Quick picks *UPDATED*

The kids are back in school and I thought the house would fall silent and I would blog again. However, it turns out — and this is very flattering — that there were a lot of people who wanted to talk to me but felt they couldn’t while the kids were around. I’ve spent the last two hours on the phone with people who really, really needed to have my ear. So, blogging this morning will be somewhat abbreviated, and will boil down to my sharing with you somethings I found interesting.

The first thing I found interesting was the fact that both the WaPo and the WSJ expressed real dismay at the fact that the Dem candidates are engaging in truly unseemly contortions in their efforts to deny the Surge’s success. If this is just political expediency, it reflects poorly on their character. If it’s a genuine psychological inability to recognize the situation on the ground, its very scary that people who propose themselves as our Commander in Chief are laboring under that kind of mental handicap. At minimum, I’d like the person with his (or her) finger on the button to exist in the real world, and not suffer from monomaniacal delusions.

Speaking of delusions, Dennis Prager challenges the claim that Barack Obama is a “uniter.” This claim is, of course, ridiculous on its face. Obama is bound and determined to withdraw troops from Iraq instanter, if not sooner, as a colleague of mine used to say, while I’m an equally firm believer in staying in Iraq until the situation is completely stabilized for the US’s benefit. Where’s the middle road on that one? How in the heck is he going to “unite” his and my entirely disparate views? Here’s Dennis’ take on the real meaning behind the “unity” claim:

If those who call for unity told the whole truth, this is what they would say: “I want everyone to unite — behind my values. I want everyone who disagrees with me to change the way they think so that we can all be united. I myself have no plans to change my positions on any important issues in order to achieve this unity. So in order to achieve it, I assume that all of you who differ with me will change your views and values and embrace mine.”

If people from opposing viewpoints listening to Barack actually think he stands for their position, it’s because Barack is prevaricating and obfuscating. If he were clear and honest about his positions (and he is clear and honest about the War), approximately half the electorate would not view him as a uniter, but would view him as someone who could not possibly represent their interests.

Incidentally, Fred Siegel addresses much the same issue — Barack’s alleged universality — when he points out that those he knows who like Obama are completely unable to articulate what it is they like about him beyond a pretty face and nice voice. Many are also impressed by his Ivy League credentials, something that utterly fails to impress me. As I’ve mentioned before, while I’m sure there have been lots of good lawyers who emerged from Harvard Law in the last 20 years, I haven’t met them. Without exception, the Harvard lawyers I have met, have been almost stunningly inept. Many have been smart and nice, but all of them have ranked in the bottom 5th of lawyers I’ve worked with or appeared against. For me, a Harvard Law degree is like a big red warning sign. And if you are a wonderful, intelligent, incredibly competent Harvard lawyer reading this, my apologies. Clearly, I just haven’t met you, so you haven’t been able to un-skew my view.

On a completely different subject, let’s talk about vaccination. I’m a huge proponent of vaccination, something I think results both from the fact that I’m a history lover and I have older parents. The history part means that I’ve read about all the horrible epidemics that decimated childhood populations. Even in the 20th Century, although the US was able to reduce the 50% child mortality that existed in all prior eras and other places, polio was still a nightmare disease that hung over childhood until the Salk vaccine came along. My parents had measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria. I carry a discrete chicken pox scar on my face. The diseases are real and the consequences can be significant. As the diseases receded, though, people started fearing the vaccines’ side effects, even though those side effects, in all cases, have been minute compared to the disease risks. The latest fear was the fear that the preservative in many childhood vaccines caused autism. Yet another study has dis-proven this fear. I hope that finding encourages parents who were holding off on vaccines to give the subject another thought.

Here’s another wild jump in topic. The New York Times has a moderately interesting article about gephyrophobia — the fear of bridges. I’ve always found bridges concerning, perhaps because I grew up in earthquake country. My vague fear solidified completely when I saw the first Superman movie, back in 1978. (PLOT SPOILER HERE FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE.) As you may recall, Lex Luthor’s nefarious plot involved creating a massive earthquake to get rid of California entirety, so that the Nevada property he’d purchased cheap would become valuable beach front property. When he successfully gets an earthquake going, the Golden Gate Bridge collapses. (SPOILER OVER.) As a kid in San Francisco, that image stuck with me — and was reinforced during 1989′s Loma Prieta earthquake, when a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, killing one woman. I never got to the point where I avoided bridges, but I can’t say that I enjoy them.

Another topical leap: Your child and mine can now get college credit — at a taxpayer funded college — learning how to be gay. Yup, it’s truly no child left behind, or no child’s behind left alone, I’m not sure which. The famous university-level Mickey Mouse classes have just risen (or sunk) to a whole new level.

Whenever honor killings occur, whether in Canada or Texas, the usual suspects emerge to explain that honor killings and other acts of abuse against women have nothing to do with Islam, and that it’s just a bizarre coincidence that they keep cropping up in the Islamic community. Robert Spencer, however, got wind of a Yemeni columnist who wants nothing to do with this politically correct horse pucky. He’s quite clear on the fact that Islam demands the physical abuse of women — for their own good, of course.

And for now, th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

UPDATE: Whoops! I missed it. Fred Barnes also tackled the Dems’ peculiar aversion to the truth about the Surge.

UPDATE II: I like Bret Stephens’ take on the silliness of Obama’s constant promise to end American division in future:

Barack Obama, still fresh from his victory in Iowa last week and confident of another in New Hampshire tonight, has as his signature campaign theme the promise to “end the division” in America. Notice the irony: The scale of his Iowa victory, in a state that’s 94% white, is perhaps the clearest indication so far that the division Mr. Obama promises to end has largely been put to rest.

Of course, Barack’s Iowa victory may also cast into the light something I’ve already noted: Barack’s not really black. Sure, he’s got a genetic black inheretence, and he likes obsessing about his blackness, but his youthful influences and his education were mainstream white — something American blacks might notice.

UPDATE IIIChristopher Hitchens also examines the icky obsession with Obama’s race and suggests that, if you have questions about his racial views, you might want to check out the website for the Church with which Obama is publicly affiliated.  (Hat tip:  The Anchoress.)

Random thoughts of a random mind

Too much business! Aargh. But there are things out there that interest me, so I’ll throw them your way, and try to get in with more substance later.

If you’re going to play with the big boys, you have to play like a boy. I find it worrisome that, the moment the going gets tough, Hillary starts squealing about identity politics unfairness. Is this how she’s going to deal with it when Putin, or Kim Jong-Il, or Sarkozy, or any male leader criticizes her? I therefore much appreciated Peggy Noonan’s article comparing Maggie Thatcher to Hillary (and loved the anecdote with which she opened the column). It seems to me that, while I’m lukewarm about Noonan’s writing generally, I “get her” when she writes about Hillary. Of course, when Noonan jumped the shark and started swooning over Obama at the article’s end, I lost her, but I still give her credit for understanding Hillary.

Speaking of Obama, Dean Barnett has one of the most interesting articles I’ve seen about the man, since it manages to recognize his undoubted charm and intelligence, while still having serious doubts about his leadership abilities — abilities that he’s never had to prove in the real world. As for me, nothing impresses me less than a Harvard Law degree. This is not merely the knee jerk reaction of someone educated at public universities when confronted with someone from the Ivies. Nope. This is a specific Harvard animus, based on 20 years of practicing law. What I’ve seen is that Harvard law grads from the 70s and before are as good as any other lawyers. Harvard grads from the 80s and after are, generally speaking, not. The ones I’ve known (and this is just my personal experience speaking here) have been, in a word, ineffectual. Yale grads, on the other hand, consistently overawe me, being some of the most incisive legal thinkers I come across. This means that, applying my own personal biases and experiences about Harvard grads, I’m perfectly willing to concede Barnett’s analysis: Obama is intelligent, but impractical and ineffectual.

(To any Harvard law grads who are reading this, my apologies if I’ve offended you. As I reiterated above, I can only talk about the Harvard grads I’ve known, and by sheer bad luck, I may just have run across Harvard grads who weren’t very good lawyers, and wouldn’t have been very good no matter their law school. In any event, Harvard grads have the deck stacked against them from the get-go, because my medium long experience has has taught me that, while grads from the top 20 law schools — and my law school was in those ranks the year I graduated — write very well, and can analyze things to death, they tend to be less effective lawyers than lawyers from the less high and mighty institutions. These differences tend to even out within 5 or 10 years of graduation, but are pretty apparent in the beginning. We write well, but we lack the smarts and practical skills to win cases!)

As you may know, there’s been a big oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, fouling beaches and putting wildlife at risk. The spill left me with a question, and I wonder if any of you have an answer. It’s been a fairly long time since the last oil spill in America (something I assume can be attributed to better built oil tankers). That means a lot of years have passed since the last big spills, especially the Exxon Valdez. What I’d like to know is how the wildlife has (or if it has) recovered since those spills. Do the spills create toxic nightmares going into the next millennium, or at least the next century, or does nature repair herself fairly quickly? I have no knowledge at all about this; just the question. I do have one article that says that, after a horrible oil spill in the Bay in 1971, it took 5 years for the wildlife to recover. Incidentally, I’m asking this question because, while I’m stridently in favor of preventing spills, it’s nice to know that nature is resilient should one happen. (Here’s a heartrending picture of one of those poor birds mired in toxic goop.)

One more thing: I’ve been hearing a lot of Gilligan’s Island in the car lately, ’cause that’s the video du jour (or make that the video du week) in the car for the endless carpooling. I’d forgotten what a stupid show it is, but the kids love it, as I did when I was a kid. One of the moments that sticks in my head, because I have to listen to all this, is Gilligan auditing a debate amongst the other castaways. At the end of each argument, he sagely opines, “You know, he’s right.” Eventually, Skipper turns on him and insists “Gilligan, they can’t all be right,” to which Gilligan, of course, replies “You know, you’re right too.”

I mention this anecdote because I felt exactly like Gilligan when I read Commentary Magazine’s symposium about the war in which we currently find ourselves engaged. Although the contributors sometimes contradict each other, I find myself in agreement with each of them, on both major points and minor nuances. I guess I can do this because their unifying theme is that there is as clash of cultures going on here, with Islamists on the one side and the West on the other side. Each contributor takes that issue seriously, and by not dismissing it, comes up with reasoned, rational arguments and insights with which I agree.

And that’s it this morning from the great randomizer in my brain.