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January 2009 Archives

January 4, 2009

The difficulty about asylum (even when it's for real)

On VFR, Lawrence Auster raises questions about Robert Spencer's earlier proposal in May that we should give asylum to a woman fleeing probable forced marriage in Mali. She had already suffered genital mutilation as a child and feared the additional suffering of forced marriage in a Muslim country. Spencer's rationale explicitly was that such asylum would help to make clear America's absolute opposition to the practice of female genital mutilation. The problem is just this: Suppose that we try to get some sort of principle out of that case for granting asylum, and suppose that the principle that comes out of it is that asylum should be granted to women fleeing genital mutilation in Muslim countries or reasonably fearing forced marriage after they have already suffered genital mutilation. If Muslim immigration is itself dangerous, and the women in question continue to be Muslims, to what extent is such asylum a problem even though they are (obviously) fleeing from certain aspects of Muslim culture?

I see this as a genuinely difficult question. On the one hand, I am on board with the statement that Muslim immigration, per se, is a major problem. I'm not just going to talk about "radical" Muslim immigration, or "Islamist" immigration, or anything of the sort. Sharia is bad. Good Muslims are supposed to seek sharia. Muslim culture is incompatible with American culture as I want it to be. I could say more and more. We need to get a grip on ourselves, as Americans, about Muslim immigration. We shouldn't keep kidding ourselves. (Not that anyone in any position of power is going to listen to me or to any conservative on this issue. It was a Republican President who insisted that Islam is the "religion of peace," and anyone who thinks an Obama administration will institute a crackdown on Muslim immigration is living in an alternate reality. But what's the conservative blogosphere for if not to say what you favor even if it isn't going to happen?)

Continue reading "The difficulty about asylum (even when it's for real)" »

Just Saying...

There've been a couple of interesting online dustups over Israel's attack on Gaza:

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Impolitic Questions

There are political questions I find to be sources of endless fascination, such as the intersection between politics and economics, or political economy, particularly the propensity of all parties to such controversies to elevate their contingent bargaining positions to ideological orthodoxies, from which one dissents on pain of being declared a Market Fundamentalist, or, on the other hand, a Socialist. Yes, it is tedious, but also entertaining, because questions of wealth and power are at stake.

There are other political questions with kindle in my breast a powerful sense of ennui, a sort of boredom with the subject, and irritation that someone has broached it, and a prickly sensation which indicates that, aggravating though it may be, it may be unavoidable. Health-care policy is one such question for me.

There are still other political questions/perspectives which fill me with a mixture of detestation and fury, such as the morbid obsession of European elites and vast swathes of the European populace with grand demonstrations of resolve against the dread, invisible menace of resurgent fascism, now thought to manifest itself in the form of protest movements against Islamization, or the presence of bookends in the libraries of Vlaams Blok members. If some Europeans have given rein to the death drive, one can do no more than point to this melancholy fact and pray, for theirs is not a rational position in the first instance.

Then, there are other political questions which arouse a powerful sense of hathos, a hatred of the discourse that surrounds them, irrespective of whatever position one might hold concerning them, coupled with a paradoxical attraction to that same discourse. Two questions arouse this sensibility in me. The first is the intermittent and intemperate debate over whether Steve Sailer and other evolutionary conservatives are "evolcons" or "evilcons". For the record, while I am not one to favour reductionism, to the extent that evolcons practice it, the latter judgment strikes me as histrionic. The second is the Israel/Palestine question.

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January 5, 2009

Of Family Resemblances and Psychoanalysis

Long-term Redstate contributor Neil Stevens has authored a critique of my previous post, in which it was argued that the Israeli policy towards Gaza is problematic from the standpoint of just war doctrine. In my estimation, the critique is an exemplification of the very tendency against which I protested, the tendency to demand a protracted recitation of the manifold sins of Israel's adversaries - none of which are minimized by silence, inasmuch as, not being a Straussian, I am not writing esoterically and bidding my readers to interpret my silences and omissions as possessing the greatest import - as the condition of the possibility of a consideration, then rejection, of the idea that Israel has acted unjustly and/or counterproductively. I reject this implicit mandate, inasmuch as it is reflective of a type of opinion policing, a sort of surveillance of dissenters, that I reject as deleterious to both rational discourse and conservatism; beyond that, it is simply unnecessary, given that there is a division of labour even among members of the amateur commentariat: There are legions of others who will recite the sins of Hamas, and nothing to be gained by my imitation of these writers, whereas there is, in potentiality, something to be gained by pointing to the ambiguity and complexity of the Israel/Palestine situation. We might, at least, become more circumspect about the rhetoric of moral clarity in foreign affairs, which too often functions as a prophylactic against thought, in much the same way that campaign slogans such as "change we can believe in" function to shape sentiment, and not to guide thought.

There is, however, more to the critique.

Continue reading "Of Family Resemblances and Psychoanalysis" »

And now, to lighten up your day: The Porpoise-Driven Life

Favorite line: "And what better fish to teach us than a fellow mammal?" I also like the porpoise born without original fin.

HT: Esteemed husband

January 6, 2009

Mars and Venus, Sitting in a Tree

In wartime there will definitely be accidental deaths, as there are accidental deaths on the highway every day. We cannot have a modern transportation system without expecting accidental deaths; we can even determine how many we expect to occur. The concept 'accidental' seems very clear to everyone when we speak about the highways, though, and becomes muddled when it comes to war.

I think there is a perverse alliance between hawks and doves when it comes to distinguishing between accidental deaths and on-purpose deaths. Both hawks and doves would prefer to keep the distinction unclear, for different reasons. Doves want to be able to call all deaths in wartime murder; conversely, hawks want to be able to take what is really deliberate murder and categorize it as morally licit collateral damage.

Continue reading "Mars and Venus, Sitting in a Tree" »

January 7, 2009

Badeaux on Cormac McCarthy

My friend edits a fine little journal out of Houston Baptist University called The City. The Winter number includes some excellent essays indeed, not least this review of the novelist Cormac McCarthy by another friend of mine, Christopher Badeaux. He presents McCarthy's work as an examination of sin and disorder, which in contrast point to what earlier ages called Natural Law. Well worth a read. You can sign up to receive The City for free here.

America, empire, and conservatism

The label “empire” is often applied to the United States as an epithet, not only by left-wingers but also by paleoconservatives. But imperialism is neither inherently immoral nor inherently unconservative, and it is false to assume that the fact that some American policy might plausibly be described as “imperialist” is ipso facto a reason for a conservative to disapprove of it. (Of course, there might be other reasons to disapprove of it. That something is “imperialist” doesn’t make it necessarily good either. The point is that imperialism per se is morally neutral.)

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Benny Morris on Zionism

Neil Stevens has responded to the second of my posts on the current Israeli military operation in Gaza. I don't want to spend any additional time on the questions of psychoanalysis - suffice it to say that whenever someone attempts to discern, not from patent declarations, but from nuanced statements, a pattern of bias, that effort is akin to psychoanalysis; the practitioner is attempting to diagnose a deviant mental state - or the role of the mainstream media - I understand that conservatives have a tradition of suspicion here, but I think this unhelpful and usually misguided, and will have more to say about this in another post; what is important is that I was not, in my references to Israeli media, referring to their reports on the war, but making a much more general reference to the vibrancy of debate there concerning Israeli policy, by contrast to the sort of debate we have in America - but would instead prefer to establish the background to my complaints concerning that American debate. The purpose of that undertaking is not to delegitimate the Israeli state, or to argue for overturning 1948, but to get people to think about what it really means to found a state, in virtually every instance, because this has consequences for how we ought to think about the resulting problems. While it is perhaps uncouth to do so, I'd like to quote an Irish metal band, Primordial, since their lyrics tend to focus upon matters of nationality, history, and identity:

Tell me what nation on this earth is not born of tragedy, that has not felt such harsh weapons, wielded by cruelty's desire?

And that is the point, expressed with semi-poetic concision, and delivered quite passionately: Tragedy is of the essence of identity, and of the institutions by which identity is mediated. And the tragedy and moral complexity are not erased by the ethical differentials which may separate parties to such conflicts. But enough - what follows is an excerpt from the conclusion to Morris' history of Zionism and the Arab-Zionist conflict, Righteous Victims.

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Regionalism at The University Bookman

There is an old journal called The University Bookman, founded long ago by Russell Kirk, which ought to be more widely read. Its current issue is devoted to regionalism and localism, and it's magnificent. Like all good and noble localism, it is quirky but profound, pugnacious but openhearted, idiosyncratic but informative; to fierce polemic the writers add heavy dollops of levity, and they crown a certain playful crankishness with sparkling wisdom. The flavor of all this can be grasped, perhaps, in the fact that editor Gerald J. Russello contributes a short essay defiantly celebrating, of all places, Brooklyn. Or consider the marvelous opening lines of Jeremy Beer's uproarious ode to an unjustly forgotten Indiana writer by the name of Tarkington:

During a recent lecture, the eminent and usually trustworthy literary critic Joseph Epstein befuddled at least one audience member (me) by referring to Theodore Dreiser as the “greatest American author of the twentieth century.” Huh? Dreiser was not even the greatest twentieth-century author from Indiana.

But fear not, dear admirer of Epstein (I count myself as one), for the localist's generosity wins out in the end:
Joseph Epstein is an intelligent man. Theodore Dreiser’s adulation of power, modish leftism, and crackpot theories surely must not impress him. So why the admiration? In his talk, he mentioned that Dreiser wrote as the “ultimate outsider,” which gave him a comparative advantage in illuminating the American scene. Maybe. But I’m inclined to think that Epstein’s judgment is colored by the fact that Dreiser both began his career and set his best work, Sister Carrie (1900), in Epstein’s native Chicago. This must be a case of rank hometown prejudice. As such, I honor and respect it.

There is, indeed, a lot to be said about the localist's basic generosity. Unlike the universalist or the imperialist, he is quite prepared to give other places their due. He is not all full up on today's fashionable patriotism of supremacy. He is perfectly content to acknowledge that other locales, other regions, other countries have their virtues and their greatness. Or, even if they appear to have very little of either, he is still prepared to acknowledge that men can love even broken and subjugated places. His patriotism does not seek to crowd out everyone else's with the rhetoric of universals; there is nothing in him of that ideological fervor to bring everyone into conformity with the latest theories of human thriving.

In a word, the object of his patriotism may be small, but his heart is warm and full. He is moved to love for his home like decent men are moved to love and sympathy for frightened children and lost dogs. It is smallness, vulnerability and above all the tragedy of fleeting things that engenders his patriotism. One day the object of his love will be gone, and his solace is in the God who said that the created world is good, even its broken and subjugated parts.

Now here I have gone and added a little polemic to what was supposed to be just a notice about a fine publication. No matter. These essays will surely delight, amuse, challenge and inform you, whether you agree with my polemic or not.

January 8, 2009

The critics’ choice

I am pleased to announce that, having already given it a starred review in their October issue, the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine has now put The Last Superstition on its Editors’ Choice list of the best books of 2008. Ignatius Insight has also put it on their Best Books of 2008 list.

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Political Rationality...

Is evidently divorced from rationality properly so-called, by which it is meant that tribal loyalties usually function as substitutes for actual thought, as sketched by Ezra Klein, in a post discussing the core finding of a political science paper published by Larry Bartels, It Feels Like We're Thinking: The Rationalizing Voter and Electoral Democracy:

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Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus died this morning just before 10 a.m.

Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

HT: Jeff Culbreath

Sitting on my shelf, ready for blogging, is the most recent issue of Human Life Review, which contains a reprint of his closing address at the 2008 convention of the National Right to Life Committee. Now he is at rest, but as he tells us, we on earth shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life.

That is the horizon of hope that, from generation to generation, sustains the great human rights cause of our time and all times—the cause of life. We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

In the midst of the encroaching darkness of the culture of death, we have heard the voice of him who said, “In the world you will have trouble. But fear not, I have overcome the world.” Because he has overcome, we shall overcome. We do not know when; we do not know how. God knows, and that is enough. We know the justice of our cause, we trust in the faithfulness of his promise, and therefore we shall not weary, we shall not rest.

Whether, in this great contest between the culture of life and the culture of death, we were recruited many years ago or whether we were recruited only yesterday, we have been recruited for the duration. We go from this convention refreshed in our resolve to fight the good fight. We go from this convention trusting in the words of the prophet Isaiah that “they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

The journey has been long, and there are miles and miles to go. But from this convention the word is carried to every neighborhood, every house of worship, every congressional office, every state house, every precinct of this our beloved country—from this convention the word is carried that, until every human being created in the image and likeness of God—no matter how small or how weak, no matter how old or how burdensome—until every human being created in the image and likeness of God is protected in law and cared for in life, we shall not weary, we shall not rest. And, in this the great human rights struggle of our time and all times, we shall overcome.

It is the Dawning of the Age of...of...of...

...well, P. Diddy, I guess.

Hat-tip (once again) to Lawrence Auster for pointing out this very interesting (not very good, mind you, but very interesting) essay in the latest issue of The Atlantic: "The End of White America?", by a certain Hua Hsu of a certain Vassar College.

Herewith some early highlights:

"Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we're approaching a profound demographic tipping point. According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities--blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians--will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.

"As a purely demographic matter...white America...may cease to exist in 2040, 2050, or 2060, or later still. But where the culture is concerned, it's already all but finished. Instead of the long-standing model of assimilation toward a common center, the culture is being remade in the image of white America's multiethnic, multicolored heirs...

"What will the new mainstream of America look like, and what ideas or values might it rally around?

"...consider Sean Combs, a hip-hop mogul and one of the most famous African Americans on the planet..."

Continue reading "It is the Dawning of the Age of...of...of..." »

January 9, 2009

"The End of White America?" (continued)

I concluded my previous post with an embedded music video produced by Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, and an expression of distaste thereof. This left some commenters with the impression that my subject here was the decline of popular music, or of music in general.

Well, the video in question could certainly serve such a purpose. But, in this particular case, I was aiming for another, perhaps more consequential, target. For P. Diddy is much more than just a phenomenon of commercial music: he is representative of a pervasive cultural transformation.

Over to Hua Hsu:

Continue reading ""The End of White America?" (continued)" »

Man with Down's Syndrome "accidentally" starved to death in UK hospital

Martin Ryan, age 43, suffered a stroke which left him ostensibly unable to swallow. So he was in the hospital. Where he was starved to death "by accident" over a period of 26 days. According to the article, the doctors thought he was being fed through an NG tube, but he was never even given an NG tube, and by the time they found out he was starving to death, he was "too weak" for the insertion of a PEG tube. He died "in agony" five days after they found out what was going on.

This case is being highlighted as one of horrific neglect. It is at least that.

But does a whiff of fishy smell come to your nose at those references to his death's being a result of "miscommunication" and to its being "too late" to save him (five days before he actually died)?

Continue reading "Man with Down's Syndrome "accidentally" starved to death in UK hospital" »

January 12, 2009

Computers, minds, and Aristotle

The recently published Philosophy of Computing and Information: 5 Questions, edited by Luciano Floridi, is a collection of quasi-interviews with prominent philosophers, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists. (The same five questions were sent to each of the contributors, who were asked to respond to them either question-by-question or in the form of an informal essay. Hence my label “quasi-interviews.”) Several of the contributions are particularly interesting from an Aristotelian point of view.

Continue reading "Computers, minds, and Aristotle" »

"The End of White America?" (enough, already!)

As I tried to suggest in my last post, I think that the "notion of racial transcendence" that is "the ultimate goal" of "the new [pop-]cultural mainstream" consists not in "transcendence" of race at all, but in obsession with it: in the obsessive idealization and celebration of African-Americans, qua African-Americans, Hispanics, qua Hispanics, Asians, qua Asians, American Indians, qua American Indians, etc. - i.e., anybody and everybody except white gentiles (and especially white gentile males) - who, qua white gentiles, are to be relentlessly and blatantly caricatured and denigrated.

Hua Hsu:

"Successful network-television shows...feature wildly diverse casts, and an entire genre of half-hour comedy...seems dedicated to having fun with the persona of the clueless white male. The youth market is following the same pattern...Pop culture today rallies around an ethic of multicultural inclusion that seems to value every identity - except whiteness."

This has led to a grotesque sense of cultural bankruptcy among susceptible white youth - especially those with elite educations:

"Matt Wray, a sociologist at Temple University...has observed that many of his white students are plagued by a racial-identity crisis: "...to be white is to be culturally broke. The classic thing white students say when you ask them to talk about who they are is, "I don't have a culture." They might be privileged, they might be loaded socioeconomically, but they feel bankrupt when it comes to culture...They feel disadvantaged, and they feel marginalized. They don't have a culture that's cool or oppositional..."

Continue reading ""The End of White America?" (enough, already!)" »

January 13, 2009

A great win.

Friends, if you'll excuse this athletic interlude:

Wake Forest men's hoops had a great win Sunday night over North Carolina, pushing them to #2 in one poll and #3 in another. It was a magnificent performance, above all because they played so well down the stretch. With Carolina shooters starting to heat up in the last 4:00, knocking down three-pointers regularly for the first time all night, Wake kept its cool, got the ball to its best guard Jeff Teague -- who has blossomed into a star this year -- and let him hit free throws after driving hard and getting fouled. Smart, disciplined play to close out a tough opponent; there are few things more impressive in basketball than that.

Wake has been an excellent home team for many years. This year the team knows they can beat anyone at home. No small prize in confidence, that. Big wins away from the friendly hardwood at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Collesium is another question. They won at BYU two weeks ago, which was no small feat considering that BYU had not lost at home in 50-some games, but now we're in the midst of the ACC schedule, and those other teams are going to be waiting to pounce on a #2 for a huge upset.

We need to continue the trend of smart, disciplined play. The big, agile swingmen -- L. D. Williams, James Johnson and al-Farouq Aminu -- need to settle down, play a bit more patiently, and work on their outside jumpers. Ishmail Smith accepting his role as second ball-handler, not a scorer, may persist as something of a challenge for coach Dino Guadio. But by golly that win over Carolina was no fluke. This team is for real.

I think Carolina was surprised that we were able to match them athletically. For instance Carolina frequently had a hell of a time in-bounding the ball through our defenders. Few teams can say this, but we combined strength and size with dexterity and speed as well as even the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels, and it disconcerted them.

Shooting is still a bit of a question. Teague just aint gonna score 34 for you every night. He'll shoot poorly, or be neutralized by an aggressive defender. The ACC teems with smart, tough, aggressive defenders at the two position. So there will be games where scoring will have to come from some other guard, and we are light on guards.

Still, that and a couple other worries aside, Wake Forest appears to have a backetball team comparable in potential to the Chris Paul teams of earlier in the decade.

Too Late

The truth begins to dawn on Ramesh Ponnuru - who, as I recall, played a prominent role in banishing immigration restrictionists from National Review, way back in the days when it might have made a difference:

"To grasp how powerfully demographic change is reshaping the political landscape try this thought experiment about the 2008 election.

"Start by considering the electorate's six broadest demographic groups - white voters with at least a four-year college degree; white voters without a college degree; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asians; and other minorities.

"Now posit that each of those groups voted for Barack Obama or John McCain in exactly the same porportions as it actually did. Then imagine that each group represented the share of the electorate that it did in 1992. If each of these groups voted as it did in 2008 but constituted the same share of the electorate as in 1992, McCain would have won. Comfortably."

Well, indeed. So I suppose that we can expect Peter Brimelow and Steve Sailer to reappear in the pages of National Review any day now?


One can be forgiven for being wrong. But not for being right too soon.

January 14, 2009

Does Affirmative Action hurt real people?

Meet Meaghan Cheung, whom Lawrence Auster succinctly calls "the SEC's female Inspector Clouseau." Read about how Cheung gave Madoff a clean bill of health despite explicit warnings from Henry Markopolous. Read about how Markopolous wrote in an e-mail, "In my conversations with her, I did not believe that she had the derivatives or mathematical background to understand the violation." Then read about how Cheung's response to all of this is not to say, "Gee, did I really know what the heck I was doing?" but rather is to break out the violins, appeal to chivalry, and tell the New York Post how she burst into tears on the airplane with her children when she read about Markopolous's e-mail in the New York Times. She also tells us about how hard she's worked for ten years for her career and reputation and how this has destroyed her reputation in a month. And how.

Do I know for a fact that Cheung got where she is by affirmative action--somewhere along the way, perhaps at multiple points along the way? No, in the sense that I have no other specific evidence about Cheung. But I have seen so many cases in academe of women who are given a pass, who are pushed ahead above their level of competence, and I can only imagine how much stronger the pressures for that sort of thing must be in government. And whom does it hurt? Maybe now we know.

January 15, 2009

Christian polemics, the God of the philosophers, natural law, etc.

JD Walters of the blog Unnatural Theology and I debate The Last Superstition. See his review here and my reply here.

September flashbacks.

I’m starting to have flashbacks to last September. It’s not a pleasant feeling. The banking sector is clearly still in dire straights. Financial stocks have plotted an almost unbroken decline since the first of the year. Citigroup announced this week a rather desperate plan to dismember itself. It is expected to report a staggering $10 billion loss for the 4th quarter of 2008.

Meanwhile, Bank of America has been pleading for a second bailout, and according to The Wall Street Journal, likely to get it — which would earn it the distinction of being third company in the last four months bailed out by the government twice. At stake is BofA’s commitment to purchase the distressed securities firm Merrill Lynch, which deal, if it failed, could be another Lehman-like detonation.

The excellent website Baseline Scenario reproduced a Bloomberg chart showing that credit default swaps on the banks are creeping back toward September levels. And one thing (maybe the only thing) that CDS is good for is this: predicting a company’s approaching agony.

Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke bluntly told us Tuesday that more capital injections will probably be necessary; and even the President-elect hinted that it would be “irresponsible” not to have that second TARP tranche ready for new emergencies, so he asked President Bush to request it. The latter duly obliged.

Elsewhere, hedge fund redemptions are still accelerating. “Cry me a river,” you say? Fair enough. But I think it is also fair to conjecture that the one prominent feature of the early Great Depression which we have mercifully avoided (if the extraordinary Fed and Treasury activity did nothing else, at least it accomplished this) is massive bank runs. Our economy today is much more sophisticated than that of the 1930s — instead of bank runs we get hedge fund runs.

In a word, we’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.

UPDATE: Don’t miss Francis Cianfrocca’s post on the resurgence of the banking crisis. His succinct and mournful summary: “You just accept that the biggest moral-hazard-creating event in world history is preferable to not having a banking system at all.” He recommends revisiting the original TARP plan, specifically in the form of a “First National Bad Bank of the United States,” which would be chartered to

issue debt on a full-faith-and-credit guarantee, possibly with an agency-like imprimatur that would generate a few extra basis points of yield. It would be used to buy up maybe half a trillion dollars’ worth of asset-backed paper from banks, and simply hold to maturity. [. . .]

As with a hedge fund, the point would be to capture the risk-adjusted yield from the asset portfolio and repay the investors. Risk is simply the credit risk of the portfolio, because the purchases would be non-leveraged. (The low cost of capital makes this possible.)

Downsides? Well, there’s the moral hazard of course. The banking system will never return to full-normal because everyone will know how rigged and nationalized it is. This effect will last for at least a generation. More than a generation, if the textbooks start getting rewritten to reflect a new dogma that private enterprise doesn’t really work in banking.

That’s were we are, folks: up a creek, and our only paddle is a bizarre sort of thing that slaps you in the face every time you row.

January 16, 2009


As some of you may know, I am a private pilot. I am licensed to fly land-based single-engine airplanes, and I have an instrument rating which permits me to fly in the clouds and in bad weather. I am also a licensed helicopter pilot.

All of that makes me about as qualified to comment on yesterday's extraordinary aviation accident as the average weekend golfer is to comment on the performance of Tiger Woods.

My comment, succinctly, is: Wow.

I don't know of any other successful intentional emergency water landing (ditching) of a large modern airliner, other than yesterday's. The survival rate for ditching in a small plane is actually remarkably good; but there just aren't any data points to go on for large airliners. Airliner engines and systems are incredibly reliable, which is component of why, mile for mile, airline travel is safer than any other form of travel -- even bicycles or walking. But part of what that means is that in the history of aviation, before yesterday, there have been no successful emergency large airliner landings on the water, despite all the time spent by stewardesses telling us what to do in case it happens.

It is possible that Ethiopian Airlines 961 might have achieved this feat if the pilot had not been fighting with hijackers in the middle of the ditching. I certainly view Captain Abate and co-pilot Yonas Mekuria as aviation heroes; Abate seems to be something of a hijacker magnet, having been hijacked twice before the Flight 961 accident. But in any case it is a very different story from yesterday's story.

Then there is Japan Airlines 2, which landed short of the runway at San Francisco International in 1968. Captain Asoh may not be the hero in the accident, but you have to give him credit: when he took the stand in front of the NTSB, upon being asked why he landed in the shallow water short of the runway, he replied "As you Americans say, I f***ed up." When you hear a pilot say "I was just being an Asoh", unlike Captain Asoh, he isn't using profanity: but like Captain Asoh, he is manning up to his mistake.

If you want the definition of a cool customer, though, you need look no further than Captian Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III and co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Over densely populated New York City, these men were faced with the unthinkable: bird strikes had taken out both of their engines. And while takeoffs are optional, landings are not. I read a rumor that the initial plan, in the first seconds after the loss of the engines, was to glide to Teterboro airport for a dead-stick landing on a runway; this kind of thing has been done before.

But there wasn't enough altitude: the choice was buildings or freezing cold water. Looking back during those crucial moments, history provided no comfort. Ahead and below them was death, not merely their own deaths but their passengers' deaths too, 155 souls, and possibly the deaths of others on the surface. But they followed the pilot's mantra: fly the airplane. Never stop flying the airplane, not until you are dead and can't fly it anymore; fly it into and through the crash, as long as you have any control.

And that is just what they did.

January 17, 2009

Me so Clueless

I have tried to follow discussions of the continuing economic/financial crisis, here and elsewhere, for the last few months, to the best of my ability. And little enough good it has done me. For such discussions invariably leave me, as the late, great Anna Russell might have put it, "as befogged as before."

This despite the fact that (as I have pretty good reason to believe) my basic smarts and my grasp of basic economics single me out among somewhere between one thousand and ten thousand average Americans.

From which I can't help drawing a couple of (I think) obvious conclusions:

(1) Such is the complexity of the modern financial system that nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine out of ten thousand citizens simply have no real choice, if they wish to keep said system chugging along, but to trust the one remaining "expert" to get them out of the soup - even if he's the very same "expert" who was running the show while we all got into the soup in the first place. (Question that, and you can expect a nasty spanking from Zippy!)

(2) In such a system - i.e., a system where public decisions of tremendous moral import must be left to the judgment of one in ten thousand, lest the heavens fall, old-timey ideals like "self-government" and "freedom" simply count for nothing. Nothing at all.

I've done my best to try to imagine what sort of economic armageddon could possibly be worse than that.

I find that I cannot.

January 18, 2009

Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is

Way back during my brief stint among the contributors to *The Conservative Philosopher*, somebody or other asked us all to tell the story of how we became conservatives. I dutifully wrote something up, but, for better or worse, got myself banished before I could post it - after taking the wrong side against our host in a slightly unpleasant contretemps over the morality of foxhunting. (No kidding!) So it was duly consigned to the vaults.

Anyway, while hunting through said vaults, today, in search of stuff in need of deletion, I came across it, once more. On the off-chance that it might afford my internet neighbors a moment's amusement (what else do we live for, after all?), here it is:

Continue reading "Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is" »

January 20, 2009

For uneasy nights

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. The First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy, 2:1-3
Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. "He was immensely pro-Soviet," she said, "and then-you will laugh at me-but you must not laugh at my father-and then-one night-in Moscow-he heard screams. That's all. Simply one night he heard screams." Whittaker Chambers, "Letter to my Children," from the forward to Witness

I have learned from a reliable source that James Dobson recently prayed for Barack Obama that he might have uneasy nights. When I passed this suggestion on to a friend who was urging us all to pray for Obama (following the scriptural command), he was inclined to think such a prayer mean-spirited, or at least to think that if he prayed it, it would be mean-spirited.

I cannot speak for my friend, and of course he must follow his conscience in this matter. But I do not believe that such a prayer is mean-spirited. In fact, I believe it is quite important.

Continue reading "For uneasy nights" »

January 21, 2009

Empire, Destroying Subsidiarity

Those of us of a more paleoconservative predilection are wont to rail against the American imperium and the perfidy of its architects, not least the lickspittles and toadies who spare no effort, and no canon of scholarship or intellectual integrity, in confabulating legitimating myths with which to veil the nakedness of the Empire. We take it for granted that our jeremiads and imprecations will be received for what they are, in their specificity, namely, denunciations of the American empire, and not of the reification, Empire-in-itself. Consistent with the paleo sensibility - and I must state that 'paleoconservatism' is no more and no less useful than any other political designator in American discourse; 'conservatism' pretty much means little more than 'right-liberal' or 'not-Democratic', which is to say, very little indeed, but enough to give us a spacial understanding of the thing; so also is it with paleoconservatives, who are, taken collectively, the 'not-those-conservatives' - such polemics aren't concerned with the abstract concept of empire, divorced from historical circumstances and cultural particularities, as though we were all closet Straussians, contemptuous of the merely historical and intent upon arguing about transhistorical ideals and anti-ideals, but with the actually-existing American empire, such as it is, and its want of conformity to the better angels of our national character.

So, when Ed Feser linked to Charles Coulombe's disquisition on empire and the American character, and observed that imperialism per se is morally neutral, I not only re-read the linked essay, but did so in a state of bafflement. Not merely because I can conceive of few paleoconservatives, if any, who would argue against empire as an abstraction, but because it would be an odd paleoconservative indeed who could not find, amidst the proliferating variety he tacitly vows to defend, space for the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, or the Habsburg Empire. Such a man would be more a Jacobin than a paleoconservative, and the two admit of no admixture. But the issue is perhaps more focused than that, and the elision in Coulombe's piece enables us to get at the nub of the matter.

Continue reading "Empire, Destroying Subsidiarity" »

January 23, 2009

Purely academic

In his recent book Save the World on Your Own Time, Stanley Fish tells his fellow academics to shut up and teach, and stop politicizing the classroom. Here is my review of the book, for the online edition of City Journal.

January 24, 2009

Resistance is futile

This spoof commercial is sufficiently funny that I've decided, a bit against my better judgement, to link it here. Ther'e's nothing wrong with the commercial. I'm just not sure what commentary it might generate.

It has some fun with the campaign of a certain Republican Primary candidate whose name rhymes with "Don Ball." I post it as someone who has some sympathy for gold standard arguments but who finds this really amusing.

Please understand that creepy followers of the above candidate (who are his worst enemies, in my opinion) may find their comments deleted with prejudice. I also beg the rest of you to please observe caution in referring to the candidate, as I'd rather not call down the Google bots upon us.

The commercial is going to be aired eventually on the James Allen Show, a talk radio show out of Phoenix, and is linked with permission. As it happens, I'm scheduled to be interviewed on the show on February 1 beginning at around 8:15 or so, Phoenix time.

Enjoy the link and remember--don't try to resist the New World Order.

January 25, 2009

My Main (Mad-)Man Mencius Moldbug on a Roll

Don't know nuthin' 'bout neither "Anthropogenic Global Warming" nor "Keynes-Fisher macro-economics," but MM's latest post at Unqualified Reservations contains one of the greatest masterpieces of indirection that I've ever encountered.

Keep in mind, if you choose to read further, that MM is a Stuart Restorationist, and therefore a partisan of noble privilege...

"Let's say you were a person who didn't care at all about the Constitution, and you wanted to take America back to the past and establish a new order of hereditary nobility. What could be more deliciously reactionary than that? Real, live nobles, walking around on the street. So let's see what it would take to make it happen.

"First, we need to define noble status. Our rule is simple: if either of your parents was a noble, you're a noble. While this is unusually inclusive for a hereditary order, it is the 21st century, after all. We can step out a little. And nobility remains a biological quality - a noble baby adopted by common parents is noble, a common baby adopted by noble parents is common.

"Fine. What are the official duties and privileges of our new nobility? Obviously, we can't really call it a noble order unless it has duties and privileges.

"Well, privileges, anyway. Who needs duties? What's the point of being a noble, if you're going to have all these duties? Screw it, it's the 21st century. We've transcended duties. On to the privileges.

"The basic quality of a noble is that he or she is presumed to be better than commoners. Of course, both nobles and commoners are people. And people do vary. Individual circumstances must always be considered. However, the official presumption is that, in any conflict between a noble and a commoner, the noble is right and the commoner is wrong. Therefore, by default, the noble should win. This infallible logic is the root of our system of noble privilege.

"For example, if a noble attacks a commoner, we can presume that the latter has in some way provoked or offended the former. The noble may of course be guilty of an offense, but the law must be extremely careful about establishing this. If there is a pattern of noble attacks on commoners, there is almost certainly a problem with the commoners, whose behavior should be examined and who may need supplemental education.

"If a commoner attacks a noble, however, it is an extremely serious matter. And a pattern of commoner attacks on nobles is unthinkable - it is tantamount to the total breakdown of civilization. In fact, one way to measure the progress that modern society has made is that, in the lifetime of those now living, it was not at all unusual for mobs of commoners to attack and kill nobles! Needless to say, this doesn't happen anymore.

"This intentional disparity in the treatment of unofficial violence creates the familiar effect of asymmetric territorial dominance. A noble can stroll anywhere he wants, at any time of day or night, anywhere in the country. Commoners are advised not to let the sun set on them in noble neighborhoods, and if they go there during the day they should have a good reason for doing so.

"One of the main safeguards for our system of noble authority is a systematic effort to prevent the emergence of commoner organizations which might exercise military or political power. Commoners may of course have friends who are other commoners, but they may not network on this basis. Nobles may and of course do form exclusive social networks on the basis of nobility.

"Most interactions between commoners and nobles, of course, do not involve violence or politics. Still, by living in the same society, commoners and nobles will inevitably come into conflict. Our goal is to settle these conflicts, by default, in favor of the noble.

"For example, if a business must choose whether to hire one of two equally qualified applicants, and one is a noble while the other is a commoner, it should of course choose the noble. The same is true for educational admissions and any other contest of merit. Our presumption is that while nobles are intrinsically, inherently and immeasurably superior to commoners, any mundane process for evaluating individuals will fail to detect these ethereal qualities - for which the outcome must therefore be adjusted.

"Speaking of the workplace, it is especially important not to let professional circles of commoner resistance develop. Therefore, we impose heavy fines on corporations whose internal or external policies or practices do not reflect a solid pro-noble position. For example, a corporation which permits its commoner employees to express insolence or disrespect toward its noble employees, regardless of their relationship in the corporate hierarchy, is clearly liable. Any such commoner must be fired at once if the matter is brought to the management's attention.

"This is an especially valuable tool for promoting the nobility: it literally achieves that result. In practice it makes the noble in any meeting at the very least primus inter pares. Because it is imprudent for commoners to quarrel with him, he tends to get what he wants. Because he tends to get what he wants, he tends to advance in the corporate hierarchy. The result, which should be visible in any large business without dangerous commonerist tendencies, will be a predominance of nobles in top executive positions.

"And, of course, this should be especially the case in government... but enough. We've made the point."

Continue reading "My Main (Mad-)Man Mencius Moldbug on a Roll" »

Behe blackballed at Borders?

Notwithstanding my deep philosophical disagreements with ID theorists, I do respect many of them and condemn the thuggish treatment they’ve gotten at the hands of certain Darwinians. So while browsing at the local Borders last night, I was dismayed to see that the esteemed Michael Behe’s books seem to have been relegated to what someone or other apparently regards as an intellectual ghetto, or at least a residence less exalted than “science.” Both Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution had “Biology” printed on the category section of the price sticker, but this had been crossed out and replaced by hand with “Western Phil.” And that is where I found poor Prof. Behe – hanging out somewhere between Alain Badiou and George Berkeley. Having checked the Borders website, I can confirm that this was no prank pulled by some Darwinist customer. Behe has been unnaturally selected out of the “Biology” category; indeed, he isn’t even welcome in “General Science.”

Of course, from my point of view this is an upgrade, since metaphysics is the queen of the sciences. But I hardly think it was meant that way. An ideological statement by the Borders higher-ups? Just askin’.

(I remember years ago finding in another Borders that every copy they had of John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime, a trade paperback, had been mispriced at a jaw-dropping $120 – not hand-written either, but “officially” printed out on the price sticker. An attempt on the part of some crazed leftist employee to discourage purchase of said book? Or just a glitch? Again, just askin’.)

January 26, 2009

Supporting Abortion Rights is Worse than Holocaust Denial

So the Pope has lifted the excommunications of the four illicitly consecrated Bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. For those who don't follow Catholic inside baseball, the SSPX considers itself an ultra-traditionalist group with the goal of attempting to preserve the pre-Vatican II patrimony of the Catholic Church in the face of Vatican II reforms. Assuming I have it right, which I might not because I don't have an intense interest in the matter, these four Bishops were consecrated - validly, that is to say, they really did sacramentally become bishops - but illicitly, that is, without the juridical permission of Rome. As a result they were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II. It is that excommunication which has been lifted by Pope Benedict XVI.

That is just background for what interests me in particular here, which is the hubbub over the fact that one of the four Bishops is apparently a Holocaust denier. (Note: I haven't been able to view the video at dotCommonweal as of this writing, but we can stipulate all of this for my purposes here).

Now Bishop Williamson was not excommunicated for being a Holocaust denier: he was excommunicated for his deliberate illicit consecration as a Bishop. The one really has nothing to do with the other. Nevertheless, and understandably, lifting his excommunication has created a bit of a storm. Many people feel that Holocaust denial is so gravely immoral - not to mention loopy - that it warrants excommunication in itself; and I am sympathetic to this view.

However, that directly raises the general question of what moral wrongs are so gravely wicked that they warrant excommunication. Keep in mind that even a serial killer is not excommunicated on account of being a serial killer: he may be damned, if he does not repent, but he is not excommunicated.

Holocaust denial is inexcusably crazy and wicked, but it does not involve advocacy and support of an existing legal right to murder Jews. Furthermore, it is not Catholic doctrine that some historical event such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the moon landing, or the Holocaust actually occurred. On the other hand, opposition to a legal right to abortion is Catholic doctrine. So if the time has come to start excommunicating the wicked - a proposition about which I reserve judgment - they had better get in line behind the heretics.


The trouble with conspiracy theories

People who think the U.S. government was complicit in 9/11 or in the JFK assassination sometimes complain that those who dismiss them as “conspiracy theorists” are guilty of inconsistency. For don’t the defenders of the “official story” behind 9/11 themselves believe in a conspiracy, namely one masterminded by Osama bin Laden? Don’t they acknowledge the existence of conspiracies like Watergate, as well as everyday garden variety criminal conspiracies?

The objection is superficial. Critics of the best known “conspiracy theories” don’t deny the possibility of conspiracies per se. Rather they deny the possibility, or at least the plausibility, of conspiracies of the scale of those posited by 9/11 and JFK assassination skeptics. One reason for this has to do with considerations about the nature of modern bureaucracies, especially governmental ones. They are notoriously sclerotic and risk-averse, structurally incapable of implementing any decision without reams of paperwork and committee oversight, and dominated by ass-covering careerists concerned above all with job security. The personnel who comprise them largely preexist and outlast the particular administrations that are voted in and out every few years, and have interests and attitudes that often conflict with those of the politicians they temporarily serve. Like the rest of society, they are staffed by individuals with wildly divergent worldviews that are difficult to harmonize. The lack of market incentives and the power of public employee unions make them extremely inefficient. And so forth. All of this makes the chances of organizing diverse reaches of the bureaucracy (just the right set of people spread across the Army, the Air Force, the FBI, the CIA, the FAA, etc. – not to mention within private firms having their own bureaucracies and diversity of corporate and individual interests) in a short period of time (e.g. the months between Bush’s inauguration and 9/11) to carry out a plot and cover-up of such staggering complexity, close to nil.

Continue reading "The trouble with conspiracy theories" »

January 28, 2009

Two Scotts with two great lines

We bloggers are sometimes sad borrowers. For purposes of this post, I abandon all claim to originality and simply pass on to you two things I have seen recently that deserve a wider audience.

W4 reader Scott W., writing on his own blog, applies a phrase from our own Zippy to a new context. As some of you will recall, Zippy wrote about Captain Sullenberger's feat in landing on the Hudson. In that post, he explained the pilot's rule: "Never stop flying the airplane." Scott applies that to our larger situation:

While guys like Kmiec busy themselves by poking bloggers in the eye with an olive branch, my local parish priest spoke at the end of Mass about FOCA and in the bulletin was a flier from the National Committee for a Human Life Ammendment. He also briefly dismissed the “It’ll never get out of committee” mantra we hear over and over again (as if attempting suicide is acceptable if we don’t believe the one intending it can pull it off.)

I’ll try my best to keep up my prayers on this. As pilot Zippy reminds us: “Never stop flying the airplane”.

The more I think about it, the more spine-stiffening it is. I even quoted it on Inauguration Day to someone who was feeling a tad despairing: "Fly the plane," I said. "Just keep on flying the plane."

And another Scott, Scott Klusendorf of Life Training Institute, ends a brief post on B.O.'s "above my pay grade" shtick with one of the most succinct statements of the problem with American liberalism that I've ever seen: "That's what's wrong with liberalism. While it pretends not to preach, it quietly decides who lives and dies."

January 29, 2009

Another conspiracy?

Caught The China Syndrome, the 1979 nuclear power plant disaster movie, on TV tonight. A character in the movie says that a nuclear meltdown could result in an area the size of Pennsylvania becoming permanently uninhabitable. And the filmmakers clearly had an agenda: to damage the nuclear power industry. Do you know what happened just twelve days after the movie was released? The famous Three Mile Island nuclear power plant disaster. Do you know where Three Mile Island is? Pennsylvania. Do you know what happened after the accident? The movie took off at the box office. And construction of new nuclear power plants effectively ceased.

Coincidence? Put on your thinking caps, people! Don't be sheeple!

Was the Three Mile Island accident engineered by Columbia Pictures (the film’s distributor) and its allies in the anti-nuclear movement so as to generate publicity for the movie? Was the reference to “Pennsylvania” an inadvertent slip by a screenwriter or actor having foreknowledge of the event? In the same year, Columbia Pictures co-produced the Steven Spielberg flop 1941 with Universal Studios. Universal was at the time controlled by mogul Lew Wasserman, well-known as a patron of the Democratic Party. Jimmy Carter, the president at the time and a Democrat, visited the site of the Three Mile Island disaster, thereby lending the power of his office to fostering the perception that the accident was a major one which ought to raise concerns about nuclear power. Carter’s daughter Amy once famously advised her father that the control of nuclear arms was the most pressing issue in the election of 1980 -- one year after the movie and the accident.

Oh, and Spielberg supports Israel.

Again, could this all just be coincidence?

Hey, I’m just asking questions here. Surely more research is needed?

The answer, of course, is yes, it is just a coincidence. And no, no further "research" is needed. Such “eyebrow-raising coincidences” are a dime a dozen, and are utterly meaningless. People overly impressed with Marvin Bush’s “links” to Larry Silverstein or Prescott Bush’s “links” to Hitler take note.

People predisposed to believe that there is a leftist screenwriter lurking under every bed will, of course, no doubt see in this something more than coincidence – just as someone predisposed to look for Zionists or neo-cons under every bed will see all sorts of strange things in other entirely innocent patterns. But the “six degrees of separation” phenomenon has a name because it is real, and what it shows is that there are all sorts of patterns in social affairs that tell us… precisely nothing of interest.

The "FOCA Trap"?

Very interesting post from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf's fine blog. I have no opinion on it but pass it on FYI.

January 30, 2009

Praise Him, planet and moon!


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?

My colleague at another site, Skanderbeg, snapped this beauty of a photo last night up in Vermont. It is of Venus and the moon just after dark. But even a great photo does not do the heavenly spectacle justice. You gotta see it in person.

If the night is clear they will appear even closer together tonight. Look in the southern sky starting at dusk. I saw them at 5:30pm, well before it was dark. Venus is extremely high in the sky for an interior planet, and by far the brightest object in the sky (moon excluded of course). Well worth a look, even in bitter cold.

More images are available here.


I beseech thee, saith he, be not angry, Lord, if I speak yet once more: What if ten should be found there? And he said: I will not destroy it for the sake of ten. - Genesis 18:32
I guess this means we have nine to go.

(Cross-posted and HT: The Curt Jester)

Revolting Cuisine

An "appreciation" of two of the vilest foodstuffs concocted by members of our race, this article on hakarl and Vegemite is not to be missed. One cannot fail to be impressed by a piece of writing which likens the horrific experience of eating Hakarl to being told by the Almighty that Who Moved My Cheese?, that breathtakingly obscene bit of corporate human-resources agitprop (Its message is essentially that workers should learn to love being treated as fungible pieces of meat, and that this is liberating.), and not the Good Book, is one's scripture. Nor can one fail to be entertained by writing which associates the evil of Vegemite, with its red and yellow label, with other red and yellow indicators of evil. Such as international communism.

A Blast From the Past

Did you know that there are about thirty seconds worth of actual film footage of the funeral of Queen Victoria, in February, 1901?

I didn't know that, until I started trying to work up a post (or series of posts) comparing & contrasting the musical culture of a hundred years ago to that of today - complete with illustrative music videos...

Anyway, I've incorporated said film footage into my new YouTube vid (starting at about 1:56):

Enjoy the music, if you can. More later.

January 31, 2009

Throw Them Back in the Frozen Hudson

That is my suggestion for what to do with Fred Berretta, Tess Sosa, and George Morgado. And toss in Antonio Sales and Gabrielle Glenn with them.

How pathetic. Any of these ingrates who actually sues the airline deserves to be permanently ejected from the society of civilized men. I especially can't believe Sosa, the lives of whose husband and young children were also saved by the heroic professionalism of Captain Sullenberger, First Officer Skiles, and the consummate professionals at US Airways.

(Cross-posted and HT: Man Bites Blog)