"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Salty Christians

This piece will be to some extent a bit of inside politics for Christians, but I believe it may be of interest to all readers concerned about the nexus of politics and religion.

The conservative columnist and radio host Doug Giles had an interesting article on Christianity and culture on TownHall a couple of days ago. Giles takes Jesus's statement that his followers are "the salt of the earth," and expounds on what this means in regard to Christians' relationship to the broader, secular society. Unfortunately, his position reflects a common misconception among Christians that has done a significant amount of damage to both the church and the culture.

Giles points out that the prophets written about in the Bible were "salty dogs" who were "raw and fiery" and "were not genteel placaters of the people." He says that Jesus's fiery statements make "the Dennis Miller Show look lame" by comparison. He chides contemporary Christians for not displaying this same sort of intensity, and strongly criticizes American Christians for the various ills that beset the nation today. Giles says,

"I do not blame Playboy, Las Vegas, the gay agenda, Air America, or whomever for our societal tooth decay. I blame the 'righteous' ones who will not shamelessly proclaim truth in such a way that it is persuasive, provocative and preserving. Yes, churches that do not seriously stand for truth commit institutional suicide and effectively marginalize themselves, rather than being the salt-shaking organisms God has called them to be."

I surmise that Giles is not referring to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson here, but to the nation's mainline Protestant denominations and perhaps to many leaders in the Catholic Church. in America.

Giles certainly has a point, and his argument should be taken seriously, though I wonder whether one can truly be "persuasive" to the overall public while being extremely "provocative" and salty. Too much salt ruins a dish. After all, Jesus said that the world would hate those who followed him, and his judgment has proven quite accurate. (By the world, he meant unbelievers.)

Giles superbly represents the Puritan-derived position of today's American evangelicals regarding how Christians should live in the world. In doing so, however, he also indicates the limitations of that view. It is a position that would be much more accurate and effective if fortified with greater attention to some important thoughts from pre-Calvinist Christianity. Specifically, a respect for the power of Original Sin.

I absolutely agree with Giles's point about how the Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets, spoke, and I entirely disagree with his statement about the cause of the problems of the world.

Jesus was, if anything, even harsher in his language than Giles suggests. Jesus called clean-living church leaders a "brood of vipers," referred to one of his own apostles as "Satan," and told people that their father was the devil. However, it is important to note that Jesus did not use these words to condemn moral failings. He reserved these words for religious hypocrites who would prevent people from direct contact with God or who would impede the coming of Christ's kingdom.

When dealing with moral failings, Jesus typically did not call people names, though he was always firm about telling people to stop their sinning. Thus Christ made his priorities clear: first one is redeemed by God, and then one's behavior is sanctified; never the other way around. He told his followers to love God, and then to love their neighbors. The latter follows from and is made possible by the former.

Giles's point that Jesus was by no means the meek and mild sufferer some people have portrayed him as, is quite good and valid.

However, I disagree strongly with Giles's notion that the weakness of the Church is the reason for sin being so strong in the world. Sin is strong in the world because it is central in every human being's heart. Jesus cane to liberate people from that enslavement, and he sent the Holy Spirit to work in people's hearts to fight for us against our own sinful desires. That is the only way that people can be freed from sin. And insofar as the Church fails to proclaim the Gospel, it does fail in its duty to the world.

But, all told, the Church has not failed to proclaim the Gospel. Some sects and denominations have done a wretched job of it, certainly, at various times. They have indeed watered down Christ's message into social, moral codes that Jesus would have condemned as a secondary matter that actually impedes God's direct work of saving souls. As Paul said, the reason for the law is to point us toward the need for a Savior.

In the main, however, the Church does proclaim the Gospel very well. People have little doubt about what the Church stands for, who Jesus claimed to be, and what he came here to do. That message has certainly got out there.

Yes, the Church is far from perfect, riven with human jealousies, rivalries, arrogance, ignorance, and inanity, but in the main it has not failed to proclaim the Gospel while doing all those unnecessary and indeed counterproductive things. The world knows what Jesus said, why he said it, and what he meant by it. The Church has not failed in sending that message.

Yet people continue to resist, because they do not agree that the claims of Christ and His Church are true. This resistance is a direct product of the sin in people's hearts, which veils the truth from their eyes. It is not attributable solely or even in great part to a failure to preach the Gospel. The reason sin remains so prevalent in the world is simply that the human heart is utterly inclined toward rebellion, according to Christian theology.

Hence, Giles is entirely incorrect when he says that Jesus, the prophets, and the Apostles were always "challenging people whose attitudes and actions were corrosive to the culture." They were most assuredly not doing that. What they were doing was challenging people whose attitudes and actions were standing in the way of their own and their neighbors' salvation, redemption, and sanctification. That was the central concern for the prophets and apostles, and it was and is always Jesus's concern; and everything else follows from that.

As the twentieth century theologian Richard Niebuhr noted, in his excellent book Christ and Culture (1951), Jesus is not in, outside, above, or beyond culture–he transforms human cultures. He does so through the transformation of individual souls, which liberates them from our natural slavery to sin and blindness.

The Church's duty, then, is exactly that of any individual: love God, love your neighbor. We all fail in that duty, utterly and tragically, every moment of every day. But that failure is not the reason there is so much sin in the world. There is so much sin in the world because sin is central to the human heart, and so many human hearts remain unredeemed.

Christians are not the cause of that. All we can do is love God, love our neighbors, and pray for the redemption of the world and Christ's swift return. The culture will be transformed as individual souls are redeemed.

Like the Social Gospel preachers whom he so rightly criticizes, Giles places too much emphasis on transforming society and too little on transforming individuals. I am sure that he recognizes the essential importance of the latter concern, but the failure to translate that insight into a practical perspective that puts political matters in their proper, distinctly secondary position among concerns for the church harms both church and society.

(Empty) News (Empty) Briefs

The Democrats don't like the 2.57 trillion dollar budget... neither do we... who is it exactly that does like it?

And a Welsh rugby fan cut off his testicles to celebrate his team's victory... what would he have done if they lost?

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Fish Not Inter The Net

Out at sea... got scant moments at 55 cents a minute...

Had our first Barnes-storming session today, everything was made Kristol-clear, although the sea was pitching harder than Randy Johnson...

Wish you were here, guys... and congrats to Doc Zycher for his little debate with Stelzer in the last edition of Weekly Standard (the one with Disraeli on the cover)... my nickname for Disraeli is Dean Dizzy....

gotta run... or float...

Welcome Back, Mr. Karnick . . .

Might we take a moment to celebrate the return of one S.T. Karnick? I'm getting the sense you readers like his work, especially since traffic has an odd way of moving based on his presence or absence.

He has assured me he will return to regular posting, so you Karnickians stay tuned. Ditto for you Reynoldsites, Zycherons, Homnick-heads, and Bakercentrics (no matter how few, though incredibly bright, you may be).

Austen in Bollywood and Human Incompleteness

Gurinder Chadha, director of the excellent comedy film Bend It Like Beckham, has finished a new picture which will be released to U.S. movie theaters on February 25. It is called Bride and Prejudice, and as the title suggests, it is based on Jane Austen's delightful and much-filmed 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.

Chada's version of the story will include some cross-cultural conflicts based in the central romance of a young Indian woman named Lalita and an American Darcy.

I'm greatly looking forward to seeing what Chadha will do with the story, and I found one quote from her in the Reuters article fascinating:

"'What's incredible about this is that even though Jane Austen was writing 200-odd years ago, she was writing at a time when women were not considered whole unless they were married,' the Kenyan-born, British-raised Chadha said in an interview before the film's U.S. debut.

"'That is still very relevant to many places around the world, and particularly small town India,' she said."

What I find interesting about Chada's comment is that she sees this attitude as so odd and antiquated. Perhaps a reason she sees it so strange is that she limits it to the female perspective. For I should say that neither a man nor a woman is complete without being married.

That is a very controversial thing to claim in these times, I understand, but it seems to me that history and art make it clear that it has been true for the overwhelming majority of people throughout human history.

To be incomplete, after all, simply means to be imperfect. Is Chada suggesting that all women are perfect before marriage? One would hardly think so, if only based on the evidence in Bend It Like Beckham.

It is quite silly, actually, to try to hide from the notion that one is incomplete. Surely, there is no unique shame in acknowledging one's imperfection. Quite the contrary, in fact.

There is a great glory in acknowleding one's incompleteness. Admitting our imperfections is the thing that makes it possible for us to become better, especially through the acceptance of the continuous love of another person. (The refusal to admit one's imperfections is, in fact, what makes so many people unlovable. They refuse to be loved because they cannot bear to be seen as incomplete, as imperfect.) In addition, another person's incompleteness makes it possible for us to do them the great good of improving their lot in life by loving them in return.

It is this, after all, that the young lovers in Austen's novels seek, and which, to be honest, nearly all human beings desire. To view that beautiful, fine impulse as an unnecessary cultural flaw seems to me an utterly tragic and horrible choice.

Geo-Green Garbage

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman offered “The Geo-Green Alternative” on January 30:

“I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil — by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power — we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. . . . Shrink their oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It’s that simple. By refusing to rein in US energy consumption, the Bush team is . . . depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East.”

“Geo-Green” relies on economic illiteracy. If oil fell to $18, there would obviously be much less incentive to conserve oil or to develop expensive alternative energy sources, including nuclear. It is sheer fantasy to imagine the Bush team could somehow “rein in US energy consumption” enough to make a dent in the global oil price. Even if oil prices did fall by a buck or two as a result of some sort of mandatory US austerity scheme, the benefit would go to China and other countries who would gladly buy any cheaper oil we unloaded on the world market.

Mr. Friedman’s geo-whiz political forecast fares no better than his economics. The price of West Texas Intermediate crude was below $18 most of the time from February 1986 to June 1999 -- falling as low as $11.28 at the end of 1998 and remaining below $20 at the end of 2001. So, why did we not see “political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran”? It’s that simple.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Not A Standard Week

Heading out this afternoon from Ft. Lauderdale on the Westerdam with the Weekly Standard cruise until the morning of Feb. 13. Not sure if I'll get a chance to post....

Molester With One-Tract Mind

This case in Springdale, Arkansas, has really fascinating elements, legally and otherwise.

A man bought a house in a new subdivision and shortly thereafter the police publicized that he is a registered sex offender. Now nobody wants to buy houses there and the people who have bought in want out.

Is that his problem, ethically? Assuming that he no longer engages in the behavior and has paid his debt to society, does he have to be bound by their fears? That's Question #1.

The developers of the subdivision approached him and asked him to sell the house back. He said he would be glad to, if they pay him a quarter-million over his purchase price. They are indignant over this rank extortion.

Is he wrong to ask a premium for having to accept a scarlet-letter rejection from an entire community of people when he believes that he has worked his way past this particular temptation? Question #2.

The developers have now taken the further step of suing him for buying the house and suing the real-estate broker who brought him in as a purchaser without informing the developers of his background.

Do they have a case legally? Does a person not on parole have a legally quantifiable obligation to inform people around him that they might not want him as a neighbor? Question #3.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Pop Diddly Culture Revelations

An interesting AP article by Frazier Moore (read it here) reports that Ned Flanders of The Simpsons is the character on the show who now most closely represents the national zeitgeist. If true, this indicates quite a serious social change, of course, and is exemplified by the following rather startling statement from one of the show's producers, quoted in the piece:

"The writers like Ned as a person better than Homer."

According to the AP report, Ned will be at the center of this Sunday's show, in which the controversy over last year's Super Bowl halftime show is satirized, and the tale takes some ironic and revealing turns as it reaches its conclusion.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Crux Magazine

I want to take a moment to flack for Crux Magazine. When fully realized, Crux will be a full color, glossy mag competing with Time, Rolling Stone, etc. and will have a broadly Christian editorial cast. I've signed on to help with their weblogs, which you can find links to at the main website.

For now, the website and the blogs are all there is, but this group got Touchstone (which is great reading) off the ground, so I think they can get Crux done, too.

Semper Hi-Fi

The Marines have given a slap, possibly on the wrist, to this Lieutenant General who spoke somewhat intemperately.

He said about the Taliban in Afghanistan: "Some of these men had been slapping women around for five years for not wearing a veil. Someone like that has not got much manhood left and it feels darn good to shoot him."

Since we should never say such things out loud, let us also condemn him and say, "Sir, please don't say such things out loud in future."

Lax With The Ex

Great headline on Yahoo: Michael Jackson Signed Ex To Secrecy.

Darn, why didn't I think of that?

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Ya gotta love it. Kofi, outraged, is disciplining some factotums because of facts out about 'em. Apparently, they got kickbacks from Oil-For-Food. He must be hoping they don't kick back at him and reveal that he got his co-fee, too.

Choose The Cheesy Candidate?

Kinky Friedman, head of the Texas Jewboys band and author of humorous detective novels starring himself as the lead character, has announced his candidacy for Governor of Texas.

Incidentally, one of his books has this great opening: "It was raining cool cats and hot dogs when I stepped out into the street...."

Also, his song 'They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore' is more than just humorous and clever, it makes some very interesting social statements.

But if he wins, I'm going to go out and get fried, man.

Bless The New Arrival

Headline on Reuters-Yahoo: Nearly 20% Of U.S. Plane Arrivals Late.

You mean: Over 80% On Time?

Club for Growth Split Was a Divorce

Thanks to RedState for pointing to the story from the New York Sun.

For those who don't know, Steve Moore headed the Club for Growth from its inception in 1999 through the 2004 election. The Club gathered donations for pro-growth spending cutters unapologetically dedicated to the free market. Moore and the Club carefully targeted donations from members to races that would do the most to change the balance of power in federal and state governments. In most cases, they succeeded.

The Club sent out an email to members recently in which they announced that Steve Moore would be passing the torch of leadership to failed Pennsylvania candidate for the Senate, Pat Toomey. As the New York Sun reveals, it wasn't so much a torch passing as it was a divorce. The story doesn't make clear the exact nature of the dispute, but the revelation is somewhat worrying. Moore and the Club made a dynamic combination. One seriously wonders how well the organization will perform without his pioneering leadership.

Strom's Daughter

I had the privilege of listening to Stale Aire with Terri Gross interview Strom Thurmond's first daughter. As mentioned on this blog before, her mother was African-American so the love affair was hidden. Thurmond took a strong interest in her upbringing and supported her, though somewhat secretly, throughout his life. She waited for his passing to reveal their relationship in a book titled Dear Senator.

Her name is Essie Mae Washington-Williams and what was really interesting was her interaction with reliably liberal Terri Gross. Although Gross continually tried to draw Mrs. Williams into affirming the typical left-wing line, the elderly daughter of Senator Thurmond insisted on seeing events her own way. She was disappointed with her father's segregationist politics, but felt strongly that his heart was different. When Gross suggested Thurmond tried to steer his daughter into a segregated college, she shot back, "He wanted me to go wherever I wanted to go." She did, in fact, go up north to a nursing program, but didn't care for it and decided to go back home to the segregated South Carolina State. She also proclaimed her love for that college and spoke fondly of meeting her husband there.

Life just ain't simple, folks.

Wrestling with Nostalgia

As a child, I was addicted to the weekend wrestling match-ups broadcast on Ted Turner's old Superstation out of Atlanta. Stars included Tommy "Wildfire" Rich, Mr. Wrestling Number One and Mr. Wrestling Number Two, the Iron Sheik, Ole' Andersen, and many others. Some wrestlers were there purely to put up a good effort and then get pounded. I particularly recall a guy named Chip Donovan who was specifically there to lose to nasty bad guys. When my father told me the whole thing was a fix, I argued the point hard. He eventually prevailed and by the time I reached high school I was shocked to find some guys still bought the whole enchilada.

Anyway, I said all that to say this: Opinion Journal has a nice article about a convention in Tampa featuring a reunion of wrestling stars from years past. It's an enjoyable break from politics and the endless red state/blue state analysis.

One more thing: El Homnick has a new piece up at American Spectator on death benefits for soldiers. The guy writes about EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Buried in Baylorama

Sorry for the lack of posting, readers. I've been buried in lots of Baylor work. I've got one professor doing a book on Francis Schaeffer that requires my help. Another uses me to help teach his Law and Religion class. Last, and certainly not least, I have a lot of work with the university's administration right now.

I couldn't blog the SOTU even if I wanted to. I began politics observing Reagan speak and can't stand to watch Bush deliver a speech, love him though I do. I'll read the speech online and comment later. Thanks to Mr. Homnick for keeping the ball rolling.

State Of The Union Getting Bicker And Bicker

They say that it is a 'tradition' dating back to 1966 and that it was begun by Republicans Everett Dirksen of the Senate and Gerald Ford of the House. They were the first to counter a sitting President's State of the Union address with the response by the opposing party.

Well, that's a lovely bit of history, but for my money, it stinks. The State of the Union address, mandated in the founding documents of our nation, is not the function of one party or another. It should be the trumpet of our republic and people across the world should hail it as the authentic voice of these United States.

To immediately parochialize it into the voice of a single party, however ascendant, is to bring an unbeseeming crassness to the moment.

It may be around for forty years but that does not prettify it any. Palindromia does not a 'tradition' make.

Because Republicans started it, I suppose that it will be their job to stop it as well. The next time a Democrat wins the Presidency, I call upon the Republican leaders to voluntarily forgo this gray badge of smallness.

Running For The Borders

Rush Limbaugh and others in the Administration-sympathetic camp have been making the point that the terrorists of Afghanistan and Iraq are not covered as combatants under the Geneva Convention, nor are they U. S. citizens who are entitled to Constitutional rights. This seems to be a defensible position, speaking from the exclusive standpoint of legality.

The question then is: will we employ no standard at all? If someone falls into a gray area between the laws and the compacts, between the treaties and the conventions, between the accords and the concords, should we exercise no limits at all in the conditions of their treatment? And if we do impose boundaries on ourselves, policed only by our own good will, should we quantify them into some legal category or should we avail ourselves of the flexibility allowed by voluntary terms of restraint?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I Don't Wanna Get Evolved

Here's a thought: shortly after the judge in Cobb County, Georgia, ruled that it is unconstitutional to have a sticker in the science textbook saying that 'evolution should be studied with an open mind', a freak ice storm hit Georgia this weekend.

Could it be that God is exercising His First Amendment right to freeze peach?

A New Genre I'd Like to See More Of . . .

The Chicago Sun-Times has an op-ed up featuring a liberal wondering whether he might have been wrong to hammer Bush on Iraq this whole time.

I suspect we may see more of this. After all, as one S.T. Karnick has repeatedly stated, liberalism is all about things like constitutional democracy! It shouldn't surprise us if "liberals" actually tear themselves away from the umpteenth airing of Fahrenheit 9-11 to recall that they should like empowered citizens.

Here's the best quote:

If it turns out Bush was right all along, this is going to require some serious penance.

Maybe I'd have to vote Republican in 2008.

Too Pooped To Scoop?

What would we ever do without Yahoo News Service reuting around for insightful stories to fill our day with wisdom?

Today's big headline: Bush Pushes Agenda In State Of Union. No s***, Sherlock? What was your first clue?

Evangelicals, the List

Just in case you got frustrated with Time's set-up that required you to visit each of the 25 very influential evangelicals instead of giving you a list, here' s the list thanks to Christianity Today:

Howard & Roberta Ahmanson, David Barton, Doug Coe, Chuck Colson, Luis Cort├Ęs, James Dobson, Stuart Epperson, Michael Gerson, Billy & Franklin Graham, Ted Haggard, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Diane Knippers, Tim & Beverly LaHaye, Richard Land, Brian McLaren, Joyce Meyer, Richard John Neuhaus, Mark Noll, J.I. Packer, Rick Santorum, Jay Sekulow, Stephen Strang, Rick Warren, and Ralph Winter.

The Strom Story

Fellow contributor Jay Homnick has a very interesting piece up at American Spectator about Strom Thurmond's mixed-race daughter he fathered out of wedlock at age 22.

He Finds the Apostle Paul Appalling?

Baylor publishes one of the better alumni magazines in the country and this month's issue is no exception. However, I ran across something in the current issue that annoys me to no end. A book review by Robert Darden (editor of the unique Christian humor magazine, the Wittenburg Door), informs us that the author is "not much of a fan of the Apostle Paul."

My question is, "Where's an editor when you need one?" This sentence about Darden not being a fan of the Apostle Paul is begging to be cut. Who cares whether Darden is a fan of the Apostle Paul?

Where The Sunni Don't Shine

The President of Iraq, Ghazi ("Just call me Al") al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim, has announced today that on balance it was a positive thing that the United States invaded. Why, thanks, Al.

I had considered hurling a choice American epithet in his direction, but then I realized that it would be inappropriate: because of us, his mother does not wear combat boots.

(Once, in a column at Jewish World Review I wrote a gag about Saddam having a Sunni disposition. In response, my friend Dr. Bob Appleson wrote a letter to the Editor asking 'What type of disposition does the Shiite have?'.)

Monday, January 31, 2005

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

Among my modest attainments is the fact that I complete each week the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, considered the gold standard of that genre. In fact, a very bright friend of mine once told me that the only other person she knows that does it in pen is Anthony Kurtz, the MIT engineering genius who has worked with NASA on designing all the space modules and shuttles.

The amazing thing about this puzzle is not only that most people can't figure out the answers when the paper is blank, they cannot even figure them out after they have been filled in. I am often asked to give a touch of insight into this process for intelligent people who would like to begin enjoying this form of mind-stimulating recreation.

I have just completed the one which ran in yesterday's Miami Herald; we get last week's, so this would have appeared in the Jan. 23 Sunday Times.

Now, the key to the puzzle is its title. But the title only reflects upon the longer answers.

The title of this particular puzzle is CYBERCHUCKLES. Here are the clues to the longer phrases and their answers, in keeping with the theme of the title.

24 Across: Rich man's wife, often - LADY OF LEISURE.
37 Across: Consequence of war - LOSS OF LIFE.
58 Across: Usually low-paying work - LABOR OF LOVE.
84 Across: Opulence - LAP OF LUXURY.
102 Across: Chop alternatives - LEGS OF LAMB.
117 Across: Illinois - LAND OF LINCOLN.
3 Down: English policy-makers - LLOYDS OF LONDON.
54 Down: Stuff in baskets - LOADS OF LAUNDRY.

Do you get it now? If not, you might want to stick to gin rummy.

Time and Evangelicals

Time Magazine has an interesting feature on the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals, but there's one small problem. Several of those named are not evangelicals! The list includes a couple of Catholics and several Pentecostal/Charismatic types who don't necessarily fit the definition. By Time's logic, anyone who takes their Christian faith seriously is an evangelical.

Nevertheless, the list is interesting to read. Time takes a couple of cheap shots, such as saying Rick Santorum compared gay marriage to bestiality (which he certainly did not), but not so many as to ruin the experience.

Iraqi Blogger Describes Voting . . .

American leftists should put their Bush-hatred aside and read this from Iraq the Model. Just to whet your appetite, here's a little taste:

I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants.

I put the paper in the box and with it, there were tears that I couldn't hold; I was trembling with joy and I felt like I wanted to hug the box but the supervisor smiled at me and said "brother, would you please move ahead, the people are waiting for their turn".

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Welfare Reform, German Style

In the What Will They Think of Next? Department, our friend Greg McConnell sent us a link to a story in the Telegraph that is, alas, all too easy to believe.

The German government has officially become a recruiter for prostitution rings. German women who lose their jobs can now be forced to work as prostitutes or lose their unemployment benefits.

The Telegraph article reports:
A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing 'sexual services' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

"Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

"The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe."

The job center gave her a phone number to call, and it turned out to be that of a brothel.

"Under Germany's welfare reforms," the Telegraph reports, "any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. . . .

"The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. [Gee, maybe they should get out more.] As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse."

Ronald Reagan talked about getting government off the backs of the people—now governments are trying to get women on their backs.

Opiate Of Them Asses

I always love it when people argue against religion for saddling people with unnecessary guilt.

Then, when you say that religion is a positive force in your life, they say, "Well, if you need that kind of reassurance, then maybe it's right for you."

Which is it, scourge or crutch?

Of course, to believers it's neither and it's both: it's an obligation.

But to those fools, anti-religion is their drug of choice, and they'll use any argument or combination of arguments, however self-contradictory.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Apparel All Parka Crashes

The Vice President is being criticized for attending the Auschwitz memorial ceremony in a ski parka and knit cap instead of a suit. Perhaps he has been overeating at the inauguration parties and his suits don't fit (not like Johnny Carson's, anyway).

As a less-than-well man, he should remember what Orson Welles said: "My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

Bottom line, ski parka = tres tacky. As Evelyn Waugh said, "I can abide formality or intimacy, but I detest informality."

Bullet Points From Party Headquarters

The experiment in Palestinian democracy proceeds apace.

After Hamas had a strong showing in local elections in Gaza, they called a little victory rally. They celebrated by chanting slogans and their opposition, Fatah, responded by spraying the crowd with bullets.

Apparently, Palestinians and democracy go well together - like Smith and Wesson.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Companies Upsizing?

As I have mentioned, I am on the road in Savannah, Georgia, and have limited access to the Internet. This morning and afternoon were delightfully spent with some cousins over in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Briefly, I wanted to share a thought about this latest pattern of 'padding' that seems to be at the heart of a few scandals, from the Krispy Kreme orders and profit reports to the Boy Scout enrollment numbers, not to mention some questions about charitable foundations (oh, oh, I can feel the double entendre crowd starting to heat up).

Do we as a nation have a particular cultural problem that pushes us to always want to seem bigger than we might be in actuality?

Conservative Philosophers Get Together

Francis Beckwith emailed to let me know that he's joined a new weblog staffed by conservative philosophers, including one Roger Scruton.

It's a nice counterpart to Left2Right, which was discussed on this site some time ago. Go check out The Conservative Philosopher! They've been in operation about three days and are already getting a couple thousand or so hits daily. Not bad.

Some Awesome Scalia Action . . .

From Christianity Today's Weblog:

Last week, however, Scalia had less jurisprudential matters on his mind when addressing a Louisiana chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

"To believe in traditional Christianity is something else," Scalia told a group of about 350.
For the Son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe that he rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous. To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell?

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools … and he has not been disappointed. …

Intellect and reason need not be laid aside for religion. It is not irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain. There is something wrong with rejecting a priori the existence of miracles. …

If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.

Constitution and Koran?

I found Peggy Noonan's dour assessment of the inaugural speech deflating, but I'm not likely to doubt her judgement. I have to admit that I flinched when Bush referenced our national identity being built on "the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, and the words of the Koran (italics mine)."

I think David Gelerntner already covered this ground somewhere out there in the aether, but I'm having a little trouble with that third part simply as a matter of history. I'd love to see someone produce a believable explanation of how the words of the Koran affected our constitutional development or helped promote self-government.

Yes, yes, Bush was playing down the confrontation between Christianity and Judaism on one side and Islam on the other. That's smart. He should do that. He has a responsibility to America's Muslims to do so, but let's not falsify the record.

By the way, none of this goes to say that I think Muslims are incapable of democracy or any of that business. If you had intercepted Christian civilization at various points, you would have likely said the same about Christians. Certainly, the twentieth century was full of Protestants heavy-handedly making that accusation about Catholics.

Wake Up, Mourning Noonanite

The American Spectator today includes an article which wonders if Peggy Noonan has gone a bit wobbly of late. Among her sins is an article in which she expresses her concern that there are not enough forces of deletion arrayed against the forces of insertion in the Administration's speechwriting give-and-take.

In truth, she may well be right. I once wrote that editors 'haunt the writer's Eden', but if there was ever a place where editors should outnumber writers it is in the White House. Since the presidential speech by definition must be rhetoric wedded closely to policy, the flights of literary fancy that the scrivener classes adore should very rarely be flown by Air Force One.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Freedom From Wisdom

I am often amused and sometimes enlightened by the writings of Arnaud de Borchgrave, a 30-year Newsweek veteran and now editor at large of UPI and The Washington Times. I tend to share his skepticism, though not his pessimism, about using our taxes and military for secular missionary work in Iraq and elsewhere. His January 24 column, however, traveled a bridge too far:

“Democracy and freedom,” he wrote, “mean different things to different peoples around the world. For countless millions in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and China, it means the freedom not to emulate America's anything-goes freedom -- where surveys show the rich getting richer and the poor standing still, and almost daily mega swindles on Wall Street. For almost half of humanity, which survives $2 a day per person or less, it means freedom from want, hunger and disease.”

Even aside from this gratuitous leftist bias (oddly attributed to “surveys”) against affluence and Wall Street, Borchgrave’s notion that the concept of freedom is culturally subjective is both offensive and absurd.

Residents of our maximum-security prisons have “freedom from want” and hunger. And their medical care is free too.

Kofi Anan---Defender of Jews

It's really quite amusing. Having presided for years over some of the most virulent Jew hatred ever seen at the UN---no small achievement---the ineffable Kofi Anan, emceeing the current UN memorial observations for this 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, now states that "The tragedy of the Jewish people was unique." The Hatikva was played for the General Assembly. Memories of the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism in Durban went down the memory hole, as well they should from Kofi's standpoint, as that "conference" degenerated quickly into a cauldron of Israel bashing, anti-Semitism, and the widely-agreed equation of Jews with Nazis.

So what gives? This is, after all, the Kofi Anan of the Tutsi slaughter fame, of the Srbenica massacre fame, of the oil-for-food fiasco, ad nauseam. Could it be that our beloved Kofi, reeling from one scandal to another, beset by calls for his resignation, etc., now has discovered that he needs friends? Like Hillary's announcement during her 2000 Senate race that chicken soup flows through her veins, Kofi knows that a friend in need is a friend indeed, and what better friends could there be than the Jews? Thus has our beloved Kofi demonstrated once again an eternal principle: Where Kofi stands depends on where Kofi sits. That the chattering classes defend the UN as a citadel of "moral authority" is appalling.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Bayh to Moderate Status

Hunter notes that "Evan Bayh, Democrat Senator from Indiana and much-lauded moderate, voted 'no' on Condoleezza Rice's confirmation as Secretary of State. She was confirmed by a large margin regardless, but I can't help but see his 'no' vote as a surprisingly unpleasant gesture.

"What was he thinking? Is he that secure in 'red' Indiana?"

Certainly he does remain immensely popular, and his next Senate reelection campaign is not for a while, but I think there is more to it than that.

This is as far to the Left as I've ever seen Evan Bayh openly go. The vote suggests that he is trying to solidify his base among Democrats. It is quite possible that this vote--the first big one of this session--signals Bayh's intention to pursue the Democrat Party's nomination for president in 2008. It also suggests that he feels it necessary to move openly to the Left in order to have a plausible chance.

So Much for His Moderate Reputation . . .

I can't believe it. Evan Bayh, Democrat Senator from Indiana and much-lauded moderate, voted "no" on Condoleezza Rice's confirmation as Secretary of State. She was confirmed by a large margin regardless, but I can't help but see his "no" vote as a surprisingly unpleasant gesture.

What was he thinking? Is he that secure in "red" Indiana? Help me out here, Mr. Karnick.

Nathan Hatch Named Next President of Wake Forest

This is a shocking turn of events. Along with George Marsden and Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch is a member of the famed trio of evangelical historians who have had a major impact on the American academy. All three men stand for the nurturance and rigorous application of the Christian mind.

Hatch was previously Provost at Notre Dame (a rare feat for an evangelical) and should make things interesting at Wake Forest. Wake doesn't have much of its Baptist identity left, so he won't be able to make huge changes, but he may be able to plant some very promising seeds.

The Future of Children's Entertainment

Many of you know there has been a raging controversy over a video that uses various cartoon characters to promote diversity and tolerance. An accompanying web pledge apparently makes clear that tolerance includes sexual orientation. We could parse that issue to death.

Instead of giving you my two cents, I came across a very interesting interview between Christianity Today and Veggietales creator Phil Vischer (aka Bob the Tomato). Here's a worthwhile bit:

Kids' shows themselves very seldom have agendas beyond the crassly commercial. Individual writers, however, sometimes do. Writers may slip something into a script for their own amusement or socio-political gratification that the producers of the show will never notice. We evangelicals will pick up on those subtle intrusions and assume they are systemic.

Looking at the world of kids' television today, I can't think of any shows with an overt sexual identity agenda. I do think that will change over the next 5-10 years, though. Since the early 1970s, promoting diversity has been considered vitally important in children's television, especially in the New York-Washington D.C. school of children's programming exemplified by Sesame Street. Nickelodeon has made it a major focus as well.

But for the last 30 years, diversity has meant gender and race. As a result, liberals and conservatives could agree on their children's programming. Sesame Street, a product of the "Blue States," worked just fine in the "Red States" as well. Over the next 5-10 years I think this will change. Sesame Workshop (the foundation behind Sesame Street) and Nickelodeon will come under increasing pressure from their Blue buddies to positively portray sexual diversity alongside racial and gender diversity. The day a same-sex couple moves onto Sesame Street will mark the day the Red States and the Blue States (or more accurately, the Red Counties and the Blue Counties) will no longer watch the same children's shows. How far away is that day? Maybe two years. Maybe ten years. But it will happen. (Italics mine)

Isn't that an interesting prediction. I hadn't thought of it before.

Where's S.T. Karnick? An Explanation.

I'm sure many Reform Club readers are wondering about the whereabouts of one S.T. Karnick, the founder of this weblog. I have been in contact with the hardest working man in conservative journalism and find that he has been under tight deadlines for the several publications he edits for the Heartland Institute in Chicago. He has also experienced trouble with the home office set-up, which includes internet access.

Fear not. The greatest living film critic in the English language (there are some guys in the Middle East whose jocks he couldn't wash) will be back in the near future, perhaps provoked by a very poorly considered parenthetical remark!

L'Chaim, To Pro-Life

The great Hunter Baker has requested that I address the very important question of Jewish pro-life belief and activity. This will require some fairly thorough treatment, and I will commit to returning to this matter within a few days. However, I need to get on the road tomorrow morning; I'm driving from Miami to Savannah, Georgia, to spend the weekend with friends. Gotta get meself into a bed for five or so hours.

In brief, let me just say that normative Jewish belief, based on explicit Jewish law, is that abortion is forbidden, and considered an act of murder, except to save the life of the mother. However, there is some extra latitude given to abortions within the first forty days from conception; the child is legally considered unformed until that time.

As to the question of to what extent has there been an effort to promulgate this view within the culture and to fight for it in the political realm, we will leave that until I have a tad more time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


I'm going on record right now. New England will beat the Philadelphia Eagles decisively in the Super Bowl. Bill Bellichek (sp?) has won me over.

I believe he is the greatest coaching genius in NFL history this side of Lombardi. Because he spent a lot of years as Bill Parcell's assistant, we even have to wonder how much of the Parcells mystique is attributable to the unassuming fellow with the graveyard expression.

Michael Moore Speech Avoided! Celebration Spills Into Streets

From Newsday:

Mel Gibson's religious blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ" missed out on main categories, but did pick up nominations for cinematography, makeup and original score.

Michael Moore's gamble to hold his hit film "Fahrenheit 9/11" out of the documentary category -- to boost its best-picture prospects -- backfired. The movie was shut out across the board. Moore won the documentary prize two years ago for "Bowling for Columbine."

Cross-cultural Exchange on Life

Jay, having heard you express the desire to protect the life of Terri Schiavo, it occurs to me that I don't usually associate Jewish voices with the sanctity of life movement. Is there a strong pro-life strain in Judaism? If so, could you describe it?

Shame On Us, Shame On US

Very, very sad that the Supreme Court will let Terry Schiavo die. The Talmud says that the Second Temple had a chance of being saved until one person did one creepy act of stealing another man's wife and then, when the man fell behind in alimony payments, hiring the man and forcing him to be their butler while they partied.

The pain of one human being weighs so much in God's eyes, especially if we cannot construct a society to protect such a precious life from a heartless predator.

Monday, January 24, 2005

On Interview Styles . . .

Because of my old job at a Georgia think tank/advocacy group, I've done a fair bit of radio interview work and even some television. My point about interview styles and bias works both ways.

Without exception, my "mainstream" media contacts have been more difficult than the work with Christian or conservative outlets. I did an interview with Moody Radio today (no chance at a Reform Club plug, sorry S.T.) and felt like I was sitting in a friend's living room. I suspect that members of the Democratic party feel that way when they go on ABC!

Whisk Those Cons In

The son of Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee, Sowande Okomunde, has been arrested, along with four compadres, for slashing the tires of Republican Party vehicles on Election Day. The evidence indicates that the vandalism was part of a concerted effort entitled (You can't make this stuff up) 'Operation Elephant Takeover'.

They will no doubt be tried in front of a friendly judge, so I would not imagine tht jail time is very likely, although a name like Okomunde would make a jailhouse memoir into a guaranteed best-seller.

We have to give credit for the cops who successfully prosecuted and executed their part of what we might call 'Operation Donkey Dunk'.

Stale Aire with Terri Gross

Are you like me? Are you a conservative who hates himself for occasionally (or often) turning the radio dial to National Public Radio only to get whacked in the head with obvious bias?

With most NPR features, the bias manifests itself in story selection. For example, we must have a million different angles on the quagmire of Iraq. My radio station would say, "Assume lots of horrible crap is taking place all the time. We'll update you when the situation changes."

Terri Gross and Fresh Aire is my least favorite of the bunch. She interviews all kinds of people (liberal and conservative) in a long program. One interesting feature: When she interviews conservatives (like Grover Norquist), you can FEEEEEEL the tension. When she interviews any liberal figure they're just chatting like old buddies. Wow, is it irritating.

Listen and tell me I'm wrong. Better yet, don't bother. If you'd like to have the NPR quality and tone without the annoying content, go to NPR alum Ken Myers' Mars Hill Audio. They have a tape subscription service that absolutely rocks. Check that out.

Gen-X Carson React

Yes, there is no news today. Blogging is at an absolute standstill. Thus, for the first time (I think), I go into celebrity commentary.

Johnny Carson is memorable to me for a few reasons. The first is sartorial. The man wore the tightest cut sportcoats I've ever seen. Though he was reed slender, his sportcoats were always very closely fitted to his shoulders, chest, and waist. My father used to complain about a salesman at a men's store who got him to buy a suit that was far too tight by pushing it as being "Johnny Carson style."

Second, I reflect on the guests of Carson's show. Except for new comedians, I always recognized the guests on The Tonite Show. I am thoroughly convinced there were far fewer celebrities back then so that it was possible to know them all. It makes sense. You had three channels and the movies for most of the run. Very different from today's celeb universe where you could never watch MTV and consequently not know many apparently "famous persons."

Third, is his significance as a cultural marker. For many of us, Carson signaled forbidden territory. Bedtime occurred well before Ed made the big introduction, so to actually see Johnny on screen or hear the monologue seemed like a great privilege, even if you didn't get the jokes.

Fourth, is the Letterman-Leno fiasco that followed Johnny's retirement. I'm a Letterman guy. I just find him more entertaining. Can't be helped. He is the natural heir. Neither Carson nor Letterman were classic stand-up comedy guys like Leno, who could jump right back into standing in front of a brick wall with "The Improv" in neon. Both Johnny and Dave easily got as many laughs from their mannerisms or reaction to telling a lame joke as they did from punchlines.

Letterman also has a natural "in" with people in my age group (late 20's to early to mid 30's). His original show following Carson was arguably the best and most original thing on television many nights of the week. The Top Ten List is still one of the better gags around. Plus, he captured the 80's beautifully with his curly, disheveled hair and sportcoats worn with basketball sneakers. You can still watch those shows today and get a tremendous charge of nostalgia. I'm not sure you'll be able to say that about anything associated with Jay Leno, who is apparently a very nice and funny guy.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Tonight No Show

Johnny Carson has passed on, as too Rosemary Woods. In memoriam, look for Leno to observe eighteen minutes of silence tomorrow night.

Once and forever, Johnny took the neb out of Nebraska. Rest in peace.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Danny Boy, Forget The Pipes And Hang Around

In honor of Daniel, our preacher friend who always contributes delightful and insightful comments to enhance our work, I offer the following reminiscence.

Back in 1992 and 1993, I was asked twice to spend the weekend in Manhattan to be part of a lecture program. The friend who invited me lived in cramped quarters, so he arranged for me to stay at the capacious home of a Jewish philanthropist named A. C. Nussbaum who, if I am not mistaken, has since sold that apartment and moved to Israel.

Interestingly enough, both times I was there, a year apart, he had the same house guest staying the next room over. This was a young man named Daniel, whom I had met about a decade earlier. Daniel is a friend of my first cousin, who introduced me to him circa 1982. Since then, I had often run into him and exchanged pleasantries.

In fact, one night in 1991 or so, I had encountered him in a restaurant in Brooklyn, at which time he told me that he had recently been divorced. I offered him some briefly mumbled sympathies. Being a divorcee myself, people expect me to empathize and draw comparisons to my own experience, but I am fairly adept at avoiding that unless cornered.

Back to 1992 and 1993, when I remeet Daniel at Nussbaum's. He more or less joined me in my schedule, walking me to various neighborhood places of interest and then attending my lectures. Additionally, we spent quite a bit of time conversing back at the Nussbaums' apartment.

What emerged was that he was still very much enamored of his ex-wife and simultaneously despairing over ever finding someone else. I spoke to him a great deal in an effort to encourage him and help to rebuild his confidence.

Some years passed and I was living in Cincinnati. One night in 1995 or so the phone rings and it's Daniel.

"You have no idea how hard I had to work to track down your phone number. But I felt that I had to call you to tell you the good news that I'm engaged to be married to a wonderful woman. I'm very happy and I wanted you to know that I feel that it is only because of what you told me that I had the strength to keep looking and keep hoping."

"Really? What did I tell you that you found so meaningful?"

He reminded me that I had shared with him the words of the Midrash, which says that there are three characters in Scriptures who saw their world built, then destroyed, and then rebuilt again. These are Noah, Job and Daniel. Noah lived in the antediluvian world, experienced the devastation of the Flood, and then rebuilt the world along with his children. Job succeeded in building up wealth and a family only to lose it all, yet he later managed to recreate both, even exceeding his prior attainments. Daniel lived as a young boy in the last days of the First Temple, saw it destroyed and was exiled in Babylon; as an older man, he was able to see the Second Temple standing.

"Since your name is Daniel," I told my friend, "perhaps this will be your fate."

Now he is happily married with at least one child by his current wife.

Afflatus Or Succubus?

Lately I have been pondering a great deal upon the nature and quality of inspiration, particularly poetic.

The Talmud's distinction between psalms that begin "A song for David" and those that begin "For David, a song" is fascinating. When the inspiration comes first, the song precedes the name. When the person has to begin writing before the inspiration is quite there, then the name comes first.

It would be interesting to hear from other writers about the times the spirit moves them to write as opposed to the times they are obligated to start writing without being yet in the mood.

Christianity Today Article on Baylor Is Up

I had about 40 minutes to write this piece for Christianity Today on Friday. Check it out.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Chatty Lawrence

I think Lawrence Henry of American Spectator Online is a magnificent conversational author. Although I've emailed him several times, I hold out hope of meeting him for a meal and perhaps a cigar at some point in the future (even though I hate cigars). Here's his latest on napping.

Baylor President Sloan Resigns

Robert Sloan has resigned the presidency of Baylor University. Christianity Today called and asked me to do an online piece about it.

The good news is that Sloan will become Chancellor and will continue to push the university's revolutionary vision. The not so small world of Christian academicians will be watching and waiting to see who will become the next President. Those opposed to the vision pretended that Dr. Sloan was the problem. We'll see how their strategy evolves now that he has abandoned the thankless task of being a lightning rod.

Some Shameless Self-Promotion

Here is a link (registration required) to my latest op-ed, from today's Los Angeles Times. It deals with the federal pricing scheme for pharmaceuticals for many federally-funded health programs, that of the Department of Veterans Affairs in particular. What many call a "negotiation" is actually a price control regime. That it is The Children who will suffer from the future reduced availability of drugs---caused by current price controls and attendant reductions in R&D---has not stopped the Lefties from advocating such "negotiation." Comments welcome.


Speaking of El Rushbo . . .

I wrote a couple of interesting (yes, I do say so myself) columns about the Maharishi for American Spectator Online during the controversy that followed the talker's comments about Donovan McNabb. The short version is that he was wrong about McNabb, but the witch hunt atmosphere that followed was overblown and a symptom of a society that has lost its sense of real sin. You can read the first one here and the second one here. Here's an excerpt from the first piece:

I have a theory about why Rush’s brief remarks have unleashed so much antagonism. Many will believe it’s just about liberals trying to bring a big conservative down. That’s part of the story, but there’s something larger underneath. Every society must have taboos. We need to know the difference between sins and virtues so we can order our lives and live in community. In short, knowing what is right and wrong is the key to social order.

America has witnessed a radical re-ordering of our conception of what is good and bad. Socially useful taboos like unmarried cohabitation, having children out of wedlock, adultery, consumption of pornography, and divorce have all been transformed into acceptable activities through a powerful shove from the cultural elite and correspondingly widespread practice. G.K. Chesterton once famously complained about the rich preaching their vices to the poor and introducing them to ruin. He was right. The old sins aren’t sins any more and we’ve paid a certain price for that. Just ask any child of a single mother who hosts a series of transient males in the home.

But sins don’t disappear and leave a vacuum. We have a moral sense and we will exercise it on something. The ever-considerate cultural elite did not leave us empty-handed. Commandments they destroyed have been replaced by others more favorable to people of fashion. The sin that now stands center stage is the improperly crafted negative remark about anything having to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, or non-dominant religions.

When some unlucky soul crosses that line, it’s over. I’ll never forget the display of mass hatred and judgment I witnessed at a game between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves when John Rocker ran onto the field. The anger and disapproval that cascaded from the stands was a palpable force that lasted the entire time Rocker was on the field. Not surprisingly, the young reliever (beyond redemption, apparently) performed poorly and left the game fairly quickly. I was embarrassed to be there.

While the effect of this dynamic on individuals is devastating, the implications for public policy are worse. We now seem incapable of rational discourse. Instead, debate has been replaced by a series of hostile encounters and gotcha moments. We don’t talk to each other so much as we circle warily and look for a moment of weakness so we can gain leverage.

The cost is too high. We should refuse to pay it and look for another, more useful way to employ our moral judgment. The founders envisioned the clash of factions and a marketplace of ideas where truth would eventually emerge. Let’s have that instead of the despicable elementary school game that seems to be the rule of the day.

Judgment To Rush

Speaking of talk show hosts, I always laugh when people tell me that they don't listen to Rush Limbaugh because he is arrogant. Rush and I have mutual friends, and no one feels that he is the least bit arrogant as a person. These people are unable to distinguish performance schtick from reality. Rather pathetic.

A cute thing happened to Rush today - twice. He created a Spoonerism. Trying to say faith-based, he twice said face-bathed. He caught himself and for the rest of that discussion he enunciated 'faith-based' very gingerly.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A City Of Two Tales

Well, I sensed this morning that today would be a banner day for me, a personal 'day of inauguration' if you will. Sure enough, I succeeded in finishing a short story, fairly long at 11,000 words, that is #6 in a book that is projected to include 12 stories.

Remember, folks, I'm counting on you to get behind me if I get it sold and make my way around this great country on a book tour. The weather is still gorgeous in Miami, so I guess that we should push ahead today and start Story #7....

The Conversation Killer . . .

Ross Douthat once said the most shocking thing you can say to an atheist/agnostic is not that you believe in God, but rather, that you believe in demons. On his weblog, he uses the thought to introduce three books on the subject.

M.Scott Peck wrote two of them. He broached the idea in People of the Lie, his study of evil. The second is his final book A Glimpse of the Devil. I was so fascinated by People I had to pick up longtime Vatican insider Malachi Martin's book Hostage of the Devil, which absolutely makes the worst bedtime reading imaginable. Martin's accounts of real-life exorcisms are anything but Hollywood.

Peck's early account was far less graphic, but still chilling. He apparently decided to study exorcisms scientifically from his perch as a psychiatrist. The new book is the result. If anyone has read it, I'd be interested in feedback. I'm going to give in to the impulse to buy it soon.

Bush's Way

Michael Tackett provides a very good analysis of George Bush's governance style in today's Chicago Tribune. Despite the president's support for some traditionally Democrat items such as Medicare prescription drug coverage, Tackett argues that Bush is anything but a compromiser. He quotes University of Chicago political science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell:

"This is a president that came into the White House, and many on the progressive left thought, `He is coming in by the narrowest of margins. Even if we don't like this guy, we have nothing to fear.' . . . But that is not how he governed at all. He always had a sense of destiny. This is a president who personally and theologically thinks he has a mission."

Tackett notes that Bush tends to decide what he wants and then rely on strong support from Republicans in Congress to get it. The writer expects Bush to suffer from the types of problems most second-term presidents have, however, as competitors in the president's own party break with him in an effort to prove their independence and stake positions for their own presidential hopes.

This phenomenon may be exacerbated, I would add, by the fact that Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, does not serve as an anointed successor. However, Tackett notes that although Bush's will surely will be tested during the next four years, the weakness of the Democrats' opposition will tempt him to "swing for the fences," as Tackett quotes former Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty as saying.

The article makes a good case for the notion that Bush is rather more complex than we tend to think.

Buckley, I've Got a Job For You

Bill Buckley's National Review did a great service for the conservative movement by reading out anti-Semites, over-zealous John Birchers (who thought Eisenhower was red -- a Commie for you teeny boppers who think red is right-wing), and Ayn Rand (for whom the dollar sign was a holy symbol). It's time for someone to do the same with Michael Savage.

He's on my drive time radio and his brand of conservative talk just leaves me feeling dirty. He plays on racial fears and punches the immigration button with way too much enthusiasm. He's also not exactly polite when it comes to discussing the questions of sexual orientation. This is the guy who told a critical gay caller that he "should get AIDS and die."

If we are going to have any chance of preserving the best of our culture, we'll do it by engaging in what Robert George calls "the strongest possible lines of argument." That would rule out constant resort to demagoguery. Let's be done with this character.

Amber Bird Has Spoken

It's not possible to conceive more beautiful weather. It is 70 degrees and sunny in a perfectly clear sky this fine Miami morn.

Everything looks so beautiful... the flowers... the palm trees letting us all nestle in their gentle shade... everything looks so... amber!

What a day this will be. A day of life and love and smiles and joy and creativity, a day to relish, a day to remember.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

All The Noose That's Fit To Print

No greater testimony to the cultural power of The Reform Club may be adduced than today's Miami Herald. One day after the great Hunter Baker raised the specter of a Jeb presidency in these precincts, the Herald, in a paroxysm of dread, felt compelled to post the following as its front-page lead headline: BUSH FLORIDA BUDGET UP 4 BILLION FOR 2005.

And this subhead (believe it or not!): New Plan Cuts Taxes For Wealthy, Services For Needy; Raises Tuition.

Hunter said "presidential timber" and these boys said, "Cut him down." Yep, they're hoping to hear us say: "Timbeeeeeeeerrrrrrrr.....!" Sometimes a great notion, Mr. Baker.

The New Worst Cartoon Ever

If you'd like to get really angry, then follow this link. If it appeared in your local paper, shame on you if you haven't already sent the letter to the editor.

Hint: It's about Condi Rice.

Glazed and Confused . . .

I knew something was wrong when I walked into a Krispy Kreme several months back and they were handing out free, hot doughnuts. What kind of strategy is that? I'm in the building. Nobody browses at Krispy Kreme. After they provided samples to me and my guests, we weren't that interested any more. The edge was off. The jones was slaked. If you're gonna do free samples, get out the toothpicks and the carefully cubed cross-sections. Handing out whole doughnuts is bad for business when the impulse buy is critical.

Nuts For Dough

Krispy Kreme has announced the firing of its chief executive, Scott Livengood, for expanding the company too quickly and financial irregularities. I guess he ain't livin' so good now.

Apparently, he miscalculated national demand by surveying Hunter Baker's consumption and then extrapolating from that to the rest of the country. Takes a lot of glaze to get that Cary Grant look going.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The GOP and Social Conservatives

The Bullmoose and our loyal "gadfly" as Mr. Homnick recently called him, Tlaloc, wonders to what extent Reform Clubbers think the GOP simply uses social conservatives or "the religious right" without actually being interested in their issues. Mr. Homnick has expressed agreement with the idea.

I'm on the other end of the spectrum. Not only do I think the GOP is interested in enacting a socially conservative agenda, I think the GOP is now dominated by social conservatives and those who are fellow travelers. Part of the reason W. is so strongly supported by conservative Christians is their visceral sense that he *is* one of them. He talks the talk comfortably (which is rare for him) and appears to walk the walk. He can provide real evidence of redemption in his personal life and has clearly shown that he is a man with strong core convictions.

Those who have difficulty with social conservatives in the party usually disagree more as a matter of aesthetics than on substance. Conservatives have always felt freedom requires a corresponding emphasis on virtue, so it's a good fit. Stridency is more often the problem than powerful policy disagreement. The better "religious right" types get at articulating their message, the stronger the ideological fit between the GOP and their concerns will become. We're already miles ahead of the old Falwell/Robertson days, when perhaps religious concerns really were a sort of window dressing, except with regard to abortion where Reagan might reasonably be said to have been adamantine as a President with a very clear position.

Recognizing Jeb's Potential

Despite having a terrible political name, Jeb Bush (the Jeb, not the Bush) is probably the best hope for the GOP in 2008. Dick Morris thinks Condi is the only one who could beat Hillary, but I'm with Matt Towery who thinks Jeb has all the tools. Check out his column on the superb job Jeb has done as Florida's governor.

For the record, I'd be freakishly pleased to see Condi run, too. I just don't buy the idea that Americans wouldn't elect three Bushes to the Presidency. People like stability and they like brand names. Bush has become a pretty good brand name in politics. It ain't Reagan, but it's pretty good.

Ralph Reed for Lt. Gov. in Georgia?

Haley Barbour currently resides in the Mississippi Governor’s mansion, so I don’t see why Reed’s political operative status should be much of a barrier. The state party was pretty much moribund until he took over as chairman and had great success in 2002. The Washington Times suggests Reed is getting ready to move into elected office. We’ll see.

I once met Ralph Reed after missing him in my job interview at his firm (Yes, I was eventually offered a research/writing job, but I was already better employed). He was at the Capitol observing Democrat redistricting in action (which didn't work out the way they hoped). My recollection is that he was extremely handsome, much better than he appears on television. He was also quite personable. Like a good politico, he remembered a mutual friend we share and gave me the time of day.

If he has the right temperament, I think this could be a good move. He’s well-practiced at handling the press and is a bonafide intellectual. Remember that he’s got an Emory Ph.D. hanging on the wall. The Pat Robertson adventure short-circuited an academic career before it started.

Roy Moore, Next Governor of Alabama?

The Mobile Register has a story reporting that former Alabama Chief Justice is easily the choice of state Republicans and has a high approval rating statewide.

Although I'm in favor of allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public spaces, I'm not encouraged by this news. On the one hand, Moore is a determined man faithful to his convictions. On the other, I suspect he may be a bit of a loose cannon.

Time will tell, but I think the state's business elite will turn on Moore like they did Fob James and a moderate Democrat will be elected. We'd certainly get an interesting race out of it, with grist for the dissertation mill galore!

Divided by Jerks

P.J. O'Rourke (for my money easily the best political humorist around) has a biting alternative inaugural address he would like to see Bush deliver. After reading it, I wish he'd deliver it, too. His thesis is that America is divided because there are jerks living here. He arranges the speech around the Ten Commandments. Here's a smidge:

We are all sinners. But jerks revel in their sins. You can tell by their reaction to the Ten Commandments. Post those Ten Commandments in a courthouse or a statehouse, in a public school or a public park, and the jerks go crazy. Why is that? Christians believe in the Ten Commandments. So do Muslims. Jews, too, obviously. Show the Ten Commandments to Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, or to people with just good will and common sense and nobody says, "Whoa! That's all wrong!"

And another . . .

"Thou shalt not kill." Why, in the opinion of jerks, is it wrong to kill a baby but all right to kill a baby that's so little he hasn't been born yet? And why do the same jerks who favor abortion oppose the death penalty? We can imagine people so full of loving kindness that they can accept neither the abortionist nor the executioner. We can even imagine people so cold-hearted that they embrace them both. But it takes a real jerk to argue in favor of killing perfect innocents and letting Terry Nichols live.

Confound It, Archie, Bring Me Some Beer, I'm Thinking!

The hardest thing about reading news from Israel is the sheer uncertainty. When Israelis are killed by terrorists, you know that's bad news. But beyond that you can never tell.

Palestinian election - good news or bad news? Abbas winning - good news or bad news? Sharon cutting off ties - good news or bad news? Abbas calling for an end to terrorism - good news or bad news? A sign of a new moderation? Or a new con game?

It's easy to say that only God knows. But somehow He expects us to navigate this - how?

Believe it or not, when the Talmud lists the problems in the pre-Messianic period and says that "we have no one to lean on but our Father in Heaven" there is one commentary that explains that this is part of the problem, the fact that we think we cannot contribute to ameliorating our destiny.

In other words, a person of utmost good will trying to derive a plan for living day-to-day based on that quotation cannot even be certain if it's telling him that there's nothing he can do or that he MUST bestir himself to do something.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Curing Race Schism

We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day today, and well we might, considering that we no longer judge people by the choler of their kin, as in the Hatfield-McCoy days, but by their contentious characters, like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

But more seriously, I think that we can learn a lot not only from the fact that we have defeated racism everywhere except inside the Democratic Party, but by the WAY in which we accomplished that objective. As long as the culture said that racists were bad, they were able to hang on, because we have a lot of tolerance for badness under the rubric of roguish and cool, but once we said they were stupid, they either shut up or disappeared.

Just Back From Houston . . .

I want to take back at least some of the horrible things I've always had to say about Houston. I lived there for four years in an apartment near the Astrodome. In other words, NOT PRESTIGE REAL ESTATE. We had a veteran's hospital nearby and a seriously nasty, worn-down hotel with extremely non-glamourous prostitutes soliciting out front. I was in law school. The wife was doing an OB-GYN residency. Our annual income was about 1/3 the total our debt, which was growing. She was working 80-100 hours every week.

Having just visited H-town to see some old friends, I feel I have been unfair. Houston is a nicer city than I gave it credit for being. It's no Vancouver, mind you, but it's okay. This I believe.

Another Thoroughly Conventional Right-Wing Comment . . .

It's conventional, but relevant and important. Michael Crichton made an impact on the sexual harassment debate with Disclosure and may do the same with his current novel State of Fear. In both books, he makes news with his concluding comments following the story. In the latest volume, he takes on the global warming hystericists. The Hearland Institute (where our own S.T. Karnick plies his editorial craft) has a nice summary of Crichton's remarks. Here's a sample:

"The current near-hysterical preoccupation with safety is at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and at worst an invitation to totalitarianism."

"[T]he thinking of environmental activists ... seems oddly fixed in the concepts and rhetoric of the 1970s."

"We need a new environmental movement, with new goals and new organizations."

My own suspicion is that the environmental movement has been damaged by an infusion of post-Soviet Marxists looking for a way to hamper the expansion of capitalism. Conservation is a thoroughly laudable goal, but it must not pursued in such a way as to destroy national economies. We've had enough of the centrally planned and controlled economic models of the past. There are many ways environmentalists can succeed using the incentives of the free-market to achieve their goals. It is that sort of new movement to which Crichton likely refers.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Thought? A feeling? An Impulse? Something.

Lately I have found myself pondering the Jewish theological model that parallels love with kindness and fear with justice. I find it very fascinating when you look at actual life experience through this prism, extraordinarily edifying.

Briefly, this is the sketch.

We say that the initial act by God in creating the universe is an expansive act, hence the universe expands (a feature of Jewish theology at least a millennium ahead of the astronomers' discovery of same). Then there is a second act, that limits the expansion at a certain point.

Each individual person represents a microcosm of the universe. The impulse by which he expands his private universe is called "love" in emotions (heart) and "compassion" in consciousness (soul). The capacity to draw lines that will not be crossed is called "fear" in emotions and "justice" (sometimes "strength" is substituted) in consciousness.

Think about your relationships with love as a force reaching out and fear as a force holding back. I find it to be an amazing model to predict human behavior and experience.

A Word Of Caution

Apropos of nothing at all, I wanted to issue a call to my colleagues and readers to avoid letting their children skip grades in school. I know there are a lot of very bright people here, and presumably their children will be likewise.

Some of you may know my history, that I graduated high school at age 14.

Later, at age 20, I was in the room when a child prodigy who had been pushed and pushed by his parents went insane. He was 16.

He is still alive, a gibbering hulk fueled by psychotropic medications.

My children have all stayed with their age-appropriate grade level. They have the pleasures that I never had, being best in class, always having high grades, valedictorian etc. I'm grateful to have been able to give them that.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

This I Believe (4)

That the highest grossing songs of the 20th Century were Cats In The Cradle by Harry Chapin and In The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics (not in cash, silly, I mean in Heaven; because every time you hear the former you're nicer to your kids and every time you hear the latter you're nicer to your parents)... this I believe.

This I Believe (3)

That if you only get to read one autobiography of the 20th Century, it should be Witness by Whittaker Chambers. If you have time for one more, it should be A Child Of The Century by Ben Hecht (I promise you'll thank me for this)... this I believe.

Friday, January 14, 2005

This I Believe (2)

That One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey is the best novel of the 20th Century.... this I believe.

A New Feature: This I Believe

In the tradition of Trailing Edge Film Reviews, I'm initiating a new feature under the inspiration of Walker Percy. The title is This I Believe. Here's today's declaration:

Abba's Swedish pop sensibility is far more entertaining than anything the Rolling Stones have ever done. This . . .I believe.

I believe I should probably also find a new address before music critic S.T. Karnick comes knocking.

Where Do I Go To Get My Friend Back?

It is not often that life hands you a chance to stand behind your declared principle - immediately following the declaration!

In my column entitled Fingering Armstrong's Handouts, published in Wednesday's American Spectator on line, I made the point that those of us writing on the right wing of the political spectrum are willing to forgo heftier paychecks elsewhere for the sake of maintaining integrity. But I added the modifier: "...although we struggle every day..."

Sure enough, life saw fit to put me to the test.

I play Scrabble on line at games.com and I have painstakingly built myself up to a 1983 rating. The only people with 2000 ratings or higher are literally international champions. It is the equivalent of grandmaster in chess.

So many games had been lost to me by flukes like my computer crashing when it was my turn and the system reading it as a resignation. I could very well have constructed a rationale that said that I had really earned the 2000 and was being thwarted by technical accidents.

Tonight, I was playing an opponent who is known to me personally, the Scrabble champion of a country in Europe. Due to the time difference, it was morning where that person was. Because of their high rating, I would receive 20 points if I won, catapulting me to 2003. However, if they resign, although they lose the 20 points, I do not gain it; that is the system.

Toward the end of the game, my opponent made a move that in my view was defensible as a gamble, but it created an opening for the letter E on the Triple Word Score line. It cost me the E, the Q, and a blank, to make EQUID for 49 points and an insurmountable lead late in the game.

Suddenly, my opponent informs me that the opening was not created as a tactical gamble but as an intentional gift to throw me the game so that I would reach 2000. So there it was: in a flash, I was walking in Armstrong Williams' shoes.

I refused to accept the gift; I knew that you would expect it of me. I offered to unrate the game (an allowable option); my opponent refused, said that I was demonstrating "shockingly bad form" in refusing their gesture.

I said, "But I won't be 2000 if I haven't really won the game." That did not go over real big.

So I gave up the points. My opponent resigned.

I gave up the friendship, too, most probably. It was a great honor and pleasure for me to be acquainted with this genuine champion: gone.

Not much left. Just a much-soiled threadbare mantle of integrity, at least until the next time I fail.

But my column at the Spectator... I can leave up for one more day. Just this once, the tempter came and I did not bite.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Fetter-All Courts And 'opin' For A Mind

Judge Clarence Cooper has ruled that it was un-Constitutional for the Cobb County school district to have affixed a small sticker to the inside of its science textbooks. It read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

How does it feel, folks, to be living in a country that sees (at least in its judicial outlook) this phrasing as an encroachment of religion upon science?

If you scroll down to Monday, January 10, to a piece entitled The Paradoxical Critique, you will see that there are "9 comments". Read those comments and you will see a physicist taking on Hunter and myself on the question of Intelligent Design. I will make no further comment except to promise that you will gain insight into two different approaches toward employing the human mind as a resource for living. (You might want to remember that I have an essay espousing Intelligent Design which is published in a college philosophy textbook called Philosophy: An Introduction Through Literature available through Paragon, the publisher, or Amazon.com.)

Buzz for Miracle Cure

Miracle Cure is a new book by Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute that takes on the question of uninsured individuals and reform of the health care system. I've just had the chance to read some reviews and comments by Walter Williams about the book, but it looks like a very serious critical analysis of American and Canadian health care. No lame talk show sloganeering, here. This looks like the real deal. She's got endorsements from Milton Friedman and Steve Forbes, both of whom have been known to take an interest in innovative policy development. Here's a nice excerpt from Williams' column about the book:

"The recently published 'Miracle Cure,' by Sally Pipes, president of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, exposes health-care myths while explaining why the sometimes-touted Canadian style health care isn't the answer. Myth: Uninsured individuals have no access to medical care. Fact: It turns out that in 2004 uninsured Americans received $125 billion of health care, of which $41 billion was provided totally free of charge. Myth: Skyrocketing prescription drugs are driving health-care spending up. Fact: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as a whole, Americans spend about 1 percent of their income on drugs. Seniors spend about 3 percent on drugs, less than the amount they spend on entertainment. Spending on drugs, as a percent of total health-care spending, was 10 percent in 1960. It's roughly the same today."

The link I've provided at the top of this post takes you to a page where you can get much more indepth information about the book, including the full 10 myths and facts about health care in the press kit. If Mr. Karnick were still putting out American Outlook, I'm sure he'd have a nice article by Ms. Pipes out in the next issue.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Armstrong's Cashout

Our fellow Reform Club contributor Jay Homnick has an article in today's issue of the American Spectator, "Fingering Armstrong's Handouts," in which he discusses the disturbing case of the talk-show host Armstrong Williams accepting a quarter of a million dollars to promote the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education reform initiative. I have no objection whatever to Armstrong having accepted money to produce a couple of advertisements for the administration, but what is highly unseemly is that, according to a USA Today story, the contract contains a clause requiring Armstrong "to regularly comment . . . during the course of his broadcasts."

I'm aware that countless other journalists have made an incalculable amount of money by being on the payrolls of politicians, business, activist groups, and the like, but that doesn't make it right. This is a matter of selling influence. If Armstrong would have been inclined to comment positively on the administration's plan anyway, then taking the money is fraud, because in accepting payment for the activity, he implied that he was doing them an exclusive service. And if he took the money knowing that he would not otherwise have commented positively on the administration's plan, he has deceived his audience by saying things that were not his real thoughts.

By signing that contract—if it truly contained the clause the USA Today reported, or something like it—Armstrong has unquestionably forfeited his credibility as a journalist.

The issue of money and journalism is a complex one, but this story is, alas, all too simple, if true.

The Weighty Issue

In my own self-defense, I post the link to what I still consider to be the best thing I ever wrote. Follow this link to "I Might Be a Giant." I'll also include the slightly less funny, but still worth reading "A Big and Tall Tale."

"Around" The World With Hunter Baker

This news just in from the Hunter Baker Fan Club:

(Official communique of HBFC)
In a thinly veiled attack on Hunter Baker, the United States Department of Agriculture has announced that Americans need to lose weight.

In related news, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman has denounced Hunter Baker for calling her "a nag". We wish to report Hunter's denial and clarification. What he actually said was, "No Secretary in Ag can tell me what not to eat."

He did not say, "No Secretary, a nag....."

The Baylor Meme

is gaining momentum. The Hugh Hewitt-inspired blog Evangelical Outpost has picked up the story and run with it. I'm hoping some of the rest of the Hewittverse will kick in and do their part. No one should underestimate the importance of having at least one true research university giving serious consideration to the Christian perspective.

One negative point though is that commenters from other Christian colleges have knocked Baylor out of loyalty to their own schools. This is not a competition, guys and gals. Wheaton, Calvin College, etc. are not making any effort to reach research university and doctoral granting status. They've got their niche covered well, but we need this more comprehensive approach.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Passing" Along An Open Question

This patriarchal blog seems like a prime venue for posing the following question to my colleagues and to male or female readers. What exactly constitues making a "pass" at a woman?

Many times a woman will tell me that so-and-so made a pass at her. On a few occasions I was so foolhardy as to ask what the pass consisted of and how one is sure that it was indeed a "pass". This query is inevitably greeted with frosty condescension: "Don't you think I know what a pass is?"

Well, you may well know, sweetheart, but I sure as heck don't.

Incidentally, because I have a number of actresses and models as friends, I occasionally hear about celebrities who made such passes. One of the reasons why I have never included any of these in my journalism is because I am frankly an agnostic about this whole "pass" business and suspect that women often magnify more-or-less innocent comments into this category. (Only once did I hear about a celebrity who "pawed" a friend of mine; yes, you guessed right, he is now a governor.)