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

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Culture Watch—The Simpsons

In next Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, the town of Springfield legalizes same-sex marriage, and one of the central characters of the series will take advantage of the opportunity. Who that character will turn out to be has been a matter of intense debate in some circles, and it will be even more interesting to see what kind of attitude the story takes toward the issue. It is interesting, for example, why the town decides to legalize the marriages: to increase money from tourism. Simpsons executive producer Al Jean was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying, "We don't take a position as much as explore everybody's positions." We'll find out next Sunday on Fox.

Shall It Be The Truth?

Those who share our interest in the portrayal of religious characters in fiction will want to read Wendy Shalit's spirited response in today's Jewish World Review to those who attacked her New York Times Book Review survey of books about observant Jews.

If you have not read the original article, never fear, today's article offers you that link in its opening line. Please accept my strong recommendation; this is well worth your while.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Retirement of Jerry Falwell . . .

I should say, "the much anticipated retirement of Jerry Falwell." The man is not an effective spokesman for Christian conservatives. I think that much of what drove me to enter the world of Christian public policy and now Christian higher education was the feeling that Falwell and guys like him were failing us all. He can't quit soon enough for me.

Today, I happened onto the Sean Hannity show on the radio. Jerry Falwell and Christian lefty Jim Wallis were going at it. Actually, I should say that Wallis was explaining his left-wing politics while affirming pro-life and pro-traditional marriage views. Falwell was all over him, simply refusing to have a conversation. He insisted that Wallis explain where he goes to church, what time they meet, the address of the church, you get the drift. It was just embarrassing. I'm even more disappointed that Hannity would choose Falwell as the counterpoint. Can't blame that on the liberal media.

Falwell has been effectively taken down in Tucker Carlson's book Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News. Carlson says cable news hosts desperately need guests who will drop anything, including a child's birthday party to show up for even a few seconds of air time. He places Falwell in that camp and was disappointed to visit Falwell for an interview and find that instead of an interesting discussion about the growth of the religious right as a factor in American politics, he got a recitation of all the people in television Falwell knows.

You want an evangelical for television and radio? Get Hugh Hewitt. Get Mark Noll. Get George Marsden. Jerry Falwell has had more than enough.

Trouble Is Real

Since Israel -and my one-time residence there- has emerged as a theme today, I would like to address two events that relate to that region.

First, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, and billionaire-at-large, Rafik Hariri, by a massive bomb that bespeaks a patron with deep pockets, large staging areas, and effective penetration. The prime suspect is, of course, Syria, a nominally separate country that is actually the suzerain of Lebanon. Hariri resigned his post last autumn because of a dispute with his Syrian bosses. This would seem to be the fallout from the fall falling-out.

Please permit me to recall to your memory the fact that the act which broke the back of independent Lebanese sovereignty was the bomb which killed Bashir Gemayel during the victory party the night he was elected (with Israel's backing) Prime Minister in 1982. This led to the Sabra-and-Shatila massacre and a state of civil war which was only stopped, or at least contained, when Amin Gemayel, milquetoast brother of the charismatic Bashir, agreed to serve as Syria's stooge and occupy his brother's position with no real power.

Second, the report in the Jerusalem Post, not widely circulated here, that Abbas has agreed to unfreeze the bank accounts of Hamas in return for some undisclosed agreement of cooperation with his government. That is probably a development that bears close scrutiny.

Withdrawals From West Bank

The news from Israel, being distributed widely across the wire services, is that terrible death threats by West Bank and Gaza settlers against government ministers have compelled Ariel Sharon to issue a crackdown order. Having resided in Israel myself for a few years (while Sharon was Defense Minister), permit me to decipher this report.

First of all, please note that one government minister received one nasty letter calling him an Arab-lover and one had the tires on his car slashed. How absurd is it to issue a national police order based on one anonymous letter?

The answer is that this is the Israeli equivalent of the Gulf-of-Tonkin method. It has been used frequently in the Israeli government playbook.

This is a simple trick designed to open the door for the government to harass a few settlers so as to soften them up for the eventual evacuation order. Sharon is a general who likes to play offense and do a small preemptive strike to avoid larger confrontations later. Perhaps I'll expand on this in an article later this week.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Getting Religion

In The American Scene, Ross Douthat has written a very insightful response to a "searing indictment of contemporary Christian mores," as he characterizes it, recently published in Books and Culture.

The Books and Culture article, by theology professor Ronald J. Sider, which appears in the January/February issue of the magazine and is available online, is called "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" and points out the great difference between what contemporary American evangelical Christians profess to believe and how they behave. Sider cites the now-familiar statistics about tithing, divorce, premarital sex, racism, etc. which show that American evangelical Christians are on the whole only slightly less sinful, according to evangelical doctrines, than other Americans. Sider observes that those churchgoers with the strongest Christian beliefs tend to live less sinful lives. Hence, the answer, Sider says, is to strengthen the faith of individual believers. Sider exhorts his fellow Christians to develop a "longing for holiness" and pray for a revival within the church that will strengthen individuals' beliefs.

It is an interesting article and one well worth reading, but Douthat's analysis of the piece goes to the heart of the matter: the Calvinist origins of American evangelicalism—

"In Protestantism [Douthat writes], and particularly among those churches with a Calvinist stamp, this reality of perptual fallen-ness has often clashed with the emphasis on a single 'born-again' moment, and with the expectation that once a Christian gains true faith, works will inevitably follow. The presence of sinfulness in a Christian community thus becomes an indictment of the community's faithfulness -- and this, in turn leads to what you might call the 'cycle of Protestantism,' in which purity-seeking believers are constantly founding new sects and religious colonies, which expand and thrive but also drift away from their original moral austerity, leading in turn to splinter movements and the founding of a newer, smaller, more austere communities (as New Haven was founded, for instance, as a refuge from the increasing worldliness of Puritan Boston).

"Or alternatively, the inevitable slide into moral laxity leads to a cycle of revivals, in which the community recommits itself to religious rigor for a time, only to drift away again eventually, setting the stage for another revival -- and so on, ad infinitum. And through it all, as the sects and splinter movements multiply, there remains an unspoken belief among the Calvinistically-inclined -- a belief, I might add, that permeates Sider's article -- that a more perfect community, a true and permanent 'City on the Hill,' is just another revival away.

"The Catholic Church, by contrast, takes a rather more tragic view of Christian imperfectability (a necessity, a Protestant might say snidely, given the Church's long history of Grand Inquisitors and Borgia Popes). Catholicism has its saints, of course, but they are exceptions to the rule -- the community of believers is understood to be a community of sinners, not a society of the perfected. The signs and signifiers of the divine reside not in the all-to[o]-human Catholics who show up (or don't) at Mass on Sundays, but in the mystical materials of the Church itself -- in doctrine, in scripture, and above all in the sacraments. There is an expectation that everyone will pray and strive for the sainthood that Sider urges on American Evangelicals, but it's joined to an awareness that most people aren't going to make it. (Hence Purgatory, incidentally . . .)

"The difficulty with the Catholic approach, though I think it's the right one, is that a recognition of the pervasiveness and permanence of sin can easily be elided into a winking, 'it's-not-so-bad' acceptance of sin. And we all know where that got us."

Douthat is entirely correct in his observation that cause of the disjunction between American Christians' beliefs and actions is to be found in evangelicalism's Calvinist origins, and that the weakness of Sider's case is his inability to get past that, which means that all he can do is call for more of the same, another revival within the church. The cycle must continue, if we follow Sider's reasoning.

The moral problem of Calvinism is a theological problem, however, and it is this. All Christians agree that human beings are inherently sinful, and all agree that God is the source of all good things, and of all good works by human beings. Hence, sanctification—the process of cleansing a person and making them holy—follows salvation, not the other way around. (That is to say, a person is not made acceptable to God—holy, clean, sinless—and then saved by God. God saves a person and then begins the process of cleansing and purifying that will be perfected upon each individual's death and entrance into Heaven.)

However, what I call the "magic moment" thesis of evangelical Christianity, in which a person participates in his own salvation in a sense, by "choosing" to "accept God into his life through faith in Christ" puts a huge amount of responsibility on the individual Christian. A Christian, according to Calvinism, must knowingly accept God. That sounds fine and sensible at first hearing, but if it is true, then inevitably a person is an active participant in his own salvation. If salvation requires both God's will and an individual's assent—even if we accept the premise, as Calvinists do, that assent will come only if God wishes it—the individual's act is still an essential part of the process.

The situation with good works is the same. Calvinists, correctly believing that church membership is not a sufficient proof of one's salvation, conclude that, as the apostle James noted, an individual's works are the evidence of one's relationship with God. Well and good. Unfortunately, the onus is then on each individual Christian to show the world that they are right with God. And here is the problem: given that the individual's assent to God's will is a central element in salvation, then it would seem that at least to some degree an individual's struggles with sin are not entirely in God's hands. After all, one must consent to being made holy. And if one is not entirely holy, who is at fault? Surely not God, who is all-powerful and perfectly good. The one who is at fault is the individual whose inherent depravity has caused him to resist God's efforts to sanctify him.

That is indeed the truth about sin, as all Christians would agree. The problem, of course, is that there is no way out of this trap once one enters it. The individual is responsible for his or her own sins, and although God has already forgiven them (as a consequence of the magic moment), no amount of human effort can fully dislodge the sinful impulses from an individual and stop their evil consequences.

Catholicism, as Douthat notes, has an answer. I should say that God's Word provides us with the answer, which Catholics and other pre-Calvin Christian denominations (such as Lutheranism) have not forgotten. It is this: the effectiveness of the Sacraments. Douthat notes that Catholics see God as working "in the mystical materials of the Church itself -- in doctrine, in scripture, and above all in the sacraments," but it is important to note that evangelicals accept the first two completely but have a distinctly different understanding of the sacraments. To them, the sacrament of baptism is an individual's response to salvation, which happens during the moment in which he accepts Christ into his heart.

Communion, similarly, for Calvinist-influenced Christians is a Christian's response to God: it is not a way for God to put something directly into the individual (specifically, the True Presence of the Lord in His body and blood), but rather a way for an individual to show God his personal devotion and witness to others that God is real and cares for each person, an act which God will reward by strengthening that person's faith.

For Christians with pre-Calvinist assumptions, however, the sacraments are real. (We do differ on the number of the sacraments, but all agree on at least two: baptism and communion.) For pre-Calvinist Christians, as I shall call this group for short, God actually works His power in us through the sacraments.

In baptism, the Holy Spirit of God is placed in the individual, and he or she is stamped as a child of God. The individual is taken into the Church universal, the body of Christ, and is thereafter perfectly free to stay or leave. But the actual entry does not require any action on the part of the believer. No act of assent is necessary. Hence, in pre-Calvinist thinking, the Christian has truly had no part whatsoever in his or her salvation. No one can take any credit for being saved, nor for any good works they do, nor even for remaining in the Church.

Of course, as Ross noted, this can give people a tendency toward latitudinarianism, given that all is so easily forgiven.

However, that need not be so, because of the other major sacrament: communion.

In communion, the presence of Christ is in the bread and wine (consubstantiation), or the elements are turned into the real body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation), and when a sincerely penitent believer partakes of them, that strength of God is placed in them anew. Here, too, God is doing all the work. Yes, the believers must confess their sins (privately to a priest or publicly in the liturgy), but God is truly doing the work of renewal.

I recall that Flannery O'Connor once said of evangelicals' idea about communion, "Well, if it's just symbolic, then I don't want no part of it!"

I can understand why, and in her charmingly tart way O'Connor set forth a crucial reason for the perennial laments about the Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience among evangelicals themselves. Evangelical theology places a huge amount of responsibility on the individual Christian, who is, after all, no more than a highly fallible human being who has been redeemed by God and remains always a work in progress. Pre-Calvinist Christians can proceed to the altar for refreshment and renewal, and need bring nothing to the table but their sincere repentance.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, after that "magic moment" in which they ask Christ to come into their life, are perpetually under the gun. Once saved, good works are supposed to follow inevitably, and every failure is a failure of the individual, certainly not of God.

All Christians agree that any sin is a consequence of human depravity, not a shortcoming of God's power or mercy. For evangelicals, however, there is no supernatural recourse, as there is for pre-Calvinist Christians. One can only continue try to try harder. And as both Ronald Sider and Ross Duthout note, at some point such self-sanctification becomes too great a burden to bear.

Given that evangelicals do indeed believe in the supernatural, I would suggest that there is a viable alternative to their agonizing "cycle of Protestantism." That is to recognize that there is true power in the sacraments. It will require a rethinking of very important doctrines, and it will surely subject both the individual and the Church to new hazards borne of human sin; but it will also, in the wonderfully paradoxical way that God often works, remove a great and unhappy impediment to Christians' achievement of "the peace that passes all understanding."

I'd consider that a trade well worth making.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Watch Your Mouth, Buddy!

The Blogosphere takes down another public figure for speaking intemperately. The Trent Lott treatment catches up with CNN's Eason Jordan right after taking down Dan Rather. Jordan just quit his top job with the left of center news network.

Friday, February 11, 2005

North Korean Nukes

It is exceedingly tempting to dismiss the various bellicose statements of North Korea's Kim government as just so much meaningless bluster, given the regularity of such emissions from Pyongyang.

I think, however, that what happened yesterday is very important, and specifically because the twofold announcement by Pyongyang seems to be based on a rational calculation of North Korea's current situation and highly plausible, from their perspective, fears of imminent U.S. action there.

As I have noted in an article on National Review Online today, North Korea's abrupt announcement yesterday that it has manufactured nuclear weapons and that it would not return to the U.S.-sponsored six-nation talks intended to prevent the isolated nation from developing such weapons is quite puzzling—at least initially.

Making one of the two announcements would have made great sense. But not both.

It would seem, after all, that the current negotiations need have no more effect than previous ones, if the North Koreans simply used them as a PR device and holding action while forging ahead with weapons development on the sly, as they have quite evidently done in the past. And if the North Koreans were to enter negotiations after announcing that they had developed working nuclear weapons, that would surely strengthen their hand. The talks would then become a conversation about what to do about the weapons, not whether to allow them to be developed.

Their action of yesterday fails to accomplish either of those things, and it isolates North Korea further from other nations. In particular, it is sure to infuriate the United States and Japan, two of the three major powers in the region. After hearing the statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, the governor of Tokyo scoffed and openly dared Pyongyang to fire a missile at Japan.

It seems unlikely, however, that it is a mere coincidence that North Korea should make this announcement and pull out of talks just a few days after the democratic elections in Iraq. (Feel free to put quotation marks around the word democratic if you wish.) In fact, it seems quite plausible that the Kim regime saw the recent comments by Secretary of State Rice as a warning that the United States was going to come after North Korea, and sooner than anyone might think.

The statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang has "manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" the nation. Thursday's New York Times reported that Pyongyang's statement "zeroed in in on Dr. Rice's testimony last month in her Senate confirmation hearings, where she lumped North Korea with five other dictatorships, calling them 'outposts of tyranny.'"

It seems plausible, then, that Pyongyang came to the conclusion that the United States and a coalition of other nations was about to do something that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Kim regime and a reunification of Korea on terms determined entirely by South Korea and its powerful allies. Yesterday's statement, then, was Pyongyang's way of forestalling such action by raising the stakes radically, in suggesting that any U.S. move to impose its will on North Korea would lead to the use, however inefficient and elementary, of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang.

It is not difficult to imagine what possible steps by a U.S.-led coalition North Korea was worried about—starting with economic sanctions and going on from there. In confirmation of this premise, note that today's New York Tmes article on the subject reported, "North Korea has warned the world that it considers economic sanctions a declaration of war."

And where did Pyongyang think China fit into this scenario? Evidently they envisioned Beijing protesting mightily but ultimately sitting on the sidelines, reluctant to endanger its enormous and lucrative foreign trade with the West by siding with North Korea.

If this is indeed something like the thought process that led to Thursday's announcement, the implications for the U.S.-led response are murky indeed. America can ill afford to let this pass without some form of action. However, anything substantive, including measures as apparently mild as a call for economic sanctions, will only assure Pyongyang that their interpretation of recent U.S. statements has been exactly correct.

Hence, the United States must simultaneously assure Pyongyang that we have no intention whatever of bringing down their government and that if North Korea does not suspend development of nuclear weapons we will indeed bring down their government. Squaring that circle now becomes the first great test for President Bush's second term and Condi Rice's tenure as Secretary of State. If there is an answer short of eventual war, it is by no means clear at this point what it could be.

Utter Journalistic Incompetence . . .

As a scholar-in-training, I've noticed that one must do a tremendous amount of research and just plain "breathing the air" of a subject to really get it right. The process has made me terribly suspicious of anything journalists write unless they've focused closely on a specific subject throughout their careers. Powerline confirmed my judgment yesterday:

Very few people realize how often mainstream media sources say things that just aren't true. Sometimes the reason is malice, more often it's ignorance or prejudice. A fascinating example of a libel directed against the Catholic church--undoubtedly the world's most frequently defamed institution--was brought to our attention by reader Matthew Kowalski. On New Year's Day, the Washington Post published an article by Jose Antonio Vargas titled "Seeking the Hand of God in the Waters". The article reported on various efforts to find theological meaning in the South Asian tsunami. The Post article included these paragraphs:

Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago, has written his 55th book, "When Faiths Collide," which he says should land in bookstores this week.
"It's only natural to repose yourself in the will of God," he says. "If you're a believer, then you must believe that God, somehow, is a presence in all of this. But God didn't tell anybody that you go through life without disasters."

Still, talk of religion's role in the disaster irks Marty. Following the devastation in Lisbon in 1755, priests roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God's wrath. That event "shook the modern world," he notes, changing people's idea of a benevolent, all-caring God.

The ludicrous assertion that priests had "roamed the streets" hanging people after the Lisbon earthquake was made by Vargas, and apparently passed by one or more editors at the Post without raising any questions. The claim was then picked up and repeated by a number of other news sources.

It struck at least one person odd, however: a woman named Theresa Carpinelli. In the Catholic Exchange, she tells the fascinating story of her effort to get to the bottom of this smear against her church. A casual reader of the paragraphs quoted above might attribute the "hanging" reference to Professor Marty. In fact, however, he was astonished to learn that the claim was being attributed to him. It appears that it may have originated in an unsourced, wholly imaginary Wikipedia entry. For reasons not yet explained, Vargas slipped it into his article in the midst of Professor Marty's comments. Ms. Carpinelli has corresponded with Vargas and the hoax has been exposed, but as far as I can determine, the Post has not run a correction.

The moral of the story is that news sources that are considered reliable by many people, like the Washington Post, in fact make a great many errors--some innocent, others not. If an assertion sounds outlandish, like the claim that roving bands of 18th century Catholic priests went about hanging people, realize that it may very well be a fabrication. (Or, to take another example, the claim that a Secretary of the Interior expressed the view that environmental preservation is unnecessary in view of the imminent end of the world.) And bear in mind that false statements seem to be made more frequently about some people--Catholics, say, or Republicans--than about others.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

An Exemplary Life

In the books section of the current issue of National Review is a look at Right Turns, the recently published autobiography of Michael Medved. Medved is a very accomplished and genteel individual whose evolving attitudes toward morality and society reflect important trends of recent decades. The review, written by the present author, is available only in the print and web-.pdf versions of the magazine, not online. Here are some excerpts which may whet your interest:

"If you want to understand how thoroughly the American elite moved from the right to the left in the 20th century, consider this: The most talked-about conversions are those that went the other way. Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, the neoconservatives, and the like are remembered not because their stories are so representative of the times, but because they are so unusual. . . .

"Like Ronald Reagan, who always said that he didn't leave the Democratic party but rather that the party left him, Medved didn't leave liberalism—liberalism left him.

"Medved makes that clear in his new memoir, Right Turns, while continuing to embrace the conservative label. During the early 1970s, Medved notes, he associated the term liberal with 'positive values like compassion, generosity, enlightenment, and integrity.' The American Left, however, though still called liberal, had moved away from those notions, and they were coming to be more commonly associated with the Right. As a result, leftism became exceedingly perverse and dangerous. . . .

"What makes Middle Americans so much more appealing to him than the liberal elite is their concern for individual moral choices—as opposed to mere words, which are notoriously easy to bestow. He says 'one of the most depressing, dysfunctional aspects of contemporary culture' is 'the focus on faraway problems over which we have no control rather than achievable aims in our immediate surroundings.'

". . . Medved notes that prosaic activities—such as his embarrassing daily habit of picking up trash off his neighborhood streets—are a very simple way we can all make the world better. 'Despite the alarming pronouncements of big-government demagogues who want us to feel powerless and paralyzed without their grandiose new programs,' he says, 'we can make the private choices that determine destiny.'

". . . Medved, an Orthodox Jew, writes that 'on every significant challenge-whether it's crime or poverty or family breakdown or drug addiction or educational inadequacy-serious Christianity represents part of the solution, not part of the problem.'"

Michael Medved is truly a good and generous man whose affection for bourgeois life, America, and decent, normal people is highly appealing. His life is an interesting and, as his book makes clear, instructive one.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

About Those 10-Year Medicare Drug Cost Projections

The headlines are screaming. The politicos are concerned, deeply concerned. Brows are being furrowed, furrows are being browed, green eyeshades are all the rage, and the political class finds itself shocked, shocked that projections---looking out ten years!---of program costs have increased.

And all of this is because of the evil drug companies: We are talking about the budget projections for the new Medicare drug benefit, after all, and the drug companies have raised some of their prices. This particular charge is deeply amusing, in that it is being made largely by politicians who would sooner lose an arm than cut taxes.

In any event, it turns out that the charge---most prominently in today's Washington Post---is not true. Yes, the ten-year projection made in 2003 was about $511 billion. Yes, the ten-year projection now is $723 billion. But those are two different ten-year periods---the former 2004-2013, the latter 2006-2015---a fact seemingly lost on the crack journalists from the Post, a group simultaneously ignorant, stupid, lazy, dishonest, biased, and arrogant. For the same ten-year period 2004-2013, the earlier projection was $511 billion, and the latter is $518 billion, a difference of about 1.4 percent. The difference in the two ten-year periods is crucial, because the earlier period includes two years before the program takes effect, and because the latter ten-year period includes more Medicare beneficiaries.

None of this says anything about whether the projections in the end will prove even remotely similar to the reality that emerges over time. But that is a different question. For now it is clear that the Post "reporters" are interested in engendering a political campaign in favor of involving the federal behemoth in the negotiation of drug prices. Since 1993, the feds have done that for childhood vaccines, and since 1993 there has been an endemic shortage of such vaccines and a monotonic decline in the number of producers. Any thoughts on why that might be?


Today's New York Times reports, "The Bush administration offered a new estimate of the cost of the Medicare drug benefit on Tuesday, saying it would cost $720 billion in the next 10 years."

The article quotes Judd Gregg (R-NH), the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, as saying he wants to "put the brakes on the growth of entitlements" and take a close look at the new Medicare law.

"Since it was sold as a $400 billion program, that's what we should keep it at," Mr. Gregg said.

Well, good luck with that.

The pattern for these entitlements has been well established, and it's clear how this one is destined to play out.

Let's go back four years and move forward from there. Espying potential political gain, the two parties compete to buy the votes of a particular political constituency by simultaneously lauding the wonderful benefits of a new spending program while underestimating the costs. Then, when the true costs are coming to be known, the conservative party says, "Whoops! Better get those costs in line. Have to cut benefits and raise payroll taxes for this." And the leftward party says, "Whoa, there, fellas! Peoples is counting on this money! If you cut them off, they'll die!" The conservative party then loses nerve, and raises the ante, but not enough to please anybody. They lose votes. The leftward party gets credit for saving the lives of real, needy people from the evil, green-eyeshade-wearing, big-business-favoring, kickback-taking accounting geeks of the conservative party.

And in the next go-round and ever after, the discussion is never to be whether or why, but only how much?

I'm sure the prescription drug benefit helped President Bush win a few key states in the recent election. It's surely worth it to him. But is it worth it to us?

Dean's Abortion Profile

George Neumayr has a worthwhile piece up at American Spectator on Howard Dean's ties with Planned Parenthood. Much has been made of Dem agonizing about how they can reconnect with voters motivated by their faith. I got news for you, naming Dr. Dean the party chair won't help.

Here's a nice excerpt:

At the very moment Democrats are claiming to distance themselves from abortion, they run back towards it by making Howard Dean -- a former doctor for Planned Parenthood -- their public face. Though the press almost never mentions it, Dean did an OB/GYN rotation for Planned Parenthood in the 1970s and later served as an executive board member of Planned Parenthood New England, meaning that he directly oversaw the largest abortion provider in the region. Were the Democrats sincerely moving to the middle on abortion, selecting a former overseer of abortion would have been the last thing to do.

Now they have managed to lash themselves to abortion even tighter by turning a Planned Parenthood alumnus and mascot -- Dean received the organization's Margaret Sanger award -- into the party's chief spokesman. Yes, like Hillary Clinton, Dean will try and call a few audibles on his old colleagues and friends at Planned Parenthood. But that won't work. In politics, past is prologue and perception.

What the Democratic party doesn't understand is that a tight relationship with Planned Parenthood nowadays is not good resume' material. In an era when the womb has become more or less transparent, anybody with a conscience has become pretty uneasy with the idea of abortion.

Churchill Downs, No Backtrack

This Ward Churchill genius at the University of Colorado gave a speech last night in which he declared that he stands behind his earlier article that likens the 9/11 victims to little Eichmanns.

I guess it takes one to think he knows one.

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.