Friday, June 30, 2006

This NACC May Well Prove Historic

SWNID and the ever-lovelier and more gracious Mrs. SWNID yesterday attended the North American Christian Convention. In answer to the ubiquitous question of all who adhere to the independent-Christian-churches wing of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, "How was the convention?" we respond:

Very good, and maybe historic.

On the very good bit, we found the preaching to be very thoughtful, organized, clear, compelling, timely and absent of any hint of ego. We tip the SWNID hat to the day's plenary speakers, Jeff Faull, Prentice Meador and Jeff Walling.

The congregational music was exceptional, combining the worship teams of an instrumental Christian church and a non-instrumental church of Christ with songs ably led with and without instruments and across the spectrum of traditional and contemporary.

It takes a lot to move the hard SWNIDish heart, but we were moved.

But note the pattern of the program: this year's NACC, in the 100th anniversary of the Sand Creek Declaration that marks the division between the Christian churches and churches of Christ on the question of instrumental music in worship, deliberately brought together representatives of both groups to express real fraternal unity in Christ. Lots of this kind of thing has been happening for years, of course, but this event struck SWNID, an observer of 47.5-years of history, as potentially a big deal.

Expressions of unity and brotherhood climaxed last night as Jeff Walling, with visible emotion, declared that members of both groups must no longer merely be "nice" to each other but must live as family (which, he rightly notes, is "messy" but permanent). He then, with more visible emotion, offered a treasured Bible, given him by his mother on the death of his father, to Dave Stone, preaching minister at Southeast Christian Church of Louisville. Dave had a Bible for Jeff too. And then various others made Bible exchanges.

This was a remarkably powerful symbolic act for those present. But we think it will lead to more: to real cooperation between institutions in both camps.

The truth is, each group has things that will help the other. We cite what we have observed:

  • The noninstrumental churches have enjoyed modest growth in the last decade. The independent churches are exploding, relatively. The independents have experience and resources to share.
  • The noninstrumentals have many excellent scholars in the theological disciplines. The independents have some, but not lots. There are already many a capellas teaching in independent-church institutions of higher education. There will be more in the future.
  • Similarly, the noninstrumentals have several liberal arts colleges and universities. The independents have lots of Bible colleges. These complementary modes of Christian higher education can, should and probably will have more students from each heritage attending in the future, depending on the needs and goals of individual students more than the specific sectarian identity of the institution.
  • The noninstrumental churches have significant membership in nonwhite populations in the United States. The independents don't, to their shame.

On this last point, with the first, we therefore tentatively propose the following for the consideration of our gentle readers and others (though how one can consider this proposal without reading it here remains to be seen):

Can one or several independent Christian churches in Cincinnati begin to work with Cincinnati's predominantly African-American churches of Christ to plan the planting of churches serving minority populations in areas of the metro area underserved by predominantly minority churches?

If something like this can happen, and in more places than just Cincinnati, then what we witnessed yesterday will be historic.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cheating in College: Students Do It, but Faculty Can Stop It

Among the most important and least tasteful of our deanish duties is serving as chair of the College Committee on Academic Integrity at CCU, which is to say we prosecute cheaters. So alert and gentle reader Scott brings to our attention two provocative articles on the subject of cheating in higher education:

  • USA Today reports on a study of a class of 64 students, among whom 47 students demonstrably cheated on an exam. The findings: (a) the students did not exhibit greater self-interest or lower moral reasoning than those who didn't; (b) few of the students who cheated admitted to themselves that they were cheating, even though each one accessed the answer key to an exam via the internet.
  • The Scotsman reports that around a quarter of faculty members in one Scottish university department made any effort to prevent, discover or report plagiarism. The reason? It's too much work.
Both articles agree that the only way to reduce cheating in higher education is for faculty and staff to communicate that their institution's policies are real, important, clear and enforced. Having a rule that no one talks about and that is rarely enforced does nothing. Rules must be alive: clear in the minds of all and active in the lives of all.

So we urge readers of this blog who are engaged in higher education to:
  • be diligent in watching out for plagiarism and in reporting it, if they are faculty members.
  • take seriously the rules and consequences of plagiarism, the greatest of which is cheating themselves of education, if they are students.

SWNID to Skyline: End the Cheez-Whiz Insanity

We stood by and did nothing when they introduced the burrito.

We accepted the salads and the black beans and rice.

We've even ordered a few of these items when we were maxed out on the traditional chili dishes.

But this is too much.

Skyline Chili is imitating last year's "cheddarwurst cheese coney" debacle with a "cheddar mett cheese coney." We are offended, disgusted and repulsed.

Gentle readers should note well that we would affirm and support with our enthusiastic patronage the introduction of a "mettwurst cheese coney." We believe that the classic mettwurst is one of life's great delights and a distinctively appealing aspect of life in Our Fair City. We would enjoy the spicy sausage's combination with savory Cincinnati-style chili and actual, grated cheddar cheese with yellow mustard and chopped onions on a carefully steamed bun. Yum!

It's the faux "cheddar," i.e. semiliquid "cheese food," crudely injected into an otherwise noble and tasty sausage to which we object.

We offer the proposition that this substance--"Cheez Whiz" and all of its unnatural, illegitimate spawn--is the epitome of all that is wrong with American cuisine. Actual cheese is a noble comestible, existing in many tasty forms and best enjoyed in moderation in its pure state. The gooey un-cheese substitute, by contrast, appeals to the basest aspect of human existence. A bizarre mixture of dairy extracts, corn byproducts and chemical additives, it facilitates quick, excessive consumption while masking (re: broccoli with hot Cheez Whiz "sauce") or being masked by (re: salsa + Cheez Whiz + microwave oven = "chili con queso") other foodstuffs.

And now Skyline has committed itself to syncretize its holy product annually with this offense against nature. No wonder people are leaving Our Fair City.

We protest vigorously.

The nauseating spectacle ends September 3. We pray for an earlier demise.

Dean: Back to the Future

No surprise here, at least for readers of this blog.

Howard Dean was in attendance at a conference of the emergent religious left in Washington. He used it as an occasion to:

  • Try out some religious-talk on a friendly crowd: "I came in the wrong door when I first got here. I came in the back, and everybody was talking about praising the Lord, and I thought, 'I am home. Finally, a group of people who want to praise the Lord and help their fellow man just like Jesus did and just like Jesus taught.' Thank you so much for doing that for me."
  • Identify the majority party with McCarthy (Joseph, not Eugene) and the bleak, loathsome 1950s.
  • Call wistfully for a revival of the dynamic, romantic, progressive 1960s.
  • Backtrack incoherently later from his 1960s nostalgia: "I'm not asking to go back to the '60s; we made some mistakes in the '60s. If you look at how we did public housing, we essentially created ghettos for poor people. . . .We did give things away for free, and that's a huge mistake because that does create a culture of dependence, and that's not good for anybody, either."
Our source does not indicate whether Dean took off his jacket, rolled up his shirtsleeves, and let loose with a full-throated, Vermont-physician-style "Yeauugh!"

Population-Loss Fog Beginning to Lift?

Today's Enquirer continues coverage of population loss in Cincinnati (motto: "Are they leaving because we eat goetta?") with a glimpse of the 'burbs. Seems that with a couple of exceptions (e.g., Green Township, with much undeveloped land to which sewers have recently been extended), pretty much every established community is losing population. Mariemount and Wyoming--without question the communities in Hamilton County with the most charming homes, most outstanding schools and most miniscule crime rates--both showed percentage drops equal to or greater than the city proper.

Even the toniest have decline: will the last person out of Indian Hill and Terrace Park please leave a note for the pool guy?

So what's the story? Part of it is, in the words of one official: we're built out.

But some suburban government administrators are questioning the census bureau's figures, which are estimates based on such things as housing permits. A flaw in the foundational data supplied by the state (and who would suggest that the alert and efficient government of the State of Ohio might have made a mistake?) or a flaw in the method of the estimate can yield a highly flawed result.

Those with a memory of the previous actual census in 2000 will recall the heated discussion about "surveys" versus direct censuses, communities complaining about being undercounted with the actual census, and the very obvious corrections that physically counting everyone in a community made to the estimates made in the years between the official census.

Or let's put it differently. It seems that we no longer trust the CIA to tell us how many WMD a nation has unless they've actually seen them. How much should we trust the Census Bureau to conduct its own clandestine surveillance of Cincinnati?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Religious Left Versus Christian Center

Alert and gentle reader Rustypants brings to our attention a piece by Martin Edlund in Slate detailing the emergence of and division within the "Religious Left" to counter the pernicious "Religious Right."*

For Edlund, the RL is spearheaded by two figures, Michael Lerner, famous as editor of the flaky magazine Tikkun and in 1992 briefly profiled by the MSM as Hillary's spiritual guru, and Jim Wallis, seasoned evangelical spokesman for socialist economics and long-time editor of Sojourners.

What Edlund has observed is that Lerner's crowd tends toward the fringes, attracting Wiccans, Unitarians, and the vaguely spiritual to conferences that articulate encyclopedic lists of quirky initiatives. Meanwhile, Wallis is attempting to appeal to a more mainstream crowd, not to mention distinctively evangelical, by focusing on antipoverty programs and environmental protection.

We say that Wallis is on to something. We agree with Edlund that there just aren't enough of the religious flakes to make any political impact, but there are loads of evangelicals who care about the environment and poverty. But we add an all important condition to our statement about Wallis: he's on to something if he doesn't continue equating a meaningful response to poverty or the environment with economic-growth-stifling, "liberal" initiatives. This has been his tendency, and this will be his downfall.

Every time we hear Wallis (who by the way is blessed with one of the most impressive speaking voices we have ever heard), he advocates higher taxes, more government spending to redistribute those taxes to the poor, and more government regulations to restrict economic activity as a prophylactic against environmental degradation.

We think that this approach doesn't help the poor, doesn't protect the environment, and doesn't help his cause. We think that history, economics and the other social sciences are on our side.

In sum, the experiences of this republic and many others strongly suggest that the zero-sum games of income redistribution tend to reinforce poverty rather than eradicate it. They suggest that rapid growth of technology rather than government restrictions will produce both rising prosperity and a clean environment. And they suggest that many voters understand this and will not be persuaded to do more for the poor or the environment if Wallis equates those solely with redistributive and restrictive policies.

Or to put it differently, Wallis is engaged in what we've criticized others for: equating concern for the poor or the environment with support for the policies of the left.

What we'd rather see Wallis do is admit that the old policies of the left are largely discredited and not the only means to the end that he seeks. Then we'd like to see him call for thoughtful, creative engagement of the faith community to address these problems with the range of ideas and resources at their disposal.

In other words, we'd like to see him champion a compassion that harnesses the impressive arguments of the conservative movement and the impressive resources of the faith community. Call it Compassionate Conservatism and Faith-Based Initiatives.

Or maybe he doesn't need to do that. Maybe someone already did. Maybe he and others just need to get over their gut-level dislike of George W. Bush and realize that he might be on to something.

Note well that we are not impugning Wallis's grasp of or commitment to the biblical message. We affirm and admire his priorities. We just think that his politics need to be informed and updated.

*If asked, "Are you a member of the Religious Right," SWNID replies, "Well, I'm religious. And I'm right."

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Clearly Bush's Fault

If a tree falls at the White House, and there's no "unnamed source" to hear it, does it make a sound?

Reading Between the Lines of Enquirer's Population-Loss Story

Today's Enquirer has helpful profiles of three of Cincinnati's neighbors, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Lexington. All offer interesting comparisons that suggest ways that Cincinnati could move forward.

But all reveal that at the heart of Cincinnati's precipitous loss of population is a simple statistical reality: the boundaries of the City of Cincinnati constitute a much smaller percentage of its entire metro area than do the boundaries of these cities.

We note the following, some of which we noted more briefly before:
  • Indianapolis operates as a single city/county unit.
  • Lexington is actually counted as "Lexington-Fayette," another single city/county unit.
  • Since 2000 Columbus has annexed land equal to 10% of its current boundaries.

In other words, those cities aren't losing population largely because their political boundaries include more of their suburbs than do Cincinnati's. A little math will demonstrate:

  • Per the Enquirer, Indianapolis's population in 2006 is 784,118. Per the Nielson Company, Indy's media market is 1,053,750. The city's percentage of its media market is 74%.
  • For Columbus, the city has 730,657 and the media market 890,770. The city's percentage is 82%.
  • For Lexington, the city has 268,080 and the media market 478,560. The city's percentage is 56%.
  • For Cincinnati, the city has 308,728 and the media market 880,190. The city's percentage is 35%.

We'd guess that circle representing 35% of metro area population drawn around the oldest part of any of these cities would show a similar decline in population within the circle. Lexington, never having been a destination for the migration of the Appalachian and southern poor looking for manufacturing jobs as were the midwestern cities, may be the exception.

So again, what Cincinnati should do is (a) don't panic; but (b) fix what's obviously wrong. Last night we had another spate of shootings in the city plus a stabbing in the 'burbs. Today the County Commissioners voted 2-1 to have yet another consultant look at plans for a jail, essentially scuttling any possibility of getting the measure on the ballot for November. We don't think that after so many years of needing it the jail is a panic measure, so let's fix what becomes more obviously wrong with every passing day.

Fine Article on Fine Minister at a Fine Church

Today's Lexington Herald-Leader has a fittingly appreciative article on the retirement of Bob Russell from the pulpit of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. The piece is suffused with the regular-guy humility that Bob has always exuded.

It also nicely captures the general ethos of the Christian churches and churches of Christ in the bargain, an exceedingly rare occurrence for any media outlet.

Update: Here's some more from the Louisville Courier-Journal, maybe not as broadly insightful but still very nicely done.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Coming Buzz: Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come

You heard it here first: Randall Balmer's new book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament, is going to be a big subject of buzz for the coming months. Expect to see Balmer on many programs and his book cited by many commentators. Cool Christians in the coffeehouses will be talking about nothing but this.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which like all higher-education-associated operations jealously guards its revenue sources, has uncharacteristically provided free access on the web to its recently-published excerpt from the forthcoming book. Another excerpt is available from NPR, which generally operates for free except for the incessant begging.

SWNID has utter respect for Balmer. He is a careful scholar whose work generates ideas instead of just recycling them. We have met him at the annual Stone-Campbell Journal Conference, shared with him a meal at a local Chinese buffet, and also judge him to be a fine fellow.

So we offer the following critique with some reticence, as it is based only on the reading of these two excerpts and not on the book as a whole and as we will be rather sharp in one aspect of our assessment.

We say that Balmer is probably offering the best critique so far of the excesses of the so-called "religious right." Insofar as he finds evidence of its impotence on its signature issue (abortion), inconsistency in many of its pronouncements, what appears to be a lust for power on the part of many of its leaders, and an overall co-option by its political allies (libertarian and pro-business conservatives among the Republicans), he is on the mark.

The book's most important contribution looks like it will be the historical analysis that supports such characterizations. In the excerpts Balmer notes early, pro-abortion remarks by evangelical leaders and certain patterns of early engagement that suggests that the movement's leaders came late to the antiabortion movement, instead responding to a threat to their power in the government's removal of Bob Jones University's tax-exempt status.

More broadly, Balmer is saying what Stephen Carter in God's Name in Vain said several years ago about both the religious right and the religious left: when religious people take up partisan politics--as opposed to speaking to political issues from a prophetic stance--they inevitably compromise their principles and lose their ability to effect genuine change.

So where's the aspect of the SWNID critique for which we stated reticence? Here goes:

Balmer looks to have sullied his book by parroting at points the partisan positions and rhetoric of the religious left. For example (from the Chronicle):

I went to Sunday school nearly every week of my childhood. But I must have been absent the day they told us that the followers of Jesus were obliged to secure even greater economic advantages for the affluent, to deprive those Jesus called "the least of these" of a living wage, and to despoil the environment by sacrificing it on the altar of free enterprise. I missed the lesson telling me that I should turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, even those designated as my enemies.

What this riposte and others like it do is not so much enliven what could be a dull exposition as engage in the same thing that Balmer decries on the other side. Essentially Balmer's rhetoric identifies Christian morality to one side of the issues of economics and national security. It assumes, despite considerable debate on the subject and considerable evidence to support those who differ with Balmer, that lower tax rates for the rich are a bad thing for the poor, that a higher minimum wage would be good for the poor, and that human economic activity is by definition bad for the environment. Elsewhere, Balmer assumes that the justification for the Iraq War patently violated Christian just-war doctrine, again a widely debated point with substantial arguments on the others side. Worse, Balmer at points assumes that the Bush administration has tortured prisoners, a point for which less evidence exists than existed for Saddam's possession of WMD, and so evangelical organizations' failure to make deliberate pronouncement against said torture was an egregious sin.

Note that we don't fault Balmer for being, apparently, a Democrat. He lives in Connecticut and teaches at Barnard College of Columbia University, for goodness sake. He hasn't been to a public toilet in five years that didn't have "Bush Lied, People Died!" written on the walls. His colleagues and neighbors probably think that he's a radical right-wing nutcase for even calling himself an evangelical. The body of Christ is more than big enough for his political views. And the opposition party, as we note just about every day, could use some responsible minds in it.

What we fault him for is not acknowledging that there are serious arguments on the other side. They may not be made by the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Donald Wildmon and James Dobson. Check that: they are not made by those guys. But some of us believe in keeping the minimum wage where it is or in waging war in places like Iraq precisely because of our commitment to help the poor and oppressed. We've seen the failures of socialistic and pacifistic approaches and the successes of free markets and sagacious use of military force. So we're ready to try something different from Johnson's War on Poverty and Sweden's foreign policy.

Balmer's rhetoric, however, doesn't invite a reopening of debate on these issues. It assumes that all the truth is on the religious left.

That's unfortunate. If true of the whole book, it will make the book less than it could be. Stephen Carter's book may not have as rich a historical canvas as Balmer's (though the law professor Carter does pretty well with history too). But he notes the faults of both sides in absolutizing the rhetoric of their positions versus absolutizing the principles that motivate them. Balmer may not have made this critical move (the Chronicle's excerpt contains the problematic rhetoric; NPR's does not; so perhaps the book as a whole will stay above water).

Christianity is about release for the captives. That's an absolute. What that looks like politically, however, is always open to debate. Balmer may have just missed the opportunity to reopen the debate among evangelicals. On this point we hope that the rest of the book is better than the one excerpt suggests.

Steyn on Redeployment and Global Politics

Global-Content Provider Mark Steyn's weekly contribution to the Chicago Sun-Times (motto: the classiest tabloid newspaper on the planet) is normally excellent. Today's (already linked below) is superb, both for its scathing criticism of the Ds' call for "redeployment" and even more for its trenchant analysis of global politics.

On the latter, we offer a couple of teaser quotations.

Beginning with the note that the Democrats unveiled a call for a "dignified retirement for all Americans," Steyn observes:

If you were a 5-year-old boy standing in the London streets in 1897 for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee parade and marveling as the hussars and lancers of the mightiest empire the world had ever known passed before your eyes, it would have seemed inconceivable that you'd be celebrating your 80th birthday in a decrepit ramshackle broken-down strike-bound basket case of a state. Permanence is the illusion of every age. And, if you're interested in a "dignified retirement," you might want to give some thought to the shape of the world the day after tomorrow.

And so the larger point:

The danger we face is not a Chinese superpower or an Islamist superpower: If it's a new boss, you learn the new rules and adjust as best you can. But the greater likelihood is of a world with no superpower at all in which unipolar geopolitics gives way to nonpolar geopolitics, a world without order in which pipsqueak thug states that can't feed their own people globalize their pathologies. There would be more stories like that one the other day about the three decapitated policemen whose heads were found in the Tijuana River. But Pelosi would carry on talking about college tuition as the world sinks into economic decline, arbitrary bombings and kidnappings, and the occasional nuking.

And so finally:

Luxembourg can be Luxembourg. America doesn't have that option. In a nonpolar world, there's nowhere to redeploy to.

Will Someone Please Provide the US with a Serious Opposition Party

SWNID sincerely wants for the Democratic Party to survive and thrive. Really, we do. Despite our appearing to be a yellow-dog Republican, we nevertheless hope for a thoughtful, vital two-party system with two thoughtful, vital parties.

Today's Sunday talk shows pretty much destroyed any hope of that happening soon. They revealed in sharper relief than ever that at the national level the Ds will say anything to pander to the electorate, regardless of how what they say squares with anything else that they've said.

The issue of the day is amnesty in Iraq. Iraqi PM Maliki today gave an outline--short on particulars--of a "national reconciliation" plan that would grant amnesty from prosecution for any insurgents who (a) have not killed American forces or Iraqis; and (b) renounce violence.

Sounds good, right? After all, you can't kill all the insurgents. There are just too many of them. "With malice toward none, with charity toward all" and all that. It's not a perfect approach, but war is an imperfect means of dealing with imperfection. Every nation we know of with a significant insurgency has ended up with some kind of amnesty at the end.

So what did Barbara Boxer, Carl Levin and Russ Feingold say on the Sunday morning talking-head programs? They condemned the whole thing because, as they style it in typical Democrat unison, it would dishonor the sacrifices of America's war dead. (Check RealClearPolitics for links to transcripts; we were alerted to these statements with excerpts on NPR.)

Yes, these are Senators Boxer, Levin and Feingold, all advocates of the Democrat cut-and-run strategy (we use the phrase advisedly, knowing that it has been condemned as a Republican mischaracterization but finding no better phrase to capture the essence of the position). These are the folks who believe that it would not dishonor the brave men and women who gave the last full measure of devotion to "redeploy" troops to Kuwait or Okinawa or Missouri or wherever.

Moreover, these thoughtful, vital senators would have us believe that if American troops were redeployed, the United States should still be able to exercise such influence over the Iraqi government as to demand that Iraq bring a fratricidal level of retribution against any and all who have opposed the current government, the legitimacy and effectiveness of which these senators have regularly called into question.

There's only one explanation for this utter nonsense, this super-tight circle of self-contradiction. These folks have become so cynical that they think they can make a bogus move to the "right" of the Bush administration, briefly decrying "amnesty" (now sadly a dirty word in the body politic after our recent shouting match on immigration) and wrapping themselves in a blood-soaked flag. And they think that no one who casts a vote in this country will notice that their position this morning was completely at odds with everything they've said for the last two years.

I can think of few political feints so brazenly insincere or positions so devoid of any sense, common or uncommon, as this one. This is what Jonah Goldberg said "stewed the bowels" when the Ds reacted to an early leak of this plan in the same outrageous way a couple of weeks ago. We now have a serving of twice-stewed bowels.

We admire the achievements of many Democrats in our republic's history. But the party of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson and Truman is not the party of Boxer, Levin and Feingold. Hey, the party of Boxer, Levin and Feingold isn't even the party of Cleveland, FDR, JFK, LBJ and Clinton. It isn't even the party of Andrew Johnson and Jimmy Carter. It's the wretched party of, George Soros, The Daily Kos, Howard Dean and Barbara Streisand.

It's a party led by people whose view of the world is so repugnant to the people who elect them that they have to hide it behind a daily parade of apocalyptic slogans, each utterly incoherent with the last and with any observable facts. It's a party so desperate for power that it will say anything, promise anything to get attention. It's a party so impotent that it has nothing to celebrate but defeats by smaller-than-expected margins.

What's sad is not just the state of the Democrats. It's the reality that the longer any party rules without a serious opposition, the less effective and more corrupt it will become. The mistakes of the Bush administration could have been ameliorated by an effective opposition that offered realistic, thoughtful alternatives that played a role in political debate and shaped policy and decision-making. Instead, we get blather like this, which deserves every bit of the scorn that the majority party has given it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sage Advice on Getting a PhD in a Theological Discipline

SWNID has few gentle readers. Fewer still will be interested in this post, but for them, it will be most valuable.

Gentle reader CLK has authored a most helpful essay on getting into a graduate school to receive a research degree a theological discipline even if one has attended an "unknown" institution previously. It's about as thorough and informed on the topic as such an essay could be. So the five of you gentle readers who are interested in this should follow the link.

Ds' "Strategy for Iraq": Photoshop Is Truer than Truth

We tip our hat to JB in CA for sending us this instructive photo.

Cincinnati: SWNID's Kind of Town, So What's Wrong?

Our gentle readers certainly know of our affection for our city of residence. Those who follow the local news also now know that the City of Cincinnati is losing population faster than any major city in the United States.

So how is it that Cincinnati is the city that SWNID loves but where no one wants to stay? Is this just another example of the general weirdness and utter nonconformity of SWNID?

First, to clarify for those unfamiliar with the details: the population decline is within the borders of the City of Cincinnati proper. The metro area is growing modestly, at a pace like that of many other medium-sized midwestern cities, which is to say slower than sunbelt cities. The "crisis" is within the boundaries of the city (though shared by some older suburbs in the area too).

In the local media, explanations for Cincinnati's precipitous decline in population have mostly run to (a) bad public schools; and (b) high crime.

We say that both of these are causes, but they are (a) largely matters of perception; and (b) perhaps not as significant as other, less interesting factors.

First, the perception of bad public schools. As we have explained before, with evidence both anecdotal and statistical, Cincinnati Public Schools, despite a troubled record overall, offer some of the best public educational opportunities in the country. You can argue whether in the Cincinnati metro area Wyoming High, Mariemont High or Sycamore High are better than Walnut Hills High, SCPA, Clark Montessori High or Dater High (aspiring to be the Westside Walnut), but the advantages of any one are so slight overall as to be inconsequential. The same can be said for the magnet elementary schools. We will say it again: the SWNID family proves that it's not hard to get a great education in CPS.

What has hurt the perception of CPS is the tendency of the media to report the bad news for the entire district and for parents, in turn, not to bother to investigate the particulars. The district has subtly aided this tendency. Not wanting to feed the perception that it favors the magnet schools (which by definition it must do), it tends not to vaunt their achievements.

We grant that it takes a modicum of effort to learn how to enroll in a good CPS school. But we stress that it is a modicum of effort. The SWNID family are not superheroes of bureaucratic manipulation for having identified and enrolled in good CPS schools. Neither are the thousands of other families who have done so.

So what has hurt CPS is the desire of many parents simply to move to a neighborhood, enroll their children in the one public school attended by all children in the neighborhood, and wait for graduation. Success with CPS requires making some informed choices and, often, doing some driving (though bus service is available to any CPS magnet elementary or high school from anywhere in the city). Many parents don't seem to care to do that. That's their business, but we are puzzled that some of those parents aren't attracted to school choice when they adhere to political philosophies of both the left and the right that advocate allowance of individual choice.

Now to the perception of high crime. Again, we believe that this is a matter of perception. Say what you will, in all the world crime tends to happen in economically deprived neighborhoods. People of means pay for the protection they need for their persons and possessions. Cincinnati is no exception. Crime is not high in Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale or Columbia Tusculum. It is high in Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Evanston and Avondale. It is on the rise in East Westwood and East Price Hill. It's not that great in some suburbs, either.

Anyone who refused to consider living in, say, Hyde Park because "crime in Cincinnati is high" is exercising statistically bad judgment. It's a stereotype as nonsensical as refusing to be treated by an African-American doctor because "blacks don't do as well in school as whites." However, our friends in real estate sales tell us of just such decisions made by their clients.

So these perceptions become realities in the choices that people make about where to live. But what are the other factors, not so widely discussed? We list those that we, a completely untrained and unqualified demographer and urban planner, have identified based on nothing other than our Seldom-Wrong gut instincts.

  • Aging housing stock. The City of Cincinnati has few single-family homes built after 1955 and hardly any built after 1965. Teardowns have been rare, and the topography of the region has left little land to fill in. The few who are interested in older homes are far outnumbered by those who like the design and amenities of new developments that are springing up in what used to be farmland at the edge of the metro area.
  • Low-quality housing stock. Older Cincinnati neighborhoods with lots of well-built, architecturally interesting houses are largely doing fine, thank you very much. Neighborhoods that aren't doing so well are filled with houses that weren't that great when they were built 80 years ago. The fact is that newer houses offer more convenience and more square feet than older ones, and many people can pay the price for them.
  • Oversupply of older, multi-family housing stock. Within the city limits, Cincinnati has oodles of older, smaller apartment buildings. These buildings that once were attractive to young couples, even some with a child or two, are now largely supplanted by inexpensive single-family homes in the exurbs. Cincinnati has a dismal percentage of owner-occupied housing units, but that has been largely a function of the units that exist. Why rent in the city when you can afford to buy in the suburbs?
  • Predatory lending practices. A number of marginal homes in Cincinnati have become the objects of usurious mortgages or rent-to-own contracts. "Investors" have purchased homes in undesirable neighborhoods, done superficial improvements, and then, in concert with unscrupulous lenders, sold or leased them at inflated prices with inflated interest rates to people new to home purchasing. The result has been a high number of foreclosures, which in turn fuel the cycle of usurious lending, which in turn puts more houses in the hands of landlords with little incentive to maintain their properties, which in turn leads homeowners to leave neighborhoods.
  • Redevelopment of the West End. Recent redevelopment of what had been public housing in the West End has displaced dozens of families. They have, in turn, received Section 8 housing vouchers and applied them to rent in homes and apartments that have cycled through the foreclosure-and-sale process noted above. Some neighborhoods (East Westwood and East Price Hill come to mind) are now have as concentrated a population of public-housing recipients as did the West End, defeating the whole purpose of the housing-voucher scheme to distribute recipients thinly across many, stable neighborhoods.
  • Balkanized city borders. All of the factors above, save the geographical specifics, can probably be found in other aging cities. One factor at work in Cincinnati is that the borders of the city proper are so narrow, putting nearly every part of the city in close proximity to something that isn't the city. Say, for example, a person wants to live near downtown because she works there. Few other cities have neighborhoods, like Newport and Covington, immediately bordering its downtown that are both ripe for redevelopment and are not part of the city itself. Some, like Indianapolis or Lexington, have gone through a consolidation of city and county government that obliterates the political distinction between the city and much of its suburbs. If Cincinnati had borders like those towns, the statistics would be very different.
  • Relatively easy commuting. Everyone hates I-75 and I-71. But the truth is, as urban freeways go, they aren't bad. Cincinnati commuters probably have less trouble getting to work than do their neighbors in Indianapolis, let alone folks in Chicago or Cleveland. As long as a tract home in the exurbs doesn't mean a 120-minute commute to the city center, there will be little incentive to invest in central-city redevelopment that brings people back to town.
  • The shrinking American household and growing American house. Fewer people live in a household in this country than at just about any time in the past. And they expect more square feet, no matter how many people are in the house with them. That has led to shrinking population density in all but a few cities that are constrained by geography (New York and San Francisco, both surrounded by water and massive suburbs, come to mind). For reasons noted above, this inexorable trend hits Cincinnati with a disproportionate statistical outcome.
So what's our advice to the city fathers (as if they were listening)?

  • Don't panic. We are not a worse city than Detroit. You wouldn't want to trade our problems for theirs, so mind your rhetoric and don't put in place some ill-conceived initiative just to appear to be doing something.
  • Reform lending practices. Ohio is overdue for reforms that will prevent the kind of predatory lending that has exacerbated urban decay. We applaud programs that legitimately help people buy their first home with little or no downpayment and little or no credit record. We scorn those who take advantage of the untutored homebuyer to create a likely foreclosure that can be flipped for usurious profit.
  • Speed redevelopment. The cities that Americans admire today (e.g., Chicago and New York) were built with near-arrogant disregard for what had been built previously. Cincinnati needs to get older properties bought up, torn down and rebuilt into something that will be useful for the next 100 years.
  • Reorganize local government. It's time that local politicians gave up their dinky fiefdoms and unified the city and county governments like other cities in our region. At the turn of the century, the Republican machine in New York was able to push through the state legislature a bill consolidating New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, formerly five municipalities, into the one city that we know today--and over the objections of the residents in the outlying boroughs. In the 1970s, Richard Lugar was able to get Indianapolis and Marion County to agree to "unigov" despite the fears of township residents. Today it may be the politicians more than the people who hold up the rationalization and consolidation of local government. That hold-up in turn holds up regional development.
  • Rewrite the city charter. The current debacle over hiring the city manager proves forever to the SWNIDish mind that Cincinnati has outgrown the city-manager form of government. We need a full-executive major and and expanded city council elected entirely from local districts. That's what all the successful cities in our republic have. We should drop our charterite pretentions and imitate them.
  • Shamelessly promote achievements attractive to the upper-middle class. The SWNIDs, subject to the genteel near-poverty induced by employment in Christian higher education, initially chose to live within the city out of economic necessity. But we discovered advantages of city life that have kept us there as our economic deprivation has marginally been ameliorated with time. Others who have the economic wherewithal to live anywhere in the metro area will need to know what amenities the city affords. The local media need to be full of stories about interesting and attractive homes, great parks, mature trees, easy commutes, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, excellent schools, unusal shops and restaurants, and interesting neighbors. That's the stuff that will honestly reel in a fair segment of the people with the means to live anywhere.
  • Build the stinkin' jail, for goodness' sake! Si Leis, we take back everything bad we ever said about you. Pat DeWine, you're now on our "never-vote-for-him-again" list. Pass the sales tax and build the jail, please! It's a county-wide issue, but the perception is that the crime is in the city alone. Nothing stops crime like locking up criminals. Now, please--before we really do become Detroit.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Another Stupid Suppression of Religious Speech

Thousands of Americans annually endure high school commencement speeches filled with cliches, tired moralistic bromides, and self-important adolescent blather. [Note to gentle readers: you may spare yourself the bother of posting the comment, "just like this blog."]

But annually, at least one high school decides that Christian religious speech cannot be tolerated in place of this oratorical pablum. Americans can endure sentiments too hokey for a Hallmark card. But they can't endure a statement of belief in Jesus.

This year, the case is at Foothill High School of Clark County, Nevada, near that bastion of American exceptionalism, Las Vegas. School officials redacted most religious references out of valedictorian Brittany McComb's speech, but she delivered them anyway. And in response, officials shut off her microphone during the speech.

Per the Las Vegas Review-Journal, school officials had consulted with an ACLU lawyer to distinguish between tolerable religious expression and proselytizing in their redaction of the speech. And they actually claim that the difference is obvious, even though, as anyone familiar with evangelical Christianity knows, any evangelical Christian self-expression has the conversion of others as one of its prime objectives (hence the term "evangelical"). Such careful and accurate philosophical distinctions are apparently all in a days work for America's highly trained, widely experienced and well-versed high school educators.

What's most egregious about this whole affair is that the Clark County School Board had adopted a clear policy that recognized student speeches at school-sponsored events as falling outside what would be recognized as a school-sponsored statement, thus allowing for free religious expression. The policy allowed further that school officials could offer a disclaimer before or after the speech to make that point clear. But officials decided instead simply to suppress McComb's statement.

We SWNIDishly refer to the school officials' action as "stupid" rather than "dangerous" or "unconstitutional" or "heathen" or some other more inflammatory term. Note well that it makes us mad. But we will deliberately suppress our natural anger and replace it with some condescending tongue-clucking. For the ACLU and every secularist involved in this sad affair, this was a tactically and strategically dumb move.

Had McComb given her speech as she wanted, it would have been heartening to those who share her faith, offensive to some who make a point of being offended by all things Christian, probably inconsequential to most (the majority who ignore the Christian message whenever it is presented), and perhaps provocative to a few who weren't Christian but wanted to listen.

But as it is, the experience was infuriating for the first group, still offensive for the second, incapable of being ignored by the third, and even more provocative for the fourth. The ACLU and their NEA lackeys in Clark County look petty and totalitarian, while McComb, her Christian friends and Biola University, where she will attend, have a platform that will last for months.

And the ACLU is too entrenched in its habits to recognize otherwise.

Not that this should surprise us. Readers of some ancient literature are familiar with this kind of outcome. We refer to such ancient literature as Matthew 13 Acts 7-12.

This is one of the ways that Christians have the advantage over their opponents in the ACLU and such. We start by knowing all the true stories. They try to avoid them.

So with this observation, we conclude with yet another condescending cluck of the tongue. Tsk-tsk, ACLU! We pity you fools.

Condi to SBC: If Not the USA, Then Who?

A transcript of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's address to the Southern Baptist Convention is available here. It is a most exceptional, personal, clear and moving articulation of an American theo-conservative political viewpoint that one can imagine.

We will not attempt a summary or offer a pull-quote. Gentle readers simply must read the speech in its entirety.

But we will ask a rhetorical question: aside from her lack of personal ambition for the job, is there anything that makes Ms. Rice something other than the best imaginable POTUS in January 2009?

Still More Barone: Why the Debates Are "Divisive"

Once again we draw our gentle readers' attention to the latest column from political almanacker Michael Barone, nearly our only source of current-events commentary lately.

Even Barone is largely repeating himself in this entry, noting that the much-heralded demise of Bush and the Rs is not taking shape. But we link this one to point out this key bit of analysis:

Senate and House Republicans last week staged debates over whether to pull out of Iraq now or stay on. Democrats complained that these were meaningless debates aimed (as they said the debates on the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages were) at dividing voters. But on these issues it is the Democrats -- their officeholders and their voters -- who are divided, while the Republicans, with a few exceptions, are all on one side.

We will take that marvelously significant point a couple of steps further:

  • Insofar as Ds are united on such issues, they are united against the majority of opinion among the electorate. Yet they cannot abandon their positions, as those who bankroll their campaigns care only about these issues. What Ds resent is the public exposure that these debates bring to their unpopular positions.
  • More widely, and more obviously, it's absurd to complain that a "debate" is "divisive." The very point of holding a debate is to decide a point on which people are divided. The effect of the Ds "don't ask, don't tell" stance on all "divisive" issues is to leave the republic in a dysfunctional condition of never acknowledging any differences of opinion in the body politic. And since there need be no debate on points of agreement, what the Ds call for is really the end of political discourse altogether.
  • The Ds might insist that they declare debates on such issues "divisive" because such debates do not at present lead to the passing of legislation on these issues. Hence, they are just for political "show." But the rejoinder is clear enough: political "show" is important. Voters need to know exactly where each party stands so that they can elect legislators who will resolve these issues as the voters want. Lincoln and Douglas staged debates, not a show of national unity. This, of course, is what the Ds fear: that in November they will be electorally defeated into an even smaller minority because voters want something other than their positions on these "divisive" issues.

But don't worry, gentle readers. Even if the Ds prevail in their quixotic quest to silence all who dispute their unpopular, ill-informed and illogical positions, this blogger will remain on duty. At least as long as Michael Barone keeps writing columns that are Seldom Wrong.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Dionne Manages Reasonable Analysis of SBC Election

Southern Baptists have elected a convention president, Frank Page, slightly out of the mold of their established leadership for the last twenty years. And amazingly enough, E. J. Dionne of the WaPo offers a reasonable analysis of the significance of this event.

He quotes Page as follows:
"I believe in the word of God,'' Page said. "I'm just not mad about it.''

Then Dionne opines:

The mellowing of evangelical Christianity may well be the big American religious story of this decade.

We're all for that, and amazed that Dionne picked up on it.

Goldberg Gives Indignant Ranting a Good Name

As an east-coast conservative of the second generation, Jonah Goldberg has by necessity learned and practiced much patience.

But today he lost it. And he should have

Yesterday the WaPo ran an article claiming that the Iraqi government was considering limited amnesty to insurgents, something that governments often do to end internal strife (recall, for instance, Lincoln's second inaugural address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all ...").

But that's not the cause of Goldberg's rage. What blew his stack was the parade of Ds, having for months called for an unconditional and immediate retreat from Iraq, who expressed outrage that the blood of US soldiers would be dishonored by such a move.

So here are a few of Goldberg's artfully and rabidly indignant words of rejoinder:

Look: Bugging out of Iraq is the greatest amnesty possible because it’s the only way the men who’ve shed American blood can not only get off scot-free but actually win the war. But that is precisely what Democrats want to do. These guys talk about how the sacrifices of American troops would be “devalued” by amnesty, but they see no devaluation of such sacrifice in surrender. They say they don’t want to “reward” those who spilled American blood through amnesty.
But amnesty is the consolation prize. It is the set of steak knives and coupon to Chuck E. Cheese’s of rewards. Chasing the infidel American crusaders out of Iraq is the jackpot. And that is precisely what the Democrats are for.

This sanctimony is so dishonest it stews the bowels. Most of these Democrats have denounced America’s decision to disband the Iraqi military after the toppling of Saddam. Those Iraqis fired on Americans and now they comprise the bulk of the insurgents. These Democrats wanted to keep many, if not most, of the same fighters in uniform and give them the color of authority in Iraq — not send them off to be ditch diggers and taxi drivers under some amnesty plan. They wanted them to command troops!

As it turns out, the WaPo got it wrong. There's no amnesty plan.

But there's even less of a plan of any kind among the Democrats for the prosecution of the war. If anything proves that, their performance on this matter does.

Just in Time for Father's Day

For Father's Day our good friends at the Atlantic Monthly have posted a vintage piece by ace humorist Ian Frazier. "Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father" should be read by anyone with an interest in or experience with fatherhood, the Bible or general amusement, all of which are part of the SWNID existence.

Wait Long Enough and Michael Barone Will Do SWNID's Work

We haven't blogged much lately, owing to the relaxed rhythm's of the early summer, a surprising flurry of professionally required activity, and most recently by our sojourning with our parents and partaking of their more leisurely, retired pace of life.

But as it turns out, Michael Barone has written what we would have written, namely, a summary of all the good-for-conservatives, bad-for-liberals news of the last several days.

Barone notes that the left has been pining for a reprise of Vietnam in Iraq and Watergate in Plamegate. Now the worst has happened for both: we've had yet another signal victory in Iraq, and Evil Genius Karl Rove is officially not a target of indictment.

We have little to add, except that these developments continue to reinforce that the Ds will need more than bad times and complaints to change the balance of government in November. The recent conclave of "progressives" in Washington, where Hillary was roundly booed for her position on Iraq and John Kerry was widely characterized as a "moderate," plus the congressional debates on Iraq policy that have revealed the Ds' utter lack of an alternative strategy except to quit and go home, have underlined all the more the likelihood that the Rs will prevail on all fronts.

But we also add this: an answer to Barone's closing rhetorical question:

The pursuit of Karl Rove by the left and the press has been just the latest episode in the attempted criminalization of political differences. Is there any hope that it might turn out to be the last?

Answer: No. They have nothing else to do.

Monday, June 12, 2006

SWNID Policy on Bribes Articulated

Today in the mail delivered to our office we received a modest parcel from an anonymous reader of this blog. Concerned that it might contain weaponized anthrax powder, we nevertheless opened the parcel. In fact it contained two handsome, white t-shirts, size L, with silkscreened Cincinnati Public Schools logos.

Receipt of these items prompts us to articulate our policy regarding bribery:

It is the policy of this blogger enthusiastically to accept any and all cash, securities, real property, merchandise, or services offered by any reader or non-reader in the attempt to influence the contents of this blog, provided that possession of said items or receipt of said services do not constitute a legal or moral offense. We will, however, adamantly refuse to fulfill any demands or expectations for quid pro quo by way of altered content or opinions on this blog.

So we will wear the t-shirts with pride. Certainly they are appropriate for such tasks as cutting the grass, washing the car, cleaning the house, and other manual, repetitive chores appropriate to the intellectual and vocational attainments that many (perhaps including the giver of these shirts?) ascribe to graduates of the Cincinnati Public Schools.

SWNID Letter in Enquirer

The Enquirer has published our letter protesting its rush to judgment on Mayor Mallory's sensible recommendation of a single candidate for city manager. We cannot supply a link, as the paper's web site doesn't seem to display the same letters as those in its print edition.

But that's just as well. Our local morning paper asks for letters of less than 100 words. We submitted 97, which were in turn reduced to about 85. Fortunately, the substance of our argument was retained, as was the integrity of our grammar. Lost was a bit of rhetorical decoration (attention Enquirer editors: parallelism is an effective, time-honored device). But gentle readers of this blog have already read our bloviation on this issue, verbiage and all. The letter was simply seeking a wider public for our, ahem, wisdom.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Barone Affirms SWNID Again on CA50

The indispensable Michael Barone has weighed in on the by-election for California's 50th Congressional District, and, as usual, he has affirmed the Seldom-Wrongness of this blogger's opinions and prognostications.

The awful news for Ds was that they couldn't do better in this district than they have in the past two presidential elections, despite having a major scandal and an unpopular war to run against, and lots of dough to run with.

But Barone adds this: the Rs should watch out, as two right-wing, third-party candidates siphoned their votes. Barone rightly notes that such candidates will have a greater handicap in the general election. But they can pose problems nevertheless.

Some conservatives--angry about immigration, spending, and even the flaccid prosecution of the war--are ready to vote their "principles." To do so in significant numbers will merely assure that their principles have no place in the real political process.

So we say to all conservatives who contemplate third-party moves, look to history. Since the formation of political parties in our republic, third parties have gone nowhere. It took the utter dissolution of the Whigs to make way for the anti-slavery, pro-land-reform Republicans to rise like the noble Phoenix from their ashes. Since then, the best way to marginalize one's influence has been to run under an independent banner.

The best a third-party candidate has done is to throw the election to the mainstream candidate least like himself. Bull Moose candidate TR got Wilson elected over his former protege Taft in 1912. He didn't even influence his party away from pro-business conservatism and back toward his own progressivism, as it proceeded to nominate and elect Harding, Coolidge (blessed be his name!) and Hoover after the Wilson era.

Politics is about coalitions and compromise. Those who want ideological purity should try blogging.

Instead of looking for a third-party conservative, conservatives should do everything they can to encourage Cindy Sheehan or Ralph Nader or Al Gore or Jack Murtha or Bobby Kennedy, Jr. or a yellow dog to run as the third-party antiwar candidate on the left of Hillary. Saddle the enemy with the third-party problem. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Please, please, please remember this: a vote for a splinter conservative in 2008 is a vote for Hillary. How would that square with conservative principles?

Hitch Gives Zarqawi a Fitting Obituary

On Slate, Chris Hitchens has a brilliant analysis of the significance of al-Zarqawi's death. In short, he notes the foolishness of those who see him as less than significant, the importance that he may have had a rift with bin Laden, and the devastating effect to Iran that his death and the intelligence bonanza that accompanies it may have.

We give his closing, as a teaser:

If we had withdrawn from Iraq already, as the "peace" movement has been demanding, then one of the most revolting criminals of all time would have been able to claim that he forced us to do it. That would have catapulted Iraq into Stone Age collapse and instated a psychopathic killer as the greatest Muslim soldier since Saladin. As it is, the man is ignominiously dead and his dirty connections a lot closer to being fully exposed. This seems like a good day's work to me.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Taxonomy of John Murtha

Much has been said about Congressman John Murtha, who has been routinely characterized as pro-military or pro-defense even while making repeated and ever-more-outrageously defeatist pronouncements about the Iraq War.

We've said little because we've found Murtha's position to be unstimulating and uninfluential. And we don't want to spend any more of our precious time on him. But we do have an intuition that we invite a more industrious soul to take up.

Why is it that Murtha can be called "pro-military" on the basis of his pre-Iraq record, and yet for the last six months he has done nothing but call for immediate withdrawal? Why the seeming turnabout.

We say that there is no turnabout. Based on nothing but our SWNIDish gut, we say that Murtha is the equivalent of a military union boss, and that this explains everything.

Murtha is not pro-military in the sense that he believes that the US armed forces can and should be wisely deployed to protect and advance the national interest and the cause of democracy. He is pro-military in the sense that he wants to get the best deal possible for enlisted men in the armed forces. That means better pay, better conditions, and--critically--few deployments. No deployments would be ideal.

We urge an ambitious researcher to study Murtha's voting record and public pronouncements prior to the Iraq War. We believe that it will reveal firm support for pay and benefit increases, enthusiasm for recruitment, criticism of senior military leadership, and skeptical caution about deployment. For Murtha, the military is a federal jobs program, and enlisted men are his union members. The idea is to get the most money for the most people doing the least work.

Or so we think. We could be wrong, though seldom, by definition.

Someone please check out Murtha's record. There's a doctoral dissertation in this idea, or at least an article.

From Civil War to Martyrdom: MSM Again Wrong on Future in Iraq

Some time ago we heaped scorn on the MSM's iteration that Iraq is headed inexorably toward civil war. That trope has passed, it seems.

But today, with the death of al-Zarqawi and what will likely be largely the dissolution of his insurgency, they've found another. Reuters does it thus (emphasis inserted):

The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi removes the man who took Iraq's insurgency to new heights of savagery but it also creates a martyr whose inspiration will mobilize new recruits.

So we dust off the SWNIDish scorn and say that al-Zarqawi will be as much a martyr as Uday and Qusay were when US forces put their insides on the outside. Martyrs aren't insurgency leaders who lose. They're principled individuals who refuse to forsake a cause even when captured and challenged with the threat of death to forsake the cause. Like the seven sons of 2 Maccabees 7. Or Stephen. Or Polycarp. Or Jesus (for whom, we hasten to add, martyrdom is a partially useful but wholly inadequate category of description).

We doubt that the picture of al-Zarqawi's corpse will inspire anyone in the Middle East who isn't already committed whole-hog to Islamofascism (sorry, but we love that ironic turn of cliche). Further, we believe that his death will discourage several who were previously so devoted, with a net loss to the bad guys.

Then, when you subtract the direct loss of personnel today and the prospective losses effected in today's raids by capturing massive numbers of documents, computers, PDAs and cell phones, the remainder means a really, really bad day for the Muslim gangsters.

John Dillinger did not become a martyr. None of the guys memorialized here did either. So it will be for the guy killed today.

Why the Likes of Zarqawi Must Die

Per the AP:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq who waged a bloody campaign of beheadings and suicide bombings, was killed when U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on his isolated safehouse, officials said Thursday.

A bunch of his bad-guy associates are dead too.

We, with gentle reader Guy Named Courtney plus billions of other human beings, are glad. We congratulate the US military and intelligence personnel who managed this signal accomplishment. And we wish them the best in their ongoing efforts to hunt down and kill major bad guys.

Why should someone who believes the gospel of Jesus celebrate the violent death of anyone?

Because some people kill other people who shouldn't be killed, and they will keep doing it unless they are killed themselves. That's the reality of a sinful world.

In the past we have stated that pacifism is more deadly than the prosecution of just wars. We believe that this event epitomizes that reality.

Let's anticipate a rejoinder or two:

  • But the killings in Iraq will go on. Yes, probably so. But these guys won't be doing it. And perhaps some others will gather a clue from their remains and knock off the wanton murder.
  • It was our warlike policies that drove them to it. If that's true, we still have to respond. But in this case, we believe that the recent events regarding Canada and Russia indicate otherwise.
  • The injuries to innocent civilians in a just war are worse than the evil done by the people against whom just war is made. Stipulating that hindsight reveals a number of steps by which the administration might have lessened the present chaos in Iraq, we will dispute that assertion on statistical grounds: by the most generously anti-American estimates, Saddam killed more people per year than this war has.

A Better Marriage Amendment

So the constitutional amendment defining marriage as marriage didn't get through a cloture vote yesterday. This is, of course, no surprise, though major news outlets describe it as a huge defeat for President Chimpy and his Fascist cronies.

Time will tell whether the amendment will prove helpful to conservatives in November, or will ever pass the Senate, let alone be adopted by the states, or will even prove necessary after the Defense of Marriage Act and multiple state initiatives defining marriage as marriage.

But in the meantime, the Essential Christian Conservative Satirist Scott Ott (we begrudgingly bestow this title on him, as we deem even ourselves unworthy in light of his longstanding consistency as a sarcastic blogger) has posted a response that deserves to be filed for future reference by homileticians, ethicists, solemnizers of weddings, and thoughtful married and would-be married people.

Excerpting it would diminish it. Follow the link, if you know what's good for you.

Mallory Versus Council: Reminds SWNID of Church, Reality TV

So Cincinnati Mayor and SWNIDish neighbor Mark Mallory has presented a single candidate for city manager to the Cincinnati City Council. And four council members have held a press conference to accuse Mallory of violating the city charter by not presenting multiple candidates. Hence, they pledge to vote no.

As the mayor himself has implied, the council members' objection has to do with their strained interpretation of the city charter. The charter reads:
The mayor shall appoint the city manager upon an affirmative vote of five members of the council following the mayor's recommendation for appointment. Prior to the vote, the mayor shall seek the advice of council, to include the opportunity for council to interview the candidates considered by the mayor. Should the council not approve the recommendation of the mayor, the mayor may submit another recommendation or institute a new search.

Mallory notes, with the support of the city solicitor (chief legal counsel to the city), that the charter is more naturally interpreted as implying that the council should interview as many candidates as the mayor should present for consideration, whether one or several. The plural is descriptive, not proscriptive. He notes further that after a nationwide search, he had identified two candidates, one of which removed himself from consideration. So he has one and only one candidate.

We ask the following questions, and we supply the Seldom-Wrong answers too:
  • Was the previous city manager, Valerie Lemmie, chosen from multiple candidates presented by Mayor Luken to council? We recall that this was not the case.
  • Are there other areas of government in which the executive presents multiple candidates to the legislative body for their pick of the best one? We believe not.
  • Should we expect an outstanding candidate for city manager to submit to a beauty contest judged by a political body, or should we expect such a candidate to demand the mayor's singular support in recommending him or her to that body? We expect the latter.
  • Can Cincinnati expect anything other than trivial bickering between the council and mayor as long as (a) the city charter has not completely located executive power in the city in the mayor's office; (b) council members are all elected at large and so have no responsibility except to promote themselves by making issues where none exist? We expect nothing else, and so call for yet another charter revision to eliminate the city manager, make the mayor a true "strong mayor," and elect many more members of council, all from individual districts in the city, giving those council members a real constituency to represent.
  • Four votes are a minority of the five-vote council. Laketa Cole, not a member of the Gang of Four, has stated that she objects to the process so far but will judge the candidate on his merits. Will she vote for or against the candidate? We say that Cole will vote yes, as she has much more to gain politically by leveraging a yes for more power with the mayor and a positive image with the public than with a no that merges her into the obstructionist opposition.
  • Who is the biggest disappointment on city council? That's easy: Leslie Ghiz. She's been on the wrong side of casinos and now the utterly wrong side of this appointment. We can't wait for the next election so that we can vote against her.
We've been through too many ministerial appointments in churches to miss what's going on here. A church needs a minister. Its elders (or whatever it calls its senior leaders) present a candidate to the congregation. The perpetually dissatisfied complain that they have only one candidate to consider and demand multiple candidates. Their demand has nothing to do with what's right or best for the church and everything to do with asserting personal power.

In those rare cases where the senior leaders cave to such pressure, good candidates for the position withdraw, not wanting to submit to such a process, let alone to begin serving a church as the survivor of a popularity contest. The only candidates who will submit to such nonsense are those desperate enough to take anything.

The church that turns its staff selection process into such a circus is doomed. So is the city that does it. Who wants to work for such a place? Those with a memory longer than five years will recall at least two Cincinnati city managers who left the job specifically because of mircomanagment from members of council.

The city council Gang of Four watches too much TV. They want to turn the selection of a city manager into American Idol, Survivor, or The Apprentice. But this voter doesn't want the likes of Simon Cowell or Donald Trump running Our Fair City.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Max Boot on Haditha

SWNID has hesitated to offer a judgment on the alleged atrocities in Haditha. Now we don't need to, as the superbly named Max Boot has done better with the subject than we could have done on even our best days.

Boot, his history degree well-employed, points out that (a) all anti-insurgencies have had atrocities; (b) these have not been as decisive as other matters in the outcome of the wars in question. What matters is winning.

In sum, Boot concludes:

Victory diminishes the significance of war crimes; defeat magnifies them into defining events.

A Chance for Cincinnati to Play It Straight

The ominous date 6/6/6 also presented a welcome opportunity for Cincinnati voters to do local government the right way, by taxing themselves for needed services.

Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich announced an initiative to raise the Hamilton County sales tax by .25% to finance construction of a much-needed new jail. More surprising for the politically solo (or irritating and divisive, depending on one's perspective) Heimlich was that he had assembled a coalition of support for the plan, including Si Leis (who apparently would sell his children to get a jail) and Municipal-Uncle-Pennybags Carl Lindner (will the new facility be the "Lindner Family Detention Center"?).

Even the perpetually-against-everything organization COAST came out in favor of the tax hike. State Representative and COAST spokesman Tom Brinkman (R-Math Impairment) intoned, "This is not a sales tax increase. It's a property tax reduction."

Yes, the plan will roll back property taxes by $28 per year on a $100k house. So if a person living is such a house spent less than $11,200 per year on sales-taxable goods, that person would experience a savings. We doubt that many will, especially in Brinkman's tony Mt. Lookout district. We wonder whether Rep. Brinkman bothered to think how a tax reduction would pay for a jail. Really, we wonder whether he expects to have any credibility with his supposedly consistent anti-tax rhetoric after coming out in favor of a tax increase to support a project that he likes.

So who wins and who loses with this? Heimlich wins, proving himself to be able to get something done as a county commissioner. David Pepper, Heimlich's opponent in November, loses big time, left insisting on a sleazy slots parlor to pay for a jail instead of an honest and modest sales tax increase with a more modest property tax roll-back in the mix. Todd Portune, who will likely vote against the initiative, loses, as he ends up on the sleazy side too. The Broadway Commons casino cabal loses really big time. Criminals will lose too. Citizens win.

And if this measure passes, we might take back all the nasty things we said about Si Leis. Maybe.

So Much Good News on 6/6/6

Yesterday's political developments were so positive for the Republican party, mostly detailed here by the AP, that one wonders whether Karl Rove really is the antichrist.

So here's how 666 = GOP:
  • The Republican prevailed in the election to replace felon Duke Cunningham in California's 50th Congressional district. The AP says that he won "narrowly." But the margin with 90% of precincts reporting was 5%, hardly narrow by most electoral measures. This race, in our SWNIDish judgment, demonstrates that the Ds will be unable to capitalize on "Republican corruption" and midterm dissatisfaction with Bush as long as they have nothing but weak candidates and a base that is only motivated by a message that alienates the center of the electorate. Ds are left claiming again, as they did with Paul Hackett's loss to Jean Schmidt, that losing by less than usual is an important development. Such is their miserable plight.
  • Meanwhile, in Alabama, Republican incumbent governor Bob Riley clobbered Judge Roy Moore, famous for his 10 Commandments World Tour. This proves that even in the Deep South, voters know the difference between a real conservative and an opportunist who tries to pimp religion. As always, we are happy to note our prediction of Moore's failure.
  • Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Rs have chosen a candidate with the potential to steal a seat in the Senate from the Ds.
  • Meanwhile, in Iowa, the Rs have chosen a candidate with the potential to win the governor's mansion from the Ds.
  • Meanwhile, it appears that RINO Snarlin' Arlen Specter has reached an accord with the Bush White House not to hold a pointless series of Senate hearings (i.e. media show trial with disturbing potential to reveal necessarily classified information) on NSA domestic surveillance in exchange for Bush's support of legislation setting up court oversight of the program. As this move is completed, the Ds will lose yet another issue for November. And, we hasten to add modestly, the Congress will finally have listened to our sage advice on this subject.

Day of the Beast?

Note: We attempted to upload this post yesterday afternoon, but we could not establish a connection to the site. Hmm!

Well, it's nearly 2 p.m. EDT (a.k.a. "God's Time Zone"), and the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year is looking singularly unapocalyptic. Unless, that is, you want to count that last night (when it was 6/6/6 in Japan) Son of SWNID's Japanese-made car would not start and inexplicably locked itself with the keys inside. Or that Son of SWNID, in the same Japanese car, was this morning caught in traffic for three hours after a horrendous accident on I-71. Or that SWNID was awakened in the wee smalls with intense knee pain, owing to overexertion in middle age but largely mollified by naproxin sodium and a hot water bottle.

Of course, the Apocalypse may not be just about the SWNID family. God may have a wider circle of interest. So it might include the rest of the United States, at least. So consider that the remake of The Omen opened today to mixed reviews. Makes you think, sort of.

For those genuinely interested in the mark of the beast, we recommend perusing the site of Felix Just, a fine Neutestamentler of the Jesuit persuasion at the University of San Francisco. Just (say "Yoost") has compiled a clever list of number-of-the-beast subspecies (in circulation for some time, but this may be the most complete edition), plus an excellent explanation of the sense of 666 in Revelation 13. We offer a quotation for our gentle readers' interest (emphasis inserted):

As a biblical scholar and Catholic priest, I think trying to predict the future is a misuse of the Bible. Biblical prophecy is not about crystal-ball gazing into the future. Rather, prophets of the Bible are those who speak on behalf of God, conveying God's messages to people, interpreting the past, present, and future through God's eyes, so to speak. Biblical prophets call people to repent and to remain faithful to God, not to worry about when the world will end or who is the "beast" of the Book of Revelation.
We will go further than Just and call trying to predict the future in the manner of Christian media-mongers and manipulators an act of blasphemy in which one claims to know more than Jesus did. Take that, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, David Reagan and all others of your exploitive dispensationalist ilk!

And for those so inclined, this site remains one of our personal favorites: Is David Hasselhof the Antichrist?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Indonesian Earthquake Update

IDES, whose disaster relief work has been consistently promoted on this blog, is already in the process of sending significant funds to meet immediate needs in Indonesia after the earthquake. Supplies purchased will be distributed by Christian missionaries in the area, and medical teams from elsewhere in southeast Asia are flying in to assist with ongoing needs.

However, the organization will seriously cramp its ability to respond to other needs if it sends all that can be used right away. And after the immediate response, there will be a need for rebuilding. More donations are needed.

Here's that address again:

International Disaster Emergency Service
PO Box 60
Kempton, IN 46049-0060

In November, Remember Who Said It and What It Means

As President Bush used the weekend to promote a constitutional amendment to define marriage as monogamous and heterosexual, the Other Party responded with its characteristic ability to stay clearly on message. That is, everyone said the same thing.

The key turn of phrase: This amendment would write discrimination into the Constitution.

Note the implication: defining marriage as between a man and a woman, as it has been done by all the major monotheistic religions for centuries (sorry, Joseph Smith, but your religion doesn't qualify, at least until just prior to Utah's statehood) is inherently discriminatory.

This apparently is how the Democrats intend to win back the family-values voter.

We urge all social conservatives among our gentle readers (if we haven't made you so mad that you've quit reading) to remember this come November and decide whether you can hold your nose long enough to vote for the party that doesn't think time-honored, foundational human relationships are inherently evil.

No Neutrality in Global War on Terror/Islamofascism

America's quiet neighbor to the north has arrested seventeen of its citizens and legal residents on charges that they were trying to obtain several tons of ammonium nitrate to make a bomb. All have roots in south Asia and ties to a single mosque in the Toronto suburbs.

Meanwhile, America's former Cold-War archenemy has suffered the kidnapping of four of its diplomats in Baghdad.

Neither Canada nor Russia has been noteworthy for its involvement in Iraq or its support of Israel. Far from it. But both have now been targeted by Islamic extremists.

Presumably the Russians might have been kidnapped in protest against Russia's war in Chechnya, or to pressure Russia not to deal with Iran's Shiite mullahs, or to deal even more kindly with Iran's Shiite mullahs. All kinds of root causes can be offered for that move that almost seem politically reasonable.

For Canada, presumably the terrorists were upset that Carolina might win the Stanley Cup over Edmonton. We certainly can't assume that these men simply want the Queen removed from the stamps and money and sharia law imposed on the happy, diverse Canadian population.

But one thing's for sure: there's no place to hide. Nations that choose appeasement will get war. Those that prosecute the war vigorously will prevail.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Indonesian Earthquake Update

We have this brief update from the International Disaster Emergency Service staff:

We have heard from several contacts in Indonesia since the earthquake. We have been made aware of many friends and family members of faculty and students at one of our Bible Colleges who have lost lives or are homeless due to the earthquake. Please keep this tragic situation in your prayers. IDES will be sending funds to aid in the relief there.

Paper checks as still a good way to give. Write "Indonesian earthquake" on the memo line. Send them to:

International Disaster Emergency Service
PO Box 60
Kempton, IN 46049-0060

Meanwhile, here's a summary of some early responses from Christian groups.

Professor Sowell Conducts Leftist-Recovery Seminar

Public intellectual and contrarian curmudgeon Thomas Sowell has posted four consecutive columns entitled, "Preserving the Liberal Vision." For those who think that "liberal" (allowing, creating and preserving freedom for all people) equals "leftist" or "socialist," Sowell provides the antidote.

We won't presume to summarize or excerpt these masterful essays by a master essayist. We will simply link them for our gentle readers' edification:

Here is part one.

And part two.

And part three.

And part four.