‐ Who knew “Race to the Top” was his plan for gas prices, too?
‐ The Mutiny of 1857 was sparked by rumors that cartridges issued to Indian soldiers were greased with cow or pig fat. A smaller but similar wave of mayhem rolled over Afghanistan after American soldiers burned Korans. No matter that the books were already desecrated — by terrorist prisoners who used their pages to send messages to one another. The infidel was committing sacrilege, so mobs took to the streets, six American soldiers at a military base in Kunduz were injured by a grenade, and two American officers inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul were murdered by a driver. Afghan and American officials labored to contain the damage. President Hamid Karzai policed the demonstrations — in the past, he has cravenly stirred outrage up — while President Obama offered “sincere apologies” (Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all criticized him, wrongly — first response to a fire is to douse it). If Americans cannot work closely with Afghans in maintaining security, then our options for keeping al-Qaeda out and the Taliban down will shrink to a regimen of drone attacks, varied by special-forces raids.
‐ Governor Mitt Romney says he wants to cut tax rates across the board by 20 percent to improve incentives to work, save, and invest. That’s a fine goal, but some caveats are in order. Deficits, and projected deficits, are much larger than they were when Republicans cut taxes in the past, and Romney has been vague about which spending programs he would cut and which tax breaks he would reduce to make room for these tax cuts. Leaving the existing tax structure in place would be a missed opportunity. Cutting the 10 percent tax rate to 8 percent reduces federal revenue enormously while doing little to improve anyone’s incentives. Romney could have proposed a tax code that raises the same amount of revenue while reducing the number of tax brackets and expanding the tax credit for children. The proposal he did make is unimaginative but contains enough that appeals to conservatives to get him through the primaries, which makes it characteristic of his campaign as a whole.
‐ Having said that John F. Kennedy’s famous speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association made him want to “throw up,” Senator Rick Santorum was asked to defend his statement. “To say that people of faith have no role in the public square?” he replied. “You bet that makes you throw up.” Kennedy, he said, had argued that “only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case” and that “the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state,” and had promised not even to “consult with people of faith.” Santorum got Kennedy’s speech wrong; but Kennedy’s speech, however celebrated, got church-state relations wrong too. Kennedy suggested that Catholicism would, and should, have no influence on his public acts. (“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair” — and, it turns out, whose religious views did not interfere with his private affairs.) Kennedy’s argument implies that religious people are welcome to participate in politics so long as they act as though they had no religion. It is an argument without much in the way of constitutional principle or historical American practice to recommend it, as indeed the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was contemporaneously proving. Santorum can justly be criticized for rhetorical inelegance and analytical imprecision, but his irreverence toward the Gospel according to Saint Jack is amply warranted.
‐ Santorum continued his sometime role of making perfectly defensible views seem ridiculous through overstatement (see editorial below). In the latest case, the defensible view is that the bipartisan goal of getting every high-school graduate to go to college is a mistake; the ridiculous overstatement is that Obama supports the goal because 1) he is a snob toward people without degrees and 2) people become less religious while in college and he welcomes this effect. Needless to say, many people who are neither snobs nor hostile to religion believe in encouraging youngsters to go to college. They think it is a path to prosperity for both individuals and society. This view is wrong, we think: At this point the marginal student brought to college by additional social pressure and subsidies is more likely to accrue large debts than to acquire marketable skills. One of the many unfortunate consequences of the prevalence of the view Obama expressed is to make it appear that people who do not get a college degree are doomed to poverty. But Santorum is not going to persuade people that they are wrong by telling them that they harbor motives they know they do not have.
#page#‐ Come the next contested Republican presidential primary — by grace, in 2020 — it should be left to the party to set the number, dates, and locations of debates. They should be fewer than the 20-odd we saw this year, so that they are not so unduly agenda-setting. And they should enroll conservative think tanks, alternative media, tea-party groups, and grassroots organizations to help determine formatting and questions. For broadcasting purposes, the participation of mainstream media may still be necessary, but they should be distinctly junior partners. The George Stephanopouloses and Diane Sawyers of the world brought us the semiotic search for the racism beneath Newt’s food-stamp line, the dismissal of “the Constitution” in haughty air quotes, the wasting of primetime minutes pondering which wife would make the best first lady, the obsessive deposing of Romney on the legality of condoms, and a dozen other lowlights designed to generate buzz for the networks and make conservatives look weird. So why on earth should conservatives trust them to play any substantial role in the selection of our presidential standard-bearer? The answer, of course, is that we should not.
‐ President Obama has the odd habit of decrying “loopholes” in the tax code while proposing to create new ones. He did so in his recent State of the Union speech, and in February while announcing his new corporate-tax plan — which would reduce the nominal rate from 35 to 28 percent while reshuffling and further complicating the vast and bewildering array of credits, exclusions, and deductions through which the U.S. government uses the tax code to conduct industrial policy. President Obama would eliminate some manufacturing credits for industries he dislikes (oil-and-gas firms) while creating new breaks for industries he does like (favored domestic manufacturers) and taking punitive measures against U.S. firms that succeed in overseas markets. The plan is one more attempt by the Obama administration to try to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. Given its track record — Solyndra and General Motors have both lost money for taxpayers — Americans would do well to seek investment advice elsewhere.
‐ Senator Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) is trying to pass a bill that protects conscience rights from Obamacare. It would, for instance, reaffirm the right of employers to refuse to provide their employees with insurance coverage for activities they consider immoral. The main theme of the Democratic opposition to this bill is that Republicans are waging a war on contraception. A secondary theme is that, under this legislation, employers could (for example) refuse to provide coverage for the treatment of HIV. What these attacks ignore is that the federal government has always allowed employers to refrain from providing coverage they find objectionable, or providing coverage at all. An employer who exercises this right faces no federal penalties even today, in 2012. Yet people still seem able to get contraception, and no enterprising reporter has yet uncovered a company that refuses to cover HIV treatment for moral reasons. The legislation merely safeguards rights that had never been in question — that had never even had to be conceived of as rights — before this administration came along.
‐ The Reverend Franklin Graham, on a recent session of Morning Joe, commented on Obama: “He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.” This remark generated scare headlines — “Franklin Graham Questions Obama’s Christian Faith” (Yahoo! News) — but Graham is not alone in his doubts. A year ago Bill Maher called Obama “a centrist the way he’s a Christian. He’s pretending to be a centrist.” Conservative Christians should know the rules of the game: If they question the president’s Christianity, they are yobs who think he is a Kenyan Marxist Muslim. A liberal atheist such as Maher will be passed over in silence: He is talking in sign language to the cognoscenti. The Reverend Graham eventually apologized. But it’s a free country. A believer can say anything he thinks about a pol’s faith or practice, and Americans have been doing it for a long time (George Washington’s enemies called him a “horrid blasphemer”). Politics tends to go better, though, when the chattering class chatters about politics.
‐ During the most recent presidential debate, New York Times columnist and graphic-design editor Charles Blow responded to Mitt Romney’s comments on out-of-wedlock births by tweeting, “Let me just tell you this, Mitt ‘Muddle Mouth’: I’m a single parent and my kids are *amazing*! Stick that in your magic underwear.” Mormonism’s distinctive practices and relative rarity do not begin to excuse Blow’s comments about the “temple garments” some Mormons wear and regard as sacred. Blow later allowed that his comment was “inappropriate,” although his employer delivered no public reprimand. Would the Times react so feebly if someone told a notable Muslim to stick his opinion under his turban? It is bad enough that the Times shows no embarrassment when one of its columnists responds to discussion of a pressing social concern with a solipsistic non sequitur.
‐ Leading Democrats are once again trying to guilt the rich. You may recall Joe Biden, campaigning in 2008. “It’s time to be patriotic,” he said. What he meant was: It’s time to pay higher taxes. Now the Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, has said that “the most fortunate Americans” should “bear a slightly larger burden of the privilege of being an American.” This was maybe especially hard to take from Geithner, given his tax delinquency in the last decade. It is, yes, a privilege to be an American — as much for the poor as for the rich (and America is one of the best places in all the world to be poor). Paying for federal profligacy, on the other hand, is neither a privilege nor anything in which we should take patriotic pride.
‐ The Defense Department has announced the opening of some 14,000 new “combat support” roles to women in the military, another incremental win for those seeking to erode the protections that have long kept women out of the most dangerous assignments. Conservatives have been divided on the issue, but count us with those who take exception to Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s assertion — echoed by Mitt Romney — that the reality of female soldiers’ having died in Iraq and Afghanistan counts as evidence of the wisdom of dropping them into firefights in forward areas. There remains a gulf between combat support and combat per se, just as there is a gulf between the soldiers who fall in combat and the civilians who die as collateral damage. Current military-integration policies have demanded gender-normed scoring on physical tests owing to undeniable sex differences in physical abilities. But the ability to survive is not gender-normed. Military women have served bravely and selflessly and done everything asked of them. The present direct-combat exemptions ensure that they won’t be told to serve in ways that deny them the most important equal opportunity of all: the opportunity to come home.
Raising the Cost of Crime
Perhaps the first and foremost role of the government is to protect its citizens from crime. It can do so by providing active and visible police protections, and by vigorously pursuing and prosecuting criminals once crimes have been committed. There have been many crime-fighting innovations in recent years, and crime rates have fallen sharply at the same time. But there has been little hard evidence that all of the high-tech techniques contributed to the crime reduction. Until now.
One innovation of the past two decades has been the spread of state-maintained databases of criminal offenders’ DNA profiles. The databases make it easier for the authorities to find and ultimately capture suspects. In principle, this increased capability could have a chilling effect on crime as potential criminals abandon illegal pursuits in the face of higher odds of conviction.
Stanford University economist Jennifer Doleac has written a fascinating new paper that explores the impact on crime of DNA databases. The paper exploits random variation in the timing of database expansions. Different states have different criteria for putting people into their databases, and have often changed those criteria. They typically expand their databases following widely publicized “if only” cases: cases in which terrible crimes could have been prevented if only the database had been more inclusive. For example, California added incarcerated felons to its DNA profiles after it was revealed that a man who was convicted of raping 14 women had served time for a felony burglary years earlier. Had his DNA been in the system after that incarceration, he probably would not have been able to commit so many rapes.
Doleac compares criminals who were released before database expansions took effect with those released afterward. She finds that those in the database are far more likely to be caught if they commit a crime, and far less likely to commit new crimes in the first place.
The scale of her findings is quite striking. The nearby chart shows the results of a simulation based on her evidence. A hypothetical 50 percent increase in average database size, which in 2008 would have been an increase from about 177 to 266 profiles per 10,000 residents, has a statistically significant effect on crime rates. It would result in a 13.5 percent reduction in murder, a 27.2 percent reduction in rape, a 12.2 percent reduction in aggravated assault, a 12.0 percent reduction in larceny, and a 22.7 percent reduction in vehicle theft, as well as a statistically insignificant (5 percent) reduction in burglary.
While a 50 percent increase might be difficult to achieve without arousing concerns about civil liberties, the U.S. could choose to follow the lead of the United Kingdom, where all arrestees suspected of serious offenses are included in a database. In the U.S., the addition of arrestees for serious felonies would increase the database size by 12 percent, which would still have a significant impact on crime. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports show that 12,996 murders were committed in the United States in 2010. Doleac’s results suggest that adopting the U.K. approach would save 415 lives per year. And compared with increasing police forces, expanding a DNA database costs almost nothing.
DNA databases have significantly increased the safety of our citizens. Policymakers should explore ways to expand them without prompting fears of Big Brother.
#page# ‐ Climate scientist Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute is by his own admission a liar and a thief, but whether he is a forger as well remains unknown. Posing as a member of the board of the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, he procured access to internal documents, which he then gleefully released to left-leaning blogs and the media. The documents included a damning strategy memo that is an apparent forgery, and a clumsy one at that. Gleick has owned up to the first two offenses but pleads not guilty to the third. Strange thing about the global-warming alarmists: For a group of people certain that the facts are on their side, they lie rather often. As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, a respected scientific journal published an article encouraging scientists to exaggerate the evidence for global warming, and when the Gleick scandal broke, the Guardian’s James Garvey praised him: “If Gleick frustrates the efforts of Heartland, isn’t his lie justified by the good that it does?” Perhaps the evidence would be more compelling if it were not fabricated.
‐ When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, jihadi headquarters was Jersey City. The terror cell met in the local mosque. Jihadists trained and maintained bomb-construction safehouses in the Garden State. Most of the terrorists lived in New Jersey and held jobs in New York, commuting through the tunnels they were conspiring to blow to smithereens. That is the nature of the terrorist threat in the metropolitan area: What happens on one side of the Hudson River deeply affects the other side. It is with that understanding in mind that we should consider the complaints of Islamic activists that the New York City Police Department has conducted surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods in New Jersey. Top officials, including Governor Chris Christie — who last year appointed a former board member of the (Islamist) American Muslim Union to the state bench — have predictably expressed concern. But the NYPD maintains that it has kept New Jersey police apprised and acts within strict civil-liberties guidelines. Americans will have to make up their mind whether they want their security managed by the likes of Commissioner Ray Kelly or by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
‐ Governor Christie vetoed legislation to let same-sex couples receive marriage licenses. While we disagree with some of the maneuvering that preceded the veto, we commend him for keeping his promise. Challenged on the question on MSNBC, he noted that, unlike President Obama, who says he opposes same-sex marriage but has come close to promising that he will flip-flop at some later date, he is willing to state a clear public position on the issue. He also noted that he favors a democratic settlement of the issue, something else that, for some reason or other, the president has refrained from saying.
‐ Legislation in Virginia would require women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and be given the opportunity to view it beforehand. Opponents of the bill call it “state-sponsored rape.” Specifically, the charge is that a “transvaginal ultrasound” (an alternative to a transabdominal ultrasound that is sometimes necessary in the early stages of pregnancy) is equivalent to forcible penetration. It turns out, however, that Planned Parenthood in Virginia already requires ultrasounds before abortions, for medical reasons. Still, the increasingly hysterical rhetoric caused enough of a backlash that Governor Bob McDonnell was forced to backpedal and request that the bill be amended “to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily.” The real basis of opposition, of course, is that the pro-choice lobby does not want women to look at what they are choosing, any more than it likes to name the choice it’s pro.
‐ Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers student, was a martyr to cyber-bullying; his roommate, Dharun Ravi, spied on his make-out sessions with a hidden webcam and outed him online. That was the story that flashed round the world after Clementi killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in 2010. But Ravi’s trial, which has just begun, presents a more complicated picture. It is not clear that Ravi’s snooping caused Clementi’s suicide. Clementi was already out; Ravi’s Web-voyeurism was brief and shared only with a few friends across the hall; both men are on record, shortly after the incident, making light of it. There seems to be a case for invasion of privacy, though it is not open and shut: Clementi’s tryst took place in his and Ravi’s shared room. Bias intimidation is the more serious offense Ravi is charged with, carrying a penalty of up to ten years; prosecutors must show that Ravi intended to ridicule Clementi’s homosexuality. But this charge falls under the dubious category of hate crimes. Let us hope that, after being tried in the court of public opinion, Ravi can find justice in court.
#page# ‐ Not only did the ill-fated solar-panel maker Solyndra fail to produce the “green-collar jobs” President Obama promised, it also failed to keep things clean. Now in bankruptcy proceedings, the company has left a leased property in Milpitas, Calif., “vacant with barrels of unknown chemicals and lead-contaminated equipment,” reports the Washington Times. In one picture of the facility, “two large blue drums are filled with a black substance with no secure lids and covered instead with clear plastic wrap.” In another, there’s a “yellow drum about the size of a large garbage can containing a yellow-brown gooey substance.” Lovely. True, Solyndra has hired contractors to clean up its other property in Fremont, but things are slow because the company is broke and most of its employees have been laid off. So, to review, the federal government backed Solyndra’s loans and received in return a bankrupt, unkempt deadbeat — all for the low, low price of $500 million.
‐ The Germans have approved another bailout for Greece, and the dissentious process has left Chancellor Angela Merkel weakened. European leaders will gather in Brussels in March to decide whether to lift the cap on bailout funds, currently limited to $672 billion. Which is to say, the Europeans currently put a price of $672 billion on the luxury of defending bureaucratic pride from economic reality, but the bidding is likely to go higher. The Eurocrats are now speaking of a “firewall” to contain the Greek contagion, a tacit admission that the prospects for organic economic improvement are slim. The underlying defects (undisciplined government spending, a unitary monetary policy for nations with diverse interests and economies, a European labor market in which cross-border mobility is more theoretical than practical) remain unaddressed, because Brussels has nothing with which to address them. Short of entirely stripping Greece of its sovereignty over internal economic matters, a European Union with Greece in it will not be stable or solvent — and Greece is not the only malefactor of scant wealth. National sovereignties of course rank last on the list of priorities in Brussels, which is more concerned with Europe in theory than Europe in practice. Such idealism is fine, as WFB once noted, “but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.” $672 billion and counting.
‐ Vladimir Putin is holding an election to the Russian presidency solely to keep up appearances. A Soviet mutant, he learnt from his time as a KGB officer that victory is best fixed in advance. First comes the boasting. He’s been praising intelligence channels in the Cold War for stealing the nuclear secrets of the United States. Spies acquired information, he exclaimed, “not on microfilm but literally in suitcases. Suitcases!” Shades of Robert Oppenheimer and Klaus Fuchs and Bruno Pontecorvo. They and others were helping Moscow, in a reporter’s words, “out of concern for humanity.” Next come the threats. Russia has to be the counterweight to a United States that maintains and manages artificial but general chaos. So by 2022, when his presidency will have just expired, Russia will have spent $775 billion on a formidable arsenal of missiles, ships, aircraft, guns, and tanks. And lastly a plot to whip up fear on the streets. Chechen terrorists are alleged to have been planning to throw a bomb to kill Putin, but they were arrested some time ago in Ukraine, conveniently abroad. This is an exemplary study in modern dictatorship.
‐ Don’t tell Tom Friedman, but the characteristic features of China’s for-profit police state are: 1) It’s a police state, and 2) it is wildly profitable for the police chiefs. The 70 richest members of China’s national legislature, the so-called People’s Congress, saw their wealth increase last year by an amount greater than the entire net wealth of every member of the U.S. Congress, Supreme Court, and cabinet, as well as the president, combined (and Obama earns serious book royalties), according to Bloomberg. Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) is the wealthiest member of the U.S. Congress, with a net worth of around $700 million; if he were a Chinese congressman, he would be No. 40. Representative Issa is a car-alarm magnate who made his money preventing thievery. China’s rulers make it the other way.
#page# ‐ When French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York City, then released, on charges that he assaulted a hotel worker, France blazed up at puritan Yankee Dogberrys. But French police investigating a prostitution ring in Lille recently summoned Strauss-Kahn for questioning. Prostitution is not illegal in France, but diverting company funds to pay for it is, and Strauss-Kahn, who had attended orgies sponsored by the ring as far afield as Washington, D.C., was asked what he knew about it all. Not much, his lawyer argued: “In these parties, you’re not necessarily dressed. I defy you to tell the difference between a nude prostitute and a nude woman of quality.” We guess that depends on the quality of the women you have known, or more likely on the quality of the attention you pay them, and we think, as we often do, of Edmund Burke: “The age of chivalry is gone . . . a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paid to the sex in general as such . . . is to be regarded as romance and folly.”
‐ The French have long been in the forefront of the battle of the sexes. Monsieur has had an advantage; he is free to use his judgment about whether the woman he meets is a married Madame or an unmarried Mademoiselle, and so to address her with whichever term he thinks fit. The well-mannered Monsieur will kiss the hand of Madame out of respect but only shake hands with Mademoiselle. Feminists say that these two terms are intrusions into their private lives. “Mademoiselle” implies virginity, and informs Monsieur whom it might be worthwhile to pursue. The prime minister is intervening. A circular from his office instructs officials to ensure that documents no longer carry the giveaway “Mademoiselle,” or even “maiden name” and “spouse’s name.” “Madame” is supposed to become the Gallic equivalent of “Ms.” Linguistic equality has been tried before but French grammar distinguishes between masculine and feminine, and Monsieur’s hand-kissing does too.
‐ Last fall, the Palestinians tried to get the United Nations to admit them as a full member, and failed. But they succeeded at a U.N. agency, UNESCO. That triggered an American law, which says that U.S. funds must be cut off from any international organization that recognizes the Palestinians as a state in advance of a peace agreement with Israel. Too bad for UNESCO, for the United States had contributed 22 percent of the organization’s budget. Naturally, the Obama administration, for whom the U.N. is next to godliness (as are the Palestinians), is seeking the restoration of funding. It is asking Congress for a waiver from the law. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), is saying, Nothing doing. “Resuming U.S. funding would give a green light for other U.N. bodies to follow in UNESCO’s footsteps and support the Palestinian statehood push.” It would send “a disastrous message that the U.S. will fund U.N. bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make.” We wish we could rule out the possibility that it is precisely this message that the administration wants to send.
‐ The presidential election in Senegal is beset by a birth-certificate controversy. President Abdoulaye Wade is running for reelection, but is he 85 — or more like 90? Officially, he’s a puppy-like 85. But, as the Associated Press reported, “his birth certificate is locked away. And the page stating when he entered primary school has been torn out.” The issue is “so touchy,” said the AP, that “a longtime resident who knew the president before he was elected began receiving death threats this week after he claimed Wade was born in 1919.” Senegalese should insist on seeing the long form. And if Wade is still doing the job, why not reelect him regardless?
‐ According to the 2010 census, of the 15 richest counties in America (measured by median household income), five are in Virginia and five are in Maryland — all in the D.C. area, of course. Few people will be surprised to learn this: After all, Washington is where the money is. Yet it’s getting worse: Ten years ago, only five of the richest 15 counties were in the D.C. area. America will start getting back on its feet when ambitious people once again flock to places where money is made — not where it is collected (or borrowed), shuffled around, wrangled over, and disbursed.
#page# ‐ If the Obama administration had its way, the Catholic Church would be ripe for an employment-discrimination lawsuit: Since the 1840s, every archbishop of New York has been Irish, even though today’s flock is heavily Hispanic. Fortunately for those who count rosary beads instead of beans, the current archbishop, Timothy Dolan, is an ideal spiritual leader: pious, committed, exuberant, and joyous in proclaiming his faith and nurturing that of others. Pope Benedict XVI evidently agrees, as he has just elevated Dolan to cardinal. New York being what it is, much of the local coverage of Dolan’s investiture focused on his tendency to forcefully propound the Church’s teachings on such matters as same-sex marriage and the contraception mandate, and whether it would keep the Empire State Building’s owner or an Irish-American organization from honoring him. Such a cynical town is much in need of charity and humility, and we hope Cardinal Dolan will continue providing those things for many years to come.
‐ Kickstarter, a New York–based Web company that allows creative enterprises to raise seed capital for new projects in increments large and small, made an interesting announcement: It will provide more funding to its arts-oriented clients this year than the National Endowment for the Arts will distribute to its dependents. Kickstarter’s projects have included books, films, and technology, and there have been some remarkable successes among them: more than $2 million raised for a Web-based graphic novel, more than $1 million raised for an iPhone dock (American-made, at that), more than $1 million for a video game, and thousands of smaller projects ranging from works of journalism to culinary innovations. Co-founder Yancey Strickler was ambivalent about surpassing the NEA: “Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe there’s a reason for the state to strongly support the arts.” And maybe there’s a reason that well-off sophisticates on the Upper West Side should pay the full price for their Shakespeare in the Park tickets, too. Allow us to offer the unambivalent hoorah that Mr. Strickler could not quite muster: Kickstarter shows that allowing people to interact voluntarily with one another on their own terms works, especially when the people in question are enterprising, risk-taking, and generous — qualities not often on display in the dystopian banalities sponsored by the NEA.
‐ Jeremy Lin, once a scholarly basketball star at Harvard, now an undrafted NBA phenom with the New York Knickerbockers, has electrified New York and gathered global attention by leading the Knicks back to playoff contention, racking up almost unprecedented statistics in his first dozen starts. His performances as an unheralded NBA sophomore would be headline news anyway, but since he is just the fourth Asian American in NBA history, his ethnicity has drawn much of the attention. One ESPN editor, unfortunately, found himself on the wrong side of the issue by using the headline “Chink in the Armor” about one of the Knicks’ losses, accidentally punning on a common anti-Chinese epithet. ESPN unceremoniously fired him for the inadvertent offense. In the aftermath, the Asian American Journalists Association has offered guidelines for writers covering Lin, rejecting any lines about driving, eye shape, Asian food, or martial arts as either offensive or “lazy.” Linsanity, indeed.
‐ New Mexico’s trailblazing governor, Susana Martinez, has just achieved another historic first: She is the first female Hispanic Republican governor to have her hairdresser quit in a dispute over marriage policy. The owner of Antonio’s Hair Studio, in Santa Fe, told the governor she was no longer welcome at his shop because of her stance on same-sex marriage (she is opposed, though the question has never come up for a vote in New Mexico). Then Antonio told everyone else, and he has been giving interviews ever since to explain his decision. For centuries, hair cutters were proverbial paragons of discretion, from the Barber of Seville to “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Now barbers and hairdressers have become “stylists,” and the dominant ethos is clip-and-tell. No man, it is said, is a hero to his valet, and evidently no woman is a heroine to her stylist, though in this case the feeling is mutual: Governor Martinez snipes that Antonio cut her hair only two or three times, and he always talked too much. We can easily believe that.
‐ In a recent edition of The Week, we observed that male and female homosexuality are very different phenomena; for example, gay men typically know from an early age they are attracted to men, whereas women sometimes discover lesbianism in adulthood. Evidently, three Boston lesbians didn’t want to be confused with gay men, either, as they stand accused of beating a gay man in a subway station while yelling homophobic slurs. Naturally, they are being charged with a hate crime. Some have claimed that these women by definition could not hate gay men, which isn’t quite right — but we still think it would be adequate to charge them with a beating, rather than a special category of hateful beating.
‐ Marie Colvin was one of the outstanding reporters of her generation. Her courage was a byword. She was to be found in the front line, not because she was drawn to gunfire but out of fellow feeling for victims. In the Sri Lankan civil war she had lost an eye, and a black patch over the socket gave her extra panache. As a correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, she characteristically made her way into Homs, and was killed when Syrian artillery shelled the house in which she had taken shelter. Born in Oyster Bay, N.Y., she had her home in London, and was 56 at the time of her death. R.I.P.
‐ Lee Anderson went to work at the Chattanooga News–Free Press on April 18, 1942. He was just 16: Many men had gone to war, and the paper needed warm bodies. Anderson, too, would serve in the military. But mainly he served at the paper, where he was an unstinting voice of conservatism. Recently, rival editorialists in Chattanooga wrote, “Anderson is, above all, a gentleman of the old school. He genuinely likes people. He treats those who disagree with his political and philosophical outlook with the same courtesy shown to those whose views jibe with his.” A colleague called him “a Chattanooga institution, and a marvelous example of sincere, gracious Christianity, to boot.” Anderson will retire from what is now the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 18 — exactly 70 years after joining. May there be more like him.#page#
The Devil and Rick Santorum
Critics of Senator Santorum’s moral and religious views, especially in the media, have not been wholly scrupulous about identifying what they are before attacking them. He has been described, falsely, as an advocate of banning contraception. A dated joke about birth control made by one of his major supporters has been treated as a campaign scandal. A remark about Obama’s misguided environmental “theology” has been turned into an insinuation that the president is not a Christian.
But the press has not had to invent controversial remarks by Santorum, who has supplied them himself. He has said that Satan is undermining America, in part by corrupting mainline Protestantism; that liberal versions of Christianity are distortions of the creed; that as president he would speak out against birth control, and that states should be free to prohibit it; and that John McCain “doesn’t have any” religious views.
Some of his comments are indefensible, and even some of Santorum’s defensible assertions would have been better left to someone else — someone not seeking the presidency — to say. Santorum’s remarks about Senator McCain were unwise and uncharitable. Nor do we need political leaders to share their theological judgments about the various denominations that call themselves Christian. There is no good reason for a prospective president to pledge to lecture Americans about contraception.
Social conservatives have an understandable and mostly laudable impulse to defend Santorum. He is one of us, he has fought for our causes, and he has the political scars to prove it. Santorum is not one of those Republicans about whom Richard Brookhiser once remarked, “In their hearts they know they’re wrong.” He seems serenely confident that with enough time he can change anyone’s mind on the issues. But he has not always shown that he knows how to pick his battles wisely, or that he understands that voters want a president with a suitably modest conception of a president’s proper role in national life. On an intellectual level Santorum must understand these points: He has not repeated his comment about using the presidency to turn the culture away from contraception. The challenge before him is to marry his self-confidence to a more consistent exercise of discrimination and tact.
If he does not heed this lesson, he risks doing damage to the causes he rightly holds dear. Already his inopportune remarks about contraception have lent an undeserved credibility to liberaldom’s claim that a Republican “war on contraception” rather than a Democratic attack on freedom is what underlies the debate over the Obama administration’s new regulations.
We have defended Santorum many times in the past and will happily continue to do so. We do wish he would leave himself exposed a bit less often.