Friday, September 29, 2006

Boo, Blasphemous Index of Pre-Rapture Events! Hooray, Bible!

Our SWNIDish attention was recently drawn to the "Rapture Index." Styled by its author as a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity" or better as a "prophetic speedometer," the Rapture Index quantifies forty-four categories of events seen by its author--with many of his dispensationalist brethren, we assume--as precursors of the Secret Rapture of the Church and the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

We observe the following:
  • The index currently stands at 156, which falls under the "fasten your seat belts" designation. We're not sure how effective seat belts will as protection in case of "rapture."
  • The all-time low of 57 (well within the "slow prophetic activity" range) was December 12, 1993. We conclude that Clinton was more effective than anyone had imagined.
  • The all-time high of 182 was September 24, 2001. We think we remember what brought that on.

So why do we boo this spiritual resource? Well, we think it's maybe mildly blasphemous to claim to do what Jesus said he couldn't. We admit that the author of the Rapture Index insists that he is in no way predicting the event. Rather, he says, his index indicates whether we are moving toward the end slowly or quickly. Well, we're not sure how that business of time moving fast or slowly actually works. So we're back to the conclusion that this thing offers at least a weak, relative prediction of the day and hour that Jesus says he himself doesn't know.

We'll leave it to others to repeat again all that is wrong exegetically and theologically with the dispensational eschatology that grips so many American evangelicals. But we will here assert our own Index of Jesus' Return.

Our scale runs from zero to one thousand. And it currently stands at one thousand. The world is a mess, what with wars, disasters, genocide, disease, crime, hatred, persecution and the designated-hitter rule. So the index is maxed out.

Actually, it's been stuck on one thousand for roughly a couple of millennia now, thanks to the perpetually messed-up state of things.

The God of Israel is fed up with the world. And he has been for a very long time. He won't tolerate it forever. All that keeps him from ending this mess now is his desire that all should turn to him.

"So when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates."

Rep. Foley Resigns Before Most People Know Why

Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) resigned today just hours after ABC reported that he had sent sexually explicit instant messages to female congressional pages under the age of 18. Ironically, Rep. Foley was chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.

We observe again two truths, the first seemingly permanent:

1. Politicians tend to be a corrupt lot, regardless of party or ideology.
2. Republicans, whatever their faults, have for the last couple of decades expected those proved to be bad apples to quit immediately, whereas Democrats have proved determined to rally around the indicted forever.

This episode raises to a new level Republican immediacy on dealing with scandals. Meanwhile, we remind Rep. William Jefferson to call his lawyer.

Update: Thanks to JB in CA for the correction: later reports note that the person in question was a 16-year-old boy and the medium in question was email.

Thanks to Guys Like Calvin Johnson

Yesterday my place of Christian Higher Education honored our city's public safety officers for their self-sacrificial work in serving others.

Today the Cincinnati Enquirer does the same with a fine article about Calvin Johnson, police sergeant at Cincinnati's District 3 (including CCU's Price Hill neighborhood) and head football coach at Western Hills High School.

We commend the article to gentle readers and commend Mr. Johnson to everyone.

Weirdest Combination of 2006: U. of Phoenix Accused of Pro-Mormon Bias

Of all the things we've ever seen together, we never thought we'd see these.

The University of Phoenix, the Wal-Mart of higher education, is the object of a class-action suit alleging religious bias.

It's pro-religious bias.

Pro-Mormon bias, to be exact.

The allegation is that employees in Phoenix's admissions office get better treatment if the are Mormons. Seems that a lot of the admissions executives are Mormons, and they're perceived as favoring their brothers and sisters in the faith.

So we nominate the combination of the University of Phoenix and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints as the Weirdest Combination of 2006. And we invite gentle readers to suggest other weird combinations.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

National Intelligence Estimate: Machiavelli Redux

The Ds' attempt to disarm the Rs with a leak of the National Intelligence Estimate has backfired. Bush's declassification of a section of the report has turned the NIE into another Republican weapon against the Democrat rhetoric of surrender and appeasement.

Of course, all the NIE does is note that the Iraq war has inspired more to join the jihadists (the Ds' talking point) but that prevailing in Iraq will seriously reverse jihadist recruitment (the Rs' point). Both parties have their points here, but the Rs win politically because their point is grounded in hope while the Ds are grounded in despair.

There remains nothing new under the sun. This question is a variant on Machiavelli's classic question whether the prince is better off being loved or being feared (note to present and former students of SWNID: "yes" is often a good answer to questions with "or," and Machiavelli notes that being both loved and feared is the most excellent outcome, but he avers that both are not always possible). The answer is that for the prince love is nice but fear is necessary. Bush's comment that the Ds' reading of the NIE leak is "naive" reminds us that the adjective is synonymous with "not having read and understood Machiavelli."

The fact that this sophisticated intelligence document merely reflects a classic work of Western literature leads us to agree with the sentiment, though not every aspect of the diction, of Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit:

We should probably also fire whoever wrote this -- for producing a meaningless document full of empty bureaucratic twaddle. If the jihadists win, they'll have more prestige! And they will probably use the internets [sic]! Do tell. [Blasphemy deleted], if this is the quality of intelligence we're getting, no wonder we haven't won yet.

But there are some intelligence data out there, at least in raw form. The NY Sun has published a report of a letter from a senior Al-Qaida operative, captured with al-Zarqawi's ambush in June, loudly decrying the weakness of Al-Qaida and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. We'll see if that other paper in NY picks up on this, giving permission to the rest of the media to cover it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

On Tempers Real and Actual

For those who think that Hot Springs' most famous citizen simply lost his temper with Chris Wallace, Vast Right Wing Conspirator Bill Kristol has an alternative.

Kristol suggests that the calculating Clinton blew up on Wallace to (a) help Democrats, who are perceived as weak on terror, in the November elections; (b) help Hillary; (c) intimidate other reporters who might ask the same questions.

Remembering that no politician takes a breath without calculating its political impact, least of all this one, we think Kristol might be on to something.

We just don't think it will work. Clinton's act is getting old. The very sight of him reminds too many people of things they'd like to forget, just as the sight of Bush does for many others.

That's probably bad for all Democrats, but it's especially bad for one who's had a lot of bad news lately.

UC Named Official NCAA Football Team of Democrat Party

After consecutive losses to Ohio State and Virginia Tech in which they unexpectedly led until finally succumbing to superior talent, the University of Cincinnati football team has defined itself as the Team that Loses by Less Than Expected.

And so it comes as no surprise today that Democrat chairman Howard Dean has named UC's football team the Offical NCAA Football Team of the Democratic Party.

"Understand this point," said Dean. "No one expected UC to do as well as they did. All the momentum lies with them. The American people have had enough of these big-time college football programs with their recruiting scandals and players who don't graduate. Right-wing media sportscasters may represent them as the best teams in America, but Americans know otherwise.

"Just like Paul Hackett, just like John Kerry, UC has beaten everyone's expectations as to how well they'll do," Dean explained. "That's the Democrat way. It's our strategy to retake the Congress and the White House, by continually losing elections by smaller margins than expected."

Asked to comment about the Democratic Party similarly endorsing an NFL team, Dean replied, "The first three weeks of the season leave us in a quandary on this point. In the NFL, we're looking for a former champion, like the Democrats, that can't reclaim its former glory. So we don't know whether to go with the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots."

Short Take on Baylor God-Poll

Gentle readers interested in a succinct summary of the recent Baylor University poll of Americans' views of God, with cautious analysis, will find it at, of all places, the Christian Science Monitor. It's rife with the CSM's usual pale optimism, but leaves room for important observations like these:

The study found that even people within the same denomination hold different concepts of God - which may explain schisms over dogma. Evangelicals and black Protestants, however, hold the most uniform views (a majority sees God as authoritarian).

It also found that the "four Gods" track more closely with political and social attitudes than do traditional indicators such as church attendance. The study found, for instance, that the closer one moves toward the authoritarian model, the more likely one finds abortion and gay marriage are "always wrong."

Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark got clobbered a few years ago for suggesting that in the study of religion, what matters most is how adherents view god (with N. T. Wright, we use lower case here deliberately, since human views of deity[ies] vary so greatly that it's absurd to assume that everyone is really talking about the Same Being when we reference many or all such views). That such patent verities prove controversial reminds us of how much more significant the Baylor poll is than, say, the generic party-preference polling that occupies considerable media attention these days.

The Take on Slick W's Finger-Wag

Chris Wallace's interview with ex-POTUS and current rock star William Jefferson Clinton is now a matter of public record and public discourse.

To those like gentle reader Micah who feel that Clinton did his best to get Osama and has been mischaracterized by right-wing opponents, we urge a reading of Howard Kurtz, who does media and politics at WaPo, and Byron York, White House correspondent for the National Review.

The former is no right-winger, but he happily chronicles Chris Wallace's innocence of the charge of "right-wing hit job." The latter relies not on his own avowedly partisan evaluation but the sympathetic chronicle of Richard Clarke, Clinton national security staffer famous for resigning in protest from the Bush administration. Per Clarke, Clinton avoided confronting the military about its Osamic recalcitrance, to put it mildly.

Note well what we say here: neither President and neither party was sufficiently active against Islamofascism before 9/11. What bugs us and others on this score is not Clinton's failure but his incessant self-righteous posturing and self-serving, moralistic accusations against anyone who disagrees with him or suggests that he might have been less than fully correct about everything. He lacks standing on such matters.

Or more simply, we remember seeing that fat finger wagging at the camera when Clinton was in office, and it makes the same impression now that it did then.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Grim Reminder of the Past Also Welcome Reminder of Present

Fox News is showing a teaser, available also on YouTube, of its upcoming interview with St. William of Dogpatch. The specter of Slick W shaking his finger at the camera in moral indignation over the fecklessness of "right wingers" who dare criticize his presidential potency is, to say the least, a contrasting reminder of the fresh wind that has blown since January of 2001.

Latest Offense: NAE, YWAM Pray for Muslims

The AP is reporting this morning on Islamic reaction to a campaign initiated by Youth With a Mission and taken up by the National Association of Evangelicals to encourage Christians to pray for Muslims during Ramadan.

Predictably, the AP is noting that some Muslims are meeting the campaign with equanimity:

Jamal Badawi, an Islamic scholar and professor emeritus at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said he cannot deny Christians the right to pray for him, since he also prays that they embrace Islam.

But just as predictably, the bulk of reaction is reported to be negative:

Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, said he believes that true followers of Jesus would not pray for conversion, but would instead demonstrate their faith through good works.

Kudos to AP reporter Rachel Zoll for making this important observation:

Like Christianity, Islam is a missionary faith, teaching that Muslims are following the true path and directing them to introduce others to their beliefs.

Of course, Muslims are not the only ones to express ironic objections to Christian missionary efforts. Just about all non-Christian groups do. Christianity is so essentially missionary, absolutist (cf. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human") and imperialistic (cf. "kingdom of God") that anything not manifesting those offensive characteristics is not Christianity, or at least isn't for very long.

But here's the irony about all objections to Christian missionary efforts, not just those offered by religious adherents who are also intent on converting the world. Let's say you don't believe in the Christian gospel. Maybe you're some kind of theist, maybe not. If not, you shouldn't think that there's anything persuasive about a god-message and certainly nothing effective about prayer. If you've got a god in your system, you still don't think that the Jesus-message is persuasive, and you certainly don't think that any god will listen to a prayer offered on Jesus' authority.

This, of course, is why Christian narratives are very glad to note the fearful responses offered by persistent unbelievers to Christian "proselytizing" (e.g. here and here). There's no need to fear something that has no power. The presence of fear is evidence of some belief in the power of the object of fear.

And so it is for offense as well. Especially when it comes from an adherent of a differently situated monotheistic, imperialistic, absolutist faith.

Christian readers should note well that this observation carries with it the corollary that the Christian faith provides a perpetual "fear not" for its adherents.

Great Promises Made Again

The AP this morning offers the following title: "Analysis: Democrats Vow to Get Tough." With less than seven weeks to go until the election, Ds are adopting the JFK playbook. Those who remember Camelot for what it was will remember that Kennedy ran against the ace anticommunist Nixon by (a) alleging a "missle gap" created by the Eisenhower administration that left the US underarmed against the nuclear USSR; (b) insisting that JFK would be a more effective anticommunist than Nixon.

The missle gap never existed, of course. In fact, it existed even less than WMD in Iraq, for Kennedy didn't even have the support of intelligence data, flawed or unflawed, for the allegation. As to the effectiveness of Kennedy the anticommunist, let's just say that in Cuba and Southeast Asia, things were much diceyer after 1961 than they had been under Ike's steady hand. We'll defer to Christopher Hitchens to evaluate further the Kennedy anticommunist legacy.

But enough history. Now to behavioral science. We nominate "Democrats vow to get tough" for permanent display in the Museum of Perpetually Unfulfilled Promises, along with:

  • The check is in the mail.
  • I'll respect you in the morning.
  • Runs good.
  • There's never been water in the basement.
  • The assignment was done, but my computer crashed.
  • I forgot to put in the quotation marks and footnotes before I printed the paper.
  • I can quit anytime.
  • Our tanning beds use the latest technology to eliminate the danger of skin cancer.
  • Yes, we're living in the same apartment and sleeping in one bed, but we're not having sex.
  • Using my system, you'll build wealth by buying real estate with no money down.
  • That outfit does not make you look fat.
  • I just drink socially.
  • Our church is really committed to growth.
  • Adding this formula to each tank of gas will improve your mileage by 20%.
  • I just gamble for recreation.
  • This machine will give you a lean, toned body in just fifteen minutes a day.
  • I didn't inhale.
  • I don't have a racist bone in my body.
  • This is the natural product that the drug companies don't want you to know about.
  • I can't believe that you're that old.
  • I am not a crook.
  • No, I don't think you're naive and credulous. What makes you think that?

Gentle readers may offer additional nominations in the comments. N.B. that brilliant singer/songwriter Dave Frishberg did all this first, and we swear that we didn't look up his classic lyrics until after we assembled our list.

French "Intelligence" Leak: Osama at Cave Temperature

The news services are abuzz with the rumor that terrorist godfather Osama bin Laden may have initialized biodegradation thanks to typhoid. If this is the case (and who knows what to make of a French intelligence [insert joke] leak of a Saudi intelligence report?), and if it can be to any degree confirmed in the next seven weeks, we hereby prognosticate the political fallout.

This will hurt the Ds on November 7 with their lukewarm strategy of nationalizing the congressional elections. Rs will say with some justification that their policy of dogged, unrelenting pursuit of terrorism continues to show incremental progress.

Ds will be forced to say something like: (a) the Rs didn't kill him; (b) the Rs made him an iconic martyr; (c) the Rs created a thousand Osamas before the first one died.

But this rhetoric will have little short-term effect because (a) dead is dead, and dying of typhoid in a filthy cave because one is not safe to travel and can't get even the most basic medical care is among the genuinely bad ways to die; (b) Osama is no less iconic dead than alive, and many more Muslims seem to be put off by the effects of Osama-style bloodletting these days; (c) the Ds drumbeat of defeatism takes awhile to root itself in the public consciousness by means of unrelenting repetition--longer than the time left before the election--and tends to be set back by any additional good news.

So while Republican and Bush administration strategy is to be unrelenting in the pursuit of terrorists, Democrat opposition strategy is to be unrelenting in interpreting every event as negative for US interests. Both strategies require considerable time to take effect. But the Rs have the advantage of being able to show tangible effects occasionally, while the Ds can only show passing effects in public opinion polls.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Dionne: Momentum with Rs

E. J. Dionne is perhaps the last surviving organism of what has been for a long time an endangered species: a readable and rational columnist from the political left. So it's no surprise that today he is writing that circumstances are now boosting Republican prospects in November.

However, we think Dionne is a little slow to pick up on how far things have gone up for the Rs and down for the Ds. He cites the generic-party-preference polls as still favoring the Ds and says that at this point in the cycle, that should mean that the Ds will win. But gentle readers will remember that polls of likely voters are now even, that generic party preference is never as important as sentiment toward the incumbent candidate in a congressional district, and that most polls since 1994 have overestimated Democrat voters (Zogby seems more or less alone in adjusting for this).

Still, we agree with Dionne that much will hinge on the direction of news just before the election (as in 1864, for instance). And so we affirm his closing paragraph:

The paradox is that the survival chances of a Republican Party led by a former oilman from Texas will depend in large part on whether gas prices keep falling.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

D'Souza: Appeal to "Traditional" Muslims

Gentle reader Danny Joe points us to an essay by the always stimulating Dinesh D'Souza, who argues that, despite the reaction to the Pope's comments, most Muslims belong not to the "radical" category but the "traditional" category. The former D'Souza characterizes as violently opposed to Christianity, Judaism and the West, whereas the latter tends toward accommodation and toleration.

Hence, it must be the goal of Western policy not to drive people from the traditional camp to the radical one.

We agree. However, we're not sure that it's as simple a matter as merely avoiding inflammatory statements. The most egregious or foolhardy provocations should be eschewed. But radicals can find almost anything inflammatory, it seems.

With D'Souza we note that traditional Muslims have been reluctant to voice their dismay at the radicals' intolerance and violence. But from that we do not conclude that the traditionals have become radicals. Rather, we conclude that they are even more afraid of the bully of radicalism than is the West.

And for good reason. Traditionals who speak up will be the first targets. Just ask Salmon Rushdie.

We still conclude, therefore, that the only effective and humane response to radical Islamic intimidation is a robust assertion of human rights and the expansion of liberal democracy backed by the threat of military power. Only those Muslims who have the freedom from fear of reprisal can speak up for the containment of Islamic radicalism.

From another source we are reminded that not all Muslims are anti-American. Kosovar Muslims, liberated from the Serbs by American and Western European military force, recently held solemn public observances of the anniversary of 9/11. What makes them love America, and even William Jefferson Clinton? Liberty, and the nation that helped secure it for them.

Hanson Handicaps November: Advantage Rs

Proving once again that an education in the arts and sciences can pay off, classicist Victor Davis Hanson today offers a most trenchant analysis of November electoral prospects. Unlike just about every other person doing that, however, his is based not merely on the Republican rise in the generic Congressional preference polls or Bush's surging job approval figures. He's looking at circumstances and policies.

We quote briefly:

Democrats denounce the conduct of the war against terror. All well and good - but they also must explain how they would snatch Osama Bin Laden from his friendly tribes in Islamic and nuclear Pakistan. They rail against the Iraq war, but they cannot agree on when - not to mention whether - to depart. They lament appeasement of Iran, but they offer no military or political alternative to the ongoing multiparty negotiations.

The Democrats claim that Bush is not protecting us at home and is battling the wrong enemies abroad. But even of those sympathetic to such a message, how many believe that Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy are better suited to fight a war against terror? And where the president is vulnerable - illegal immigration, continual energy dependence, spiraling debt and profligate federal spending - the Democrats' solutions are even more at odds with public opinion.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Another Pronouncement on Papal Free Speech

We thank gentle reader MattC for forwarding to us a not-so-long-ago column by World's Smartest Person Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitch weighed in on the spineless response of Western governments, more specifically the Bush White House, to the violent response to the Danish cartoons. Response to the Pope has been, of course, no different, and underscores the need of the Islamists to keep their followers stirred up about something more or less constantly.

But to the sublime Hitchens. Here's a tasty morsel from the meal:

Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet who was only another male mammal is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

Hitch goes on to explain how, as a devotedly non-religious person, his principles derived from the Enlightenment still prevent him from reacting violently toward religious people.

We think that Hitch is unfair in lumping all religions together as sources of prejudice. Briefly we'll say that Christianity has at its core a message that critiques all human prejudices, including those harbored by Christianity's practitioners. But it would nevertheless be nice if religious people could extend the same treatment to nonadherents as Hitch does to adherents.

Chavez to UN: Bush "the Devil"; Bush to Demand Apology, Burn Chavez in Effigy

The AP reports from the UN that Hugo Chavez, buffoonish president of Venezuela, referred to American President George W. Bush as "the devil" in a speech to the General Assembly. The AP further reports that Chavez's remarks provoked giggles at some points and some applause from a few delegates at others. There's no indication as to whether Chavez's speech was better attended than the one yesterday by Iran's President Ahmadinejad, reportedly heard by only a few delegates willing to postpone their evening meal to learn that Iran's nukes are "peaceful" (like its rhetoric).

Meanwhile, SWNID has it from our usual sources that at the White House, President Bush has proclaimed that, following the example of Islamists, he will demand an apology from Chavez, express his disappointment at any statement of apology issued, adorn Marine One with signs reading "Chavez Go to Hell" and burn Chavez in effigy in the White House Rose Garden.

Rs Even With Ds in Gallup

It looks like James Carville may have to act on his remark that if Dems can win the Congress in 2006, they need to rethink the whole idea of their party.

Gallup reports that among likely voters, preference for Republicans and Democrats in Congress is even. Registered voters show a preference for Ds, but recent polls show that likelies matter more than registereds, and even the polls of likelies tend to overestimate Democrat votes.

Maybe worse for the Ds is that Bush's approval ratings are up to 44%, the highest in a year. So much for nationalizing the campaign. The Bushies look really tired these days, but momentum is pushing the elephants forward. Or maybe the donkeys are still stuck in the leftist mud.

Rs still may have some losses, and they've got a lot of work to do. But with lower energy prices, low unemployment, stable interest rates, and no plan from the left on Iraq or Islamofascism save surrender, it could be worse for the party in power.

Many November elections will be close. Turnout will be crucial. The Rs have been very strong on turnout for the last few cycles, conservative churches apparently having more ardent members than trade unions these days.

Still More Popapalooza

At WaPo Anne Applebaum offers this most apt observation about the reaction to Pope Benedict's quotation of a Byzantine emperor's negative remarks about violence in the religion of Islam:

But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech -- surely the pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts -- and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns. By "we" I mean here the White House, the Vatican, the German Greens, the French Foreign Ministry, NATO, Greenpeace, Le Monde and Fox News -- Western institutions of the left, the right and everything in between. True, these principles sound pretty elementary -- "we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" -- but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus. A lot more time has been spent analyzing what the pontiff meant to say, or should have said, or might have said if he had been given better advice.

All of which is simply beside the point, since nothing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it's time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn't the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain's chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them -- simultaneously?

As we've said before, Islamists are playing the role of Playground Bully, and the West continues to try to play the role of Nice Kid Who Avoids Trouble. The problem with that playground strategy is that it only works for awhile. Eventually, the Nice Kid has to tell everyone loudly and clearly that the bully is a bully and rally his resources to restrain the bully.

Nothing illustrates the failure to do that more than the West's criticism of the remarks of the gentle, scholarly priest who said something that riled up the bully. To change the metaphor, we've seen a lot of blaming of the victim in the abusive relationship here.

More on Benedict Versus Imams

The cartoon needs no comment. We thank the irrepressible Lucianne Goldberg for making it the lead picture on today's News Forum Home Page, always our first take on the morning's news.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Path to 9/11 Writer Speaks, But No One Listens

The Path to 9/11 appears to have been yet another ABC TV current-events dramatization about which the media huffed and puffed but which few actually watched.* Therefore, its legacy will depend more on the media buzz about its alleged unfairness to St. William of Dogpatch than its actual contents.

As one of the millions who found Manning v. Manning more interesting that September Sunday evening, I am therefore glad to read on OpinionJournal the testimony of the movie's writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, who offers compelling complaint that his own life and actions, not Clinton's, are the ones that have been misrepresented.

We tease gentle readers with a quotation:

"The Path to 9/11" was set in the time before the event, and in a world in which no party had the political will to act. The principals did not know then what we know now. It is also indisputable that Bill Clinton entered office a month before the first attack on the World Trade Center. Eight years then went by, replete with terrorist assaults on Americans and American interests overseas. George W. Bush was in office eight months before 9/11. Those who actually watched the entire miniseries know that he was given no special treatment.

And so the question now is really not whether the movie unfairly blamed Clinton (like there's anything bad that hasn't already been said about him). It is whether the American electorate has the political will to vote for continuing action against Islamist terror.

*Fellow middle-aged Americans will remember The Day After as probably the first of this genre.

Islamists to Pope: Say We Love Peace or We'll Kill You

By now we assume that everyone has made the observation that the Islamist reaction to Pope Benedict's quotation of an ancient, negative reference to Islam confirms the upshot of the quotation. But no one has made the observation better than the sublime Richard John Neuhaus over at First Things. With the warning the Neuhaus describes his rambling essay as a "potpourri," we still urge gentle readers to avail themselves of the entire contents.

In particular, we commend this alleged letter from a Muslim, quoted by Neuhaus:

Dear Pope Benedict XVI:

We Muslims are not at all violent, not that you said we were, but who needs to read your speech when the local imam, who hasn’t read it either, can tell us what it says? Since peaceful efforts to convince you of our commitment to peace have failed, we hope that the mass riots, burnt effigies, cries of “Death to the Pope!” and a smattering of grenades in assorted churches will exorcise every ghost of the rumor that we are violent, and prove that Mohammed pitched a tent big enough to include interfaith camels. It is hoped that you will rescind your position, even if it wasn’t yours to begin with, lest our peacefulness escalate even further.

And Neuhaus supplies historical perspective by various means, including this quotation from historian William Doino:

The deliberate, explicit targeting of innocent human beings, via terrorism, and the celebration of their deaths; the ritual execution, torture, and beheading of helpless hostages; the routine, often blatant violation of human rights, especially against women (including mutilation of their genitals)—it’s difficult to find anything quite like this throughout religious history, including the worst abuses of Christians, when you at least had other Christians, often popes, rebuking and condemning them for their crimes, and calling for reform, which eventually came about.

Friday, September 15, 2006

SWNID Doeppelgaenger Gets Taranto Hat Tip

Gentle readers are doubtless aware of our fealty to James Taranto, author and editor of the OpinionJournal daily feature "Best of the Web Today." We consider Taranto the model blogger, though what he produces is not, strictly speaking, a blog.

So we were pleased yesterday that our doeppelgaenger, a fellow with whom we share the same first name, was given a coveted Taranto hat tip (follow the title link and search carefully the "thanks to" list at the bottom). Specifically, he supplied to Taranto a link to a story with a humorously ambiguous title: "Rare White Buffalo Born To Wis. Farm For 3rd Time." Taranto supplied the clever (and biblical!) heading, "Try Explaining This to Nicodemus."

With this achievement, our doeppelgaenger says that he can now live with a contented sense of achievement.

Yesterday's "Best of the Web" is worth reading on its own for the clever list of views of God compiled by Taranto's devoted readers. E.g.:

  • Common-law God. Since the beginning of time has assumed sole responsibility for Godlike acts, but has not legally been established as "God."
  • Customer service God. "Press 1 for the Father, 2 for the Son, 3 for the Holy Spirit."
    Unitarian God. Nice enough guy, but doesn't really seem to believe in himself.
  • Progressive God. Has outgrown the simplistic belief in his own literal existence, considers himself spiritual but not religious.
  • Liberal God. Commands man to "be fruitless and divide"; is completely self-absorbed yet doesn't believe in himself; wants you to stop sinning but doesn't have an alternative; can't stop yelling, "Satan lied, people died!"
  • Peace activist God. He's sending you to hell, but he supports the sinners!
  • Cindy Sheehan God. Wants George W. Bush to tell him what "noble cause" his Son died for.
  • Chairman God. Sets the agenda, but doesn't get involved in day-to-day operations.
  • Micromanager God. Not a sparrow falls but he needs a report on why, with guidance on what to do about it.

Our doeppelgaenger can claim no credit for contributing any of these. He wishes he had.

Krauthammer: Understand Today What Will Happen Within a Year

Clear-eyed Charles Krauthammer today summarizes the costs of a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. They are high.

But he notes this as well, an apt point for all who believe that inaction is safe: "These are the costs. There is no denying them. However, equally undeniable is the cost of doing nothing."

The cost of doing nothing is (a) Iran's complete domination of the Middle East and its oil reserves; (b) nuclear weapons in the hands of a government with an ideology that makes their use attractive; (c) the consequent threat of annihilation for any city in the world.

How much time do we have to think about this? Krauthammer suggests one year.

So we suggest reading the article today.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

PCUSA Misses Opportunities with New Trinity Language

We thank the many gentle readers who in recent weeks have sent us links to delicious items for our SWNIDish comments. We apologize that having an actual life outside of cyberspace prevents us from taking more of these opportunities.

But with a hat tip to JB in CA, here is an item, late but still significant, that we cannot ignore.

The Presbyterian Church in the USA has debated the use of revised language for the Trinity. Among suggestions are "Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb," "Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation and Dove of Peace," "Fire That Consumes, Sword That Divides and Storm That Melts Mountains," "Giver, Gift and Giving," and "Speaker, Word and Breath." It is also reported that "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" is already in wide use.

So why would any Christian or quasi-Christian group want to do this? Reasons are as predictable as they are straightforward:

  • God is bigger than our concepts and shouldn't be put in a box.
  • Some people find the gender issues in Father and Son problematic.
  • Other metaphors don't help people understand the Trinity.

So what of it? First, we're heartened that many Presbyterians simply think that the new language sounds dumb. We agree. It would appear that every clever, vaguely religious-sounding list of three is eligible for consideration. So how about these trios, all of them capable of connecting with some demographic segment?

  • Earth, Wind and Fire
  • Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod
  • Moe, Larry and Curly
  • Burger, Fries and Coke
  • Tinker to Evers to Chance (bonus points for those who can identify the reference)
  • John, Paul, George and Ringo (why not four?)

We invite gentle readers to leave their own suggestions in the comments.

As recently reported by LarkNews (attention: Satire Alert!), the PCUSA has launched an ambitious campaign to lose only 5% of its membership in the coming decade. Doubtless these additional innovations will aid that program.

The real problem with all this, however, is not public relations, at least not exactly. It's unChristian views of God.

As Elizabeth Achtemeier has argued cogently and decisively, Israel rejected predominantly feminine language for God because of its association with fertility cults. The whole "womb" thing demonstrates how right Achtemeier was that this tendency is not just an ancient one.

There's a different kind of problem with other formulations. Those that name physical objects tend toward pantheism. Those that name actions tend toward modalism. Those that arbitrarily lift elements of biblical narrative leave listeners with an understanding of biblical interpretation that is ... how to put this delicately? ... confused.

There's a reason that some of us think it's wise to stay close to what Christians have done from the beginning. Among many other things, it's a handy way to avoid really bad stuff.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Pinkerton: GOP Will Win Because They're Not Dems

Newsday columnist James Pinkerton offers up-to-the-millisecond analysis of the two parties' prospects on November 2. His analysis is that most voters are pretty comfortable with the "big government conservatism" that has riled some traditional conservatives and continues to exclude the party of Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson. So, he says, many analyists are cooling their predictions of an inevitably Democrat Congress.

In particular, Pinkerton cribs WaPo reporter Thomas B. Edsall's book, Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power :

The left-leaning Edsall is pessimistic about the "blue" party; he puts much of the blame for the donkey's decline on "the social-issue left," which "overwhelmingly sets the agenda of the Democratic Party."

Edsall is referring, of course, to the liberal lifestylers, liberationists and litigators who have sought to transform America, one court case at a time. It's the backlash against such trendy lefties, Edsall predicts, that will give the Republicans a "thin but durable" majority. So while election outcomes will undoubtedly blip back and forth, we might ask: Is there ever going to be a time when Americans are comfortable being governed by the ideologies embodied in Howard Dean, Barbra Streisand, Lawrence Tribe and George Soros? If the answer to that question is "no," the Republicans have good reason to be confident about their electoral future.

Gentle readers will recall that they've repeatedly read similar sentiments someplace else.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Harvard Ends Early-Action Applications, CCU Keeps Late-Action Applications

The world of IHEs ("institutions of higher education," for those not in our elite loop) is abuzz today, not just with caffeine, the usual buzz for IHEs, but with the news that Harvard University is ending its early-action admissions program.

What's that all about?

These days it seems that everyone wants to get into elite universities, especially as defined by US News and World Report's annual college issue, which ranks universities like ... well ... college football and basketball teams. Hence, competition is fierce to enter said universities, with only a fraction of applicants offered admission. Hence, students look for any edge they can get.

Meanwhile, universities are looking to raise their "conversion" rate, which is not the number of baptisms but the number of accepted applicants who actually choose to enroll, a key figure in US News rankings. Hence, they want to offer admission to those students most likely to enroll. Hence, they want to figure out who those students are and, if possible, constrain their choices so that they are even more highly likely to enroll if offered admission.

Thus was born early admission programs. To students willing to apply initially to only one university, a university offers an early date for application and an early response. Regular college applications are mostly due in the late winter. Early applications are due before Thanksgiving and answered before Christmas. The terms of that application, if it is for "early decision" are (a) the student is legally bound to apply to just one university; (b) if offered admission, the student pledges to accept. If it is the milder "early action," then the student does have the option of choosing a university through the regular admissions program later in the academic year. And elite IHEs generally admit a higher percentage of their early applicants than they do the regular ones.

What this has meant is that students intent on getting into the "best college possible" have gravitated to early applications. Some admissions counselors speak of students who don't know where they want to go to college but are convinced that they must apply early someplace. This is how the game is played to get into the "best college possible."

So the gripe is that early applications put universities in the driver's seat instead of students. They limit student choices, make nearly impossible comparison of financial aid packages, and demand an even earlier decision about a highly significant matter from an adolescent who probably can't decide what to wear most mornings. And as usual, it is assumed that students of lesser economic means are disadvantaged by this process, which doubtless they are.

So Harvard's announcement addresses this gripe. And as Harvard goes, other elite IHEs go. It takes the pressure off when the perennial number one in US News makes the first move.

So what does SWNID, part of the IHE world, think of all this?

First, the elites are kidding themselves, if they actually believe it, to think that this move will significantly impact their demographics to bring a larger percentage of economically less-well-off students to their campuses. The impact of early applications is nothing compared to the perception that no one can afford $45k per year to go to an elite institution. The real focus, if Harvard and others are serious about penetrating the middle and lower classes, needs to be in publicizing their need-based financial aid systems. For the brightest students without a lot of money, the elites can often be a huge bargain. But that's a well-kept secret.

Second, we find ourselves very happy to work at an institution that specializes in late applications. How does that underreported story work? We'll tell it about "Jason," a composite character.

Jason is a high school senior and a Christian. Various experiences of the last couple of years have made him take his faith more seriously.

Jason is also a pretty good student. Everyone, from parents to guidance counselors to peers, has ambitions for him. They look for him to go to a "good college" and get a degree that will take him into a prestigious, highly remunerative career.

Meanwhile, Jason is involved with leadership in his church. He assists his youth minister in organizing activities, goes on a foreign mission trip over Christmas, and talks to his friends about his faith. For him, such things are most important. Further, he finds that the people he admires most are people who earn their living from the church.

But Jason likes to please people. So he follows the path laid out for him by parents, peers and counselors, applying to several public and private colleges. And because he's a good student and good person, he gets good offers from those. At high school graduation, he tells everyone that he's going to The College That Everyone Respects.

But then, over the summer, his social world is altered. Working at a summer job, he's no longer around his guidance counselor or many of his friends. But he is still active at church and beyond with his faith. His core commitments begin to bubble to the surface. He wonders whether he really wants to go to The College That Everyone Respects to major in biology and then go to optometry school.

Then he goes to a Christian youth conference, he thinks for maybe the last time. And there, away from other pressures but confronted with a different one, he realizes where "God really wants him to be."

So CCU gets his application around July 20. When we process him and admit him, he calls The College That Everyone Respects and tells them to keep his deposit with his blessing.

Most of the Jasons prove to be just the kind of student that CCU wants. Most of them stay around (per our latest statistics, 88% of freshmen stayed to become sophomores and 72% graduated within six years, both figures well above average nationally; those interested can locate the data by beginning here). Most of them are an utter delight to teach. Most of them do significant things when they graduate.

So let Harvard give up early admission. We'll keep late admission.

Maybe we'll call it "mature admission."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Feingold: Always Wrong, Never in Doubt

We believe that Russ Feingold (D-Fantasyland) must read this blog in order to know what not to believe. Never was a politician more wrong than he in co-sponsoring with the always-good-for-a-laugh John McCain the ignoble campaign finance legislation that did more to impinge on constitutional rights than anything done in response to global terrorism and less to reform campaigns and their financing than anything since the decline of the Federalist Party.

And as if to top that debacle, now the distinguished Senator has objected to the use of the term, most recently affirmed in this blog, "Islamic fascists." Says the Potentate of Wisconsin:

We must avoid using misleading and offensive terms that link Islam with those who subvert this great religion or who distort its teachings to justify terrorist activities.

Um, excuse us, Senator, but the point of the term is to distinguish the really dangerous Muslims from the undangerous ones. We aren't fighting all Islam, just the folks who use it to impose their totalitarian will on others by means of death and concomitant mayhem. Hence, we distinguish the subset from the larger set to which it belongs. Get it?

We urge the good citizens of Wisconsin to remove from their heads the styrofoam cheese wedges with which they adorn themselves in this season so that they can hear clearly the utter nonsense that issues from the mouth of a man for whom they continue to vote.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Election Season Begins, Blackwell Closes Gap

As the midterm election campaign gets going after today's 9/11 observances, we refer gentle readers to the Wall Street Journal's excellent and (rarely offered by the Dow Jones Company) free page indexing the latest polls state by state.

In the race in which we find ourselves most interested, the news is for us most heartening. Ken Blackwell, per the latest Zogby poll, has pulled to 42%, trailing Ted Strickland's 48% by less than the margin of error and a little over half of the undecided remainder.

Having viewed the first spate of ads for the candidate, we think that Blackwell will make additional gains. His ads manage to put forth positive messages on appealing proposals as well as sticking the high-tax label on Strickland. Specifically, Blackwell's ads offer decent exposition on his proposals to earmark a maximum percentage of school funds that can go for administration and to legislate health-care coverage for all Ohioans, a la Mitch Romney's Massachusetts plan.

Strickland by contrast is trying to present himself as a tax cutter, a difficult task for any D, all the more so when he has no announced plans to cut taxes. Even harder to make stick is his claim that Blackwell's health insurance plan will cost Ohioans about $5k per year per family. Once the media gets on the details of the Blackwell proposal, the appeal of moving the health care burden from employers to actual people, with means-tested state subsidies for those less able to afford coverage, will get further traction, and Strickland will lose a talking point.

There's more here to hearten the Blackwell campaign. As it becomes clearer that Ken Blackwell, not some generic Republican operative, is running, the throw-the-bums-out impulse will lessen. As Blackwell's story becomes better known, he will erode key parts of the Democrat coalition. Blackwell probably has more money that Strickland, which will prove big in late October. Rs have also done better getting their voters to the Ohio polls in the last few election cycles. And if Strickland abandons the Thomas Dewey campaign mode (assuming the inevitability of his election and so taking no stands on anything) in favor of specific policy proposals, he will either risk alienating his organized labor constituency, the keystone of his get-out-the-vote efforts, or will appear to be offering more of the failed policies that got Ohio at the back of the economic pack.

Blackwell faces dangers. He needs to keep the more radical elements of his Christian conservative base in the deep background. We also hope that he has no skeletons in his closet that could haunt him around Halloween. His campaign needs to stay sharp.

But if you were running for governor of Ohio, would you rather have the lead and nothing left to show or the momentum with lots of cards to play?

Obligatory 9/11 Retrospective and Assessment

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Day That Changed Everything. And the more things change, the more they stay the same.

First, we recall that the events of September 11, 2001 left our SWNIDish self with a sense that we might be called upon to endure great hardships or to make great sacrifices in the future. We began stockpiling enough water to keep our family hydrated for three days in an emergency. In early winter of that year, we took seriously the idea that an acquaintance's fever accompanied by skin lesions might be terrorist-inflicted smallpox (so did the acquaintance's doctor). Viewing the magisterial Fellowship of the Ring, we wondered whether ourself and our children would be part of an epic struggle for the future of humanity, like that of Frodo and his companions.

That change has now reverted to the state of sameness. Our stockpiled water remains untended in the basement and would probably give us dysentery if we drank it. No one these days thinks much about a smallpox epidemic started by terrorists. By the third Lord of the Rings film, the immediate poignancy of the struggle had faded to the commonplace. We complained that some of the special effects were unconvincing in the last film.

Second, we recall that the events of September 11 left Americans with a profound sense that their Americanness needed to be asserted decisively. Because we were in the process of moving houses that very week, we spent a lot of time that week in hardware stores. Most people in checkout lines with us were buying American flags in various sizes and materials.

But more than flags were in the offing. Americans wanted their military power projected abroad to counter the terrorist actions. In Afghanistan we discovered the Northern Alliance, then on the brink of dissolution. American special forces troops joined them, advised them, and pointed their laser weapons-targeting devices at their enemies, the Taliban. The consequence was that a few American soldiers and pilots turned the military tide quickly to defeat the most obvious object of American wrath for the 9/11 attacks.

That impressive military triumph was followed by another in Iraq. Facing down predictions of tens of thousands of American casualties in the battle to remove Saddam Hussein, the American military, without the advantage of line of attack through "ally" Turkey to the north, cruised into Baghdad in a matter of days with minimal casualties.

It seemed a new day of American beneficent military hegemony. Our guys could do anything. The Vietnam era was over. American know-how would spread the blessings of democracy to any erstwhile enemy, instantly converted to a friend, with dramatic, 24-hour coverage by embedded reporters with the cable networks.

But now there is the resurgent sameness. Iraq was an easy invasion but is a tough occupation. Afghanistan hasn't been a picnic either, and it's only those trying to use the war as a political wedge to squeeze themselves back into power who will insist that Afghanistan would be paradise if only we had stayed out of Iraq. Moreover, the idealistic objective of these military actions--the establishment of democracy in the Middle East--has proved most difficult in both countries.

And so now the sameness has settled in. Refusing to believe that what is right and necessary is not always easy, we carp that the war was mismanaged, that the right way to handle things was obvious, that Bush must have lied about the whole thing. We imagine that a world with Saddam and his sons in power for another 30 years is safer than one without him, or one in which an incarcerated Osama would mean the end of all terrorism. We picture the natural state of the Middle East as pacific Arabs sitting under palm trees sipping tea and munching dates instead of a region rich on oil and rife with hostilities toward the West and toward each other.

We forget that the world has always been a dangerous place, that the sense of invulnerability enjoyed before 9/11 by North Americans is exceptional. We forget that the conflict between the cultures of Europe, shaped imperfectly by Christianity, and the Arab world, shaped violently by Islam, has been a feature of life for the last millennium, recently dampened by the West's greater prosperity and technology but more recently revived by Islamic oil wealth.

And so where does this sameness put us? We'll offer a few observations.

First, let's stop talking about a war on terrorism. It's a war on Islamo-Fascism, whether from Osama, the Taliban, Saudi Wahabbists, Iranian Shiite radicals or quasi-secular Sunni Baathists. Given to nuance, we hesitate to paint with a broad brush. However, the situation at this point seems undeniable. All these groups are bent on the assertion of their own power at the expense of others' well being. Thoughtful leaders of the West (attention French: this excludes you) may suggest varying responses to each. But none is a friend to the values of liberty.

Second, let's be realistic about Iraq. "Nation building" is an art that no one has perfected. Bush and the neocons may have underestimated the difficulty of establishing democracy there. But the President's rhetoric has constantly stressed that this task is part of a long, twilight struggle for the freedom of America and other peoples of the world. We can learn a lot from our friends the Brits, who have fought a dirty war against terrorists in Northern Ireland for a couple of generations and only recently have something to show for it.

As to whether we had a legitimate justification for going to war in Iraq, it's worth remembering where we were before the war. Saddam played a deliberate game of deception to project power in his own country and regionally. With every means of "coming clean" about WMD, he deliberately played the game to appear to be concealing weapons while at the same time claiming that he was abiding by UN sanctions. He was, in other words, like a man who walks into a bank with his hand in his coat pocket, not exactly saying he has a gun there but demanding money from the teller with a threatening gesture. To change comparisons, we called his bluff. That he had nothing in his hand doesn't change the reality that he never folded.

Third, let's be realistic about all actions taken or likely to be taken in this struggle. Despite all the great minds working on problems of international relations, no solution is without its concomitant downside. So-called experts who proclaim that more troops or fewer troops or better intelligence or no action at all would have produced a better outcome have all the advantages of second guessing someone who is actually charged with making a timely decision. Hindsight, as they say ...

In particular, we challenge the notion that things would be better if Saddam were still in power. By this time, the sanctions regime would be beyond the point of sustainability. Pressure to allow Iraq full access to world markets with its oil would be unbearable. We would be back to business as usual, the situation that in 1990 led to the invasion of Kuwait, only now Saddam could expect support from a broader coalition of Islamist bedfellows in whatever mischief he cooked up. If he sent his armies north against the Kurds, would there have been the will and means to stop him, as we didn't in 1991 when he marched against the Shiites?

In other words, those who consider the Iraq war a gamble should consider that doing nothing is also a gamble. We are in the game, whether we raise, call or fold.

Fourth, we think that the future of Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations depends in large part on whether strong leadership arises in those countries. India's independence half a century ago, messy as it was, was accomplished only with heroic indigenous leadership of the kind that gets celebrated in big Hollywood movies a generation later. To no surprise, Charles Krauthammer got this exactly right last week.

So where will we be in another five years? Probably in much the same situation we are in now. The world will be a mess. The United States will be trying to make it better. We may be witnessing the rise of great statesmen in the Middle East or decrying their absence. Those out of power will blame those in power for the mess. But to the degree that Islamo-Fascism has been contained and democracy has been enlarged, some people's lives will be better than they would have been otherwise.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mallory/Streicher v. Bates: How Safe Is Cincinnati?

Today's Enquirer reports on a brewing political debate in Our Fair City. It shapes up this way:

  • Yesterday, Mayor Mark Mallory and Police Chief Tom Streicher held a news conference to put Cincinnati's crime problem in perspective. In sum, homicides in Cincinnati are up, but they are up at a rate less than that of most other major cities. Further, other serious crimes are down. On a per-capita basis, Cincinnati experiences less serious crime than most major American cities.

  • Meanwhile, Cincinnati School Board Member Melanie Bates, whose husband was killed last week in front of the family's elegant North Avondale home, lashed out that such statements represent an abdication of responsibility on the part of Cincinnati's leaders.

So what do we make of this debate? Is Cincinnati safe or unsafe? We'll analyze the situation this way:

The fundamental point is that cities of all kinds in all places are not safe. This is the case because cities are full of people, and people tend to be sinners, to use a prejudicial, theological term.

This, of course, does not make rural areas more safe than cities. To the degree that they have people in them, rural areas are unsafe. To the degree that rural areas have no people, the point is moot.

So safety is to be found in being totally alone, with just one's own family and no one else as far as the eye can see, right? Well, a we are wont to say, once such a thing existed. In all the world there was one family with two brothers. And the farmer brother killed the shepherd brother. So much for that approach.

So in the light of history, theology and behavioral science, Cincinnati is not safe.

But compared to other cities, it is relatively safe. The statistics that Mallory and Streicher cite are the best data for comparison, and they show Our Fair City to be better than fair in regard to urban safety and the frequency of serious crime.

So what of the Bates murder? What does it tell us? Phil Bates was, by all accounts, a fine, caring, friendly and loving individual. His murder does not at all fit the statistical mode of criminal-on-criminal (largely drug-dealer-on-drug-dealer) violence. We grieve his death and pray for his family's comfort. Any murder is a tragedy. This one is a poignant tragedy.

Further, any crime in any city is unacceptable. Nothing about the present situation justifies indifference toward crime. That Mrs. Bates is adding her politically connected voice to the many that are calling for better protection against crime is appropriate and welcome. Chief Streicher repeated that the greatest impediment to crime prevention in Cincinnati is the lack of jail space. Let's hope that Hamilton County's parsimonious taxpayers heard that message and combine it with the pathos of the Bates murder as they contemplate the upcoming referendum on a sales-tax levy to build a new jail.

But one case does not change the statistical reality. If a person wants to live in the world (as if a person had a choice), then she or he must reckon with the nastiness of the world. Data demonstrate that some places are nastier than others. Cincinnati, though, is not one of those places.

But it can be better than it is.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Global forecast: Warmer, but Not Much

A week after ABC tried to boost 20/20's late-summer ratings with the quasi-apocalyptic "Last Days on Earth" that ranked global warming ahead of nuclear war, supervolcanic eruption and asteroid impact as the greatest threat to human existence, the Weekend Australian reports that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has revised downward its estimate on global warming in the next century.

To wit: in the worst case, earth will be warmer by three degrees Celsius in 2100. With significant reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, it will be warmer by two degrees C. Total rise in sea level will be between 14 and 43 centimeters. Storm surges will be stronger, hurricanes and cyclones will be stronger, and some regions will become more arid.

On the other hand, Australia estimates that cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 would result in a reduction of 20% in real wages of Australians. The article contains no estimate of the global economic impact of such a move.

So the question becomes whether one wants to cope with gradual, mild change to the environment or significant, centrally-planned restrictions on economic productivity. Given the legions of the world's poor who would be devastated by a long-term global recession brought on by governmentally enforced restrictions on economic activity, and given the ever-changing estimates of the actual impact of climate change, we'll take our chances on the weather.

On Graduate Theological Education

In response to our earlier post from a former CCU student now enrolled at the master's level at a major, mainline Protestant seminary, we received another email from a former CCU student now enrolled in a PhD program at a major university in the UK. Once again, we have redacted to obscure identities:

i also found your email from a student to be real interesting too and i'm glad you put it on there.... i can only echo that i found the same true for phd work. [another CCU professor] and you repetitively warned me about not thinking too highly of things over here [in the UK] and [the other professor] in particular told me i would be really surprised that most people studying with me [in the PhD program] aren't further along. i've found that to be decidedly the case, to the point that there are several people with whom i'm colloquial and friendly but don't even attempt to have an academic conversation. obviously, there are plenty of really smart people here as well. however, there's a student here from [well-known evangelical seminary] and one from [another well-known evangelical seminary], and i'm startled all the time at how naive they are, from both an academic and a faith perspective. i'm just saying that it has been the case that the faculty of the biblical studies dept. in cbc and cbs most certainly did prepare me in a way that many of my colleagues were obviously not prepared. i don't pretend to think that everyone escapes ccu with that experience, but i agree with the person that wrote that email, for those that want it, it's available.

Cincinnati Christian University: proud to inculcate its students with that unmistakably SWNIDish outlook.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Good News on Cancer, and No Stem Cells Involved

The Beeb reports that a team at the US National Cancer Institute have successfully treated two men for the dangerous skin cancer melanoma using their own modified T-cells. Much research remains to be done before such treatment becomes practical, but this is a pretty big deal.

We celebrate this development not least because of our own experience with melanoma. We've been blessed with early detection and simple outpatient surgical treatment, but one contemplates mortality when getting a malignant lesion removed from what used to be home to a freckle.

Thanks to Dr. Stephen Rosenberg and all the bright folks on his team for their helpful messing with DNA.

On Undergraduate Theological Education

We share this from an email recently received from one of our institution's recent bachelor's degree recipients who has just enrolled in a well-known, well-funded mainline Protestant seminary in a large American city. We have edited to obscure identities and correct typos. We apologize if it appears self-serving, a move that our gentle readers will recognize is long overdue in regard to most postings on this blog, but we see it as a slice of life worth inspecting.

i'm sitting in a workshop right now that is required for all new students at [name of rich, mainline Protestant seminary]. we are currently going over hermeneutics; eisegesis vs. exegesis. sophomore year stuff. it is unbelievable how many people here do not know their bible or anything about it for that matter. the people that do know the bible relatively well are conspiracy theorists, talking about walmart and the kingdom's obligation towards stopping such scoundrels. i know that this is just my first couple of weeks here, but i just wanted to tell you, as the academic dean of ccu, how wonderful our program is there. i spent most of my time there complaining about the kinds of education that we were getting. well, i have quickly changed my perspective. between [various CCU professors named], i feel that i have received an extraordinary education that has more than prepared me for this venture into the graduate institution. i was speaking with one of my profs here who graduated from yale about greek stuff and he could not believe how much greek that i had received during my undergrad. and i definitely was among the worst greek students to ever pass through the halls at ccu. anyway, i just wanted to give you an update on my experience here in the [nickname of big city] and mostly to say thank you.

Our heart is strangely warmed.