Friday, December 24, 2004

A Moment for Tlaloc . . .

A commenter who goes by Tlaloc has expressed some consternation over our pro-Christmas, pro-Christianity in the public square thoughts. My answer is the same as always. Our culture is made of stuff like religious faith, history, art, music, tradition, etc. America is not an officially Christian nation, but it is a nation where a large number of Christian people live. This deeply held faith will express itself in the public square and should unless we hold to some artificial segregation of ideas and customs. Steven D. Smith writes well on this issue in Getting Over Equality. He wonders why we should have to draw exactly the same lines between religion and the public square in Massachusetts as we do in Alabama. It's a line of inquiry worth following. Think outside the box, dear lefties!

More Red-State Holiday Love

Last night, I had a culinary experience that will almost surely become an essay in the near future. We drove to a seafood buffet in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. A woman dressed in a red dress and sandals and wearing very big hair belted out country songs of heartbreak like "Crazy" and "Mama, He's Crazy" while we consumed piles of fried shrimp, crab legs, and catfish. I noted lots of prayer before meals shared with big families. Absolutely wonderful. I was among my people!

Neuhaus and My House

When Baylor President Robert Sloan took office in 1995, Richard John Neuhaus spoke at his inauguration. When I asked Sloan why, he said he wanted to make a statement about religion and public life. He couldn't have made a better choice as readers of The Naked Public Square or First Things know.

For his part, Neuhaus has endlessly flacked for Sloan and Baylor, but the mass of evangelical Christians have yet to take up the banner. Baylor is moving forward rapidly, but it won't become the evangelical Notre Dame until that faith community makes it a major institutional focus. Sloan has survived this year despite major attacks from the left-wing of the Baylor constituency. Here's hoping he makes it another.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Conservative for Liberalism

Joseph Bottum writes, in the current edition of The Weekly Standard, of liberalism in the sense I have been advocating the word should be used:

"The Naked Public Square was one of the seminal books for the modern conservative movement. But it was also a deeply liberal book--at least as liberalism used to be understood. Expounding a tradition of liberal political thought about religion that runs from George Washington's 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, through Tocqueville's observations of the young republic, and down to Reinhold Niebuhr's political theology, Neuhaus understood how the attempt to strip the public square derives, at last, from a disdain for the richness of life--a distaste for the democracy of difference, the clash and mingle of real human beings."

Read the full article here.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I haven't seen it, yet, but now I'm not sure I will. Two film critics I read on a regular basis, Baylor's own Thomas Hibbs for NRO and Jonathan Last for Weekly Standard, have both expressed disappointment with the movie. This news qualifies as troubling for a fellow who really loved The Royal Tenenbaums, director Wes Anderson's previous effort. Perhaps our resident critic Mr. Karnick will venture out to render a definitive opinion on The Life Aquatic. If I give in to the impulse, I'll be sure to comment as well.

In other film news, members of the family attended Meet the Fokkers yesterday and uniformly disliked it. This is a crowd that really liked Meet the Parents, so I wouldn't be surprised to see this one significantly underperform the first installment. They felt the sequel relied too much on sexual innuendo and lacked the sweetness of Parents.

Finally, Herr Karnick wondered whether we could guess his favorite of the films mentioned in the list he linked in his last post. I'm going with Robin Hood.

God of the Soap Operas

Our friend Jim Edwards sent us the following, in reference to my recent National Review Online essay on the changing attitude toward religion that is visible in recent fiction TV series:

"Not a big soap opera watcher, I did happen to catch a bit of one yesterday. It was on the TV next to the bike I was on at the health club. Not sure which show, but the scene that caught my attention had a guy with a little boy on his lap next to a fireplace. The Daddy was reading to the little sleepyhead a book about the first Christmas. The book title was prominent and said something like 'The Story of the Birth of Christ.' I noticed especially the name 'Christ.' Also, the guy was telling about the shepherds, the angels appearing, the bright light, and the announcement not to fear because they brought good news. At that point, the kid acted like he drifted off to sleep, so the Daddy stopped with the story. But I was struck by the fact it was Christmas, not Santa.

"Maybe the entertainment industry is getting it that it not only shouldn't insult the faith of the vast majority of it potential audience, but might work in a few favorable faith elements!"

Thanks for the good news, Jim.

Films for the Family

The critic Spencer Warren, a fine judge of motion picture excellence (and baseness), recommends four "Films for the Family" in an excellent little essay for The Claremont Institute's home page. These are four films that truly repay repeated viewings, and each is thoroughly intelligent, dramatic, and moving, In addition, and quite importantly, each is a great deal of fun to watch. One of them is probably my favorite film—see if you can guess which it is!—and all are well worth obtaining on DVD for your permanent collection. Spencer also tells us exactly what is so great about these films. Read it here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ah, Life in the Sticks . . .

I come from a family that is, generationally speaking, not too far off the farm. Nevertheless, I'm a pure product of the suburb, as is my wife, who has lots of jungle missionaries in her recent family tree. A friend who chooses the "simple" life emailed me this interesting tale of his activities in the wee hours of last night:

Nisha and I were out in the yard at 1 a.m. this morning, Nisha up in the 2nd story level of a tree shaking the branches furiously to knock the roosting chickens off their perch. After they fell to the ground, I chased them around until I caught them, then whisked them away to the closed chicken coop where they could safely spend the night. The reason for this early morning insanity? An owl showed up last night and started picking them off one by one -- chicken screams sound very much like a young child being carrying away by a dragon. The neighbors woke up and were watching the fun -- we all started laughing as we tracked down the last rooster and caught him -- you would have thought we were stuffing cotton down his beak with all the hysterics he went through.

Ah, a night in the country.


This may be the cure for the terrible existential boredom of modern man!

Another Stem Cell Tale

Wesley J. Smith has written a good article for the Weekly Standard recounting the preferential media treatment accorded to embryonic stem cells as opposed to adult stem cells. The former are touted as impressive miracle cures, even though they have done little to nothing of value so far, and adult stems cells are pointedly ignored even though they have already achieved some miraculous results. Smith's article adds a couple of American examples to the Korean one I wrote about a couple of weeks ago for the American Spectator. Smith does not give an explanation of exactly why embryonic stem cells are so stupendously overrated by the press, which I think is a crucial element of the discussion. For my thesis on the matter, see my American Spectator piece here.

The Not So Pro-Lifer

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is the new minority leader in the U.S. Senate. He has a long reputation as a pro-lifer, which is surprising since Democratic presidential hopefuls make a pilgrimage to Planned Parenthood every four years to pledge obeisance to Roe v. Wade. Why would a party that has staked its entire existence on laissez-faire in all matters sexual and reproductive accept a minority leader who is ostensibly pro-life? Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard tells us they haven't. Reid is a bogus pro-lifer with an ambiguous record on the life issue. Check it out here.

By the way, if you've got Lexis-Nexis you can read my law review article on why Roe must go in the Regent University Law Review. Just search "Hunter Baker" in the author blank on a guided search.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Good News with Your Newspaper

Editor and Publisher reports that a Colorado Springs newspaper, The Gazette,, distributed more than 90,000 copies of the New Testament with home-delivered copies of the paper, in an effort funded by the Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society. The organization had earlier sent nearly a half-million copies of the Gospel of Luke with the Houston Chronicle and nearly another 100,000 with a Jackson, Mississippi, newspaper. They plan to do more of this.

The Gazette's vice president of sales and marketing reported that the paper had "received about two dozen calls and e-mails, with about half pleased to get the Bibles and half not so pleased," according to the E&P story. The report also noted that a local non-Christian religious organization was perturbed by the "gift" and had offered to collect the books from any offended subscribers and distribute them to local Christian-run homeless shelters—even though the books were written by people raised in their own faith, I should like to add.

That is a quite interesting reaction from a group of people given to trumpeting their personal open-mindedness and rationality and the liberalism of their ideas. The liberal point of view, however, revels in the free exchange of ideas and information. These people are the opposite of liberal. They are radical secularists.

May I just say that in my opinion, those who went to the trouble to take offense at this free gift are a lot of extraordinarily pathetic losers? Would that offend anybody? Read about it here.

Double Whammy

Friend and site founder S.T. Karnick has two pieces out today in National Review Online and American Spectator Online. Since we probably have a lot of new visitors today, it's a good opportunity to briefly introduce our personnel.

S.T. Karnick is the former co-founder and editor of American Outlook, a quarterly published by the Hudson Institute for several years. He's now senior editor for the Heartland Institute and has written for every substantial conservative publication of the last two decades with maybe one exception, First Things. Are you listening Richard John Neuhaus?

Hunter Baker (that's me) is a Ph.D. student in Religion, Law, and Politics at Baylor University. He works for the prominent pro-life philosopher Francis Beckwith and also consults part-time with the university's administration. His writing portfolio includes newspapers of every size (including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), American Spectator, American Outlook, and NRO. He is also the author of a couple of academic publications. Prior to Ph.D work, he was Director of Public Policy for Georgia Family Council and did stints in law school with the Rutherford Institute and Prison Fellowship.

Ben Zycher is president of Benjamin Zycher Economics Associates and is Senior Fellow in Economics for the Pacific Research Institute. He is an expert on public finance, regulation, insurance, environmental and energy economics, and the economics of defense. If memory serves, he had a job in the Reagan administration!

Alan Reynolds previously served as director of economic research at the Hudson Institute and as vice president and chief economist at both Polyconomics and at the First National Bank of Chicago. In 1996, Reynolds served as research director with the National Commission on Tax Reform and Economic Growth (the "Kemp Commission"). One of the original "supply side" economists, Reynolds worked with Alan Greenspan and Larry Kudlow on David Stockman's Office of Management and Budget transition team in 1981. More recently, he has testified on tax policy before the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees. Reynolds did his undergraduate work in economics at UCLA and graduate studies at Cal State Sacramento. His economic research has been published by such organizations as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Joint Economic Committee, and the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and St. Louis. A former columnist with Forbes and Reason, Reynolds has been a frequent contributor to such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the American Spectator, National Review, the Harvard Business Review, International Economy, Challenge, the Washington Times and the New York Post.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Michael Fumento Is Making Sense!

Fumento is one of those reporters who combines journalism with the amazing additional skill of knowing what the heck you are talking about. He applies this skill to health journalism and does a nice job of shedding further light on the stem cell controversy. Check out this passage from his latest NRO piece where he discusses ASC's (adult stem cells) and ESC's (embryonic stem cells):

There's no scientific research so promising that it can't be hyped further. Still, the ASCs — which the Democrats won't acknowledge, and which the New York Times recently claimed have proved futile in treating human illness — have actually been helping people in the U.S. since 1968. On one website you'll find a list, far from comprehensive, of almost 80 therapies currently using ASCs. This is treatment — not practice or theory. Incredibly, there are also about 300 clinical trials involving ASCs.

By contrast, the number of treatments using ESCs is zero. The number of clinical trials involving ESCs? Also zero.

The usual response to this is — as we saw with Kerry at the debate — none at all. There is quite literally a nationwide effort to cover up the value, or even the existence, of ASCs. But if there is a response, it's usually that ASC research has had a huge head start, and that ESCs only need time (and, more important, massive federal funding) to catch up.

Newt Gingrich

As reader Greg reminded me in a comment on the last post, Newt Gingrich is an Amazon book-reviewing madman. He's one of the top reviewers in Amazon history. A lot of it is thrillers, but there are also some very serious books in the mix. The reminder about Newt's book reviewing activity is a bit depressing because one suspects we are the poorer for Newt's exit from Congress. Newt is clearly no angel, but he is a brilliant policy wonk and a really creative person. It could make a lot of sense to get him in a Presidential cabinet post. I'd like to hear his thoughts on the War on Terror.

Christmas in Mississippi So Far . . .

I'm visiting my in-laws and have brought their daughter and golden grandchild with me. They live in Hattiesburg, which is a university town. School is out and every retail outlet is incredibly crowded. Looks to me like the retail sector is in full, full swing. I once heard an armchair economist say he could tell you how well the economy was doing by counting trucks on I-35. I suspect we could do something similar with mall traffic and parking.

In the meantime, my search for Thomas the Tank Engine related accessories like blankets, t-shirts, and pajamas has been a complete failure after a lengthy search. Doesn't anyone out there want to get even richer? I've got a two year old with needs!!!

I Admire The Purity, But . . .

What about conspiracy charges and bank information reporting requirements? It seems to me that if we take a pure "harm" approach to the law we will find ourselves unable to successfully police serious problems like organized crime. We often complain as citizens that the police are unable to protect us until after something terrible has already occurred. Laws aimed at deterrence and prevention by criminalizing conduct that precedes the actual harm causing activity are one way to meet that problem. We have to be very careful, but I think the balance is worth striking. We didn't start out criminalizing actions that don't cause immediate harm, but our experience has led us to do so in response to live threats.

Yes, I'm a very poor libertarian. More of a law and order type with small government leanings.

Harm and the Law

Hunter writes, regarding laws against driving after having drunk two glasses of beer, laws which he supports and which I oppose: "Harm is not the only basis for enacting a law and punishing violators. Deterrence and retribution are also bases for invoking the power of the state."

I respectfully disagree. There is no basis whatever for deterrence of or retribution for anything that does not harm anyone. Laws against merely drinking and driving do not pass the harm test when, as is true in most U.S. states today, no actual offense that could even potentially cause harm in itself is required for prosecution.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Law and Its Reasons

Harm is not the only basis for enacting a law and punishing violators. Deterrence and retribution are also bases for invoking the power of the state. The DUI laws are clearly based on a deterrence philosophy which has given every appearance of working.

Who knew that Alan's posts on wine would lead us inevitably down the path to drunk driving laws?!!!

Speaking of Alan, I was interested to hear he appeared on Larry Kudlow's show recently. We're running a very humble blog here. Most bloggers bend over backwards to let you know where they've appeared and where they're going. I've got the opposite problem with the old school policy wonks on this site!