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

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Common Ties (and the People who Wear Them)

As some of you may know, I have taken lately to selling my life on the installment plan. That is, I am writing short memoirs of episodes in my life for the wonderful magazine called Common Ties.

The most recent is The Kindest Cut of All, where I describe a very unusual circumcision in which I participated. Have a gander.

What set me off today was a story by author Beverly Carol Lucey. It is yet another shallow rehash of a Jewish childhood without a Jewish education, a ubiquitous genre of surpassing superficiality.

In response, I sent this letter:

Much as I hate to be critical, I really don’t get this at all.

It seems to be the story line should have been: Hi, my parents took me to an Orthodox synagogue as a kid, but they were too cheap or too short-sighted to send me to a Jewish school. Pressing, I discovered they were ignorant themselves and oddly at peace with their ignorance.

One day I woke up and asked myself: wait a second, isn’t Judaism a 3300 year old philosophical system that changed mankind? Wasn’t King David the most powerful poet who ever lived - and writing that poetry 1000 years before anyone else? Aren’t there 24 books in the Bible that have fascinated billions of people through the ages and inspired most of the great art and science in history? Aren’t there 20 volumes of Talmud explicating the laws taught briefly in the Bible, including an entire civil law system still active today in Rabbinical courts? Isn’t this a religion that prophesied its people would retake its land at the end of history despite the land being desolate and the people dirt poor, and then amazingly, astonishingly, that occurred? Aren’t there Jewish schools from k-12, followed by Jewish seminaries and colleges; they must be learning something more than what to mumble in Hebrew at which cue? Why does Hebrew feel dead to me when in fact it is the most miraculous language, the only language in history to be revived as the spoken language of a country after over 2000 years? A language that in its revival has been rich enough to breed an entire new generation of evocative poetry and beautiful songwriting, both religious and secular? Could it be possible that a religious system that sustained a nation of brilliant, talented people through 2000 years of exile and poverty is nothing more than a few Hebrew mumbles and bad trumpet blowing?

I concluded that my relatives were neglecting their heritage and stifling mine. I dropped what I was doing and went to Israel to study Judaism intensively for four years. I was amazed to discover an entire body of thought and law, a philosophy of life, a mission of great purpose. Having used energy and intelligence in this diligent investigation I am now prepared to intelligently opine that… x. Whatever x may be: I love it, I like it, I hate it, I’m indifferent to it.

Instead we get this. No one taught me why. They didn’t even know why. So I walked. And I have a vague idea that what I left was probably flawed. But for a minute there it gave me a warm feeling. And that’s kinda cool.


Friday, March 09, 2007

A Shot in the Dark

I have to admit I am a bit baffled by the lack of blogosphere coverage of today's groundbreaking, seriously important decision out of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the District's longstanding ban on handguns. How Appealing has some coverage, and as you would expect, that gun-lovin' wacko Instapundit gives out links but little independent analysis. He seems to have disabled the Volokh Conspiracy with a multi-pronged Instalanche, which is a damn shame. Eugene Volokh became the blawgger go-to guy on the Second Amendement by being that rarest of intellectuals: a guy who had an opinion, which he later changed on the basis of an honest look at the evidence.

The case was heard by a three judge panel, which split 2-1. It is interesting that the majority so wholeheartedly embraced the idea that the 2nd Amendment really does mean what it says, and confers an individual right that they earned an approving nod from the Cato Institute. The dissent seems to me, admittedly a non-lawyer, as just plain weird: Judge Henderson argues that the meaning of the 2nd Amendment in regards to the District of Columbia is purely academic, because the District of Columbia is not a state. I await rulings on what other constitutional provisions and amendments do not apply in the District of Columbia, with special interest in the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth. And given the eternal mouthiness of Eleanor Holmes Norton, possibly the Nineteenth.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Squandering the Art of the Clinton Legacy

Bill Clinton was perhaps the last great Democrat, as we understood "Democrat" before the left took it over at last. Although I didn't vote for him either time because I had (vindicated) doubts about his character starting with his exquisitely bald lie about not shtupping Gennifer Flowers (he did), politically I found him pretty much a centrist, not terribly different from Bush41 or Bob Dole.

He handled the peace and prosperity thing A-OK. He let some geopolitical threats fester, but hoping things might work themselves out on their own can be prudent, too. And he did the best thing a president can do when faced with the threat of prosperity---he didn't mess with it.

How his vice president and anointed successor Al Gore turned an election against an underqualified and subarticulate Republican challenger into a close call remains a puzzle for the ages. Gore should have won by 10 states and 20 points.

Bill Clinton was a leading light of the now-moribund Democratic Leadership Council. Friendly to economic growth, strong enough on national defense. FDR would have tolerated it, Truman and LBJ would have caught the national defense part, and John Freaking Kennedy would have been its pope.

But somewhere along the way, Al Gore lost the script. All he had to do was read from his as boringly as Bush41 read from Reagan's, and he'd be completing his second term about now.

True enough, though, he wouldn't have an Oscar. I guess it all depends on what you think is important.

Which leads us to Mistress Hillary.

Every Democrat in Washington and most every Democrat everywhere else owes Bill Clinton. The missus inherited a virtually unlimited fountain of cash and considerable karmic debts. But she seems determined to blow it. I have no idea how she could sit on stage for 30 years behind Bill Clinton's sweet political song and still remain tone-deaf.

She goes to Selma, Alabama the other day to speak on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and uses an insultingly bad black accent and prattles on about global warming. I mean, not only does she butcher the tune, she doesn't even know the words.

When Hillary compared her own struggle as a woman (women got the vote in 1920) to what black folk use capital letters to describe as The Struggle (for practical purposes and as everybody knows, blacks only universally got the franchise with the Voting Rights Act of 1965), thousands of the African American eyeballs in attendance rolled painfully back in their respective heads.

After all this time, the first black president's wife knows absolutely zip about black folk.

Bill Clinton was the last of a breed, I think, at least among Democrats for awhile. Somebody who understood not just politics, but people. Not just the words, not just the tune, but the feeling that turns them both into music. Call it art.

Artists are rare in politics and are often flawed: FDR was a master, as were JFK, Ronald Reagan and of course Bill Clinton. There are solid artisans, like Truman, Eisenhower, Bush43, and don't underestimate LBJ and Nixon, who all except for Ike were undone more by their times than their flaws.

Barack Obama is an artist, let's make no mistake, although it's probably only a matter of time until his inexperience leads him to screw up under the brutal pressure. But I don't want to cynically bet against him because I like the fact that he seems interested in governing all the American people and not just those who agree with him. He wants to be my president, too, and I appreciate that, even though I agree with him politically on virtually nothing. I mean, Bill Clinton is far to Obama's right.

The other artist in the mix is Rudy Giuliani. He winks at the political game, has a screwed-up personal life, but as an artist he lets us all in on the joke and we love him for it.

If the Democrats are determined to squander Bill Clinton's legacy, Rudy Giuliani is happy to pick it up. The suit fits.

Pardon You. Not.

I see that El Presidente W wants to stay away from any talk of a pardon for Scooter Libby, at least until the legal machinery has stopped billing by the hour. This whole mess, of course, is largely W's fault: Instead of simply confronting Joe Wilson's lies directly, the White House decided to be subtle about it, with leaks and insinuations and all the rest. And then there was the cowardly act of bringing the special prosecutor aboard because, again, W did not want to have to get up and explain in plain English that the Justice Department was/is perfectly capable of conducting such investigations. And then there is the eternal failure of W to control his administration; and so we had the Armitage leak and subsequent silence on his part, and Powell's as well, about whence the fair Valerie's name. (Armitage and Powell are the scum of the earth.)

And so W's eternal inability to get up and make a case verbally has yielded the inevitable return of the roosting chickens, except it is not W but instead Libby who is getting cra**ed upon. Maybe W will pardon Libby during his last day in office; it is not just with respect to North Korea and the Iranians that W is looking more and more like Slick Willy every day.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The City and Burb

I'm not a suburb guy. I mean, I grew in different suburbs and they're fine, but if given the choice, I'd rather not live in them. But I can't stand the sort of sneering, condescending, holier-than-thou attitude taken by so many a faux intellectual who deem "urban" life ever so superior, ever so much more amenable to a proper human life. So I'm always happy to come across a good beating to such preeners and here James Lileks delivers one, with a side-dish against the ubiquitous urban planners that ruined so many American cities in the 1960s. Deee-lish...

Real Violations of Religious Liberty

We spend so much time mucking about and yelling at one another about whether we can place the Ten Commandments on the South or North wall of a courthouse or whether a Santa needs to be 3 or 6 feet away from the Christmas creche, that we often fail to recognize how fortunate we are that we live in a land where religious liberty is protected to a degree really unknown in history. So when a story like this pops up, it shakes things up a bit.

It appears that there's a Christian group at Savannah State U that (according to the link above)* got "suspended" because its members engaged in "hazing" rituals. What were those? Why it was that ol' fraternity prank of "foot-washing." Now, for those unfamiliar with this "Animal House" ritual, it was that first pledge bro' Jesus who washed his own disciples' feet at the group's big annual formal, otherwise known as the Last Supper. Boy, was that a good time, except for that one dude who ran off - big party pooper he turned out to be.

Well, then the group at SSU (motto: "You Can Get Anywhere From Here") got expelled because - get this - they went to a Christian concert off campus. Well, we can't be having that, can we? With all the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll on campus, anyone that goes off campus for a concert is clearly up to no good.

* I couldn't find any independent news on the web - just copies of the complaint and the ADL press release. There might be more to the university's side, of course.

Climate Change: What You Can Do

I've been on the fence about this thing until America's most highly-paid newsman wrote this on her blog:
And all the experts agree. Well, almost every expert. (There are a handful of scientists — many of them on the payroll of big oil companies — who wonder if global warming is a reality.)

Oil companies. I should have known. They want us all dead so they can have all the oil to themselves. Still, as a Republican, the question I really have to ask is, what's in it for me??

It's another perfect day here in Southern California, a nippy 69 degrees, and the value of my house has doubled in the last 5 years. What if everybody had nice weather, the chilling thought went down my chilled spine. My obscene profit, up in smoke like from the tailpipe of a Hummer. And if it gets as warm as Mexico here, why, they sell land as cheap as dirt!

We have to do something about this. Now. Like Al Gore said while snarfing up his well-deserved Oscar, this is a moral issue. Quicker than Gore flunked out of divinity school, I came up with this helpful list. Clip and save:

---Plug in your clocks only when you absolutely have to know what time it is. If you need the alarm, get up five minutes early to set it.

---Al Gore says cigarettes are a significant cause of global warming, so quit smoking and sell him the carbon credits.

---Your kids are useless for pushing your car up to highway speeds, but they can increase your mileage considerably around town. Use your headlights only when there's no moon, and remember, your horn uses less energy than your turn signal.

---Stairs make you huff and puff and expel carbon dioxide. Use the elevator. And sports are carbon-intensive too, so do 'em on your X-box.

---Take as long as you want browsing in the fridge. Leaving the door open cools the world down.

---Down more Slurpees, or better yet, nice frosty margaritas. See, this isn't so bad.

---Lower the thermostat in your Gulfstream jet, and make the help wear sweaters.

---We need our corn for ethanol. Switch from Fritos to pork rinds.

---Do not use a television or radio unless it's bicycle powered, like Gilligan's.

---Turn your computer off right now. Turn it off, get up out of your chair, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Then sit down quietly. Moving, talking and breathing should be kept to the absolute minimum. Human life is eco-unfriendly, and should be lived as little as possible. It's only moral.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Swiss Watch Winds Up Inaccurate

One of the funniest headlines of my lifetime: Swiss Troops Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein.

Funny, I sat next to Miss Lichtenstein in Brooklyn College in 1975 and no accidents of this sort occurred.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Congress Finally Doing Something to Help Out Black Americans

Of all the problems afflicting black America, it's clear that high on the list is making sure that there are plenty of black football coaches. Yep, that's right. Our ol' Congress - or at least some part thereof - seems to think that the dearth of black football coaches is a national crisis and that legislation might be needed. Now, I do think there is something not-so-nice in why black men don't get hired - I suspect that there's more than a little reluctance because administrators fear that they won't connect with boosters. But legislation? Could it even be done legally?

The best part here is that Myles Brand, the busybody head of the NCAA, is really exercised because:

Part of my personal frustration with this issue is the lack of direct control the NCAA has over the matter,” Brand responded. “The colleges and universities will not cede to the NCAA the authority to dictate who to interview or hire in athletics.”

Did he really say that? If you've ever had any doubts about the arrogance of the NCAA, that should erase them. Golly, you mean universities don't want to give up control over who they're going to hire for their multi-million dollar programs? What arrogance! What impertinence! We should ban their mascots! That'll show 'em...sheesh.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beware the Dread Religion

My apologies for my overlong hiatus from reviewing Heather MacDonald's screed, or perhaps screech. A veritable avalanche of work is upon me and I am struggling valiantly to dig out from under.

Until my return here is a sample of the dreaded soul-numbing faith-founded sensibility she fears is corrupting our otherwise tame existence. Courtesy of the poet Burns, his A Prayer in the Prospect of Death.

O Thou unknown, Almighty Cause
Of all my hope and fear!
In whose dread presence, ere an hour,
Perhaps I must appear!

If I have wander'd in those paths
Of life I ought to shun --
As something, loudly, in my breast,
Remonstrates I have done --

Thou know'st that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And list'ning to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.

Where human weakness has come short,
Or frailty steps aside,
Do Thou, All-good - for such Thou art --
In shades of darkness hide.

Where with intention I have err'd,
No other plea I have,
But, Thou art good; and Goodness still
Delighteth to forgive.

Monday, February 26, 2007

So It's President Rudy, Then

Almost 2 years before the next Inauguration Day, every poll and every bit of conventional wisdom agrees: Rudy Da Man to lead Team GOP to victory.

He skates to the nomination: head evangelical honcho Dr. James Dobson hates John McCain for calling certain Christians "agents of intolerance," libertarianish tax freedomers hate John McCain for voting against the first and decisive round of Bush tax cuts, and Rush Limbaugh hates John McCain for McCain-Feingold, the Gang of 14, and a couple dozen well-deserved other things.

Such unanimity is rare in the Republican Party. John McCain is a consensus builder, let's give him that.

Mitt Romney's single term as governor of Massachusetts and a few years as steward for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, although estimable, make Barack Obama, who at least served in his state legislature, look like an elder statesman. Plus Romney subscribes to Mormonism, which unfortunately, Harrison Ford never made a movie about. Mitt would have better luck if he were Amish---although that would make it tough for Putin or the mullahs to get him on the red phone and he'd have to take a rowboat to summit meetings. But with one of those cool black hats and some whiskers, he'd look positively Lincolnesque.

The 2008 general election will be even easier for His Rudyness, because if there's one thing collectivists hate more than their opponents, it's each other. Most of America despises Mistress Hillary, even those who pretend to like her. Barackorama will find out that leading the free world is even harder than quitting smoking, although it's nearly a dead heat. He'll succeed at neither, if only because he's crazy to try both at the same time.

And if there's anybody who's no Jack Kennedy, it's John Edwards, who not only chased ambulances but caught them. He used the ensuing millions to score an entry-level job as a US senator, but after 6 agonizing years of clockwatching, bailed to send his resume out full time from a monstrous enviro-unfriendly compound instead. Forget about Jack Kennedy---Edwards isn't even a John Kerry, to whom "a lifetime of" certainly applies, even if "public service" doesn't.

So for now, it's President Rudy. Much can happen in two years, and the prostate cancer that sidelined Rudy from sending Mrs. Clinton to well-deserved political obscurity in the 2000 New York senate race could become a factor again. I meself am good with Sen. McCain, who is wrong on all the little things, but not the important ones. Such faint praise was heaped on Winston Churchill, and all he did was save the world.

But as a Republican, I wish we had some bench strength with guys like Bill Richardson or Evan Bayh: they're superbly qualified and probably not nuts. Their politics are often not the same as mine, but neither are heir apparent Rudy's, and the GOP has a lot, and too much, riding on our new quarterback's arm, head, and prostate gland.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

An Apt Comparison?

In a recent post at my blog (mdvoutlook.com), I ruminated about an article that argued that Rudy Giuliani is a new kind of social conservative. I wasn’t completely swayed by the author’s argument, but it is clear to me that Giuliani is in many ways a very solid conservative. For those who are troubled by his being labeled a “social liberal” I think that moniker is misleading.

Let’s compare him to another “social liberal” who has run for office in the last several years and has a track record governing America’s most populous state, California. Yes, I speak of Arnold (you know you’ve reached a special status in American culture you’re on a first name basis with everyone).

Actually there is no comparison. Arnold may be a “social liberal” but he is much worse. His kind is the bane of all conservatives, the “moderate.” Moderates are a strange breed; they claim to be down the middle, neither left nor right. Pragmatic is a word they often use to describe themselves. They have no time for ideology, and they think they possess a special gnosis that the more ideologically minded are blind to. From what I’ve seen of these types of politicians they always come down on the liberal side of the political spectrum when it comes to public policy. They are more secular-oriented than not and as such are easily rankled by religious conservatives.

Arnold is a classic "moderate." He talked a good game when he became governor, but when push came to shove, he had no conservative principles to keep him from moving left. At this point he doesn’t look all that much of an improvement over Gray Davis.

Rudy may take some socially liberal positions on a few issues, but that is where his liberalism ends. In my mind they are out of place with the rest of his worldview, but this may be an inconsistency many conservatives will be able to live with. He is by nature and philosophy a solid conservative everywhere else, and how he governed NYC reflected that. Will it be enough to secure the nomination? We’ll see, but that so many social conservatives are willing to seriously consider him is a testament to his conservative bona fides.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Amazing "Amazing Grace"

Ioan Gruffudd (c) as William Wilberforce in "Amazing Grace" movieAn early scene in Amazing Grace establishes the film's themes in a way that is more subtle than it may initially seem.

Young William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) confronts a man who is beating an exhausted horse as it lies inert in the mud, in an impossible and heartless attempt to get it to do its appointed work. But it is not simply Wilberforce's compassion that is at work here—that would be an insufferable cliche. Instead of responding to the man's threatening reaction with anger or accusations or pleas for sympathy for the exhausted animal, Wilberforce confronts him with straight facts, pure reason, and an appeal to the man's self-interest: he tells the man that if he lets the horse rest for a half hour or so, it will be ready to carry on.

The man grudgingly realizes the sense in this, and drops his whip into the mud.

This is precisely what Wilberforce would go on to do as a Member of Parliament and the man who led the Empire to abolish slavery. His great cause was to bring to light the facts of slavery and persuade his countrymen to do the right thing.

Amazing Grace is certainly suffused with religion, but it is not a "religious film." Issues and consequences of religious faith appear precisely where they belong in this particular story (and in all observations of human works): at the heart of the characters' motivations. Most of the film deals directly not with religion but with politics. And the treatment of politics is thoroughly intelligent and insightful.

Amazing Grace tells the story of the late-eighteenth century English Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, who as a young man finds his religious conscience so seared by the existence of slavery in his society that he turns away from a career in the religious ministry, which he would greatly prefer to undertake, in favor of a career in politics, where he can manifest his love for God by making the world a better place.

This is both scripturally sound and historically accurate. Wilberforce did indeed help to make the world a much better place.

The film shows the transition from a society in which a small aristocracy ruled without much influence from the general public, to one in which the public's opinion mattered immensely. This is a manifestation of the world-changing effects of Protestantism, and Amazing Grace shows that relationship by depicting the central place of Wilberforce's evangelical zeal in motivating his entirely quixotic ambition to end the slave trade throughout the British Empire.

It is quixotic because slavery is so ingrained into the British economy that almost everyone has an interest in keeping it going. Hence, at first there is overwhemling opposition to Wilberforce's ambitious proposal. He has to struggle for years before he can even get close to victory.

The filmmakers' skill in telling this story is impressive. The screenplay, by Stephen Knight, jumps back and forth through time to keep the story's themes at the forefront. The cinematography of Remi Adefarasin skillfully uses light and dark to bring out the story's themes.

During the scenes depicting Wilberforce's long years of struggle, light and dark visual compositions convey the measure of his optimism and pessimism, respectively. That's at least a convention and at worst a cliche in the movies, but it makes sense here and is done with sufficient skill that it doesn't obtrude. In addition, given that the great majority of the film portrays times of struggle, the darker scenes predominate greatly and thus afford a basically consistent look.

This theme of light and darkness is taken up in the narrative in the story of John Newton, an Englishman and former slaveship captain who converted to Christianity and became an evangelistic preacher. Newton wrote the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace," and its prominent line, "I . . . was blind, but now I see," is used in the film to great effect, when Newton loses his sight but speaks to Wilberforce of his real ability to see. In depicting this character, Albert Finney once again shows his great brilliance as an actor in depicting both Newton's towering strength and his harrowing doubts and personal guilt. Newton's life is indeed, as the film makes clear, a powerful illustration of each person's need for a Savior.

A particularly effective use of this interaction of light and dark occurs in a scene in which Wilberforce expresses to his wife-to-be, Barbara, his doubts that he and his forces will ever be able to end the slave trade. As he speaks, Wilberforce twice takes a new candle, melts the bottom over the expiring flame of one that is about to go out, and sets the new one firmly in place of the old. It is a beautiful image that is easy to miss, but it means much in the context of the film. Renewal of the struggle, the need to shed light on injustice, the replacement of one strategy with another, and the power of just a little light—all of these themes are reflected in and reinforced by this humble, even mundane image.

Director Michael Apted contributes his usual solid, dependable, and basically self-effacing work. It is very effective here, as he concentrates on eliciting persuasive and affecting performances from the film's immensely talented cast. Ioan Gruffudd's performance is impeccable, and his skills are quite up to the task not only of depicting Wilberforce but also of not being blown off the screen by superb performers such as Finney, Michael Gambon (as the MP Lord Charles Fox), Benedict Cumberbatch (whose performance as Pitt the Younger is superb), Romola Garai (in an effectively understated turn as Barbara), Bill Paterson (excellent as wily Scots MP Lord Dundas), and Rufus Sewell in his standout performance as Wilberforce's friend and inspiration, Thomas Clarkson.

Adding further interest is the film's intelligent and comprehensible depiction of the politics of the time. The conservatives, of course, are those who will not even consider any alteration to the institution of slavery. Their concern (one that seemed valid at the time but was proven entirely illusory immediately after abolition) is that such a basic change will bring vast social disorder, poverty, and defeat in an imminent war with the French.

The radicals, represented by Clarkson, are too impatient to accept gradual change and require an immediate transformation of English society such that the entire aristocracy will be thrown out immediately, as is happening in France.

The liberals, Wilberforce and his allies, want change but recognize that they must find a way to do it such that both liberty and order will be maximized. A more perfect illustration of the essence of classical liberalism would be difficult to imagine. In an important and impassioned scene, Clarkson argues with Wilberforce about the need for thorough, immediate change. Wilberforce points out that prudence and justice require that things be done in an orderly way. Ultimately, both the radicals and the conservatives come to see things Wilberforce's way—or at least give in to it.

In his reaction to the French Revolution, Wilberforce shares the thinking of the great British political philosopher and parliamentarian Edmund Burke, one of the first great modern liberals. Perhaps the most startling thing about Amazing Grace is its vivid illustration of the Christian foundations of true liberalism. In Christianity as in the world in general, reason and compassion are always in tension. In Christianity, however, as Amazing Grace and the life of William Wilberforce demonstrate vividly, they are ultimately in harmony. In any particular case, it is up to the body of believers to find where the two come together, in the greatest balance of liberty and order, for in that balance is improvement of the human condition made most consistent and endurable.

Most Highly Recommended.

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Amazing Grace

Don't mean to step on ST's turf, but as this review in CT says, you should take the time and go see the new movie Amazing Grace, the story of the abolitionist William Wilberforce, whose efforts as a British MP finally ended the slave trade in the British Empire. The movie doesn't shy away at all from Wilberforce's evangelical faith and manages at the same time not to bludgeon you with it, either. It's not a perfect film, but it's quite good and I think may point interestingly toward where Evangelicalism is headed over the next generation or so. But more on that later...just go see the movie.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

LTG Mike Dunn on Doug Feith and the NDU

Following on my earlier post on that silly New York Times front-page nonstory on Doug Feith's contract to teach at the National Defense University, Lieutenant General Mike Dunn, USAF (Ret.), sent the following letter to the Times. The Times is far too uninterested in actual facts to publish the letter, and so I reproduce it here.

February 17, 2007

Dear New York Times Editors,

I read your piece (15 Feb) on former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith realized it must have been a slow-news day. For a paper that prides itself on bringing its readers "all the news that is fit to print," you failed on that piece. What I found most interesting is that you strung a long list on innuendos together to paint a skewed picture of both Mr. Feith and the National Defense University ... and then put the piece on your front page.

It is instructive to look at the facts: First, Mr. Feith, several TV media pundits, and your downtown print rivals - the Wall Street Journal - have debunked the DOD IG report ... which states that questioning intelligence is not the prerogative of policy officials or senior leaders. If it is not their prerogative, it clearly should be.

Secondly, you imply it was improper for the National Defense University to seek someone of Mr. Feith's credentials to lecture and research at NDU. How else are our future leaders going to learn how policy is developed, the rationale behind policy decisions, or what inside alternative considerations might be? You conveniently leave out the fact that Mr. Feith has lectured at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, many other universities, and is presently a distinguished professor at Georgetown University. You also failed to mention that Mr. Feith had lectured at NDU many times in the past. His class critiques have been complimentary; his knowledge of the policy issues facing this country was and is better than any lecturer we had during my tenure as President.

Thirdly, you interviewed me last May for almost 2 hours about the "supposed" impropriety of NDU being a repository for Mr. Feith's and Secretary Wolfowitz's personal papers. You never mentioned that NDU has the personal papers of almost every Chairman of the Joint Chiefs since General Maxwell Taylor, including General Powell's. And NDU also stores the papers of other senior distinguished generals. We are honored to have these collections ... as historians of the future will have access to a treasure-trove of first-hand information for research and reflection. It certainly was not in your agenda to point out the General (Ret) Wesley Clark graciously donated his papers to the university ... and wrote his first book at the university.

Finally and most importantly (and in deference to Secretary White) you imply that NDU ought to avoid controversy in its selection of professors and that choosing someone less qualified might better serve the interests of our nation ... in a time of war. I dispute this point. It might be OK in civilian universities. But our future military and diplomatic leaders deserve the best. And that is what we sought with the selection of Mr. Feith.

Michael M. Dunn
Lt General (Ret)
Former President, National Defense University

Hot Air from America's Icebox

First Al Franken, now this.

Over at NewsBusters, Noel Sheppard has hopped on the Drudge-highlighted story from a couple of days ago that the University of Minnesota is going to favor Al Gore with an honorary degree in climatology for his execrable documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. He is justifiably flabbergasted that 90 minutes of utter piffle can earn one an advanced degree, an Oscar, and a Nobel Peace Prize. But I think he's taking the Gophers a bit too seriously here.

My husband earned his law degree from Minnesota while I spent three years as a research fellow in the School of Public Health. Not only did I have a personal interest in this item, I knew that it usually pays to look a little deeper and find the punch line that lurks in pretty much any story originating in the Twin Cities. With this one it's easy; you need look no further than the original story from the U's student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. Get past the breathy quotes from the climate change groupies that Sheppard highlights, and read to the last paragraph (slightly rearranged to suit my sense of comic timing) to put this silly little episode in perspective:

The University has given 223 honorary degrees to date. Past recipients include Sandra Day O'Connor, Hillary Clinton, Charles Schultz, and Yanni.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Did Conservatives Get Right?

I was challenged by a friend on the other side of the great ideological divide to come up with the high points of conservatism's record over the last 50 or so years. My thoughtful answer was that there's a continuum, that both the New Deal and the undesirability of confiscatory levels of taxation have captured the center, that Nixon was a liberal and that Bill Clinton was not unconservative, but that was apparently unsatisfactory. (I thought it was we righties who are the simplistic Manichaeans, seeing everything in terms of black and white, but not so, not so.)

I despise laundry lists, but I do credit the ability of conservatives, when asked, to actually answer a direct question. (Oooo, I should have included that one.) And so:

---That the constantly rising tide of taxation needed to be reversed, as it stifles hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and ultimately, prosperity.

---That the constantly rising tide of regulation needed to be halted, as compliance begins to elbow out actual production.

---That deregulation largely results in lower prices for consumers (energy, telephones, airlines).

---That communism was an ideological tyranny, an enemy of freedom and of man's spirit, and needed to be opposed and rolled back at every opportunity. (The Strategic Defense Initiative, "Star Wars," drove liberals nuts but drove the Soviet Union to suicide.)

---That autocrats like the Shah are better and more able to reform than totalitarian ideologies like the one that now operates Iran. (We may thank the late Jeane Kirkpatrick for that one.)

---That, per Washington's Farewell Address, religion is not an enemy, but an irreplacable ally for any republic that depends first and foremost on individual self-governance.

---That the family is the core platoon of society (there is a provable higher incidence of almost every social pathology in its absence), and that the welfare system was destroying it and individual initiative as well.

---That affirmative action is at best neutral in the short term, that its greater access is offset by things like lower graduation rates and suspicion of minorities' genuine achievement.

---That in the long term, emphasizing the discrimination against groups as trumping individual effort and achievement has resulted in an epidemic hopelessness and a destructive racial divide.

---That choice in schools (vouchers) is the only real solution to resegregation. (One can be sure that if conservatives had such a monopoly on the schools and the education establishment [without whose money and volunteers the Democratic Party would die], good liberals everywhere would be in favor of such freedom.)

---That Milton Friedman's Earned Income Credit is a truly beautiful thing, where if you work harder (or work at all), even for low wages, you end up with more money, to spend as you will. What a concept.

---That despite the flaws of things like Three Strikes, locking up pathologically habitual offenders keeps them off the streets and it's a mathematical certainty, borne out by the stats, that crime rates decrease.

---That a person has a right to defend kith and kin, even with a gun if necessary.

---That the 55 mile an hour speed limit totally, clearly, and unimpeachably sucked.

If all conservatives ever accomplished was the last one, I'd say it was all worth it. Please feel free to jump in; I'm going to make a printout when it's done, because there are so many things we take for granted after Reagan and Gingrich that people need to be reminded of just now.

On both sides of the great divide.

You Say Shameless, I Say Shamless

Shameless, shamless, shlamshlame, whatever. Sorry for the misspelling in the heading of the post below; but it does seem a bit Freudian, in that my writings indeed are devoid of sham (in my humble view, anyway), while the rantings of the Levin/Rockefeller crowd are anything but.

Shamless Self-Promotion

My essay on Doug Feith, the CIA consensus, and the IG/Carl Levin/Jay Rockefeller axis can be found here. Comments welcome.

Can Pro-Lifers Vote for Giuliani?

Well, of course they can. But should they? Of that, I am much less sure and this essay doesn't go any distance toward convincing me. Kyle-Anne Shiver suggests that, in fact, the President doesn't have all that much to do with the question of abortion, save his role in nominating judges who are likely to overturn Roe v. Wade (she says "strict constructionist") and dealing at the margins with some abortion legislation. I'm not sure that's right - or at least it's incomplete.

The President has some control, for instance, over our aid budgets - one of the things that just makes the pro-abortion crowd hopping mad is how successive Republican administrations have tied American foreign aid up in ways that prevents it from expanding "reproductive rights." If Giuliani is President, do you think he'll continue the current administration's policy in that area? Why would he?

More importantly, Shiver herself recognizes that the President will have the opportunity to decide whether to veto bills funding abortions or embryonic stem-cell research (actually, she doesn't mention the latter), but, as she notes, Giuliani hasn't committed to vetoing those bills. Indeed, it's hard to see why he would - in his incarnation as Mayor, he was in favor of public funding of even the most grotesque forms of abortion procedures. If he's as hard-headed as she says, will he change his mind on this as well?

And, finally, there's something she just misses here. Suppose, now, that the Supreme Court one day overrules Roe v. Wade. (It's unlikely to happen in one fell swoop, but stick with me). The debates then turn to the legislatures - both federal and state. On the federal level, Congress can mandate that the states allow abortion merely by saying that they have to in order to keep their health-care funding. Would a President Giuliani veto such legislation? Color me doubtful. Perhaps more importantly, at the national level, having a pro-choice President will matter in those debates. The Presidency is the single most important bully pulpit in the nation and if he's firmly in the pro-choice camp, he's likely to sway things his way.

So this pro-lifer ain't convinced and Giuliani still isn't on my list of possibles...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Black Conservatives Getting Some Love

Well, not really. But they may be getting a little respect. I came across an article by noted black conservative scholar John McWhorter a few weeks ago that warmed my heart. He writes about a play running in a small theater in Philadelphia where one of the main characters is about him. The play’s black conservative character, much to McWhorter’s surprise, is portrayed as a normal person. As he well puts it:

This is a symptom of a larger trend that we ought to keep in mind during Black History Month: a range of views beyond the left are becoming more easily accepted in the black community. This is crucial, because a discussion in which anyone with right-of-center views is dismissed as a moral pervert is not a healthy one.

The viewpoint increasingly questioned is that poverty and other ills in black America cannot be expected to change significantly short of a seismic transformation in how America operates. Under this analysis, we must hope that whites will undergo a "realization" after which there will be no racist biases whatsoever, that low-skill job facilities will relocate to dangerous inner cities, and so on. The assumption is, broadly, that black America must seek a "revolution" of some kind.

Increasing numbers of black people are realizing that this will never occur, and that it doesn't need to: it is possible to help people to help themselves within the current system. There is a proliferation of local organizations shunting low-skilled people into lasting work, helping ex-cons negotiate their way back into the system, and educating students of color well, on shoestring budgets.

That is, itself, the revolution, and important black people are with it. No one can accuse Bill Cosby of being "not really black" and yet he has taken to the road with a message of responsibility. Juan Williams, outspoken liberal and darling of National Public Radio, has written a book arguing that too many black leaders have focused on grievance rather than building. Essentially there are no new leaders in the race-baiting vein of Reverend Al Sharpton.

This is tremendous news. Black victimology and alienation have been the default position of politically correct black thinking for the last 30 years or more. This mentality has done nothing but impoverish a poor minority of this community in both soul and money, and has made the climb up the economic ladder that much more difficult for many of the others. In effect Black Americans have imposed this on themselves, and race hustlers who call themselves Black leaders have exploited it for their own profitable ends. It looks like this is finally changing.

One indication of this culturally speaking is a new show I’ve been watching on the ABC Family Channel called “Lincoln Heights.” At the center of the show are a black cop and his family who move back to his old neighborhood, i.e. The Hood, and deal with the struggles of raising a solid family unit in the midst of (mostly) black cultural breakdown. The family is solidly middle class, and the parents raise the children to resist a black culture that mocks civilized behavior.

Specific to the point of a growing diversity of black thought, last night’s episode dealt with the son learning that being “authentically black” doesn’t mean being a hoodlum. Each episode conveys something like that. Honesty, integrity, respect, all solid middle class, dare I say bourgeoisie, values are proudly on display and promoted in the face of black cultural decay by this black family on TV. It has taken some time, but maybe Martin Luther King’s dream of “one day” is finally being taken seriously by those whose ancestors lived the nightmare.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Liberal Against Leftism, or: I am a scumbag

(Executive Summary: If justice becomes our primary concern, we'll all be in jail and there will be nobody left to feed or protect us.)

A buddy of mine recently wrote that conservatives have been wrong about virtually everything over the last 50 years. A strong and sweeping statement, but that's cool. I like strong and sweeping, as it often holds more truth than weak and mealy-mouthed.

It's hard to know what conservative means. If it means opposing radical change, then yeah, I plead guilty. If being a conservative means opposing all progress, well, I wouldn't want to be caught dead in a field with one.

Conservative commonly means defending the status quo, and since the world is not as good as it can be, conservativism cannot be the embodiment of good. And where conservative can become a catchall for all the imperfect or even bad in the status quo, liberalism can be a catchall for all things good.

It's clear that America as a whole has embraced the New Deal as a good and desirable safety net for the weakest among us, so liberalism in the FDR sense has captured and defines the American center. Even Edmund Burke, the philosophical godfather of conservatives, acknowledged the need for change as essential to the life of a nation or a people, and both he and the reputed apostle of capitalism, Adam Smith, saw the need to make provision for the poor as both a moral and practical imperative. We may properly call them classical liberals.

Many conservatives think of themselves as classical liberals, at least the best of them, and in economics, free markets and personal enterprise are often referred to as neo-liberal. The conservatives in Australia are known as the Liberal Party. Rhetorically, when liberal equals good, everybody wants to be a liberal.

Hey, I'm a liberal. I can live with that.

What's troubled me about the current vocabulary is that there is a difference between liberal and left. Conservative is routinely used in contradistinction to both, which lessens its accuracy. By that standard, almost anything can become conservative. For instance, the radical Islamic revolutionary mullahs in Iran, although also anti-liberal, are now "right-wing" in the common media parlance. But conservative might be most properly used in contradistinction to radicalism, and Iran's in particular.

Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in spirit is/was liberal for instance, to lift the lowest, and as one of FDR's Four Freedoms, it pursues the freedom from want. One of the two children secreted under the robes of Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Present was Want.

The other was Ignorance. Had Dickens lived another 100 years later, he'd've had to include their evil triplet, leftism, which combines and maximizes the worst features of both. Its willful ignorance of human nature serves only to increase, not alleviate, human want.

What Hugo Chavez is up to in Venezuela right now, bringing the economy under control of the state, is leftist, radical, and supposedly in the name of justice, of homogenization. This equals that equals you equals me. Because he has decreed what everything should cost, the grocery store shelves are empty of everything that people tend to like and can still afford. All that's left is filet mignon and canned turnips, the sublime and the ridiculous.

What the classical liberal seeks to liberate is the human potential, our individual talents and pursuit of our individual excellences, but leftism is another kettle of fish altogether. If America is not a melting pot but a seafood salad or a cioppino, think of putting one in your Cuisinart. Ick. They're trying to feed us Purina Human Chow, and no matter how tasty it is at first, it's disgusting after a mouthful or two.

The question becomes whether progressivism as a politics, when its end becomes justice and not charity, saps its host society of its dynamism and cohesion.

And so, per Edmund Burke, I find myself a conservative and a liberal on the same day. Conservativism, when used in its best sense, is not opposed to change but to radical change, which is why, unlike the more radical Thomas Jefferson, the French Revolution scared the bejesus out of Burke.

Although the tension is often unbearable, change and status quo must remain in tension, so we may sort out babies and bathwater. So I'm conservative not out of dogma, but because as Burke would note, once the baby's tossed, you seldom get it back. The inevitable consequence of radicalism, of leftism, and of Chavez and Marxism in particular, is that babies get tossed, usually off the highest floor.

By disposition, conservatives don't do anything, which is their failing and their virtue. They aren't creative towards the problems of our condition. Not progressive, if you will.

On the other hand, that's not their role. It's not fair to judge them on what they "do," but on what they by persuasion or obstruction prevent. You might say conservatives are the condoms of the human race. History doesn't reveal its alternatives, and prophylactics don't come with a printout with all the bad things that didn't happen because of them.

I can live with that, too.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Al Franken Century

Via Drudge, the Minnesota GOP takes a swipe at newly-announced US Senate candidate (I'll spare us all a photo):
"Franken offers Minnesotans nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks."
Which, if the "netroots" like the Daily Kos have indeed taken over the Democratic Party, means that Franken should breeze through the primary. Although based on the unwatchable Stuart Saves His Family (I tried the other day, hard, but no luck), one might dismiss him as a clown and not a very good one, those who dig his politics can even be brought around to embrace his execrable art, judging by this Amazon review (sic):
"This has to be one of the absolute best movies I have ever seen! Al Frankin is genious! I am so excited he is from Minnesota and I hope fulheartedly he intends on running for United States Senator from our state."

(OK, that one's probably a ringer, but the netroots love to manipulate the Amazon ratings, and so Stuart one got an unreality-based 4 1/2 stars.)

Franken has built a few credentials, mainly---to his credit---going on USO tours and devising a frighteningly clever rhetorical riff called Midwest Values. As an comic actor and writer, Franken played dumb for a living, and then as a political provocateur played intelligent for a living. As unconvincing as he's been as either dumb or smart, he's scratched out success at both by never overestimating the intelligence of the American people.

To underestimate this Harvard cum laude grad is to underestimate one of the greatest talents of all in a democracy. There is no one in America who has calculated and developed his mediocrity better than Al Franken.

Front Page News Fit To Print

Ah, the New York Times. Gotta love 'em. Today's front page (the print edition no less) informs us that "Ex-Defense Official Hired, Briefly, by a Pentagon School."

It seems that Doug Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, after leaving the Pentagon began a book project and also signed a contract to teach at the National Defense University. Before his first course began, the leadership of the NDU changed, and announced that a top-to-bottom review of all contracts would be undertaken, and that no activities could be approved for some weeks. Feith needed to enroll students in his new course, but could not be given assurance that the course in fact would be approved. And so Feith---who needed the time anyway to work on his book, which was taking a good deal more time than anticipated---and the NDU agreed simply to cancel his contract.

But that is not the impression that the ink-stained wretches at the NYT undertook to give. No indeed: Feith's contract with the NDU, you see, was canceled "three days after" the Times reporter asked NDU about the matter. Not only does the article offer utterly no evidence of anything negative, it fails even to allege any such thing. Instead, the article gives us a lot of verbiage hinting at something slimy without ever telling us precisely what that might be.

The story clearly is yet another attempt by the NYT to make Feith friendless (or radioactive), as part of the larger effort to smear anyone involved in the Bush Administration Iraq policy. (Full disclosure: Feith and I have been good friends for over 25 years.) Feith truly is a gentleman and a scholar, but no matter: At the NYT, a teaching contract at the NDU now is front-page News Fit to Print. And they wonder why no one not already part of their choir takes them seriously.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Something New: Political Satire from the Right

Set your DVR for Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. EST, Fox News Channel. Joel Surnow, producer of Fox’s hit series “24” is test marketing a right-leaning political satire show. The left has all the biting, sardonic political humor on the tube. It’s nice to see we actually may get a little bit of humor balance.

This really should be a hit, because the left is so easy to make fun of. And conservatives generally don’t tend to skewer their political and cultural opponents with the bile so characteristic of the left. As Dennis Prager points out, the right believes the left is wrong, while the left believes the right is evil. And if evil is too strong a word for you, how about morally inferior.

Here is a brief description from the man himself:

"We're calling it news with a sense of humor," said Surnow, producer of Fox's "24." "It's a show that satirizes the targets that have been missed by the mainstream satirists on TV."

One seg discusses the timeless popularity on campus of T-shirts bearing the iconic image of Che Guevara. "We spin it into a campus T-shirt salesman who also sells T-shirts of Mao and Hitler," said co-producer Manny Coto.

How much more effective it is to reveal the stupidity and moral vacuousness of lionizing Che Guevara as culturally hip with comparisons to Mao and Hitler, than just riling against it with perfectly correct assertions. This should be some good fun. Hopefully it will get enough ratings to stick.

Let 'Em Freeze In the Queue

I see that the esteemed governor of the great state of Wisconsin, the Great Jim Doyle, wants to impose an excise tax of 2.5 percent on oil (and, presumably, refined products) sold in and/or for Wisconsin consumers, with an added constraint that the tax not be passed along in prices. This is because profits are enormous, and why shouldn't the evil oil companies pay for Wisconsin roads?

Wow. Forget whether the state accountants would be able to sort out the myriad influences on gasoline prices. Forget whether, analogously, the oil companies ought to get a subsidy when profits are low in the endless boom-bust cycle that is the oil market. Focus instead on the implications of this nostrum for Wisconsin drivers: If market conditions (relative demand and supply elasticities) otherwise would yield an increase in prices, then the no-passthrough requirement is a form of price control regulation of the gasoline market, with all of the problems and absurdities attendant upon it. Spot shortages and gasoline lines. Rerouting of supplies away from Wisconsin; not a bad idea, as I don't live there, and what better justice could there be for the Marxist sophisticates in Madison? Etc. Such destructive silliness is what federalism is for, and the entertainment value alone would be worth the agony of listening to Doyle's excuses.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Journalism At CNN

I noticed this morning while at the gym---they had the TV tuned to CNN and I had no choice in the matter---that below a "report" on Mitt Romney the caption read "Mitt Romney The Mormon Candidate."

Will the ineffable Obama be labeled "The Black Candidate"? Or Hillary "The Woman Candidate?" How about Rudy: "The Italian Stallion?" Edwards: "The Ambulance Chaser Candidate." I can't wait for the first Asian: "The Manchurian Candidate." Etc.

It really is quite amazing. Back in the days of BrokawJennngsRather the bias was more subtle, and therefore more amusing. Yet another of life's little pleasures down the drain.

A Gallimaufry of Galimatias - III

Heather MacDonald:

Mr. Novak cheerfully and tolerantly predicted that I might not follow his analysis of how free will coexists with God's omniscience and omnipotence. Alas, he was right. I feel like a primitive still trying to figure out the decimal system, when what is required is a leap into the realm of quantum physics. I do not understand how by "permitting" human choices that in his "simultaneous present" he has already willed, God passes responsibility for tragedy onto fallible humans... I understand even less how humans "choose" to become victims of natural disasters or accidents wholly outside of their control.
I am not up to the intellectual challenge that Mr. Novak presents. I take some solace, however, in the fact that after his sophisticated treatments of human time and divine timelessness, of human choice and divine permission of human choice, he returns to the principle that I have always assumed underlies the Christian concept of God: that He has absolute power over the world and could make it otherwise in an instant.

This is so horribly distorted as to be hypnotic. It is like looking through a prism where natural form is slanted and you acclimate yourself to a new shape for everything. When every word is dead wrong, it actually creates an illusion of cohesion.

Let us follow again our system of breaking the misrepresentations down into points:

1) She says she is bothered by the contradiction between God's omniscience and human free will. This is a classic question posed by philosophers: if God knows in advance what you will choose do you really have a choice? Personally I never got why that's a problem, but since Saadya Gaon (10th Century) and Maimonides (12th Century) troubled to answer it, I guess they consider it a valid question.

But for someone arguing as an atheist, a question like this is a total fraud. It is a question against a particular Jewish and Christian tenet, namely that God knows the future. What does that have to do with an atheist deciding if there is a God?

If the question bothers her, let her decide that God has no foreknowledge. That does not alter the basic structure of belief, which says there is a God who set up life as a testing ground for humans and will reward and punish their free choices.

If you can't see free choice coexisting with foreknowledge, then drop foreknowledge. How do you get from there to dropping the basic principle that your choices of right and wrong matter?

2) Take that from another angle: does she believe she has free choice or does she SENSE her choice is circumscribed? Of course she believes she has choices. That is her intuition; it forms the premise of her argument.

So if she feels she has a choice and the idea of God creates a presumption that the very choice she senses is the purpose of life, then she has no innate quarrel against theism. If anything, her intuition rebels against the idea of foreknowledge BECAUSE she feels she HAS a true power of moral choice.

But foreknowledge plays no role in the moral demands of religion on the individual. It is a theological detail that serves mainly to create confusion for believers. So why should that concern her at all?

What she ends up doing, in essence, is using a flaw in the irrelevant idea of foreknowledge to impugn the ultimately relevant issue of humans having real choices of right and wrong - and being accountable for those choices.

3) Her saying she is not sophisticated enough to figure it out - a clearly snarky bit of disingenuousness - is presented as a reason why she cannot accept God.

This a totally fraudulent argument. Can she understand the idea that a God created the world and man chooses between right and wrong? Clearly, yes. So what can't she understand? How other aspects of God comport with this scenario.

Fine, so you don't understand. Work harder at pondering. But how does your not understanding that detail relieve you of your duty to the essential task of choosing right over wrong? You have no piece of evidence undermining that construct.

4) I think it's pretty crazy to say that humans "choose" to become victims of natural disasters and if Novak really said that, I join her in disagreement.

However, there is no philosophical reason on the theist side to say that natural disaster has to be a choice. (If Christianity says such a thing, it is not to answer a philosophical need essential to the principle of belief in a God who grades us on application of free will.)

There is no reason natural disaster cannot be natural. Just as the body is designed to run out of life at some point, there can be various movements within the nature of the planet that cause death if encountered. Why is a world that has periodic avalanches harder to understand than a body made of cells that sometimes become cancerous?

5) Indeed even the word "tragedy" is a loaded word designed to obfuscate logic. That is to say, tragedy is itself a subjective construct. From a standpoint of reason, my mother's death at age thirty is no more a tragedy than her mother's death at seventy-five. The sense of tragedy is created by the expectation that people live to an age between seventy and eighty. What if all people lived to thirty? Would we sense tragedy in that? Certainly not; thirty years would become the standard unit.

Had my mother known in advance she could only live thirty years but they would include a happy marriage for eleven of them and four healthy children, would she have refused that life? Hardly: she had a wonderful, though abbreviated, life.

In fact, her soul might have known before birth and made that choice; what do we know about such things? The point is that the tragedy is only relative to an erroneous hope we had that hers would be a seventy-five year life. God does not need to pass the blame for her foreshortened life onto anybody. He reserves the right to deliver a thirty-year life to the world. Would we prefer she was not born?

How does death at thirty militate against a Creator more than death at seventy?

6) She wriggles like an eel to get to the juicy premise she hopes to demolish. "That He has absolute power over the world and could make it otherwise in an instant." This sets up the potential for all sorts of complaints.

But this itself is not really true. Well, it is true, but not in a sense that has any reality. Technically, He can. But for all practical purposes He can't.

Let me explain. If GM makes a certain car model, it confirms two preexisting decisions. One, to make cars as a business. Two, to make this car as a model. Can they stop it? Yes, if they eliminate a well-thought-out product, essentially vetoing a prior decision. Or by shutting their business down completely, vetoing the entire business concept. If you come with a complaint about the windshield wipers, should they junk the car model? No, they should fix the wipers.

God already decided to make a world, and He decided to make it with earthquakes and hurricanes built into the design structure. Is that negotiable? Definitely not. If every believer on the planet prayed simultaneously for earthquakes to disappear forever, no rational religion would expect that prayer to be considered. God CAN'T do that because He won't. That decision has been made and built in; it is beyond the purview of 'possible' change short of shutting down the whole world.

Any idea of changes in policy effected through human behavior or through prayer must be limited to details outside the basic formula of the world's existence. It might be possible to pray the earthquake should occur only when so-and-so is out of town, for example.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Welcome to the Club, Sisters!

It's not to say the Dixie Chicks didn't deserve the Grammy award for Album of the Year. They're over-the-top talented not only vocally but instrumentally, and they'd been nominated twice before.

But it's also safe to say that most members of the academy would prefer a colonoscopy over hearing country music. If they listened to the album at all, they dutifully popped the free promo CD in the day before the ballots were due. Most couldn't pick out Charley Pride at an Edgar Winter lookalike contest, but everybody knows the Dixie Chicks hate Bush, and that's qualification enough.

To everybody else outside the circle of the culturally anointed, it was laughably predictable that the Dixies would become the first country act ever to receive the honor.

Yes, Glen Campbell won it once, but his Jimmy Webb pop was about as country as Brokeback Mountain was a western. O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a George Clooney movie soundtrack, and though the twangy Bonnie Raitt won a few years back, too, you'll more likely find her at an abortion rally than on red state radio. The Dixie Chicks are now officially in the club. If there's one thing your fellow artists can respect more than your art, it's your politics. If they're the same as theirs.

And boy, did the Chicks speak Truth to Power---well, actually it was more like they insulted Power behind its back with the Atlantic Ocean in between---but word got back anyway, and their toothless Bush-voting slob audience stayed away in droves. So mebbe---just mebbe, mind you---Grammy decided to make it up to them, so much so that they gave 'em Song of the Year too:

I'm through with doubt,
There's nothing left for me to figure out,
I've paid a price, and I'll keep paying

I'm not ready to make nice,
I'm not ready to back down,
I'm still mad as hell

Mad as hell. Good. Through with doubt, nothing left to figure out. Bingo! Sounds like a lot of liberals, especially the 2008 Democrat presidential candidates. First one to be honest enough to make it their campaign song ought to get the nomination. Oh, how they'll sing along. They could have written the words themselves.

Which brings us to the equally courageous and talented 50 Cent, who alienated his own core audience by announcing that except for the felony conviction that made him ineligible to vote, he'd have gone for Dubya.

And when fellow minstrel Kanye West made headlines with "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on a nationally-televised Hurricane Katrina fundraiser, it was the righteous Mr. Cent who got his boy's back, although you didn't hear about that for some reason, even though 50 Cent was a far hotter star at the time.

So put the word out---somebody somewhere ought to scrape up some bling for Fitty somehow, I dunno, mebbe the Speaking Truth to Power medallion at the Country Music Awards. Let's get him a new audience. Let's be there for him. Sure, he's a rapper, but he's one of us. Like the culturally anointed, we toothless Bush-voting slobs got to look out for our own, too, or else all is lost.