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The Message I Got from Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’: Don’t Give Up

I just finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers:  The Story of Success, which is really the story of extraordinary success—the kind that lies outside the bell curve, the kind achieved by Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, or the Beatles.

I had been meaning to listen to Outliers for a while now because I really enjoyed Gladwell’s other books, Blink and Tipping Point. Gladwell has a gift for storytelling. He is one of the few non-fiction authors I know of who can create a feeling of suspense usually only experienced with fiction. (Jon Krakauer is another example.)

Gladwell’s books are largely about connecting patterns in human behavior (patterns we don’t always recognize) in an attempt to find correlations that expand our understanding of the world. He enjoys questioning the basic assumptions we make about ourselves and about others, and challenging us to see things differently. He doesn’t always present enough evidence to prove his hypotheses, but he lets the fieldwork of other psychologists and social scientists lead him closer to answering some of the more bewildering psychosocial questions of our day.

As I listened to Outliers, I found myself both fascinated and slightly offended. He is, after all, openly attacking the American idea of rugged individualism, the idea of a self-made man—the protagonist of the classic rags to riches story. Instead of an innate gift, he argues, extraordinary success is almost always the result of an equally extraordinary opportunity made available to the achiever.

Now, the achiever still must work hard and be prepared to seize upon the opportunity. Chance, as Louis Pasteur observed, does tend to favor the prepared mind. But, as Gladwell argues, extraordinary success can often be traced to a series of remarkable opportunities that resulted from somewhat random circumstances, like date and place of birth, parenting practices, family connections, socio-economic status, laws of the land, cultural norms and traditions, etc. The achievers are often unaware that the opportunities afforded to them could lead on to greatness. They seize upon a relatively small opportunity, such as the chance to practice playing music seven days a week for eight or more hours a day (as the Beatles did in Hamburg, Germany) and their hard work (literally thousands and thousands of hours of practice) pays off big.

That’s not to say choices, hard work, and innate talent don’t have prominent roles in success—Gladwell admits they do—but he wants us to see that external circumstances also play an important, if not equal, role. In other words, we are just as much products of our environment as we are our nature. As a result, the brightest among us sometimes fail through a lack of opportunity rather than lack of talent. If we can understand how our environments sometimes thwart the most talented (or potentially talented), maybe we can enable more people to reach greater levels of success. We do have more control over our environment than we do our nature.

He offers as an example the statistical fact that a large number of great Canadian hockey players (around 40 percent) have birthdays in January, February and March. This has to do with the January 1st cutoff date for joining an age-class league, when a child is at least 8 years old. Coaches will observe the 8- or 9-year-olds who join the league and will begin making coaching decisions for the more talented players, often giving them special training sessions and more practice opportunities.

A child who misses the January 1st cutoff date but who is born during the earlier months may gain as much as 10 to 11 extra months of practicing and growing before joining the age-class league. Naturally, the older players born January through March tend to stand out as better players. Hockey playing, of course, does not have that great of an impact on quality of life, but what about when such random factors influence a child’s educational opportunities?

Gladwell offers similar examples throughout the book and makes a fairly compelling case for what some people might call “luck.” Bill Gates, he points out, had access to a mainframe computer in 1963 at age 13—something most college professors didn’t have at that time. Of course, the young Bill Gates had to be talented and industrious enough to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity.

Ironically, none of Gladwell’s findings negate the idea of the self-made man. Instead, they seem to reinforce it. There are two common elements underlying all the extraordinary success stories he cites:  hard work and an almost tireless drive to figure things out. In other words, successful people don’t give up.

Gladwell (and the social scientists he cites) observe that great success is almost always associated with a “10,000 hour rule”—that is, to be great at something almost always requires about 10,000 hours of practice. This level of practice typically takes 7-10 years to achieve. It’s having the opportunity (as well as focus and drive) to put in your 10,000 hours that provides the extra leverage that can later lead on to extraordinary success.

People who are extraordinarily successful often had an opportunity to begin putting in their 10,000 practice hours at an earlier age, so that by the time they reached their twenties, they were able to seize upon other opportunities that led to more and more opportunities to do what they were good at. Again, they had to be willing to put forth a huge amount of effort.

After listening to Outliers, I saw more clearly how the “victimhood” mentality is so damning in life. Instead of practicing an art, the victim wastes time blaming metaphysical factors (things they generally cannot change) such as the circumstances of their birth, their cultural baggage, their parents, unjust laws, etc.

Ultimately, to be great at something (or even just really good) you need an intense resolve to not give up, to keep practicing at an art and figuring things out. Eventually, hard work and dedication will pay off on some level. Sometimes we just have to create our own opportunities, or be better prepared and more open to them when they do show up.

I just finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. It’s really the story of extraordinary success that lies outside the bell curve—the kind of success achieved by Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, or the Beatles.

I had been meaning to listen to Outliers for a while now because I really enjoyed Gladwell’s other books, Blink and Tipping Point. Gladwell has a gift for storytelling. He is one of the few non-fiction authors I know who can create a feeling of suspense usually only experienced with fiction. (Jon Krakauer is another example.)

Gladwell’s books are largely about connecting patterns in human behavior (patterns we don’t always see) in an attempt to expand our awareness of our world. He enjoys questioning the basic assumptions we make about ourselves and about others, and challenging us to see things differently. He doesn’t always present enough evidence to prove his hypotheses, but he lets the fieldwork of other psychologists and social scientists lead him closer to answering some of the more bewildering psychosocial questions of our day.

As I listened to Outliers, I found myself both fascinated and slightly offended. He is, after all, openly attacking the American idea of rugged individualism, the idea of a self-made man—the protagonist of the classic rags to riches story. Instead of an innate gift, he argues, extraordinary success is almost always the result of an equally extraordinary opportunity made available to the achiever.

Now, the achiever still must work hard and be prepared to seize upon the opportunity. Chance, as Louis Pasteur observed, does tend to favor the prepared mind. But, as Gladwell argues, extraordinary success can often be traced to a series of remarkable opportunities that resulted from somewhat random circumstances, like date and place of birth, parenting practices, socio-economic status, laws of the land, cultural norms and traditions. The achievers are often unaware that the opportunities afforded to them will lead on to greatness. They seize upon a relatively small opportunity, such as the chance to practice playing music seven days a week for eight or more hours a day (as the Beatles did in Hamburg, Germany) and their hard work (literally thousands and thousands of hours of practice) pays off big.

That’s not to say choices, hard work, and innate talent don’t have prominent roles in success—Gladwell admits they do—but he wants us to see that external circumstances also play an important, if not equal, role. In other words, we are just as much products of our environment as we are our nature. As a result, the brightest among us sometimes fail through a lack of opportunity rather than lack of talent. If we can understand how our environments sometimes thwart the most talented (or potentially talented), maybe we can enable more people to reach greater levels of success. We do have more control over our environment than we do our nature.

He offers as an example the statistical fact that a large number of great Canadian hockey players (around 40 percent) have birthdays in January, February and March. This has to do with the January 1st cutoff date for joining an age-class league, when a child is at least 8 years old. Coaches will observe the 8 or 9 year olds who join the league and will begin making coaching decisions for the more talented players, often giving them special training and more practice opportunities. A child who misses the January 1st cutoff date but who is born during the earlier months may gain as much as 10 to 11 extra months of practicing and growing before joining the age-class league. Naturally, the older players born January through March tend to stand out as better players. Hockey playing, of course, does not have that great of an impact on quality of life, but what about when such random factors influence a child’s educational opportunities?

Gladwell offers similar examples throughout the book and makes a compelling case for what some people might call “luck.” Bill Gates, he points out, had access to a mainframe computer in 1963 at age 13—something most college professors didn’t have at that time. Of course, the young Bill Gates had to be talented and industrious enough to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity.

Ironically, none of Gladwell’s findings negate the idea of the self-made man. Instead, they seem to reinforce it. There are two common elements underlying all the extraordinary success stories he cites: hard work and an almost tireless drive to figure things out. In other words, successful people don’t give up.

Gladwell (and the social scientists he cites) observe that great success is almost always associated with a “10,000 hour rule”—that is, to be great at something almost always requires about 10,000 hours of practice. This level of practice typically takes 7-10 years to achieve. It’s having the opportunity (as well as focus and drive) to put in your 10,000 hours that provides the extra leverage that can later lead on to extraordinary success.

People who are extraordinarily successful often had an opportunity to begin putting in their 10,000 practice hours at an earlier age, so that by the time they reached the age of 20, they were able to seize upon other opportunities that led to more and more opportunities to do what they were good at. Again, they had to be willing to put forth a huge amount of effort.

After listening the Outliers, I saw more clearly how the “victimhood” mentality is so damning in life. Instead of practicing an art, the victim wastes time blaming metaphysical factors (things they generally cannot change) such as the circumstances of their birth, their cultural baggage, their parents, unjust laws, etc.

Ultimately, what you need to be great at something (or even just really good) is an intense resolve to not give up, to keep practicing at it and figuring things out. Eventually, hard work and dedication will pay off on some level. Sometimes we just have to create our own opportunities, or be better prepared and more open to them when they do show up.

Tea Partiers and the GOP: An Uneasy Alliance

As the Tea Party movement and its anti-establishment voters continue to gain momentum, it’s no longer just the Democrats who are getting hit by the wave. The recent victory in Delaware of Tea Party-backed senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell over incumbent Mike Castle has angered some of the GOP establishment.

Most notably, Karl Rove, who usually can muster a bit of humor and restraint when he attacks Obama, seemed particularly unnerved by O’Donnell’s victory and by what has obviously become an uncontrollable grassroots movement intent on taking over the GOP.

Rove’s rant and other GOP-establishment tantrums like Crist’s switch to Independent, Murkowski’s possible write-in candidacy, and the refusals of many incumbent Republican losers to endorse the Tea Party-backed winners reveal an uneasy alliance within the GOP.

To their credit, Tea Partiers across the country recognized early on that forming a third party would be defeatist. Instead, they chose the most expedient route they could find to halt the juggernaut of the nanny State:   reforming the Republican Party, the party of small government, now a shadow of its former self.

Everyone knows Washington Republicans lost their credibility and their footing while reaching across the aisle one too many times. Republican voters grew weary of Republican excuses for supporting left-leaning legislation after left-leaning legislation from TARP and ObamaCare to cap-and-tax.

The fact that the first bailout was ushered in by a Republican administration (and supported by the GOP’s presidential candidate, McCain) was not lost on the Tea Partiers. McCain was defeated by a man who promised there would be “change” in Washington. Unfortunately, that change went in the wrong direction — too far left, way too fast. High unemployment, a $1.4 trillion deficit and socialized medicine scared even the Independents, who quickly aligned with the Tea Partiers. No one likes high taxes and inflation.

Both parties in Washington should beware:  Voters are not willing to accept the status quo anymore. As one caller to Rush Limbaugh’s show put it:  The Tea Party movement is less about an anti-establishment sentiment than it is a rejection of Keynesian economics. This is true even if rejection of Keynes manifests itself as a rejection of government largess. The Tea Partiers want the government to stop spending their money recklessly.

Sure, not all Tea Partiers agree on everything — some are social conservatives and some are libertarians, some put God first while some are atheists — but they are all in agreement about one thing:  the urgent need to fight for liberty against the ruling-class statists. They know, implicitly or explicitly, that defending liberty means fighting for economic freedom, which means fighting to save capitalism — the freest economic system on Earth.

Tea Partiers are a diverse bunch. But somehow, in spite of decades of progressive education, they understand that socialism is not compatible with capitalism. They also know that a government intent on lording over its citizens or trampling on Constitutional rights naturally wants deficit spending to be okay. They know it’s in the Washington politico’s interest to keep implementing more and more welfare programs both domestically and abroad. But they couldn’t care less about what Washington politicos want now. Or, as one O’Donnell volunteer put it:  “We could care less about the Republican Party. We want our government back.”

The stakes are too high, and the People don’t know who they can trust anymore. But since they have to trust somebody, they will go with anybody new who espouses free-market principles and fights for what the GOP used to stand for — limited government.

This is also why the People will vote for inexperienced self-made millionaires and billionaires. The People like business, and they like successful entrepreneurs. Business means jobs. Big business means more jobs. If a new candidate’s past is a little sketchy, who cares. In the era of big and bigger government, it’s a lot harder to navigate without breaking some law you may not even be aware of anyway. Issues that involve Medicaid fines, federal student loans, taxes, foreclosures, bankruptcy, or unemployment won’t necessarily cost a candidate any points; while voting in favor of mammoth federal mandates like cap-and-trade, ObamaCare or TARP will.

Most of the established politicians in Washington are to blame for the ballooning $1.4 trillion deficit, the unpopular bailouts, the union favoritism, the bloated pensions, and the backroom deals that lead to the passage of unfavorable legislation.

Of course, O’Donnell is a Republican even if the establishment and the NRSC refuse to support her for the general election. (To be fair, NRSC, did reluctantly donate to her.)

And the other Tea Party-backed candidates — Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ken Buck of Colorado, Sharon Angle of Nevada, Tom Graves of Georgia, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah, and Joe Miller of Alaska — are all Republicans, too.

The question is, will the GOP establishment in Washington embrace them as their own or will there be a third party after all?

Both parties in Washington should beware:  Voters are not going to accept the status quo anymore. As one caller to Rush Limbaugh’s show put it:  The Tea Party movement is less about an anti-establishment sentiment than it is a rejection of Keynesian economics. This is true even if rejection of Keynes manifests itself as a rejection of government largesse. The Tea Partiers want the government to stop spending their money recklessly.

Paul Hsieh on ObamaCare

Paul Hsieh has an essay at Pajamas Media (which Instapundit picked up today):   Get Ready for Your Health Care ‘Re-Education’. Paul co-founded FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine); and, in addition to being a practicing physician in Denver, he’s an editorial rock star. Way to go, Paul!

Amazing Photgraphy by Scotty Graham

I came across the blogspot site of photographer Scotty Graham the other day (via Instapundit) and was blown away by the beauty of his work. Simply amazing. I know some people will take issue with high dynamic range imaging (HDR) techniques he uses to get the brilliant luminance and painting-like quality for some of the images. Maybe it’s because I paint, but I love it.

Quote of the Day: A Sad Little Man

This is from Mike Thomas at the Orlando Sentinel:  “I ask you: If a sad little man burns some Qurans in the woods, and the media aren’t there to film it, is it news?

Of course not.”

Update:  While I am no fan of book burning, the riotous response to the event was completely irrational. It’s just a book, people. Along those lines, here is an interesting reaction essay by Nolan Finley (at Detroit News):  “Islam must turn the other cheek.”

On America’s Ruling Class

If you missed this powerful essay by Angelo Codevilla, “America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution,” I highly recommend it. I learned yesterday that Dr. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University and a senior editor of The American Spectator, has expanded his article into a book, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, which you can order at Amazon.com. (You can also pre-order it on Kindle.)

The title of Codevilla’s essay and book is derived from the growing anti-establishment sentiment among  Americans, now furious at Washington politicians who continue to ignore their voices. Most people I know want to vote all the bums out in November. I think this helps explain the recent primary victories of Rick Scott in Florida (over establishment favorite Bill McCollum in the gubernatorial race) and Joe Miller’s victory over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.

Other Evidence that Americans are turning on the establishment is found in the waning audiences of the progressive media outlets, which are losing viewers, money, and credibility faster than the bedbugs are reproducing in NYC. Unfortunately, CBS’ ratings are not dropping as fast as Americans are losing their rights, but the backlash has begun. Nov. 2 is coming.

The first wave of this anti-establishment sentiment came in response to the $700 billion “Troubled Asset Relief Program” (TARP) legislation, which passed in 2008 despite a huge public outcry against the bill. Codevilla notes that that public objected to TARP “by margins of three or four to one.” Discussing the public’s epiphany, Codevilla writes:

When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term ‘political class’ came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public’s understanding, the American people started referring to those in and around government as the ‘ruling class.’

Codevilla’s work is important because it helps identify and expose the fraud being committed against the American people. Most Americans now realize the government is acting as the destroyer of our economy. They realize government is a non-productive (and often incredibly inefficient) entity whose only means of getting money is through taxation, printing fiat money, or selling government securities to be paid back with future taxes.

I personally believe that Ayn Rand has a lot to do with this awakening. The intellectual elite will never admit this–they will even condemn her as they did in a recent NRO article, “The Greatly Ghastly Rand”–and maybe not all the Tea Partiers even know about her explicitly. (Some do, because I saw “Who is John Galt?” signs at the Tea Party rally I went to in Orlando.) Still, her influence here and abroad is undeniable. Her literary classic, Atlas Shrugged, first published in 1957, remains a top-seller.

Seeing the events in the economy unfold today, I am reminded of a passage she wrote in her 1974 essay “Egalitarianism and Inflation,” (from Philosophy: Who Needs It):

While the government struggles to save one crumbling enterprise at the expense of the crumbling of another, it accelerates the process of juggling debts, switching losses, piling loans on loans, mortgaging the future and the future’s future. As things grow worse, the government protects itself not by contracting this process, but by expanding it. The process becomes global:  it involves foreign aid, and unpaid loans to foreign governments, and subsidies to other welfare states, and subsidies to the United Nations, and subsidies to the World Bank, and subsidies to foreign producers, and credits to foreign consumers to enable them to consume our goods–while, simultaneously, the American producers, who are paying for it all, are left without protection, and their properties are seized by any sheik in any pesthole of the globe, and the wealth they have created, as well as their energy, is turned against them, as, for example, in the case of Middle Eastern oil.

Needless to say, left unchecked, government’s economic meddling and expansion does not end well. But, as the ruling class are beginning to realize, you should never underestimate the American people.

Sense of the Ridiculous

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend about senses of humor. She said her husband had identified a type of humor he called the “sense of the ridiculous.” You either have a sense of the ridiculous or you don’t. People who do have it are prone to uncontrollable fits of laughter or the “giggles” as they are known.

“Seinfeld” once had an episode about the giggles. It’s the one where Jerry places a Pez candy dispenser on Elaine’s knee during a piano concert. This innocuous event causes her to burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter, much to the annoyance of the pianist. Woody Allen, Larry David, and Larry Gelbert all built careers tapping into the sense of the ridiculous. YouTube built an empire on it.

The “Dramatic” animal series on YouTube that started with “Dramatic Hamster,” never seems to get old. This cat cracked me up today, which led to the one on McCain…

Another Tea Party Victory: Marco Rubio

In yet another victory for the Tea Party, Marco Rubio, has won Florida’s Republican primary election for U.S. Senate in a landslide with over 84% of the votes. Rubio is now up against Kendrick Meek, the Democrat primary winner, and Charlie Crist, running as an Independent, in one of the most interesting races in the country.

Total voter turnout in Florida was around 21% (2.3 million out of 11.1 registered voters), but Republicans outvoted Democrats in the Senate race by about 16%. Republicans definitely seem energized and ready for Nov. 2. (SourceFlorida Election Watch)

Rubio, a state politician, was virtually unknown when he entered the race against Crist, an incumbent governor. His meteoric rise is testament to the Tea Party’s clout as much as it is his own charisma. And, he does have charisma. Here is his CPAC speech, much of which he echoed in his recent victory speech:

A big surprise in the Republican primary race for Governor was Rick Scott, a self-made millionaire, beating out establishment favorite Attorney General Bill McCollum. Scott will go head to head against Democrat Alex Sink.

In my Congressional District (FL-24), Sandra Adams narrowly beat Craig Miller and Karen Diebel. Adams will now face Democrat Suzanne Kosmas.

Update:  Looks like there may be a recount for the FL-24 Republican U.S. Representative primary. Adams beat Diebel by only 560 votes.

Embracing Corporate Obsolescence

Change is an immutable force. Some of us embrace it, some of us resist it, but no one escapes it. In today’s Information Age the speed of change is accelerating at such a dizzying speed that it’s rewriting the rules of business.

“Corporate bureaucracy is becoming obsolete,” writes Alan Murray, in his WSJ article, “The End of Management.” Businesses built to thrive in the Industrial Age must now adapt to the Information Revolution. Murray observes:

Corporations are bureaucracies and managers are bureaucrats. Their fundamental tendency is toward self-perpetuation. They are, almost by definition, resistant to change. They were designed and tasked, not with reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the market.

Yet in today’s world, gale-like market forces—rapid globalization, accelerating innovation, relentless competition—have intensified what economist Joseph Schumpeter called the forces of ‘creative destruction.’ Decades-old institutions like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns now can disappear overnight, while new ones like Google and Twitter can spring up from nowhere. A popular video circulating the Internet captures the geometric nature of these trends, noting that it took radio 38 years and television 13 years to reach audiences of 50 million people, while it took the Internet only four years, the iPod three years and Facebook two years to do the same. It’s no surprise that fewer than 100 of the companies in the S&P 500 stock index were around when that index started in 1957.

Hangzhou, China, at night

Hangzhou, China

Access to information 24/7 has unleashed a new era where ideas can be developed, tested, launched, succeed and fail all in the span of less than ten years. Innovations and new information can spread in seconds via new channels, rendering age-old companies or even entire industries obsolete. To paraphrase D.H. Lawrence:  Cool, unlying life is rushing in and institutions are curling up like burnt paper. Industrial Age corporate rules simply no longer apply.

We all knew this day was coming. In 1970, Alvin Toffler, opened his seminal work, Future Shock, with these prophetic words:  “In the three short decades between now and the twenty-first century, millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future.”

“Future shock,” as he called it, is a “time phenomenon.” It is “a product of the greatly accelerating rate of change in society.” In terms of technological innovation, where knowledge is fuel, change is measured as the span of time from idea to practical application — that is, “time-to-market” or “time-to-takeoff.”

Toffler used a study by Robert B. Young at the Stanford Research Institute to illustrate the speed of innovation and the diffusion of technology:

Young found that for a group of appliances introduced in the United States before 1920–including the vacuum cleaner, the electric range, and the refrigerator–the average span between introduction and peak production was thirty-four years. But for a group that appeared in the 1939-1959 period–including the electric frying pan, television, and washer-dryer combination–the span was only eight years. The lag had shrunk by more than 76 percent.

Another futurist, Ray Kurzweil, in his book The Singularity Is Near, asserts that the “rate of paradigm shift (technical innovation) is “doubling every decade.” (This was in 2005.) For information technologies, he says, “there is a second level of exponential growth:  that is, exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.” He illustrates his point:

Thus, the twentieth century was gradually speeding up to today’s rate of progress; its achievements, therefore, were equivalent to about twenty years of progress at the rate in 2000. We’ll make another twenty years of progress in just fourteen years (by 2014), and the same again in only seven years. To express this another way, we won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the twenty-first century; we will witness on the order of twenty thousand years of progress (again, when measured in today’s rate of progress), or about one thousand times greater than what was achieved in the twentieth century.

As Kurzweil points out, all this rapid evolution is not necessarily dystopian or utopian. Human traits can never totally be submerged even as we gain more control over the universe and ourselves. Reality, its existents, and reason remain absolutes. We will never be infallible or omniscient, and there is no historical inevitability when it comes to man-made things or events. Much of our future will depend on the value of our ideas and on our ability to remain free and defend against overreaching government power or despotic movements. Heavily regulated or government-run industries will always lag behind the technology curve, bogged down by their bureaucratic, self-perpetuating natures.

In a sense, we are all becoming businesses of one, each with our own unique brand, yet we are part of a vast, interconnected community. No one is quite sure what the new “Wikinomics” will look like. As our lives improve and last longer, we only know the economic rules will keep changing. Like businesses, we will have to adapt—fast.

Ground Zero Mosque-eteers

The New York Times editorial board predictably came out in defense of the Cordoba Initiative’s Ground Zero mosque project and praised President Obama’s stance on the issue (his first stance anyway). Obama, speaking at a Ramadan dinner at the White House last week, stated that the Muslims (led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf) have every right to build a mega-mosque at the proposed site near Ground Zero — it’s their constitutional right guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Seriously? Do the American people need a lesson on the Constitution from Obama or the New York Times? Don’t they get that the “bitter clingers” are not clinging to guns and religion so much as they are the Bill of Rights, which is being threatened daily by the Obama administration and its 32 anointed czars?

Where is the NYT editorial board when we really need them? They never have any interest in defending the Second Amendment. They rallied behind the President on the unconstitutional health care legislation rammed through on Christmas Eve and on the weekend with practically zero debate. They sure didn’t care anything about the rights of private property owners who lost out in the Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London or those who lose out every day under Byzantine zoning laws. They don’t care anything about the unconstitutionality of banning offshore drilling in the Gulf. And, despite their newfound concern with “religious freedom,” they don’t seem to mind that the Greek Orthodox church, St. Nicholas, hasn’t been able to rebuild their place of worship at Ground Zero for years.

Why don’t the NYT editors ask why bureaucratic red tape manages to ensnare St. Nicholas’ efforts to rebuild but so easily parts for a sketchy imam backed by foreign governments?

As Jonah Goldberg points out, why didn’t Mayor Bloomberg realize the offensiveness of having a symbol of Islam at Ground Zero, put two and two together and avoid the whole debate in the first place “with a few phone calls”? Instead, notes Goldberg, “It’s as if they’ve wanted to turn a dumb idea into an emotional and unwinnable national controversy.”

A mega-mosque at Ground Zero is beyond dumb. No offense to the millions of moderate Muslims who have to sit by and watch as fundamentalist freaks hijack their religion, but even moderate Muslims know this mosque is a bad idea.

M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, writes in the New York Daily Post:

This is not about the building of a mosque or a religious facility. It is not about religious freedom. This is about a deep, soulful understanding of what happened to our country on 9/11.

When Americans are attacked, they come together as one, under one flag, under one law against a common enemy that we are not afraid to identify. Religious freedom is central to our nation — and that is why the location of this project is so misguided. Ground Zero is purely about being American. It can never be about being Muslim.

The World Trade Center site represents Ground Zero in America’s war against radical Islamists who seek to destroy the American way of life. It is not ground zero of a cultural exchange.

None of this concerns the NYT, Bloomberg or Obama.

Sadder still, as Dr. Paul Hsieh points out so articulately in his recent essay at American Thinker, this controversy has become a major distraction in our battle against Islamic totalitarianism — a battle we are in danger of losing. Dr. Hsieh writes:

All the energy devoted to this issue of the Ground Zero Mosque is distracting us from the far more serious problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If this more fundamental problem is properly addressed, then the NYC mosque issue will become irrelevant. Conversely, if America doesn’t deal with this more fundamental problem, then any legal or political maneuvers to stop the NYC mosque — even if successful — will make little difference in the long run.

Indeed, I can think of a thousand more controversial issues in America that will be moot if Iran gets a nuclear bomb.

Is anyone else horrified that it’s Mickey Mouse time with our leaders during this critical juncture in history?