Monday, December 5, 2005

Short Stories

Joe Carter's latest contribution to cultural literacy is a list of his twenty five all-time favorite short stories. Here are his selections:

1. Flannery O'Connor, Parker's Back (The last story [of] Flannery O'Connor is the first in my estimation of great short stories.)

2. Leo Tolstoy, Three Questions

3. Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

4. Frank Stockton, The Lady or the Tiger?

5. Ambrose Bierce, An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge

6. W. W. Jacobs, The Monkey's Paw

7. Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

8. George Saunders, Pastoralia

9. Jonathan Lethem, Hardened Criminals(A strange tale that describes a prison whose walls are made entirely out of convicts.)

10. Flannery O'Connor, Good Country People (A Cinderella story -- Southern Gothic style)

11. Ring Lardner, Haircut

12. Shusaku Endo, The Final Martyrs (A great tale of cowardly regret by one of Japan's greatest Christian writers.)

13. Ernest Hemingway, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

14. Thom Jones, The Pugilist at Rest

15. Franz Kafka, A Hunger Artist

16. Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

17. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Birth-mark

18. James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

19. Shirley Jackson, The Lottery (One of the best examples of an undderrated genre: Horror.)

20. Jack London, To Build A Fire

21. Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game

22. John Cheever, The Swimmer (On first reading this story I could see what all the fuss was about. But years later I still can't forget the haunting ending.)

23. Flannery O'Connor, Good A Man Is Hard To Find

24. George Saunders, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

25. Jonathan Lethem, The Happy Man (The soul of the main character in this strange story makes occasional visits to hell. His body, though, remains behind in a zombie-like state to be cared for by his exhaustively patient family. A peculiar, moving tale of speculative fiction by one of the best writers in America.)

I stand in awe of the extent of Carter's reading and his familiarity with films. I haven't read too many of the selections on this list myself, but almost anything written by Flannery O'Connor deserves to be on it.

Materialism, Muslims, and ID

Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol adds an interesting Islamic perspective to the Intelligent Design controversy at National Review Online. His whole essay is excellent, but these two paragraphs are particularly good:

From all this, one can see that the much-debated cultural gap between the West and the Muslim world is actually a two-sided coin: While the latter has some extremely conservative or radical elements that turn life into joyless misery, the former has extremely hedonistic and degenerate elements that turn life into meaningless profligacy. And if we look for a rapprochement between Westerners and Muslims, we again have to see both sides of the coin: While Muslim communities need reformers of culture that will save them from bigotry, the Western societies need redeemers of culture that will save them from materialism. Of course, the manifestations of the former (such as support for terrorism) are far more dangerous and intolerable than those of the latter, but as root causes, both must be acknowledged.

As the history of the cultural conflict between the modern West and Islam shows, ID can also be a bridge between these two civilizations. The first bricks of that bridge are now being laid in the Islamic world. In Turkey, the current debate over ID has attracted much attention in the Islamic media. Islamic newspapers are publishing translations of pieces by the leading figures of the ID movement, such as Michael J. Behe and Phillip E. Johnson. The Discovery Institute is praised in their news stories and depicted as the vanguard in the case for God, and President Bush's support for ID is gaining sympathy. For many decades the cultural debate in Turkey has been between secularists who quote modern Western sources and Muslims who quote traditional Islamic sources. Now, for the first time, Muslims are discovering that they share a common cause with the believers in the West. For the first time, the West appears to be the antidote to, not the source of, the materialist plague.

It's worth taking the time to read the whole piece.

Pouting Pundits of Pessimism

Bryan Westbury has a piece in the WSJ that those Bush critics who say that he is presiding over "the worst economy ever," etc. etc. should find embarrassing, but won't. Here are just a few of the highlights:

During a quarter century of analyzing and forecasting the economy, I have never seen anything like this. No matter what happens, no matter what data are released, no matter which way markets move, a pall of pessimism hangs over the economy.

It is amazing. Everything is negative. When bond yields rise, it is considered bad for the housing market and the consumer. But if bond yields fall and the yield curve narrows toward inversion, that is bad too, because an inverted yield curve could signal a recession.

If housing data weaken, as they did on Monday when existing home sales fell, well that is a sign of a bursting housing bubble. If housing data strengthen, as they did on Tuesday when new home sales rose, that is negative because the Fed may raise rates further. If foreigners buy our bonds, we are not saving for ourselves. If foreigners do not buy our bonds, interest rates could rise. If wages go up, inflation is coming. If wages go down, the economy is in trouble.

This onslaught of negative thinking is clearly having an impact. During the 2004 presidential campaign, when attacks on the economy were in full force, 36% of Americans thought we were in recession. One year later, even though unemployment has fallen from 5.5% to 5%, and real GDP has expanded by 3.7%, the number who think a recession is underway has climbed to 43%.

The trade deficit was supposed to cause a collapse in the dollar; but the dollar is up 10% versus the euro in the past eight months. The budget deficit was supposed to push up interest rates; yet the 10-year Treasury yield, at 4.5%, is well below its 2000 average yield of 6% when the U.S. faced surpluses as far as the eye could see.

Sharp declines in consumer confidence and rising oil prices were supposed to hurt retail sales; but holiday shopping is strong. Many fear that China is stealing our jobs, but new reports suggest that U.S. manufacturers are so strong that a shortage of skilled production workers has developed. And since the Fed started hiking interest rates 16 months ago, 3.5 million new jobs and $750 billion in additional personal income have been created. Stocks are also up, which according to pundits was unlikely as long as the Fed was hiking rates.

One key reason the U.S. economy has outperformed other industrialized nations, and exceeded its long-run average growth rate during the past two years, is the tax cut of 2003. By reducing taxes on investment, the U.S. boosted growth, which in turn created new jobs that replace those that are lost as the old economy dies.

Tax cuts! How can they work? They just increase the deficit, or so we've been told by those who oppose tax cuts because they can't stand to see the wealthy get to hold onto their ill-gotten booty.

It's astonishing that Bush inherited an economy that was going into recession and was subsequently punched in the face by 9/11, war, oil price rises, Katrina, Rita, and a host of lesser jabs, and yet it's still chugging right along producing jobs and goods. No wonder the Democrats are up in arms over reports that the military planted a few stories in Iraqi newspapers. That's about all they have to complain about and complain they must. It's in their blood.

The Solution

The solution to the Intelligent Design/ evolution controversy in our public schools, according to Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute, is school choice. Read his argument here.