perhaps Utah and American Fork should look into it.

Peter Beinart says that it's actually good electoral strategy for the Democrats to have no ideas.

I Shop at Wal-Mart at Least Three Times in a Typical Week

I enjoyed Bill Murchison on Democratic Wal-Mart-bashing and political demagoguery in general.

Rich Lowry explains the anti-Wal-Mart silliness as cogently as anyone:

Attacking oil companies for allegedly price-gouging is unquestionably good (if grossly opportunistic) politics. What Wal-Mart perpetrates, however, is price-gouging in reverse. It sweats every inefficiency out of itself and its suppliers so it can pass those savings on to consumers. Attacking the company for that isn't populist, it's perverse. A mom struggling to make ends meet might be angry at spending another $2-a-gallon to fill up at the pump. She's not going to be so exercised by getting a great deal on diapers.


Wal-Mart shouldn't be romanticized. It doesn't deliver low prices from the goodness of its heart, but because it's a way to thrive in a competitive economy (nor does it pay relatively low wages out of malice). Its ruthless efficiency drives competitors out of business. This is painful, but there is no reason to believe that America was a better place when it bought retail products from Ames or Caldor, extinct discount chains that never developed a business model successful enough to be pilloried by politicians.

And finally:

Why do Democrats target Wal-Mart? As in so much else in Democratic politics, from trade issues to the minimum wage, part of the answer is to follow the unions. When Wal-Mart began to sell groceries, it ran afoul of the unions that dominate supermarkets, and they have made Wal-Mart a hate-brand on the left. Something deeper is at work, as well. In Democratic politicians' contempt for Wal-Mart, there is an element of snobbery. They have a distaste for such a down-market, lumpen-bourgeois operation where few of their voters shop (one poll found that 76 percent of weekly Wal-Mart shoppers are Bush voters), let alone anyone they socialize with.


Lawrence Kudlow reviews the current economic good news.

Thomas Sowell's little economics primer for black leaders is useful for a general audience.

The Culture

Read Tom Purcell to find out why he says -- and what is his point when he says -- this:

The modest size of the house forced us to live together -- there was simply no way to avoid each other. We had to learn how to share -- certainly how to negotiate -- and how to get along, all valuable skills to have in life.

And never once did we feel our home was small.

Mary Katherine Ham notes that social conservatives -- by which she means Mormons, as represented by a few folks on a reality show -- can dance. In the process, she has an insight into the popular appeal of at least some reality shows.

I first read the National Education Association (NEA) charter when I was 18. This means that I was horrified then, but am not surprised now at the latest NEA caper. In case you've been in a closet for the last 40 years and don't know how the NEA thinks, Alan Sears explains.

Suzanne Fields describes the recently revealed hypocrisy of a major cultural icon, Gunter Grass. Along the way, we get this gem from Hannah Arendt:

What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one.

Star Parker discusses lopsided corporate giving (favoring the Left), common shakedown tactics, and related subjects.

If I'm ever tempted to think ill of my own daughter in her teenage years, I'll try to remember this Celia Rivenbark piece and thank whatever gods there be that she is nothing like the spoiled brat(s) described in it.

And then there's Jill, profiled here by Meghan Daum.

Paul Greenberg slips into meta-columnist mode again. I always enjoy it, but maybe that's because these days I write mostly about politics, but sometimes about . . . loftier things, if there are any.

What do preschool expulsion rates have to do with anything? Clarence Page answers.

Allison Kasic asks,

Would the suffragists support such a bitter and cranky women's movement?

After that one, clear your palate with Gene Weingarten, who has been known to take an idea and run with it.

Greg Crosby stomps all over the WaMu wamu, and I, fancying myself a literate person and a lover of language, thank him.

Around the World

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes about some interesting developments in the fight against AIDS, which will please pretty much everyone except the any-answer-but-the-real-one crowd.

George Will probes the strained relations between Japan and China and the role of memory.

And here George Will profiles Japan's retiring prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

The New Republic's Jonathan Kurlantzick explains why it's not a surprise to find a pedophile (or worse) on the lam in Thailand. It's not a pleasant article, but . . .


Mike Gallagher wonders about symbolic policies which make communities feel they've accomplished something when they really haven't. The subject is sex offenders.

Burt Prelutsky tells why he should never be on a jury, despite the fact that he was on call for jury duty all week.

American Fork and Environs

Forbes has rated Utah the fourth-best state for doing business. Kurt Badenhausen reports.

Here's a fairly good Tyler Peterson article in the Salt Lake Tribune about the American Fork City Council's vote to put a pressurized water system bond on the November ballot. And here's a less satisfactory Daily Herald article by Megan C. Wallgren which uses one resident's complaint to make it sound as if the City has not done its homework and doesn't understand what it's doing -- which is not an accurate impression. (Later note: The Tyler Peterson article contains one significant error: The partial system's cost would reportedly be about twice the $18 million he cited.)

Amy Choate-Nielsen reports on ongoing consideration of a possible lakeside resort in American Fork.

This long Glen Warhol article from the Salt Lake Tribune is the most thorough I've seen so far on the recent flutter about American Fork's Developmental Center. (Personally, I'm all for government programs having to justify their existence and their costs, but I suspect that's actually possible in this case.)

Here's a Barbara Christiansen story about putting American Fork City's old bell back into its old place at City Hall. (The headline tries too hard, but we're used to that, right?)

American Fork City Councilman Shirl LeBaron's blog offers a summary of the deal American Fork and Lehi made to bring the new CostCo to its current location.

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