Campaign2008

This blog features information about the political campaign nationally and in the state of Pennsylvania. it will discuss congressional races western PA, but it won't restrict comments to those jurisdictions. On many occasions, it will feature humor, but its main purpose is to "cut the legs off" political jihad. This is a site for political grown-ups of all ages.

Name:
Location: Ambridge, Pennsylvania, United States

I have a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (English and American Literature). I taught for 10 years at various educational institutions (Univ. of Rochester, my alma mater, College of William and Mary, and University of Georgia, where I was also Asst. Ed. of the Georgia Review. Later, I worked as a speechwriter and "thinker" at various large companies, including Phillips Petroleum, Gulf Oil, Aetna, Merck (consultant), and Eli Lilly (consultant), among many others. I'm a full-time writer and political commentator/analyst. Favorite company: AudioTech Business Books. Favorite female: my wife, Patricia Ann Maloney. Favorite politcal candidate: Diana Lynn Irey (PA's 12th congressional district)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Al Gore & Steve Maloney: Guess Which One is the Environmentalist?

Note: This is the kind of piece I'd like to see more in my daily newspaper, one that explains how people could save money and generally live a more fruitful life. Yeah, it's somewhat self-congratulatory, but at my age you tend to have to do your own public relations.

I was intrigued -- but not really surprised -- to read about Green Advocate Al Gore spending an average of $2439 per month for heat and power at his "posh" Nashville, Tennessee mansion. The very wealthy man who falsely claimed to have "invented the Internet" and helped create the global warming hysteria is not exactly the most appealing of creatures. He's a hypocrite of the first order, self-absorbed to an overwhelming level.

He's the ultimate consumer. He consumes the attention, even adoration, of people who care what he says more than what he does. He consumes a vast amount of electricity and other forms of energy. Clearly, he consumes a lot more food than he needs. The people who know know him best -- the residents of Tennessee -- rejected him when he ran for President in 2000.

I'll admit it: I compare myself with Al Gore, and he doesn't come off very well, especially in matters related to his supposed passion: the environment.

Let's see, he's the left-wing environmentalist whose utility bill is $30,000-plus per year. I'm the right-wing critic of environmentalism whose electric bill is a little above $200 a month (two-bedroom, three-bathroom home) about $2500 annually. He does a lot of world traveling and regularly rides in gas-guzzling limousines. I do no world traveling, and I haven't owned an automobile in more than a decade.

I live with two disabled people, my wife who had a crippling stroke in 1991 and my stepdaughter, who has a learning disability and works at McDonald's. Before my wife and I became eligible in 2006 for prescription drug coverage (Medicare Plan D), our monthly cost for medications -- out-of-pocket -- was about $600-$700 per month.

My wife -- a computer whiz and corporate manager until her stroke -- can't work, and my stepdaughter has always had a minimum wage job. She and I are both on Social Security, and I make some money -- not a lot, but enough -- writing for a company in Illinois. I have a small pension from Chevron, the San-Francisco-based oil company.

Frankly, we get along just fine. But we had to make some significant adjustments, especially in terms of transportation.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, we decided to live without an automobile. Most Americans would find that almost inconceivable, but it's been a major positive for us.

An automobile is not an investment. Instead, it's a way to hemorrhage money. Buy a car for, say, $25,000, and you get the honor of spending thousands of dollars a year not only on payments, but also on insurance, gasoline, repairs, and parking fees. Five years after you purchase the vehicle, you have something that's well on its way to becoming a piece of junk -- and that's worth perhaps half what it originally was.

For us, we figured that having one car would cost us at least $350 per month. If you have more than one car, the figure would be much higher.

Put that money in the bank! After two years, you'll have as much as $8400, plus a much interest as your account generates over the 24 months. If you can invest the $8400 in a tax-free product -- say, in IRAs -- and get 6% interest per year, within 8 years your savings will be approaching $20,000.

Keep saving the $350 over a period of, say, 10-15 years, and your savings will be well up in six-figures. Of course, if you can get more than a 6% return -- and many people do -- your savings could be much larger.
A normal lifetime spent without a car could make your a millionaire, based only on the savings from your car-less life.

The great things about what J. P. Morgan called "the miracle of compound interest" is that it's subject to the Rule of 72. What this means is that if you gain an interest rate of 6% (si, your savings will double every 12 years. However, if you can get a rate of 12%, your savings will double every six years.

Many of you may be wondering how you can get along without a car. On the whole, it's a lot easier than you might think. That was true when I lived in Carnegie, three miles from downtown Pittsburgh. It's even truer at our present home in Ambridge.

Without a car, you need to live near a bus route. The Park n Ride lot, a hub for Port Authority Transit (Allegheny County) and Beaver County busses, which come-and-go about every hour during the day. Because I'm over 65, I can ride the busses for "free." My wife can ride for half-price, because of her disability.

But we don't ride the bus a great deal.

That's because we chose a place to live where nearly everything is reachable by old-fashioned shoe leather. Within six blocks, there's a: pharmacy (actually two of them), post office, bank, library, insurance office, Chinese take-out restaurant, Subway sandwich shop, a men's store, a medical testing center, the Ambridge town offices, a high school (Ambridge High) right across the street.

Also, our doctor's office is a 15-to-20-minute walk. There are many medical specialists with offices in Ambridge (podiatrist, rheumatologist, and the like).

Getting food is more of a challenge. The Foodland is about a 1 1/4 miles away, and my wife and I walk there. We use a four-wheel cart to carry the groceries. There are several other food stores -- two Giant Eagles, Saforas in Sewickley, and Shop n Save -- all requiring a short bus ride.

How do we handle food during extremely cold periods, like the recent one? We plan ahead.

We do a lot more walking than most people our age. That's not a negative. Rather, it is a way of getting something we really need: exercise. If we don't put ourselves in circumstances where we have to walk, we won't do it.

What about when we positively, absolutely must have a car? That occurs when we need to take one of our cats to a veterinarian, or attend a wedding or funeral? In such cases, we rent one from the Enterprise that's a five-minute bus ride from our homes. In fact, since Enterprise picks us up and drops us off, we can forgo the bus ride.

As for All Gore: well, he doesn't live in Ambridge. From the outside, it doesn't look like he walks a lot. I'm also guessing that he doesn't wear long underwear and a sweater in his home -- to keep the thermostat at a brisk 65 or 66. I know Nashville can get hot and humid, so I bet he keep his air conditioners (surely he has two) humming away from May 1 to October 1.

We believe strongly in not misusing finite resources, especially oil and natural gas. Unlike former VP Gore, we don't talk much about greenhouse gases and associated subjects. We grow most of our own vegetables in the back yard.

Because we're also trying to save money, we don't "purchase" our energy from one of the various "Green" sources available in PA. Gore's spokespeople say that he does purchase "green energy," which is significantly more expensive than the traditional variety (gas, oil, and coal).

Right now, "green energy" is fine for rich people, including the Gores. It's also good for people who live in the area served by the old TVA, which provides a great deal of hydroeletric power. In most areas of the country, Green Power isn't a reasonable alternative for people don't have abundant financial resources.

The Gores talk the talk. The Maloneys walk the walk, literally and figuratively. If Gore and family would move to Ambridge, I'd be happy to teach them how to put their money where their mouth is.





Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where Are the Sharks of Yesteryear? Who Killed the Bird Flu?

rodgermorrow said...
You're on to something big here, Steve. It's not the role of journalism to point out everything in our lives that might bring us to some bad end (from man-eating sharks to asbestos insulation); rather, journalism must help us discriminate between dangers that should properly concern us (household accidents, metabolic syndrome, smoking) and dangers that threaten only the minutest fraction of the population.


Thanks Rodger (Morrow): He operates one of the very best blogs in America -- one worth reading regularly.

John Stossel emphasized the post hoc, ergo proper hoc ("after this, therefore, because of this") fallacy in his 20/20 program ("Scared Stiff: Worry in America"). As Rodger suggests, we worry about a multitude of things -- mostly at the urgings of the Mainstream Media (MSM) -- over which we have no control.

One great example cited by Stossel was the so-called "Summer of the Shark," which occurred in 2001. In those days before 9/11, the nation apparently had a shortage of things to worry about. So, Time magazine and the usual gaggle of left-wing, ratings-obsessed "information" outlets decided it was time to worry about . . . sharks.

We don't have a lot of sharks in the Pittsburgh area, outside the aquarium at the zoo. Thus, we kept our own shark worries in control. However, the rest of the nation became convinced there was a good chance of their being eaten by creatures right out of "Jaws."

In fact, the "Summer of the Shark" had little basis in reality. Contrary to the media's implications, the summer of 2001 was not an especially bad year for swimmers. The number of shark attacks in American waters was about average. There was no basis in fact for the national uproar. It was just a case of media hype.

The media also has a "thing" about the Ebola virus, the flesh-eating one. Of course, here in my catacomb in Ambridge my chance of getting Ebola is something less than my winning the Big One on the Powerball. If I were to move to Africa, the probability of a virus beginning to consume my flesh might be higher, but only marginally so.

But what about the "deadly" bird flu, something of a media stand-by? We've heard that, potentially, it could be as destructive as the Influenza Epidemic that occurred in 1917-1918. In fact, the number of Americans killed (or even infected) by bird flu has remained steady at zero. That same number holds for the birds afflicted in our great land, who seem remarkably resistant to avian flu.

On Stossel's program, the extremely wise Stephen Moore said, "What sells newspapers is bad news." We might add that, when it comes to the media, hysteria sells. Breathless reporting, combined with forecasts of doom, jacks up the ratings. In Pittsburgh, PA, our weather forecasters regularly predict something roughly equivalent to the end of the world. As one Pittsburgher noted recently, the reality is that we get not the Twilight of the Gods, but rather four snowflakes.

As Rodger Morrow points out, we as a people need to begin worrying about things over which we have some control. He mentions "metabolic disorders." As an individual who surprised himself by having adult onset diabetes, I know what he's talking about. I never thought much about diabetes -- largely preventable -- until I had it. Now, I think about it daily.

Ebola and shark attacks are exciting -- and scary. Diabetes is, if you don't have it, relatively boring. Shakespeare's Falstaff talked about "cakes and ale," neither of which I can consume anymore. My diet and my personality begin to converge, both of them bland. Diabetes reaffirms the old dictum, "Sin in haste, repent at leisure."

If you scare people, you get big ratings. If you tell them, Steve Maloney has diabetes, you get the sounds of silence. The reason the old street preachers carried signs saying, "The End is Near!" is that nothing less would get anyone's attention. In that sense, those bedraggled sign carriers acted as the first media consultants.

Today, in Iraq, a car-bomber -- a designation that means homicidal maniac -- killed 18 young soccer players near Baghdad. In generally, the media treated that horrific event as a "dog bites man" story, as something hardly worthy of the designation "news." The point seems to be: if we depress our viewers, we will lost them.

Perhaps media executives and news directors see the dead soccer players and ask: "What else is new?" Perhaps they think wistfully, "Where are the sharks of yesteryear?" Or, "What's Britney Spears doing lately?" Or, "Any new cases of Ebola or bird flu?"

Some years ago, I was comfortably seated -- along with a few other souls -- at "Froggy's," a Pittsburgh watering-hole of yesteryear. We'd had one of those blood curdling weather forecasts, suggesting that an Oswego-like blizzard was imminent. Actually, we got our usual four snowflakes.

Watching all his potential customers wait in traffic as they evacuated the city, Steve "Froggy" Morris muttered the following words: "Stay in your homes; you will not be harmed."

Stay in your homes; watch your TV; read your newspaper, and you will not be harmed.


Now, in the February of our discontent, "Froggy's" is closed -- and life is slightly less worth living.

Monday, February 26, 2007

John Stossel: Journalism and the Eradication of Falsehoods

Over the past week, I've discussed the kind of value-based stories I believe newspapers like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette should be doing. I've pointed out how certain farsighted TV journalists -- from Yvonne Zanos at KDKA to Soledad O'Brien and others at CNN to the superb John Stossel of ABC -- have been heading in the right direction, emphasizing stories of real worth and insight to news consumers. Today, I'd like to focus on Stossel's recent "20/20," where he highlighted the fears of modern Americans ("Scared Stiff").

Over the years, Stossel apparently has offended many people, almost all of them on the American Left. His supposed offense is that he does what journalists are supposed to: challenging cherished beliefs -- on subjects like the environment, education, and entertainment. In developing his views, Stossel doesn't rely a lot on polls of public opinion. Instead, he asks if there's any factual basis for common beliefs.

In his recent program, he discussed the widespread fears that vaccines might be harming American children -- perhaps by increasing the number of young people with autism. He cites various scientists who say there's no evidence that vaccines are causing diseases in children. In fact, they're preventing hundreds of thousands of serious illnesses and deaths.

But how we can explain the supposed sharp increase in the number of children with autism, a subject that's made the cover of major newsmagazines? He presents a graph from California showing two lines -- one demonstrating the percentage "increase" of California kids with autism, one showing the decline in those diagnosed with mental retardation. The two lines demonstrate what's really happened: many of the children formerly diagnosed as retarded now get classified as autistic.

There is NO increase in the percentage of autistic children. What we once called retardation, we now call autism. That's all there is to it.

If there's no factual basis for something we believe, then it's obligation as rational, responsible people to revise our beliefs. It's not a matter of being liberal or conservative, but rather of avoiding error and fantasy. We should believe only those things we can prove.

For example, there's no evidence -- as in none -- that silicone breast implants cause cancer or various immune system disorders. That's not the opinion of John Stossel or the various experts he quotes, including those at the FDA. In fact, what they're saying is that evidence doesn't exist linking silicone implants to various diseases. If such scientific evidence existed, which it does not, both Stossel and his experts would love to see it, but there's no one to present it.

But what about the juries that have bankrupted companies (Dow-Corning) and enriched trial lawyers in cases supposedly linking the breast implants to a host of diseases? Those juries were, as the FDA now indicates, wrong. They committed one of the oldest fallacies, which states: post hoc, ergo propter hoc. That means: "after this, therefore because of this."

The women awarded huge settlements did in fact have breast implants. Also, they did in fact have diseases. Yet there was no connection between the silicone and the illnesses. The judgments, the lining of the lawyers' pockets, and the financial devastation of the implant makers all occurred for no good reason.

In one remarkable episode on 20/20, Stossel talks to his college age daughter about a program he did when she was a small child. In that years-ago segment, he'd raised questions about the safety of the vaccine that prevents whooping cough. Influenced by that experience, Stossel refused to let his daughter's pediatrician finish immunizing her against whooping cough.

Subsequently, his daughter ended up in a hospital emergency room. She'd contracted whooping cough, a thoroughly preventable disease.

He told his nonplussed daughter this story. She couldn't believe he -- and his programs -- had interfered with doctors' responsibilities to take care of their patients. Her comment: "If you did that, you did a bad thing."

Can anyone imagine Mike Wallace, Keith Olberman, or Wolf Blitzer devoting a portion of their programs -- in such dramatic fashion -- to their own past errors? I can't.

In his program, Stossel used focus groups of children and parents. Members of the two group expressed their major fear: the high probability of children being kidnapped. The mothers, fathers, and children all believed that kidnapping is a real possibility in their lives. They're scared stiff. They've all heard of cases like those involving Elizabeth Smart, Jessica Lunsford, Polly Klass, and Adam Walsh.

Most people think the number of child kidnappings is much greater now than it was in the past. They're wrong.

In fact, what most of us call kidnapping -- stranger abductions -- is very rare. On the 20/20, the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says, "Over the years, the number of such kidnappings has remained remarkable constant."

How many stranger abductions take place in a typical week? The parents and children Stossel talked to believe there's an explosion of such horrors. Apparently, they believe there are dozens -- and perhaps hundreds -- every week.

In fact, on average, the number in a week is about TWO. That is, in an average 7-day period, two children get kidnapped by strangers. Not dozens, not hundreds -- but rather two per week, about 100 per year.

For that, we end up with tens of millions of adults and children spending much of their lives consumed by fear of being kidnapped. Many more children die in tricycle accidents.

Overall, Stossel accomplished more in a two-hour program than most journalists will in a decade. He questioned conventional wisdom. He presented information that many people -- especially trial lawyers -- would rather not hear. He refused to genuflect at the altar of public opinion.

When Stossel hears a proposition, such as that the number of kidnapped children is increasing, he doesn't take it on faith. He asks, "Is that true? Is there any evidence to support the view? Is there another explanation than the one proferred?"

This distinguished ABC journalist causes us to do something profoundly important: to question our own views. For example, in recent years, I've been fixated on the issue of terrorism in America. Stossel suggests that terrorism is much less of a real concern that I've thought.

His point is that we should worry about things that truly matter, such as auto accidents, high blood pressure, and heart diseases. Yes, Oklahoma City and 9/11 were awful, sickening, but there are other realities that kill many more people and deserve a greater degree of our concern.

Journalism should never be a tool to foster illusions, whether comforting or disturbing. Instead, it should be a way for us to check reality and re-examine our beliefs. For that reason, Stossel's "Scared Stiff" gets my vote for reality-show-of-the-year.


From time to time in the future, I'll write about ways journalism can fulfill its obligation to present accurate, valuable information.





Sunday, February 25, 2007

Will You Die in a Terrorist Attack? I Know the Answer

The Week of February 24, 2007: I've been writing a great deal lately about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with emphasis on approaches that would keep the paper from folding. The P-G has been hemmorhaging red ink, and that's unnecessary if it would be wise enough -- relax, it won't be -- to emphasize writing about subjects of real value to readers. I'll have more to say about this subject in the weeks ahead.

We often hear that modern people suffer from information overload. In other words, we get bombarded with more information than we can process. To the contrary, I believe the situation is somewhat different: we live in a world where bad information -- misinformation -- drives out good. With all the supposed knowledge sources available, we should be the wisest people in the history of the human race, but we aren't.

When I lived in Carnegie, PA, I used to take the Port Authority Transit bus from Carnegie to the Shop and Save in Scott and then return. I'd often run into a woman, age 65-is, from Bridgeville. She was what I'd call a classic Democrat. She'd wait for the bus and spit out complaints about "that Bush." For her, the President's last name truly was a four-letter-word, and he was responsible for most of the ills that afflicted her and others.

She also had opinions about the weather, which has tended to be pretty bad in recent years. After Hurricane Ivan lasted just long enough to dump a foot of rain on Carnegie and other area towns, she said, "It's all those space ships and men landing on the moon!"

I said nothing, but she continued: "We never used to have this terrible weather, hurricanes and stuff, before they started putting people on the moon! It's that Bush! He can't do anything right!" I didn't have the heart to tell her that the U.S. hadn't been sending men to the moon for, well, decades.

When I read the various public opinion polls in the P-G and hear about them on CNN, I think of that woman. I wonder what percentage of the people surveyed share her attitudes. From the views expressed in the surveys, I think she may be what the public relations specialists call "an opinion leader."

I've heard that many people -- I'm talking tens of millions -- believe the moon landings themselves were staged. That is, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin didn't really burst through the surly bonds of earth and end up on the moon. Instead, it was all staged -- perhaps in Hollywood -- and we, the gullible public, were misled. Apparently, about one-in-five Americans -- 20% -- believe that's the case. I have a hunch that 20% is present in most of the surveys, on various subjects, that I read about.

During the 2004 election, the Gallup Poll came under a lot of criticism. It kept showing George Bush either leading or tied. Most people -- presumably including my fellow bus rider from Bridgeville -- believed that couldn't be the case, because well: "Bush!" So, they told Gallup to modify the way it did polls. The modified version showed Kerry doing a lot better.

Just before the election, Gallup announced (in the P-G and elsewhere) that George Bush was 4% ahead in Pennsylvania and 4% behind in Ohio. I suggested to David Shribman, editor of the P-G, that Gallup may have confused the two states. I predicted that Kerry would win Pennsylvania, which he did, and that Bush would win Ohio, which he did.

The other day I listened to John Stossel, an excellent reporter, who had a two-hour special on ABC's "Prime Time." He spent a great deal of time demonstrating a point made long ago by Mark Twain: that a lot of the things people KNOW are true . . . aren't.

He pointed out, for example, that one-third of the American people believe there's a high probability they or a member of their family will be killed or injured in a terrorist attack. In fact, however, if we add up all the significant terrorist attacks (Oklahoma City, 9/1, the anthrax mailings, and the Unabomber) since the Clinton era, the number of people killed by terrorists totals about 3200.

Frankly, we kill that many Americans every month in automobile accidents.

Your chance of slipping, falling, and dying in the shower is greater than your chance of being done in by terrorists. That's true also of your chance of being zapped by lightning -- or of expiring because of an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

The good news is that I can predict with a high degree of probability that you and your loved ones will NOT die in a terrorist attack. Lightning strikes are of course another story.

I'll have more to say this week about John Stossel's excellent program, a model for the kind of information -- the truthful, fact-based, sane variety -- we should be getting, but usually don't.

I don't much like public opinion surveys, one of the most popular subjects in the media. When someone surveys 900 or 1600 Americans, I'd like to know who they are. Specifically, when I hear what the American people think about "global warming" or "the war in Iraq," or the "chance of our dying in a terrorist attack," I'd like to be informed what the people polled actually KNOW about the subject.

I mean: if the people in the surveys are ignorant about the subjects they're evaluating, we should ignore them -- right? If it's a poll on whether America should support either the Shias or the Sunnis in Iraq, we probably should focus on the 2%-3% of the public (if that) who actually know the difference.

If most of the people are like my Bridgeville bus-rider -- and I fear that's the case -- it's okay with me if you keep your surveys to yourself. I bet 69.6% of the American people agree with me on that.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Paul Krugman in the P-G: The Decapitation of Chicken Little

In my previous column, I complained about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's featuring columnists who basically sing the same song week-after-week, year-after-year. Then, I left my catacomb in Ambridge, went upstairs, and read the Saturday, February 24 piece by Paul Krugman, an economist at Princeton and "a nationally syndicated columnist" associated with the New York Times.

Professor Krugman
is a "soft socialist," someone who believes the government should manage major aspects of our lives. More precisely, I think, he believes it should do so with the advice of certain academic consultants, particularly him.

In the lead paragraph of his column ("It's pretty easy being green") he says: "The factual debate about whether global warming is real is, or at least should be, over: The question now is what to do about it."

Not so fast, Krugman: The debate about global warming may be over in Al Gore's brain -- and perhaps even in the craniums of all right-thinking Princetonians. Recently, however, 17,000 scientists subscribed to the view that global warming, as generally understood, is not a certainty.

Remember a generation ago when people like Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich announced that debate over the "population explosion" (or the "population bomb") was over? Essentially, the world of the future would see humanity tightly packed together, something like the entire population of Des Moines, Iowa residing in a single elevator.

Of course, the population explosion is a quaint footnote in 20th century history. No one talks anymore about Paul Ehrlich's warnings -- aside from a few trivia buffs like me. Now, you heard it here first: global warming will soon join Paul Ehrlich (and Ralph Nader and Al Gore) in what Karl Marx called "the dustbin of history."

In other words, Krugman's column gets off to a bad start on global warming, this decade's version of crying wolf. The last vestige of a scoundrel is to try winning a debate by pretending none exists.

The main point of the Princeton professor's column is that we must follow the example of California. He tells us "Californians use a third less energy than the rest of us."

For those of us who recognize that Californians have a temperate climate while the rest of us don't, the state's achievement isn't exactly earth-shaking. Recently, the temperature in Los Angeles was 75 degrees in California, while it was 5 degrees in Pittsburgh, and I admit we Steel City types were using a lot more energy than people at their pools in LA.

Krugman explains California's below-average use of energy this way: "In some cases conservation was mandated directly, through energy efficiency standards for appliances and rules governing new construction. Also, regulated power companies were given new incentives to promote conservation, via rule changes that 'decoupled' their profits from the amount of electricity they sold."

I find both these sentences amusing, mainly because of their attempt to avoid economic realities. In fact, people support energy efficiency standards only when it's in their economic interests to do so. Also, companies certainly will encourage conservation when you fatten their profits for doing so.

It's all called capitalism -- a term that usually evokes fear and loathing in Paul Krugman. He emphasizes that California's supposed strength in conservation has nothing to do with 21st century deregulation of the energy markets.

Then, curiously, he admits: "Yes, a variety of state actions has the effect of raising energy prices. In the early 1970s, the price of electricity in California was close to the national average. Today, it's about 50 percent higher."

The semi-mysterious "state actions" turn out to be mainly a move toward free markets in energy. I wish Krugman, an economist, would reflect on something economists call the price-elasticity of demand. That means: when something costs more, people buy less.

It also means that the factor bringing supply and demand into balance is price. State or federal regulations don't really do it. Hectoring people about the need for conservation doesn't do it. A President's wearing a sweater on a national address doesn't do it. Prices, allowed to rise or fall in response to supply-demand factors, do it.

Price-elasticity explains -- much better than Krugman does -- why Californians are consuming somewhat less energy per capita than formerly. When something costs more, people tend to waste less of it.

The amount of energy used by Californians has little to do with good intentions. It has a great deal to do with the state's climate -- compared, say, to frigid International Falls and muggy Miami -- and energy prices. It's a reflection of location (location! location!) and capitalism.

I wish Krugman had said that, but he's never going to give a simple explanation when a complicated one is available. Why does the P-G continue running him? One might as well ask why a chicken runs around with his head cut off.


Note: Stephen R. Maloney, Ph.D. never taught at Princeton University (he's available at the right price), but he did write for two decades on energy economics for Phillips Petroleum, Gulf Oil, and various public utilities in the U.S. and overseas.




The Decline of the "Forum" Section: Part III of Letter to Editor David Shribman

As most readers of this column know, one of my favorite sections of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the Sunday "Forum," which presents opinions, along with some predictable editorials reflecting the views of the Block family, which owns the paper.

In the past, the "Forum" was under the editorship of John Allison, who did an excellent job of presenting diverse opinions on a variety of subjects. The new editor is Greg Victor, who apparently is trying to make the "Forum" an extension of the editorial page. The best part of the "Forum" -- past and present -- consists of the columns of Jack Kelly, who presents a perspective much different -- and better reasoned -- than the other opinion pieces.

Recently, I wrote a letter to editor Greg Victor, with a copy to the writer (Edward Humes) of a piece on evolution. In fact, the theory -- and it is a theory -- of evolution in the Darwinian sense is not really controversial. Most people accept the idea that, over long periods of time, individual species either adapt or become extinct. Of course, evolution says nothing about creation, which most people in the world believe has its origins in the Mind of the Creator.

However, Mr. Humes's piece began with a very dubious assumption about the nature of the debate between those who believe that it's appropriate to teach the concepts of "Intelligent Design" in schools (along with the theory of evolution) and those who do not. The following (in red) is my letter to Mr. Victor.

I don't disagree with much of what Edward Humes says in the P-G's "Forum" about evolution (in "Distorting Darwin"). However, I have major problems with his use of Jefferson's one statement in his lifetime about "a wall of separation between Church and State."

Specifically, Humes says about the judge in the Intelligent Design case that his job involved "considering whether teaching intelligent design in public schools breached the wall separating church and state."

My simple question: what "wall" is that? Jefferson's statement appears nowhere in the Constitution -- and is in fact in conflict with the 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which provides the same freedom for religion as it does for speech or the press.

Jefferson's statement also doesn't appear in the Declaration of Independence. In fact, his comment there is that we are "endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I suggest that a meditation on that statement -- and its implications about where rights associated with life and liberty originate -- will be instructive. Hint: the answer is NOT the ACLU.

In any case, if the judge in the case was deciding how to erect some sort of blockage between church and state, he was barking up the wrong wall. We have no state church, a concept Jefferson surely understood quite well, so there is no subject for a court to decide. Admittedly, judges who see themselves as "Masters of the Universe" won't understand my point.

If Jefferson knew the degree to which his relatively innocent "wall of separation" remark was being turned into some sort of rhetorical Chinese Wall, he would . . . well, be unhappy. Recent scholarship shows that he was a much more religious man than we might have believed.

If the real question deals with teaching theories, including "The Theory of Evolution," then the judge was not on solid ground. In schools, including the colleges and universities where I taught, the teaching of theories -- including those about democracy and representative government -- is encouraged.

It's allowable under the First Amendment. In fact, religious beliefs and the expression thereof are of course allowable under both the religion clause and the speech clause.

I realize that Mr. Humes, along perhaps with Associate Justices Breyer and Ginsberg, may dispute my views. . However, I don't see the grounds for the disagreement. I realize this line of argument -- based on the First Amendment -- may seem novel to Mr. Humes (and Mr. Victor perhaps most of all).

However, I can't help thinking that, without the "wall of separation" red herring (and the silly reference to the Scopes Trial), Mr. Humes would not have had much to say besides the fact that people often misuse the term "evolution."

I disagree with articles in the "Forum" from time to time. Yet I believe one of the purposes of the section is to get people to do just that. If so, it succeeds with me, sometimes beyond its wildest dreams.

Steve Maloney

I believe the Forum -- and the Op Ed page in the Monday through Saturday editions -- shouldn't be boring and predictable. If people like E. J. Dionne, Paul Krugman, and Ellen Goodman have anything new to teach us, they should demonstrate it in their writing. In fact, I'd say the same for conservatives like the wildly over-rated George Will.

In other words, don't we deserve some fresh perspectives, some new ways of looking at old issues? In my next column, I'll suggest some new approaches.




Friday, February 23, 2007

Save the Paper: Letter to David Shribman, Part II


"Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease it's troubling." (David Geffen, on Bill & Hillary Clinton)

"Barack Obama is Bob Casey without the five o'clock shadow." (Anonymous)



Do newspapers, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have a future? They don't if they continue down the traditional path presenting a combination of unfocused, episodic "news" and unreflective opinions.

They may have a bright future if they give people complelling reasons to read them. If they can help people make money (or reduce expenses) and save time, they'll justify their existence. Changes in format and various types of gimmickry will not do the job.

In yesterday's column, I suggested that in terms of providing valuable information, newspapers have an advantage over the electronic media. Today, however (February 23, 2007) CNN made me reconsider some elements of my thesis.

On February 23, beginning with its 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. "early show," featuring Soledad and Miles O'Brien (unrelated co-hosts), CNN began a day-long effort it called "Fight Back Friday." It focused on problems people have with customer service, and it provided solutions for viewers. The emphasis was on how to fight back against providers of bad service.

One reporter talked about common rip-offs experienced with auto repairs, including: flushing out oil systems and cleaning engines -- both expensive and usually unnecessary. A repairman cited several ways to find a good place to get your car fixed: (1) see if the shop is clean and orderly; (2) check with people who have had work done at the place you're considering; (3) call the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints.

Another correspondent discussed ways to avoid getting cheated on home improvements. First, find out if the company has the proper license and insurance; second, don't pay more than 25%-30% up-front -- in case the contractor mysteriously disappears after getting your money; third, have a written contract; fourth, check with your local BBB to see if there have been any complaints.

CNN's business editor talked about the problems Americans have with cell phone, of which there are now more than 230 million. He noted that "Errors on cell phone billings are the single biggest complaints consumers have."

To solve the problem, you have to call the phone company. When talking to a representative there, you must avoid the tendency to vent or debate -- and instead focus on getting the problem solved. That won't happen unless you determine if the person you're speaking to has the authority to make the adjustments necessary.

The reporter pointed out that, when you call the company and get the right person, you do have leverage. For one thing, you can threaten to leave and go to another company. In addition, if you don't get satisfaction, you can inform the person you're going to call the FCC, which has authority over cell phone providers.

The CNN examples I've cited took place in about one hour. The advice given was was excellent. In terms of value to viewers -- including this one -- the program was an excellent investment of time. It was empowering in its strong indication that we do have recourses when enountering bad service.

With viewers and readers, people providing information need to establish the worth of what they're presenting. Consumers want an answer to the WIIFM question: "What's-in-it-for-me?" In other words, they don't want to waste their time viewing or reading things of little benefit to their lives.

I know: many newspapers (and maybe even a cable outlet or two) believe they're presenting "food for the brain." However, our brains are like some other organs in that they benefit most when used wisely. Frankly, today's 24X7 presentation of information -- "all news all the time" -- doesn't seem to have produced a better-informed populace. Admittedly, we do know a great deal about Anna Nicole Smith and Howard K. Stern than might be necessary.

Generally, the electronic media -- if capable of shame -- should be ashamed of themselves. Someone asked the other day, "Does TV make too much of the doings of celebrities?" The respondent, a professor of media said, "It makes too much of everything!"

The example of CNN's "Fight Back Friday," with its insightful presentation of useful information shows what the electronic media can do at its best. On the other hand, we all fear it will soon be back to its worst (Anna Nicole! Car bombing in Baghdad! Keith Olberman's and Chris Matthews' Opinions!)

Yet another correspondent on CNN talked about protecting yourself from identity theft on the Internet. He had many good ideas (don't ask a site to preserve your credit card number, test the site -- by testing it with a bogus card number -- to make sure it isn't fraudulent). Yet his effort to show a sure-fire way to enter unique, but memorable, passwords was a failure.

CNN showed his hands keying in numbers, but the process he was advocating was unclear. Fingers moving quickly over a keyboard weren't enlightening.

In fact, precision is something where newspapers have a big advantage. The print medium allows the spelling out, in black-and-white, of something like various methods of creating memorable passwords -- ones you can use without fear that hackers will figure them out. The networks can use block print on the screen, but it always seems to disappear before the viewer can find a pen and piece of paper.

Information on paper may end up wrapping the remains of yesterday's fish fry. However, paper is preservable. If you read something important, you can keep it around. Frankly, in a world where everything moves so quickly, things in print can have a very long shelf life. I still have the September 12, 2001 P-G, and I doubt I'm alone in that.

Granted, people don't really want to fill their heads with the musings of Reg Henry and Dennis Roddy. They want to reserve brain space for information that they value, that makes their lives better, that informs them in ways relevant to their existence.

For example, Tracie Mauriello of the P-G wrote some eye-popping pieces on exactly which Pennsylvania legislators (Mike DeWeese being featured) were extracting huge amounts of "expense" money from taxpayers. For Pennsylvania voters, Ms. Mauriello basically wrote a Voter's Guide. Frankly, taxpayers need to know who's misusing their money (Rep. DeWeese and others) and who's not (Rep. Jim Marshall and others).

Yes, newspapers need to tell us what happened -- but also WHY it happened. The "why" part leads to a large point: if something bad is happening (such as the endless stream of homicides in the Black community), the paper has to suggest both causes and ways to reduce its occurrence.

Otherwise, regularly reading the newspaper becomes an endless exercise in sadness and frustration.

This is part of a continuing series. One future piece (next week) will deal with the deficiencies of the P-G Sunday "Forum" (Opinion) section, especially in its new (and profoundly depressing) incarnation under the editorship of Greg Victor.






Thursday, February 22, 2007

Survival Techniques for the Print Media: An Open Letter to David Shribman

The story in Iraq is "a daily accumulation of terrible moments" (Mr. Ware, CNN"s Mideast correspondent in Iraq) No, that is not the ultimate reality of Iraq, which is really about the battle of ideas -- democracy and American values versus totalitarianism and Islamo-fascism. What Mr. Ware is describing is what CNN and other cable outlets find easiest to present (explosions), whereas the cultural struggle is something in which cable news has no real interest -- because it doesn't know how to deal with things like ideas. In fact, if you want to know what Iraq is truly about, you have to read a great deal on the subject.


The general view of the print media is that it's no longer economically viable and will go out of business in the next decade or so. Mr. Sulzberger of the New York Times recently said as much -- eliciting a strangled cry of dismay from one Tony Norman, associate editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I recently re-subscribed to that newspaper for six months, so if the end is near, I hope it won't occur before mid-July.

The print press is not equipped to give us, unlike MSNBC, CNN, and FoxNews, wall-to-wall coverage about the disposition of Anna Nicole Smith's body -- or about the latest moves into and out of rehab by Britney Spears. However, the print media can do many things that the electronic version can't -- mainly discuss in depth issues of great importance to many people, if not not to most.

What does the print media have to do to survive? It has to present information of value to the intelligent people of America. The stupid people of America, roughly half of the adult population, don't want to read newspapers or weekly magazines. Rather, they want to find out what's up with Anna Nicole, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton. In regard to such celebrities, they want "breaking news," which consists of trivial developments ("Cororner says Anna Nicole's body is deteriorating!) or "reports" (rumors about whether Britney is reconsidering the value of wearing underwear or about whether X-Fed is seeking custody or not).

To succeed, the print press must emulate certain aspects of my blog. For example, I've suggested ways users of prescription drugs can save hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars on their medications. I've indicated -- and done the math -- that if many people followed my advice the nation could save tens of billions of dollars. I've told people what questions to ask their doctors and pointed out what drug stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Giant Eagle) offer the best buys. I've indicated what drugs (Avandia, Lipitor, and others) are wildly over-priced and, for most people, are terrible values.

The information I present is a more intellectualized version of what the wonderful Yvonne Zanos does on KDKA-TV. She tells which Internet-advertised products work well -- and which don't. Recently, she's been telling viewers what seasons of the year are the best times to buy certain products, including furniture and automobiles.

In short, the idea is to have people fork over their 25 cents or 50 cents for the paper -- and to receive several dollars (and maybe a lot more) in return. It's okay for newspapers to appeal to people's minds, but it's probably wiser to appeal to their wallets.

It has to make economic sense for people to read newspapers. If you're not saving money -- or increasing the amount you already have -- then go watch the entertaining stuff (Anna Nicole! Britney!) on cable.

Modern newspapers are full of material that almost nobody reads, and the P-G is Exhibit A. Do we really need additional columns by Maureen Dowd telling about what a smuck George Bush is? Do we really need more grumpy essays by George Will pointing out that American politicians in general are not as wise as, well, George Will? We badly need some fresh perspectives, and this town is full of people who can provide them.

We desperatedly require diversity of opinion. Right now, there is some, including the columns by Jack Kelly. We need fewer iterations of the obvious. In the case of the P-G, by moving some of its columnists (especially Sally Kalson and Dennis Roddy) back to the news-gathering field, it has performed a public service.

The newspaper already does some of the things I'm suggesting. For example, it provides movie reviews and book reviews, but they tend to have an academic patina that's off-putting to mere mortals. The emphasis should be on saving people money and time. (The same general point is true of more idea-based writing, which I'll discuss in a later column.)

An example of the money-time issue: Bob Hoover, the editor of the book-review session, wrote a review of Richard Ford's new book, Lay of the Land. He and I communicated back and forth about the value of reading that volume. I did read it -- twice -- and found Mr. Hoover had described its virtues and failing very well.

It's a 500-page book, and reading it carefully requires almost a week's worth of time. Time is in fact money. As poet Delmore Schwartz put it, time also "is the fire in which we burn." Was it worth burning up a week of my life to read Ford's novel? Hoover made the case for my doing so, and he turned out to be right.

Most days, my P-G is "full of an accumulation of horrible moments." In the thinking of editor Shribman and others, "that's the way it is." A mother and her children die in a terrible fire in Greene County. American women are dying in large numbers from heart disease. Pennsylvania leads the nation in inmates sentenced as juveniles with parole.

What readers should know is the ultimate answer to an overriding question: What can we do about such things? When bad things are happening, how can we eliminate or reduce their occurrence? What steps can we take? What actions can we initiate not only to save money but also to save lives?

In fact, some of the observations I've made in recent months on drug prices -- a critical concern for many Americans -- have come in part from information I've gotten from newspapers, newsweeklies, the Internet, and books. Almost none of it has come from the televison or radio media

I don't expect the newspaper to have all the answers, but it has the resources to provide at least some solutions. CNN isn't going to do it, so the task lies to the print arena.


There will be more about this subject in the coming days.




Monday, February 19, 2007

Mary Grabar: Conservative Christian Superstar

I'm delighted that Dr. Mary Grabar has given me permission to reprint her "Letter to a Stupid Atheist," which originally appeared in www.Townhall.com. As my title suggests, I believe Mary Grabar is a "Conservative Christian Superstar." She has the potential to be more influential than Ann Coulter, another favorite of mine.

Mary is a native of Rochester, NY, where I was born and went to school. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Georgia, where I taught English for seven years -- well before her "time." A mother and a novelist, she appears regularly in Townhall.com, where she is one of the most popular regulars.

Her "Stupid Atheist" piece motivated 169 people to comment, the highest number of responses I've ever seen on Townhall's web site. You can learn more about Mary on www.MaryGrabar.com.



Letter to a Stupid Atheist
By Mary GrabarSunday, February 18, 2007
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Dear Sam Harris:

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve adapted the title of your bestselling pamphlet bound between two hard covers and foisted on to an ignorant public as a book. Of course, I am referring to your pretentious Letter to a Christian Nation.

In this little polemic you take the liberty of directly addressing those like me who believe in the divinity of Christ and in the truth of Bible. Your primary charge against me is holding thoughts and beliefs that do not square with yours. You do show some mercy and leniency toward those you deem moderate and liberal—those vaguely Unitarian, who believe Christ was a cool dude, with some nice ideas, who would have gone to peace marches--but not much more. I take your upbraiding personally, as I think you intend.

My letter is addressed also to those who fall into the category you do. I have seen them—biologists with visibly rising blood pressure at college debates, writers of angry rhetoric in “humanist” magazines, bitter middle-aged men still chasing skirts, and one college sophomore who stands out in my memory among the hundreds of students I have taught over the years.

I can’t remember the young man’s name, but I’ll call him Sammy. Since the class was a survey class on early British literature we couldn’t avoid reading distinctly Christian literature, like religious poetry and mystery plays.
Sammy sat towards the back of the class. He was bright and articulate and I believe he earned at least a B. Away from parents who apparently sent him to church most Sundays, Sammy was feeling his oats amidst 30,000-plus students, and the professors from whom he took up the challenge to think “outside the box.” He prided himself on his independence of thought, and like you, revisited the Bible. He found it did not square with what he was learning in Biology 101.

Like many liberals he assumed the mantle of bravery by speaking out in class. He ‘spoke to power’—the ultimate power you might say. (But we know who else did that; he figures prominently in a poem by John Milton.) So whenever we came to a passage that alluded to religious faith Sammy would add to class discussion by declaring it “poppycock.” He boldly used the same word on papers.

I tried to be charitable. I asked Sammy to address the concerns in more scholarly language. I marked his papers for diction. (“Poppycock” is too colloquial, I wrote.) I asked him to reconsider his assessment of all Christians as stupid and bad.

I thus avoided getting into a heated debate on religion in that public university, a place where the only debates on religion allowed in the classroom are about the various degrees to which Christians are wrong, stupid, and bad.
This young man, like you, Sam Harris, put his faith in science. I believe that he, like you, equated goodness with the absence of suffering. Although he carried a pinched, sour expression, he did not strike me as anyone who would deliberately harm another. He probably was a vegetarian.

Mr. Harris, you charge us Christians with holding back scientific research on stem cells that you insist could alleviate suffering. You charge us with crimes against humanity by our concern over “blastocysts,” clumps of cells, unable to feel pain, much less consciousness--according to science. Indeed, you present all the progress of science up to this point in the twenty-first century as the model that should replace religion, which you call superstition, as the basis for ethics. Use science to help humanity is your cry.

But this was a motto used throughout the twentieth century by other “bold” thinkers who thought for themselves; there were many around in the 1930s. I don’t want to charge you with plagiarism, but I have not found one statement in your little tract that differs in any way from their points of argument.

You seem to put an incredible amount of faith in science, Mr. Harris. But many before you did too. Were you aware that at one time a group of scientists fancied themselves on the cutting edge for their belief in the science of phrenology, or the assessment of character by skull size, shape, and topology? These men presented scientific papers on their clinical work, which involved fondling and measuring skulls. I am quite surprised, Mr. Harris, that you would put so much faith in an endeavor whose base of knowledge changes on a daily basis. Think back to all the scientific theories of even a decade ago that have been surpassed. Think about how we scoff at the foolish scientific ideas of our father’s and grandfather’s times.

You have a degree in philosophy, I see, but were you aware that science as a mode of thought came about through monotheism? You see, the idea of a single creator made it possible for human beings to view creation as separate from spirit. And thus humanity advanced from one that believed that spirits lived in trees and rocks to one that believed that one Creator created this intricately marvelous world we live in. The scientific endeavor then became one where individuals observed and studied various aspects of this creation. That is called science.

That is what was presented to my son’s Cub Scout troop by a chemistry professor and a Christian (and not of the moderate or liberal persuasion of your approved list). After amazing the boys and fulfilling their natural little-boy pyromania proclivities with shows of bubbles, bangs, and mini-explosions over Bunsen burners, the professor presented them this carry-away thought: though they might be impressed by the magic that he performed they should remember the greater magic that made all that possible to begin with.

I thought you might enjoy that little story, Mr. Harris.

And since science changes, or as you like to think, progresses, I wonder what you would say if science, forty years from now, when you are nearing 80, would find some use in the cells or organs of 80-year-old men for the benefit of those much younger and of more use to society?

You feel that an ethical system can be based on the feelings of empathy that have evolved in us. You share your colleague Peter Singer’s view. Singer, Ira DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, gushes with sympathy for little piglets—to the point where he thinks the healthy ones should be allowed to live, while the handicapped month-old baby should be put out of its misery. He begins his argument, as he necessarily must, by doing away with Biblical principles and law: the idea that we are formed in God’s image, and therefore are above animals. He, like you, thinks that Christian proscriptions—like those against killing babies or having sex with animals--are just so much “poppycock.”

You answer your critics about the atheism of twentieth-century dictators: “Christians like yourself,” you write, “invariably declare that monsters like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Sung spring from the womb of atheism. While it is true that such men are sometimes enemies of organized religion, they are never especially rational.”

But would you hold up Professor Singer as an example of a rational person? How about the other respected professionals—the doctors and professors--who wrote academic and policy papers on their new-found procedures of gassing “idiots” and “imbeciles” in Germany? The method went through its testing phase in teaching hospitals on subjects who were too young or too retarded to be deemed rational enough to “live a life worth living.” Hitler then grasped onto this idea of “scientific advancement” and applied the procedure on a massive scale to other groups, as we know.

While you deem Hitler “delusional,” what about the doctors who gassed three-year-olds? What about Professor Singer, who feels that euthanasia is appropriate for infants—if their parents make that “choice”?

What words of comfort would you give to the father of the three-year-old child dying from leukemia (as some, in spite of the advances of science, still do). Would you advise him to euthanize the child to prevent suffering (being as tender-hearted as you are)? Would you explain that this is natural selection?

You pride yourself on your belief in equality, in democracy, and point to the “barbarism” of the Old Testament in its treatment of women and slaves (though you didn’t bother to research the translation of the term “slave” from a more general one meaning “servant” and the Biblical reference to slavery as an historical fact that Christians had to deal with, and not something they promoted). But did you know that historically Christianity was the first real democracy? Yes, even secularists and “progressives” admit that. It is a widely accepted historical fact.

But I notice that your little book, displayed prominently in the bookstore chains, even among the suggested “holiday” reading of the last Christmas season, has been flying off the tables. It entered the New York Times bestseller list almost immediately and remains at #3 on Publishers Weekly Religion Bestsellers.

I have seen the customers who fondled your book and read the jacket with self-satisfied expressions. These were the ones you blessed as “progressive” in your pages. Your condemnatory letter was not addressed to them. Your little tome at $16.95 graces their bookshelves along with those by Bill Moyers and the atheist authors you recommend. These progressives proudly display their reading material as they serve canapés and cocktails to similarly correct-minded, nipped and Botox-ed activists, who only really just want what is good for us.

Your slim, easy-to-read pamphlet is just right for trips to the salon, masseuse, and transcendental meditation retreat. Your fans cluck over the ignorance and benightedness of those like me—their gold and diamonds shining in the ambient light of their converted warehouse condos. You amaze them with your profundity, your ability to string together clichés and tired arguments, and in 91 small widely spaced pages tear down the foundations of the civilization put in place by millennia of thinkers and the Church Fathers. For your book, they whipped out the credit cards from Louis Vuitton bags.

They also paid to see Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and thought it was a documentary.

Mary Grabar graduated from the University of Georgia with a Ph.D. in English and currently teaches at a university in Atlanta.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Muslim Women Writers: Asra Nomani and Aryann Hirsi Ali

I sent the following e-mail to Asra Nomani (her web site is asranomani.com), an author and a friend of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal writer butchered (reportedly by Khalid Sheik Muhammed, now residing in Guantanomo, after being kidnapped by Sheik Omar) in Pakistan. Over the next few weeks I hope to write some columns about Islam, which I generally regard as a plague on humanity, and some of its critics. The author I mention in the letter, Ms. Ali, wrote a book called "Infidel," and I found her to be brilliant and compelling in her appearance on C-Span. I never watch C-Span -- it reminds me too much of the academic world -- but I'm glad I did this one time. I also hope, with Mary Grabar's consent, to reprint her superb recent article on the eternal truth of the Christian faith.

The CNN program I mention is "The Journalist and the Jihadist," which dealt with the Pearl's murder and his kidnapper, Sheik Omar. Ms. Nomani was good in the program, but the producer being CNN it had some of that "where did we go wrong?" nonsense in dealing with Omar, a Mohammed Atta-type who was educated (not well) in England.

Dear Asra: I wrote a couple of years ago when you were conducting your campaign at the Morgantown mosque [where she shocked the local Muslim worthies, mostly faculty and student at West Virginia University, by entered through the front door!]. I'm looking forward to reading your book about your struggles with Islam. Ann Rodgers of the Post-Gazette wrote an article about you and was nice enough to let me know how to e-mail you.

At the time, I was pessimistic about the direction of Islam, and I'm more so now. The frantic effort by radical Muslims to block any debate about the Prophet Muhammed or the Quran means the religion will continue to be a testament to backwardness.

In America, as you know, we keep waiting for the "moderate Muslims" to take a stand against the Islamo-fascists. I fear we shall wait unto eternity before that happens. Moderate Muslims are afraid to stand up for decency and tolerance; if they do, they fear they may be killed. It reminds me a great deal of the "good Germans" during the 1930s.

I'm sure you must be encountering (both senses of that word) Aryann Hirsi Ali, the Somalia-born author of "Infidel." I saw her on C-Span -- a channel I almost never watch -- today and I found her to be brilliant and her message riveting.

Recently, I saw you on Christiane Amanpour's "Journalist and the Jihadist." Of course, your comments were very good. On the whole, however, I wonder if the program didn't fall into the trap described by Ms. Ali. It dealt with Omar as a boy of great promise who went astray. I sensed an element of "There but for the Grace of Allah, Omar might have beome . . . Daniel Pearl." That's not at all a message reflective of what happened to Daniel, seemingly a wonderful guy who was slaughtered by a bunch of Muslim thugs.

In fact, Sheik Omar is a mass murdererer, a psychopath who has embraced a form of "religion" that is utterly despicable. To suggest that he's merely misguided, as CNN did, is to misread the man and the movement he reflects.

Ms. Ali said today that it's necessary we talk to Muslims as grown-ups, that we engage them in a debate which many of them would rather avoid. I'll have to read your book to determine if you've arrived at that point. I hope you have.

Today on C-Span Ali had made the point that three-quarters of what the Prophet said has little or no relevance to the 21st century. A Muslim man in the audience, obviously wounded by what she said, basically questioned her on how she could make such a statement.

In paraphrase, her response was: Look, this is America, where you are free to say what you believe. She added that, if she made that point in a Muslim country she would be "killed."

I respectfully submit that I don't think the CNN audience -- or the chattering classes in America, including the good people at the Wall Street Journal -- get that point.

As I said, I wish you well, Asra.

Steve MaloneyAmbridge, PA



Friday, February 16, 2007

C.S. Lewis: Bravery, Courage, and Heroic Women

This column is dedicated to Professor Albert C. Labriola, who as a Captain in Viet Nam, was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry.

"At the end of C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy assume their rightful thrones as Kings and Queens of Narnia. Lewis dedicates only one sentence to describing how they governed during the Golden Age of Narnia, but it is interesting to hear his summary of their most important accomplishments. Lewis tells us that they 'made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being cut down and liberated young dwarfs and satyrs from being sent to school and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.'"

-- From Micheal Flaherty, "Let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage,' Imprimis, February, 2007. Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu. Micheal Flaherty is president of Walden Media, a company that -- in association with the Walt Disney Company, produced the Academcy-award winning film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Click on the Imprimis link and you can get the publication for free.


C. S. Lewis, one of the 20th century's most wonderful individuals, didn't like busybodies and interferers. He had a lot of respect for young dwarfs and satyrs, as well as for all those ordinary people -- in America, we generally call them "Republicans" -- "who wanted to live and let live."

In having the Kings and Queens of Narnia celebrate as their first act as liberating dwarfs and satyrs from going to school, Lewis is not downplaying the importance of education. Instead, he's questioning the value of a certain kind of education, the type we generally call "practical" and that serves as a major source of yawns and clock-watching.

As Flaherty reminds us, that's a kind of education Lewis identifies in The Voyage of the Dawn Trader. He introduces us there to "a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubbs," an appelation he "almost deserved."

We get to know Eustace quickly through the description of the reading material he preferred. "He liked books if they were [ones] of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools." In Lewis' view, Eustance "had read only the wrong books."

Lewis believes a child should read books, perhaps exactly like the ones he wrote, that confront him (or her) with reality. He rejects the view that "we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil."

Basically, he's saying that the Eustaces of the world -- I think of people like John Murtha, Bararck Obama, and John Edwards -- are engaging in "escapism," failing to to understand the sometimes-tragic nature of life. The view is similar to that of Flannery O'Connor, who understood that modern secularism and realism walled mankind off from the real nature of existence.

About the needs of children, C. S. Lewis observed: "Since it is so likely they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."

I've written recently about Senator Barack Obama, who has said that "3,000 American lives" lost in Iraq "were wasted." Later, of course, the Senator apologized -- lamely and unconvincingly. Frankly, if Obama believes the Iraq War was a terrible idea right from the start, then his notion that the dead soldiers "wasted" their lives follows. He wants to be "for" the troops -- most of them voters -- but he comprehends almost nothing about who they aren what they believe.

He's a man who never has demonstrated courage in his own life. Running for safe seats and spouting leftist cliches don't constitute courage.

I was thinking about Obama while I read Ken Follett's Jackdaws, one of his many volumes featuring female heroes. The book's dedication is as follows: "Exactly fifty [British] women were sent into France as secret agents [spies and saboteurs working with the Resistance] by the Special Operations Executive [SOE] during the Second World War. Of those, thirty-six survived the war. The other fourteen gave their lives. This book is dedicated to all of them."

On the slight chance someone like Barack Obama (or John Murtha) knows about these women, do they think they wasted their lives? I fear I know the answer. In fact, before Hitler's invasion of Poland, hundreds of thousands of British people signed the "King and Country Resolution." It said, "Resolved, I will not fight for King or Country." Reportedly, the anti-war sentiment emboldened Hitler, who actually didn't need a lot of emboldening. People who signed "King and Country" presumably thought war was synonymous with wasted lives.

What do real soldiers, such as Follett's 50 women and the Coalition soldiers in Iraq think about the worth of the lives they're putting on the line?

The heroine of Jackdaws is Felicity Clairet, a British citizen known to her friends as "Flick." Her SOE code-name, an appropriate one, is "Leopardess." Married to a Frenchman in the Resistance, she's a lover of French culture.

As the book opens, she's waiting with a Resistance Group to attack a well-guarded telephone exchange in German-occupied France. We read, "Her heart's desire was that the real France would come back. It might return soon, if she and people like her did what they were supposed to."

We continue to read Flick's thoughts: "She might not live to see it -- indeed, she might not survive the next few minutes. There were a hundred things she planned to do after the war: finish her doctorate, have a baby, see New York, own a sports car, drink champagne on the beach at Cannes." The idea is that one does what one is supposed to -- which might be quite different from what one wants to.

Her thoughts continue: "But if she was about to die, she was glad to be spending her last few moments in a sunlit square, looking at a beautiful old house, with the lilting sounds of the French language soft in her ears."

On balance, C. S. Lewis would have loved Jackdaws. He had much in common with "Flick" and would have saluted her courage and passion for life.

I don't believe Bararck Obama, the quintessence of a glib pretty boy, would have understood Flick. I do believe he would have thought that she may very well be wasting her lives -- and the lives of the Resistance men and women about to attack the Gestapo-guarded chalet.

Are people like Flick Clairet, individuals willing to give their lives -- and perhaps be subjected to hideous torture by Gestapo thugs -- ones we find only in fiction? Actually, author Follett bases the character of Flick on a woman named Pearl Witherington, an SOE agent who ended up leading a force of 2,000 Resistance operatives.
Awarded a civil medal the Medal of the British Empire, or MBE, rather the Military Cross she deserved, Witherington returned it, observing that "she had done nothing civil."

There are Flick Clairets and Pearl Witheringtons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasingly, they're involved in combat, and they're dying with more frequency than their British counterparts in World War II.

More than 155,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, according to the Pentagon, nearly four times the number during the Persian Gulf War.

Females now account for 15% of the active duty force. The number of women casualties — 68 dead and more than 430 injured — represents a tiny fraction of the total. Still, by one estimate, the female deaths exceed the number of military women who lost their lives in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War combined.

Two women who've served in Iraq may deserve special note, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester and Specialist Ashley Pullen, both members of the Kentucky National Guard. Sergeant Hester is the first woman since World War II to win the nation's second-highest military honor, the Silver Star. Specialist Pullen won the Bronze Star.

Both women won their medals near Salmon Pak, formerly known under Saddam as a major terrorist training center. They were defending a convoy that came under attack by a large number of insurgents.

Specialist Pullen got her Bronze Star for "incredible courage" shown as she disregarded enemy fire and rescuing a male Sergeant who'd been badly wounded. Sergeant Hester won her award for counterattacking with her unit and killing many insurgents. Her award reads that "she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 rounds."

At the same time, she gave all the credit to her commander, Timothy Nein, also awarded the Siver Star, and her fellow soldiers in "Raven 42."

Hester gives the following advice to young women thinking of enlisting in the military: "'If you have a goal or a dream, you can do it.' noting that there are few limitations on female soldiers. 'If your heart is set on it, don't let anything stand in your way.'"

It strikes me that people like Pearl Witherington, Leigh Anne Hester, and Ashley Pullen hardly seem to inhabit the same planet as people like Obama and Murtha. The latter two presumably believe in themselves, but the women mentioned believe in something larger than themselves. Specifically, they believe in their country and their comrades.

I'm sure C. S. Lewis was proud of Pearl Witherington, his courageous countrywoman. I'm equally certain he'd be proud of Sgt. Hester and Spc. Pullen.

Following is a link to the "Military News" story about Hester and Pullen: http://www.army.mil/-news/2007/02/03/1689-new-womens-museum-exhibit-features-kentucky-national-guard-sergeant/