Monday, April 02, 2007
My own childhood yields no such memories. I remember only a thrilling atmosphere, with my Dad managing the flow deftly. And until I was 11 years old, we had the added bonus of my paternal grandfather being there to sing our family songs.
In this respect I am aware that we were blessed with a unique legacy. My family was musically inclined since forever (including the tradition of descending from King David), and we sing tunes probably heard nowhere else, ancestral compositions.
My Dad is still going strong in New York at age 75, while I do my thing here in Miami. You have to figure that if we are still doing this 3300 years later, it is a good bet the prophecy is true that there will be Jews as long as there are people.
Until heir apparent Rudy stumbles into a rhetorical ditch, John McCain learns to make friends without adding enemies, or Mitt Romney climbs above 3% in the polls, Fred's where the action is.
At some point, we'll have to add something on the Democrats if Hillary goes broke or Barack Obama says something of actual substance, but neither event is anticipated at this time.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Well, that's no doubt part of the story. Adjunct and non-tenure track faculty are cheaper than the tenure-track sort. But if it's the case that "market forces" are driving things, then why is it that this change is occuring precisely while university tuition has been increasing at rates far above tuition (something like 6-8% per year) and while university endowments have seen spectacular growth? Maybe it's because I just finished teaching Marx to my modern political thought class, but with just those set of facts at hand, it sure looks like it's just a product of universities squeezing the faculty to enrich themselves (or at least the institutions they control).
But I don't think that's the whole story - or even the most important part of the story. Universities are controlled, in ways most people just don't get, by the faculty as a whole. Faculty individually might not like the increase in the number of adjuncts or part-time lecturers, but the acquiesce in their employment because, truth be told, those folks serve the tenured profs' interests. Suppose that the resources available to any particular university were to remain constant and the faculty decided that they would make an effort to have fewer adjuncts teaching their classes. One of two things would happen: either the school would hire more tenure-track faculty or the current faculty would teach more students. The first we can discount, since no faculty I've ever heard of has voted themselves a pay cut in order to hire more faculty. (For all their anti-capitalist rhetoric, university faculty are plenty attentive to their economic interests, even at the expense of others). So why not do the latter, and have the current faculty teach more - either teach more students in their current classes or teach more classes?
Because that would interfere with their research and publication? And less research and publication means less prestige? And since universities are almost entirely now in the prestige business (as opposed to the knowledge or truth business), they dare not do that. So even though I think French is right to point to "market forces" as an important element in the changes in higher education employment structures, such an analysis is just incomplete.
My mother grew up in small-town Alabama. She was Catholic and went to a parochial school through the eighth grade. When she went to the local public high school she got a taste of anti-Catholic prejudice. People asked her questions like, "Is it true that when you get married, you have to sleep with a priest before you sleep with your husband?" It was a sometimes humiliating experience, but she lived through it and today, Catholic and Protestant relations in that same town are very comfortable. In fact, the pastor at a Southern Baptist church in the city gave a sermon praising John Paul II after his death. He went on to say that we should fervently hope the next Pope is a man like him because the Pope is the face of Christianity around the world. This rapprochement between Catholics and Evangelicals hasn't happened by avoiding questions or hiding behind identity politics. It has been earned through engagement.
So now, Hugh Hewitt writes a book about Mitt Romney as the first Mormon in the White House. I've already questioned whether the book is premature in the extreme. It's not as if there has been some amazing groundswell for the one term governor of Massachusetts who skipped out on the second term at least in part because everyone knows he would likely have lost. But the part that concerns us here is Hewitt's claim that by acting as if Romney's faith matters at all we somehow violate the spirit of Article VI's prohibition on religious tests for officeholding and that evangelical Christians in particular should hesitate to consider Romney's religion because they don't want to have their own political hopes stymied by others considering their faith.
I think Hewitt is fundamentally wrong. Let's tease this thing out a bit, shall we?
Article VI prohibits any religious test for officeholding in the federal government. So we will have no official requirement that only Episcopalians or whoever may serve in the federal government. Historically we know that set-up was basically about federalism (different states endorsing different denominations thus requiring federal stalemate), but let's forget that and deal with it as we see it today. No official test set in legislation, executive order, etc. Fine. But then there is the question of the individual's vote and you may exercise that however you wish. No Article VI interaction there.
Now, Hugh Hewitt wants to play the left-wing game and say that Article VI sets out an American value we should observe and that paying any attention to Romney's religion is a violation of that value.
I disliked that argument just as much the first time I read it in a little book titled The Godless Constitution by Isaac Kramnick and Laurence Moore. Kramnick and Moore were concerned that evangelicals and Catholics would refuse to consider a candidate who wasn't religious enough and would therefore, apply a sort of religious test against an atheist, for example, running for President.
Historically, there is plenty of precedent for considering a candidate's religion and it hasn't been such a terrible thing. Jefferson was nobody's idea of an orthodox Christian. He was the perfect picture of a deist, believing in morality and punishments and rewards in the afterlife, but not in the specific Christian revelation. New England Clergy who were members of the Federalist party raged against Jefferson's lack of correct faith. They preferred Adams, who was also not a picture perfect Christian in theology, but who was more favorable to religious establishments. Tellingly, Jefferson's supporters felt the need to deny the attacks on his Christianity.* Despite the religious controversy, Jefferson did defeat Adams and won the presidency. He required no rule against debating religious convictions of a candidate to do so.
John F. Kennedy was another example. In order to keep the Democratic party's southern support base intact, he had to deal with the issue of his Catholicism by taking it up directly with the people, as he did with Baptist ministers in Houston. Kennedy insisted he would be the president and not a proxy for Rome. Work it out for yourself whether that was correct theologically for a Roman Catholic, but Kennedy didn't hide behind some kind of insistence that his faith was off limits.
In interviewing Erick Erickson, Hugh Hewitt wanted to compare caring about Mitt Romney's religion to caring about someone's race. The entire line of argument is wrong-headed. The left has enchanted us into thinking about everything in terms of categories and how wrong it is to consider categories. On the face of it, Hewitt is right. Certainly, it would be illogical and malicious to refuse to consider voting for someone based on the surface reason of their race or religion. But there is a second layer to the inquiry. If a white candidate's beliefs about the world, about government, and about culture were significantly impacted by his race, then I think it's fair ground to know exactly how. If it leads him to believe in some kind of white superiority, then it's worth taking into account when voting. The same is obviously true of a disciple of Louis Farrakahn, in which case we are considering his race AND religion. I do not say such persons have no right to run for or hold office. I am saying WE have to right to ask such persons questions and to withhold our vote from such persons.
Would anyone willingly relinquish that right?
The point Erick made repeatedly in the interview that Hewitt treated as though it were no point at all is that there is very little public knowledge about the Church of Latter Day Saints. As a Ph.D. candidate in religion and politics, I know a great deal about some of the ways Mormons have been terribly mistreated in American history, but I know very little about their actual theology. I'm an evangelical Christian with great sympathies toward the Catholic Church. My theology certainly affects my view of politics and I think I would be a cad to take the position that if I were running for office no one would have a right to ask me about it and wait to hear what I would say. I would assume that equal respect for a Mormon would be to assume that his religious beliefs are not purely private but actually have some impact on what he thinks, believes, and does.
To hold otherwise is to become a secularist who says that religion is only private and doesn't matter in the public square. I don't think Hugh Hewitt has come out in favor of secularism before, but maybe that's his new position. Religion is private and doesn't matter a whit to politics. Is that what you think, Mr. Hewitt?
No, Erick Erickson had the correct position. It's okay to be curious about the Mormon faith. It's okay for Mitt Romney to face questions about how his faith impacts the other areas of his life, including his political life. There's nothing unconstitutional or immoral about it. This is the process that will make the Church of Latter Day Saints a part of the fabric of American religious, political, and social life. Just being open to engagement is the key.
*The part about Jefferson's backers defending him from attacks on Christianity is telling because it denies the claim that the founding generation wasn't much concerned with the Christian faith. Jefferson couldn't come straight out with it and hope to still be elected.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Me, I watched the Clippers game, but they both sounded interesting.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Oh, please. The Times almost daily prints blatant opinion columns in its news pages---the front page usually---and there was constant pressure from the news room to get the editorials on the same page, so to speak, as the news "reports." That the Times has timed the publication of innumerable stories so as to engender maximum political effect is beyond dispute. But now we are supposed to believe that integrity suddenly is all the rage. Give me break. What actually has happened is obvious: For all of Martinez' political correctitude, it is a fact that under his editorship the Times' editorials have become far less reflexively left-wing and Pavlovian than was the case for years. On rare occasions they actually were worth reading. And so it is obvious that the army of hard leftists that is the LA Times simply could not abide that; Martinez had to go and this was the opportunity to get rid of him. The Times sinks ever deeper into the swamp.
Monday, March 19, 2007
However, despite Thomas Jefferson's protestations about his "influences" being non-Biblical, it cannot be disputed that John Locke was one of them.
A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, (and are notions grown familiar, and, as it were, natural to us, under the Gospel) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it.
---Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity
Here Locke confesses that his work and the work of his contemporaries is heavily indebted to "revelation," which can only be read as "Biblical principles."
Whether or not Jefferson had the same self-awareness (it seems not) as Locke is immaterial. You can't take the Locke out of Jefferson, and you can't take the Bible out of Locke.
The Lord's Prayer survived Jefferson's razor when he created the "Jefferson Bible," where he edited the Good Book and took out all the supernatural stuff.
But is The Lord's Prayer rational? Not by today's standards. Might as well swear by Grabthar's Hammer.
Jefferson is known mostly for his un-self-evident assertion on human rights, the endowed by their Creator thing, an assertion that bears a striking resemblance to the work of St. Robert Bellarmine, a notorious Christian. Jefferson is exactly the type Locke was referring to, "beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it."
Now, Locke makes no claim here or elsewhere that the Bible is historically true: even the Jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides excises the miracles from scripture. (We can dispense with Trinitarianism thusly, for the sake of discussion. For one thing, I wouldn't want the government to order everyone to believe Jesus was God. That would defeat the purpose of the whole faith thing, and neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Ghost would be pleased, I think.)
But "love your enemy" is not rational, nor is The Lord's Prayer, nor is the 1700-odd years of theology of the "human person" that led up to Jefferson's bold assertion.
We run the risk of turning Locke's statement, and the history of the Bible in western thought, into gibberish if we dismiss whatever we don't like as "irrational."
"Or whatever else was the cause, 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the law of Nature. And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen."---Locke, ibid.
It's not so much about what Locke himself believed, but the role of Judeo-Christian principles in founding the American republic. What Locke is saying here is that the Bible was further along than philosophy as a moral system.
Whether philosophy-slash-reason has caught up with the Bible is still questionable. I look at ethicist and philosopher Dr. Peter Singer of Princeton University, who believes in consciousness as the primary claim to rights (your dog has more self-awareness than your newborn son or daughter, after all) and I suspect it never will.
Peter Singer is a reasonable man,
So are they all, all reasonable men
Saturday, March 17, 2007
What is interesting about the poll is that while 64 percent believe there is a left-wing bias, 28 percent believes the press tilts right. What planet are they from? That 28 percent number is consistent with voters who are self-described liberals in many polls, which explains their divorce from reality.
Even though there was a partisan divide in the poll, a large majority of independents see a liberal bias. And where Republicans are uniformly of the conviction that there is liberal bias (97%), Democrats are not so uniformly convinced of the opposite. Which just goes to show that as hard as they might try to claim the mantel of high-minded objectivity, the MSM cannot pull the wool over many people’s eyes.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Wouldn't this be an even more awesomely great country if the fathers filed the paternity suits instead of the mothers? We have so much to learn from the Europeans.
Sometimes dumb sounds cute: Sixty percent of Americans can't name five of the Ten Commandments, and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.
Jesus Christ, man.
No wonder secular Christian-baiters goad me that America's Religious Party should be concerned with poverty instead of personal morality.
How do I tell 'em that if JC had been all about man's material needs, he'd have sat at a bench all day cranking out loaves and fishes or kitchen cabinets? That's just not what it was all about.
And as for the Jewish half (2/3, more like) of the Christian bible, why do they harp on G-d using the Israelites to punish the wicked Amalekites and ignore the part where Israel's own wickedness results in the Babylonian captivity? Chosen people, yeah, right. Few or none of us would volunteer to be held to a higher standard than everybody else. I appreciate the honor, Lord, but no thanks---being a Chosen People Person kinda sucks. They pogrom you when they're not sending you into captivity if not the ovens. If it's all the same to You, please choose somebody else.
Even leaving the theology out of it, I just read somewhere that there are 1,300 biblical references in Shakespeare. How can you understand Western Civilization and the world in which you live, hoping to scrape by on the CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes of the Bible?
The brief answer would be, you can't, which explains a whole helluva lot right now.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Works like a charm, I'll tellya. They have all the time in the world for the rush to war, cooked intelligence, the Downing St. Memo, Hans Blix, the sixteen words, unilateralism, not enough troops, the looting of museums, not enough electricity, Halliburton, Abu Ghraib, Valerie Plame, immoral, illegal, incompetent. (Well, the last one has some sting to it, but incompetence is inevitable wherever humans are involved.)
But just ask 'em what to do about a theocracy headed by a guy who believes his messiah and the Final Days are coming and wants to help it all along by developing nuclear weapons and...
...the sudden sound of crickets chirping is a welcome tonic to these mouthy times.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
It can’t be said any better than Steyn’s conclusion:
As for Scooter Libby, he faces up to 25 years in jail for the crime of failing to remember when he first heard the name of Valerie Plame -- whether by accident or intent no one can ever say for sure. But we also know that Joe Wilson failed to remember that his original briefing to the CIA after getting back from Niger was significantly different from the way he characterized it in his op-ed in the New York Times. We do know that the contemptible Armitage failed to come forward and clear the air as his colleagues were smeared for months on end. We do know that his boss Colin Powell sat by as the very character of the administration was corroded.
And we know that Patrick Fitzgerald knew all this and more as he frittered away the years, and the ''political blood lust'' (as National Review's Rich Lowry calls it) grew ever more disconnected from humdrum reality. The cloud over the White House is Fitzgerald's, and his closing remarks to the jury were highly revealing. If he dislikes Bush and Cheney and the Iraq war, whoopee: Run against them, or donate to the Democrats, or get a talk-radio show. Instead, he chose in full knowledge of the truth to maintain artificially a three-year cloud over the White House while the anti-Bush left frantically mistook its salivating for the first drops of a downpour. The result is the disgrace of Scooter Libby. Big deal. Patrick Fitzgerald's disgrace is the greater, and a huge victory not for justice or the law but for the criminalization of politics.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.