THE VOUCHER DECISION

It seems to me that Jeff Rosen gets it about right. The Supreme Court has made the perfectly sane decision that as long as the choice for religious education is the parent’s and not the state’s, then public money can be used for parochial schools. I’m vehemently opposed to more aggressive conservative funding directly for religious institutions, but I see nothing wrong with this. Given the appalling choices that many minority kids in big cities face, it also seems to me a powerful public interest to let them avail themselves of the best education they possibly can. The notion that kids are overwhelmed by the religious atmosphere of parochial schools is equally overblown. I went to a high-school that was state-funded in England, and whose official religion was Anglican. I went to Anglican services every morning, and the school assembly was actually held in the local church. But I can honestly say that nothing helped firm up my Catholicism more. This Supreme decision, especially in contrast with this week’s extremist ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance, strikes me as a very hopeful sign for the future of these issues. And for the hopes of a generation of kids. Now all we have to make sure is there there is an American Catholic church left to provide the education.

SOMEONE BLOGGED THE DEBATE: A relatively fair assessment, although in retrospect, I think I was too defensive and overly paranoid about the audience. And who says I’m “paunchy?” That’s a 32 inch waist, buddy.

THE CHOICE

“Yes, the “precogs” in Minority Report could see murders before they happened, but the bigger “theme” that Spielberg and the writers seemed to be aiming for was that the murderers-to-be also had a choice. Just like the Palestinians have a choice. And the Islamists. They can choose to sit at at a table and talk, negotiate and bargain (clearly anathema to Arafat), or they can choose to strap explosives to their bodies and violently kill innocent civilians (or fly planes into tall buildings for the same effect). Both may — or may not — produce the desired results, but it is that willingness to choose the more humane method that separates the civilized from the barbaric, the moral from the corrupt.” This, and more dissent on the Pledge of Allegiance and Palestine, an evisceration of Mary Eberstadt’s argument on pedophilia, a comparison between Arafat and Huge Chavez, and Bush’s Middle East speech seen in the Winthrop tradition. All on the smartest letters page on the web.

GOD’S GIFT TO REPUBLICANS

The pledge ruling won’t last. But it’s a great political issue for Republicans. Notice how the most liberal judges are the oldest. Notice also how Tom Daschle immediately ran for cover. This is the issue Bush’s dad rode to the White House. His son must be loving it.

EUROPEAN ANTI-SEMITISM: Abe Foxman is a bit of a hysteric, but this time he might be onto something. A survey of European attitudes toward Jews found some uncomfortable data:

Among the 2,500 people polled in late May and early June as part of our survey, 45 percent admitted to their perception that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country, while 30 percent agreed with the statement that Jews have too much power in the business world. Perhaps most telling, 62 percent said they believe the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in Europe is the result of anti-Israel sentiment, not anti-Jewish feeling. The contrariness of their own attitudes suggests that Europeans are loath to admit that hatred of Jews is making a comeback.

Foxman is too blithe in dismissing the notion that disdain for Israel is the real reason for these attitudes. But he’s right to suspect that the extreme aversion to Israel is difficult to explain fully without assuming some anti-Semitic prejudice. More interesting, I’m beginning to pick up signs that American disdain at European anti-Semitism is provoking yet another backlash in the old continent. Each view may help reinforce the other, as Europeans assume that American support for Israel is a function of the Jewish lobby and Americans see that view as yet another sign of anti-Semitism. Not a virtuous cycle.

HOW STRAIGHT IS YOUR BANANA?: Yes, the European Union is interested. Terrorism is ok, but make sure your cucumbers curve correctly, or Brussels will be knocking at the door.

LUNCH AT FRED’S: Had lunch yesterday with Peter Kaplan, an old friend and editor of the New York Observer. We ate at Fred’s on top of Barney’s. What a scene. Almost the reverse of this website: 85 percent female. The table next to us – three twentysomething women over vast bowls of salad – could have been straight out of “Clueless.” Then there were the faces. This is something you see in New York more than elsewhere: older women with faces that, despite obvious surgery, still look mature, but with haircuts that come straight from Mademoiselle magazine. They all look like Madeleine Albright with Paula Zahn’s locks. The contrast is not a good one. A wig might be better. Or some kind of fashionable hair-styling that isn’t so, well, adolescent. Okay, I know this sounds a little catty, but it still strikes me that aging gracefully makes you look a lot younger than the alternative. The male equivalent is cutting balding hair really short. It’s reverse psychology: but making less of less hair makes it look as if you have more. Or maybe I’m just deluding myself.

HOW PHILISTINE IS JOE CONASON?: It used to be that conservatives reveled in being known as the Stupid Party. But here comes Conason with a sentence like this: “But testing credulity to the utmost, [Bush’s] aides boldly mentioned Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, a long disquisition on virtue as dull as any book by William Bennett…” Let’s put this nicely. William Bennett is no Aristotle. And Joe Conason is no William Bennett.

PERSONAL ADS? Here’s an email suggesting a possible revenue stream:

As a single, female, hetero, center-right, DC-resident, post-grad degree (2), 31-35, visits site more than once a day (also actively proselytizes), I think your reader survey spells selective personals gold mine. Where the NY Review of Books classifieds inevitably disappoint, you could come through.

Hmmm.

BUSH HELPS GAY PARTNERS: In the first ever federal acknowledgment of gay married couples, president Bush approved death benefits for the spouses of firefighters and cops killed in the WTC massacre. Quietly and undemonstrably, the Bush administration has shown that it is not hostile to the dignity of gay people and their relationships. It’s particularly appropriate that the bill is named after Father Mychal Judge. I wish Bush would do more, but most of the current decisions – on marriage rights, for example – are in the hands of the states. The one political master-stroke Bush has not so far supported is endorsement of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a law that would simply add gays to the list of people (including Christians and Muslims) protected from being fired from their jobs for the fact of their orientation alone. I’m not a big fan of these non-discrimination laws, and I don’t think they’re anywhere near as important as marriage rights. But the anomaly of only gays being exempted from such federal protection is a completely incoherent one. Why should Jews be protected and gays not? Well over 80 percent of the public support such a law. And Bush could frame it simply as a tolerance issue – winning huge numbers of votes from gays, their families and supporters, as well as showing suburbanites that he really is a compassionate conservative. If Bush did this, he would decimate the dominance that Democrats now have over the gay vote. That’s why the far left and far right are queasy about such a possibility. And that’s partly why Bush should seize this opportunity if it comes down the pike.

WHAT IF ARAFAT IS ELECTED? So what? The point is that as a simple mobster, he has only his henchmen to answer to. As a mobster with an actual democratic base, he’ll have other pressures that can only lead to good. I’m an optimist on democracy. Even if the elected leader is a thug, he has legitimacy, he can be dealt with, we can negotiate. All this handwringing from the usual suspects is overblown. Democracy works. And may always surprise us. Remember what some thought would happen in Nicaragua under free elections? Besides, by demanding elections, Bush puts the US back on a clear pro-democracy path. That will help with Iran. And China. SIGN OF THE TIMES

An email from a Jewish Democrat:

Boy how about that Bush speech? A lot of People in the Arab World probably needed a few crates of Rolaids. Bush is the man and at my family’s barbeque on Sunday, we Jewish Democrats were pretty glad to have a Republican Pres. on deck after 9/11 and the Mid East mess, especially crazy ass Rumsfeld and Cheney(G-d Bless ‘Em). Who would have thought that?

Well I had an inkling, buddy.

GRIM SALON

Depressing news from Salon here. Hard to see even a glimmer of hope. Maybe blogging really is the only viable form of Internet commentary in the future. But I hope not.

SURVEY UPDATE

Your fun and games with the survey data have alas so slowed Surveymonkey’s server that the filter function has been temporarily suspended. It should be back later today. We just swamped ’em. So try back later, please.

WOW

I guess I should know by now that you guys are an intrepid bunch, but in a little less than 24 hours, no less than 8,000 of you have answered our reader survey (that’s as I write this at around 12.30 am EST). I’m incredibly grateful. It’s also really really interesting and at times surprising. In keeping with the general principle of blog transparency, here’s a link to the page that gives you the full results so far – constantly updated. Of course, this isn’t a random sample, but the size of it (slightly less than a half of our regular daily visitors) means it’s telling us something. Check out the filter on the site to see the fascinating intersections of various variables. Here’s what I found striking at first blush: Half of you are under 40 and only 20 percent are over 50 – with our biggest age group being 31 – 35. This is a really young group – much younger than the usual readers of political magazines and newspapers. Despite the youth of the sample, over half of you have post-graduate degrees. 60 percent of you visit at least once a day. You’re also overwhelmingly male (85 percent) and heterosexual (87 percent). This will drive Richard Goldstein and others nuts – but what it means to me is that most of you couldn’t care less what my sexual orientation is, you’re just interested in the content of the site. To my mind, that’s a huge cultural milestone – a model of a future in which sexual orientation becomes a non-issue.

THE POLITICS: The political spectrum is skewed right, as you’d expect, but 40 percent are independent, moderate, center-left or liberal. I realize I stupdily left out ‘libertarian’ in this category, thus ensuring that the touchiest group of individualists alive have bombarded me with emails. I’m sorry, guys. I’m very sympathetic, as you know. My mistake. I was also struck by the fact that California is our biggest state; and that we’re very blue-state heavy. I guess the site attracts blue-state dissidents or simple skeptics, or it reflects the often ignored fact that large numbers of people in the blue states are not knee-jerk liberals. There are many permutations I haven’t yet worked out: Are the gays wealthier than the straights? Are the women more liberal than the men? Are the married people more conservative? But you can figure all this out for yourself if you feel like finding out more about your fellow readers by clicking here. Given this enormous early response, we’re going to keep the survey running for just one more day so that we’re not too skewed toward our more loyal readers. Let me know if you find any more interesting nuggets in the data analysis. Given all the post-graduate degrees out there, you’re probably better at it than I am. It’s also revealing, it seems to me, as a snapshot of what the broader blogger readership is made up of (hint: way smart and clued in, Howell), and should lead to some interesting questions and debates. But that’s for the future. For now, once again: THANKS. With these demographics, there surely must be a sponsor out there willing to fund the site. And if you haven’t participated yet, you have 24 hours. Here’s the link for the survey itself.

THE TOBACCO LAWSUIT SCAM: What a wonderful merry-go-round is going on in North Carolina. Can we say unintended consequences of the punitive nanny-state?

THE NEW SCHOOL DEBATE: Norah Vincent and I will be dragged before the New School politburo on Thursday night to face socialist writer Richard Goldstein and professional far-left activist Carmen Vasquez. It’s at 8 pm at the Tishman auditorium at the New School at 66, W 12th Street in New York City. The “moderator” is the woman who runs the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Joan Garry. Garry’s group, GLAAD, is credited in the acknowledgments of Goldstein’s book for helping him with ‘research,’ research that has now been shown to be simply wrong and (ironically enough) defamatory. Still, this is the left’s turf and it’s a little naive to expect neutrality. Wish us luck. And show up if you feel like it.