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

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Laura Bush's Transgressions

Here's a fine opportunity for our friends to denounce me as a shill for the Bush administration, but bear with me, if you would be so kind. A reputable friend of mine approvingly sent me the text of a June 7 speech by a talk show host named Chuck Baldwin, called "Could Teresa Heinz Kerry Get Away with This?"

Baldwin takes the Bushes to task for Mrs. Bush's speech before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C.

Baldwin accurately recounts what happened:

"In a scripted 'interruption' of the President's remarks, Laura began by comparing herself to the sleazy characters of the television sitcom, Desperate Housewives. She said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they are desperate, they ought to be with George.' Her remarks only went downhill from there.

"Mrs. Bush continued by saying, 'One night, after George went to bed, [Vice President Dick Cheney's wife] Lynne Cheney, [Secretary of State] Condi Rice, [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales [a strip club where women tuck cash into male dancer's skimpy thongs]. I wouldn't even mention it except [Supreme Court Justices] Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secretary Service code name is now "Dollar Bill."'"

. . . "Mrs. Bush then referenced President Bush's lack of ranching skills by saying, 'He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse.'"

Baldwin is horrified by this, writing as follows:

"[A]s our President and First Lady, Mr. and Mrs. Bush have a duty to hold high the moral standard of our nation. That they are willing to publicly use vulgar and profane innuendos, even in jest, reveals a serious lack of character and discernment."

Here I think it important to note that Baldwin's accusation of the President having used "vulgar and profane innuendos" in public is entirely unfounded. Mrs. Bush is the only one of the two to whom the accusation may apply.

But let us proceed to Baldwin's main contention:

"The real point of this story, again, is not the misjudgments and misconduct of the Bush family, but the unwillingness of the Religious Right to hold this President to the same standards that they would hold Al Gore, John Kerry, or any other Democratic president to.

"This is simply another glaring lesson on the dangers of Christians putting partisan politics above commitment to bedrock principle. Unfortunately, it's been going on since President Bush was first elected in 2000 and there is no sign that it will stop anytime soon."

Baldwin notes that Mrs. Bush has said that she supports Roe v. Wade, and once stood up to applaud a play about a transvestite (which I have not seen and hence cannot judge its merits, if any). Those are things of which the Christian Right strongly disapproves.

I am not aware, however, that Mrs. Bush made any statements supporting Roe v. Wade at the correspondents' dinner or at any other time since her husband was elected president. And even if she did, I would not care about it from a policy point of view: her husband is the president, and she isn't.

Of course Mrs. Bush's attempt at humor was vulgar and stupid—because it was so horribly inept and unfunny. Her writers should be shot. But that is not Mr. Baldwin's complaint.

It is that good Christian people, especially right-wing preachers, have not jumped up to denounce President Bush: "Their willingness to overlook, and even condone, the improper conduct of President Bush, or in this case, First Lady Laura Bush is appalling."

That may well be true, but it is important to recognize that there are serious religious reasons for much of the Christian Right to refrain from making a big deal out of this.

The big reason is to avoid being hypocrites and vipers.

Yes, Mrs. Bush's monologue was putrid and inane, and the Bushes don't remind us of the Cromwells.

But what, exactly, would Mr. Baldwin suggest President Bush do about his wife? Divorce her? Muzzle her? Beat her? Forbid her to go to the theater? This seems a rather strange attitude, to me.

The point Mr. Baldwin is aiming to make is that the Christian Right should condemn President Bush as a bad man, or at least a bad Christian, because he does not prevent his wife from acting a little weird at times. If that is correct, then my wife is a very bad woman for not preventing me from being as foolish as I frequently am.

I think we can all agree that the Bushes are far from perfect, or even as moral as Chuck Baldwin claims to be. But I cannot get worked up about it, and I guess it is because I do not come from a pietistic religious tradition, as Mr. Baldwin evidently does, and am highly aware of my own imperfections. To me what counts is what you stand for, and if you are morally weak and unimaginably far from perfect, then we definitely have something in common.

Baldwin says that the preachers of the Right refuse to criticize President Bush because . . . well, he never does say precisely why the Christian Right supports President Bush so unquestioningly in this case and others. But it is a question he has to answer if his claim is to have any credibility at all. Exactly what is it that the Christian Right gets from President Bush that they would not have got from a President Kerry?

I would submit that what the Christian Right gets from President Bush is rhetoric, and that they are very grateful for it. Rhetoric is powerful and can change the world.

Many people stand for antinomianism and live like it, and they have a great effect on the course of society. The Bushes stand for morality and live it about as well as the rest of us do, on average. I certainly cannot claim superiority, and I suspect that some of the preachers Mr. Baldwin condemns feel the same way about themselves, that their own lives have not been devoid of transgressions, and they are acutely aware of their own weaknesses. As long as a person stands for morality, even though he or she falls short of Baldwin-like perfection, the Christian Right ought to be expected to stand behind them.

Hence, I shall respectfully refrain from casting stones in this particular case.

Dean End Seen

Michael Jackson's jury is still out, but it's time to call in a different jury and render a verdict.

Earlier this year, at the time of the DNC hiring Howard Dean as its head, I maintained that Dean would calm down and act responsibly in that position, as he did in his years as Governor of Vermont, and there would be a net gain to the Democratic Party. Dr. Benjamin Zycher predicted that Dean would continue his bomb-throwing hijinks and provide much entertainment for us at the expense of the Dems.

Well, the results are pretty clear. Dean is consistently acting like a pit bull and is a disaster for the Democrats.

Verdict is in: Dr. Zycher was right, I was wrong.

Noonan on Felt

Peggy Noonan had a couple of arresting paragraphs on the Deep-Throat story that I had to share because of their unique perceptiveness:

First, on Felt:

Was Mr. Felt a hero? No one wants to be hard on an ailing 91-year-old man. Mr. Felt no doubt operated in some perceived jeopardy and judged himself brave. He had every right to disapprove of and wish to stop what he saw as new moves to politicize the FBI. But a hero would have come forward, resigned his position, declared his reasons, and exposed himself to public scrutiny. He would have taken the blows and the kudos. (Knowing both Nixon and the media, there would have been plenty of both.) Heroes pay the price. Mr. Felt simply leaked information gained from his position in government to damage those who were doing what he didn't want done. Then he retired with a government pension. This does not appear to have been heroism, and he appears to have known it. Thus, perhaps, the great silence.

His motives were apparently mixed, as motives often are. He was passed over to replace J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI by President Nixon, who apparently wanted in that place not a Hoover man but a more malleable appointee. Mr. Felt was resentful. He believed Nixon meant to jeopardize the agency's independence. Here we have a hitch in the story. The liberal story line on the FBI was that under Hoover it had too much independence, which Hoover protected with his famous secret files and a reputation for ruthlessness. Mr. Felt was a Hoover man who joined the FBI in 1942, when it was young; he rose under Hoover and never knew another director. When Hooverism was threatened, Mr. Felt moved. In this sense Richard Nixon was J. Edgar Hoover's last victim. History is an irony factory.

Next, on Colson (who I met while working at Prison Fellowship as a law student, so I'm partisan):

Were there heroes of Watergate? Surely many unknown ones, those who did their best to be constructive and not destructive, those who didn't think it was all about their beautiful careers. I'll give you a candidate for great man of the era: Chuck Colson. Colson functioned in the Nixon White House as a genuinely bad man, went to prison and emerged a genuinely good man. He told the truth about himself in "Born Again," a book not fully appreciated as the great Washington classic it is, and has devoted his life to helping prisoners and their families. He paid the price, told the truth, blamed no one but himself, and turned his shame into something helpful. Children aren't dead because of him. There are children who are alive because of him.

I think Noonan is right in her assessment of both men.

One of the reasons I never liked Dennis Miller that much or really bought into his re-emergence as a conservative hero is that I once heard him rip Chuck Colson in a way that showed he had no concept of the transformation the man had undergone both privately and publicly. You can't read Born Again and not see the sincerity.

Of course, what she suggests about Felt is absolutely fascinating. Nobody has really evaluated him as a dyed-in-the-wool Hoover man.

Shiflett Prints Headlines from the Past

Dave Shiflett is a knockabout writer. He did Trump's pre-presidential run book, probably a number of other ghostwriting episodes (like our Jay Homnick), a book defending Christianity from various spurious or somewhat spurious charges, and now one on the growth of conservative churches.

This last book is hardly necessary. Dean Kelley (of the liberal National Council of Churches, of all places) documented the trend decades ago. The reason for the loss of members to liberal churches has been commented upon repeatedly: there's no God there. The liberal churches simply proclaim a spirit of the age who is the same person as the people in the seats. Don't need no Savior. We're doin' just fine. "I'm okay. You're okay." Or something like that.

Nevertheless, Shiflett has done numerous interviews for the new book and it may prove interesting. He's done two pieces for NRO about it. Read the latest here.

I almost forgot, the title of the book is Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Adventures in Moving

During our move from Waco to Athens, Georgia, I've had some interesting experiences:

1. Our packers (yes, for the first time we hired packers) stayed in our house for something like 13 hours. They were incredibly slow (we lived in a small duplex) and actually packed the contents of our filing cabinets, which was not a happy thing.

2. While wife and kiddies took a plane, I drove the cats 14 hours from Waco to our intermediate stopping point in Alabama where my folks live. After a round of cat urination and ear-rattling screeching from one of the felines, I found a small-town vet enroute to inject them with tranquilizers. The rest of the trip went better, but I couldn't stop for fear of rousing them. My only stops were gas and restroom visits combined.

3. I listened to a dense unabridged audio tape of George Washington's life. Like most such volumes, it made the man sound significantly less interesting than we think he was. It also made the Revolutionary War sound less exciting and victorious than advertised. I'm going to hope David McCullough's new book will revive both subjects for me.

4. I forgot to mention two massive interstate traffic jams along the way and a skull-ripping headache in the midst of the last jam a mere twenty miles from home. Did you ever want to know what makes a grown man weep? I know the answer.

5. We purchased a Honda Odyssey minivan (don't worry paleocons, it was built in Alabama) prior to leaving for Georgia. I love it. The family man thing has its compensations.

6. The cats rode in the originally urine-stained vehicle for the last leg of the trip, which my wife drove while I got kid duty. The same cat obliged again, despite being tranquilized.

7. Anybody know what gets out the nightmare ammonia smell of cat urine from a Honda Accord?

8. We arrived in our old house rental in Athens, Georgia. It has a lot of charm, but . . .

9. The basement floods a bit, the air-conditioner gave out on the fourth day, and the kitchen floor is approximately seven decades old.

10. Back with more later . . .

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Karnick in Christianity Today

Although Mr. Karnick isn't reviewing films very often these days, he makes a successful foray into theology for this critical review of David Klinghoffer's book about Jewish-Christian conflicts.

The dialogue between writers like Karnick and Klinghoffer is interesting because it occurs within the confines of a political alliance. It's as if fellow soldiers turned to one another and said, "Let's talk about something that's been bothering me." Dangerous, but probably necessary.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Do-It-Yourself M.A. in Political Thought

Great guest post by Greg Forster at Evangelical Outpost on how to get an M.A. in Political Thought the autodidact's way. Check it out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Eyewitness in Iraq

Here's a fascinating eyewitness account of the U.S. job in Iraq, from embedded reporter and science writer Mike Fumento:

"First the weather report. The heat is awesome now. Basically look at the Baghdad temperature and add ten to 15 degrees. At night it doesn’t get cooler than 80 and by 8 in the morning it’s 100. Today we were out working in full body armor and one temperature checked showed 17. I’m amazed I’m handling it as well as I am. But then again, you don’t have much choice. You do your job and that’s that.

"Work was my embed with EOD – Explosives Ordinance Division. They’re a kick-butt bunch of guys drawn from all the services. Their job here is to handled unexploded ordinance, dispose of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and investigate the aftermath of suicide bombings. It’s like a firehouse here. You sit around with every comfort in the world (except alcohol!) and wait for an emergency call. They got me up early in the morning for the first call, a 130 mm shell stuffed with plastic explosive dug into the dirt by the side of a paved road. A team whose job it is to spot IEDs found it and secured the area before we got there. Bomb disposal isn’t what it used to be. Now they use Talon robots, such as the ones I wrote about. They’re quite amazing. Later I saw them use it to open a door latch and crawl into the barracks. Unfortunately, while the Talon made it to the IED just fine the monitor went out. So the couldn’t use it to yank the wires.

"But then they whipped out a tiny flat little robot they call a 'bomb-blower.' It’s only about 18 inches long and maybe six inches high. They put C-4 plastic explosive onto it, drove it over the IED, and blew it. Nice explosion; got pictures. But as per usual the actual IED, though disarmed, was still active. They collected pieces to be sent to forensics to make determinations about who might have made the made it. They even dust for fingerprints. Then they checked to see if there were wires leading to a detonator because they want to track what systems are being used. We found just six inches of wire but that was enough. Meanwhile, the MPs providing security nabbed two guys running away wearing jogging suits and tennis shoes. They were wearing scarves indicating they were from another Arab country and indeed neither looked the least bit Iraqi. I think they were Jordanian. Since they had absolutely no other purpose being there other than to set off the IED, it’s almost a given they were the would-be killers. Yes, got pictures.

"Then it was time to blow the device itself and the honor was given to me. The det [detonation] cord was bad though so we had to go through it again. This time two Iraqis drove danger close near it. We set off flairs but to no avail. When the charge went off, they both dived out of the truck and one landed in a shallow canal. At first we were horrified but we found them none the worse for the wear and explained with pictograms what we’d done. They were quickly all smiles. They don’t like IEDs, either. Yes, got pictures of everything. Literally a blast. We made several runs after that but they were all pretty worthless. One suspect IED turned out to be literally a bag of chicken s---!. They did collect a piece of mortar round where a poor Iraqi worker had stumbled across one and blown a hole in his chest.

"These guys are real pros. It was quite an honor being with them and yet almost nobody knows they exist. I hope to fix that a bit. After all, this is almost entirely a war of explosives. The bad guys are aren’t too big on standing and fighting."

This material has yet to be published, though it surely will be, and Mike has a lot more to report. His website, www.fumento.com, will be well worth a visit for those desiring more of Mike's excellent firsthand observations and his countless articles on other subjects.

XXX Internet

I doubt that it will make much difference, but the AP reports that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has approved a plan to create a "virtual red light district" on the Internet by assigning web addresses ending in .xxx to pornographic websites.

This action will make it very easy for individual computer users to use blocking software to keep children and others from visiting these sites. However, use of the .xxx designation is to be entirely voluntary, and it remains to be seen whether porn sites will choose to move to the "red light district" or prefer to remain more accessible. The AP article noted that John Morris, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, "predicted some adult sites will choose to buy 'xxx' Web addresses but others will continue to use dot-com."

The article did not entertain the question of whether governments will eventually require such sites to take .xxx addresses, but that would seem to be an obvious possibility. The U.S. Supreme Court might well find such a federal law to be constitutional, as not being a case of the Congress imposing censorship or prior restraint of protected communications and hence not a violation of First Amendment protections. The U.S. federal government would undoubtedly be able to claim that such a move was allowable under the Interstate Commerce Clause.

This will be an interesting debate to watch, should the move toward requiring the use of the .xxx designation come to pass.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Here's Mud In Their Eyes

Another great Yahoo headline for you - 'Experts: Wet Winter Caused California Landslide.'

I wonder what was their first clue.

And I wonder too: where do you go to become an 'expert'?

The Case Of The Comprehensive Compendium

Like Mr. Karnick, I am a Perry Mason devotee. I have read every one of the novels, novellae and short stories at least once, often eight or ten times, since I began reading them at age twelve thirty-five years ago.

I am linking here the best compendium ever written of Erle Stanley Gardner, his life, his career as a lawyer and as a writer. Well worth reading.

Perry Mason in The Case of the Lucky Legs

With an internet group, I am reading (and in some cases rereading) Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels, one per month, in order of publication. Our most recent read was The Case of the Lucky Legs, the third novel in the series, first published in 1933. It's a great read—quick and absorbing, with much action and an excellent evocation of life in Depression-era America. The story centers around a small-town beauty contest winner who gets mixed up in a murder in the big city. Mason defends her at the behest of a bossy, manipulative, wealthy man whose motives are difficult to discern until ultimately revealed. The way the character, Bradbury, attempts to bully and manipulate Perry is quite interesting--obviously he does not know Mason as well as we do.

Perry's interest, however, is in the protection of his client—a classic damsel in distress, though highly modern in her moral dilemmas and the choices she makes—and the joy he takes in a good fight. Gardner had spent some time as a boxer in his college-age years, and Mason exhibits an open joy in fighting through conflicts, with both mind and fists. Perry shows much of the physical toughness of Gardner's earlier pulp-fiction heroes—he even threatens to punch out a policeman. Gardner strives to make the point that Perry is a fighter, returning to this theme several times.

Perry is also ingenious and knows the law thoroughly, enabling him to triumph through brains while protecting himself and his clients with sheer force when necessary.

Lucky Legs was actually the first Perry Mason novel Gardner wrote, though it was the third to be published. As a result, it is rather more hardboiled than most Mason novels (which are much more hardboiled than the TV series was), and the plot is far simpler than the average Mason book.

The atmosphere of the book is gritty and often somewhat sleazy, and Gardner's establishment of Perry as the moral center of the books is very effective. Even more than in the television series, Mason will do whatever it takes to get his client off—but only because he knows his client to be innocent. Mason, in fact, mentions in this book an earlier case (not written as a Mason novel or story) in which he obtained a good plea-bargain deal for his client who killed a man who had been abusing her. (Things have changed a bit since those days, thank Heaven.)

Much of the action in this book, as in other Mason novels, takes place in taxicabs or private automobiles on night streets in the big city, and in cheap hotel rooms. The sense of physical entrapment so common to the Mason novels is established quite well here, and it even comes into play in Mason's office suite, as police or a client await while he tries to get into or out of his office without their knowing. Instances of police or private detectives "tailing" a suspect are quite common in this as in other Mason novels, and Mason even tails a character by chartering an airplane to follow a mail plane on which the person is supposed to be flying—quite an unusual story element in 1933.

To me, the feisty Perry of the novels, especially the early ones, is a much more impressive and interesting character than the domesticated version Raymond Burr portrayed in the television series, and although Gardner would ultimately reduce the amount of physical action Perry got into in later novels, this pugnacious Perry is basically the one we see throughout the series of books.

Perry is much more of a loner here, also, largely running things himself and keeping Della and Paul mostly in the background. One can see that as Gardner developed the concept into a series, Della Street and Paul Drake became much more prominent characters as a way of giving the readers more characters to identify with and as a means of reducing the amount of description necessary; with Della and Paul so familiar to readers, Gardner did not have to spend much time introducing them and could move on to his favorite aspect of writing, the creation of incredibly complex plots. In addition, Lucky Legs is very unusual in that it does not have any courtroom scenes. There is a decent amount of discussion about subtleties of the law, but the courtroom scenes, which would become a highlight of the series, have yet to be established here. Lt. Tragg and DA Hamilton Burger have likewise yet to be introduced.

It is particulary fascinating to read a Mason novel that has such a (relatively!) simple plot--Gardner was one of the great plotters, and TCOT Lucky Legs is startlingly straighforward in this regard (though still more complex than most hardboiled detection novels). Here Mason is basically a rougher, more resourceful and tenacious version of Ken Corning, Gardner's earlier defense-lawyer series character. Once Gardner began to incorporate into the Mason series the plot complexity that he had used in his Lester Leith and Ed Jenkins pulp stories, he began to create true classics of the genre, such as TCOT Counterfeit Eye, TCOT Haunted Husband, and TCOT Silent Partner.

The Case of the Lucky Legs appears to be out of print at present but is readily available at libraries and in used book stories and online booksellers. I highly recommend the book, and would suggest that those interested in the Mason series begin with the first two books, TCOT Velvet Claws and TCOT Sulky Girl. The Mason books are quite addictive and are well worth reading.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Felt Wore Two Hats

Eight minutes ago, the Washington Post confirmed the Vanity Fair assertion that the source (known as Deep Throat) who made his Watergate mark felt was W. Mark Felt, number two guy at the FBI.

Was it public-spiritedness that moved him? Or mean-spirited resentment at being passed over when J. Edgar Hoover's replacement was sought? Was he a man of conscience, a Deep man? Or a man of appetites, a Throat man?

The Gaul Of Some People

The news that Paris Hilton is engaged to Paris Latsis brings a perverse symmetry in that anything Ms. Hilton does can be presumed to be motivated primarily, if not entirely, by self-love.

Not terribly surprising, either, that 'Paris' turns out to be an epicene appellation.

If I write a book about this great romance, a title suggests itself: A Tale Of Two Cities. That is, if I can figure out what the Dickens this girl is doing as an icon in our culture.

Being Faithful in the Little Things . . .

Showing real versatility as a writer, my fellow Reform Clubber Jay Homnick hails the best pinch hitter in baseball. I really recommend this little essay with a priceless introduction.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Jacko Boxed In

The analysis in the linked article strikes me as very solid. I agree with the academic and journalistic legal commentators that the Michael Jackson verdict will rely heavily upon the closing arguments. The evidence has been less than definitive. Whichever side captures the imagination and the heart of the jury with greater eloquence is likely to emerge victorious, as it were.

About which, some observations.

1) It is my view that closing arguments should be very strictly regulated; they should be limited to recalling the evidence and arguing the inferences. There should be virtually no dramatic appeals allowed, because they create biases that are inappropriate.

Clemency (or outrage) has its place, of course, but much later: when the judge is sentencing or the governor is considering a pardon. Juries need to be focused entirely on the process of intellect and judgment required to produce the best rendering of a verdict from the facts presented.

2) This idea of conviction 'beyond a reasonable doubt' is honored in the breach rather than the observance [as the Bard said; er, the B(eyond) A R(easonable) D(oubt) of Avon, that is]. Juries are almost always subconsciously applying the civil standard of 'preponderance of evidence' rather than the criminal standard of 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

In a case like Michael Jackson, the ultimate evidentiary standard may well be: "Does he just look goofy weird? Or does he look nasty weird?"

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chardonnay Snobbery

If I had better career advice in my youth I might have dropped out of economics and opted for making a living by tasting wine. Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher do that for The Wall Street Journal. Imagine that. They’re paid to drink.

Their April 29 “Tastings” said, “If you were planning g to head to the wine store tonight to pick up a bottle of American Chardonnay under $20, we have one word of advice: Don’t.” After more than 50 inexpensive chardonnays, and found only four worth drinking -- St. Francis, Clos du Bois, J. Lohr and Rutherford (in that order).

I haven’t tried Rutherford but the other three are fine. Clos du Bois was my January pick as the top party wine, because it comes in a 1.5 liter size for $16. But that price is so far under $20 it makes me wonder what other wines Gaiter and Brecher tasted. They mentioned being disappointed by Bogle (which does a better job with Merlot), but that too is only about $8. J. Lohr is about $9. Perhaps they should have spent, say, $13-14 before deciding only four U.S. chardonnays under $20 are worth drinking.

It may be true that many Americans are too stuck on chardonnay, but it is not true that you can’t buy a very good bottle for less than $20. Here are a few readily available chards with WS (Wine Spectator) ratings above 90 – the bottom edge of outstanding. Some years may be better than others, and prices are approximate:

Chateau Souverain WS91 $14
St. Clement WS91 $15
Chateau St. Michelle “Indian Wells” WS90 $18
Sebastiani WS 90 $13
Villa Mt. St. Eden WS90 $13

Here is one I like from South Africa:
Glen Carlou (So. Africa) WS91 $14

And one from New Zealand:
Allan Scott (New Zealand) WS 90 $14

If Gaiter and Brecher tried any of those and didn’t like them, or if they haven’t tried them at all, then they’re not wine experts.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Christianity Today Still on the Baylor Beat

Michael S. Hamilton has done a nice job of reframing the controversy at Baylor and discussing where the combination of Christian character and the university might be going.

It's good to see Christianity Today is still pursuing the Baylor story. Check it out here.

Thomas Madden on Kingdom of Heaven

Watching Kingdom of Heaven, one gets the uneasy feeling that the characters sound, act, and think far too much like people of our own time. And is it rather dull much of the time. I would suggest that this is by no means a mere coincidence.

Any historical drama, of course, will reflect ideas and attitudes of the period in which it is written, often to great advantage. However, this is an aspect that must not be overdone, lest the historical anachronisms undermine the effect of the drama, at least for those who have some knowledge of the relevant history.

This is particularly true of Kingdom of Heaven. Director Ridley Scott presents a story line that speaks well to contemporary issues, but in doing so, he and his screenwriter have had to distort the history of the time well beyond recognition or even plausibility. It's a pity, because Scott is a talented filmmaker who typically makes a commendable effort to understand and express his characters' motivations. Kingdom of Heaven, however, has a certain emotional distance to it, attributable in good part, I think, to the unreal nature of the situation. As the distinguished historian Thomas Madden notes in today's issue of National Review Online,

"As a matter of plot logic, one might reasonably wonder why all of these Crusaders wearing crosses on their breasts and marching off to hopeless battles care so little for Christianity? When preparing for the defense of Jerusalem, Balian proclaims that it is not the stones that matter, but the people living in the city. In order to save the people’s lives he threatens to destroy all of the Christian and Muslim holy sites, 'everything,' he says, 'that drives men mad.' Yet if he is only concerned with defending people, why has Balian come all the way to Jerusalem to do it? Aren’t there plenty of people in France who need defending? The truth is that Scott’s Balian has it exactly wrong. It is the stones, the buildings, the city that mattered above all else. Medieval Christians saw Jerusalem as a precious relic sanctified by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The people were there to glorify God and defend His Holy City. The real Balian, faced with the inevitable conquest of Jerusalem, threatened to destroy the Dome of the Rock if Saladin did not abandon his plan to massacre the Christian inhabitants. That plan is airbrushed out of the movie. Indeed, the good and noble Saladin of this movie lets all of the citizens depart with a hearty, good-natured smile on his face. The real Saladin required them to pay a ransom. Those that could not — and there were thousands — were sold into slavery."

Madden acknowledges that Scott has repeatedly said that Kingdom of Heaven is “not a documentary” but a “story based on history.” As Madden notes, however, the use of history has its limits, and to turn a real-life story of the Crusades into a call for religious tolerance requires too much distortion to allow the film's characters and their choices to remain credible. In removing much of what motivated the real-life characters on which the film was so loosely based, the film flattens the characters and their choices into highly artificial constructs subservient to an all too banal moral, however fine that idea might be. That is destructive to art, and I would suggest that it is what makes it a far less interesting and enjoyable film on an aesthetic level than it could have been.

Madden's critique includes much detail on the real story behind the characters in Scott's film. Read it here.

Insisting on Academic Freedom

Baylor University briefly made a foray into the world of Intelligent Design when it hired William Dembski to begin a center investigating the subject in the late '90's. He was an extraordinarily well-published double Ph.D. who promised to make ID an interesting topic of research and conversation. Baylor's biology faculty subsequently crushed Dembski's center (not exactly the usual tolerance of dissent we hear so much about) and he served out his contract in isolation.

Later on Baylor hired Francis Beckwith, a philosopher, and Walter Bradley, a mechanical engineer, to positions in other departments. Beckwith had argued ID could permissibly be taught in public schools (but not required) and Bradley pursued ID (from the cosmological angle) as a sideline to his primary work. Their hires attracted conspiracy theorizing from Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch in Academe. To Academe's credit, they published Beckwith's and Bradley's responses. Here they are:

Intelligent Design

Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch misleadingly depict my appointment at Baylor and my academic work on intelligent design in the January-February issue. They falsely imply that I was sought after by the Baylor administration and hired autocratically as part of some conspiracy to turn Baylor into an academic enclave for intelligent design. Until my on-campus interview in February 2003, I had never met or spoken to a Baylor administrator. That interview occurred while I was on the faculty at Princeton as a James Madison Fellow, five months after I had applied for the Baylor post in response to a national advertisement.

The authors state that twenty-nine descendants of my department's namesake (J.M. Dawson) requested that Baylor remove me from my post. They don't mention the support for me from my provost, department chair, department colleagues, and numerous professors from around the world, some of whom disagree with my views. One of them, Kent Greenawalt of Columbia Law School, was so aghast at the Dawsons' use of a quote of his to hurt my appointment that he wrote a letter to my chair condemning it.

I argue that it is constitutionally permissible to teach intelligent design in public schools, which is the conclusion of the thesis I wrote in 2001 as part of my M.J.S. degree at the Washington University School of Law. It was published as a book in 2003, and various portions of it appeared in articles in Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, San Diego Law Review, and Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy. I'm not an intelligent design advocate, and I don't think it should be required in public schools. I do think, however, that some intelligent design arguments raise important questions about philosophical materialism and the nature of science that should be taken seriously and may indeed have a place for discussion in public school classrooms. Academic liberty knows no metaphysical litmus test, whether it's religious or irreligious, or proposed by Jerry Falwell or Barbara Forrest.

Although I stand by my work on intelligent design and public education, it is only a recent interest of mine. I had already established myself with scores of articles and many books in the areas of ethics, religion, and politics. In fact, my monograph on abortion is cited several times in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on that subject.

In my opinion, Forrest and Branch are blacklisters whose witch-hunt tactics should be shunned, and not published, by Academe.

Associate Director, J. M. Dawson Institute for Church-State StudiesBaylor University


I am writing in response to the article in the January-February issue by Forrest and Branch. In this article, my hiring at Baylor University is portrayed as being part of a grand conspiracy by the administration to pursue a secret intelligent design agenda, casting aspersions on my academic qualifications and on the administration's integrity. What is particularly galling is that the authors never bothered to contact me or my department head or dean to inquire about this matter.

Why was I hired at Baylor? Maybe it was because I am very academically qualified to help build an outstanding graduate program in engineering that will be synergistic with our under-graduate program. During my eight years at the Colorado School of Mines and twenty-four years at Texas A&M University, I published 140 refereed articles and book chapters, secured $4.5 million in external research funding, served as department head at TAMU, and received five local and one national research awards and two teaching awards. I am an elected fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation.

During my interview at Baylor University, there was no discussion of my work in intelligent design. I spent most of my time in the School of Engineering, giving a seminar and visiting with all of the school's professors. I was told that the recommendation of my hiring was supported unanimously by the faculty in the school. The focus of my work since joining the school has been to begin to develop excellent master's programs and secure external funding to support them, which I have done.

Let me be very clear that I have done and will continue to do work in the areas of intelligent design, cosmology, and the origin of life. However, it is a blatant lie to pretend that my hiring was in any way connected to this extracurricular interest of mine as a "member of the Wedge," whatever that means. I am a fellow of the Discovery Institute in recognition of my work in the origin of life, not as a functionary in some fantasy conspiracy theory. This McCarthyism by Forrest and Branch has no place in the academy or in a publication by the AAUP, which is supposed to be a champion of academic freedom.

(Engineering)Baylor University

Thursday, May 26, 2005

They Must Be Drinking Ethanol

The press provides us with two more bits of evidence that the ethanol lobby has stopped courting gullible reporters with three-martini lunches and moved up to chugging pints of pure ethanol.

The first item is a prudently unsigned Associated Press story in The Washington Times May 26 which spoke of the ethanol industry “lobbying blitz arguing that 8 billion gallons of ethanol would replace 2 billion barrels of crude oil.”

There are 42 barrels in a gallon of crude oil, so you’d need 84 billion gallons of ethanol – not 8 billion -- to replace 2 billion barrels of crude.

Besides, the 8 billion gallons of ethanol cannot be produced from corn or sugar (the only sources politicians favor) without wasting a lot of petroleum. It requires petroleum to fuel farm machinery, to produce fertilizer and insecticide, and to transport both the corn and ethanol by diesel truck or train (because ethanol won’t flow through pipelines as oil and gas do).

The second evidence of ethanol poisoning is “Stirrings in the corn fields” from The Economist, May 14. This piece claims Midwestern U.S. drivers can save money by using 85 percent ethanol (E85), because the price near cornfields “is only 10 cents or so from being cheaper than standard gasoline even if there were no subsidies” (of 51 to 71 cents a gallon).

Even if prices of E85 and gasoline were identical, however, E85 would nonetheless be 30 percent more expensive because cars using gasoline get 30 percent more miles per gallon than those using E85. The government estimates, at www. fueleconomy gov, that a Mercedes Benz C320 gets 26 mpg on the highway with gasoline, for example, but only 19 mpg with E85. If gasoline were $2 a gallon, E85 would have to sell for about $1.40 to compete on a cents-per-mile basis. Incidentally, the much larger and more powerful E-series diesel Mercedes (E320 CDI) is rated at 37 mpg on the highway –nearly twice as fuel-frugal as the smaller C320 using E85.

The U.S. political impulse to produce more ethanol from corn cannot be justified on economic grounds, though tax-financed subsidies are always described as a brilliant idea by those receiving them.

More On Torture

My esteeemed friends Tlaloc and James F. Elliott seem to believe that the U.S. government encourages or at a minimum accepts the torture of prisoners, whether military or not. There have been several investigations and courts martial delving into this issue, and as best as I---a lowly scholar---can tell, no evidence supports that assertion. To quote Andrew Sullivan---an honest and smart guy, but also a man who seems to have been driven insane by the gay marriage issue---is to avoid the issue of actual evidence actually confirmed. Is there an operationally useful definition of torture, other than a Potter Stewart adaptation? No doubt some (isolated) examples of behavior that we would agree qualifies have been perpetrated by some U.S. personnel. Under the conditions of war and pressures to obtain information, it is impossible that such outcomes would fail to be observed. That does not constitute a U.S. policy of torture. And the idea that such behavior is widespread among U.S. personnel is preposterous; that is why reports of such are newsworthy.

The rendition policy, under which certain detainees are sent to Egypt and the like for questioning, is the real problem with U.S. policy, for reasons simultaneously moral, political, and practical. War is hell and ugly things happen; that does not mean that orders to do so, whether explicit or implicit, came from on high.

American Idle

This year’s big loser on American Idol was Lisa de Moraes, the condescendingly snobbish Washington Post TV columnist. She calls Carrie Underwood “the hoedown queen” and ridicules her for a “total lack of understanding of the lyrics of almost any song.” To justify the latter remark, Ms. de Moraes had previously taken Carrie to task for failing to adequately explain these perfectly unambiguous lyrics of McArthur Park: “Someone left the cake out in the rain I don't think that I can take it 'Cause it took so long to bake it. And I'll never have that recipe again.”

In today’s column, Ms. de Moraes is appalled that “more than 500 million votes were cast Tuesday night for Underwood and Bice. I think that’ more votes than the president got.” Well, 500 million would be nearly ten times as many votes as the president got (59.7 million) and nearly twice large at the entire U.S. population (272 million). As was clearly explained, the 500 million figure referred to the total votes cast for the whole season.

Since Ms. Moraes lacks even the grade-school knowledge to realize it is impossible to collect half a billion U.S. votes, I wonder how well she could explain, say, the lyrics of McArthur Park.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bottum Line on U.S. Political Divides

In his article "The New Fusionism," in the current edition of First Things, Joseph Bottum considers the great variety of positions that now go under the rubric of conservatism, and notes a "curious fact":

"Those who believe the murderousness of abortion to be the fundamental moral issue of our times and those who see the forceful defeat of global, anti-Western Islamicism as the most pressing political concern we facepro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, in other words—seem to be increasingly voting together, meeting together, and thinking together. If you want to advance the pro-life cause, you will quickly find yourself seated beside those who support an activist, interventionist, and moralist foreign policy for the United States. And, conversely, if you are serious about the war on terror, you will soon discover that you are mingling with those fighting against abortion."

While acknowledging that there is no obvious direct connection between the two issues, Bottum identifies an underlying commonality of purpose that seems a very plausible explanation of why the positions against abortion and for preemptive U.S. actions in the international arena have come together in recent years:

". . . at the level of political theory, there’s a reasonable connection between what we do at home and what we do abroad—or, at least, between the attitudes that cause us to enact certain domestic agendas and the attitudes that drive our foreign policy. A nation that cannot summon the political will to ban even one particularly gruesome form of abortion is unlikely to persevere in the grueling work of building international democracy simply because it seems the moral thing to do. And a nation that cannot bring itself to believe its founding ideals are true for others will probably prove unable to hold those ideals for itself.

"The abolition of abortion and the active advance of democracy have more in common, I believe, than is usually thought. But even if they are utterly separate philosophically, this much is true: They both require reversing the failure of nerve that has lingered in America since at least the 1970s, and success in one may well feed success in the other.

"The goal in either case is to restore confidence in—well, what, exactly? Not our own infallible rightness, surely. But neither can we live any longer with the notion of our own infallible wrongness. We need to restore belief in the possibility of being right. . . .

"In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way."

There is much more to Dr. Bottum's argument, and I highly recommend it as a provocative and well-reasoned look at current political alliances.

As Lions and Lambs Together

Let us, as the green eyeshade types would put it, take inventory. Sentences both run-on and nonsensical. Applause for forced sodomization. Not in the running in the make-them-forget- George-Carlin derby. The Iraqi nation as secular until Uncle Sam came along. On the sauce. A failure to grasp the horrible actions of the NKVD, oops, the U.S. military prison personnel. A failure to spell "publically" correctly. Mr. or Dr?: Only his hairdresser knows for sure. Did I miss anything?

So much calumny; so little time. That was not a run-on sentence, however long, but rather a common literary technique, and we at the Reform Club expect our clientele to display the same high standards in reading that we offer in writing. The musing about Saddam's transformation into Maddam reflects no endorsement of prison rape on my part---is it too much to expect readers to be serious rather than steeped in the asinine dogmas of political correctitude---but instead would be poetic justice given what Saddam's henchmen used to do to his prisoners. Or have the memories of the saintly Uday and Qusay evaporated quite so quickly? I will leave George Carlin to fend for himself. Lest our esteemed readers forget, Saddam inserted a Koranic saying onto the Iraqi flag only a few years ago in an effort to ingratiate himself with the Wahhabi purists. Or perhaps Saddam merely was revealing himself as deeply spiritual. The U.S. military prison guards as torturers? Oh, please; anyone who believes that is a fool who knows nothing about torture. (Hint: Discomfort, embarrassment, and cultural insensitivity do not qualify.) By the way the Abu Ghraib photos were released during the course of a U.S. Army investigation, begun well before the issue hit the NY Times. "Publically" or "publicly"? Zycher's hairdresser knows that one for sure, and she's from Iran. A fabulous economist? Is there such a creature? Well, in the brave new world of embryonic cloning, anything is possible. Which is precisely the problem.

And now, my fellow Americans, back to work.

Carl Groves Interview

Carl Groves, composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist for the excellent musical group Salem Hill, spoke recently with the Victory e-zine about the band and its latest project. Carl is an intelligent and thoughtful chap, and the interview, though brief, provides some insights into his fertile mind. Carl talks about the band's previous albums and progress on their current production, and also tells us what his favorite albums are. (It's a very interesting list.) His comments on the band's forthcoming album, reportedly "epic-filled," are quite tantalizing, as they suggest an interesting new musical emphasis.

An excerpt:

"Victory: Will the sound contine to progress as in your latest releases (BE, Not Everyone's Gold) or will it be back to the 'roots' like your earliest albums?

"Carl: Actually, I think 'Be' is fairly stripped down, certainly compared to 'NEG', 'TRoM' or even 'Catatonia.' This album . . . at least so far . . . has taken on a completely different personality to anything we've done. Although lyrically and instrumentally we're doing what we've always done, there's actually more of a jazz quality to this album. I've been playing a lot more piano outside the band and that has influenced the sound in that the three songs I've written or contributed music for are quite piano-centered. It's quite the contrast to our last one as 'Be' is so guitar-centered. But piano has always been my favorite instrument so I'm not terribly upset by it's prominence on this new album. This album is also the most symphonic album we've done as each song has quite a bit of development and color changes throughout. However, to summarize, I would say that the jazziness of the album has been the most surprising, even to us!"

I agree with Carl's assessment of BE as relatively stripped-down, and it appears that the band has made a good decision in progressing again toward a slightly different sound. I think that going any further into the heavy guitar texture that tended to drive BE would reduce the satisfying complexity of the group's music. I certainly look forward to the next release.

Baseless Charges

There will be no shortage of commentary on the "deal" to avert the showdown on the Nuclear Option to proscribe the filibuster, including many conservatives laughing hollowly at the Democrat commitment to refrain from using it except in "extraordinary circumstances".

My comment will be brief: when will those lunkhead Republicans get it? The medium is the message; their base needed the show of strength more than they needed the issue itself resolved.

Even if the deal works out well (unlikely), the Republicans are huge losers, although anyone can see from their sound bites that they are totally clueless. Well, hopefully, "G-d will protect the gullible" (Psalms 116:6).

Monday, May 23, 2005

On The Sauce

In response to the Honorable James F. Elliott, who asks whether I am "on the sauce": Well, no. But after viewing Saddam in his undies, I wish I were. By the way, in the newish tradition (or fad) of heartfelt American women offering themselves in holy matrimony to tattooed guys serving lengthy terms in the local hoosegow, I wonder if the aforementioned photos of Saddam might inspire some gay guy to offer his hand, or something anyway, to Saddam? Even better: Upon conviction, let us show our humanity and forswear the gallows for Saddam, opting instead for some serious time at a randomly-chosen correctional institute right here in the good old U. S. of A. El Presidente-of-the-Islamic-Republic-of-Iraq-for-Life will go in Saddam, and he'll come out Maddam. Justice is poetic indeed.

Oh the Humanity

Let's see here: There is no end to the horror. We've gone from the U.S. getting bogged down in a quagmire during the brutal Afghan winter to the U.S. causing 250,000 casualties among Iraqi civilians to the U.S. causing 1,000,000 civilian refugees to the U.S. causing a civil war to the U.S. torturing non-POWs by taking unflattering/embarrassing/humiliating photos of them to the U.S. flushing a Koran down the pipes to the U.S. taking photos of His Majesty Saddam in his undies. Pretty soon "torture" will be the lack of super-soft toilet tissue and the use of naughty words and cigarette smoking in full view of Iraqi kids under 21. The mass graves? That's old news. And the mainstream journalists---ignorant, stupid, lazy, dishonest, biased, and arrogant---just cannot fathom why anyone would pay attention to a bunch of lazy loudmouths writing commentary in their pajamas. Any photos of them? I hope not: That would be torture.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

In Search Of Linguistic Ex-cellence

Lately we have tried to use our modest pulpit here as a perch from which to issue small corrections to published media.

The object is not to practice one-upmanship and cry "Gotcha!", but to appeal to a future generation of scribblers to be more careful in spelling and usage.

Today's culprit is Matt Drudge, who is running a headline: Bush Extols Graduates To Embrace Values.

There is nothing wrong with extolling (i.e. praising) graduates. But one suspects that the intended word was 'Exhorts'.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Jail-O From The Block

Perhaps I'm a tad obtuse. But I don't get why seeing Saddam Hussein in his briefs is a big deal, one way or the other.

The New York Times and other self-important media types are frantically searching whatever it is they have in place of souls: was it appropriate to present this as fruit of their reportorial loom?

This guy killed hundreds of thousands. Now he is a little man living the small life that he should have always led.

Remember what Thomas Gray wrote in Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard:

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrants of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes.

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.

Solar Provider

The new finding that exposure to sunshine helps limit a number of cancers is obviously good news to a Miami resident like myself.

On the other hand, too much exposure is still considered to be deleterious.

The advantage of being in the sun is that it helps the body build up its supply of Vitamin D. This helps various internal organs. However, the skin is damaged by having too much sun, as it has the tough job of being the filter, meeting the sunlight first and being abraded by the encounter.

To be honest with you, I have always assumed that this was the case, relying on the Biblical verse that it is a "sun of charity, with healing in its wings" (Malachi 3:20). Even though the main focus of that prophecy is on the end of days, the Talmud (Nedarim 8b) teaches that part of that healing power is already in place.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Judging Amity

Given that numerous bloggers have been linking to Norman Ornstein's column claiming that the Republicans' proposal to end judicial filibusters during the current session is unprecedented, as a public service I'll provide a link to Wendy Long's refutation of Ornstein's argument. An interesting irony identified in Long's article is that one senator who has employed in recent years the Republicans' proposed means of setting precedents by parliamentary majority is . . . Robert Byrd (D-WV). Enjoy.

Baker on Revenge of the Sith

Karnick continues to refuse to show the readers of the Reform Club blog his utter mastery of film review so I'm stepping in again.

Sith may be the best of the Star Wars films with regard to pure action and light saber duels. I lost count of how many duels there were, but Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Obi-Wan-Kenobe, Anakin Skywalker, the Sith Emperor, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Yoda all get in serious swordplay. I loved all of it.

Weak points.

The plot was difficult to follow in places. There were times I thought to myself, I can't tell what exactly is happening, but simultaneously realized I didn't care.

The Anakin/Padme' romance continues not to work at all. They simply aren't a believable pair.

Portrayals of politics are also bad. You just don't believe the scenes with the Senate. All the galactic politicians appear to be utter lemmings. If you've ever known any politicians, you know differently.

Dialogue-wise there's a groaner that really threatens to ruin a good scene. As Anakin and Obi-Wan size each other up for a battle, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that "Only the Sith believe in absolutes!" Ummm, yeah. Absolute evil, maybe. If the emperor is any indication, there's not absolute good anywhere in the guy.

Finally, way too rough for the kiddies. They just shouldn't see it. Graphic and frightening for a youngster parented with care. This PG-13 is really warranted.

Otherwise, great ride. Worth full ticket price in the theatre on thrills alone. The action is so good it overcomes lots and lots of weaknesses in the script.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Credit Where Cash Is Due

I urge all our friends to please read the article that I have linked. It is a beautifully composed piece of journalism from the Los Angeles Times, telling the tale of a hero of our intelligence services who has become enmeshed in a bureaucratic jumble. He is being denied Workmen's Compensation for a beating he took as CIA Station Chief in Teheran in 1979.

To me this is exactly the role that reporters should play, a compassionate role of holding a magnifying glass to cases that are mishandled because of technicalities and lack of initiative among careerist employees, both in government and in business.

This is the type of journalism that should transcend the labels of Republican and Democrat, helping the individual to get his day in the court of public opinion.

Jeff Jacoby on Why Islam Is Disrespected

In his syndicated column today, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby evaluates the reaction of U.S. government officials and media to the Muslim riots sparked by a rumor that American soldiers had desecrated a copy of the Koran. Jacoby points out that both the Bush administration and conservative media pundits blamed Newsweek for the riots. While acknowledging the magazine's culpability in the matter, Jacoby points out that there were no "deadly protests triggered in recent years by comparable acts of desecration against other religions," as in 1989 "after photographer Andres Serrano's 'Piss Christ'—a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine—was included in an exhibition subsidized by the National Endowment for the Arts," or when "singer Sinead O'Connor, appearing on 'Saturday Night Live,' ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II," or "in 2000, after Arabs demolished Joseph's Tomb, torching the ancient shrine and murdering a young rabbi who tried to save a Torah from the flames," or "in 2001 in response to the destruction of two priceless, 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha by the Taliban government in Afghanistan."

Religious conflicts are always a part of human life, given that religion is a fundamental part of a person's mindset. However, we have a right to expect a sense of perspective on these things, and as Jacoby's examples indicate, it is by no means impossible today for religious people to show restraint in such instances.

Jacoby points out that the sort of behavior both non-Muslims and Muslims themselves seem to expect of Muslims is perfectly infantile and would not be tolerated from any other group. I would add that claims of earlier oppression by colonizers from other cultures certainly have some validity and may merit redress today (although all ethnic and religious groups can make such claims; such is the nature of human history). Nonetheless, the kind of perfectly mad reactions in which Muslims today indulge in response to the smallest presumed slights cannot be excused by either past wrongs or claims about the sanctity of their religious symbols and artifacts. People should respect one another's religions, but other groups have similar claims about their sacred objects, yet they do not routinely engage in such hysterical overreactions today. Complaining in the press, as American Catholics did in response to the slights Jacoby mentioned, is a far, far, far cry from riots and murder. Such behavior certainly is not expected from nor accepted of groups other than Muslims.

Jacoby points out that the people leading Islam today harm non-Muslims and Muslims alike, and the latter worse than the former. In this they are abetted by the acceptance of the Muslim poeples in their own oppression. Hence, Jacoby says,

"the real desecration of Islam is not what some interrogator in Guantanamo might have done to the Koran. It is what totalitarian Muslim zealots have been doing to innocent human beings in the name of Islam. It is 9/11 and Beslan and Bali and Daniel Pearl and the USS Cole. It is trains in Madrid and schoolbuses in Israel and an 'insurgency' in Iraq that slaughters Muslims as they pray and vote and line up for work. It is Hamas and Al Qaeda and sermons filled with infidel-hatred and exhortations to 'martyrdom.'"

"But what disgraces Islam above all is the vast majority of the planet's Muslims saying nothing and doing nothing about the jihadist cancer eating away at their religion. It is Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a pro-democracy organization, calling on Muslims and Middle Easterners to 'converge on our nation's capital for a rally against terrorism' this month—and having only 50 people show up.

"Yes, Islam is disrespected. That will only change when throngs of passionate Muslims show up for rallies against terrorism, and when rabble-rousers trying to gin up a riot over a defiled Koran can't get the time of day."

Interesting Weblog on Intelligent Design

There is a new ID blog out there without any of the usual suspects. Looks like an eclectic mix of younger guys (at least one agnostic) and seems pretty stimulating. What really strikes me as interesting is that the standard group of anti-ID fans/roadies run around making comments even at this new website. Whenever I've written the slightest kind thing about ID or anything critical about the neo-Darwinian synthesis, I get a load of email from these same fellows.

Anyway, check out Telic Thoughts. (Telic means purposeful.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Alan Reynolds at Opinion Journal

Our senior economist Alan Reynolds is once again in print with the Wall St. Journal. Check out his thoughts on the perseverance of the American Dream here.

Here's a paragraph:

To repeat, there is no evidence that it has become harder to get ahead through hard work at school and on the job. Efforts to claim otherwise appear intended to make any gaps between rich and poor appear unfair, determined by chance of birth rather than personal effort. Such efforts require both a denial that progress has been widespread and an exaggeration of income differences. To deny progress, the Times series claims that "for most workers, the only time in the last three decades when the rise in hourly pay beat inflation was during the speculative bubble of the 90's." Could anyone really believe most workers have rarely had a real raise in three decades? Real income per household member rose to $22,966 in 2003 from $16,420 in 1983 (in 2003 dollars)--a 40% gain.

Oh NO, Whole Foods Banishes Me

Like the writer of a Weekly Standard piece I'm about to mention, I really like Whole Foods Market. I almost bought stock in it, but instead picked up the Krispy Kreme that tanked like Jacque Cousteau. The WFM is just a lovely place to go. Beautiful, organic produce and lots of food you haven't seen before. Great little juice bar and lunch counter, too.

Alas, I am sorry to say, they have thrown their lot in with Peter Singer, the great advocate of terminating live born children and sex with animals. I think I'll stick with my ethically harmless sugargreasebombs. Read about it, here at the Weekly Standard.


THE DOWNSIDE to the Whole Foods experience is that its success is driven by one of our era's more grotesque phenomena: the upwardly-mobile urban dweller, the one who wants to indulge class-conscious epicurean yearnings and save the world, too. Whole Foods is a wonderland molded to accommodate the psyche of the socially-responsible, guilt-ridden liberal--the crunchy Kucinich capitalist.

What other conceivable reason would the chain have for displaying Out magazine at the checkout stand? Even if the wishful demographic estimates of gay-rights groups don't economically justify this niche product's front-and-center placement at the point of sale. Out--with other unreadable yoga and nutritionist-approved lifestyle monthlies arrayed around it--screams: You are an open-minded, deep-feeling and wondrously spiritual person. You are now free to buy, buy, buy!

That's also why the fundraising tally for the crisis du jour--tsunamis, famines, whatever--for each individual Whole Foods store is artfully displayed near the ATM swipe. The website, wholefoods.com, is designed more in the style of a charitable foundation than a billion-dollar grocery enterprise. "Seafood sustainability" and "commitment to green" are among the subliminal slogans seeded throughout the shopping experience, as if to say, Hey, we're in this together. Your total is $117.42.

He gets to the Singer part a little further down. I just thought the above paragraphs were particularly wonderful.

Get to Know Mike Gerson . . .

Carl Cannon has written a marvelously in-depth article on Mike Gerson, the chief speechwriter for the President. Cannon has clearly done his homework on this one. He displays more knowledge of the conservative Christian world than I've seen from any journalist. Although it's a National Journal piece, Joel Rosenberg has very graciously posted the article on his website. Just click here and start reading.

As is standard practice with a Baker post, here's an excerpt:

The trick isn't getting a guy who writes in your voice -- any reasonably talented professional speechwriter can pull that off -- it's getting someone with whom you can achieve Vulcan mind-meld. Kennedy had this with Sorensen, who was, author Theodore White said, "almost a lobe of Kennedy's mind." Saul Pett, the great Associated Press writer, described the challenge this way: "Writing isn't hard. Thinking is hard." And what Bush has in Gerson is -- for all their differences -- someone who thinks like him.

The Calling of the Apostle George W. Bush met his Ted Sorensen in early 1999, in an unlikely setting for the Lord to work his mysterious will -- if that is what happened.

Gerson came into the Marriott hotel room, shook hands with the Texas governor, and sat down. Also present were longtime Bush confidant Karen Hughes and David Beckwith, who was the newly hired spokesman for Bush's as-yet-unannounced presidential campaign. Rove was flitting about, too, but with a phone in his ear, typically doing three things at once. The governor's attention was not scattered, however. It was riveted squarely on Gerson.

"This isn't an interview," Bush said. "I want you to write my announcement speech, my acceptance at the Republican convention, and my Inaugural Address. And I want you to move to Austin immediately."

I take exception with the article on one point. Cannon goes into explaining what happened to fundamentalists (there's that word again) with the Scopes Trial and its aftermath. He correctly identifies Scopes as a mountain top experience for eastern liberals, but doesn't do nearly as good a job explaining the fundamentalist reaction to the case. For a really good account on that score, read Edward Larson's Summer for the Gods, a Harvard University Press book that won a Pulitzer Prize.

The Shadow Knows

Life is not always a fairy tale. Brother, it's grim out there.

For a writer like me, tending to good spirits, creating grim moods in prose does not come naturally. Still, the subject of sexual predators is one that looms large in our lives as parents; it behooves us to infuse our discussion of such matters with a tense overtone, a strained inflection, like speaking through gritted teeth.

That was the feel that I tried to impart in my article today about Megan's Law and various situations arising therefrom. Here is a link to the American Spectator for that essay.

In addition to the substance of my points, see if you think that I captured that mood.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You Can't Review If You Don't View

If the greatest Editor of our time, the estimable S. T. Karnick, has deemed this book review worthy of publication, who are we to argue? The man knows his stuff.

Very Interesting Article on Phil Johnson in Washington Post

Check it out HERE.

In case you aren't in the know about Johnson, he's the father of the new Intelligent Design movement (as opposed to the old one with Paley). You'll get what you need in terms of background from the article.

The Need for New Religious Terminology: Fundamentalists

The term "fundamentalist" came from theologically conservative Christian scholars who wrote a series of volumes defending the Christian faith titled "The Fundamentals."

A perusal of the volumes indicates that the use of "fundamentalist" as a derisive term has no connection to the reality of those books. They were written by real scholars with serious degrees from serious institutions.

Because the books were so widely distributed and enthusiastically received by many Christians, the word "fundamentalist" was coined to show identification with the message of the books. Over time, the word became an epitaph very much like the infamous "N-word" that contributes virtually nothing to understanding or discourse.

The abuse of the term has become even worse now that it is used to identify certain segments of Islamic extremism. More serious still has been the tendency of American progressives to cross-identify American theological conservatives with aggressive Muslim terrorists. Thus, we hear of "Texas Talibans" and the like. Such identifiers are particularly ridiculous considering the fact that an outsize proportion of our troops fighting Muslim terrorists likely identifies with the basic values of early American fundamentalism.

In response to the false (or provenance-challenged) Newsweek story about a Koran being flushed down the toilet, we have heard news of a riot among Muslims causing the deaths of several people. Such a response is unheard of in Christian circles and readily highlights the perils of cross-cultural religious comparisons. In other words, a fundamentalist is not a fundamentalist is not a fundamentalist.

The Worldly Appeal of Religious Observance

Writing in Slate, Judith Shulevitz visits a 1994 article by economist Lawrence Iannaccone, "Why Strict Churches Are Strong," to consider whether there are some very good reasons for people to submit to the moral strictures of a church. Shulevitz observes,

". . . economist Laurence Iannaccone makes the counterintuitive case that people choose to be strictly religious because of the quantifiable benefits their piety affords them, not just in the afterlife but in the here and now.

"What does the pious person get in return for all of his or her time and effort? A church full of passionate members; a community of people deeply involved in one another's lives and more willing than most to come to one another's aid; a peer group of knowledgeable souls who speak the same language (or languages), are moved by the same texts, and cherish the same dreams. Religion is a '"commodity" that people produce collectively,' says Iannaccone. 'My religious satisfaction thus depends both on my "inputs" and those of others.' If a rich and textured spiritual experience is what you seek, then a storefront Holy Roller church or an Orthodox shtiebl is a better fit than a suburban church made up of distracted, ambitious people who can barely manage to find a morning free for Sunday services, let alone several evenings a week for text study and volunteer work."

Shulevitz points out that a church that becomes too restrictive creates a situation in which the costs to an individual outweigh the rewards, and she astutely notes that "America, one of the few countries with no state religion and a truly open market in religion, should be home to so many varieties of fundamentalism and orthodoxy. The explosive growth of conservative Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and the slow decline of more genteel denominations such as Episcopalianism may well represent not the triumph of reactionary forces, but the natural outcome of religious competition."

In describing churches as liberal or conservative, it is important to note, Shulevitz is talking about the level of commitment they expect from their members, not a political position.

Liberal Dilemmas

We have a wag about the office who regularly poses hilarious dilemmas for left-wingers. Here's the latest:

1. U.S. soldiers flush a Koran down the toilet.
2. It turns out they have a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Earnest left-winger, what should you think of this situation?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Narnia Trailer is HERE!

I'm pretty darn excited. The project is afoot.

See the Narnia trailer here. You'll have several URL's presented as options. By reading carefully, you'll probably be able to tell which files are bigger and better for high speed. Look for higher numbers. If you see 56, that's a 56k modem size. If you see 300, all the better.

A Critical Mis-step from John Podhoretz

In his Weekly Standard review of the latest Star Wars flick, John Podhoretz rages against the fact (SPOILER ALERT) that Anakin Skywalker moves to the dark side because of something terrible going wrong with his wife's pregnancy:

How is it possible that Lucas could have satisfied himself with the notion that the destruction of the galactic democracy and the triumph of evil over good could all have sprung from a single lousy pregnancy? Granted, Mrs. Darth Vader wears some very fetching beaded outfits--plus, she's a senator just like Hillary Clinton, only decades younger and way better looking. Even so, this is astoundingly thin gruel on which to hang six movies made over a period of 28 years.

I'm just sitting here thinking of other big stories (particulary one I think is true) that sprung from "one lousy pregnancy" and I'm thinking Podhoretz is not very imaginative.

The Bible: A Cultural Force Without Peer

Part of me wants David Gelernter to get back to revolutionizing our electronic lives, but if he can continue to produce articles like this, I don't mind his writing.

The formidable Ivy League computer scientist has become terribly interested in history and religion. The Weekly Standard seems to have been encouraging him because they publish all of his stuff (and it's good stuff). The latest piece ponders our Biblical illiteracy. Here's a nice bit:

Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation's Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history--and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?--the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence"? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) "the last, best hope of earth"?

We know of people who are certain of their destinies from childhood on. But nations?

Many things made all these Americans and proto-Americans sure; and to some extent they were merely guessing and hoping. But one thing above all made them true prophets. They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel's covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. ("Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke," said Winthrop. "Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.") They read about God's chosen people and took it to heart: They were God's chosen people, or--as Lincoln put it--God's "almost chosen people." The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.

Putin In Overtime

Well, if I must be my own publicist, so be it.

For the edification and entertainment of friends, Romans and countrymen, I offer my most recent article on our estimable VP.

Cheney? No, no. By VP I refer to Vladimir Putin, initially.

Vet Vet News Better

Very lovely of Newsweek Magazine to apologize that they might have gotten their story wrong and - oops! - no soldiers at Guantanamo Bay abused copies of the Quran or flushed them down the toilet after all.

Their contrition arrives a tad tardily for the fifteen people who have been killed in demonstrations in Afghanistan protesting this outrage by the U.S. Government.

We can only hope that a lesson was learned. Before so inflammatory a revelation is published, the charges should have many layers of substantiation. One disgruntled Defense Department grunt trying to grind an axe against his boss or just to feel important... does not a story make.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

How Do These Arms Have Such Legs?

This quote is appearing over and over in coverage of our latest offensive against terrorist 'strongholds' in Iraq: "Pentagon officials concede that al-Zarqawi's men are better equipped and better trained than previously believed."

I don't understand. Better equipped? By whom? How? Better trained? By whom? Where? How?

All of this is extremely disturbing. It seems to indicate that there are depths to this situation that have never been fully revealed to us as citizens. Is there a chance that this 'insurgency' can continue to grow without the backing of any official state? I feel that we NEED TO KNOW more than we are being told.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Making Secondary Primaries Primary

The linked article is very important to read if you are a political type. I suspect that this will be the first of many on this subject.

The Democratic Party is beginning to make noises about changing its primary system. Ostensibly, they are concerned about the fact the larger states are being unfairly deprived of their true strength by virtue of their later primaries. States like Michigan are loudly griping that the nomination has usually been decided before their primary is conducted.

The real reason behind these moves is the fact that only the most radical left-wing members of the party get emotionally engaged in the process early on, with the more sedate types tending to wait until later. This is forcing candidates to take radical positions in the early primaries which make them less viable in the general election.

If they bunch the primaries, with very large states being heard from right alongside the small ones, the condensed process will allow for more of a centrist voter base.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Who Is a Liberal, and Why Does It Matter?

Lawrence Auster has composed an interesting analysis of modern political labels for his View from the Right blog. Auster considers David Horowitz as an individual who has commonly been known as a conservative (since his conversion from leftism) but who does not show many of the characteristics normally associated with conservatism. In fact, Auster notes, Horowitz does not consider himself to be a conservative:

"I have on occasion said to David Horowitz that in my view he is a liberal, a comment with which he disagreed. Yet Horowitz seems to have had second thoughts on the subject. In a postscript to his exchange today with Jacob Heilbrunn, he writes:

"'I'm uncomfortable with labels myself. I am a liberal--free market, individualist, politically tolerant, even ecumenical, and progressive. But my reactionary political enemies who dominate the cultural institutions that are the arbiters of public language--the universities and the media--label me a right-wing conservative (and worse). There's not much I can do to redefine the political landscape, but I have given it a try by creating DiscoverTheNetworks.org.'"

Here both Auster and Horowitz reflect the arguments regularly made by this author on this site in regard to the flaws in today's political labels. Auster then goes on to provide a conservative's critique of classical liberalism:

"My point here is that Horowitz's typical mainstream mixture of liberal and conservative views, whether we call the mixture 'conservative liberalism' or 'liberal conservatism' or simply 'unlabeled,' is at bottom a form of liberalism rather than of conservatism, and as such will show the characteristic weakness of liberalism in relation to leftism. As long as a person's highest political values are the procedural liberal values of individual rights, equality, tolerance, and free inquiry, then, even though he is not a leftist, he nevertheless shares a fundamental orientation with the left: the lack of allegiance, or at least of primary allegiance, to a substantive civilizational or spiritual order. Such a person will be more concerned about defending and expanding individual freedoms than defending the social and familial order that makes such freedoms possible; he will care more about tolerance for other cultures and peoples than the preservation of his own culture and people. In the long run, liberals' inner commonality with leftists makes them incapable of standing firmly against the left's ongoing reconstruction of human society."

I do not agree with Auster's claim that the highest values of a liberal are procedural. I believe that there are very powerful basic thoughts behind these values, as I have alluded to on this site before. However, I believe that he is asking the right questions; specifically, what are the real bases for the values we hold? As a consequence of this seriousness, Auster's piece is quite useful and shows the increasing interest in rethinking political labels today.

Friday The Thirteenth, Pre-quelled

So it's Friday the 13th, a day for which our culture seems to have conceived a dread. Somewhere in the murky historical memory is the tale of the birth of this superstition; one thing is for certain, it shows no signs of dying anytime soon.

Does anyone have any idea why this is taken to be an ill-starred time?

Well, let me share with you a theory that I heard in my youth. The Talmud (Makot 23b) says that the Jewish People were given 613 commandments, or mitzvot. (There are disputes between Maimonides and other early commentators about the exact list, but all feel obligated to arrive at that total somehow. Incidentally, most of them relate to aspects of the Temple service, leaving only 270 applicable in the present day.)

Thus, people who feared or hated the Jews saw the coinciding of the sixth day of the week with the thirteenth day of the month as a bad omen.

Interestingly, when Terry Wallis made his miraculous recovery in 2003, emerging from a coma after nineteen years, it was widely noted that his injury had occurred on Friday the 13th (July 13, 1984) and recovery had come on Friday the 13th (June 13, 2003), almost 19 (6 plus 13) full years later. Perhaps, then, 613 is one way that God signs His name.

Give Me A Vowel

...and this gem from an Associated Press story: Tom Delay is a "lightening rod".

One thing is for certain. The state of language in journalism today is "frightning", with no indication of "brightning" on the immediate horizon.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bolton, Not Runnin'

Finally, the Republican Party showed that they have one of those long things in the middle of their backs, you know... that knobby thing.

Indeed the presence of spine was confirmed by standing up to the media blitz and the Democrat spin cycle - and voting out of committee the nomination of John Bolton for Ambassador to the United Nations.

Who knows? Maybe they will have the courage to move forward on the Nuclear Option to stop judicial nominees from being filibustered.

Best news of all: the strong message to the Congress (and, frankly, the world) that President Bush and his administration will stand behind its nominees and not back down at the first sign of resistance. Bravo!

Headless Headline

The job of a political and cultural columnist has oh, so many demands, the most strenuous of which is reading the Yahoo headlines more or less every hour. Yahoo News, incidentally, is provided by Reuters.

Over the years, I have had occasion to highlight the doozies that they seem to produce all too often. Perhaps my all-time favorite came after a man shot up a Wisconsin church a few months ago, murdering seven innocent parishioners. The headline of their follow-up story read: Church Gunman Upset Over Sermon. That may never be topped.

But I loved this one today: Jolie Hails 'Strength and Spirit' Of Sierra Leone. I guess you have to go to collagen to learn worldly stuff like that.

The Blog Syndicate

Roger Simon and a select group of others are heading up a new blog syndicate that plans to directly challenge the establishment media in the area of reporting. This could be big whether Simon's group implements it or someone else. George Gilder may have lost his internet investing fortune, but he was dead right in his predictions about the media future, particularly with regard to narrow-casting overcoming broadcasting. You're going to be able to get your news from someone you trust and from people who may have a lot more head knowledge about a particular happening than the cap-toothed or expense-accounted wonder with the NYT or the networks.

See Peter Hannaford's insightful American Spectator article about it here.

Bad News Bears

Reviewing some economic news of the past few weeks:

1. The price of oil has fallen by ten bucks a barrel – from roughly $58 to $48 -- ever since Goldman Sachs analyst Arjun Murti predicted it was heading for $105.

2. The U.S. Treasury announced that April tax receipts were astonishingly strong, leading experts to predict this year’s budget deficit has been overestimated by at least $50 billion.

3. Last month's surging exports and employment (previously called a "soft patch") mean the perfectly respectable 3.1 percent first quarter GDP growth is soon to be revised upwards towards 4 percent. So, while earlier reports said the pace of economic growth over the past 8 quarters had been running at a mere 4.3 percent pace (which gave Paul Krugman a “whiff of stagflation”), it was actually a bit better than that.

For Democrats planning to rehash Senator Kerry's 2004 nonsense about the economy to gain Congressional seats next year, all this goods news is very bad news indeed. Whenever reality goes against their theories, however, the Dems can count on The New York Times to “interpret” the news in imaginative ways.

Last Sunday, New York Times writer Daniel Gross warned of “The Perfect Storm That Could Drown the Economy.” I naturally assumed he must be writing about some other country, but apparently not. Mr. Gross presumably reads the sort of news we just reviewed. Yet he somehow sees in these same tea leaves “many obvious and worrisome portents” that could lead to a “major recession” or even a “full-blown crisis.” In fact, Mr. Gross imagines “some [U.S.] imbalances are eerily reminiscent of conditions that helped touch off recent economic crises: Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, Russia in 1998 and Argentina in 2002.” “What's more,” he adds, “a recovery would be comparatively slow in coming.”

I long ago stopped expecting New York Times reporters and columnists to accurately report the economics news. But you’d think they might at least try reading the economic news.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Brian Wilson's Art

Fred Schendel, songwriter and keyboardist for the progressive rock band Glass Hammer, has written a highly interesting disquisition on differing aims of popular music artists, taking as his starting point Brian Wilson's great album SMiLE. Looking at the rise of popular music in critical estimation in the 1960s, Schendel writes,

"Inspired by the provocative style of Bob Dylan, the Beatles began to speak out on any and all subjects to an ever-eager press, and their words spread like gospel. And so it has been throughout the subsequent history of rock music. From the ├╝ber-angst (brilliantly articulated) of the Who to the antiwar and antiestablishment blathering of almost every acclaimed late-Sixties band to the political ramblings of the Bonos and Michael Stipes of today, the idea that rock music (and musicians) had a chance—no, a duty—to speak out about things traces directly back to the Beatles.

"And the manner of this speaking shall be negative, depressing, and anger-inducing to the extent possible. This is the unwritten commandment of rock and roll consciousness-raising, and it has been followed to the letter by countless so-called artists of the last forty years: Grumpiness equals respectability.

"Meanwhile, shifting our story back to the Sixties—there were the Beach Boys, with nothing more important to say than Have Fun and Be Happy. They were doomed. They could be fun, and popular. But never Important; never really respected."

Schendel's observation that an artist must be somber in order to be considered serious by most critics is quite accurate. Like the writings of P. G. Wodehouse and the films of Buster Keaton, there is much more to the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys than many critics are willing and able to see. By definition, those critics are superficial.