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Saturday, January 6, 2007
This Week's Excellent Readings

An old year, a new year, a dead tyrant, a president's funeral, Peggy Noonan, and some really good stuff on other topics, large and small . . .

Favorites: Peggy Noonan

(Because she's Peggy Noonan. Isn't that reason enough?) Here Peggy Noonan writes of the meanings and uses of ceremony -- New Year's Eve, a state funeral, whatever.

Favorites: Year in Review

As a lover of language and the recipient of more education than I will ever be able to use to earn a buck, I'm with Paul Greenberg -- not that that's unusual -- when he suggests that the world needs more Sarah Pricketts. (Blog readers who edit for a living, you'll probably like this one.) You figure out why I put it under the heading, "Year in Review."

Ross Mackenzie's review of 2006, with its look ahead, too, is insightful. Don't miss the good Samuel Johnson quotation at the beginning and the great Edmund Burke quotation at the end.

I like Harry R. Jackson's New Year's resolution. It's important. It's overdue. And he makes it personal.

Dave Barry's review of the year always a hoot. This year it features recurring cameos by Bode Miller and Nancy Pelosi.

Heavy on the war, but touching other topics, Mark Steyn's column looks both forward and back.

Listening to [John] Edwards, you get no sense that this man is in any way engaged with the times. He's not alone, of course. It's been striking to read accounts of the incoming House leadership (of both parties) unable to tell the difference between Sunni and Shia or name a single book they've read on the present conflict. We are in an era of fast-moving demographic and technological transformation, and lavishly remunerated national legislators (with huge numbers of staff to do all the research) have minimal curiosity about it. . . .

Mustaf Jama, a Somali ''asylum seeker'' in Britain wanted for the murder of a policewoman, fled the country by taking his sister's passport, wearing a niqab (the full Islamic head-to-toe get-up that covers everything but the eyes) and passing unhindered through the checkpoints at Heathrow. . . .

The state is willing to inflict pointless bureaucratic discomfort and inconvenience on everyone else, but the demographic group with the most links to terrorism gets to go through the fast-track VIP channel. . . .

The Ethiopians can't be blamed for not taking the U.N. seriously. To be sure, the alternative to the jihad boys is a bunch of thugs. But that's the reality of much of the map today: a choice between being an outpost of the global jihad, or a patchwork quilt of warlords, or a bit of both with some feeble, half-hearted multilateral force mediating between the two. I don't know whether the Ethiopian intervention will work in the long run, but, if it does, the best hope for squashing the jihad might be to outsource the fight to Third World regimes less squeamish about waging it.

Debra J. Saunders rings out some old bromides.

Favorites: The Tyrant Is Dead

My favorite statement on Saddam Hussein's death so far is Paul Greenberg's. Here is an excerpt:

However welcome justice may be, let there be no celebrating such an end. How can we celebrate the death of any man, we who are mortal ourselves?

Rather let us mourn others -- the innocent victims of this never-ending war blown apart in some marketplace we will never hear of, or the young Pfc. from some wide place in the road who responded when his country called and gave it whatever he had. Like so many who have sacrificed so that the rest of us might breathe free -- and see the light of the next dawn unafraid. And take it as our due, never noticing the price.

Lest we forget, there's still a war on, its outcome by no means sure. Our fighting men and women are well aware of that, whether they are in Iraq or Afghanistan or waiting to go there. This country has more pressing business right now than cheering the end of a tyrant who no longer matters, and who hasn't mattered for some time. For in war, as an American general named MacArthur said, there is no substitute for victory -- and that includes jubilation.

Before we finally bury Saddam Hussein, so to speak, let's review his credentials and performance as an evil dictator. Niall Ferguson finds him a pale reflection of his (Saddam's) hero, Stalin, and has some pointed thoughts about how the US helped him (Saddam) become what he became. (Neither President Bush fares well here, but it's not the vapid, knee-jerk Bush-bashing of the Left, either.)

In Christopher Hitchens' essay, again, we see some of the thoughts the Left has lately trumpeted (in their preferred strident, Bush-is-a-pseudonym-for-Satan manner) -- but discussed intelligently, instead. Were there serious flaws in Saddam's trial? Would it have been better to let him rot in prison for the rest of his natural life? Serious thought without the name-calling.

Favorites: Everything Else

Mark Bowden's very intelligent look at deep-seated hatreds and nation-building deserves thought, not just a quick reading.

We Americans consistently underestimate the deep hatreds that divide people. Our political system is designed to wrestle peacefully with the divisions of race, class, ethnicity, religion and competing ideological or geographical interests, and has generally worked as intended -- the Civil War being the one glaring exception. Generations have struggled to live up to ideals of tolerance and diversity. When we look out at the world, we tend to see millions longing to get past the blood feuds, to be, in short, more like us. George Bush and the neocon intellectuals who led us into Iraq are just the latest in a long line of evangelical Americanists. No matter how many times history slaps us in the face, the dream persists.

Victor Davis Hanson evaluates the difficulties and the possibilities in Iraq. Very good article.

Creating new political systems on the ground is far more difficult than simply blasting away terrorist concentrations. Such engagement demands that American soldiers leave the relative safety of ships, tanks and planes to fight subsequent messy battles in streets and neighborhoods. Once that happens, the United States loses its intrinsic military advantages.

In an excellent continuation of his "dangerous obsession" series, Thomas Sowell explains who determines the value of a thing (such as labor). He asks:

Are individual decisions made by people deciding what is best for themselves to be over-ruled by ignorant busybodies, obsessed by things they do not understand?

Is the whole economic system of supply and demand, on which the nation's prosperity is based, to be disrupted whenever moral exhibitionists have a need to feel puffed up about themselves?

Michael Barone praises President Gerald R. Ford.

George Will explains that a minimum wage is really unnecessary (economically, that is). In the process, he writes:

There would be something disproportionate about the President vetoing this feel-good bit of legislative fluff after not vetoing the absurdly expensive 2002 farm bill, or the 2005 highway bill larded with 6,371 earmarks, or the anti-constitutional McCain-Feingold speech-rationing bill.


Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly. But that is a good idea whose time will never come again.

Ross Mackenzie has a good collection of quotations. (I particularly like the ones from Abraham Lincoln, Barry Goldwater, and T. S. Eliot.)


See also Favorites above.

Suddenly, Ethiopia is our successful friend and exemplar in the war on Islamic Fascism.

John Podhoretz writes of a pending change in Pentagon leadership and, not coincidentally, of President Bush's apparent repudiation of the CESM report and recommendations in favor of -- get this -- actual victory.

Jack Kelly discusses some disturbing questions about the FBI's competence in the last several years.

Jeff Emanuel offers an obituary of sorts about Saddam Hussein. Don't miss the body count. It's important. And there are a lot of zeroes in it.

Austin Bay says a trial based on law and evidence, followed by a noose, is not how tyrants expect to die.

Is a "surge" the thing? Robert Novak writes.

Michael Medved muses on a familiar tune, on Scottish nationalism, and on the comparative weakness of Palestinian nationalist claims.

If a people who claim that their origins stretch back into "the mists of time" can't identify a single famous figure as one of their own -- no, not one -- what does it say about the authenticity of their historic nationality?

Debra J. Saunders analyzes the BMA rules governing coverage of the war in Iraq, in the context of Saddam Hussein's execution.

Jeff Jacoby notes that Human Rights Watch can't tell the moral difference between Saddam Hussein's countless murders and the execution of the murderer.

Charles Krauthammer writes of the unfortunate botching of Saddam's trial and execution. He writes reasonably, from a rule-of-law viewpoint, not the Left's mantra that the death penalty is worse than the crime. Here is an excerpt, with one example:

It was also carried out extra-constitutionally. The constitution requires a death sentence to have the signature of the president and two vice presidents, each representing the three major ethnic groups in the country (Sunni, Shiite and Kurd). That provision is meant to prevent sectarian killings. The president did not sign. Maliki contrived some work-around.

True, Saddam's hanging was just and, in principle, nonsectarian. But the next hanging might not be. Breaking precedent completely undermines the death penalty provision, opening the way to future revenge and otherwise lawless hangings.

[Krauthammer concludes with a thought about the larger political context . . .]

We should not be surging American troops in defense of such a government. This governing coalition -- Maliki's Dawa, Hakim's SCIRI and Sadr's Mahdi Army -- seems intent on crushing the Sunnis at all costs. Maliki should be made to know that if he insists on having this sectarian war, he can well have it without us.

National Politics

President Bush writes of things needing to be done in the next two years, and of cooperation between the White House and the new Congress. Among other things, he promises a revised Iraq strategy soon.

This time, writes George Will, the news for freedom of political speech in the United States is good.

Ashlea Ebeling tells a story of what good lobbying will get you in Washington.

Roderick M. Hills explains that President Ford had a lot to do with economic deregulation, though he rarely gets much credit for it.

John Stossel reports that it is now illegal for most churchgoers to feed the homeless in Fairfax County, Virginia. (What will those clever bureaucrats think of next?) Homeless philosopher James understands this, I suppose.

James has put his finger on another important point: the perverse incentives facing bureaucrats, who get no credit if they never meddle in our peaceful activities.


The rules are well-intended. They're meant to make sure the public is safe. But rule-makers tend to forget that their rules have unintended consequences. And . . . eating out of dumpsters is more dangerous than eating at a church without a three-compartment sink.

Walter Williams compares the Super Bowl and politics in this discussion of the importance of rules.

Kathleen Parker doesn't seem especially impressed that John Edwards is running for president (or that he is reportedly the son of a millworker).

Rich Lowry has some good thoughts about taking the long view in policy decisions -- not just taking a poll. Gerald Ford is mentioned.

Dick Morris wonders if a new era of relative moderation is emerging in national politics.

David Hill has an interesting insight into the possibilities of a Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign.

A test is coming soon for those newly-elected Democrats who told the voters they were pro-life, writes Robert Novak.

Barack Obama writes of reforming Congress' rules to minimize both corruption and the appearance of corruption. (Will he put his money where his mouth is?)

Linda Chavez is not terribly impressed or worried by the Democrats' 100-hour agenda.

Around the World

Jeff Jacoby notes a grim anniversary and wonders what ultimately will determine Fidel Castro's legacy. (Castro reportedly is near death -- still or again, I've lost track.) Will it be the cheerleaders or the body count and other wreckage?

The Culture

Kathleen Parker writes of "the [modern] voyeurism that passeth all understanding."

If your New Year's resolution is to be a full-blown narcissist, Doug Giles can tell you how. Here are some excerpts to help you get into the spirit of it:

If you want high-grade, Hollywood/Washington D.C. type, nasty narcissism in '07, you must be focused. This is no game. This level of self-love is hard to achieve. You have to blow through common sense, your conscience, public opinion, the Holy Spirit, your grandmother calling you a jack ass and all kinds of other junk to become a truly biohazardous, egocentric person. . . .

You shouldn't let the reality that you're a piece of luggage dissuade you from thinking that you can achieve omnipresent oneness. . . .

Being deeply self-deceived helps you to con others. . . .

Yes, you've got to require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation if you truly want to be a self-obsessed, sick little toad. . . .

Lastly, here's a final warning for those who are determined to be self-obsessed, me-monkeys: stay away from the teachings of Jesus Christ. They will absolutely ruin your selfishness. They'll mess with your time, your talent and your treasure.

James J. Kilpatrick's Court of Peeves -- linguistic peeves, that is -- is now in session.

Dr. Elizabeth Cantor looks at the record as she wonders, Is it the Christians who are intolerant and otherwise on the rampage? (You guessed it: Not so much.)

Suzanne Fields speaks of happiness, in a somewhat different way than usual.

In the wake of Saddam Hussein's execution, Wesley Pruden has some very contemporary insights on the general subject of the death penalty in the twenty-first century.

Here's a statistical pattern that may not surprise you: there is a positive statistical correlation between being conservative and giving generously to charity. Jonah Goldberg explains. Apparently, it has a lot to do with how much you trust government.

Is decency making a comeback in Hollywood's work product? Suzanne Fields has some hopeful notes.

Burt Prelutsky suggests that Earth is the galaxy's loony bin . . .

. . . And Mona Charen suggests that it may actually be college campuses. Actually, she's talking about some new, politically incorrect research on the physical and emotional damage sexual promiscuity can cause.

Gene Weingarten offers a collection of women's responses to a certain recent Christopher Hitchens article about why (or was it how?) women can't be funny, as men can. (I read the Hitchens article but declined to recommend it. Hitchens is often intelligent and perceptive, but I'm not sure this was one of those times, and, even if it was, it just wasn't worth it. Just reading these responses will give you enough of an idea of how the article went.) Be advised: some of the responses are, shall we say, rated PG, mostly for scattered anatomical humor and sexual inuendo. (The Hitchens article was a hard PG-13 or soft R.) Christine Lavin's new verse for a song, linked to here, is worth hearing. Hmm. Turns out women can be funny after all.

Tired of ugly? Greg Crosby has a purely escapist antidote. His top ten list of old movies is a lot longer than ten, actually. Good thing, too. We were past ten before we got to one I have seen.

Betsy Hart wants to reverse the decline in friendship this year.


I could have told you junior high school was hell. Now the Rand Corporation is telling you, and junior highs and middle schools are biting the dust in some big districts, writes Maggie Gallagher.

I don't share Burt Prelutsky's hostility to academia -- in my graduate program in Russian Literature I did a lot more than just sit around reading novels, which, by the way, I absolutely love to do -- but he has some good points, including this one:

It's bad enough that all over this country millions of kids who can't write a coherent sentence or do simple math without using a calculator think they're intellectually superior to their parents and their grandparents, but the cost of this indulgence is absolutely obscene.


Sean P. Means writes that it was a big year for the cinematic arts in Utah.

Paul Foy writes of Utah's economy, labor shortage, and other related themes.

American Fork and Thereabouts

A new movie, entitled American Fork, premiers this month at the SlamDance Film Festival. According to the Festival, it's about "the life and times of Tracy Orbison, a grocery clerk with the mind of a dreamer, the soul of a poet and the body of a really fat man."

Alan Choate reports that those folks we elected in Utah County last year have now taken office.

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