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The Cramdown Artists

By 7.8.14

What this country almost certainly doesn’t need right now is more laws and regulations; but it doesn’t necessarily need fewer laws and regulations, either. What we appear to need above all else is a deeper — and that’s not saying much — understanding of the purposes for which a civilized society passes laws and enacts regulations. We need, in essence, moral instruction.

Eeek! “Moral instruction”? “Right” and “wrong”? By whose lights, whose standards? The contraception debate — to the extent you call it a debate instead of a shouting match — brings to mind these fundamental, yet generally skirted, issues. In 21st-century America, right and wrong are matters we hand over to the big guns in politics and — alas — the chattering profession, my own profession: the media. He who makes the loudest noises and wins the most elections gets to cram his views down the public’s throat.

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A Primer on Race

By 7.8.14

Back in the heyday of the British Empire, a man from one of the colonies addressed a London audience.

“Please do not do any more good in my country,” he said. “We have suffered too much already from all the good that you have done.”

That is essentially the message of an outstanding new book by Jason Riley about blacks in America. Its title is Please Stop Helping Us. Its theme is that many policies designed to help blacks are in fact harmful, sometimes devastatingly so. These counterproductive policies range from minimum wage laws to “affirmative action” quotas.

This book untangles the controversies, the confusions, and the irresponsible rhetoric in which issues involving minimum wage laws are usually discussed. As someone who has followed minimum wage controversies for decades, I must say that I have never seen the subject explained more clearly or more convincingly.

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Play Ball

The Red Sox Need a Miracle

By 7.8.14

After a thrilling run to a World Series title last year, the Boston Red Sox are playing a decidedly modest season in 2014. As of this writing, the Red Sox are 39-49 and in last place in the American League East, nine games back of the Baltimore Orioles. It would take a minor miracle for the Sox to play post-season baseball, but only a minor one. After all, the Red Sox do not face nearly odds that another team from Boston did a century ago.

For more than fifty years Boston had two baseball teams, the Red Sox and the Braves. The team that currently resides in Atlanta wasn’t always known as the Braves, though. Over the years, they went by the Red Stockings, the Beaneaters, the Doves, the Rustlers, and the Bees; but regardless of their nickname, Boston’s National League team was mostly lousy.

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In a Sentimental Mood

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism
By Thomas Brothers 

(Norton, 608 pages, $39.95)

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
By Terry Teachout

(Gotham, 496 pages, $30)

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Ben Stein's Diary

What Happened?

By 7.7.14

Saturday, July 5, 2014
Still here in Sandpoint, Idaho, and it is too darned hot. It’s often hot in the middle of continents in summer and this is no exception. The real problem is the humidity though. We left D.C. to escape the humidity. It was unbearable, like being in a steam room with your suit and tie on. We do not have much humidity in L.A., but we sure have plenty of it here in North Idaho this summer.

However, it’s all fine. There are hundreds of friendly people out on City Beach, many wanting to say hello and pose for pictures with this old fellow. There is incredibly tasty kettle corn. And there is Lake Pendoreille, limitless cool blue expanse of water, blue sky, clouds, and mountain forests. My brilliant, world-traveling sister, called me to report on her just concluded trip to Tanzania. She generously noted that while it was beautiful, it was no more beautiful than North Idaho, and then added, “No place is.”

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Special Report

It Was a Mighty Fourth

By 7.7.14

July 4, still so full of unapologetic patriotic hoopla, remains largely a bulwark against political correctness. Any holiday that prominently celebrates bewigged men in tri-corner hats playing flutes and often bearing arms has to be a welcome antidote to negative sociological trends.

This year’s Independence Day in the nation’s capital was among the best in terms of weather in my nearly half century of a lifetime here. Unusually moderate temperatures, low humidity, clear skies and even an evening breeze that necessitated sweaters for some, contrasted with typically suffocating D.C. haze and sweltering oppression.

I was among thousands encamped at sunset around the always-stirring Iwo Jima monument in Arlington that honors the U.S. Marine Corps, having a glorious straight-line view of the National Mall, with the fireworks silhouetted against the Washington Monument. The crowd was unusually polite, with no visible evidence of liquor, nor any shoving in the race to leave afterwards. There were applause and occasional patriotic outbursts.

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Serve and Volley

Tennis for Churchillians

By 7.7.14

Right away, on Roger Federer’s first service game, Novak Djokovic counter-attacks against the older man’s superior net game, as if to show him he is unafraid. Federer holds, with some effort, and Djokovic, who held his own first service easily, deploys his own weapons, a strong serve — Federer’s will turn out to be more effective over the course of the match — and relentless baseline defense to immediate effect, holding the third game at love. Contrasting styles of play, which sharpens the battle of wills: who is going to crack the other’s confidence in his own game plan?

On the immaculate Centre Court of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, you are not supposed to crack. If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew…

Federer is unfazed. In his own second service game he serve-and-volleys repeatedly, with gorgeous classic shots, a backhand volley in particular. At 2-2, Djokovic is serving as hard as possible again, he opens with a service winner and an ace, then opens up the court on the third serve to give himself a forehand winner, finally makes the same play on the backhand side.

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The Right Prescription

Can Shameless, Baseless Propaganda Save the Dems?

By 7.7.14

For most of 2014, the Democrats looked on the looming congressional elections with considerable dread. All of the standard indicators portend an unhappy outcome for their party. The voters are deeply dissatisfied with the direction in which the country is headed, the President’s popularity—an important gauge of a party’s prospects in any midterm—is at rock bottom, and most competitive seats are in places where Mitt Romney performed well in 2012. Consequently, the Democrats had abandoned hope of winning back the House and stood in real fear of losing their Senate majority. Then came last week’s Hobby Lobby ruling.

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Loose Canons

Caliphaking It in Iraq

By 7.7.14

It’s more than a little pretentious for the jihadis of ISIS — the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” itself an aspirational title — to claim they have established a new Islamic caliphate. But so they did proclaim last week, and in his inauguration address Mr. Caliph Ibrahim — aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — told the assembled crowd that they should use the month of Ramadan to escalate their jihad against “the enemies of God,” according to a video posted online on Saturday.

The claim of a new caliphate is a power grab: a claim to have re-established an Islamic empire that hasn’t existed since the fall of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. By making that overtly religious claim, ISIS was asking that all Muslims — at least Sunni Muslims — join and fight for it. Even before the claim to a caliphate, ISIS had attracted many jihadis from Europe and some from the United States.

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Political Hay

Hillary’s ‘Not One of Us’ Problem

By 7.7.14

It did not take Hillary’s book fiasco to show she is no Obama. Hillary Clinton’s problems predate and far exceed her currently botched book tour. They extend to her relations with the Democratic base. If she cannot correct these, and quickly, she is likely to relive her 2008 humiliation at their hands.

That Hillary Clinton’s book tour — ostensibly promoting Hard Choices, but really paving the way for a 2016 White House run — has been terrible goes without saying. What should not go without noticing is just how unlike Obama it is.

In just weeks, Hillary has brought back the bad memories that cost her the nomination six years ago. To attain it two years from now, she needs to be far more like Obama and far less as she was then and is now.

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