Bruce Chapman

The New Century Contrary to Calendar, 20th Century is History

It turns out that Jesus was really born between four and six B.C., not in the year 0, as you might expect. A sixth century monk named Dionysius Exiguus, who was given responsibility for settling a dispute over the date of Easter, miscalculated the chronology of Jesus's life and placed his birth several years late. This scholarly error, which was perpetuated in later calendars, means - if we take the middle range of the error - that we already are entering the 21st century, and, for that matter, the Third Millenium. Of course, there was some good to the 20th century, and some necessary change. For example, we probably did need a civil service to replace the political spoils system, though we later got carried away and let bureaucracies regulate away many of our freedoms. We did need civil rights protection through central government action in order, finally, to right the great wrong of slavery and to fulfill the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. But the best intellectual innovations of the 20th century were in the fields of science and technology - medicine and communications, notably. Most of the others were of lesser significance or were baneful. The 20th century brought us the scourges of fascism and communism, and it also brought us what Alexis de Tocqueville correctly foresaw as the "democratic tyrannies" of socialism and the welfare state. Specialization and expertise flourished, bringing benefits in some areas, but also contributing to the depreciation of the liberal arts. Over-emphasis on expertise also tempted leaders in one field to claim authority in others, which is always a moral usurpation. Some generalists claimed the label of science for arts and crafts that did not deserve it. This holds true for several of the "social sciences," but especially for something that grandly calls itself "political science." Even economics claimed more scientific stature than it deserved, guided by the conceit that the qualitative can always be quantified. What the experts and pseudo-experts did was separate ordinary people from their government and culture, robbing them of their authority and undermining their morale. Read More ›

Designer Trees? I Say ‘Humbug!’ to These Fashion Zombies

I suppose I'll make a lot of people mad and start some household fights, but I have to say it: Designer Christmas trees aren't the real thing. I'm willing to accept all varieties, sizes and shapes of Christmas trees as genuine. So long as the ornaments are many-colored, I'll go for all white lights, since the early trees had candles on them, after all. I'll even admit that some artificial trees from Thailand or China can qualify as "real;" in fact, our family has been thinking of getting one (we are always thinking of getting one). But I draw the line at self-consciously arty trees, especially those of monochromatic decorator design. You know them: the elegant ones with, maybe, all gold balls and gold ropes and bows. A two-color scheme isn't much better: the maroon and silver numbers, for example, with (yawn) all maroon ribbons and silver baubles and perhaps a silver light cleverly shining down on them from the ceiling. Such self-conscious concoctions are to real Christmas trees what robots are to human beings; they lack souls. Read More ›

Clinton Risks Leading Us Into Quagmire of ‘Vietnam II’

Vietnam started, too, with limited purposes in service of a universal goal (containing communism, in that case.) And it ended with a goal of merely getting our prisoners home - and with years of disillusionment. President Clinton, who cut his political teeth on opposition to the war in Vietnam, has learned some of the lessons of that conflict, but not the most important one: Don't send troops into a war unless you have a way to win and get out. Yes, of course, "peace enforcement" is not war, supposedly. But it also is not mere "peacekeeping," and in Bosnia even the latter resulted in the deaths of more than 200 United Nations troops. When the president says that the United States mission "may well involve casualties," and that if U.S. troops are attacked "they will have the authority to respond immediately and . . . with overwhelming force," what then follows, if not war? In explaining to the American people and Congress why he had avoided direct intervention earlier, the president said, "I decided that American ground troops should not fight a war in Bosnia because the United States could not force peace on Bosnia's warring ethnic groups: the Serbs, Croats and Muslims." Just so. But why does he think he has "forced" that outcome now, when the Bosnian Serbs are still uncommitted and when whatever commitments are made on paper mean so little in the Balkans anyhow? There have been 34 "truces" and "cease-fires" and other "agreements" before this one, and none has held up. What enables peacekeeping is a manifest and genuine desire for peace on all sides or, even better, the defeat and disarmament of the aggressors. Is someone planning to go door to door to disarm the Bosnian Serbs? Read More ›

Only A Fathead Would Ban Fat Substitute From My Junk Food

This confession, I realize, is hardly unusual enough to get me on the "Jenny Jones Show." Half of all adults in America and a fifth of our children are overweight, and my case is only marginal. But I probably would have ballooned up like the Michelin Man if it hadn't been for the sugar and fat substitutes that food companies considerately began inventing just as I entered middle age. Diet drinks are approaching a third of the market in some areas. You have to look hard for the sugar behind the little pink and blue packets of sugar substitutes at the latte stands; but who's looking? Now, it turns out that the good people at Procter and Gamble Co. are nearing the end of a long, expensive effort to get Food and Drug Administration approval for "olestra," a product that allows potato chips, tortilla chips and other "savory snacks" to be cooked with all the taste of the crunchy little devils we love today but with none of the fat and few of the calories. Soon enough, if the FDA agrees, olestra also can be used to prepare conscience-free french fries, peanut butter, cookies, cakes and ice cream. But the CSPI's evidence is misleading. For example, it cites a study wherein five of 17 people who used olestra products came down with "diarrhea, gas, bloating (or) nausea." Urp! That sounds bad. But CSPI doesn't mention a far bigger and longer study of 3,357 consumers that found no differences in digestive effects between the olestra snacks and regular, full-fat snacks. It also claims that potato chips made with olestra may block absorption of certain vitamins, but neglects to note that the same is true of regular potato chips, and, for that matter, milk. Read More ›

For Canada, Breaking Up is A Hard – And Wrong – Thing To Do

Canada is a country where something terrible is always just about to happen, but never does. The terrible thing is usually the secession of Quebec. The mere possibility of a province seceding reminds a U.S. citizen of the relative stability bequeathed to our country by the Union victory in the Civil War. But hardly anything disturbs the political calm like breaking up one's country. And in Canada, that is a real possibility. Like Sisyphus, Canada seems condemned to roll the rock of Quebec up the hill of federalism, only to have it roll back down, over and over. Worse, federalist forces have to win every election that is held on the issue, while secessionists need only win once. Probably. You can't say for sure because, in Canada, referenda often settle even less than they do here. If Quebeckers next Monday vote for "sovereignty," it is still unclear what that will mean in practice. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien says it means separation, clear and simple. No more Canadian passports for Quebeckers. A division of the national debt, and no special favors thereafter. The federalists also are likely to back the Cree Indian Grand Chief, Matthew Coon Come, who wants his tribe's huge northern tracts in Quebec to remain in Canada. The chief argues that aboriginals (as native peoples are known) have the same right to secede from Quebec that Quebec demands from Canada. Read More ›

Don’t Kid Yourself, This Was A Biggie

Anti-Democratic feeling was really only anti-incumbent feeling, they declared. In fact, not one Republican incumbent governor or member of Congress lost, only Democrats. A big turnout, if it could be accomplished, would save the Democrats, we were told. But the 39 percent national turnout was two points over average mid-term elections. And in higher turnout states Republicans seem to have made their greatest gains. During the campaign, the actual contents of the "contract" were barely covered by the major media (an oversight now corrected after the election) and were subjected to a negative spin in Democratic television spots. But the "contract" was described in detail over talk radio, computer on-line services and new conservative cable TV programs. Another old political assumption that was dealt a blow is the old Depression-era knock that the Republicans are the party of Wall Street while the Democrats are the party of the little guy. GOP candidates won majorities among working-class voters as well as middle- and upper-economic groups. Big business PAC money, as usual, went overwhelmingly to incumbents and this year that meant Democrats. The first target for a shake-up will be Congress itself, where one of the leaders of reform is Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Bellevue. The House Republican Contract pledged to cut congressional staff by a third, and it should not be hard to do. The Democratic majority typically afforded Republicans only a small share of staff positions. In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, Democrats currently have 180 staff posts and Republicans 17. After a well-deserved one-third cut, there will still be plenty of positions open for Republicans to fill, even permitting them to be more generous to the Democrats than the Democrats were to them. Read More ›
Seattle-from-Kerry-Park-1990s

Six Solutions for Seattle – Global City or Just Another Town?

METROPOLITAN Seattle - from Everett to Tacoma and from Puget Sound to the Cascade foothills - in the past decade has become a true international "Citistate," to use the term coined by syndicated columnist Neal R. Peirce. A Discovery Institute project, "International Seattle: Creating a Globally Competitive Community," is aimed at helping the region define a new strategy for increasing its international competitiveness. With the help of a 24-member advisory board and a host of volunteers, we have conducted interviews throughout the region and studied a dozen other cities' international programs. It was a breakthrough in 1990 when community-wide response to international concerns led to the creation of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle. The "TDA" pulled together resources from the city of Seattle, King County, the Port of Seattle, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and organized labor, with a stated goal of making this region "one of North America's premier international gateways and commercial centers." Read More ›