Friday, August 26, 2005

London's Human Zoo

The Times of London reports that the London Zoo has begun a new exhibit called the Human Zoo, in which eight people wearing scanty costumes lounge around in the institution's Bear Mountain enclosure and attempt to act like apes—rather amateurishly if the photos accompanying the article are any indication.

This is the kind of thing that seems like a pathetically silly gimmick on the face of it, but of course the zookeepers have a suitably serious and intensely political explanation, according to the Times article:

"We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man's place in the planet's ecosystem," London Zoo said.

I can certainly agree that some human beings are a plague. Fortunately, if we can lure the London zookeepers into the Bear Mountain exhibit, we can isolate a major strain of it.

Conservative War Critics' Dilemma

My post from yesterday on the antiwar movement of the right has been extensively rewritten as an article for FrontPage magazine and appears in today's issue. Here's a very brief excerpt:

[I]n arguing against Western projects of nation-building in the "developing world," conservatives such as Auster and Warren (and Buchanan and the like) face a huge dilemma: their belief in a common human nature (though one that certainly permits a wide variety of human customs and organizing beliefs) is a strong argument against radicalism of the left, but it is not useful in refuting the logic of projects based on a belief in a common human nature, which Bush's nation-building action in Iraq most certainly is.

I believe that the interaction between human nature and human culture is more complex, variable, and flexible than Auster and other antiwar conservatives tend to think. The acknowledgment of this truth is central to the classical liberal (and modern conservative) position. . . .

You may read the article here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Is Cheerleading Raunchy or Innocent: A National Debate

If you’ve seen half time at a pro-basketball or football game half clad cheerleaders have become a source of audience delectation. The girls are sexy and the movements often suggestive. This is the new America that shuns modesty.

Recently, a Democratic Texas legislator, Al Edwards, sponsored a bill dealing with cheerleaders at high school football games. Needless to say, these cheerleaders tend to emulate their grown-up counterparts.

Mr. Edwards said, “Girls can get out and do all of these sexual performances and we applaud them and that’s not right.” He goes on to argue that lascivious performances distract high school students and can result in “pregnancies, school drop-outs, the contraction of HIV, and herpes… cutting off their youthful life at an early age.” He adds: “Any adult that’s been involved with sex in their lives; they know it when they see it.”

Exposed midriffs and ever shorter skirts are de rigueur for cheerleaders, but, for many, this exposure is offensive. Of course not every Texas legislator shares Mr. Edwards’ views. In fact, some call his proposed legislation “stupid” or “ridiculous.”

It is interesting to examine the evolution of cheerleading. Originally cheerleading was a male dominated activity, a way for men to assist their comrades in athletic competition and a method for displaying leadership potential. During the Second World War, with so many men at war, women replaced males in what became a source of inspiration. For the first time cheerleading became a beauty-obsessed pastime.

By the 1970’s, led in large part by the success of the Dallas Cowboys, cheerleading became highly sexualized. What worked for the Cowboys became the standard for other professional teams. In less than a decade the fully clothed high school and college cheerleader looked and moved very much like her professional counterpart.

Is this a problem?

For these who remember a more innocent time when cheerleaders were covered down to their shins, contemporary standards are vulgar. That said, the vulgar has colonized every aspect of popular culture. Even cheerleading has gone from, “Go back, go back, go back into the woods, cause you haven’t got, you haven’t got, you haven’t got the goods” to “you’re dead, you’re dead, we’ll bop you on the head.”

Yes, this is all said in good humor, but the humor has an edge to it which has changed the nature of sportsmanship. Fans routinely shout obscenities at the opposition.

On the other side of the social ledger, it could be argued that the problem is in the eye of the beholder. Cheerleaders may emulate their elders, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest they are sexually charged.

The real issue is the spread of pornography into every cultural crevice from ads on buses, to television programming and popular music. It has become inescapable. What effect it is having may be difficult to determine, but I would submit, based on empirical evidence, it is having some effect.

Cheerleading may, in fact, be one manifestation of this trend and, in its way, among the more innocent manifestations. But the trend line is a matter of concern for any American who believes the levers of popular culture affect and enhance or undermine the nation’s character.

The Conservative Dilemma

In a letter to interested parties, the writer and attorney Spencer Warren sent us the following interesting exchange from Lawrence Auster's View from the Right blog, in which the anti-Iraq War advocate Auster and a correspondent argue against what Warren correctly calls "the PC mantra that all societies and cultures are equal":

VFR reader Barbara Gilbert, R.N., brings up another Muslim custom that shows the utter incompatibility between democracy and Islam:

There are more, much more, painful questions than polygamy about Muslims' culture and traditions. As a nurse, I feel it is important that people demand that women's rights everywhere must be extended to include protection from the common brutal Muslim practice of female genital mutilation. The simplest form involves only circumcision, but it can extend to horrible acts of mutilation, and even result in death. For in depth descriptions, I refer you to this article at wikipedia.

It is the act of savage barbarians. It is butchery. How can anyone believe that Muslim men will ever respect women or women's rights in a democratic society when they are permitted to commit this heinous act?

I wonder if Mr. Bush or Ms. Rice is aware of the practice?

My reply:

The key point you're making is, given the prevalence of these practices (not just in black Africa and Muslim Africa including Egypt, but in the Muslim Near East as well including Iraq), sexual inequality is profoundly—to a degree inconceivable to us—built into these societies. Therefore, if women's equality is, as President Bush says, a "non-negotiable" feature of democracy, then on that basis alone these societies can never have democracy.

Of course, you're making a different argument. You’re saying that FGM must be rooted out, both to end this horror in itself, and also to further the conditions for male respect for women and thus the possibility of women's rights. I'm all for people working to bring this monstrous evil to an end. But right now, and for hundreds of years past, it exists. And changing the deep-seated customs of a people is extremely difficult or even impossible short of totalitarian measures. For Bush and his supporters to think that peoples who believe in such things and practice them are essentially like us and that, above all else, they desire individual freedom (if only someone will deliver it to them), is the wildest fantasy.

Barbara Gilbert:

Quite correct. And having been brought here by immigrants, it is being practiced in this country to a greater degree than is realized. While working in ER departments and on an paramedic team, I witnessed other practices of that culture. Women are "attended" by several men when brought to an emergency facility, for instance, and not allowed a private examination by a physician. It is my personal belief that the men do not wish to have the secret revealed.

While it is openly practiced and acknowledged in many countries in Africa, the Arab nationals take great pains to hide it. It is being discovered in the emergency rooms and private offices of physicians who are sought out secretly. Individual freedom? For an Arab woman? Ridiculous!

They are so different from us that they will never integrate into our society because of cultural, religious or political differences. Their customs and traditions eliminate the very concept of democracy. I consider the Muslim women who immigrate as imported chattel. Not only will they never practice democracy in their own countries, they cannot practice it in ours.

Auster and Gilbert make an important point about the persistence of cultural habits. However, what Auster fails to consider here is the multitude of effects of something in which he strongly professes belief in cases other than arguments about the War in Iraq and immigration of Muslims and other non-Westerners into the United States: the common characteristics that all people share as a result of human nature.

It is these characteristics that the Bush administration means to depend on in liberating Iraq, and which are essential to any strategy of assimilating immigrants into American society. The administration and its friends may well be wrong to believe such a liberation of these persons' inner nature possible, but the arguments that Auster and his followers make regarding human nature certainly lend support to a classical liberal view of human possibilities.

I think that the interaction between human nature and human culture is more complex,variable, and fungible than either Auster or his enemies on the left tends to think. An acknowledgment of this truth is central to the classical liberal position.

After citing Auster's blog entry, Warren then adds some insightful comments of his own:

In addition to the above, there have been several press reports in London newspapers about the Muslim practice of revenge killings of Muslim women in Great Britain by their husbands or fathers if they are believed to have violated some Muslim "law." The British police try to cover up the religious nature of these murders because they contradict the PC mantra of multicultural equality.

Consider that PC mantra in light of these two examples, plus the evil Muslim attitude toward dogs, discussed previously.

The foregoing prompts thoughts about PC and History, and about Radical Equality and Our Cultural Crisis.

Please again consider the countless examples of systematic atrocities by Japanese armed forces in WWII, for which Japan to this day has refused to apologize. Three I omitted last time are: 1) during the Bataan Death March, in which about 10,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners were murdered, one U.S. soldier was crucified with nails; 2) according to the book Flags of Our Fathers, by the son of one of the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in the famous photo, when one of those men was found killed on Iwo, after having been taken prisoner by the enemy, a certain organ of his body had been cut off by the enemy and placed in his mouth -- this is how his body was found; and 3) also according to that book, the Japanese made a regular practice in combat of first shooting our medics, who under the Geneva Convention were supposed to be spared in battle because they bore the Red Cross.

We are reminded of the relevance of this history to current debates by the NY Times review of the new film The Great Raid, about the 1945 liberation of a prison camp holding survivors of the Bataan Death March. The critic, Stephen Holden, complained that the film would revive wartime "stereotypes" of treacherous "Japs." Well, in light of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor (as the enemy sailed into position for the attack, remember, two Japanese diplomats were in Washington to negotiate a peaceful settlement of differences), as well as the systematic atrocities detailed above and in my last comment, how else should they be described? Americans of that perilous time did not view events from the critic's luxurious perch.

Holden, a typical left/radical liberal working at the beacon of that faith, essentially is denying historical fact in order to promote the PC mantra that all societies and cultures are equal. Either drag us down to the enemy's level, or deny the enemy was any different from us. Deny our identity in order to eliminate differences from alien Enemies. Either way he is lying about the past. In 1984 George Orwell wrote that he who has the past has the future. That is why leftists are always attacking our history and rewriting the past. Remember the controversy about ten years ago concerning the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's exhibit of part of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb? The exhibit was filled with so many falsifications that protests forced it to be withdrawn and replaced with a simple, non-political description of the aircraft and crew. In the case of the NY Times movie review and the Enola Gay exhibit, the PC mantra of equality and abolishing differences went so far as to embrace our enemy in WWII!

The movie review and cancelled exhibition are two of countless examples of the insidious growth of what I call "soft" totalitarianism in our country -- falsifying facts and history, distorting human nature and traditions, to advance radical egalitarianism. (This is not the American tradition of equality of all individuals before the law, but of the absolute equality of result, custom and historical tradition, including absolute equality of every society and culture on Earth -- and the elimination of any differences dividing peoples.) Since such extreme equality that abolishes difference is not the natural order, state power, media power, or other power must be employed to coerce thinking in the "progressive" direction. After all, the goal of totally erasing all differences is so "moral", are not any means therefore justified to advance such an end?

In this respect, the NY Times movie review and the cancelled exhibition are illustrations -- minor, but noteworthy -- of communistic thinking. Note the word -- communistic -- an adjective. The drive toward coerced absolute equality has been the radical project for more than 200 years, since the French Revolution. It failed economically in the communist world (where the State waged a massive war on human nature and society) and led to its implosion and collapse. But a similar way of thinking and emotional/"moral" impulse is driving the PC movement in the West to remake our culture and society. State power is not being employed remotely on the scale of a communist dictatorship, but the way in which the courts are usurping legislative authority is also tyrannical (e.g. imposing homosexual "marriage"). And that State/judicial power is being supplemented by the left/liberal media and other private institutions. That is why Political Correctness is more correctly termed Cultural Marxism.

Ironically, this egalitarian view, in the broadest sense, is the premise of Pres. Bush's policy in Iraq -- that societies in that region -- including their religion -- are not so different from ours and can develop into free societies with some help and a good constitution. Time will tell. But the bizarre conjunction of this policy premise with the PC agenda demonstrates the profound contemporary influence of the radical egalitarian ideal.

Warren is perfectly correct to point out that some societies and ways of life are indeed better than others. In addition, he correctly shares Auster's concern about the persistence of cultural habits when Warren criticizes "the premise of Pres. Bush's policy in Iraq -- that societies in that region -- including their religion -- are not so different from ours and can develop into free societies with some help and a good constitution." Warren, however, improves on Auster's argument by acknowledging that the belief in total freedom from restraints of human nature is not a liberal idea but a radical one, and that the idea traces back to the beginnings of what has been commonly called the Enlightenment: "The drive toward coerced absolute equality has been the radical project for more than 200 years, since the French Revolution," Warren writes. (Full disclosure: Warren has borrowed this distinction from my article "The Origin of Modernity," published in the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest.)

In arguing, from conservative premises, against Western projects of nation-building in the "developing world," conservatives such as Auster and Warren (and Buchanan, etc.) face a huge dilemma: their belief in a common human nature (though one that certainly permits a wide variety of human customs and organizing beliefs) is a strong argument against radicalism of the left, but it is not useful in refuting the logic of projects based on a belief in a common human nature, as Bush's nation-building action in Iraq most certainly is. From a classical liberal point of view (which is one that accepts the belief in human nature), it appears that antiwar conservatives would make much more headway by two means:

1. Accept the idea that the Bush administration is reasoning from what conservatives believe to be a valid premise (that all human beings share commonalities through what is called human nature) when the administration argues that the people of Iraq have the potential to live democratically. (By the way and to make it perfectly clear, I personally consider the commonalities of human nature to a rock-solid truth based on science, strongly confirmed by modern insights in sociobiology.)

2. Argue that the mission the administration has set itself conflicts with human nature, specifically the persistence of cultural notions that, however perversely, accomplish certain things necessary to human existence (such as the need for physical and emotional security, etc.).

I would be very interested in any such arguments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

It's Only About Sex

A fascinating politico-sexual drama is being played out in Spokane.

The Washington State Supreme Court has just allowed a recall effort to proceed against Spokane Mayor James E. West. In the wording of the recall petition are allegations that West cruised the internet for gay lovers, and dangled the prospect of city jobs as a reward for amenable fellows.

Of legal relevance is that the charges are still unproved in a court of law. Of moralizing relevance is that West is a Republican and further has publicly opposed the gay political agenda, which I imagine includes gay marriage and the like. (I find the legal part of more interest than the moralizing, but permit me to move on, as they say.)

As for the political principle involved, with which it's hard for any to disagree, "(the) petition alleges that West used his elected office for personal gain," according to the article.

Wayne's World-type Flashback

The year was 1988, and I wasn't terribly crazy about Ronald Reagan's anointed successor, the philosophically inert career pol, George H. W. Bush. Michael Dukakis seemed like a good man and had pulled off the Massachusetts Miracle, so I gave him my vote.

Fast Forward, But Still a Flashback

It was 1992. Bush 41 had done OK in a caretaker sort of way, but I still wasn't diggin' him. Gov. Bill Clinton of Bumfunk, Arkansas was his opponent, and was a much cooler guy than Dukakis. I mean way cool, like Ferris Buehler. Now, I wasn't surprised when his ideological ally, the American press, detoured the story, but one thing kept bugging me---

Governor Clinton had undeniably given a state job to his mistress, one Gennifer Flowers (who had the tapes), and whose only qualification (reputedly according to the governor himself), was that she "could suck a tennis ball through a garden hose."

The feminist and democrat in me just found it all so totally offensive that I voted for the loser for the second election in a row.

Present Day

2005. I'm trying to puzzle out the fundamental and essential differences between the two cases, but I'm suffering from a lack of imagination. The vision thing. Perhaps our resident sophists can help.

Otherwise, if there are no legal or moral objections, I think I'll run for governor myself. Secretary of State Paris Hilton has a nice ring to it. Folks tell me she's highly qualified---they have the tapes.

Thought of the Day

I think it's time Matthew Broderick considered playing a cool guy again. He's played so many milquetoasts since Ferris, he can probably not worry about getting typecast.

Dead Brain Cells in O-Hi-O

"I'm not sure I fully understand what exactly intelligent design
." -- Ohio Governor Robert Taft

The current state of the Ohio Republican party does seem more like thermodynamic equilibrium, doesn't it.

The Continuing Burden of Bad Philosophy

"They have been so nice, I would hate to break it to them that I really prefer Nietzsche to the Bible."

-- Convicted murderer Eric Rudolph, sometimes called a "Christian terrorist" for his attacks on two abortion clinics, a gay nightclub, and the 1996 Summer Olympics, on "good people … mostly born-again Christians looking to save my soul."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Praying For Mr. Ho

We regret to report that Mr. Hawaii, Don Ho, is ailing.

It's always daunting to contemplate one's mortality, but probably a bit easier when you are leaving behind fifty or so children.

How I Became a Prophet

"Last night, I was awakened from a fitful sleep, shortly after two o'clock in the morning by a shrill, sibilant, faceless voice. I couldn't make it out at first in the dark bedroom. And I said, 'I'm sorry, you will have to talk a little louder.'

And the Voice said to me: 'I want you to tell the people the truth, not an easy thing to do because the people don't want to know the truth.'

And I said, 'You're kidding. What the the hell should I know about the truth?'

But the Voice said to me: 'Don't worry about the truth. I will put the words in your mouth.'

And I said, 'What is this, the burning bush? For God's sake, I'm not Moses.'

And the Voice said to me: 'And I'm not God. What has that got to do with it?'

And I said, 'Why me?'

And the voice said:

'Because you're on television, dummy.'" Posted by Picasa

Oh, well. Maybe The 700 Club will hire Diana Christensen to improve the ratings. She knows what to do in cases like this.

A Triumph for Animal Lovers

The Times of London reports that British animal rights activists have succeeded in closing down a guinea pig farm by literally terrorizing its owners, using tactics including vandalism, false accusations of pedophilia, and even a case of graverobbing:

The family of an 82-year-old woman whose body was stolen from her grave are to stop breeding guinea pigs for medical research after a six-year campaign of intimidation by animal rights activists.

A spokeswoman for David Hall and Partners in Staffordshire said that the business would shut down its guinea pig breeding operations at Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch in December.

The Hall family has been subjected to a hate campaign by animal rights extremists. They said that they hoped the decision would prompt grave robbers to return the body of Gladys Hammond, whose remains were stolen from a churchyard in nearby Yoxall.

In a statement, the Hall family said: "David Hall and Partners’ involvement in breeding guinea pigs for biomedical research will cease at the end of 2005. The business, which has operated for over three decades, will undergo a phased closure until then to ensure the welfare of animals involved. . . .

The campaign of intimidation against the Halls included firebomb attacks, a paedophile smear campaign and the cutting of electricity and phone lines.

A spokesman for Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs, who gave his name as Johnny and would not reveal his surname, said: "This is the most fantastic day of my life.

"It’s a victory for the animals and it’s a fundamental victory for the animal rights movement. I feel so unbelievably proud to be part of the movement. . . .

Asked for his views about the campaign of intimidation, he said: "We do not need to glamorise this sort of activity but Animal Liberation Front activists are intelligent human beings who have a particular mind set. They consider the horrors of vivisection, killing umpteen animals, as being a justification for what essentially is low level criminal damage.

"There hasn’t been any violence whatsoever at the farm. There hasn’t been a single person been hurt by any protester. In fact, it’s protesters who have been hospitalised by security guards from the farm."

The local police department's Environmental Protest Unit implied that officers had done all they could to protect the family:

Inspector David Bird, of Staffordshire Police’s Environmental Protest Unit, said that officers had policed hundreds of protests at Darley Oaks Farm since 1999.

"It has been our policy since 1999 to support the Hall family’s right to continue their lawful and legitimate business while upholding the rights of others to demonstrate within the law and taking action against unlawful protest," he said.

Ironically, the use of guinea pigs by British phamaceutical firms will not stop, and the breeding will simply be done under less salubrious conditions for the animals:

Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield which includes Darley Oaks, said: "It is an irony that the guinea pigs used for medical research will now have to be imported from France and Spain where, unlike in Britain, the animals are bred in overcrowded conditions and not subject to regular inspection. Far from improving the conditions of these animals, these narrow-minded extremists have worsened them.

The activists, it should be noted, chose to make violent attacks on the rodent breeders instead of, say, boycotting the products for the testing of which the animals are bred: the medicines that keep the activists alive and healthy enough to go outside the law to force their agenda on others.

NCAA Stands Down from Battle with FSU

FSU's in the clear! Now, we can get back to hating Gators, instead of the useless bureaucrats of the NCAA.

I'm pasting in the statement and you can ask yourself whether any of the below would constitute new info for the NCAA:

Statement by NCAA Senior Vice-President for Governance and Membership Bernard Franklin on Florida State University Review

"The NCAA staff review committee has removed Florida State University from the list of colleges and universities subject to restrictions on the use of Native American mascots, names and imagery at NCAA championships.

"The NCAA Executive Committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong. However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor. The NCAA recognizes the many different points of view on this matter, particularly within the Native American community. The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree.

"The NCAA position on the use of Native American mascots, names and imagery has not changed, and the NCAA remains committed to ensuring an atmosphere of respect and sensitivity for all who participate in and attend our championships. This decision applies to the unique relationship Florida State University has with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Requests for reviews from other institutions will be handled on a case-by-case basis."

Straw Man

Internet Electoral Data Demigod Patrick Ruffini has just posted his 2008 GOP straw poll. He provides lots of interesting ways to break down the poll data (by state, region, even by referring blog!) that make data nuts like me want to hug him and squeeze him and call him George. Go vote, and then take a look at the overwhelming popularity of one "fantasy" candidate.

Michael Graham Gets the Boot

Michael Graham, an author, political commentator, National Review contributor, and since last year, host of the 9 am to noon slot on the larger of Washington DC's two talk-format stations, WMAL, has been fired for comments he made on a show which aired three weeks ago, comments that were taken from a column he had written for Jewish World Review. Andrew McCarthy over at National Review has a good review of the facts.

There's a lot about talk radio I don't like, and there's more about it I dislike now than five or ten years ago. I think one of the worst trends, from the audience point of view, is the relentless homogenization of the airwaves. Yes, Rush is a force unto himself, and the premier talk outlet in each market has to carry him. But more and more stations, which used to have local talk for at least two or three of the remaining morning drive to 9 pm slots, eased out their local talent and replaced it with Sean Hannity, Michael Reagan, G. Gordon Liddy, et. al. When WMAL hired Michael Graham, it reversed this trend, replacing the anemic Sam Donaldson (who at that point was carried by about four stations, I think) and a couple hours of the by now unlistenable Dr. Laura show with a guy who was covering local news from a local angle.

Dr. Laura aside: I never understood conservative fascination with this woman. Sure, it was refreshing to hear a psychologist call for personal responsibility. The first couple of times. After that, you started to notice that a lot of Dr. Laura's idea of personal responsibility consisted of living your life exactly like Dr. Laura did, including details that had nothing to do with morality or uprightness. She completely lost me the morning she chewed out a woman for moving to a farm, because it was irresponsible to deprive her children of having friends across the street. She also seemed to think our armed forces should be manned entirely with 22 -year-old celibates, since she scolded more than one military family for contributing to the nationwide Army Brat crisis.

At any rate, I am disappointed in WMAL and their parent Disney for firing Michael, because I think they have caved in to a vocal minority who dislike having the light shine in certain dark corners. I admire Michael's humor and professional skill, and hope he will find another home on Washington's AM dial. If he doesn't, there's always the iPod. A lot of commuters and school moms will miss him.

Van Dyke's Petrie Dish

The great Tom Van Dyke (below), as ever, goads the lazy Western mind into firing up some of its dormant synapses. He calls our attention to an absolutely brilliant point (and I hope that it does not lose wattage in my paraphrasing). How can the Judeo-Christian world create a civilizational bridge to the Muslim world - one which the secularists call for the loudest - when the erosion in our own belief base makes our putative value system seem sickly and/or insincere?

Truly an irony. The religionists have a chance for a meeting-of-the-minds with Islam, based on the shared belief in the One God despite the debate over details of His program. But they are too passionate about the details and won't bend.

The secularists are only too glad to bend but the Muslims are certain to scoff at such a self-serving pragmatism-masquerading-as-idealism.

So if you won't sell out you're an enemy who may not be shown any mercy. And if you will sell out you're a spineless loser who's not worthy of mercy. How do you win? There is no secular way to win. The only hope is religious, if the shared belief in monotheism mediates and moderates a modus operandi.

Something like the founding in 1776, eh what?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Getting Back to the Basics

The late, great Dave Allen, speaking of the Irish, described us all when he said we have a lot of trouble deciding who God is, but once we do, we're willing to fight for Him.

Some of us decide there isn't any God, and are willing to fight for that, too.

You know, I never liked St. Paul much; he's not Jesus and he's very crabby. But as I take him as a severely flawed human being who does the best he can, well, I like him better with each passing year. Besides, I'm flawed, crabby, and I'm not Jesus, either.

The story of how Paul lifted Greco-Roman paganism and ushered in the modern world by turning it toward the true and living God is related in an fascinating work by Sir William Ramsay, who later was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. (Not that that matters, but it does mean the source isn't some crank like me.) It was written in 1897, and is available in full here.

The surprise is that notorious cementhead Paul didn't replace Zeus & Co. with the mystical Christ who died for everybody's sins, but began by steering the already extant hunger for and love of Good toward its true source, the God of All Things.

This God was not terribly different from Aristotle's theoretical and philosophical God, except Aristotle's was devoid of mercy and love, which are essential components of All Things. Neither would an Aristotle suffer as Paul did for a god bereft of these things: that God is kinda mellow and laissez-faire, not worth dying for or even preaching about. So the majority of the Hellenic world still sacrificed to Zeus and his crew.

"(W)e turn to the speech at Athens. So far was Paul from inveighing against the objects of Athenian veneration that he expressly commended the religious feelings of the people, and identified the God whom he had come to preach with the god whom they were blindly worshipping.

He did not rebuke or check their religious ideas, but merely tried to guide them; he distinctly set forth the principle that the pagans were honestly striving to worship "the God that made the world and all things therein".

In this speech Paul lays no emphasis on the personality of the God whom he sets forth: "what ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you,"and "we ought not to think that the Divine nature is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and device of man".

The popular philosophy inclined towards Pantheism, the popular religion was Polytheistic; but Paul starts from the simplest platform common to both---there exists something in the way of a Divine nature which the religious try to please and the philosophers try to understand."

This is the One, True, and Living God who is or should be recognizable to Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike, Aristotelians and Deists, and even to the pagans whom Paul converted. In our doctrinal thises-and-thats, we so often lose sight of that God, and certainly if the West is to achieve a rapprochement with the Muslim world, (which respected Aristotle so much they called him the "First Teacher"), we're going to have to have the wisdom of Paul to locate Him and make Him our common ground.

And if our militantly secular friends are going to get along with the billion and a half Muslims on this earth, they need to leave a little breathing room in things for this Living God. Mebbe they could start with the Jews and Christians already in their own countries, just to practice up. We gotta get back to the basics---if prickly Paul could touch the human heart instead of bashing brains, surely the more highly evolved children of the Enlightenment can do as well as some crabby ol' cementhead.

(Personal note---I wrote this a few days ago and thought it might be too "We Are the World." But after Pope Benedict's very important words yesterday, I realize some things can't be said too often. We are the world, and that's an empirically provable fact. Kumbaya, y'all.)

Dems' Strategy in Roberts Confirmation

Today's New York Times reports that the Senate Democrats are having difficulty agreeing on a strategy for the forthcoming confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts:

Two weeks before senators begin questioning the Supreme Court nominee, John G. Roberts Jr., the debate over his confirmation is becoming a test of Senate Democrats as well.

The party's liberal base, whose contributions during judicial confirmation fights earlier this year have helped the Senate Democratic campaign fund amass twice as much as its Republican rival, is pressing for another vigorous fight against Judge Roberts as documents from the Reagan administration clarify his conservative credentials.

But as Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and other liberal stalwarts on the Judiciary Committee step up their criticism of Judge Roberts's record, other Democrats are reluctant to join them.

"I am turned off by senators trying to act like they have already found the guy out and they know what he is like," said Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Democratic committee member from Wisconsin who spent last week focused instead on calling for a pullout from Iraq. "I am not part of any Democratic effort to 'set the table' " for the hearings by laying the groundwork to criticize Judge Roberts, he said.

Several Democratic senators said the hearings on Judge Roberts were shaping up as a risky balancing act. Failing to press him could look weak to their liberal base. But attacking too hard could draw Democrats into a losing battle on the treacherous turf of abortion, race and religion at a time when Republicans appear vulnerable on other fronts.

What's particularly interesting and rather unexpected here is to see the Times state that the Republicans have the advantage in public discussions about abortion, race, and religion. I wonder if Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich read the front pages of their paper?

In the Name of Order on the Border

Very enjoyable article on the Minutemen by Weekly Standard's Matt Labash. Labash likes making fun of his interview subjects, but you can tell he admires these guys a little bit.

I tend not to want to pay a lot of attention to immigration for fear of being labeled a racist, but the leader of the Minutemen doesn't have that problem. His son is bi-racial (half white/half African-American).

This article will stir you up and make you wonder why we aren't working harder on the border issue.

Think Pink

This is one area where a Big Ten team has outdone the SEC: psychological warfare.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have had the visitor's locker room completely covered in bright pink. The old room had pink walls, which Bo Schembechler of Michigan famously ordered his assistants to cover, but this version is pink from the ceiling to the floor.

I think the only thing that's missing is a Barbie border.