‐ 2016 campaign slogan: Bin Laden is dead, AIG is alive!
‐ News of the passing of Judge Robert H. Bork, a National Review contributing editor, arrived as we were finishing this issue. We will have more to say about his long and distinguished career in future issues. For now, it will suffice to note that, while he is best remembered for his peripheral role in Watergate’s “Saturday Night Massacre” and for the viciously partisan, and regrettably successful, attacks he endured as a Supreme Court nominee, his influence goes far beyond those episodes. In antitrust law, his emphasis on benefiting the consumer has come to be widely accepted; more generally, his tireless defense of originalism, instead of working backwards from the desired result to decide a court’s legal reasoning, continues to reshape American constitutional law. He was a Marine, a staunch conservative, a late-in-life Catholic convert, a lively conversationalist, and a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Dead at 85, R.I.P.
‐ As of press time, no deal has been announced to keep taxes from rising on all Americans at the start of 2013. House Republicans have not taken our advice to pass a bill extending all the tax cuts, and thus to clarify that it is not they who are threatening to raise middle-class taxes. Senate Republicans have not taken our advice to stop negotiating in front of the cameras, either. Some conservatives are mobilizing against any deal even before one has been announced — and a deal might well be worth opposing. We suggest conservatives keep two things in mind as they judge any deal. The first is that the alternative to the deal is not the tax rates of 2012 but the higher tax rates of 2013 that will be in place if Congress does not pass a bill. The second is that Senate Democrats voted in the summer for a bill that extends the middle-class tax cuts and keeps taxes on capital gains, dividends, and estates from rising as high as current law would have them rise. No deal that’s worse than that deserves Republican support now.
‐ Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio addressed the Jack Kemp Foundation, each making important points about the Republican party’s future. Ryan acknowledged that the party had too often appeared to champion the businessman and address his concerns to the exclusion of those of everyone else. Rubio proposed a conservative agenda to address middle-class concerns, such as the cost of higher education: Why not, he asked, make colleges that receive federal money publish their completion rates and the starting salaries of their graduates, by major? Showing the public that conservative ideas can better the lot of almost all Americans, not just the affluent, will be the task of years. We are glad to see so many rising Republican stars — Governor Bobby Jindal is another — taking it up.
‐ The Heritage Foundation is the house that Ed Feulner built. During and because of his long tenure, the organization became the most well-known of the conservative think tanks and has had a deep influence — though, as Feulner would be first to admit, not deep enough! — on Washington, D.C. He is stepping down, to be replaced by another hero to many conservatives: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Staying true to Feulner’s vision by combining intellectual innovation with policy impact will be a tall order, and we wish DeMint well in his efforts. DeMint will himself be replaced in the Senate by Representative Tim Scott, a rising star (who will become the only black person in the upper chamber of the legislature). DeMint said that he wanted Governor Nikki Haley to appoint Scott to his seat, which is dispositive evidence that the congressman will be a strong advocate for conservative causes.
#page#‐ Michigan won an important victory in passing a right-to-work law, a modest reform of the state’s dysfunctional labor law. The reform was met with threats of violence, followed by violence itself, as union goons beat a conservative activist and assaulted others. The right-to-work law does precisely what the name suggests: It ensures that a worker cannot be fired for refusing to pay dues to a union of which he does not desire to be a member. It does nothing to limit collective bargaining — indeed, the practice of unions’ acting as monopoly negotiators on behalf of both members and nonmembers is preserved. Some liberals say that conservative supporters are hypocrites, since the measure interferes with the freedom of contract. Yet federal labor law does not let states choose freedom of contract as an option: Employers must recognize unions that win elections, and states may decide only whether the resulting contract may force all workers to pay them dues. The rhetorical and physical violence that greeted the passage of this law, on behalf of union leaders and Democratic elected officials alike, was troubling if unsurprising, a full-throated expression of the infantile id of the Left. If repeal of union privileges in federal law should ever pass, that reaction would be enormously amplified, but we would be willing to endure it.
‐ Filibuster “reform” — intermittently called, over the last decade or so, the “nuclear option” — is something of a moving target. We have consistently maintained that a majority of the Senate may constitutionally curtail the filibuster or leave it as it is. But particular exercises of that power may be deeply unwise or even obnoxious. So it is in the case of the current Democratic initiative. Details remain murky, but it appears that Senate majority leader Harry Reid intends to force the minority to mount a “talking filibuster” on cloture votes, meaning dissenting senators will have to physically occupy the floor to assert their minority rights at all. And he plans to outright end the 60-vote requirement on most procedural matters, including, critically, the motion to begin debate on legislation. Reid has greatly expanded the practice of “filling the tree,” disallowing Republican amendments to protect his caucus from potentially damaging votes. Many Republican filibusters on these motions have been punitive responses to this practice. Freed of such a threat, Reid would have more time to push his agenda and less incentive to allow Republican input. The Democrats look back at the last four years, in which they fundamentally reshaped the financial and health-care industries — in the latter case without the support of any Republicans, most independents, and some Democrats — and think they didn’t jam enough things through. Card check, cap-and-trade, and the like are the proximate ends of Senator Reid’s “reforms.” His efforts merit resistance — if only by a determined minority.
‐ Four Republican congressmen lost plum committee assignments: Justin Amash (Mich.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.), and Dave Schweikert (Ariz.). According to them, it was because of their conservative votes (two of them voted to kill the Ryan budget in committee because it did not cut spending enough). Their supporters, such as Senator Rand Paul (Ky.), are making them out to be martyrs and blasting Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan for their ouster. A few hotheads are saying Boehner should be purged. Critics of the four say they were punished for attacking their Republican colleagues and otherwise being hard to work with. There are congressmen who vote very similarly to the quartet who have gotten the committees they wanted, and say Republican leaders did the right thing. That’s a debatable view, but not one that seems to have any grand ideological significance — or, indeed, much significance at all, except for the four congressmen affected.
#page#‐ Governor Bobby Jindal (R., La.) proposed that women be allowed to buy birth-control pills without a prescription — a move that would expand access to contraception without compromising anyone’s right to follow his conscience. Some feminists complained about his proposal on the ground that women should not have to pay for contraception; a feminist needs to know economics like a fish needs a bicycle, we guess. A spokesman for the Catholic Church in New Orleans said it opposed the move because it opposes contraception. The governor deserves praise for finding a clear path through a field of non sequiturs.
‐ Charlie Crist was the Republican governor of Florida until, running for the Senate, he found that voters in his party preferred the more conservative Marco Rubio. He became an independent and then lost the election to Rubio. He endorsed Obama’s reelection and has now announced that he is a Democrat; he is expected to run for governor again under this new identity. Floridians having rejected him as a Republican and an independent, we can only hope that for the sake of both the record books and political decency he completes the trifecta.
‐ Talking on MSNBC with Al Sharpton, Harry Belafonte said President Obama should “work like a Third World dictator” and imprison his opposition. Belafonte is a great admirer of Fidel Castro and other monsters. We are usefully reminded that Americans are not immune to what a great Frenchman called the totalitarian temptation.
‐ Iowa governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, has suggested that the days of the Ames straw poll — the Midwest summer spectacle that takes the temperature of an idiosyncratic slice of the Republican party months before the first binding primaries — might be numbered. We hope that he’s prescient. Ames does more damage than justice to the nominating process, and ensures that the country’s first view of the Grand Old Party’s latest presidential crop is through a distorted lens. The first- and second-place finishers in the last straw poll, for example, were nowhere near the top in the actual caucuses — let alone the nominating contest as a whole. Because Ames feeds news cycles in the early doldrums of the primary campaign, and because they like fried food, journalists as much as anyone have imbued the story of Ames with an import that the reality of Ames has not justified and cannot justify.
‐ The Supreme Court is taking up two cases related to same-sex marriage. One concerns whether the people of California may define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as they did in a referendum in 2008. The other concerns whether Congress may define it that way for purposes of federal law, as it did in a statute enacted in 1996. There are complicated questions of standing in these cases. If the Court reaches the merits, however, it ought to rule in favor of self-government. To rule this way the justices need not adopt the traditional view of marriage as a relationship oriented toward procreation. They may instead regard it first and foremost as the emotional union of adults. As mistaken as we believe that second view to be, there is no constitutional bar to its adoption by voters or legislators. Neither, however, is it constitutionally commanded, and so the federal courts should leave the issue to be settled elsewhere.
‐ Only 18 states have set up health-insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, complicating the implementation of the law. The state-run exchanges are critical to the program, since many of Obamacare’s various mandates and subsidies are implemented through them. The Obama administration promises that the federal government will step in and create exchanges itself in those states that decline to do its bidding, even though the law as written allows federal subsidies only for exchanges set up by the states. The exchanges were created to establish a buffer between Democrats and the effects of the law they passed, pushing economic and political costs onto the states, which would be responsible for creating the exchanges but have little or no ability to control the cost or quality of the insurance sold there. As Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett put it when refusing to comply: “State authority to run a health-insurance exchange is illusory. When in reality, Pennsylvania would end up shouldering all of the costs by 2015 but have no authority to govern the program.” That’s not an exchange worth making.
‐ The Federal Reserve, adopting a proposal by Chicago Fed chairman Charles Evans, announced that it will not raise interest rates until unemployment drops to 6.5 percent or inflation rises to 2.5 percent. This move follows its October announcement that it expects to keep rates low until at least 2015, at which point it does not expect either trigger to have been pulled. So the latest statement does not tell us anything new about the likely path of interest rates. What it tells us is that the Fed is groping its way toward a clear policy rule. That’s something Fed skeptics such as we have long wanted, as a way of constraining the central bank’s ability to do damage. What the Fed is discovering is that rules are also useful to it, because rules make it easier for the Fed to shape market expectations. We are less worried than other conservatives about inflation’s drifting higher in the near term: Following the very-low-inflation years of the crash, a rate slightly higher than the Fed’s target of 2 percent may make sense as a way of reaching that target over the long term. Tying monetary policy to unemployment is, however, potentially dangerous. If Congress raises unemployment by doubling the minimum wage, for example, it would be unwise for the Fed to respond by inflating the currency. The Fed is still attempting to fine-tune the performance of the economy, and we have little reason to think it can.
#page#Our Reacquaintance with Terror
If one were to catalogue the reasons to bewail the slaughter of innocents in Newtown (or anywhere), the exhaustion of pundits would appear somewhere in the small-print appendix of a book-length list. Such a tragedy is a horror the rational mind cannot grasp, which is one reason, I think, that so many people want to wrestle it to the ground and corral it into comfortable arguments about gun-control laws and security protocols, much as proponents of the Kellogg-Briand Pact tried to reduce, and then eliminate, the horror of war by moving some paper around.
Indeed, when you read the debates over Kellogg-Briand, it is amazing how effortlessly proponents of outlawing war assumed that opposition to their efforts was the product of a “pro-war” mind. These days, one need pull back the curtain on the burlesque that is the Internet for only a moment to find outraged advocates of gun control accusing those who oppose it of wanting “more dead children” simply because they argue against the efficacy of such laws. It’s as if critics of snake oil had to be in favor of disease.
All the talk about the need for a “frank conversation” about guns and violence has an otherworldly quality to it. We have had exactly that conversation for decades. And as with other topics — particularly the perennial calls for an honest conversation about race — the intent seems to be to force a new version of an old argument that now, in the heat of a crisis, the former losers will win. I feel no small shame that the murders in Newtown have elicited in me preemptive exhaustion with that canned conversation, and resentment that so many are eager to have it again. Perhaps it reflects a character flaw on my part, but my first instinct after such a horror is not to don my op-ed uniform and run out on the playing field, at least not anymore.
We’ve been chewing over the word “terrorism” for so long that it now seems insipid. But the Newtown massacre is what real terrorism is: an act that causes reason and perspective to take flight and fear and dread to rule. That there is no political agenda behind it makes it all the more authentic and immune to the sort of “contextualizing” by which we would like to file it away more comfortably in our memories.
But it’s worth noting that one reason these atrocities hit us so hard is that violence is usually such a small part of our lives. Violence has fallen in America over the last few decades; it has declined massively in the West over the last few centuries; and, for the human race, it has plummeted over the last 100 millennia. For 99 percent of his time walking the earth, Homo sapiens has done so hip-deep in blood. If you survived an early death by disease or starvation, odds were good you’d die from a blow to the head or a spear through the gut.
Broadly speaking, and with a few obvious caveats, our lives are safer and less fearful than ever. These sudden bursts of violence are far more an exception than a rule. Of course, while such perspective might be intellectually reassuring, it does nothing to make the slaughter of small children easier to understand or contemplate. If anything, it makes it harder. So much harder.
#page#‐ The Business Roundtable, a big-business group, sent a letter to the president noting its openness to increased income-tax rates along with its advocacy of a rate-reducing corporate-tax reform. The combined effect of the two policies would be to raise tax rates on most small businesses (which file under the individual-income-tax code) while cutting them on the Roundtable’s members. Because taxes on investment are generally lower in the individual than in the corporate code, this change could be a step toward a level playing field. Smart politicians will not want to be labeled as favoring big business over small, though, and it is politically self-defeating for large corporations to ask them to do so — which is to say, the big-business lobby is acting as usual.
‐ Earlier this month, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter took up his pen to bear solemn witness to the “cruelty, fear, cowardice, xenophobia and disrespect” that have “invaded the inner sanctum of the U.S. government . . . bringing embarrassment and dishonor to what was once the greatest deliberative body in the world: the U.S. Senate.” What new tyranny have these hundred inflicted upon the republic? Have the Alien and Sedition Acts been renewed? No: “The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” fell several votes short of ratification, due to the (perhaps temporary) opposition of some Republicans. Spare us. Yes, the world would be better off if other countries adopted some of our protections for the handicapped. But the treaty would force the U.S. to spend millions to generate quadrennial compliance reports for U.N. “experts,” and contains objectionable language about “achieving progressively the full realization” of “economic, social, and cultural rights.” Besides, in Alter’s own words, the convention is a “weak” and “largely symbolic document.” Oddly, Alter thinks this feebleness is the very thing that makes Republican opposition so cold and cowardly. But what scandal to vote against the banal? What consequence in opposing the inconsequential?
‐ What does it take for Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Al Franken to admit that taxes can kill jobs? Levy an onerous tax on companies that provide a great many high-paying jobs in their states: medical-device manufacturers. New York senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer are the latest two legislators to join Democrats Against Paying for Obamacare, having recently penned a letter to Harry Reid asking him to delay implementation of the tax and expressing concern about its effect on the industry. The Affordable Care Act imposes a 2.3 percent excise tax on companies that average a 4 percent profit margin, a tax that will significantly hamper the medical-device industry, one bright spot in the American economy. It appears that, once congressional Democrats found out what’s in the bill, they weren’t so happy they passed it.
‐ On December 31, one long-lasting element of the Troubled Asset Relief Program will cease to exist: the Transaction Account Guarantee, which provides federal insurance for qualified bank deposits above the normal limit of $250,000. Democrats attempted to extend the program, which most obviously subsidizes the bank accounts of the very rich, but were thwarted by Senate Republicans, with Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey playing a prominent role. TAG’s demise, though, is expected to cause billions of dollars in capital to flow from smaller banks and credit unions to mega-banks such as JPMorgan Chase. It was one Treasury bailout that actually helped smaller banks and credit unions at the (minor) expense of the largest financial institutions. With its expiration, capital will flee to banks that the president’s financial-reform law has enshrined as too-big-to-fail, even sans TAG.
‐ Bias against Asian Americans in admissions to elite universities is not a new story, but Ron Unz has marshaled a startling amount of data in a recent piece in The American Conservative making the case that Ivy League institutions have a de facto cap on the number of these students that they will admit. He documents that Asian-American enrollment in these schools has remained constant at about 16 percent for over a decade, even as the number of highly qualified Asian-American applicants has rapidly increased. The typical defense against accusations of discrimination is that schools employ a “holistic” approach that considers more than just test scores. Private schools should be able to admit students according to whatever criteria they wish, but prestigious universities would be more candid if, as Charles Murray urges, they admitted that “they just don’t want too many epicanthic folds in their student bodies.”
#page#‐ Uber is one of those miraculous little conveniences that make 21st-century life so much easier, at least for the technologically connected: It is a mobile-phone app that allows users to summon a taxi and pay for it at the end of the trip. Naturally, politicians have attempted to crush it. California fined Uber for operating an unlicensed transportation business. New York City banished the service as a favor to the cartel of firms with which it has payment-processing contracts. Washington, D.C., very nearly banned the service and was dissuaded from doing so only by a steady campaign by the capital’s young and connected. As the firm’s CEO points out, Uber does not own or operate any cars, nor does it employ any drivers — it is no more a taxi company than online-food-ordering business Seamless is a restaurant. It simply acts as a medium through which customers connect with existing taxi and limousine companies, which are of course regulated like nuclear-power facilities in most large U.S. cities. Many of the worst parts of American life are those associated with cartels and monopolies, from taxi operators to utilities, practically all of which are political creations. Services such as Uber put more power in the hands of consumers, which is the last thing politicians want.
‐ In the background of the fighting in Syria are chemical weapons and Scud missiles, and Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, is almost certainly prepared to resort to using them. He sees himself as defending at all costs his Alawite sect and its power. In the light of the Arab Spring he was another tyrant to be overthrown. But he always insisted that the insurgents were primarily Sunnis, the Muslim majority seeking vengeance on the Shiite Alawites. Assad’s cruelty has made this come true. His forces have killed about 50,000 people; close to 1 million are refugees. The regime’s aircraft and helicopter gunships systematically destroy whole districts in cities such as Damascus and Aleppo, as well as small towns and villages. Mosques and hospitals are bombed. In the absence of supplies, hunger is spreading. Sunnis from all over the Arab world have been pouring into Syria, turning what may have started as civil war into religious war. Sunni states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, are financing and arming jihad, with the United States looking over their shoulders. Assad is able to rely only on Shiite Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, with Russia looking over their shoulders. Hard as it may be to believe, Syria still has more cruelty stored up.
‐ After many unsuccessful attempts, North Korea has finally launched a long-distance missile that has the potential to reach the United States, not to mention Japan or the Philippines. North Korea is believed to possess about half a dozen nuclear bombs, although it has still to develop the technology of miniaturizing warheads to fit them onto missiles. This time, Kim Jong Un, hereditary dictator of North Korea, appeared on television looking so pleased with himself that some suggested he has had a facelift. The rest of the world as good as admitted that here again they had no idea what to do. Asked to pressure Kim, his Chinese backers as usual sat on the fence. In the face of yet another failure to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the United States and its allies are pushing to impose additional sanctions, also warning China that the American military presence in the Pacific is likely to increase. Right-wing candidates in elections in Japan and South Korea are playing on public fear. Kim couldn’t care less. His policy of raising the stakes in order to extract concessions seems foolproof.
‐ The U.N. General Assembly has voted that Palestine, hitherto defined as an “entity,” is now to become a “non-member state.” In such palaces of dreams, they love these hair-splitting distinctions. The only other non-member state is the Vatican, and the term itself is diplomatic euphemism for “second class.” On behalf of Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas has been lobbying for the change of status. He’s described as Palestinian president but really he’s a private citizen holding on to absolute power long after his mandate ran out and due elections were postponed. His writ runs on the West Bank alone, and he cannot even visit his own house in Gaza, the other half of Palestine, which is under the control of his deadly rivals in Hamas. The Israeli army keeps the peace between Abbas and Hamas. Palestinians will have peace and a proper state the day they accept that Israel is here to stay. This U.N. vote is tantamount to saying that there’s no need for sincere negotiation, Palestinians must fight in whatever arena is available, and the two-state notion is kaput. The United States, Canada, Israel, the Czech Republic, and five small islands voted against the change of status. Just nine, so tenuous is the grip on reality in the U.N.
#page#‐ A 15-year-old girl named Berenice Héctor González was defending her aunt, a member of the Ladies in White, a Cuban human-rights group. She was knifed all over her body by the daughter of a state-security official. When Berenice and her family went to seek some sort of justice, they were beaten. A few days later, 94 members of the Ladies in White were arrested and beaten. One of the things the dictatorship said was that the ladies were insufficiently respectful of the “grief of the Cuban people” over the ill health of Hugo Chávez. Cuba’s democrats ought to know that the United States is with them. Since the departure of George W. Bush from the White House, they have had little reason to believe this is so.
‐ In early December, the British parliament issued a report that criticized the “immoral” amount of tax being paid by multinational corporations such as Google, Amazon, and Starbucks. Announcing the findings, the chairman of the House of Commons watchdog committee recommended that tax inspectors “name and shame” companies that are not contributing their “fair share.” In a welcome response, the country’s treasury department poured cold water on the suggestion, noting that “taxpayer confidentiality is a very important part of our tax system” and that tax avoidance is not illegal. “We take tax evaders to court,” the chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander, said, “but, I think, on tax avoidance, we are regularly taking people to talk, we are regularly scrutinizing schemes.” Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, questioned the premise of Parliament’s inquiry, noting that it could change the law if it was unhappy with its consequences: “I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate. It’s called capitalism. We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.” We would that more followed his example.
‐ Food and water are being withheld from some infants in the U.K. in an effort to euthanize them, as the Liverpool Care Pathway, a protocol for the palliative treatment of terminally ill patients in NHS hospitals, appears to be spinning out of control. When a dying person naturally loses the ability to assimilate food and water, doctors may induce a coma to alleviate discomfort, but now the order is being reversed: The coma is being induced so the patient won’t be able to eat or drink. Deaths are being hastened. Local governments are paying hospitals to meet goals for numbers of patients on the LCP. Many patients go on it without their families’ knowledge. Care-and-support minister Norman Lamb calls that “unacceptable” and is participating in an independent investigation of the LCP, which was already shot through with horrors when British newspapers reported that babies with congenital defects were receiving the same cold treatment as were their neighbors at the other end of life. America should be careful not to follow this British example.
‐ Plenty of Republicans are feeling left out in the cold and would like to toss back a few Stolis, but few take it as far as a pair of circus elephants stranded in Siberia, who fought off the Arctic chill by drinking ten liters of vodka (that’s 100 shots apiece), courtesy of their solicitous Polish trainers, who had managed to let the beasts’ trailer catch on fire. There is some difference of opinion over whether alcohol actually heats you up or cools you down, so maybe it kept the elephants warm, or maybe it just made them not give a damn. Either way, the result was predictable: First they started seeing pink humans, then they began “roaring like if they were in the jungle! Perhaps they were happy,” as a local official told a reporter.
#page#‐ In 1621, recent arrivals in Plymouth Colony objected as a “matter of conscience” to working on Christmas. The colony’s founders scorned the holiday, considering it essentially pagan, but Governor Bradford let the newcomers observe it “till they were better informed” — then reacted with fury when he found them “in the street at play openly.” The Pilgrims would have been shocked to see Christmas considered a symbol of Christian piety. There are many ways to celebrate the holiday, some devout and some not; having a religious name does not make Christmas any more inherently sacred than it does Halloween. Still, Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee used the phrase “holiday tree” at his state’s lighting ceremony, pleading the sturdy catch-all “diversity.” Now, if a tree is not an inherently religious symbol, appending the word Christmas does not transubstantiate it into one; and if it is inherently religious, using the phrase “holiday tree” does not secularize it any more effectively than “holiday menorah” would. Such awkward euphemisms serve no purpose, except as a token of the user’s bien-pensant liberalism: a shibboleth, if you don’t mind the Old Testament reference.
‐ According to anonymous parents in Montana’s Missoula County School District, many Christmas songs are “a form of bullying.” A letter sent to the school board claimed that songs referring to “our Lord” are “unfair” and “unconstitutional.” “We have no problem with it being called a Christmas concert,” the letter disclaimed, but “the material should be secular.” This may well be the oddest letter ever written on the subject, holding as it does that it’s acceptable for schoolchildren to say the word “Christ” in school providing that it is followed immediately by a form of the word “Mass,” and that there is “no problem” with that word’s being used to describe the concert; while maintaining at the same time that if “Christ” is preceded by the word “Jesus,” then the Constitution will fall. “Lord” and “savior,” it seems, are out, but “Santa Claus” — based on an actual Christian saint of the fourth century — is fine. No wonder the letter remained unsigned.
‐ In 1964, UC Berkeley saw the birth of the Free Speech Movement. Now its student senate seeks to ban the Salvation Army from campus — not actual members of the group, just its charity-collection boxes — for its religious beliefs, which are alleged to be anti-homosexual. The senate resolution explained that “queer students . . . may take offense” at the boxes, and indeed they may; the resolution’s gay sponsor takes offense at everything, including the Boy Scouts (to whom he made an unprintable suggestion on Twitter) and all conservatives (whom he asked to leave the country). But when libertarian supporters of the charity — which helps anyone in need, regardless of politics, sexual orientation, or anything else — rallied to oppose the ban, their concerns were brushed off. On the campus where the Sixties began, it seems, only people with officially approved views are allowed the offense-taker’s veto.
‐ Quentin Tarantino has a new splatfest, Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx, who described it thus on Saturday Night Live: “I kill all the white people in the movie. How great is that?” That’s great, Jamie! But don’t blame Foxx, who is simply promoting the film. Django Unchained is not just a splatfest, but a hipster blaxploitation film — ostensibly sympathizing with black characters (Foxx plays a slave seeking revenge on a villainous master) while trading in violent stereotypes. The only history Tarantino knows is the history of B movies, in which he is admittedly learned. If you told him the Civil War happened in 1900, he would probably believe you. He is a clown selling tickets to slobs.
‐ What is it with men in the Hermit Kingdom? Kim Jong Un, the dictator of North Korea, looks like a puffy-faced, gelled beach toy. And South Korea has given the world Park Jae-sang, better known as Psy, a hermaphrodite monkey-on-a-stick. His rapper’s antics earned him a zillion YouTube hits and an invitation to sing at this year’s White House Christmas party. Then diligent gnomes discovered that in 2004 Psy covered a South Korean anti–Iraq War hit in which he sang, “Kill those f***ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives. . . . Kill [their] daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.” Some literate person in Psy’s entourage produced an apology, released in time for Psy to make his White House debut. If Psy lived in the domain of the other Korean freak, he would be much slimmer, having dieted on grass. Thirty-seven thousand Americans (along with 227,000 South Koreans and several thousand U.N. troops) died to give Psy the freedom to make a spectacle of himself.
‐ Galina Vishnevskaya was a great soprano, and the wife of Rostropovich. In 2007, she acted in a film, Alexandra, about Chechnya. But her greatest legacy may be this: Her memoir Galina (1984) is not only a great memoir but one of the best books about the Soviet Union ever written. She has died at 86. R.I.P.
‐ Europe and its child, America, have been interacting with India for a long time. Congreve rockets, curry, and passages of T. S. Eliot are among the items that we acquired. On the other side, Gandhi was inspired by Tolstoy, even as he went on to inspire Martin Luther King Jr. Ravi Shankar, who just died at 92, was yet another cross-cultural phenomenon. Born into an Indian musical family, he performed in Europe in the Thirties, then returned home to immerse himself in Indian classical music, particularly the sitar. He made a bank shot back to the West as a virtuoso, catching the ear of performers and composers from Yehudi Menuhin to Philip Glass to the Beatles, as well as many fans (often stoned, to his dismay). How many understand all the intricacies of Indian music, and how different it is from the West’s? Very few, but that is often the way influences work. Shankar gave us a new palette, which we put to our own uses. R.I.P.
‘In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
The massacre of the innocents in Newtown, Conn., was not engineered by Herod, but by a 20-year-old, armed with two pistols and a rifle, all of them common models, belonging to his mother, whom he had murdered before he descended on Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The torment of impotence in the face of evil impels us to do something, even if most conceivable actions would do little good, or do it only over the long haul. Ban large magazines? Smaller magazines are easy to change (Gabby Giffords’s assailant was tackled while changing his magazine, but no one stopped the Columbine killers in mid-spree); while this could help, its impact would be marginal. Ban semi-automatic weapons? Then mass murderers could switch to shotguns, which (when sawed off) were deadly trench-warfare weapons in World War I. Insist on a universal regimen of background checks, to prevent guns from falling into the hands of the deranged? That might stop more crimes, but it would not have stopped this one: The Newtown killer is believed to have had nothing worse than Asperger’s syndrome, a mild ailment, and the guns he used were not his.
Shall we rethink gun-free zones, on the grounds that they create a false sense of security and forestall citizen reaction? Recent mass shootings have occurred overwhelmingly in gun-free zones: Virginia Tech, Columbine, even Fort Hood (military personnel keep their arms locked while on base). The movie house chosen by the Batman killer was gun-free (other movie houses in Aurora, Colo., were not). Administrators and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School died while heroically defending their charges — the principal and guidance counselor tried to wrestle the killer to the ground; one teacher boldly told him that her students (hidden in a closet) were at the gym. If one of them had been armed, the carnage might have ended sooner. But it will be a long time before most schoolteachers, especially women, will choose to become Amazons. Hiring an armed guard for every school would be a more expensive alternative.
Shall we reverse the last-century push to deinstitutionalize the mad? That effort, the spawn of dubious psychology and loose libertarian rhetoric, cast a tribe of helpless souls onto the streets; many of them have ended up in prisons, while committing mayhem along the way. This would be a worthy long-range goal, but it will be a while before that tide reverses (institutions will have to be rebuilt and refunded). Even then the rare murderous event would still occur.
Is it time to fight media violence, the ceaseless bang-bang of movies and video games? (Watch the liberals jump ship: It’s the Second Amendment they want to attack, not the First.) If Hollywood adopted a new production code, that would be no bad thing. But it would be both impossible and undesirable to police the Internet.
The gun-control lobby knows what it wants: modern Britain, where most guns are essentially banned. There are fewer mass murders there (though not none — see the 1996 massacre in Dunblane, Scotland). There is also a sky-high rate of robberies and home invasions, which the police show little interest in investigating and which a cowed populace cannot resist on its own. This result does not trouble wealthy gun-banners like Michael Bloomberg (now joined by Rupert Murdoch), who will always have their own security.
Failing a general ban, Democrats hope for partisan advantage in being marginally more anti-gun than Republicans (once Senators Manchin and Tester have adjusted their pro-gun views). President Obama offers his usual palliative Lincoln-lite rhetoric.
Americans own guns because their right to do so is a historic feature of Anglo-American liberty: A citizen may protect himself and his home — in the last resort even against the state. But Britain’s experience shows that liberty may erode, like barrier islands in the face of storms.