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

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Notion of Atheocracy

Baylor Prof. Francis Beckwith hit me with a fascinating new term last week -- Atheocracy. It is simply the opposite of a theocracy. Atheocrats want a governent and public square completely denuded of religion. I thought the term would be good for spurring conversation and BOOM, Dr. Beckwith turned it into a web site and blog. You can check it out here.

Here's a little snippet:

Welcome to the Atheocracy Report, a website dedicated to supporting the political liberty of religious citizens to participate in America's liberal democracy.

Atheocracy.com intends to accomplish two goals: (1) To offer a positive case for the right of religious citizens to participate in America's liberal demorcacy by critically assessing the burdens placed on them by those who mistakenly claim that an atheocratic public square is a neutral one; (2) To document and offer commentary about unjust and uncharitable discrimination, depictions, and marginalizaiton of religious believers who seek to participate as citizens in the public square and shape the laws and policies of their communities. Because this injustice is often supported and perpetuated by groups and individuals that maintain that all religious belief is irrational and thus ought to be sequestered from the public square, we refer to these groups and individuals as atheocratic, which literally means supporting "atheistic government."

These atheocratic groups and individuals often misrepresent, charicature, and enage in ad hominen attacks against serious religious believers. The Atheocracy Report believes that church and state ought to separate, and that a theocracy is just as bad as an atheocracy. However, religious believers often come to the public square, not merely with blind faith and sacred Scripture, but with arguments and reasons that are distinctly pubic. We believe that these ought to be assessed on their own terms. Citizens should not be dismissed by an atheocratic litmus test that excludes them from the conversation because they happen to be religious believers. Nor should these citizens have their arguments ruled out a priori because they happen to be consistent with views congenial to belief in God and inconsisent with atheocratic views on the nature of law, morality, the good life, or human beings.

Check it out and encourage the good professor to follow through on a great idea.

The Beverly Hill-Bill-y Story

Hey, if you have a few minutes of time on your hands, no way can you afford to miss the text of the lawsuit of Peter Paul against Bill and Hillary Clinton. Paul, a Beverly Hills producer type, was the single largest contributor to Hillary's Senate campaign, although he did not really want to be quite that big.

The story as laid out in the complaint is absolutely fascinating and will give you a window into how the Clintons operate.

My favorite part? The news that Bill Clinton allowed Chaka Khan to be photographed sitting on his desk in the Oval Office.

And to think that Washington journalists still sneer at R. Emmett Tyrrell for getting too carried away over that pair's shenanigans!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ogden Nash, Move Aside

Popular demand has been unrelenting. Everyone insists that I publish my bit of doggerel describing the United States taking on the war in Iraq without the assistance of France, Germany or Russia. So, in honor of the Prez' visit to Putin, here goes:

Fighting in the desert sans
"Look, Ma, no Hans"-
Constancy, not Ivan's

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Politburo Lives

In case you missed it, my essay from TCS (Tuesday) on the New York City Council and its latest descent into legalized theft can be found at the following link. I think you'll enjoy it.


Wlady P. on Medved

Hunter, and whomever else might be interested: if you have the Michael Medved Show in your area, you can hurry now to hear Wlady Pleszczynski being interviewed until 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

Labour Wins, and Loses, and Blair Loses BIG

Britain's Labour Party won a third consecutive majority in Parliament in yesterday's national elections, for the first time in history. However, as the AP reports, the party's majority shrank radically, by nearly a hundred seats (down from 161 to 66, out of 646 total seats), and as a consequence PM Tony Blair is definitely a lame duck. In fact, there is rampant speculation that he will be replaced before his term is up, by Treasury chief Gordon Brown, long thought to be Blair's natural successor.

Labour had run up huge leads in the pre-election opinion polls, and there was never any real doubt that the party would receive a majority and Blair continue as Prime Minister. However, the poll numbers had been tightening in the past few days. In addition, poll figures for the rightward, Conservative Party typically turn out to be lower than are manifested in the general elections, as in the United States.

As a result, political analyst John O'Sullivan predicted the following in an article in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times (which I surmise to be a reprint of his coverage for the Evening Standard—though I'm sure he did not spell Labour without the u):

"If Labor's victory looks certain, what generates the excitement? Simple -- the possibility that Tony Blair will be struck down by his own party at the moment of victory. Well, perhaps not at the actual moment; but not long afterwards either. It is impossible to exaggerate the hatred and contempt that Labor politicians and activists feel towards Blair.

"Labor candidates go on television and when asked their opinion of Blair, utter sullen remarks such as 'He is the leader of our party at the moment.' Some ask to be elected so that they can control Blair or even oust him. And some activists are planning to vote Lib-Dem or even Tory so that Blair will be humiliated by a sharp fall in the majority and be replaced by Brown."

The Conservative, or Tory, Party leader, Michael Howard, has decided to step down. "As I can't fight the next election as leader of our party, I believe it is better for me to stand aside sooner rather than later so that the party can choose someone who can," he told what the Times described as "shocked Tory supporters" in a speech at Roehampton University. Howard is sixty-three years old and would probably be in his late sixties during the next election. He promised to stay on briefly while the party considers possible changes to the rules for choosing a successor.

The Liberal Democrats and some minor parties picked up a few seats, and the Times reports that the conservatives did much better than expected:

"For the Conservatives, it was a far more successful night than many expected: they gained Putney in south-west London, Peterborough, and Ilford North from Labour and took back Newbury from the Liberal Democrats. In Putney, Justine Greening achieved a 6 per cent swing from Labour to regain the seat for the Conservatives.

"Mr Howard said earlier that the result would give the Conservatives a fresh intake of talented MPs with which to build its future, including the party's first ever black MP, businessman Adam Afriye in Windsor.

"There were some major upsets for Labour. Stephen Twigg, the Schools Minister, lost Enfield Southgate and Melanie Johnson, the Health Minister, also lost her seat. The most painful loss for Labour, however, was probably that of Oona King, who was unseated in Bethnal Green and Bow by the former Labour MP George Galloway, fighting on an anti-war platform for his Respect party."

The Times noted that the Labour plurality in the popular vote was the smallest ever:

"At 36 per cent, Labour's share of the vote is the lowest ever received by any party that has won an election—reflecting the increasing success of minor parties and the steady rise of the Lib Dems. The Tories received 33 per cent of the vote and the Lib Dems 23 per cent."

The results in Britain are indeed good, from a (classical, English Whig) liberal perspective. Those tempted to see the result as an antiwar vote, however, had better think again. The Tories supported the war, and they made their biggest headway not with antiwar talk but instead with "a hard-hitting campaign focused on immigration, violent crime and 'superbug' infections in hospitals, contending that all were now out of control," as the Times of London correctly put it yesterday. A great many Britons truly hate Blair now because they believe he lied to them regularly. Yet George Bush the Younger was reelected despite similar problems. It seems evident that the social issues are what gave the Tories their traction, in addition to the popular dislike of Blair and the common characterization of him as a liar.

In his pre-election article in the Sun-Times, O'Sullivan noted that a personal dislike of Blair on the part of the British public had become overwhelming:

"In the past these hatreds were held in check by Blair's popularity with Middle England and with the political elite. He was seen, however bitterly, as an electoral asset by those Labor people who thought New Labor was a sellout. But this is true no longer. Blair is deeply distrusted as a result of the widespread view that he deliberately lied to the British people in order to maneuver them into an unjustified and illegal war. That belief is at best an exaggeration and at worst a falsehood. But it moves large numbers of voters, generally on the Left, and senior opinion formers in and out of government."

As O'Sullivan suggests, Blair had lost a good deal of support among his political base, and his main opposition, the Tories, had finally begun to make some incursions from the right by running as actual rightists instead of watered-down Labourites. This is analogous to the situation in former PM Margaret Thatcher's last term. As a result, it appears that Big Ben is ticking toward Blair's imminent political downfall.

An AHA Moment . . .

And no, I don't mean the 1980's band from Norway.

I just figured out why people hide their money under mattresses.

Because liberals don't believe the government has any business in your bedroom.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Craig Ferguson Drops Bill Maher on Late, Late Night

Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg for this one:

Late Late Show
May 3, 2005

Bill Maher: "I think that there is no perspective. People have no perspective, especially about crime. You know, zero tolerance. You know, of course, nobody ever wants to see a child, you know, diddled. That’s just plain wrong. But even the people who are testifying against him, they’re saying that he serviced them. They didn’t service him."

Craig Ferguson: "You don’t have kids, do you, Bill?"

Maher: "No."

Ferguson: "No. I have a son. It makes me crazy, this thing, this Michael Jackson thing. It drives me, the idea of someone touching my kid, I would go, I nearly swore there. I’d go crazy."

Maher: "Very wrong. But, you know, I remember when I was a kid. I was savagely beaten once by bullies in the schoolyard. Savagely beaten. If I had a choice between being savagely beaten and being gently masturbated by a pop star. It’s just me."

Ferguson: "The always controversial Bill Maher, everybody."

Maher: "What? That’s it?"

Ferguson: "Bill Maher. We’ll be right back with Rain Pryor."

This is the answer to swine-ish behavior. Well done, Mr. Ferguson. I'll be tuning in.

A Doe In The Floodlights

Please read the story that I have linked, about the successful identification of Precious Doe in Missouri after four years.

The importance of the report does not inhere in the fact that her identity was finally ascertained, but in the genuine greatness of spirit that was called forth in so many of our fellow citizens who spent these years honoring her memory in a wide range of ways. There are still many wonderful folks across the fruited plain who are filled with love for every one of God's children.

Wlady P. on Savage?!!!

We used to ask what would happen if the irresistible force met the immovable object. Yesterday, I observed something familiar when one of my favorite people met one of my least favorite. Wlady Pleszsczynski (yeah, I can spell it) appeared for an interview on the Michael Savage Show. I've said in the past that I don't like what Savage does on the radio and that he's a net minus to the conservative (or as Karnick says, "liberal") movement, so you can deduce that I love Mr. P, the big man at American Spectator.

The two talked about the Laura Bush speech and I still can't quite figure how to view it. Savage played some clips and it came off to me like a really savage roast, funny and appropriate to the setting. "Milking the horse" probably goes a bit far for a culturally conservative prez, but we've got to avoid the deadly joyless culture warrior syndrome. Wlady took it as pandering, as has our wise Zycher. Savage hates Bush and was happy to hammer him again.

Having written some 20-30 pieces for Mr. P, all handled through email correspondence, it was great to hear his voice. Pretty much exactly as one might expect it to be -- articulate, measured, and carrying just a hint of his European origins.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Are They Going Native?

Oh, dear. Back from interminable time in airplanes, hotel rooms and conference centers, giving briefings, listening to dumb questions, maintaining a straight face. The life of a lonely economist running a one-man think tank. Or something. In any event, it seems that all has gone to hell in a handbasket in my absence; my friend and colleague, the Great Reynolds, seems not to have maintained, as they used to say in the Soviet Union, when standards meant something, the eternal vigilance promised when I paid him a huge honorarium to keep an eye on things in my absence. For this transgression he is likely to find himself in a nice, cozy cell with a gorgeous view of the Arctic Ocean. Better that than to find himself walking across a bridge in front of some thug carrying an umbrella. (Google "Georgi Markov.") So I return to find Laura Bush---a class act, a lovely Lady, the UnHillary---regaling the unwashed masses with off-color humor about President W turning in by 9pm, desperate housewives, male strippers, and attempts to milk male horses presumably wearing blue dresses. Is there a cigar in there somewhere? What do I mean by "is?"

Oh, well. What gives here? Is the fair Laura trying to expand the tent? Or are the Bushes now schmoozing the Beltway elite with signals about their true sophistication? Put aside whether the jokes were funny (yes) or in good taste (I think so). Can it actually be the case that W has decided that he needs the Beltway's approval? It strikes me that there is here both less and more than meets the eye: Nothing wrong with a little off-color bawdiness, but in front of this crowd? W and Laura will never have their approval, nor should they want it. And the more they pursue it, the worse off they will be.

Bayh to Run—Maybe, Probably, Most Likely

When Indiana senator Evan Bayh cast his vote against confirmation of Condoleeza Rice for appointment as U.S. Secretary of State, this reporter noted that the vote was in stark contrast to Bayh's previous voting record. The explanation I offered was that Bayh was deliberately going with the Left in a prominent vote, in preparation for a run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Now there is open speculation that Bayh is indeed preparing for a run. A story on Bayh in today's issue of The Indianapolis Star-News notes that Bayh's father, former U.S. senator Birch Bayh (who unsuccessfully ran for his party's nomination in 1976), told reporters, "I think he's giving that serious consideration."

The Star-News story noted, "Bayh has $6.8 million in his campaign fund and is raising more, though he was just re-elected last year." The story also cited much more evidence pointing toward a presidential run by the well-liked Indiana senator who has positioned himself as a moderate throughout his political career. Sen. Bayh is quoted as trying to dampen the speculation.

With Hillary Clinton as the favored candidate on the Left and moving to to increase support toward the center, it will be interesting to see where Bayh attempts to position himself within the party.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Time To Open Ears, Open Hearts

For those of us who prayed our hearts out for Terri Schiavo and are still traumatized by our inability to save her, a sort of prophetic answer seems to be arriving piecemeal. One after the other, people who have suffered from brain damage long thought to be irreversible are having amazing recoveries.

The most recent is firefighter Don Herbert of Buffalo, N.Y., who suddenly began conversing this Saturday morning after nine and a half years without that ability. Note that the press is covering up the fact that his case, like Terri's, involves a spouse who defeated his parents in court and got a Do Not Resuscitate order posted on his bed almost seven years ago.

This case follows on the heels of the Miami Herald front-page story of a man who recovered his mind more than nine years after a traffic accident. The Herald article followed Terri's death by only a few days, so they compensated by headlining it: Delayed Recovery A Rarity.

The sad part is that this pattern began before Terri's killing, with the amazing recovery of speech by Sarah Scantlin in Kansas after 20 years! This occurred on Feb. 12, 45 days before Judge Greer in his wisdom allowed Terri to be starved.

Will we finally hear the call? How loud does it have to be before it penetrates to the heart?

Funny As a Rubber Crutch . . .

I've heard a lot of unhappy comments about the White House Correspondent's Dinner, but was inclined to chalk it up to ill-humored observers. Now that Wlady Pleszczynski of the American Spectator has panned it, I'm starting to think the whole affair may have truly offended.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Arnold's Lesson in Public Choice Economics

The states have long complained, and rightly, about the number of unfunded mandates Washington sends them, and although the Republicans promised a decade ago to stop doing so, state budgets are continually drained by two huge money pits: education spending, and Medicare/Medicaid. The latter is definitely imposed by Washington, whereas education spending is a state-level obsession as well as a federal one.

The problem is, these are extremely costly items when done entirely as government-run programs. As a consequence, state budgets keep rising and are strained. When the economy is growing, the budgets rise quickly, and when the economy and consequent tax receipts slow, the budgets do not decrease accordingly. The cost of state government ratchets up steadily and hardly ever decreases, even in inflation-adjusted terms. This is proving to be an increasing problem across the nation.

Public-choice economists point out that government expenditures at any level and in any jurisdiction rise to the extent that powerful interest groups benefit from the spending: they have a far greater incentive to push for additional spending that benefits them than an individual taxpayer has to oppose any particular expenditure item. Thus spending keeps rising, especially when the real beneficiaries (in money and power) can say, "It's for the kids!," or "If we don't help the poor and elderly, who will?"

In California this evil reality is playing out today. Governor Schwarzenegger's opponents have attacked him aggressively as "an uncaring, partisan Republican doing the bidding of big business," as an article on Schwarzenegger's political troubles in today's New York Times put it.

Led by various public employee unions, especially the teacher unions, the attack on Schwarzenegger has taken a powerful toll on his popularity, which has dropped some 20 percent in the past four months, down to 40 percent in the most recent reckonings. Schwarzenegger took a further beating this weekend for daring to suggest that Arizonans are to be praised for doing something about illegal immigration when their government simply refuses to deal with a matter about which a large proportion of the public there is truly concerned.

You can be perfectly sure, however, that all of this has precious little to do with concern for society's underdogs and everything to do with politically greedy individuals' grabs for money and power. It is always so, and the furor over Schwarzenegger's minor efforts to stem the grotesque ballooning of California's government expenditures shows just how hazardous it is to stand between a greedy person and the big grab bag of government money power and power.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Public Agenda Poll on Religion and American Public Life

The survey research organization Public Agenda has released an interesting report on "Religion and Public Life, 2000-2004." The survey, conducted during last year's election campaign, found that the public was more greatly in favor of elected officials voting on the basis of their religious principles, than they were four years previously. In the words of the accompanying press release,

"'Compromise has a long and important history in American politics,' said Ruth A. Wooden, President of Public Agenda. 'But in 2004, there were more Americans who wanted elected officials to keep their religious principles in mind when they vote on issues like abortion and gay rights. We found double-digit decreases in support for compromise on these issues among those who attend services weekly and among Catholics. The changes are really quite dramatic.'"

The study as a whole, however, is not nearly so dramatic. It suggests that a significantly greater proportion of Americans overall support the notion that elected officials should not compromise their religious beliefs when voting on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the death penalty than did so four years before, and that more Americans think that it is good for others to "spread the word of God" publicly rather than be expected to keep their beliefs private. Though not earthshaking, the report makes sense and is highly informative and well worth reading.

Miami Vice, DVD Baby, Yeah

David Skinner of the Weekly Standard takes the occasion of the DVD release of Miami Vice's first 22 episodes to review the virtues and . . .um . . .vices (sorry) of the former star of NBC's Friday nights.

Before quoting Skinner, I have to say that Miami Vice was one of my favorite television programs ever. Right up there with St. Elsewhere, Hill St. Blues, and the totally forgotten Crime Story. I was a teenager who was usually out on Friday evenings, but my father faithfully taped Vice for my viewing on late Saturday mornings after I'd slept off the effects of juvenile Death Wish, pizza and basketball fests. The perfect combination of music, fashion, cool, and gravity made the show hypnotically watchable.

But David Skinner actually took the time to re-watch and write about it, so here's something from him:

IN JANUARY, Universal Studios told Variety that it was going to be a while before the DVDs for the first season of Miami Vice would go on sale. Licensing the soundtrack--with music by U2, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Tina Turner, among others--was proving very expensive. What then explains the sudden appearance of said DVDs only weeks later? What could have sent the permissions process into overdrive? This is just a guess, but it may have something to do with final casting and the beginning of film production for Miami Vice the movie starring Collin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, due out next year. Michael Mann, the TV show's executive producer, is directing the movie, while the TV show's director and creator Anthony Yerkovich, is executive-producing the movie.

Not a bad excuse for rolling out the first 22 episodes of the Friday night drama that made sockless boat shoes, sleeveless Ts, and five o'clock shadows fashionable. The $59.98, 3-disc set also includes a handful of mini features from which Crockett and Tubbs admirers will learn that Don Johnson had appeared in six failed pilots before Miami Vice producers fought to cast him in the lead. Also that the show's unprecedented costuming budget was in the six figures; that Friday night was not actually a desirable slot, because Dallas and Falcon Crest had the schedule all sewn up; that city officials, whose cooperation the producers definitely needed, worried the show's title would hurt Miami's image; and that while legend has it that the show
was inspired by a note from a studio executive stating the formula "MTV cops," it was, though influenced by music videos, actually inspired by a newspaper article estimating the size of Miami's underground economy.

But the real question is, Was the show any good? Yes, it was, in a couple of obvious ways. One, it was beautiful; and two, the plots always kept a snappy pace. These two strengths--and some attendant ones--more than make up for the cheesiness of a show whose entire appeal depended on selling the notion of cops as figures of unequaled glamour.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Inflation Illusion Update

My next column “Illusory Inflation” is already up at townhall.com. It’s full of boring numbers showing that if you pull energy out of the most accurate inflation statistics, there has been no acceleration of inflation since the recession of 2001. None, zip, zero. If the Fed thinks otherwise and acts on that misconception, I argue, they could aggravate the global economic squeeze caused by steep energy costs.

Since my deadline is Wednesday, I did not have the GDP figures released on Thursday. That includes the Fed’s favorite inflation index, the one for personal consumption expenditures (PCE). The “core” version of that PCE deflator, which excludes both food and energy, is up only 1.6 percent from a year ago. Looking at the first quarter alone, it was up at a 2.2 percent annual rate. But those quarterly figures bounce around too much to show a trend -- up at a 2.6 percent rate in the fourth quarter of 2001, for example, 2 percent in the second and third quarter of 2001, and 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2004.

You won’t read any of this in the business press. They’ll report that "core" inflation was up 3.2 percent in the first quarter, not 1.6 percent. But that 3.2 percent "annualized" figure is for just three months -- that is, it's a 0.8 percent increase multiplied by 4 to show what it would look like if it continued for a whole year. And that GDP price index is for the whole economy -- including business expenses -- which is not how most people (including the Fed) define inflation. "Cost of living" does not mean the cost of doing business.

Besides, business costs for materials and such in the GDP price index are relatively unimportant in comparison to unit labor costs, which are barely rising at all. And rising costs don’t easily translate into rising prices anyway, because of intense competition from imports. The PPI does not predict the CPI, for reasons explained in my column. The apparent quarterly uptick in nonlabor business costs might squeeze profit margins a bit, but it's not inflation.

Aside from energy, the year-to-year trend in consumer prices is no quicker than it was three or four years ago – just 2 percent or less. So, unless you think the Fed should raise interest rates when oil prices go up and lower interest rates when oil prices go down, it is hard to justify a Fed "policy" of just raising interest rates again and again until something bad happens.

Noonan on Bolton and Being Real

I praised earnestness in my last post. Peggy Noonan channeled my thoughts and defended John Bolton for skipping the niceties when p***ed off.

In the process, she mentions some interesting stories about political figures who may have stepped over comfort zone lines in the past:

Bad temper is a bad thing, but in government it's a flaw with a long provenance. Bob Dole once slammed a phone down so hard it is said to have splintered. Bill Clinton, George Stephanopoulos tells us, used to go into "purple rages." There is a past and possibly future presidential candidate who would regularly phone one of his staffers at home and ream that person out by screaming base obscenities. (I was impressed to learn the staffer felt free to respond in kind, and did.)

Harry S. Truman, as president, once threatened in writing to kick the testicles of a journalist (a music reviewer who had been nasty about the talents of Truman's daughter). Lyndon Johnson would physically crowd people and squeeze their arms painfully as he tried to get them to do what he wanted; in his case arm-twisting was really arm-twisting. Richard Nixon is said to have snapped to an aide who came to him with some issue, "You must have me confused with somebody who gives a sh--." He also physically pushed and humiliated his press secretary, Ron Zeigler.

Gold Finger?

Quick: stop whatever it is that you were doing and scoot over to The American Spectator to read my absolutely mind-blowing theory of why Anna Ayala, the woman who hoaxed Wendy's with the human finger, told the judge that she will waive extradition because she is "eager" to go to California to prove her innocence.

If I am correct, the entire story could be transformed into something entirely other than we had thought, something far more sinister. This might not be a fraud case. This might be a murder case masquerading as a fraud case.

In fact, if Ayala is extradited to California, and if the finger turns out to belong to a woman whom she killed in Nevada, she will effectively escape prosecution for the murder even if she confesses. She will have committed the perfect murder.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dostoevsky and Jerry Maguire

I may suffer serious scorn for making the comparison, but a recent viewing of Jerry Maguire on cable for the fourth or fifth time got me thinking about the famous Russian writer. In particular, I watched the film and thought of The Brothers Karamazov.

What the movie and the book have in common is earnestness. It has been much commented that we are a cynical, guarded people who resonate perfectly with the nearly sociopathic characters on Seinfeld (who I loved, too). Given our self-protective postures, it comes as something of a shock to the system when persons are portrayed turning themselves inside out to another person. This is a fundamentally different act than thinking one's true thoughts while alone. Revealing the self to another is fraught with risk of being judged, alienated, and thought silly, stupid or insane. But that is the act the characters in Jerry Maguire and The Brothers do so well and so satisfyingly.

I recommend the movie. The book needs no recommendation since it is widely believed to be the best novel ever written.

Karnick and the Pope

S.T. (AKA "Saint") Karnick takes a look at the life of the Pope in the Washington Examiner. Check it out here.

Karnick consults Philip Jenkins, Francis Beckwith, Jay Homnick, Joseph Bottum, and John O'Sullivan. Here's a nugget:

The rewards of a life of self-denial can be great but are unknown at the outset. The costs, however, are clear at every step, and far more tangible. Some see the choice as a function of faith in God. But whether he exists or not, the question is ultimately one of faith in self: Is what I believe true? And what if it is not?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Syrian Troops Leave Lebanon

The road ahead for Lebanon is perilous, but the departure of Syrian troops out of the country is one essential element of the Lebanese having a chance at successful self-government. Lebanon was once a beautiful country, until its society was crushed by demographic changes and, even more damagingly, international gamesmanship by larger powers. Support from the United States and the rest of the West will be crucial to the new country's future. Americans can be excused for a sense of exhaustion after the Iraq War, but Lebanon definitely needs help in making the transition to self-government.

Under The Overpass

In my Passover message at The American Spectator, I ponder the fact that so few Jews actually believe that the Exodus occurred as reported in Scripture - although they are willing to celebrate the day for its theme of freedom.

Monday, April 25, 2005

South Park Conservatives

Bernard Chapin has an excellent review of Brian Anderson's book on South Park Conservatives, in today's issue of Mens News Daily. Anderson's book claims that there is a new breed of person on the Right, especially among the young, who espouse conservative values but enjoy earthy popular culture without embarrassment and are tired of leftist claims of moral superiority. (The term appears to have been invented by columnist Andrew Sullivan.) Chapin writes,

"If the existence of the South Parker surprises traditional conservatives, imagine how unnerving it must be for your average liberal to discover that the guy who sat next to him during Phish’s last concert had the Opinion Journal delivered to his Inbox every morning."

Anderson's book says that such South Park conservatives have mounted a very effective grass-roots counterrevolutionary campaign against the reigning media, whom he correctly describes as overwhelmingly left of center. He cites the TV show South Park and comedians such as Dennis Miller plus numerous other writers, columnists, and bloggers who are puncturing the sacred cows of modern liberalism.

Chapin identifies a central motivation of South Park Conservatives as a simple wish for freedom to say what they think:

"One of the vilest villains in Anderson’s book is not actually a program or a person, but a phrase: 'creating a hostile environment.' This gibberish has been used for all kinds of nefarious purposes by the cultural inquisitors."

Anderson's book, as Chapin says, fully documents the illiberalism of today's liberals, which one should hardly think necessary at this time but does still seem to require continued argumentation, given that the Left still retains control of most of the cuture and academy:

"Anderson’s belief that conservatives have stopped losing the culture war is certainly contestable. Ask any kid in the United States between 10 [yes, I meant 10] and 18 what their favorite kind of music is, and I’ll bet you that at least fifty percent, regardless of race or socioeconomic background, will say 'rap' or 'hip hop.' Furthermore, all of the blogs, Foxnews, NRO and techcentralstation’s in the world cannot outdo the power of Hollywood’s alternative lifestyle worshipping generofilms."

I would refer to truly liberal persons on the Right as liberals, but I think that the phenomenon these writers are documenting is a real one by whatever name. Undoubtedly Anderson's book will be come another right-oriented bestseller, which says something in itself.

The Idiotic Malconclusions of Frank Rich

Prepare to get angry, then read Frank Rich's latest column in the NYT. First he praises the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of John Paul II's death. Then, he dumps on evangelical Christians unhappy with the unprecedented use of the filibuster to stop conservative judicial nominees who have the votes to be confirmed.

Note to Mr. Rich: The evangelicals and Catholics are on the same page, numbnuts. Many of the judges being filibustered are Catholics.

Second note to Mr. Rich: You attribute all the anger over judicial filibusters to bias against gay marriage. Are you completely clueless? Issue numero uno with evangelicals and Catholics for about thirty years has been abortion. It's still numero uno. We are still waiting for the court to recognize the personhood of the unborn child or allow states to legislate the matter for themselves. Gay marriage is important, but not life and freaking death.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Knippenberg Sorts Out Justice Sunday

Read it and be enlightened. The good Professor Knippenberg correctly points out that having religious reasons for pushing a particular policy is quite different from enacting a religious law.

As the professorial pundit puts it:

Yes, the FRC and Focus on the Family are religious groups. But what they are asking for is an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees, not a religious test for office-holding. Whatever faith or reasons move them, the position they’re actually supporting is consistent with long-standing Senate practice (actually voting on nominees). Yes, there’s a slippery slope somewhere, and the judiciary may be the only remaining bastion of secular liberalism, but the alternative is not theocracy, but rather sober constitutional jurisprudence.

The distinction is frequently lost on journos who have studied little more than how to write crisp paragraphs. Lefties conveniently forget their outrage over incursions into the secular realm when the religious conclusions are other than conservative or free market. See my AmSpec piece on an interesting situation in Alabama last year.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Abortion and Crime

Steve Sailer has an interesting and comprehensive article answering University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt's argument, from his new book Freakonomics, that legalizing abortion cut crime in the United States. In addition to its controversial political and social implications, this is a fascinating question about causality. Sailer writes,

"[T]he acid test of Levitt's theory is this: Did the first New, Improved Generation culled by legalized abortion actually grow up to be more lawful teenagers than the last generation born before legalization?

"Hardly. Instead, the first cohort to survive legalized abortion went on the worst youth murder spree in American history."

Sailer writes from an openly anti-abortion point of view, but as in all of his writing, he pursues the statistics wherever they lead.

Read it here.

Karnick Gets Hired

Crux Magazine, currently an internet venture founded by the guys at the great print mag Touchstone, announced the hiring of our own S.T. Karnick as their Books and Arts editor today.

We expect Crux to be in print in the near future and can't wait to see what kind of section Mr. Karnick produces. I'm guessing it will stand out just as Whittaker Chambers' Books section stood out at the old Time.

Mainstream Voodoo Revisited

After reading Paul Volcker's April 10 Washington Post rant about the U.S. economy "skating on thin ice," followed by Alan Greenspan's efforts yesterday to resuscitate the handy hoax that interest rates depend on budget deficits rather than Fed, I thought it might be useful to recycle my characteristically respectful disagreement with such conventinoal claptrap back in 1984:

'Mainstream Economics': None Dare Call It Voodoo
By Alan Reynolds
The Wall Street Journal, 7 May 1984

The quality of public debate on economic issues is rapidly degenerating to the level of intellectual barbarism. Contradiction has become the mark of sophistication, evidence is dismissed as irrelevant, and "experts" are defined as anyone who advised the government during some economic catastrophe. Indolent journalists lean on an imaginary consensus, claiming that "most economists agree" about this or "Wall Street worries" about that.

Most economists are said to be concerned that a growing economy must raise interest rates, which will prevent the economy from growing. The solution, it seems, is for the Fed to raise interest rates to slow the economy, so that interest rates can fall and thus speed up economic growth.

Mainstream economists are reported to agree that a strong dollar causes trade deficits, and trade deficits make the dollar weak. The Fed therefore has to raise short-term interest rates to attract long-term foreign investment, or else the absence of foreign investment might raise interest rates. If foreigners keep investing in U.S. factories, on the other hand, most economists fear the U.S. will become a "net debtor" rather than a net lender (to Latin America and East Europe). The solution is to attract and repel foreign capital.

Most economists apparently believe that all countries should export more than they import, and can do that by periodically devaluing their currencies against each other. Exports are the benefit from trade, and imports are the cost. Inexpensive foreign goods make us poorer. The U.S. should try to raise import prices and cheapen exports, so that we can give up more wheat for less oil.

Most economists did not approve of the falling dollar of 1978-79, or the rising dollar of 1981-83. But most of all they do not like a stable dollar. The dollar must be free to float, but it always floats to the wrong level. Most economists agree that the dollar is overvalued 30%, and in danger of falling, but monetary authorities must ignore exchange rates and prices.

Most economists believe that future monetary policy should instead be based on either past real growth or past money stocks. The latter is because housewives and corporate treasurers decide how much to spend by consulting last year's balance in their checking accounts. If the Fed lowers interest rates, that always makes people expect more inflation, so interest rates rise. If the Fed raises interest rates, interest rates also rise. Most economists know that monetary policy is therefore optimal at all times, since easing or tightening raises interest rates.

Most economists understand that credit is good but debt is bad. Too much private borrowing will raise interest rates, and higher interest rates will result in too little borrowing. The object of tax reform is therefore to encourage lending by discouraging borrowing. There is a need to tax consumption in order to encourage saving for future consumption. The economy must produce more auto factories and consume fewer cars.

Most economists argue that budget deficits stimulate and crowd out private spending. Budget deficits also cause inflation and make the dollar too strong. Reducing deficits would therefore lower the dollar's value abroad and raise it at home.

Budget deficits are simultaneously described as the consequence of recession, the cure for recession and the cause of recession. Estimated future deficits are said to have effects in the present that actual deficits do not have now and did not have in the past. The 1989 deficit explains 1984 interest rates, but the 1984 deficit does not explain 1979 interest rates.

Budget deficits always "threaten to" do something. They threaten to raise inflation unless tax indexing is repealed, so that inflation can reduce the inflationary deficits. Using inflation to reduce the deficit would make people want to buy bonds, thus lowering interest rates. Deficits also threaten to stop a near-record increase in business fixed investment, unless taxes are hiked to reduce the after-tax return on capital.

Time magazine's "Monster Deficit" story noticed "a growing list of studies purporting to show that deficits do not raise interest rates." Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office's Economic Outlook lists two dozen studies with virtual agreement that deficits do not have a significant impact on interest rates, including several by economists at the Federal Reserve banks and Council of Economic Advisers. Yet Time goes on to explain that overwhelming evidence "has had very little impact on the thinking of mainstream economists." Reality, after all, is a matter of belief and consensus.

Economic policy has never before been so thoroughly dominated by ever-changing economic theories and forecasts. Economists who can't predict the next month now propose to fine-tune the 1989 budget or the 1986 inflation rate. There is a panicky political impulse to fix things that are not broken and ruin things that were almost fixed. Always, the rationale is that "most economists agree" that "something" must be done. If economists were actually guilty of believing half of the strange ideas that are attributed to them, it would be safer to base economic policy on astrology.


Check out the intro to this amazing study from the political science department at UCLA:

Our results show a strong liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. Consistent with many conservative critics, CBS Evening News and the New York Times received a score far left of center. Outlets such as the Washington Post, USA Today, NPR’s Morning Edition, NBC’s Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight were moderately left. The most centrist outlets (but still left-leaning) by our measure were the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, CNN’s NewsNight with Aaron Brown, and ABC’s Good Morning America. Fox News’ Special Report, while right of center, was closer to the center than any of the three major networks’ evening news broadcasts. All of our findings refer strictly to the news stories of the outlets. That is, we omitted editorials, book reviews, and letters to the editor from our sample. (boldface type added)

Did any of us doubt that a careful study would lead to this conclusion? How good is Brent Bozell's Media Research Center looking right now? Roger Ailes ain't feeling too poorly either.

Baptist Higher Ed Fallout

In the previous blogging about Baylor's conference on the future of Baptist Higher Education, I mentioned one flare-up with Bill Leonard from Wake Forest in which he demanded an apology in the middle of his presentation. Turns out there's more to the story and that he engaged in further argumentation of the point in another session later. Here's the item from ABP, which is some sort of Baptist Press. I'm not familiar enough with the versions to tell which branch of the Baptist world it represents.

Right to dissent may be key mark of Baptist colleges, Leonard suggests
Date: 04/21/2005

By Ken Camp WACO, Texas (ABP) --

The right to dissent -- even about what makes a school religious -- should be a key distinctive of Baptist higher education,suggested church historian and seminary dean Bill Leonard.

Addressing a national conference on the future of Baptist higher education,Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the conference's program planners were "rude" in the way they characterized Wake Forest."

Baptists began as a community of dissent," Leonard said during his presentation on how Baptist education functions within a context ofconflict. Early Baptist dissent was grounded in freedom of conscience and a commitment to uncoerced faith, he stressed.

"I would suggest that one Baptist way-no doubt there are many-for responding to the changing nature of campus life would be a reassertion of those early Baptist ideals of dissent, conscience and believers' church," he said.

"That is, Baptists should be at the forefront of the quest for 'voice' on college and university campus - not as a tepid, grudging response to nebulous political correctness, but because voice is endemic to the natureof Baptist identity, perhaps even its most profound distinctive."

At that point, Leonard departed from his prepared manuscript and said he intended to exercise his own Baptist right to dissent and voice disapproval of what he considered an unfair characterization of his school. He cited a statement in the conference's program about the loss of religious identity at many Christian colleges and universities.

"Secularization has been so powerful that these once-Christian institutions now speak of themselves only as having a religious heritage, the substance of which is reflected in vague language about values in their institutional mission statements," the printed program read. "Although these reach backinto Baptist history, with prominent examples being Brown University and theUniversity of Chicago, in the last quarter century, the light has been extinguished in a growing number of venerable Baptist institutions in theSouth. The University of Richmond, Wake Forest University, Stetson University, Furman University and Meredith College serve as examples."

Leonard characterized the language as "incorrect, inhospitable and downright rude." "If the light has gone out at Wake Forest University, then why invite me?"he asked. "If a public apology is not given, I will pack my bags and go homeright now, and I'll return to Wake Forest where we are trying to keep thelight burning."

Don Schmeltekopf, provost emeritus at conference host Baylor University,immediately stood and asked Leonard to accept his apology for any offense.

Schmeltekopf explained in an interview the language in the program was derived from a book by James Burtchaell, "The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches." Burtchaell devoted a chapter in the book to Wake Forest University, he noted.

Later in the conference, the issue re-emerged during a presentation by Larry Lyon, senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school at BaylorUniversity. Lyon presented a quantitative study in which he refuted the notion that national universities with religious roots must become secularized to achieve a strong academic reputation.

In his analysis, Lyon distinguished religious from non-religious universities on the basis of church affiliation, explicit religious language in the schools' mission statements, and required religion courses in theschools' core curriculum.

Analyzing how U.S. News & World Report ranks schools and how successful schools are at recruiting top students and faculty, Lyon concluded universities do not necessarily have to choose between religious commitment and a strong academic reputation.

One subheading in his academic paper-distributed to all of the seminar participants- raised the question, "Will Baylor go the way of Wake Forest?"

At the conclusion of Lyon's presentation, Leonard again spoke against a"regrettable generalization" about his school, saying he felt some at the conference had unfairly cast Wake Forest as a "straw-man institution" they could knock down.

As evidence of Wake Forest's commitment to religion, Leonard cited the selection of Nathan Hatch - an evangelical Presbyterian who was provost atNotre Dame University - as president, a $2 million Lilly Foundation grant on the theological exploration of vocation, and investment in the university's divinity school. Leonard called for "dialogue in which we don't characterize each other."

Lyon responded that his study was a quantitative analysis that did not factor in the kind of qualitative measures Leonard noted, and he felt the criteria used-religious references in mission statements and religion in the core curriculum-were clear measures for analysis.

Lyon also noted Wake Forest holds the "tier one" academic status to whichother schools, such as Baylor, aspire, and he said he did not feel his paper presented Wake Forest in negative light.

In an interview, Schmeltkopf said he shared Leonard's view that Hatch's selection as Wake Forest's president bodes well for Christian identity at the university, and he hoped it might signal a time when Baylor and otherBaptist schools could work more closely in "common cause" with Wake Forest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Interview with Steve Babb

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer Steve Babb, of the terrific musical group Glass Hammer, talks about many things, including the band's forthcoming album, in a new interview at Popthought. Steve's advice to young musicians: "Stay independent, write the music you truly wish to write, find your own place in the world, search far and wide for inspiration (novels, movies, romance, nature, God) and for goodness sakes, stop chasing the rock star dream." That describes Steve's own career admirably.

For more info on Glass Hammer, see the following:

Glass Hammer website

Review of Shadowlands

Review of Shadowlands and interview with band members

Review of Lex Rex

Absolutely THE BEST Pope Commentary EVER

Without comment, I offer the following bits from James Lileks:

The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?

* * *

To those who want profound change, consider an outsider’s perspective: the Catholic Church is the National Review of religion. You may live long enough to see it become the Weekly Standard. In your dreams it might become the New Republic. But it’s never going to be the Nation. And if ever it does, it will have roughly the same subscriber base.

* * *

The election of Ratzinger to the papacy has disappointed the Ordination of Catholic Women who were hoping to begin a modern era with a new pope.Habeum pap. Note: every era is the modern era to the people who inhabit it; a “modern” pope in 1937 would have announced that godless collectivism was the wave of the future, and ridden the trains to Auschwitz standing on top, holding gilded reins, whooping like Slim Pickens. The defining quality of 20th century modernity is impatience, I think – the nervous, irritated, aggravated impulse to get on with the new now, and be done with those old tiresome constraints. We’re still in that 20th century dynamic, I think, and we will be held to it until something shocks us to our core. Say what you will about Benedict v.16, but he wants there to be a core to which we can be shocked. And I prefer that to a tepid slurry of happy-clappy relativism that leads to animists consecrating geodes beneath the dome of St. Peter's. That will probably happen eventually, but if we can push it off for a century or two, good.

All The Livelong Day

Today, at The American Spectator, in the aftermath of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, I issue an appeal to stem the tide of "right-to-die" laws.

In support of my appeal, I enlist the wisdom of King Solomon. Please enjoy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Still More Baptists and Higher Education Reporting

The Future of Baptist Higher Education Conference wrapped up at Baylor today with some interesting sessions. Most notably, Martin Marty (in case you don't know THE RELIGION SCHOLAR IN AMERICA) addressed the entire conference. Your intrepid reporter showed up at the session with four friends who are also Ph.D. students. For some reason, perhaps nobility of soul, Dr. Marty made a beeline for us and spoke to us corporately and individually for 5-10 minutes. He asked about our research interests and commented on each. Before walking away he whispered his email address as though to say, "Write me. I'll actually field your questions and give advice." Shocking stuff from a tremendously prolific scholar. I'm still composing my message in my head.

In any case, Marty attacked the standard account that claims America is secularizing in linear fashion. Nothing new there, but he was trying to blunt the alarm many of us feel about the trajectory of the American academy. He sees America as very religio-secular, in a good way, with more give and take about religion than ever before. In particular he points to the profusion of good scholarship relating religion to . . .well, everything.

We also had a concluding session by young Baptist scholars who convincingly criticized older lions for being stuck in the old Southern Baptist Convention war and completely absorbed in defending freedom and autonomy. Being Baptist better mean more than freedom and dissent, otherwise we can just don our baseball caps and be Michael Moore-ons. Not a pretty future, not for me, anyway. Sadly, that's just what we heard from some conference speakers. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, gave an account of reality that sounded exactly like Moore in Bowling for Columbine. Happily, the young scholars in the final session offered hope for something other than freedom (surely the value that needs less defending than any other in North America) as a basis for Baptist life and scholarship.

A Libertarian Critique of Corporatism

Our English Libertarian friend Dr. Sean Gabb has been speaking out on numerous issues as the British parliamentary elections approach, always from his decidedly principled and uncommon point of view (particularly rare in Britain). Dr. Gabb recently spoke at a joint conference between Christian Aid and Oxfam in London (after midnight, for some odd reason).

The conference was about Free Trade Versus Fair Trade—yawn—but Dr. Gabb characteristically turned things on their head by moving straight to a central principle that is very seldom discussed: in this case, the favoritism governments show toward corporations as opposed to individuals and partnerships, and the consequences of that treatment. Here is an excerpt:

"If you think that I came here tonight to defend multinational corporations and the international government institutions, you have chosen the wrong person. These are dishonest. They are corrupt. They are incompetent. They have blood on their hands.

"But do not suppose for a moment that the world trading order as it actually exists is liberal or more than incidentally connected with free markets. A free market is a place where individuals and groups of individuals come together to transact voluntary exchanges without any backing of government force. To call the actually existing order liberal—or "neo-liberal"—is as taxonomically accurate as calling the old Soviet Communist Party syndicalist. That order is based on tariffs, subsidies and a web of other often invisible regulations. The international institutions are a projection of Western states. The multinational corporations are creatures of these states. They shelter behind the privilege of limited liability. They get their political friends to cartelise markets, and do favours in return.

"This is not market liberalism. It is a fraud played on us all by our ruling classes—these being those politicians, bureaucrats, educators, lawyers and media and business people who derive wealth, power and status from an enlarged and activist state.

As a result, Gabb does not support the current free trade system, although it is far better than the presently offered alternative, so-called fair trade. "But give me a straight choice between this and the economics of the jungle that is fair trade," he said, "and I will choose the present system. Global corporatism may be unfair. But it does at least allow some wealth to be created. It does allow at least some rational economic calculation. Fair trade simply gives even more power to politicians and bureaucrats and favoured business interests in poor countries—that is, to the very people and interests that made and have kept these countries poor. "

In his accompanying comments available on his website, Gabb elaborates on the matter of corporatism:

". . . I grow increasingly convinced that allowing the creation of joint stock limited liability corporations was one of the greatest legislative mistakes of the 19th century. Their existence is based on a separation of ownership from control. The owners are released from all responsibility. The controllers form a separate class of corporate bureaucrats little different in outlook from civil servants. The usual psychology operates. They will commit immoral acts for their organisations they might not consider committing for themselves. The owners will assent. The legal privileges and unlimited lifespan of these corporations let them grow to enormous size and wealth. The opportunities exist for highly effective immorality. Collectively, they become part of the state apparatus, and work to destroy true, unregulated enterprise.

"These corporations could not exist in any natural economic order. I have heard other libertarians argue that they might emerge without legal privilege on some loose contractual basis. But I do not agree. The shareholders would still be liable in tort, and that alone would deter them from any involvement with a business that they did not personally control. As for the utilitarian argument, that large undertakings need large companies, I also disagree. So long as it showed an acceptable return on investment, there is no project too big to be taken on by clusters of sole traders and partnerships. No doubt, things like the Channel Tunnel would not have been built–but I fail to see how not having that would have made the world a poorer place. Even if some highly valuable projects might not be undertaken, their lack would be compensated by the greater general innovation to be expected in an order of small, unregulated firms.

"Indeed, the matter of what to do about the corporations is more interesting to me than world poverty. As I said in my speech, people in places like black Africa are poor because they have maniacally corrupt and oppressive governments. They would do better even with the most cartelised global corporatism than left in the clutches of their own rulers. And that is it. But how can this corporatism be replaced by a system of voluntary exchange between legally responsible small firms? I think I have a few answers here, but will give these at another time."

Gabb's search for the true liberal position on economic matters is a fascinating one, and his critique here is strangely reminiscient of G. K. Chesterton's views on economic affairs. I look forward to Dr. Gabb's continuing analysis of corporatism and the potential liberal alternatives.

Baptists and the Pope

Another item from the Baptist Higher Ed Conference at Baylor. Several speakers thus far have mentioned the passing of the Pope. John Paul II has only been spoken of positively, although speakers tend to emphasize whatever aspect of his papacy suits their ideological bent. The big news, though, is that he is recognized and appreciated as a Christian leader rather than as some dark harbinger of the end times. This group was impressed by the Pope, his clearly formed legacy, and the outpouring of grief that attended his death.

By the way, an up and comer is clearly identifiable at the conference. David Gushee of Union University looks very good in the younger generation of Baptist scholars. He delivered a paper encouraging Baptists to look to the great tradition for a theological basis for the life of the mind and higher education. His voice will be heard more and more as the years go by and older lions recede.

More on the Higher Ed Conference

Baylor's conference on the future of Baptist higher education has had some serious drama. Outgoing president Robert Sloan uncorked a high intensity speech to open the event. He criticized the willful stupidity of those who see fundamentalist conspiracies behind every attempt to take the faith seriously. He also questioned those who take "Baptist freedom" so far as to nullify even a basic statement of the faith like the Apostle's Creed. After blasting various parties all over the religious and political spectrum he concluded by asking, "By the way, have I already welcomed you to Baylor?" The crowd responded with massive applause.

Later, Wake Forest's Bill Leonard demanded an apology for a statement in the program casting Wake as one of the institutions where the light has been extinguished, common parlance for formerly religious schools that have secularized. Due mostly to hospitality, Provost Emeritus and conference organizer Donald Schmeltekopf gave the requested apology. Denton Lotz of the Baptist World Alliance pressed the issue with Leonard with a question from the floor wondering in what way Wake Forest is meaningfully Baptist. Leonard's response was weak, pointing to Baptist heritage and an emphasis on dissent. We all know Wake Forest isn't Baptist any longer. The purported insult was a clear example of protesting too much.

More later.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Legal Query

Here is a comment that I appended to a discussion of the Terri Schiavo case at Patterico's blog, which is oriented to discussions of perspectives within the law. Please let me know what you think, especially if you are a legal beagle like the great Hunter Baker.

May I offer a legal theory that I believe could have been applied here with a modicum of creativity. Namely, the idea of the Federal Government appointing a guardian to supersede the State guardian. Now this idea is of the "out-of-the-box" variety, so let me give it a moment of development.

It seems clear that the status of "citizen" applies only as a description of a relationship with the Federal Government. One is a citizen of the United States and a resident of, say, Florida (like Terri Schiavo and me).

Theoretically, one could be a citizen of the United States and not be a resident of any state. Sell your house and move for a full year to another country and I don't believe that any State can claim jurisdiction over you as its resident.

Now, the institution of guardianship is usually left to the State to apply, within the context of its protection of residents. However, in theory there is no reason that the Federal Government cannot appoint a guardian for a person's rights of citizenship. That guardian would not be answerable to any State court.

Arguably, this might even be doable by order of the Executive branch alone, but it could certainly be done by the Legislative. The Congress could have passed a bill appointing Jeb Bush or some such personage as the guardian of Terri Schiavo, and the authority of Michael Schiavo would have been superseded and consequently circumvented.

No? Let's hear from all those finely honed legal minds.

Fifth Fessay

Regular readers are aware - and new readers are invited to learn - that I have invented a literary form that I call the "fessay", the fictional essay. I write an 800-word column about current events, except that I do it in the form of fiction.

Try it, you'll like it. The newest one is a mordant swipe at the CIA's pathetic intelligence-gathering apparatus. The one before that was a bitter synopsis of the cultural fallout from the Terry Schiavo case.

Go forth and read. In later years, you'll be able to say that you were there at the inception. And please leave a comment.

The Future of Baptist Higher Education

Baylor University is hosting an important conference on "The Future of Baptist Higher Education." Since the publication of books like George Marsden's "The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship," Mark Noll's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," and James Burtchaell's "The Dying of the Light," tremendous interest has been building in the concept of distinctively Christian higher education.

This week Baptists of several different persuasions will meet to discuss what higher ed. looks like within the nexus of Baptist and Christian distinctives. I'll be there and will serve as your intrepid reporter if anything interesting breaks out.

And by the way, Martin Marty will be there. If you don't recognize his name, you've never read a newspaper story on religion. The AP stylebook specifically states than any religion story must feature at least one quote from Dr. Marty.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (4)

And so the Jews march off into history, their initial, formative moral battle taking place in Egypt. Sure enough, the experience of Abraham is replicated on a national scale. This time the entire Jewish People is held hostage, plagues befall the Egyptian nation as a whole; then freedom results, once again with valuable parting gifts.

Then, this mysterious passage follows (Exodus 13:17): "And when Pharaoh expelled the nation, the Lord did not lead them through the Land of the Philistines, which was close, because the Lord said, 'Lest the nation regrets [leaving] when they encounter war and they will return to Egypt.' "

Why mention the road not taken?

Today we view this verse with an exciting new clarity. After the Jews had left Egypt, showing the world the national victory of morality as exemplified by Jews over corruption as exemplified by Egypt, the logical next step was to have a war of sorts with the Philistines, to demonstrate the superiority of God-based morality over the civil society founded on enlightened self-interest. The text perforce must explain that this skirmish had to be skipped, to be postponed until some future date, as the Jews were simply not in a condition to face another broad-based national struggle in their flegling state of development.

That battle would finally be fought in the era of Samuel, a uniquely great prophet whose leadership invited comparison to Moses. (See Psalms 99:6)

Thus, the demonstration of the power of the Ark within the Philistine camp is the very moment of national clarification that had been awaited since leaving Egypt. The Ark will show through symbols and plagues that ultimately true morality must be based on fear of God and that the finest civil society, replete with the loveliest manners, will eventually disintegrate along the fault lines of greed and lust when the voltage of temptation or desperation is turned high enough.

The first proof is in the human head and hands falling off Dagon, leaving the fish torso intact upon the pedestal. The fish represents the lesson of swimming paths around each other to avoid collision, enabling incredible quantities of creatures to coexist by circumventing the routes of others. This part of their ideology is fine and the Philistine avoidance of strife and theft is worthy of being celebrated.

But is there enough there to build a human head upon such a base, to create a thorough ideology that can provide a basis for human society? The answer is no: off with its head. Is there enough to guarantee a pair of human hands, human behaviors and actions that will withstand the push of temptation or the pull of desperation? Again no: off with its hands.

The people are punished, too, but not with externally manifest disease or violence. They maintain a society that has a nice exterior and their bodies need not be marred with wounds and lesions. But inside? Inside there is rot. So the punishment is hemorrhoids, an irritation at the border between the internal and the external.

Indeed the verse that provides the heart of that moment is this one (Samuel I 5:9): "...and they had hemorrhoids hiddenly."

Is this familiar? Have we seen this in our time? Do we see societies, or segments of societies, that have mastered the language and rhythms of civility, but do not find a place for God in their hearts? Have we seen such societies tested at the fringes, at the less-clear points, at the beginnings and the ends of things, with great pleasure or great pain, with great loss or great gain?

Let us reflect.

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (3)

The visits of Abraham to Egypt in Genesis Ch. 12 and to the Philistines in Ch. 20 are notable first for their similarities and then for their differences. The stories begin the same way. Abraham arrives with his beautiful wife Sarah and presents her as his sister. Immediately, the border guards confiscate the woman and bring her to the king (Pharaoh in Egypt, Abimelech among the Philistines) as a trophy. Then God punishes the king until he is forced to relinquish the woman.

What are the points of distinction between the two stories?

1) Pharaoh's punishments are delivered by an angel, whereas Abimelech receives a prophecy directly from God telling him to free the woman. That prophecy takes the form of a dialogue in which the king declares to God that he would never have taken her had he known that she was married.

2) Pharaoh's punishments are described as 'great plagues', indicating that they were visible. Abimelech was punished by the wombs of his womenfolk being barren, something that takes place internally.

3) Abraham did not bother explaining himself to Pharaoh after the ruse was discovered, but when Abimelech confronted him, he took the trouble to parse his own calculations and motivations.

4) Abraham leaves Egypt entirely behind but he develops a comfortable working relationship with the Philistines and even signs a peace treaty that is valid for four generations.

The conclusion seems clear. Pharaoh was running an evil society but Abimelech was leading a decent society. Prophecy is not possible for evil Pharaoh but is quite appropriate for Abimelech, a basically nice person. Abimelech can tell God truthfully that he would not ordinarily behave in that fashion.

Being a nice person running a decent society, Abimelech is entitled to an explanation from Abraham. Pharaoh is a lowlife who is not deserving of such consideration. Eventually, Abraham can come to terms with Abimelech sufficient to the formation of a diplomatic relationship encoded in treaty. Such concord is impossible with a Pharaoh.

Consequently, the plagues visited upon Pharaoh are public and conspicuous. His society is openly corrupt and the punishment fits the crime. Abimelech, however, has an outwardly civil society, with some subtle internal flaw. Its retribution is delivered in ways that do not present themselves to the casual observer. The flaw is deep; the reproof is beneath the surface, as well.

What, then, is this shortcoming that prevents the Philistine society from being a truly virtuous one? Abraham answers that himself when he says (Genesis 20:11): "Because I said [to myself] that there just is not the fear of the Lord in this place, and they might kill me over the matter of my wife."

There it is: civil society without fear of God. For all that it is vastly superior to the Egyptian model of grab-now-ask-later, Abraham argues that it still is fatally flawed because it has no ultimate limiting force. The Philistines have arrived at the strong sociological conclusion that their lives will be better if they treat each other with civility and respect each other's property rights. But they do it because it works, not because it's right. At some point, that will break down. Maybe a million dollars, maybe ten million; there is a point at which the person will make the grab and forget the principles. Abraham did not want to test their resolve with his wife, the world-class beauty.

In our final installment, we will apply these lessons to the latter-day Philistines of Samuel's day.

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (2)

When last we convened, we were pondering the matter of the Ark's effect on the Philistines. It made their idol, Dagon, lose its human head and hands, retaining only its fish torso: merman become ordinary fish. It also caused all the Philistine citizenry to experience extremely painful hemorrohoids, to the point where people were wailing loudly in the streets.

The key to this event, I would posit, lies in the initial encounter of Abraham with the Philistines. It is a basic principle of Biblical exegesis that the experiences of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on the individual level always presage national experiences of the Jewish People.

We know that Abraham is described as clashing with two specific cultures. Although he lived in Canaan, he occupied territories that had been lying fallow until his arrival, so there is no overt conflict between him and Canaanites. He only once is presented as interacting with a Hittite (a sub-nation of Canaan), when he negotiates to buy a piece of property for a burial plot. Additionally, whatever clashes he may have had with Nimrod and others before being called to go to Canaan are not specified in the Scripture; whatever we know of that period is through oral history, some of which was eventually written into Midrash.

In brief, the Bible chooses to record only the two collisions of weltanschauung, one with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and one with Abimelech, first identified only as king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2). Later, when Abraham signs a treaty with him, the text (ibid 21:32) identifies his people as being Philistines.

Clearly, these are the two prototypical encounters for the man living the inspired life in the material world. The meeting with the Egyptians; then, the meeting with the Philistines.

More later.

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (1)

My readers will forgive me, I pray, for allowing the spirit of the weekend to move me toward writing of matters Scriptural. Yet I feel certain that before we are done, we will have explored arenas that we encounter even in what we like to call the 'real world'. Realness in that context defining a thing's immediacy rather than its essence.

The story is told in the first Book of Samuel of the Jews fighting a war against the Philistines and taking very heavy casualties. On the second day of fighting, not only is the human toll high, the Ark that contains the Tablets of the Covenant is captured. The Philistines take this trophy and place it in the temple of their idol, whom they call Dagon. Dagon had the body of a fish, with the head and hands of a human being.

When they open the temple the next morning, they find that Dagon has fallen to the ground. They restore it to its perch. The morning after that, they awaken to discover that God has refined the message a bit. The fish torso is still in its position on the platform, but the human head and hands have fallen off. Thereafter, they assign a greater reverence to the portion that remained on its base.

After this, the Philistine people begin to suffer a widespread plague of hemorrhoids. Everyone seems to be suffering from them, so much so that the streets are a cacophony of wailing from the pain. Finally, they come to the conclusion that they must return the Ark.

The obvious questions are: why did the head and hands fall off and the fish body remain? And why were they punished with hemorrhoids of all things? These questions have been engaging me for twenty years or more and only recently have I arrived at a theory that explains this to my satisfaction.

Have a look at Samuel I, Chapters 4-6, and see what you think. I'll be back in a few hours to offer my analysis and its relevance to contemporary life.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dialogue and Perspective

Just to clarify, it's not as if we held an editorial board meeting to determine what comments would stay or go. Standard rules of engagement apply. I wouldn't remove any comments that make a substantive point unless they go off into utter obscenity or completely unedifying villification.

Tlaloc enjoys being a gadfly. I imagine that any readers digging his comments are probably busily scanning the Democratic Underground. I'm still waiting for Tlalocblog so we can get a more full perspective on our resident critic's thoughts and dreams.

A Cautionary Tale

The Reform Club is an open-minded place; although its host authors have worldviews with very large fields of overlap, our policy is not to censor the Comments section, except in very extreme cases of bad taste. As the Dean of the Yeshiva I attended was wont to say: "The only people we expel are those who are experiencing prophecy."

Yet, the comment by Tlaloc below, offering 'perspective' for the 9/11 murderers, seeing them as an inexcusable yet understandable response to this nation's oppressive policies abroad, stands well beyond the pale of civilized discourse and by right should be excised.

The decision to leave it was not based on 'allowing that view to be heard in the arena of intellectual debate'; rather, it is there as a demonstration of the absolute horror that can emerge from a mind that is not moored in bedrock values.

Cultural Changes and Their Causes

Mike D'Virgilio of MDV Outlook has referred to this author's Washington Examiner article on religion in popular culture, in his excellent blog. MDV points out,

"Christians have always had an ambivalent relationship to culture. Throughout the history of the Church you can see the way Christians in the variety of traditions sought to relate to the culture they lived in. The classic study of this is “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Neibuhr. This is required reading if you are interested in this sort of thing."

As it happens, I read Christ and Culture a while ago, on Mike's recommendation. It is indeed an excellent book. Though I do not fully agree with all of the author's conclusions, I think it a brilliantly insightful and knowledgable book and an excellent analysis of how people relate to their surrounding culture.

Mike believes that a prominent cause of the changes some of us see in American culture was 9/11:

"At the top of my list would be 9/11. As problematic as the idea of evil is, when we look into the face of it we cannot deny it exists. And if evil exists so does good, and if good and evil exist there is probably more to the universe than matter-plus-time-plus chance. Madilyn Murray O’Hare, the infamous atheist who disappeared some years ago, groomed her son to take over the crusade, but something happened on the way to this atheistic nirvana. The son became a Christian. The reason, he said, was because he saw in his mother evil (she was not a pleasant women, in case you don’t know the story), and if evil really did exist, so did good and so did God. As Augustine said, evil is the absence of Good, the privation of goodness."

(Regarding the O'Hair case, I acknowledge, of course, that many people who claim to be Christians have lived evil lives, and that atheists can be quite benevolent. What Mike is pointing out is what one particular person saw and how he reacted.)

I have written elsewhere that "Even an event as riveting as the September 11 atrocities, however, can only do so much to change underlying social attitudes, and one would be wise to expect any changes based solely on such a phenomenon to have a very limited shelf life, however intense the immediate effects." I perceive that there has been a gradual change in the American culture, and that people are only now really beginning to notice it. However, I think that Mike may be correct in observing that 9/11 accelerated or added some definition to the process.

Mike points out that 9/11 made the existence of evil quite vivid:

"So Americans after that horrific day were forced to confront a reality that had been easily ignored."

That seems to me quite true.

There can be no question that most Americans saw the 9/11 attacks and their perpetrators as evil. Most social changes, however, have multiple, intertwining causes, as Mike notes. And as I wrote in the aftemath of that event, "
If they are to last, however, such changes must have a solid foundation in the nation's values and ideals. Fortunately, there is positive news here, too. As author Colleen Carroll noted in the December 3, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard, 'evidence abounds that a growing interest in religion-especially traditional religion-among the young antedates September 11 by several years. It seems to be a trend that springs from deeper roots and thus may prove to be enduring.' Her observations accord with other poll information and cultural evidence, suggesting a possible base for a sustained social reformation."

Hence, "
The heroes of September 11 were there on September 10, but it took a crisis to call them forth. Just so, the American people may well have been calling for a new culture that would reflect their essential decency, and there are distinct signs that artists, producers, and the like are beginning to listen. The new million dollar question is whether this process will continue. But one thing is clear. If there is to be a real cultural change in the wake of September 11, it will be because there was already one in progress before that."

I believe that these changes are indeed real and likely to last. As Mike points out in his article, however, the nature of our culture depends on how we choose to engage it. And sometimes our actions have unexpected consequences.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Lost Project of Reclaiming Liberalism

The good Mr. Karnick dreams of reclaiming the word "liberal" for people with opinions like his own. He is right to want to do so because at one time men like him and even Ronald Reagan would have easily qualified for the label.

Writing for The Weekly Standard, Joel Engel takes yet another shot at explaining why today's "liberals" don't deserve the appellation they now own. Here's a sampling:

Depicting Condoleezza Rice in editorial cartoons as a big-lipped mammy who speaks Ebonics to her massa is many things (offensive, sickening), but it is not liberal.

and a bit more . . .

Referring to illegals as "undocumented workers," and to those who'd like to enforce immigration laws as evil and racist, is many things (self-destructive, short-sighted), but it is not liberal.

Joking about Charlton Heston's Alzheimer's because you don't abide his politics is many things (cold-hearted, intolerant, sophomoric), but it is far from liberal.

Enjoy Lacrosse!

A nice article in the Daily Southtown, a newspaper based in subarban Chicago, explores the increasing popularity of lacrosse around the nation. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the country, in terms of participation at the K-12 level. It has long been popular among young people on the East Coast and is now spreading rapidly across the nation, though it has not yet achieved true mass popularity or awareness.

In addition, today's issue of USA Today includes a story on Gary Gait, one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, who is retiring at the end of this season. Gait has correctly been called the Michael Jordan of lacrosse, for his competitiveness, his amazing leaping ability, and the great and innovative scoring touch brought to the game.

In a college game for Syracuse, Gait leaped forward from behind the goal (which is surrounded by a circle that offensive players may not enter), extended his stick, and shot the ball into the net. No one had ever done it before. It was like the sport's first slam dunk. (The move is now illegal.) In addition, Gait and his twin brother, Paul, spiced up the sport with no-look passes, airborne between-the-legs shots, and other such impressively athletic moves.

Gait will become a coach in the professional outdoor lacrosse leage this summer.

The author of the Southtown article describes lacrosse as follows: "this is a sport that essentially combines the toughness of hockey and soccer, and revolves around a rock-hard rubber ball that blasts like a closed fist from a shooter's stick to the back of the net."

I would say that lacrosse is the roughest outdoor team sport with the probably exception of football alone. (Rugby is about is rough as lacrosse.) Lacrosse is great fun to watch. The action is continuous, the players hit hard and often, and the scoring happens much more often than in soccer, hockey, baseball, and football. When played by young ladies, the sport is not nearly so rough as the boys' game, but the finesse part can be even more interesting.

It is important to recognize that the ball does not naturally remain in a player's crosse, the net part of the stick; one has to "cradle" the ball in the crosse (twist the stick rapidly to create centrifugal force) in order to run with the ball. Opposing players are allowed to strike the stick of the player carrying the ball, in order to dislodge it. These efforts often miss, which means that the player carrying the ball is often hit repeatedly about the head and shoulders with other players' sticks. Hence, a player dodging through traffic to score a goal is doing something very difficult indeed.

Lacrosse is my second-favorite sport, close behind football, which is the greatest sport ever invented, in my view.

Lacrosse was recently shown on network televsion for the very first time, as ABC telecast the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game. (The NLL is the major professional indoor lacrosse league. Major League Lacrosse is the major professional outdoor league. Indoor is a slightly faster game with lots of hitting and a bit more scoring, but the outdoor game has a real beauty to it in the way the offensive and defensive strategies play out.)

A rapidly increasing number of lacrosse games is being shown on cable stations as well. MLL games are shown on ESPN during the warm months, and NLL games are shown on several Fox Sports Net channels, Comcast Sports Net channels, and the like, during winter and early spring. Games are now being shown in the New York City area (on Fox Sports NY) and other major markets. Denver's Altitude Sports Network is very strong on lacrosse coverage. In addition, numerous college games are shown on College Sports Television, ESPNU, the BYU network, and many local sports cable stations.

For more information on this great and growing sport, visit the U.S. Lacrosse site at http://www.uslacrosse.org/.

More on Paul Henning

An article on satirist Paul Henning (an expansion of thoughts that have appeared on this site) is available at National Review Online today.

Dole Pines For Big Apple?

If you get a chance in your market to see a rebroadcast of Charlie Rose's interview this morning with Bob Dole, or you can buy a copy, by all means avail yourself. This is something absolutely out of this world. I stumbled on it "by accident", i.e. the Good Lord was kind enough to open this door for my edification and education.

This is no politician's evasive interview, no New York ingroup ego-fest; it is frank and revealing but never treacly.

Asked to define his legacy, he answered: "If they could put on my little marker 'Honor. Duty. Country. God Bless America', that's good enough for me.