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

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Many thanks to Hunter and everyone else over here at The Reform Club for allowing me to add my two cents' worth occasionally (and, as you'll discover, you get what you pay for). I'm a recent PhD in political science with interests all over the map, including the intersection of religion and politics (Pat Robertson's a pagan - more on that later), the fiery roasting of select meats, and good conversation. My wife and I have two small children. For the record Michael Simpson is a pseudonym - I would like an academic job and I see no reason to make it any harder for myself than I need to. Be seein' y'all around...

Blogging on Small Business

I have found an excellent blogger on small business matters. If you are thinking about getting into that racket. You'd be well-served to spend a little time with Jeff Cornwall.

Pat Robertson's Perspective

A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (for good reasons which will be evident upon reading the appended message), sent me the following note which provides a very good analysis of what drives Pat Robertson and his followers to say the strange things they regularly say:

As the son of parents who have sent God only knows how many thousands of dollars to Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Jimmy Swaggart and others of their ilk over the years, I have watched these TV preachers -- and their supporters -- with keen interest. You are absolutely correct about Robertson's reckless rhetoric, but it is precisely his willingness to make such statements that brings in the cash.

There is a paradox in people like my parents and other followers of the Robertsons of the world. They are true believers who doubt their beliefs. This is why they glom onto signs and become breathless at the prospect of a prophecy fulfilled. If they truly believed, they would not need constant reassurances and proofs. They are fearful believers -- afraid of God, afraid of Satan, afraid of Death, afraid of Themselves.

Robertson pointed to Sharon's stroke and then to the Bible and said, "See, the Bible said this would happen, and it happened!" It was his way of exciting his base of doubtful believers.

He not only bucked them up by giving them a proof. He also gave them a sense of superiority. They came away from his show believing they have knowledge others do not have, some because they are ignorant and others because they will not see the truth. His listeners believe themselves to be an enlightened elite.

There is a line in Daniel about the King of the North attacking Israel. My mother currently believes the King of the North is Turkey, and she is expecting an attack by Turkey on Israel any time. Over the years the King of the North has also been Iran, Iraq, the Soviet Union, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Pointing out to my mother that predicting attacks on Israel is like predicting cold in winter has no impact on her. Pointing out that she has believed in numerous Kings of the North over the years does nothing to temper her belief now. Each time a new King of the North is identified by Robertson or some other Evangelical preacher, she gets all fired up, and out comes the checkbook.

My parents are also believers in the Rapture (the righteous will go straight to heaven without the inconvenience of dying, and the rest will be left behind to endure seven years of tribulation ending in the battle of Armageddon and the establishment of 1,000 years of Heaven on Earth.) Israel plays a central role in this. Before the Rapture can happen, Israel must be fully established. Anything that holds back Israel holds back the Rapture.

There are plenty of Christians who opposed Sharon because they saw his position regarding the West Bank as holding back the Rapture. An expanding Israel gets them to heaven quicker.

So there really are three reasons for Robertson's remarks regarding Sharon. First, they keep the money flowing. Second, they give believers a feeling of superior knowledge. And third, they are a way of gloating over the destruction of a man whose policies were delaying Jesus' return to Earth.

This is how I see it, anyway.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On the Wing(le)s of Love

My young daughter invented a cute sub-adjective, the word "wingle". It exists only as a tagalong for "single", as in "you say that to me every single wingle time."

It occurred to me to convert it into a noun and write her this little poem about the pitfalls of excess.

I bought a single wingle
And it made me tingle
So I bought a double
And it made me trouble.

Ledeen on Osama and the Middle East

I'm amazed by Doc Zycher's mention of the possibility Osama might be dead. If this is true, then the two kingpins of 9-11 in the public mind (be sure to note that phrase Moore-ons, I'm asserting nothing) will have been taken care of via either imprisonment or the rigors of being pursued.

Here's the link to the Ledeen story.

If Ledeen is right, and I hope he is, then Bush should be due for another bounce. I'm waiting for the big Drudge headline or a CBS news rumble. Something, anything to confirm the event.

Here's an excerpt that leaves you singing:

This historical moment is not easy to understand, since we are in transition from a relatively stable world, dominated by a handful of major powers, to something we cannot yet define, since it is up to us to shape it. It seems clear, however, that there is a greater rapidity of change, accompanied — inevitably — by the passing of the leaders of the old order. This is particularly clear in the Middle East, where seven key figures have been struck down in the past six years: King Hussein of Jordan in February, 1999. King Hassan of Morocco in July of the same year. Syrian dictator Hafez al Assad in June of 2000. Yasser Arafat of the PLO in April, 2004. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in May of last year. Ariel Sharon of Israel was incapacitated by a stroke in early January. And, according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Iranians who reported this note that this year's message in conjunction with the Muslim Haj came from his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for the first time.

This remarkable tempo of change is not likely to diminish, as old and/or sick men are in key positions in several countries: Israel's Shimon Peres is 82. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is 82 (and his designated successor, Prince Sultan, is 81, and was recently operated for stomach cancer). Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, although probably in his sixties, is said to have serious liver cancer, and is not expected to survive the next year.

And, of course, the patient activities of the Grim Reaper are not the only source of revolutionary change in the region. Saddam was a relatively young man (mid-sixties) when he was toppled by Coalition forces; the deposed Taliban leaders were relatively young as well (Mullah Omar is barely 50); and the likes of Bashar Assad, the Iranian mullahs (Khamenei is probably in his early sixties), and even the legions of the Saudi royal family have to contend with mounting animus from the West, and mounting cries for freedom from their own people.

Much of the demographic component of rapid change comes from the enormous disparity between leaders and people. The wizened ayatollahs of Iran, like the gerontarchs of Saudi Arabia, seek to contain the passions of a population one or two generations younger, which is probably one reason why the mullahs turned to a youngster, the fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to crush all potential opposition to the Islamic republic. Most Iranians, two thirds of whom are younger than 35, do not take kindly to the white beard and beturbaned tyrants who have banned Western music and just last week began speaking of segregating the sidewalks of the country by sex; males on one side, females on the other, even as they announced the execution of a woman who dared defend herself against a rapist.

In short, both demography and geopolitics make this an age of revolution, as President Bush seems to have understood. Rarely have there been so many opportunities for the advance of freedom, and rarely have the hard facts of life and death been so favorable to the spread of democratic revolution.

The architect of 9/11 and the creator of Palestinian terrorism are gone. The guiding lights of our terrorist enemies are sitting on cracking thrones, challenged by young men and women who look to us for support. Not just words, and, above all, not promises that the war against the terror masters will soon end with a premature abandonment of what was always a miserably limited battlefield. This should be our moment.

Ozzie Laid to Rest

According to Michael Ledeen on NRO today, that ineffable friend of freedom, Osama Bin Laden, departed this world in mid-December as a result of kidney failure. Ledeen's sources seem unusually good in such matters---even his dear departed James Jesus Angleton, available only via Ledeen's ouija board, is not to be discounted---and so I am quite reluctant to dismiss this as disinformation or such.

In any event, my question is somewhat irreverent, but here goes: I wonder if Osama, or Ozzie, as his friends knew him, at the end wished that he could have availed himself of infidel medical technology and care? After all, the seventy-two virgins could have waited a bit longer, non? Maybe Ozzie will come back as a K Street lobbyist for a defense conglomerate.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Democrats: Tax Parasites

Remember those wack maps Democrats came up with after the Bush-Kerry election?

A similarly self-serving wackiness arose around the same time, that, presumably due to their larger populations (as unaethstetically if not bizarrely illustrated above), the 19 Blue States pay Washington more money than they get back, so they'd be better off seceding from Bush Country.

True, as far as it goes.

But let's take a closer look.

Kerry made the election close only by carrying by nearly 20 percentage points the 23% of the electorate that makes less than $30,000 a year. They pay little or no income tax, and many of them receive federal subsidies like WIC or the Earned Income Credit.

Now, Bush and Kerry split the votes of the $30-50,000 income voters, but Bush carried every other income group above $50,000 (who represent 55% of all voters) by 10 percentage points or more.

And as we all know by now, or should, the top 50% of wage-earners pay over 96% of all federal income taxes.

So let's bury once and for all this canard that the highly evolved Blue States subsidize bucolic and backward Jesusland. More accurately, it's the productive, taxpaying Red Staters both inside and outside the Blue States who largely foot the bill for all.

Elvis' Birthday

I heard somewhere that if he'd lived, Elvis would have been 71 today.

Man, I didn't even know he was sick.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Ultimate Refutation of Skepticism

Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins have sucked virtually the entire time since he left after winning yet another Super Bowl. Gibbs, on the other hand, went on to major success as a NASCAR team owner.

Daniel Snyder, the much disliked owner of the team in the post-Gibbs era, tried Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier. Not much luck in any case, despite the fact that the latter two are all-time greats and Norv Turner has twice been a very successful offensive coordinator.

This season the breaks are all falling Washington's way. I conclude, in reverse Pat Robertson style, that the blessing of the Lord is upon Joe Gibbs and Dan Snyder was smart enough to hire him and get out of the way.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Pay for Op-Eds Business and My Experience

When I was newly minted with J.D. in hand and some conservative organization experience built-up, I called friends and asked for help finding work. One of the referrals was to a high profile lobbying/public relations firm with a high profile head. I will not name either of the above for fear of getting sued by them. I attended an interview and they explained the nature of some of the work.

One of the things it was proposed I could do was to write op-eds that would later be issued under the name of more famous persons in favor of some public policy initiative or position. At the same time, I'm sure that some of these persons would write their own op-ed, sufficiently proud of their own style and convictions not to turn the job over to the hired gun at firm X. It never occurred to me that anything in that process was wrong. The famous person would be someone who could agree with the stated position. What they would be selling would be their access to the editorial pages of the nation's newspapers and magazines. This is not bribery, but rather someone paying you to say what you would already say if the opportunity arose.

Now, I've heard the Cato Institute's Doug Bandow is basically done for, having taking significant money from Abramoff for columns he wrote. That is a shame. Doug Bandow is a strong writer and thinker.

On the surface, the problem goes like this: I like cake. I want to eat cake. I'm going to eat cake. Somebody steps up and says, "Hey, why don't you eat that cake NOW and I'll pay you for it?" And you do. Wouldn't seem to be an ethical lapse.

But it is and the real answer is revealed by imagining that everyone had full information. The newspaper or magazine wouldn't run the piece if they knew about the payment. The think tank you might work for wouldn't allow you to take the payment because their credibility is even more important than yours. And you haven't told anyone these things because deep down, you know how they would have reacted.

And that's why it's wrong. Take away the self-interest and look at the interests of others and it shines forth bright as day.

Now, I never took that job. Nobody ever slipped me a check in exchange for my promotion of a particular view at their urging. But I might have done it and could have done it without getting as far down the moral analysis as I did in this post.

In the final analysis, I'm sorry for Doug Bandow and damn glad I've had this opportunity to think it through before anyone offered me the chance to screw up.

Pat Robertson's Comments

I agree with Jay Homnick when he states, below, that Pat Robertson, as a spritual leader and ordained minister, has a right to make claims about what God's will might or might not be.

However, I also believe that rights bring responsbilities. Given the necessary ambiguity of any spritual dimension behind secular events, it is incumbent upon leaders such as Pat Robertson to be highly careful and circumspect in the public claims they make about God's intentions in "managing" worldly affairs. In addition, given that evangelical churches have a less rigid structure than older denominations, it is particularly tempting for evangelicals to make such statements. God's will is such a serious matter, however, that one should be reluctant to say in public some things that one might well think and say in private, given that the incorrect attribution of motives to God could in itself be a serious offense against that very God.

This is something to which Robertson seems regularly to give far too little consideration.

Pat Answers

Goodness me, I don't suppose that I'll make a lot of friends with this post. As a matter of conscience, I feel obligated to defend Pat Robertson for his remarks of yesterday.

Robertson, on his famous (or notorious) 700 Club show, said that Ariel Sharon's medical condition was the result of his dividing God's land "and I say woe unto any Israeli prime minister who takes a similar course..."

A range of criticisms has been advanced. 1) How can he presume to know the mind of God? 2) This is the wrong time to say this, while a man is fighting for his life. 3) Mr. Sharon is 5 foot 7 and weighs 260 pounds in a high-stress job; if anything he has lived longer and more effectively than actuarial tables would predict.

None of these points is without a degree of validity. However, it is eminently within the province of a minister to interpret events in a Biblical light and to share his conclusions with his flock. That is the very definition of spiritual leadership in the Judeo-Christian sense.

Robertson believes, as do many practitioners of Judaism and Christianity, that it is not only possible to know the mind of God in many instances (perhaps most), but it is a human duty to see if He has left clues to the message of His handiwork. For a man to be stricken immediately after giving up a part of the land, complete with evictions of devoted Jewish settlers, suggests to this minister that there is spiritual causation present. To say that he has no right to communicate such a view to his students or parishioners is the height of absurdity.

Is Robertson right? I don't know. Is he wrong? I don't know. But I believe that he has every right to that view; that once he holds it he has a right to promulgate it; that once he has those rights he may well have a spiritual imperative to speak.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Letterman, Schmetterman

I am glad that Hunter Baker posted a transcript of the recent dialogue between David Letterman and not-exactly-honored guest Bill O'Reilly on the former's TV program, below.

It is very revealing indeed. I never have liked Letterman, as I found his politics to be all too evident and all too peabrained from the very start. Nobody else with whom I spoke about this ever saw it this way, until now. By the audience's reaction of laughter and applause, it appears that they were in strong agreement with O'Reilly and that Letterman came off as an oaf and thoughtless jackass.

The exchange will have no effect at all on his popularity, I suppose, as most viewers will ignore Letterman's politics, which is fine. But nobody should ever imagine that he's on our side.

The heck with him, I say.

Let us pray for him to retire in comfort soon and be replaced by someone (a) funnier and (b) smarter.

Prime Ministering

Here is a link to Acting Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert's opening remarks at today's special cabinet meeting. I found it to be gracious, humble-but-confident, tasteful and entirely apposite.

We join Mr. Olmert in wishing Ariel Sharon a speedy and full recovery.

(Incidentally, I got a grim chuckle out of this page of the Prime Minister's Office website, offering a list of the "lastest" press releases. That's the only word misspelled at the site; I suppose it's a creative merger of latest and last.)

A City Of Two Tales

A small piece over at The American Spectator today, my first offering of the new year, makes the point that FISA is no more competent or judicious than NSA in monitoring wiretapping. All that is lost by not including them in a decision is one check-and-balance, not some fount of new wisdom.

Here's a tidbit:

Do you and I have any clear indication which of the two alphabet-soup divisions of government has the better judgment? Nah. It's just that there's a check-and-balance involved in having the NSA from the Executive branch be answerable to FISA of the Judicial branch -- and no one likes a canceled check or a zero balance. We would all like to see the I's dotted and the T's crossed, the round pegs in the round holes and the square in the square, but if someone skips a step occasionally we needn't lose much sleep. Even if a court eventually determines that it's not a proper deployment of Executive power, this is a technicality, not an abuse.

The more important question may be, is it working? That is more than the ends justifying the means. If it is working, it shows us that this partnership between NSA and FISA is balanced properly. When things are urgent, NSA acts unilaterally, at least for a few days. When a suspicion is less pressing, action is not taken until the FISA folks get to examine it more minutely. All in all, it adds up to an effective division of duties, like a good marriage.

And on the Abramoff front, permit me to immodestly remind folks that I jumped on that early, right behind Andrew Ferguson (whom I credited), to be exact. Here is my column of last Jan. 12, almost exactly a year ago.

Okay, if you insist, here's a tender morsel from that stew:

Is this as good as it gets? Do we have to adopt cynicism as our new realism? Perhaps we should sit around the bar of an evening, laughing hollowly over our second bottle of hooch, mumbling about how power corrupts. If large sums of cash belonging to goofy tribes and sleepy taxpayers are sitting in unmarked bills in a satchel with the note "Hold for collection by Rostenkowski," does the still-new Republican majority feel obligated to pick it up? After all, we must maintain continuity in governance.

It's starting to smell like a rodent and the miasma is bad for my asthma. The time has come to stanch the stench. This needs to stop, and stop now. If Republicans want to keep the public trust, they need to clear the air and clean the lobby. We know that these folks started out as good people: Jack and Armstrong, the all-American boys. They came as greenhorns to Washington; then, they could not resist trying to horn in on the green. We need to do a gut check and follow our own credo of respecting the taxpayer's money.

When Culture War Meets Late Night: Letterman v. O'Reilly

I have always been a David Letterman fan. Rooted for him, wanted to see him succeed. Still have fond memories of the old NBC days when he wore hightops with his blazers.

On the other hand, I have typically not liked Bill O'Reilly much. Have seen him as a blowhard. Have thought he thinks too highly of himself.

The proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. I read the transcript of O'Reilly's appearance on Letterman where the host was much less than gracious. Points against him. O'Reilly, on the other hand, stood up to a potentially very intimidating situation with a lot of class. Points for him.

Now, I think I like Letterman a lot less and O'Reilly quite a bit more.

Here's the transcript of most of their chat:

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW": How were your holidays, good?

O'REILLY: I had a nice winter solstice, yes.


You can't say Christmas.

LETTERMAN: You can't say Christmas?


LETTERMAN: Why is that?

O'REILLY: Because it's politically incorrect. And we did a lot of reporting on this.

LETTERMAN: I wasn't aware that you couldn't say Christmas.


LETTERMAN: When did this happen?

O'REILLY: I actually got a card from a friend of mine that said have a blessed winter.


I live in New York. You know what you can do with your blessed winter, you know what I'm talking about?

LETTERMAN: I wasn't aware this had happened.

O'REILLY: Yes, you weren't aware of the big, giant controversy over Christmas? You didn't hear that?

LETTERMAN: Well, it doesn't really affect me. I go ahead and do what I want to do. And you know - I mean, but isn't this the kind of thing where like once or twice every 20 years, somebody gets outraged and says, oh, by God, we got to put diapers on horses. Isn't it just about - is this like so what, let it go, it'll take care of itself?

O'REILLY: No. There is a movement in this country by politically correct people to erode traditions.

LETTERMAN: I don't think this is an actual threat. I think that this is something that happened here and it happened there. And so people like you are trying to make us think that it's a threat.

O'REILLY: Wrong.


Memphis, Tennessee, Bible belt, library, they have a little display where you can — say you are in a duck hunting club. You can bring in a dead duck and put it there and advertise your duck hunting club.

There was a church that wanted to advertise a Christmas pageant. So they brought in the manger scene. And the library said you can have the manger scene in Memphis, Tennessee, but you can't have the baby Jesus, Joseph, or Mary, or the wise men. We're not sure about the shepherds. That was the big debate. Now how stupid and crazy is this?

LETTERMAN: Yes, I don't believe you.

O'REILLY: It's true!


LETTERMAN: I just don't believe you. Let's talk about your friends in the Bush administration. Things seem to be darker now.

O'REILLY: It's pretty rough, you know, but they're not my friends in the Bush administration. I mean, they're not kicking the door down to be on my show.

In fact, you have an easier time getting President Bush to come on here than I have in getting him on "“The Factor”." But I think that the Iraq thing has been full of unintended consequences.

The simplistic stuff about it, hating Bush or he lied and all this stuff does the country no good at all. Our philosophy is we call it as we see it. Sometimes you agree. Sometimes you don't. Robust debate is good.

But we believe that the United States, particularly the military, are doing a noble thing.


O'REILLY: A noble thing. The soldiers and Marines are noble. They're not terrorists. And when people call them that, like Cindy Sheehan called the insurgents freedom fighters, we don't like that.

It is a vitally important time in American history. And we should all take it very seriously, and be very careful with what we say.

LETTERMAN: Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also.

O'REILLY: Exactly.

LETTERMAN: Have you lost family members in armed conflict?

O'REILLY: No, I have not.

LETTERMAN: Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?

O'REILLY: Well, I'm not speaking for her.


All right, let me ask you this question.

LETTERMAN: Let's go back to your little red and green story.

O'REILLY: Wait, wait, wait, this is important. This is important. Cindy Sheehan lost a son, a professional soldier in Iraq, correct? She has a right to grieve any way she wants. She has a right to say whatever she wants.

When she says to the public that the insurgents and terrorists are freedom fighters, how do you think, David Letterman, that makes people who lost loved ones by these people blowing the hell out of them, how do you think they feel? What about their feelings, sir?

LETTERMAN: So why are we there in the first place? I agree to you — with you that we have to support the troops. They are there. They are the best and the brightest of this country.


There's no doubt about that.

And I also agree that now we're in it, it's going to take a long, long time. People don't expect it to be solved and wrapped up in a couple of years. Unrealistic. It's not going to happen.

I'm very concerned about people like yourself who don't have nothing but endless sympathy for a woman like Cindy Sheehan, honest to Christ.

O'REILLY: No, I'm sorry. No way a terrorist who blows up women and children is going to be called a freedom fighter on my program.


LETTERMAN: I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling — I have the feeling about.


LETTERMAN: I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap, but I don't know that for a fact.

O'REILLY: Sixty?

LETTERMAN: Did I 60 percent? 60 percent, that's just — I'm just spit balling here now.

O'REILLY: Listen, I respect your opinion. You should respect mine.

LETTERMAN: Well, I — I - yes, OK.


But I think you're.

O'REILLY: Our analysis is based on the best evidence we can get.

LETTERMAN: Yes, but I think there's something — this fair and balanced, I'm not sure that it's — I don't think that you represent an objective viewpoint.

O'REILLY: But you have to give me an example if you're going to make those statements.

LETTERMAN: Well, I don't watch your show, so that would be impossible.


O'REILLY: Then why would you come to that conclusion if you don't watch the program?

LETTERMAN: Because of things that I have read, things that I know.

O'REILLY: Oh, come on, you're going to take things that you've read? You know what they say about you? Come on.


Watch it for a couple — look, watch it for a half an hour. You'll get addicted. You'll be a "Factor" fan. We'll send you a hat.

Frankly, handling things this way was stupid on Letterman's part. He alienated a significant portion of his viewership through disrespect of someone they may like and views they surely find agreeable. It's the politics of celebs all over again. You like them, enjoy their work, they shoot off their mouth, and game over.

And just in case you wonder whether Letterman was shooting off his mouth, read the transcript again. He admits he really doesn't know that much.

Abramoff! Abramoff!

This guy was supposedly hired for his political and public relations expertise:

If he was going for Johnny Cash, he missed the target. If he was going for Black Bart, the evilest man to occupy either the Longbranch Saloon or Enron, then he nailed it.


Do you hear that sound? It's Ralph Reed's candidacy going up in flames in Georgia. Before the primary, even.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Personal Style and Personal Substance in the Omniculture

I'm grateful to Hunter Baker for pointing us to Mark Judge's article on the American Spectator site.

Actually, I think that Mark makes some excellent points, although I agree that he pushes the relationship between style and Christianity too far. Other than that, however, I think Mark is quite right. Most prominent conservatives today have little appreciation of the fine arts, and they show little respect for style, just as Mark says. Among the causes for this, I would suggest the fact that conservatism used to be a more elite position than it has been since Reagan, who made real the populism that Goldwater's candidacy had begun. In addition, the paucity of widely agreed-upon, central standards, the lack of which is a major element of the Omniculture, ensures that elevation and excellence will become minority pursuits.

Another aspect of the Ominiculture that is relevant here is the overall cultural (and political and social) egalitarianism of American society during the past century. It is why, for example, both clothing styles and personal manners have become less formal: to allow those who have not been raised with elevated tastes, to feel that they too have social standing. The outcome of this honorable intention, however, is that instead of raising the manners and appreciation for beauty among what used to be called the lower orders, the standards have been brought down to enable all to reach them. It is the social equivalent of social promotion in schools.

That is rather a pity, I think, but this is a condition that will not necessarily be permanent. There are forces already arising to create a thirst for diversity and originality, and although at this point the manifestations of this phenomenon have not included a strong component of respect for elevation and beauty (indeed, rather the opposite), it is possible that such a thing could happen. However, unless and until most of society agrees on a common set of standards, that remains highly unlikely.

I'm Not Down with the Christian Metrocon Thing

Mark Gauvreau Judge is a good writer, but I think he should have left this one in the unsubmitted file. His basic thesis is that the red state identity basically celebrates cretinism. I disagree with that, despite not really loving NASCAR, Bill O'Reilly, and some of the other targets he picks.

But what is really offensive is that he somehow conflates wearing the right clothes and discriminating consumerism with advanced spirituality in the Christian sense.

I don't think so.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'll include my letter to the editor on the piece:

Dear Editor,

I've always liked Mark Gauvreau Judge's work, but I find at least part of his central thesis about the superiority of being a metrocon questionable and maybe even objectionable. While I agree that there is nothing to celebrate about being tacky or willfully ignorant (which I'm not sure his target group really is), I disagree vigorously that the "second growth" of spirituality involves learning how to purchase and wear the right clothing and accessories. Natty apparel has never been a sign of spiritual maturity as far as I can tell. Were it so the fashionistas would be the deepest folk on earth.

It is one thing to argue that many of today's conservatives don't hold a candle to William F. Buckley on style points (surely, they do not), but to conflate that point with spiritual maturity and depth evokes a Christianity of which I'm not aware. Certainly, a preference for Brooks Brothers over Wal-Mart does little to inform one about the nobility of a particular soul. In fact, the good book might make the opposite case.

Hunter Baker
Contributor to The Reform Club
Athens, Georgia

What's Wrong with Socialism?

Mary Katherine Ham is posting over at HughHewitt.com. If he let’s her post a little more often, I might forgive him for the Harriet Miers debacle.

She says something about socialism that resonates deeply with my own thoughts:

So, conversations with socialists. I have them. A lot.

I have them with that special brand of socialist-- the 20-something post-collegiate angsty intellectual who has the luxury of saying Fidel Castro "has some pretty good ideas" because, for him, it's not a national talking point enforced at the muzzle of a gun and the blindfolded brink of a ditch. That kind of socialist.

They're good folks. They truly do want the best for people. They think "equal" necessarily equals "good." They, therefore, want equality enforced.

Sometimes during these conversations, my big-government buddies concede, "All right, so maybe it doesn't always work in practice, but it's a nice thought."

I used to concede that point. "Yes, it's a nice idea in theory," I'd say, "But it never works in practice. In fact, it's disastrous, deadly, and scoops out people's souls like so many cold lumps of cosmic ice cream, splatted on the sidewalks of humanity. But you're getting the picture."

In the last couple years, I've had to revise that. The truth is that it is not a nice idea, in theory. Well, not if you actually think about what the theory implies.

Socialism is enforced equality. But someone has to enforce. Someone has to take all that a country of dynamic, amazing, different people has produced and slice it up into dull, government-approved parcels that go to each according to his need. So much for diversity, right?

This means that no one owns anything except for the guy doing the enforcing of equality, who without fail, feels a lot less strongly about his own equality with the proletariat than he does about the rabble's equality with each other. That's how Fidel Castro ended up on the Forbe's list of richest people.

This guy inevitably gets a little testy when folks step out of line by wanting to own the things they earn, thereby cutting down on his net worth. And by testy, I mean blood-thirsty and murdery.

Mary Katherine has it exactly right. Beware Chavez-istas. You won’t like the future.

The Ebooks Are Coming! The Ebooks Are Coming! No, Really!

What’s a guy with a carefully developed collection of books to do?  

My father-in-law was a high-level academic librarian for many years.  He always said the book is so good at doing its basic job, there will probably not be a solid replacement for it.

I’m beginning to suspect he might have been wrong about that.

Exhibit A:  I saw a fellow reading a book on some sort of electronic notepad device (possibly a tablet PC) recently.  He also appeared to be able to electronically mark it up.  Looked very good.

Exhibit B:  Michael Hyatt’s weblog keeps mentioning that something like an iPod for readers is coming and it will have a big impact on the market.  Since Hyatt is the president of big publisher Thomas Nelson, I think he knows whereof he speaks.  His latest post really has me sweating it.

Why am I sweating it?  

Because I realize that someday my collection may become quite obsolete and I will be able to do more, faster, better, etc. with a massive collection of books on some tiny media device.

Of course, I’m a Ph.D. student now and can’t wait for even next year.  Still, it hurts a little to know I keep moving all these boxes of books when obsolescence is around the corner.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Review of The Ice Harvest

Fyi, my article on the recent crime film The Ice Harvest is featured today on Breakpoint.

A sample:

Like many modern crime films, The Ice Harvest presents an America rife with corruption but holding great possibilities for redemption. In these films, America is the Land of Second Chances.

Hence both money and religion are central to the story. The film takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and tatty, commercialized Christmas imagery is prevalent. The film opens with shots of a nativity scene, as cold rain falls on the manger and drops of water fall on the statue of the infant Jesus as if they were tears. Images of ice and cold water recur throughout the film, and director Harold Ramis uses this to suggest the pervasiveness of corruption (it is like a natural phenomenon) and where it leads: death—literally, in the case of most of the central characters.

Read the rest of it here.

There's Plenty of Hate to Go Around

It is quite possible that some of the incidents of hateful speech and harassment allegedly directed by the Left toward the Right, especially toward African-Americans on the Right, have been untrue or exaggerated. It is important, however, to keep in mind the big picture. And the big truth is that the American Left seems rather more willing to go for the jugular more quickly than anyone else these days, and rather more openly and viciously than in some times past.

As Jeff Jacoby noted in his December 28 column,

Nothing brings out racist slurs like an ambitious black man who doesn't know his "place." So when Maryland's lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, announced his candidacy for the US Senate recently, the bigots reared up. On one popular website, The News Blog, Steele's picture was grotesquely doctored, making him look like a minstrel-show caricature. "I's Simple Sambo and I's Running for the Big House," read the insulting headline accompanying the picture.

This wasn't some white supremacist slime from the right-wing fringe. The News Blog is a liberal site, and the reason for its racist attack on Steele, a former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, is that he is a conservative. Specifically, a black conservative. As far as too many liberals are concerned, blacks who reject liberalism deserve to be smeared as Sambos and worse.

"Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele . . . are fair because he is a conservative Republican," The Washington Times reported. "Such attacks . . . include . . . calling him an 'Uncle Tom,' and depicting him as a blackfaced minstrel."

Once upon a time, segregationists excoriated white liberals as "nigger lovers." Today, racist insults in the political arena are more likely to come from the left -- and to target black conservatives. When Harry Belafonte was asked in August about the fact that black Americans hold prominent positions in the Bush administration, his response was to call them "black tyrants" -- and then to make a sickening (and ignorant) comparison: "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich."

Jacoby is by no means condemning vigorous debate:

By "hate speech," I don't mean the sharp put-downs that are an inevitable part of vigorous public debate. What I have in mind are the disgusting calumnies and malicious demonizations that should have no place in political discourse. Like University of Michigan historian Juan Cole, a frequent TV talking head, asserting falsely that Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes "has fond visions of rounding up Muslim Americans and putting them in concentration camps." Or US Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont accusing the Bush family of planning to "start another war . . . next year, probably in Iran" in order "to get their son" -- Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- "elected president" in the next election.

If this kind of toxic rhetoric came only from crackpots, it would be easy enough to dismiss. When it comes from pundits, celebrities, and politicians -- people whose views tend to get respectful attention -- it does real damage, and should be universally condemned.

Jacoby cites additional cases, and he notes that Republicans who stray beyond the boundaries of reasonable discourse, such as Pat Robertson in his recent comments suggesting the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, are strongly and quickly denounced by both Left and Right. That is the way things should be. Jacoby is certainly correct in observing that the trend is real and that it should indeed be "universally condemned."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Plight of the Black Republican

Apparently, being a homeless activist can't even save you or your work, if you admit to being a black Republican.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

All Hayle to the Days

There was a time, not so long ago really, when all Christendom knew that Christmas was not a day but a season, that began rather than ended on December 25 and lasted for twelve days, until the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6. And smack dab in the middle of that season comes New Years' Day, which is also celebrated in the Roman Calendar as the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. So today is properly not the time to sigh with the weariness of a bloody awful hangover and take down the dried out and forlorn Christmas tree, but to prepare for another week of feasting, merry-making, and respite from toil.

Of course, our modern culture does not permit that of most of us. There has already been more than enough tomfoolery and corruption of productivity for our relentlessly commerical culture to condone. Happy New Year to all: let your resolutions lie lightly upon your shoulders and keep the merriness of the season in your hearts.

All hayle to the days that merite more praise then all the rest of the year;
& welcome the nights, that double delights as well for the poor as the peer:
Good fortune attend each merry man's friend
That doth but the best that he may,
Forgetting old wrongs with Carrols and Songs to drive the cold winter away.

The Court all in state now opens her gate an bids a free welcome to most;
The City likewise tho' somewhat precise doth willingly part with her cost;
And yet, by report from City to Court
The Countrey gets the day:
More Liquor is spent, and better content, to drive the cold winter away.

Thus none will allow of solitude now, but merrily greets the time,
To make it appeare of all the whole yeare that this is accounted the Prime,
December is seene apparel'd in greene
And January, fresh as May,
Comes dancing along with a cup or a Song to drive the cold winter away.

This time of the yeare is spent in good cheare,
Kind neighbours together to meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire each other in love to greet:
Old grudges forgot are put in a pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the young doth carrol this Song,
To drive the cold winter away.

To maske and to mum kind neighbours will come
With Wassels of nut-browne Ale,
To drinke and carouse to all in this house, as merry as buck in the pale;
Where cake, bread and cheese, is brought for yr fees
To make you the longer stay;
The fire to warme will do you no harme, to drive the cold winter away.

When Christmas tide comes in like a Bride, with Holly and Ivy clad, --
Twelve dayes in the yeare much mirth and good cheare
In every household is had:
The Countrey guise is then to devise some gambols of Christmas play;
Whereas the yong men do best that they can
To drive the cold winter away.

When white-bearded Frost hath threatened his worst,
And fallen from Branch & Bryer,
& time away cals from husbandry hals,
& from the good countryman's fire,
Together to go to Plow and to sow,
to get us both food and array:
And thus with content the time we have spent
To drive the cold winter away.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Rights of Individuals Versus Rights of Communities

It is certainly true that hard cases make bad law, but they definitely provide a good way of figuring out principles. A particularly thorny case is outlined in an article on conflicts between African tribal customs and national legal systems, in today's New York Times.

The specific topic at hand is the decision of governments to overrule customs even when the individuals involved—the victims, as we would rightly call them—do not protest:

To many Zulus, . . . virginity tests are a revered custom, one that discourages early sex and, after falling into disuse, has been revived to fight the spread of H.I.V. But to many advocates of women's and children's rights, the practice is unscientific, discriminatory and - to girls who are publicly and perhaps falsely accused of having lost their virginity - emotionally searing. This month, their arguments persuaded South Africa's Parliament to ban some virginity testing, with violations punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The ban is an example of how sub-Saharan Africa is slowly, but inexorably, enshrining into law basic protections that have long been denied women. But it also hints at the frailty of the movement toward women's rights in the region. Not only is the new law a watered-down version of what was proposed, but few here believe it will curb a tradition so deeply embedded in Zulu and to a lesser extent Xhosa culture.

"We will uphold our traditions and customs," said Patekile Holomisa, president of the Congress of Traditional Leaders, a political party in South Africa. "There are laws that passed that do not necessarily have any impact on the lives of people. I imagine this will be one of those."

The article goes on to discuss female genital mutilation, which I think we can all say should be stopped, regardless of the reasons people may give for the practice. However, it is interesting to consider just how and when government should override the will of a community. As Reform Clubber Edmund Burke pointed out, a society is made up of its countless "little platoons," and government should be loath to harm them. Yet civilization requires certain standards, and when communities engage in practices that do not achieve those standards, redress is called for.

However, if a society stops believing in standards or in the very concept of civilization itself, the basis for standing up to those who would flout those standards becomes highly unreliable. What, then, is to stop the West from continuing to move toward the kind of tribalism that societies such as South Africa are trying to grow out of? Claims of universal positions, such as individual rights, are plausible only when all parties agree that there are universal truths.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Chronic of Narnia

I hate to replace brilliant, nonsense-destroying posts with simple entertainment, but this hilarious video from Saturday Night Live deserves your undivided attention.

Ha-ha-larious, booooOOOOOY.

The Road to Hell

.....contrary to popular myth, is apparently not paved at all.

I find this utterly hilarous on several levels.

In 2002, I was warned off of moving to Maryland because, among other things, I'd be subjecting myself to corrupt and incompetent local government when I could just as easily move to orderly, well-run Northern Virginia. The Maryland House of Delegates may be full of blowhard Democrats who would rather argue about slot machines for two years than pass a budget, but they do manage to throw a few truckloads of chip-n-seal on pretty much any flat surface that connects two inhabited points in the state.

Second, the visual image of a real estate agent fording Bull Run in his Jaguar is just priceless. If only Major McDowell had thought of that in 1861, the Civil War might have lasted mere weeks.

Third, we Washingtonians have just now begun what promises to be an interminable and ill-informed public argument about reducing traffic congestion through privately owned demand-sensitive toll lanes, popularly known as "Lexus Lanes" for the assumption that only the rich will be able to afford the tolls. I say the Loudon experience demonstrates we don't need Lexus lanes at all. We can throw some sand and gravel in the median strip on the Beltway and I-66 and let all these off-road warriors pretend they're blazing trails in the wilderness.

I am a little disappointed that you can negotiate Braddock Road in an Audi, though. I thought maybe me and my '96 Jeep Cherokee would have a clear road.

Backing Up the Family Breakdown and Poverty Connection

Interesting Quotes from Sociologists

"Sharply rising rates of divorce, unwed mothers, and runaway fathers do not represent ‘alternative life styles’. They are rather patterns of adult behavior with profoundly negative consequences for children."

--Elaine Kamarck and William Galston, Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990’s, a publication of the Democratic Leadership Council

"I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of the evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable . . .If our prevailing views on family structure hinged solely on scholarly evidence, the current debate would never have arisen in the first place."

-- David Popenoe, former Dean of Social Sciences, Rutgers University

"Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents’ race or educational background (italics added), regardless of whether the parents are married when the child is born, and regardless of whether the resident parent remarries."

--Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan and the University of Wisconsin’s Gary Sandefur

"We know what the cause of poverty is in this country and, like it or not, it's divorce and non-wedlock childbearing. We know that for every three divorces, one family ends up below the poverty line. The average woman with dependent children who ends up in poverty stays poor for eight months. The federal government pays for part of that, but states pay the balance. Divorce, by itself, is a major economic issue."

--Sociology professor Steve Nock of the University of Virginia in a New York Times story

Relevant statistics and academic study conclusions (citations available):

• The poverty rate for children living with cohabiting parents is five times that of children with married parents. The poverty rate for children living with single mothers is seven times that of children with married parents.

• The average married father annually contributes about thirty thousand dollars to the welfare of his children. The annual contribution of a non-custodial father averages about three thousand dollars yearly.

• In 1998, 12% of black children with married parents lived in poverty, BUT 55% of black children with single moms lived in poverty.

• Only 6% of births to women above the poverty line are out of wedlock. To contrast, 44% of births to white women under the poverty line are out of wedlock.

• Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents are three times more likely to have a child out of wedlock, 2.5 times more likely to become teenage mothers, and 1.4 times more likely to be out of school and unemployed.

• Daughters of single parents are 164% more likely to have a premarital birth and 92% more likely to have a divorce than daughters of married parents.

• According to a 1994 report in American Economic Review, those who leave welfare because of marriage are the least likely to return.

• "Among married-couple households, the bracket with the largest number of households is $75,000 and over. Among ‘other family groups,’ the bracket with the largest number of households is that under $10,000."

• Children of two-parent lower income black homes perform better in college than children from single-parent affluent black homes.

• Children who grow up with one parent are twice as likely to drop out of high school than kids with both parents at home.

• Children whose parents are divorced are more likely to exhibit conduct problems, psychological maladjustment, and lower academic achievement.

• Children in two-parent families receive the highest grades in school of any family structure.

• Seventy-two percent of America’s adolescent murderers, 70% of long-term prison inmates, and 60% of rapists come from fatherless homes.

• Boys raised outside of an intact nuclear family are more than twice as likely as other boys to end up in prison, even controlling for a range of social and economic factors.

• Married women are much less likely to be victims of violent crime than unmarried or divorced women. Only 14.4 married women per 1000 are victimized versus 60.6 never-married women per 1000 and 53.6 divorced or separated women per 1000.

• A cohabiting boyfriend is thirty-three times more likely to abuse a child than a married father who lives with the mother.

• A biological father who cohabits with the mother, but is not married to her, is twenty times more likely to abuse his own child than fathers who are married to the mothers of the child.

• Cohabiting women are more likely to suffer severe violence from their partners than are married women.

• Children without resident fathers are more vulnerable to predators, both sexual and physical, outside the family.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chicago Tribune Says Bush Didn't Mislead on Iraq

I'm pasting in the verbatim analysis from the Chicago Tribune inquest on whether Bush misled the American people about Iraq:


Biological and chemical weapons


The Bush administration said Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Officials trumpeted reports from U.S. and foreign spy agencies, including an October 2002 CIA assessment: "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions."


Many, although not all, of the Bush administration's assertions about weapons of mass destruction have proven flat-out wrong. What illicit weaponry searchers uncovered didn't begin to square with the magnitude of the toxic armory U.S. officials had described before the war.


There was no need for the administration to rely on risky intelligence to chronicle many of Iraq's other sins. In putting so much emphasis on illicit weaponry, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed.

Iraq rebuffs the world


In a speech that left many diplomats visibly squirming in their chairs, President Bush detailed tandem patterns of failure: Saddam Hussein had refused to obey UN Security Council orders that he disclose his weapons programs--and the UN had refused to enforce its demands of Hussein.


Reasonable minds disagree on whether Iraq's flouting of UN resolutions justified the war. But there can be no credible assertion that either Iraq or the UN met its responsibility to the world. If anything, the administration gravely understated the chicanery, both in Baghdad and at the UN.


Hussein had shunted enough lucre to enough profiteers to keep the UN from challenging him. In a dozen years the organization mass-produced 17 resolutions on Iraq, all of them toothless. That in turn enabled Hussein to continue his brutal reign and cost untold thousands of Iraqis their lives.

The quest for nukes


Intelligence agencies warned the Clinton and Bush administrations that Hussein was reconstituting his once-impressive program to create nuclear weapons. In part that intel reflected embarrassment over U.S. failure before the Persian Gulf war to grasp how close Iraq was to building nukes.


Four intel studies from 1997-2000 concurred that "If Iraq acquired a significant quantity of fissile material through foreign assistance, it could have a crude nuclear weapon within a year." Claims that Iraq sought uranium and special tubes for processing nuclear material appear discredited.


If the White House manipulated or exaggerated the nuclear intelligence before the war in order to paint a more menacing portrait of Hussein, it's difficult to imagine why. For five years, the official and oft-delivered alarms from the U.S. intelligence community had been menacing enough.

Hussein's rope-a-dope


The longer Hussein refuses to obey UN directives to disclose his weapons programs, the greater the risk that he will acquire, or share with terrorists, the weaponry he has used in the past or the even deadlier capabilities his scientists have tried to develop. Thus we need to wage a pre-emptive war.


Hussein didn't have illicit weapons stockpiles to wield or hand to terrorists. Subsequent investigations have concluded he had the means and intent to rekindle those programs as soon as he escaped UN sanctions.


Had Hussein not been deposed, would he have reconstituted deadly weaponry or shared it with terror groups? Of the White House's nine arguments for war, the implications of this warning about Iraq's intentions are treacherous to imagine--yet also the least possible to declare true or false.

Waging war on terror


Iraq was Afghanistan's likely successor as a haven for terror groups. "Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror ... " the president said. "And he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network."


The White House echoed four years of intel that said Hussein contemplated the use of terror against the U.S. or its allies. But he evidently had not done so on a broad scale. The assertion that Hussein was "harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror" overstated what we know today.


The drumbeat of White House warnings before the war made Iraq's terror activities sound more ambitious than subsequent evidence has proven. Based on what we know today, the argument that Hussein was able to foment global terror against this country and its interests was exaggerated.

Reform in the Middle East


Supplanting Hussein's reign with self-rule would transform governance in a region dominated by dictators, zealots and kings. The administration wanted to convert populations of subjects into citizens. Mideast democracy would channel energy away from resentments that breed terrorism.


U.S. pressure has stirred reforms in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and imperiled Syria's regime. "I was cynical about Iraq," said Druze Muslim patriarch Walid Jumblatt. "But when I saw the Iraqi people voting . . . it was the start of a new Arab world... The Berlin Wall has fallen."


The notion that invading Iraq would provoke political tremors in a region long ruled by despots is the Bush administration's most successful prewar prediction to date. A more muscular U.S. diplomacy has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East.

Iraq and Al Qaeda


President Bush: "... Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy--the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.... Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases."


Two government investigative reports indicate that Al Qaeda and Iraq had long-running if sporadic contacts. Several of the prewar intel conclusions likely are true. But the high-ranking Al Qaeda detainee who said Iraq trained Al Qaeda in bombmaking, poisons and gases later recanted.


No compelling evidence ties Iraq to Sept. 11, 2001, as the White House implied. Nor is there proof linking Al Qaeda in a significant way to the final years of Hussein's regime. By stripping its rhetoric of the ambiguity present in the intel data, the White House exaggerated this argument for war.

The Butcher of Baghdad


Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell: "For more than 20 years, by word and by deed, Saddam Hussein has pursued his ambition to dominate Iraq and the broader Middle East using the only means he knows--intimidation, coercion and annihilation of all those who might stand in his way."


Human Rights Watch estimates that Hussein exterminated 300,000 people. Chemical weapons killed Iraqi Kurds and Iranians; Iraqi Shiites also were slaughtered. Tortures included amputation, rape, piercing hands with drills, burning some victims alive and lowering others into acid baths.


In detailing how Hussein tormented his people--and thus mocked the UN Security Council order that he stop--the White House assessments were accurate. Few if any war opponents have challenged this argument, or suggested that an unmolested Hussein would have eased his repression.

Iraqis liberated


President Bush and his surrogates broached a peculiar notion: that the Arab world was ready to embrace representative government. History said otherwise--and it wasn't as if the Arab street was clamoring for Iraq to show the way.


The most succinct evaluation comes from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.): "Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them."


The White House was correct in predicting that long subjugated Iraqis would embrace democracy. And while Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites have major differences to reconcile, a year's worth of predictions that Sunni disaffection could doom self-rule have, so far, proven wrong.

Evangelical Christians' Love-Hate Relationship with the Arts

On the Internetmonk blog, Michael Spencer brings up a subject I find very interesting, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians' love-hate relationship with the arts. As a Christian but not of the American evangelical variety, I have never had any problem enjoying and relating to the arts both popular and elite, as regular readers of my writings here and elsewhere are well aware. Fundamentalists and evangelicals, however, seem to have significant difficulty engaging with the arts, perhaps as a legacy of their Puritan beginnings. Spencer writes:

The fundamentalist war on the imagination is old. It is not that fundamentalism offers nothing to the imagination. It does, but there is in fundamentalism a deep-seated and deeply wrong belief that the second commandment was a “closure” order on the imagination. There is a deep suspicion that anything imaginative violates a divine order and seduces us in the wrong direction. This is as true of the Christian imagination as of the secular imagination. There is often as much fear of Catholic art as there is of occultic art. The paltry artistic production of recent conservative Christianity bears witness to this imaginative desert. Little is planted, and little grows, and we lose most of our children not to the world’s propositions, but to the world’s illusions.

Spencer finds that this is changing (and not a moment too soon, I say):

[In recent years,] evangelical Christians have finally discovered that the world of the imagination may have something to offer them, and this discovery is increasingly being made, not in the world of literature, but in the more common medium of the movies.

While many of us have long known that fiction such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” repudiated the fundamentalist attitude toward the imaginative, it was the discovery of Christian appeals to the imagination in movies such as “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings” that began to break the ice in the evangelical world. While media such as Focus on the Family and Baptist Press penned warnings about the dangers of Harry Potter, they gave surprisingly positive coverage to the evangelistic and homiletical uses of “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

This is a profoundly welcome development, in my view. Spencer calls on his fellow evangelicals to embrace this new understanding of their place in the world and feel free to develop a greater appreciation for the arts:

The emerging church suggests that rejection of the visual and the imaginative was a mistake from which we ought to vigorously repent. I agree, and even at the risk of a bit of silliness such repentance is worthwhile to at least make an effort to recapture the lost imaginations of millions. The interpretations of the second commandment I grew up hearing were nothing more than excuses for the impoverishment of the imagination. Evangelicals have produced enough bad art to keep someone in purgatory busy for thousands of years just watching, reading and listening to it. We’re beginning to repent of being the people who considered the local theater a subdivision of hell and whose response was Billy Graham movies.

Let’s do more than begin. Let’s become a people known for our love of the imagination and its possibilities of enjoyment, creation and worship.

The Great Christian Tradition- especially in its early centuries- was always visual without being idolatrous. It engaged culture through mind and imagination. The risks of idolatry were never absent, but the rewards of a holy, and living, imagination are too rich to avoid. In eras of illiteracy and spiritual warfare, the church sought to appeal to and capture the imagination of those who heard the Gospel. Whether liturgy, cathedrals, musical compositions or great works of visual art- all were arrayed for the purpose of taking the loyalties of the imagination captive for Christ the Lord.

Evangelicals have dabbled. They have denounced. They have demeaned. They have experimented. Are they ready to admit that we can preach through our engagement with story, image and aesthetic, and not only through propositions? Art and imagination, great writing and creative expresssion: they all preach the Gospel and engage human beings with the truth of God. If evangelicals are opening their minds to more than outlines and answers, will they seek out those God has gifted in the realm of the imaginative and release them to create, praise and evangelize?

In his Two Kingdoms theology, Martin Luther provides a fine place for evangelicals to begin to develop a theological approach that can repair the cultural damage that appears to be such a powerful legacy of Puritanism. I hope that major evangelical and fundamentalist thinkers will consider the wisdom to be found there and will encourage their brethren to act accordingly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

When Will It Stop? T.V. Writers and Dumb Statistics

My wife is a big fan of House, M.D., which I agree is an enjoyable program. If memory serves, our own S.T. Karnick gave it a nice review over at NRO.

I was watching this evening when the physician team was treating an African-American death row inmate played by L.L. Cool J. The docs, of course, had to talk about social justice, the death penalty, racism, etc.. Fine with me. One of the docs said he's against it in principle, but is unbothered when the switch gets pulled. Another, a female doc, said she was against it because it is racially motivated. Her statistical claim was that black murderers are ten times more likely than white killers to get the death penalty.

This is where my eyebrows tilted up. Not quite, lassie. As I recall the cases in law school where the question of racism in death penalty sentencing was considered, the race of the killer turned out to be statistically insignificant. Guess what was signifant? The race of the victim! Killers who murder blacks are less likely to get the death penalty than killers who murder whites. Very interesting. So, if there is racism, it is in the fact that killers of African-American victims should theoretically be less deterred than killers of whites.

Television would be more interesting if writers would take the time to do a little research.

For my part, I kind of agreed with what the African-American doctor character said when confronted with the (as I just established, fallacious) racism charge in death penalty sentencing. If that's true, "we just need to kill more white folks." Of course, the show isn't over and he may be dramatically converted by the end of the episode.

The "Road to" Movies and the Great Bob Hope

A commenter mentioned the "Road" movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, in response to my post on Meet Me in St. Louis, and I am glad that he or she brought the subject up.

The Road movies are indeed great fun, and most of them are must-see cinema. The first one, Road to Singapore, is not as funny and likeable as the others, but Hope and Crosby and the gang learned a lot from that one and went on to make a terrific series of simply flat-out-funny movies. Their goal was simply to make people laugh, and they have succeeded admirably at that over the years. My favorite of the series is Road to Utopia, which is set in Alaska and includes a delightful intermittent narration by Robert Benchley and probably the best jokes-per-minute ratio in the series. Road to Morocco is another highlight of the series, with great gags such as a talking camel, and terrific interplay between Bob and Bing. Zanzibar, Rio, and Bali are all quite funny too. The last one, Road to Hongkong, is amusing and likable but not as inspired as the others.

More Hope:

On Christmas Day, my family and I enjoyed our annual viewing of The Lemon Drop Kid, while visiting a friend who is also a great fan of Bob Hope and this wonderful Christmas film. I have seen the film well over a dozen times, and upon each viewing I discover something I hadn't noticed before. This one was no exception. The film, loosely based on a Damon Runyan story, concerns a scheme by racetrack tout Sidney Milburn, the Lemon Drop kid of the title (played by Bob Hope) to institute a confidence scheme that will accumulate $10,000 so that he won't be killed on Christmas by the gangster to whom he owes that sum. The movie is full of some of the wittiest comments and funniest sight gags Hope ever laid onto celluloid, which is saying a lot. But in addition to that, The Lemon Drop Kid has a highly serious meaning behind it, as the events of the film explore concepts of sin, repentance, and redemption. The film is so funny and delightful that most viewers will absorb these meanings without realizing it, which makes it that much more enjoyable and effective.

For more on Bob Hope and his achievements, you will find articles by the present author here, here, and here.

A Film Well Worth Watching—and Rewatching

G. Tracy Meehan III has provided a very nice appreciation of the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis, directed by Vincente Minnelli, over at National Review Online. The film features a fine performance by Judy Garland and demonstrates how a good movie can deal with interesting issues in a sophisticated way without becoming the slightest bit didactic. The situation—a turn-of-the-last-century family facing the various little crises that arise in life, along with one major one—might not seem to be the stuff of great drama, but the observant screenplay by Irving Brecher and Fred Finklehoffe and sensitive realization by Vincente Minnelli enable the viewer to understand and feel the full importance of the issues the family members face and the fact that these seemingly little things are what life is really all about.

Set aside a couple of hours for it, and you will be refreshed and inspired. It's that good.

Spouting Off

Incidentally, I would like to go on record as supporting Greenpeace in their activist campaign to stop Japan from whaling.

There is an international convention forbidding the hunting of whales. As far as I know, this has not caused any sort of upheaval in undersea ecology. I have not seen anyone make the argument that the whale herd really needs culling and it's some left-wing delusion preventing that from occurring. It seems that there is a legitimate international consensus that it's in the interest of the healthy conservation of the planet to avoid killing whales to the extent possible.

Japan has flouted this for years, ostensibly for some scientific purpose. But observers of the Japanese social scene consistently report that whale meat turns up on the menu at trendy dinners.

Godspeed for Greenpeace. They're doing what we should be doing, enforcing the international standards of responsible use of nature.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Fessay Is Back!

My apologies for slacking off on fessay production due to my workload. I just wrote #6 and posted it at the special Fessay blog.


For those who are new to the site, a fessay is a fictional essay. Have a gander.

Hanukah For Spectators

Tonight is the first candle of Hanukah (usually written by Jews as Chanukah, with the "ch" pronounced gutturally like the "g' in Argentina), so I should provide a link to my pensees for the day, published over at The American Spectator.

And for here, a glint:

This is not viewed as a completed victory. In fact, even the military battle against the Greeks continued for many years after the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple. Eventually, every one of the major Maccabee leaders was killed in battle. Still, once they turned the corner, they were confident of ultimate triumph. The legendary Maharal (an acronym for Rabbi Judah Loew) of Prague (1512-1609) explains that Hanukah occurs in conjunction with the winter solstice, when light is least in the world...and then begins to gradually, inevitably increase.

And don't forget: for some light-hearted looks at the news, you can always pop into our little blog of two-liners.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Different Translation

Just as an educational tool, I thought it would be instructive to copy here from the most commonly used translation in synagogues. This is based mostly on the commentary of Rashi (1035-1105), which is considered authoritative. Rashi generally culls his explanations from the Midrash, a collaborative commentary that precedes the Talmud; it's about 1800 years old.

In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth -- when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters -- God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated between the light and the darkness.

God called to the light: "Day," and to the darkness He called: "Night." And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

The rest is about the same. But there are some key differences in that opening passage.

(I should add that the translation of "Divine Presence" is interpretive. The Hebrew words are more correctly rendered as "the Spirit of God", which Anders used.)

Where All Men are at Home

A Christmas poem from one of The Reform Club's patron saints:

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G.K. Chesterton, The House of Christmas

Many thanks to my good friend Brenda B. of Crazy Stable for bringing this lovely poem back to mind. May of all of us who are homeless -- that is, all of us here -- put our peace in the possible impossible things and find home in the coming year.

This Is Most Certainly True

1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
—Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless you with truth, understanding, and above all, love.