Friday, June 09, 2006

Miscellany

Back above water, briefly. And so a few tidbits. First out of the gate is the ineffable William Jefferson, formerly the proud owner of oodles of cold cash in his freezer, who refuses to resign from the House Ways and Means Committee on the grounds that he has not been charged with a crime. And so the Goddess of the Culture of Noncorruption, the stalwart Nancy Pelosi, whose campaign mantra for this fall's House races has been destroyed singlehandedly by Jefferson, now is trying to find a way to remove him. Alas, the Congressional Black Caucus is in no mood to cooperate. And so if the Republicans are smart, they will refrain from charging Jefferson with anything until the election is past, thus preserving the most amusing spectacle seen in the Beltway since, well, a few weeks ago, when the Honorable Rep. Patrick Kennedy was tucked into bed by the Capitol Hill cops. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Speaking of Patrick, is he not a godsend for that other giant among Congressional intellectuals, Cynthia McKinney? How are they going to charge Her Black Highness with assault when White Bread Patrick got off with a teddy bear, warm milk, and a bedtime story about a 3am vote on the floor of the House? Yes, racism accusations are a dime a dozen, worthy of all the contempt that we habor for them; but---let us be honest---they are useful indeed when threatened against guilt-ridden liberal elites inside the Beltway.

Speaking of intellectuals, we now have Bill Lockyer and Fabian Nunez, respectively the Attorney General (and Democratic nominee for State Treasurer) and Speaker of the State Assembly, calling for "temporary" price controls on gasoline during "abnormal market disruptions." It is not clear what "normal market disruptions" might be, but, anyway, this would apply only to California, of course; beyond the obvious effects in terms of gasoline lines, the larger effect would be to shift supplies out of California to other states, thus lowering their prices. And so the cheers you hear for this bill are those not of California gasoline consumers, already the victims of so very much government compassion, but instead of consumers in the rest of the west. Yes, the boutique gasoline regulations will temper this effect somewhat, but far from fully. Can these people possibly be that stupid and that cynical? Well, actually, yes. Emphatically. And that stalwart defender of Milton Friedman's principles, Governor Arnold, has not yet taken a position on the bill.

I see that repeal of the death tax failed to achieve cloture in the Senate. Can it possibly be the case that the remaining red-state Democrats are happy about this? This behavior on the part of Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic leadership suggests to me that the degree to which they are beholden to the DailyKosMoveOn.OrgMichaelMoorePaulKrugmanBarbraSteisand crowd is worse than anyone imagined. Do they want a party only of leftists? Apparently, yes indeed.

May the Ayatollah Zarqawi be blessed with the 72 virgins promised somewhere in the fine print, and may they be the losers in the past pageant stampedes for Miss Burkha. Anyway, all the reports claim that Zarqawi's location was divulged by an inside source; even if not true, this is useful disinformation, in that it might create suspicions and greater compartmentalization than otherwise would be the case. But everyone---from DoD spokemen to Iraqi government officials---are claiming this. Loudly. Which leads me to doubt that it is true; if it were, it would be far more effective to let the fact of such treachery leak out. That it has been broadcast from the rooftops loudly and often looks like someone protesting too much. The other hypothesis is that it is true, and the CIA in its usual incompetence has spread the word stupidly. Only my plumber knows, and he's not talking.

Luther, Calvin, and Gay Marriage

How exactly is the Christian to view the state? The answer to that question answers a slew of other ones, including, perhaps, the thorny question of gay marriage sanctioned by the state.

Three options jump out at me as I think about Christianity and the state:

1. The medieval Catholic view
2. Calvin's view
3. Luther's view

The medieval Catholic view has the state below the church. If we were to draw an org chart, the state would be at the bottom, the church in the middle, and God at the top. In this scheme of things, it clearly makes sense to speak of a Christian state.

Calvin's view is a little different. The church and the state are not in a hierarchical relationship. Each answers to God separately, but the implications are not what you might think. Because God invests government with authority, governors should be primarily concerned with things like right worship and doctrine. Heresy would absolutely be a punishable offense.

What is similar about the two views described above is that the state is a sacred entity and it is going to be involved in matters of religion.

Luther represents a definitive break. His state is not sacred or confessional. Instead, it is purely instrumental, which is to say that the state has no eternal destiny but it has a job to do. The job is simple: restrain evil. Because of the fallen state of man, sin is everywhere on the earth and without the restraint of rulers the world would be a desert as the wolves preyed endlessly on the sheep. Luther's state shouldn't worry so much about correct doctrine and punishing heretics. That is for the church to handle through persuasion and excommunication. Instead, the state should wield the sword against those who will do evil in the form of violence, theft, and fraud.

Of the three options, it may be clear that I think Luther's view is the best and is of the closest accord with the New Testament. Christ really didn't bring a doctrine of the sacred state, at least not as far as I can tell. The church's mission is far more important than the state's, but we often act as if we believe the state is where all the action is. I think that is a legacy of Calvin. I should also add that I see foreshadows of Locke in Luther, but Luther rarely gets the credit.

Gay marriage comes into the picture because it is of such great moment for Christians involved in American politics. I still recall talking to John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute in 1998 with a group of fellow summer associates. Whitehead told us gay marriage was already lost. We protested. I think he was right and we were wrong. The question is how upset we should be about that.

If you take Calvin's view of the state, then I think gay marriage is completely unacceptable. The honor of God is implicated in the Calvinistic state and something so clearly at odds with Christian doctrine would be an ultimate affront. The result is that you have to fight and fight hard because the state is a covenant entity and God will punish a faithless people.

If you take Luther's view, the picture is a bit less bleak. Gay marriage is really outside of what the state should be doing, but the honor of God is not on the line because we are only talking about an instrumental entity for earthly convenience. It is quite possible that gay marriage will represent a milestone that immediately fades into insignificance as we discover the whole thing was primarily about making a point rather than about the desire to build nuclear families.

Just to clarify a bit through comparison we can see that in Calvin's world gay marriage would be every bit the problem abortion is. Gay marriage might be even worse than abortion because it runs directly counter to scripture. In Luther's world, abortion would be far more grave because the state is licensing real harm and violence against innocent parties. Gay marriage represents something less troublesome by several degrees.

Love to hear discussion and feedback on this one. The thinking here is early and tentative.

Update: I mentioned three models of the state from a Christian point of view, but there are others. For example, one could embrace a radical reformation view in which the church withdraws almost completely from the state, viewing it as a source of corruption and malignant worldliness.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Is Dead

The killing of insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a major accomplishment for the Iraqi government and allied forces, without question. The question now is how much difference it will make in the hostilities there. Certainly the Sunni hatred of Shias, which Zarqawi worked hard to foment, will remain, as will the corresponding feeling of Shias toward Sunnis. That is the heart of the conflict, and this does not change that. Zarqawi was a skilled tactician and strong leader, but replacements will arise. However, it is important to remember that each leader killed is a message to the rest: We're coming for you, and it's only a matter of time. Leaders do make a difference.

Of course, having bin Laden's head on a platter would send a much stronger message, but let us be happy with each victory in the long process of bringing some sense to a highly disturbed region of the world.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bill Shatner: Rocket Man



Back before Bill Shatner realized the value of parody, he simply was the single greatest unintentional purveyor of cheese the world has ever known.

(HT: Galley Slaves)

Internecine Warfare over NC Prosecution

In a comment on my first Duke post, below, Michael Simpson notes that he did not explicitly state that the Duke players had committed the rape of which they were accused. I acknowledge that, and wish to correct the implication that he did so. He did not. The conviction to which I was referring when I wrote about Michael's earlier post was his claim convicting the Dukies of extraordinary boorishness, utterly embarrassing behavior, and other hyperbolic descriptions of desperate immorality. And I must note that it would have been disingenuous for me to fail to mention that such opinions, which I was criticizing in my post, had appeared on this very blog. It would have left us open to charges of favoritism.

As noted, Michael Simpson stopped short of saying the Dukies had commited the rape of which they wre accused, but he did exemplify the conservatives' rush to judgment in claiming that this case shows the decline of Western civ., etc. And that's his prerogative, as it is mine to seek a little truth in and perspective on the matter.

Another commenter referred to the racial epithets supposedly flung by the Dukies at the party, and the nasty email that was sent afterward, as proving that these players, all 30 or so of them, are strange monsters given to utterly perverse and fiendish activities at which Mr. Hyde would have shrunk in revulsion. I emphatically disagree. I have said that I don't believe the epithets happened, as they are an additional charge by the person who says a lot of other things happened that couldn't have happened. The claim is embroidery on a phony story, and we have no reason whatever to believe that it is true. And even if someone did say something racial at the party, this is no news story, much less a sign of the moral collapse of the West. It would have been wrong to do, of course, but lots of wrong things happen in this world without causing a ripple in the national press. As I've pointed out repeatedly, it is the false charge of rape that gives this story (false) significance: Does anyone here really believe that every shouted racial epithet should be a major newspaper story? If so, there would be no room for anything else.

As to the email, yes, that was putrid. But did all 30 players sign it? Then how can anyone but a fool condemn them all for it? In addition, young males say things like this all the time, and good young men as well as the slimy ones do so. It's wrong, but not exactly a hydrogen bomb. The difference here is that the individual put it in an email, which could get into the wrong hands (and unfortunately did—those of the colege administration and district attorney's office). In its original form, a message to a single individual, the statement could not have hurt anyone, given that it was absurdly unlikely that anyone would tell the next stripper what this fellow had written. (Bad business practice, that, at the very least.) The email would never have gotten out to the public had not the authorities sent it out to the press in the first place. So, who is more responsible for any hurt feelings the message might have created, the player who sent it to one person who would surely not have repeated it to anyone whose feelings might be hurt by it, or the authorities who sent it out to the world? Without the false rape charge, this email stays where it belongs, in the fevered fantasies of a hormone-engorged college boy. But the authorities chose to publicize it. Let's put the relative responsibility where it belongs.

How this entire incident could be exemplary of the decline of society is utterly beyond my comprehension, given that the Duke players have been much better than the average college student, as noted repeatedly in my previous postings on the subject, as documented by Duke's own witchhunt, er, study. It's important to remember that even in conservatives' beloved Victorian era, things like this happened. They're incidents, not things by which we can characterize people's entire lives. Anybody with a soul has said things they regret, whether drunk or not. Who here really has the right to cast this particular stone? Well? Just so: a single email or attendance at a drunken party surely cannot establish one as an example of utter depravity except in the most lurid and hypocritical kind of mind. I do not believe that Michael Simpson or most of the other critics of the Duke lacrosse team have such minds, and I press this point so that we can all understand exactly what is important about this incident.

It is the evil power of politics that stands out most vividly here.

Political Propaganda From The Academy

In a startling new book The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right, George Michael, the author, disinters Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics. This time, however, the views are so wildly inaccurate and prejudicial as to appear as caricature.

Professor Michael asserts, for example, that because David Duke, the former Klan leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, both condemn the state of Israel, there is some right wing – Islamic nexus. Yes, both figures may be anti-semitic and anti-Zionist, surely both deserve condemnation, but one may have nuclear weapons which can destroy the state of Israel and the other is an appropriately discredited individual without any influence.

Michael also notes that Muslims and right-wingers (a term he doesn’t define) have similar critiques of American foreign policy in the Middle East, modernity and globalization. “Both see the U.S. government as hopelessly under the control of Jews or Zionists,” he writes.

One could far more comfortably – I believe – make this statement about the left. After all, the left has reflexively embraced the Palestinian cause from Tony Kushner to Ramsay Clark. The argument that the U.S. government is under a hypnotic spell of Zionists was recently made by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two university professors more aligned with the left than the right. Demonstrations against globalization in Europe were mobilized almost entirely by left wing organizations and when it comes to the challenges to modernity, it is again primarily left wing environmental groups in the forefront.

Clearly Mr. Michael has an axe to grind. Evidence is marshaled to make his case without a glance at the other side of the political spectrum. He is not the first and he certainly won’t be the last to employ quasi-scholarship as a propagandistic exercise.

What is truly maddening about the book is its assumption that right wingers and Islamists have much in common. I could easily assert that Stalinists and Islamists have much in common. I can assert as well that ACTUP and NOW have much in common with Muslims. I can further assert that the National Guild of Lawyers, a left wing hothouse, has been a defender of radical Islamic terrorists.

That David Duke appears as a right wing exemplar is revealing. Surely Michael could have selected Pat Robertson. He is a religious leader, supports right wing causes and has made irrational – in my view – comments about homosexuals. But he is conspicuously omitted from the treatise because he is an undeviating supporter of Israel. This comes under the heading of “if it doesn’t fit, ignore it.”

That anyone would call this book a work of scholarship is laughable. Then again that which satisfies the gods of political correctness will have legitimacy. No enemies on my left is still a theme from Hollywood to Greenwich Village. Only the right can be caricatured.

Facts, however, have a strange way of being persistent. What are the areas of right wing and Islamic cooperation which are inferred in the book? Unless one relies on the author’s tortured logic, they are hard to find.

When Paranoid Style… was written decades ago Hofstadter also ignored paranoia on the left, which was exemplified with the Weathermen and Black Panthers, but, at least, he made his case with appropriate examples. In Michael’s book he begins his analysis with a prejudice and ends with a prejudice sandwiched between ipse dixit.

Yes, there can be paranoia on the right and paranoia on the extreme left. There may be some crack pot who identifies with Ahmadinejad and is a right winger and he may have a counterpart on the left. If political science research is to be more than polemical it should follow the evidence wherever it may lead.


Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001) and maintains a Web site, www.herblondon.org.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Could the Dukies Be Guilty After All?

A persistent commenter has asked what evidence suggests the Duke lacrosse players are innocent. Well, let's see. As regards the DNA under the accuser's fingernails, no one denies that she was at the party, and that is all that that bit of evidence confirms. She has made exactly this kind of false accusation before. The DNA found, ahem, inside the accuser was that of her girlfriend. The photos she was shown in the photo "lineup" were only of Duke lacrosse players. And so on and so on. And since when, in this society, are we supposed to have to prove people innocent, even in the court of public opinion? There is no evidence whatsoever showing that the accused young men raped that girl. None. These young men are innocent, and that woman accused them falsely, and that is precisely what the evidence shows.

If this were any other case but allegedly rich white boys and a stripper from a minority group, people like the commenter would be outraged at the rush to judgment and the prosecutor's outrageous behavior. They should be so regardless of the color and financial status of the individuals involved. That is what justice requires.

More on the NC False Prosecution Scandal

A comment on my previous post on this subject suggested that I was judging the truth of the Duke lacrosse rape allegation too soon, just as I have accused those who assumed the players did it, of having done.

If we await a trial, however, we will never be able to comment, as there will be no trial of the Duke lacrosse players charged of rape. That is an absolute certainty.

Fortuntely, it is perfectly fair and reasonable to comment now. The evidence is in, and the charge is false, just as I said.

Unlike those who rushed to blame the players, I withheld public judgment until the evidence was clear. (Look at the date on my Reform Club post, and also note that I got it right when Newsweek was getting it spectacularly wrong, as noted below.) It did not take very long for the evidence to become clear, as it happens.

The Newsweek story referenced here is a good example of the kind of hooey that was being written shortly after the allegations arose. The DNA tests had already come back negative, but the story recounted the prosecutor's claims of use of a date rape drug, etc., suggesting that the accuser's accusations would prove true anyway. Characteristic of the piece is this claim: "From the beginning, the case has provided a tawdry real-world blend of true crime, high life and low manners, for the likes of novelists John Grisham and Tom Wolfe." The main problem with that assessment is that there was no "real-world . . . crime" of the sort they were suggesting, only the despicable crime of a made-up accusation of rape.

The Newsweek story characterized all lacrosse players as spoiled rich boys, which is an incredibly stupid thing to write, and entirely wrong, if you must have it spelled out for you. The article says, "The antics of the lacrosse team had attracted the notice of administrators at Duke, both for raucous tailgating parties before football games and a high rate of campus misdemeanors, like public underage drinking (15 of the 47 players on the roster have been cited by police at some point in the last three years)." But as K. C. Johnson noted in NRO and I quoted in my posting here, "An investigation headed by James Coleman, a Duke law professor and former (Democratic) counsel to the House Ethics Committee, confirmed that while the men’s lacrosse players had a disproportionate number of alcohol violations, they also performed extensive community service, achieved athletic excellence, and demonstrated unfailing courtesy to Duke staff. The Coleman Committee found no evidence that 'the cohesiveness of this group is either sexist or racist.' On the academic front, more than half the team made the ACC’s academic honor roll; one professor recalled that “the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class.' "

The facts are indeed in, and they prove that Nifong, Broadhead, the accuser, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Newsweek, and all the other agitators, journalists, and political commentators who jumped in to convict the Duke lacrosse team and its coach were wrong, and that many of them were utterly despicable in their cynicism.

You know, if you care.

The Scandal of the Conservative Mind

In an article on National Review Online today, K. C. Johnson notes that most conservatives jumped on the bandwagon when an ambitious prosecutor in North Carolina went after what he clearly saw as an ideal group of Great White Defendants, to use Tom Wolfe's astutely devised term from Bonfire of the Vanities, and pushed ahead with a no-evidence case against three Duke University lacrosse players accused by a stripper of rape allegedly done at a party at which she had been performing her great art. It's entirely clear now, that this case was a railroading from the start, and it is going to fall by the wayside quietly in the end, without the accused ever getting a chance to clear their names.

Equally repugnant was the rush to judgment by Duke University president Richard Broadhead, documented in sickening detail by Michael Rubin in NRO today. Rubin writes,

On March 25, Duke University President Richard Brodhead issued a statement declaring, “Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke.” Of course, he issued the caveat, “People are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” but on campuses today, such presumption is secondary. On April 5, Brodhead canceled the lacrosse team’s season and promised an investigation of the culture of college athletes as well as Duke’s own response. The lacrosse coach resigned.

Months later, more is known about the incident. While District Attorney Mike Nifong is pressing on with charges of rape and related accusations against three lacrosse players, his case is unraveling. Photos, witnesses, alibis, inconclusive DNA evidence, and even passed polygraphs make his case increasingly tenuous.

That last sentence is an understatement. Nifong has no case, and he knows it, but he doesn't care because he got what he wanted out of it: renomination to office on the votes of people gulled into thinking he was protecting them when in fact he was using them as cynically as could be.

I understand that there were valid reasons for Duke coach Mike Pressler to resign, given that his charges had taken part in underage drinking and hired a stripper, both of which are common activities among young people but which the college formally opposes. It was understandable that his head should roll, even though he is not known to have condoned his players' behavior. But if not for the charge of rape, which was entirely false, would there have been any public stain on Duke's program? Of course not. I certainly hope that Pressler will catch on somewhere soon and continue the fine coaching work he was doing at Duke.

Along with the Duke players who foolishly put themselves in position to be exploited as socioeconomic tackling dummies, it is Nifong, Broadhead, and the accuser who are to blame for this ugly incident, not Pressler.

Brodhead should resign and apologize. Nifong should be impeached, and the accuser should be prosecuted. Of course, none of these things will happen, which is an indictment of the voters of North Carolina and Duke University's trustees, donors, and parents.

The interesting political angle that Johnson points out in his NRO piece is how political conservatives jumped on the bandwagon to convict the Duke team before a shred of real evidence was in. Even our own, esteemed Reform Clubber Michael Simpson did so, writing on our site, "Duke's lacrosse team has managed to thoroughly embarrass itself and the rest of the school by hiring strippers for a party and then, allegedly, taunting one of the strippers (who was black, while the team is almost entirely white) with racial taunts and then (again, allegedly) raping her. A real class act, these guys." Yes, Michael did use the word allegedly, but the thrust of his comment was to place the blame squarely on the Duke players and then on the permissve attitude toward student sexual behavior that prevails among college and university administrators. Michael's point was that this kind of behavior was the inevitable repulsive consequence of the prevailing campus ethos.

But other than the underage drinking and presence of a stripper, and possibly the racial taunts (though I very much doubt they occurred), the team did nothing at all outside the mainstream of college behavior, and certainly did nothing at all that could be characterized as "thoroughly embarrassing." It was the rape claim that made this story important, and that was false.

As Johnson puts it,

A few conservative bloggers and columnists have seared Nifong’s behavior, and the issue has received play on talk radio and television. But many conservative thinkers either have declined comment or concentrated on condemning the lacrosse players’ acknowledged behavior (drinking, hiring a stripper for a party) while calling for more focus on academics at colleges.

Typical of such sentiments is John Hood, president of North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, who denounced the players as “irresponsible louts” and called for colleges to refocus on “the life of the mind, not the life of the party.” Vin Cannato compared the lacrosse scandal to Harvard’s treatment of Larry Summers and Yale’s admitting a former Taliban official as a student—two of the most indefensible events in higher education in the past year. At NRO’s Phi Beta Cons, Carol Iannone cited the case to endorse “the return of in loco parentis, and preferably the old-fashioned kind of parens. It’s only four years and you can actually live without strippers for that time.”

Although not a conservative, your present correspondent was one of those happy few on the Right who criticized Nifong and argued that the Dukies were being railroaded unconscionably. I wrote,

The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.

I think that this case illustrates the difference between conservatives and classical liberals. The former are intensely (and appropriately) concerned about the need for social order, whereas we classical liberals seek the right balance between liberty and order. In the present case, a little attention to classical liberal values went a long way toward finding a reasonable position. Having attended many a bacchanal that got out of hand in my young adult years, and having been to the occasional party at which there happened to be naked prostitutes and the like, I recognize that these things happen, and I cannot see any reason why an otherwise exemplary person—which is precisely what the Duke lacrosse team consists of—should be cast into the third circle of hell merely for a little spirited hijinks.

As Johnson notes regarding the Duke players,

Ironically, the calumny heaped upon them has obscured the lacrosse players’ actual records. An investigation headed by James Coleman, a Duke law professor and former (Democratic) counsel to the House Ethics Committee, confirmed that while the men’s lacrosse players had a disproportionate number of alcohol violations, they also performed extensive community service, achieved athletic excellence, and demonstrated unfailing courtesy to Duke staff. The Coleman Committee found no evidence that “the cohesiveness of this group is either sexist or racist.” On the academic front, more than half the team made the ACC’s academic honor roll; one professor recalled that “the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class.” Given the ideological tenor of the Duke faculty, the positions that the players took can easily be imagined.

Those who still wonder if the players’ character should distract from a campaign to restore justice in Durham should follow the lead of Duke’s women’s lacrosse team. Coach Kerstin Kimel explained, “There is a strong camaraderie between our teams, and my players—being smart, savvy young women—would not associate with them if they felt on the whole, there was an issue of character.” And so, having made the 2006 Final Four, the women’s team members wore “innocent” headbands to express solidarity with Nifong’s targets. In light of their own faculty’s response to the case, this demonstration of personal values and courage should make even the strongest critics of the Duke lacrosse program reconsider.

Yes, what the Dukies did at the party was stupid and wrong, but real adults don't fly into a panic about such things.

Political conservatives often do exactly that, however, and that is why the Republicans so frequently run into entirely unnecessary political trouble. They're very willing to take the good with the bad when it comes to having a market-oriented economy, but when it comes to college students having a few beers—and possibly, heaven forbid, having a few too many—suddenly liberty is a dangerous thing. Real people, however, know better than to blow up over a little tomfoolery, and this kind of silly crusade is precisely what turns people off about current-day political conservatism.

Merry Antichristmas (6-6-'06)


Wishing you all the joys and horrors of the day. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 05, 2006

Buy, Sell, or Hold: Google and Gay Marriage

It's time to sell whatever stock you're holding in the Bush effort to ban gay marriage. I'm one of those people who is generally opposed to the concept of legalized gay marriage, but even I can't help but view Republican work on the issue with anything but the most world-weary cynicism. It just feels as though the GOP rolls opposition to gay marriage out whenever they feel worried about their base. It's not working. The base is just feeling manipulated. Small government is going to eventually become the defining GOP issue again in the future -- that and pro-life, which is a heckuva lot easier to argue than gay marriage (but that's another post entirely).

It's also time to sell Google, not just till the price is better, but entirely. I watched the Google stock price soar through the roof and never understood it. Sure, it's the first option in search, but it doesn't have some unassailable technology that can't easily be matched or replaced. The truth is that Yahoo does virtually everything Google does and has a commanding lead in email users. Yet, for some reason I've yet to fathom Google is worth far more than Yahoo. How to explain apart from a feeling. I think Google is another example of irrational exuberance and it will fall farther and harder, yet.

The Problem of Evil, and Politics

In his column on Pope Benedict's speech at Auschwitz, Jeff Jacoby gives an excellent presentation of the problem of evil. The existence of evil, of course, has often been used as an argument against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, and the answer is not difficult to explain but is extremely awful to comprehend. Jacoby wisely considers the matter from both the global perspective, as in the examples of Nazism, the gulags, the slaughters by the Khmer Rouge, and other such mass atrocities, and in the acts of individual criminals. He asks the atheists' question: Why would a benevolent and all-powerful God allow such things? Jacoby's answer, as excerpted below, is the answer long given by Christian theologians, and it is the right one.

The importance to politics, our subject here, is precisely what the Founders of the United States placed their greatest emphasis on: the need to create a secular realm that enables and encourages people to be good and discourages evil. And it was to do this for entirely practical, secular reasons, not religious ones. Although the Founders realized that religions, specifically the Christian religion, created the foundations for a proper morality, religion was not seen as the logical foundation for their form of government. The logic behind our form of government was a practical matter, as the Founders recognized that the encouragement of virtue in the people was the way to create the greatest combination of liberty and social order simultaneously.

Their insisghts still remain true.

This political structure is an entirely different matter, the Founders understood, from executing God's judgments on the world, a point that Puritan-descended Evangelicals and Fundamentalists too often forget. God will execute his judgments himself, but human beings must govern themselves. This thinking is a straightforward expression of Martin Luther's Two Kingdoms theology, which is itself the foundation of modern, classical liberal political philosophy. Luther's insight was precisely that although God is free to execute his judgments in the world, he allows human beings moral freedom, and that creates the need for government. And in creating the need for governmnent, our moral freedom establishes the logical limitations on what government should do.

Here is a goodly excerpt from Jeff Jacoby's excellent column:

The Nazis' ultimate goal, Benedict argued, was to rip out Christian morality by its Jewish roots, replacing it with "a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful." Hitler knew that his will to power could triumph only if he first destroyed Judeo-Christian values. In the Thousand-Year Reich, God and his moral code would be wiped out. Man, unencumbered by conscience, would reign in his place. It is the oldest of temptations, and Auschwitz is what it leads to.

"Where was God in those days?" asked the pope. How could a just and loving Creator have allowed trainload after trainload of human beings to be murdered at Auschwitz? But why ask such a question only in Auschwitz? Where, after all, was God in the Gulag? Where was God when the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians? Where was God during the Armenian holocaust? Where was God in Rwanda? Where is God in Darfur?

For that matter, where is God when even one innocent victim is being murdered or raped or abused?

The answer, though the pope didn't say so clearly, is that a world in which God always intervened to prevent cruelty and violence would be a world without freedom -- and life without freedom would be meaningless. God endows human beings with the power to choose between good and evil. Some choose to help their neighbor; others choose to hurt him. There were those in Nazi Europe who herded Jews into gas chambers. And there were those who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Gestapo.

The God "who spoke on Sinai" was not addressing himself to angels or robots who could do no wrong even if they wanted to. He was speaking to real people with real choices to make, and real consequences that flow from those choices. Auschwitz wasn't God's fault. He didn't build the place. And only by changing those who did build it from free moral agents into puppets could he have stopped them from committing their horrific crimes.

It was not God who failed during the Holocaust or in the Gulag, or on 9/11, or in Bosnia. It is not God who fails when human beings do barbaric things to other human beings. Auschwitz is not what happens when the God who says "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is silent. It is what happens when men and women refuse to listen.