Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Morning Update on Jesus Tomb

First, an endorsement. We like the NPR report this morning on James Cameron's news conference and scholarly reaction to the claims therein. Audio will be available after 10 a.m. ET.

Second, a clarification. Our initial posting on this subject was full of ad hominem remarks. We regret this but insist nevertheless that it was entirely necessary given the circumstances, namely, the calculated "teasing" of the story with an announcement of radical conclusions without introduction of the supporting evidence. On Sunday night, all anyone could do to comment on the case was to offer an evaluation of the persons involved and speculate about the nature of their involvement based on a general evaluation of their scholarship.

That's why serious scholarly findings and hypotheses aren't introduced in this way, for those who wonder. It is how a certain P. T. Barnum made his living, however. Sadly, no one ever got rich writing articles for peer-reviewed journals.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More Jesus Tomb

Here are some additional links, for those with an inclination, on the Jesus Tomb Circus:

First, James Tabor has offered his justification for seeing the hypothesis as plausible. He promises fleshing out in days to come.

Second, Ben Witherington offers a nice review of the situation, including some reflection on Tabor's apparent switching of positions on this matter.

Third, Darrell Bock offers some analysis similar to Witherington's.

All should note the importance of mega-scholar Richard Bauckham to the whole matter of using the frequency of Jewish names for analyzing the significance of the Talpiot Tomb. We once again acknowledge with gratitude the enormity of his erudition, applied judiciously to many important matters.

Queen Nancy's Daughter Does Jesus Camp One Better

USA Today provides today a platform for Don Feder to sound off about the latest documentary film from Nancy Pelosi's daughter Alexandra. Entitled Friends of God, the film, per Feder, a la the Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp, is a collocation of the weirdest elements of evangelical and pentecostal Christianity.

We cite the article mostly for the chance to cast more aspersion on our Monarchical Speaker of the House, whose non-binding resolutions bring instant peace and justice to the evil world. But here's a Feder remark that we love:

It's the tried-and-true technique of filmmakers with an agenda — find the most embarrassing and absurd examples of whatever you want to lampoon and get them on camera.

We totally agree. In the immortal words of the most learned Jacob Neusner, "We have our kooks; you have your kooks. We don't want to trade our kooks for your kooks."

But we'll add one more moral exhortation, which we offer despite our belief that as long as there are people, there will be kooks:
Please, all who claim to follow Jesus: stop doing stupid stuff in his name.

So Says History: Rs Pick Pres Early, Ds Dither

We thank yet another gentle reader for linking us to a helpful AP article that notes what history might tell us about current presidential polls. The upshot is that Republicans tend to get behind their frontrunner early, while Democratic frontrunners often get swept away as the campaign develops. Not surprising to SWNID, it seems that Rs are engaged in thinking about their choices long before Ds get around to it.

In sum, this means that Rudy is a likely lock while Hillary might be in for a rough ride. And certainly, the tendency of the party of McGovern and Church to punish those who step outside of its pacifist orthodoxy, even for a moment, doesn't help her.

Still, we'll bet on the Clinton shredding machine to make so much human confetti of The Matron's intra-party opposition. But we'll expect further that such a campaign will leave her temperamental party disillusioned and independent voters offended for the general election, bruising her prospects further.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lost Tomb of Jesus = Lost Integrity of Scholarship

Gentle reader "Sleepless in Cincinnati" has asked us to weigh in on the announcement from the Discovery Channel of the airing of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," a film which purports to identify as the tomb of Jesus a tomb recently discovered in Jerusalem.

We hesitate, of course, to offer an opinion on something that we haven't seen, especially since, living in a cable-and-satellite-free household, we probably won't see it. But we will make the following observations nevertheless.

The "discovery" is that there is a tomb near Jerusalem that held ten ossuaries (stone boxes containing the bones of deceased persons, per the custom of the time and place retrieved from tombs after the flesh had decayed away). Six of these ossuaries have names on them. The names match up with the names of persons in the Gospels. And a statistician has apparently concluded that this combination of names is unlikely unless the tomb belonged to Jesus' family.

We note first of all the following quotation from the Discovery Channel's web site:

All leading epigraphers agree about the inscriptions. All archaeologists confirm the nature of the find. It comes down to a matter of statistics. A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

Let's note what that actually means:
  • "All leading epigraphers agree about the inscriptions." That is to say, they agree that the inscriptions on the ossuaries in the tomb have the names that they have.
  • "All archaeologists confirm the nature of the find." That is to say, they all agree that this is an authentic Jewish tomb with authentic Jewish ossuaries from the Second Temple period, perhaps offering even a bit more chronological precision than that to identify the ossuaries as from the first century of the common era.
  • "It comes down to a matter of statistics." That is to say, we're offering a statistical argument as the only means of identifying this tomb as belonging to Jesus' family.
  • "A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters. . ." That is to say, there's no objectivity whatsoever to the statistical study. Discovery and C4 would not have paid for a statistical study that drew a negative. Trust this study like environmentalists trust studies commissioned by oil companies. Look carefully in the show for phrases describing the statistical work like, "according to the assumptions of this study," which will acknowledge that what's important are not the statistics but the assumptions used to set them up.
Now, let's say something about the personnel. Though it includes its share of for-profit purveyors of the sensational, the team of "filmmakers and experts" includes accomplished scholars. Francois Bovon is a widely respected scholar of Luke-Acts and of the apocryphal Acts. Shimon Gibson is an real archaeologist famous for his discovery of a cave containing paintings that appear to depict John the Baptist. James Tabor is a famous author who chairs the prestigious University of North Carolina at Charlotte religious studies department.

However, and this is a big however, Gibson has largely lost his credibility in the scholarly world for his outrageous identification of the cave with the John the Baptist paintings as the locale of John's ministry. There is nothing, of course, to suggest this conclusion except the paintings, and everything to suggest that the paintings merely were made by followers of John or even followers of Jesus who respected John. The uniform evidence of all ancient texts that discuss John locate his activity at the Jordan, and Gibson's discovery does nothing to challenge that. However, simply discovering some important ancient paintings does little to get the archaeologist in the public eye, or to make the money that comes from popular-level publication of such "discoveries." Hence, Gibson compromised his scholarship on a previous occasion, and he looks set to do it again.

The same may be said for Tabor. His publications have drifted toward the sensationalistic, the most recent, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, clearly an effort to cash in on the obscene profits associated with the Da Vinci Code.

Bovon's involvement frankly puzzles us. We are not surprised that the good folks at Discovery and C4 wanted someone with Bovon's panache (Harvard chair, distinguished scholarship, cool continental accent). We expect further that they paid him lots of dough. We have utter respect for Bovon's meticulous command of primary and secondary sources, but we will say as well that his original interpretive work, as opposed to his summary and synthesis of others' work, has tended toward eccentricity and as a result has held little influence among scholars of any ideological persuasion. He is, in other words, the person that other scholars rely on to bring together a lot of information on his specialty, not to offer judicious conclusions about it. We will not be surprised if Bovon was coaxed into some guarded statements that, edited with the more outrageous claims of Gibson and Tabor, move the discussion along in the intended sensationalistic path. Neither will we be surprised if he offered some really odd conclusions based on what he saw of the data. He's done that kind of thing before.

Most notable is that there is utterly no scholarly counterpoint included in the project, unless Bovon is that counterpoint. Responsible programs of this kind would include scholars who have examined the same evidence and come to different conclusions, if such can be found. We guarantee that scholarly conclusions different from the ones implied on the program web site could be found almost anywhere that such matters are seriously studied, not even limiting oneself to the theologically orthodox.

Now a larger perspective, again in response to a quotation from Discovery's web site:
Part archaeological adventure, part Biblical history, part forensic science, part theological controversy: this is a story that will be carried around the world.
This is to say, mix (a) Indiana Jones, (b) a story that a couple of billion people regard as sacred, (c) CSI, and (d) the only way that the media can cover religion, and you've got a show that we hope will make a lot of dough in the international television market, and for less money than it takes to produce either (a) or (c).

In other words, this project is one of many aimed at the same global audience that in record numbers bought up the Da Vinci Code, now a viral publication that has officially infected much discussion of Christianity in the media. Dan Brown, author of that unreadable book, is no scholar, but he hit on a formula that made him rich. Some scholars of the Bible, wanting some of the swag for themselves, have used their scholarly acumen to analyze Brown's formula for garnering sales. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" is clearly an example of the same, the latest example of the prostitution of historical and literary scholarship on the Bible for the sake of the Almighty Dollar.

In the run-up to the airing of this program, we commend to gentle readers the recent book by responsible scholar Craig A. Evans: Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. From pre-publication announcements, we gather that Evans is taking on the entire range of recent pseudo-scholarship, including both the Jesus Seminar and the neo-Gnostic revival of the Da Vinci Code and its spawn. From his massive prior work, we expect that Evans offers meticulous, balanced, responsible analysis.

Briefly, we will chase a still broader observation. Nearly everything we know about the ancient world comes from ancient books. We can only interpret material remains, the main stuff of archaeology, in light of texts. The most significant archaeological finds, in fact, are always texts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. But in the popular mind, the relative importance of texts and material remains is reversed: texts can't be trusted, but the right material remains will tell all. We'll attribute this mistake to the common exaltation of laboratory sciences as a way of knowing, a phenomenon existing simultaneously with misunderstanding of the nature and limits of the scientific method. We'll add further that mystery fiction--from Agatha Christie's perennial bestsellers to programs like CSI--just compounds the problem. We're sure that the legal profession suffers from the same reversal: it's testimony that convicts criminals, but the public panders for physical evidence that will prove all in contradiction to testimony.

Now, more specifically, what are the odds that these filmmakers and scholars have actually discovered a tomb belonging to Jesus' family or, as the web site for the show seems to imply, physical evidence that Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene and died without rising?

For the former, there's some possibility that a tomb belonging to Jesus' brothers and their issue might have been found. The family of Jesus remained prominent in Jerusalem until its fall, and were well known in Galilee at least until the time of Domitian. That would be cool if it can be confirmed with any degree of plausibility, but such proof is daunting, to say the least.

For the latter, there's no possibility whatsoever. And we say that not because we believe in the biblical account of Jesus' resurrection and don't believe the absent-of-evidence claim that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. We say it because at this point in history it would be impossible to verify any physical substance's connection to an event in that place and time.

One can compare the Shroud of Turin. Despite multiple examinations, it cannot be determined whether it was the burial shroud of Jesus, and no means can be imagined of determining the same. It can only be said that doubt remains as to whether the cloth could come from the appropriate period and as to whether one can describe a means by which the image could be produced by natural processes. To put it differently, one could prove that it couldn't be Jesus' shroud, but one could never prove that it was Jesus' shroud. Yet this Shroud that can never prove anything continues to fascinate thousands who look to it for evidence that they can't accept from the testimony of texts and the analysis of the same.

A responsible TV show on the topic of this "lost tomb" would lay out that limitation of evidence at the beginning. We won't hold our breath to hear such matters uttered, however. That's not how you make money in a medium that of late has been All-Anna-Nicole-Smith-All-the-Time, especially as the Easter season approaches, when all media must give some attention, however fleeting, to matters Christian.

Finally, we note very briefly that the program web site tries to inoculate itself from hate-mail from incensed believers by insisting that because many Christians believe in a non-physical resurrection, this show is consistent with faith in the resurrection. For those who want to know what's up with that and why it's so utterly, utterly inconsistent with every aspect of Christian faith and history, we recommend N. T. Wright's magisterial The Resurrection of the Son of God. In fact, we'll recommend that any gentle reader who hasn't read this book should stop reading this blog until she has completed the reading of said volume. Consider it giving up SWNID for Lent, if you will.

UPDATE: We thank a gentle reader for alerting us via email to the London Evening Standard's report on "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." This article, considerably more revealing than the Discovery Channel's web site, notes that (a) the tomb in question was discovered in 1980; (b) it contains ossuaries (empty of bones, for what it's worth) with inscriptions naming "Jesus son of Joseph, Judah son of Jesus, Maria, Mariamne (thought to be Mary Magdalene's real name), Joseph and Matthew"; (c) the head of the original excavation dismissed any notion that the tomb was related to Jesus' family because of the overwhelming commonness of the names and Jesus' family's association with Galilee instead of Jerusalem; (d) Discovery Channel project personnel applied DNA tests to traces of DNA in the ossuaries of "Jesus" and "Mariamne" and found that they were not related by blood, suggesting that they could have been buried together because they were husband and wife.

So, it does really all depend on statistics, which is to say that the assumptions of the statistical analysis certainly determined its outcome.

We note again that a news conference from a filmmaker is not the mode by which serious scholarly findings or hypotheses are presented and tested. Challenged by one of the program participants as to the appropriateness of our tone in this post, we say again that there's no mistaking the timing of all of this, and note that the Evening Standard is also happy to make a collocation with Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. We hope that the tenured academics who took part in this project offered to the program producers the appropriate level of skepticism that their method and mode of presentation deserves. More than that, we hope that they are prepared for the expressions of disdain that will inevitably come from their scholarly colleagues. But as for us and our house, we will insist that participation in tendentious and sensationalistic media projects does nothing to further public engagement in scholarship. Instead, in the eyes of the public, believing and otherwise, such involvement demeans the serious business of historical investigation of Christian origins.

More Update: Various news organizations are weighing in on the claims for the tomb. The AP article is especially rich in its chronicling of scholarly reactions, all of which are negative. Some quotations:

In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television.

"They just want to get money for it," Kloner said. . . .

William Dever, an expert on near eastern archaeology and anthropology, who has worked with Israeli archeologists for five decades, said specialists have known about the ossuaries for years.

"The fact that it's been ignored tells you something," said Dever, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. "It would be amusing if it didn't mislead so many people."

Dr. Tabor, if you're checking back, I hope that you're satisfied that ours is not the only opinion in the academy that decries the involvement of tenured scholars in this kind of circus.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rasmussen: Race is Rudy's

Rudy 52%, Hillary 43%. That's Our Man's biggest lead so far.

Rudy's favorable rating: 70%. Hillary's: 50%, with 48% unfavorable.

Among unaffiliated voters, Rudy 67%, Hillary 27%.

Rudy leads all Dems. Edwards comes closest. But Hillary leads all Dems for the nomination.

America seems to have made up its mind: note how few are undecided.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Majority of Americans Seldom Wrong on Iraq, at Least Today

Public Opinion Strategies has some polling data that suggests that over 50% of Americans want to finish what we started in Iraq and object to all this "redeployment" doublespeak for what amounts to retreat. Word on these data can be found here.

Since we've also got the stats that show a majority of Americans do not read this blog, we won't claim credit. And we won't even get too excited, as the problem in Iraq has as much to do with Americans' short attention spans as it does with Iraqis' intractable tribalism. It seems that a majority of Americans think this today. But after the weekend, who knows?

But we are hopeful that the poll-watchers who belong to the party of George McGovern and Frank Church might take a breather from their around-the-clock efforts to undermine any sliver of American military success that is emerging from the Middle East.

Monday, February 19, 2007

News from Baghdad: MSM and Otherwise

To get a glimpse of news from Baghdad untainted by the prevailing conclusion of the MSM that the war was pointless and is already lost, we recommend two sources.

One is the best of the blogs from within Baghdad, Iraq the Model. These intrepid Iraqi bloggers have since the fall of Saddam been chronicling life within Iraq from the perspective of Iraqis who long for liberty. They note that despite the upsurge of attacks today, the mood in the city remains hopeful, with more people returning to their homes than leaving them.

We can also recommend the on-the-scene reporting of NPR's Anne Garrels. Though part of the establishment media, Garrels shows more willingness than most to consider the perspectives of the military commanders who are ready to take the risk of deployments scattered away from fortified bases. And these commanders, to a man, report on decreased levels of violence where their forces are nearby and at the ready to respond in seconds to reports of violence. Garrels was also the first to notice the unifying effect that the announcement of the surge had on the Iraqi parliament.

All this hopeful news makes SWNID hopeful, especially in light of history. As President Bush said today in commemoration of Presidents Day, the Revolutionary War, led by the immortal George Washington, was perceived by Washington as "a test of wills, and his will was unbreakable." The national will is much flabbier than in Washington's day, but maintaining it long enough to see this through to the end is the key to success.

If the surge succeeds as we hope it will, there will be those who will ask whether Bush should have appointed the dissenter Petraeus to command earlier. They might as well also ask Lincoln why it took him so long to appoint Grant to command the Army of the Potomac. But we'll let Rudy Giuliani sum all this up, as he did the other night on Larry King (emphasis inserted):

GIULIANI: I don't know. I hope -- I hope I would. I mean, you know, I hope -- I hope that I would learn from the mistakes that were made in this situation.

KING: Such as?

GIULIANI: Just as the mistakes I made when I was mayor, I tried to learn from them. If I get to be president of the United States, I probably won't make the same mistakes, because I will have learned from them. I'll probably make different ones.

KING: Now how is...

GIULIANI: And then the next one will learn from the ones that I made. And I would say that about Bill Clinton or George Bush. This job is so difficult that you've got to have humility about it and you have to understand how to look at the past not in a way in which you cast blame, but you learn from it.

Link to Web Classic on Eschatology

In response to a request from a gentle reader, we here link the web site that first convinced us of the lasting value of the Internet, the site that proclaims to all the real meaning of the Signs of the Times:

Crouch on Wilberforce: Unparalleled in World History

Contrarian social critic Stanley Crouch today reminds us of a momentous anniversary commemorated with the upcoming release of a heroic motion picture. We quote his opening paragraphs:

Friday is the 200th anniversary of the day that the efforts of England's abolitionists paid off and the British Parliament cast the vote that brought an end to the slave trade. This was one of the greatest moments in Western history and had absolutely no parallels in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. Is this because - as the owners of slaves and the defenders of slavery would have us believe - that the pale-skinned people of Europe were superior to those with darker hues or eyes that appeared to be slanted? Hardly.

The fact of the matter is that two things essentially cooked slavery's goose. One was Christianity, because of its conception that there were no chosen people and that all had equal access to God. The other was the idea of universal humanism, the grandest conception to arrive in the 18th century. Universal humanism meant that there is a universal connection between human beings that trandscends [sic] time, religion or place. To think that is a natural and very simple deduction is to be pathetically ignorant of the tribalistic thinking that has dominated the vision of our species and underlies all wars that are not fought over land masses.

The man who led the movement to end the slave trade, of course, was William Wilberforce. The movie, of course, is Amazing Grace, opening Friday.

If You Need Another Reason Not to Vote for Hillary . . .

Then consider that the Democratic governor of New York could appoint Bill Clinton to fill his wife's Senate seat until the elections of 2010.

The mind reels. The stomach turns.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

This Column Speaks for Itself

SWNID offers appreciation to Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert L. Jamieson, Jr., for his eloquent summary of a MySpace post by 2nd Lt. Mark Daily, tragically killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on January 15. Daily's words epitomize what the war is about. We urge all to read the column, and we express our deepest gratitude and sympathy to Daily's family and friends.

York Explains Why SWNID Hasn't Commented on Scooter's Trial

We've been ignoring the closing act of Plamegate, as gentle readers may have noticed. One reason is that O. J. Simpson's case soured us on prognosticating about jury trials. But in WaPo, Byron York, whose full-time scribal duty is covering the White House for the estimable National Review, captures the bigger reason: Libby's trial is about an alleged act of perjury during testimony before a grand jury summoned to review the investigation of an act that the prosecutor now concedes was not a crime. The specific statement that is the real crux of Libby's alleged perjury is itself truthful if Libby did not think that a crime had been committed. Yet in the trial, this very point has been excluded from testimony and evidence.

In other words, Scooter seems to be on trial because at the time of his testimony he disagreed with the prosecutor about whether a crime had been committed, though the prosecutor now agrees with Scooter. And no one in the courtroom can talk about that.

We once thought that Patrick Fitzgerald, said prosecutor, might be the exception to the rule that special prosecutors, because of their specialness unfettered by the budgetary and oversight restraints governing ordinary prosecutors, might not be corrupted by absolute power. We now believe that he is not the exception that proves the rule but yet another sorry case of the rule in action.

So maybe it's good that American juries are unpredictable. In deliberations they can talk about whatever they please--even the truth.

A Glimpse of Ted Haggard's Past

The opinion pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer--of late a pedestrian wasteland of second-tier syndicated columnists, bland and inconsequential editorials, and mindless filler dumped from the brimming inbox of readers' emails--was exceptionally enlivened Thursday with reporter Cindy Schroeder's memoir of working on the high school newspaper in the 1970s with the boy who became disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. We commend the column to gentle readers for its poignant depiction of adolescent life in the bleak era of Watergate, Saigon's fall, stagflation, fuel shortages, televangelist Oral Roberts, poorly designed automobiles, and disco music.

Where the column loses us, as so many do on subjects like this, is when the author moves from reminiscence and the sad surprise that it provokes about the present to cliched moralizing about the present. Schroeder can't help applying the progressive bromide that a Haggard true to himself would not have been troubled by his or others' acting on the impulses of same-sex attraction. We quote the closing sentence, clearly the weakest in what is otherwise an exceptional piece of writing:

The Ted Haggard that I knew in high school would shun the hypocritical, homophobic dogma of Pastor Ted. He would become a model for the acceptance of others, regardless of their sexuality.

We have explained before why even secular thinkers should be careful about this accusation of hypocrisy, so we won't repeat ourselves except to say that it was Haggard's actions, not his dogma, that was hypocritical. And we would hope further, as an adolescent of the 70s, that no such person would so casually romanticize the moral vision of an 18-year-old in that grim period of social anarchy.

But Ms. Schroeder does invite us to point out an irony. As she closes her essay, she shows that everyone, it seems, wants to be a preacher.

Friday, February 16, 2007

News Flash: Bush Not an Idiot After All

Today's news suggests that President Chimpy W. Hitliar might be slightly better than the worst president in the history of the American Experiment.

First, it seems that the first days of the "surge" are bearing fruit. Some more big Al Qaida guys are dead or on the run. Al Sadr has told his henchmen to leave Iraq so that the pacification of Baghdad can proceed per government plan. Generally, when the guys on the other side die or run away, your side is viewed as winning. So, we affirm with the AP and other news sources that on February 16, 2007, we are winning in Iraq.

Second, David Broder of the WaPo, that most skeptical and world-weary of political analysts, devotes his column today to Bush's excellent political performance of late. Broder reserves the right to change his mind, of course, not least because matters in Iraq are far from settled. But he is already talking about comparisons to the resurgent presidencies of others once mired in the Slough of Despair.

We applaud all in the media who come around, even now and if only for a moment, to understand what SWNID has been saying lo these many months.

Courage, Defenders of the Republic! You labor not in vain!

Keep Drinking Until the Post Hoc Argument Sounds Logical

Today's Inside Higher Ed calls attention to the efforts of John M. McCardell, Jr., retired president of prestigious Middlebury College, to fight rampant alcohol abuse on college campuses by lowering the legal drinking age. McCardell's reasoning sounds counter-intuitive, but it goes like this:
  • Since the legal age for drinking was raised to 18, alcohol abuse on college campuses has, if anything, grown.
  • Since underage undergrads can't drink legally, they drink "in the shadows," away from the social structures and pressures that could restrain their excesses.

McCardell criticizes the argument that teenage traffic deaths have declined since the drinking age has been raised, noting that cars and highways are simply safer than they used to be.

We say good for McCardell to note the flaw in the post hoc argument that illogically asserts that because a drop in traffic deaths followed the raising of the drinking age, the latter must have caused the former. We also stipulate the fact of rampant alcohol abuse in the shadows of America's colleges.

We say bad for McCardell that his own reasoning is post hoc: that raising the drinking age must have caused the increase in alcohol abuse on campuses, so judiciously lowering it will decrease abuse. We also grieve the fact that we have heard similar flawed reasoning from other officials at other prestigious colleges.

We agree instead with what is reported in the article of Drew Hunter, president of the Bacchus Network, a national group that helps colleges discourage alcohol abuse. Hunter insists that late adolescents who want to drink mostly want to drink to excess, and that they will do so regardless of the law.

Everything we know about this issue suggests that Hunter is exactly right and McCardell is deluded. Undergrads who drink aren't connoisseurs. They drink cheap, tasteless beer or cheap, high-proof liquor to get drunk as quickly as possible. We'll leave it to others more familiar with the human psyche to explore the layers of social unease and sexual maladjustment that seem to drive these behaviors. But there's no question that moderation does not play a significant role in the alcohol consumption of most underage drinkers.

Let's not kid ourselves about kids who drink. Alcohol use is fraught with danger for adults. Undergrads aren't adults. And we don't apologize for that statement.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kristol: In Times Such as These

Bill Kristol at Weekly Standard today offers less analysis than rallying point. Specifically:
  • General Petraeus doesn't think the war is lost, so why should the rest of us?
  • What's the point of being in political office if not to take a stand on momentous issues?
  • History has notable examples of politicians whose courageous stands were affirmed by events.
Hence, it's time for Republicans and thoughtful Democrats to stop acting as if Iraq were a lost cause.

We say again: everything about the history of warfare argues that the United States can achieve its essential purposes in Iraq if it persists.

And so we quote Kristol's conclusion:

Isn't that what political parties are for? Isn't that why one enters politics--to make a difference at a time of difficulty and uncertainty? Fighting for a good cause is why parties are formed and supported, and why they sometimes prove themselves deserving of loyalty. Henry Wallace and his fellow travelers abandoned Harry Truman in 1947-48. What made the modern Democratic party worth belonging to for the next generation was the fact that the majority of the party rallied behind Truman, and provided--along with public-spirited Republicans--the domestic support needed in the early years of the Cold War. (Today, alas, Henry Wallace's heirs dominate Truman's party). The reason many Americans became Republicans in recent times is that the GOP stood with Reagan (when Democrats in large measure did not) behind the policies that brought down the evil empire.

What better cause is there today, at the beginning of this new century of danger and challenge, than support for victory in a just war? The consequences of defeat would be ghastly. The prospect of victory is difficult but real. This is when a political party proves its worth.

Miniter: Why Conservatives Love Rudy

We're only doing this again because some of you gentle readers haven't listened the first fifty times we did it.

To wit: Rudy is leading most polls of Republican voters in most states. Broken out for ideological demographics, polls show that he's leading among conservatives. Affirming that they know about his positions on social issues, conservatives still support him.

Brendan Miniter of OpinionJournal knows why. Giuliani conservatives believe that the man has the ability, lacking in more orthodox Republicans, to move the political establishment in the right direction. The man who took on NYC can take on DC the same way and with the same effect.

We are again reminded of the heroic Teddy Roosevelt. Distrusted by his party's establishment because of his soft commitment to core GOP principles, TR managed in just under two terms to get more done for his party and his country than had all the Republicans since Lincoln.

It's time for another skillful, energetic Knickerbocker.

Monday, February 12, 2007

News You Won't Find Elsewhere: Asian Poverty and Global Warming

The following is a quotation from message by a Christian worker in the Philippines recounting the effects of a recent typhoon on his area (emphasis inserted):

Although rice is filling it is not the formula for good health. It must be combined with other foods and vitamins in order to sustain life and some degree of good health. Doctors in the Philippines have told us that people in the Philippines age all at once because their bodies often express outwardly what has been deteriorating inwardly once they hit 50 years of age. The pollution of water and air also contributes to their health problems. The West worries about air control and the green house effect while the east puffs out pollution and absorbs pollution just to stay alive. Such is the case throughout the Pacific Rim!

We say again what most don't seem to want to hear: the best way to control environmental degradation is to improve the standard of living of the world's poor, and the best way to do that is with free markets and free trade.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cincinnati City Council Race Taking Shape

Today's Enquirer begins the chronicle of this November's Cincinnati City Council race. For SWNID, it's already clear that (a) the Republicans lack the strength in the city to field a credible slate of candidates; (b) there's at least one Democratic incumbent who must be replaced by anyone or anything--Republican, Democrat, Charterite, Green, Reform, Libertarian, Natural Law, Mugwump or Know-Nothing.

The Republicans' weakness is on display in their announcement--earlier than usual--of their slate of endorsed candidates for council. They include the two GOP incumbents Leslie Ghiz (probably eyeing a run for mayor in '09) and Chris Monzel, and two retreads--Sam Malone, defeated and probably forever tagged after his domestic violence charge, and Charlie Winburn, about whom this blogger's jaundiced opinion has only been reinforced by daily trips past the church that he pastors with crassly undignified attention to his own person.

Down the Republican ticket are John Eby, a Price Hillite who managed a dismal 15th in '05, and two newcomers, Patrick Fischer, the president of the Cincinnati Bar Association, and Andre Harper, a former field representative for Sen. George Voinovich.

We think that Ghiz and Monzel are locks for reelection. Malone is doomed by his notoriety. Eby is not likely to do much better than in '05 unless he can make himself the symbol of West Siders' discontent. Fischer may have potential to raise a lot of cash from the legal community, which could give him the visibility to make it on a first run.

The candidate who intrigues us is Harper. We met the guy once--in September of 2004 while standing in a line for a campaign event featuring the Dark Lord Dick Cheney and his Mafia moll Lynn. Our conversation suggested that Harper is articulate, enthusiastic, energetic, personable and understands the nuances of conservative political philosophy. He struck us as possessing more than a meagre measure of charisma, the kind that can carry a politician beyond a city council election. We'll watch him closely.

The D who needs to go is, of course, the useless armchair radical David Crowley. Crowley, whose contributions to the improvement of life in the city on whose council he sits are listed in the parentheses at right (), is famous for previously having sponsored resolutions decrying the Iraq war and for having effusively welcomed to Cincinnati IRA/Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams--prior to Mr. Adams's renunciation of violence and pledge to disarm the IRA terrorist organization.

Siding with radical terrorists yet again in yet another utterly impotent symbolic move, Crowley has introduced in council yet another doomed and pointless resolution to denounce Bush's "surge."

Those of us who wonder whether Cincinnati City Council should attend to the problems of economic and social development would appreciate it if Mr. Crowley could devote his high consciousness for a few minutes to the prosaic matters closer to home.

Please, please Cincinnati: elect anyone except Crowley to council next November--even Charlie Winburn.

Magruder on Rudy as Man of the Moment

Mike Magruder of RealClearPolitics today lays out why folks like SWNID and a majority of American voters in most polls favor the former mayor of NYC for POTUS in '08. Here's the requisite quotation from the essay that should be read in full:

There's a controversial theory historians have named the "great men" theory of history. As opposed to Marxist historians, who believe that class struggle is the great mover of history, or their lefty cousins who believe that "groups" -- women, gays, minorities -- and their struggles dominate human affairs, some historians hold to the idea that certain individuals have been the real engines of great change. From Winthrop to Washington, FDR to Reagan, the great man emerges when circumstances suddenly demand a leader. In 2008, that man will be Rudy Giuliani.

While it is far too early and presumptuous to call Giuliani a "man of destiny" or some such, it is wholly appropriate to wonder if not Giuliani's popularity might owe something to the notion that the man has met the moment. . . .

Of course to be a "great man" in the historical sense, there has to be more than an event and a man. Not just any mayor would have responded like Giuliani did on September 11, when, let's remember, he nearly lost his life. Recall the July 1977 New York blackout, when riots spread throughout the city, or the looting in New Orleans following Katrina, and ask why nothing remotely similar occurred in New York on 9/11. There has to be an intrinsic, intuitive, instinctual ability of the "great man" to cultivate trust, to communicate effectively, so that the public and even his opponents willingly defer to his judgment. On September 11, was there any politician who would have dared question Giuliani?

In the current crop of hopefuls, no one but the POW McCain has anything approaching Rudy's Great Man resume, and McCain has managed to tarnish that with the debacle of campaign finance reform. As the campaign continues, the difference between Our Great Man and the also-rans will be apparent to at least 51% of voters.

Friday, February 09, 2007

24 Alert: Joel Surnow Profiled in New Yorker

SWNID watches 24 religiously. SWNID used to read the New Yorker religiously,* before it became an extension of Vanity Fair. We suspect that many gentle readers share at least 50% of this history with us.

So we're issuing this alert that the New Yorker's Jane Mayer has a profile of 24 producer Joel Surnow for the once gloriously eclectic and now shamelessly narrow minded magazine. We will read it when leisure allows and perhaps offer a few observations about it. But for now, gentle readers know that they can do the same.

*Come to think of it, for consistency, anything that SWNID does should be done religiously. We'll work on that.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

For Those Who Thought Pelosi's Swearing-In a Bit Regal

There's further evidence of her monarchical aspirations in her insisting on personal use of an Air Force passenger jet, unprecedented in the history of the Speaker's office, and her minions accusing those who oppose her of sexism.

Queen Nancy's machinations are detailed in the Washington Times (motto: "Rev. Moon is probably senile now, so don't worry that he owns us").

We're not sure how this request, which would come out of the Air Force's budget and resources, squares with Pelosi's pledges regarding pay-as-you-go and the full funding of our troops.

Again, the person most hurt by all this is Hillary, for whom Pelosi is a doppelganger in the minds of America's unengaged electorate.

SWNID to Rudy: Stop Grossing-Out Supporters

Yesterday's NY Post featured this picture in late editions. Apparently it is also slated to appear in the next Harper's Bazaar. The woman is Judi Nathan Giuliani, the next FLOTUS, with her husband, the next POTUS.

When we were in junior high, certain couples did this kind of thing next to the lockers, and we all made gagging sounds. We all assumed that the behavior had more to do with wanting to be seen than with the desires that lead to the same behavior in private. Now a presidential candidate and his wife do it on the cover of a major publication, to the same effect and leading to the same conclusion.

Our Man is not helping himself with this nonsense, nor with Judi's pronouncement that her "big testosterone-factor husband" watches Sleepless in Seattle with her and obsesses over gifts.

Please, Rudy, don't try to take a page from Al Gore's playbook!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Battle of the Titans, to the Same End: Hitchens v. Krauthammer

World's Smartest Person Christopher Hitchens today takes on the estimable Charles Krauthammer on the very point affirmed by SWNID on Friday last. Arguing that the British indeed bungled India and Palestine, he nevertheless affirms Krauthammer's central point: that Iraq, thanks to Iraqis themselves, was a mess whether we fought the war or not, and not a mess that could be forever ignored.

Here's a salient paragraph, among many:

The habit of viewing Iraq as a crisis that only began in 2003--a lazy habit that is conditioned by the needs of the impending 2008 election--is an obstacle to understanding. Everybody has their own favorite alternative scenario of how things might have evolved differently or better. In some weak moments, I can picture taking the alternative advice from the European Union and the United Nations in 2003--let's just see how Iraq develops if left alone as a private fiefdom of the Saddam Hussein dynasty--and only then deciding that things have deteriorated to the point where an international intervention is necessitated. That would have been much less upsetting and demanding than the direct assumption of responsibility, and could have been triggered by the more familiar images of unbearable suffering and carnage, and could have summoned the Darfur-like emotions of guilt and shame, but it would perforce have been begun very much later--and perhaps too late altogether.

Or to remind all of the logical problem: asserting that the United States created the current mess with its invasion assumes the unlikely postulate that an equal or worse mess wouldn't have occurred had the US done nothing.

Mind your logic, all ye who blame Bush and the neocons and head for home.

Behind UN Hype, Global Warming Still Not Actionable

Today's "Review & Outlook" from the editors of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page cuts through the media hype surrounding the pronouncements of the UN's latest global warming report to remind us of what hasn't changed. It notes:
  • The current report reduces the estimates of changes in sea level from previous reports.
  • Recent rises in temperature fall within the range of error for the studies and do not match earlier predictions made on computer models.
  • Other aspects of human activity may have a cooling effect on the planet, like the reflective qualities of particulates released into the atmosphere in vehicle and industrial exhaust.

We remain convinced that (a) carbon emissions probably do contribute to the fact that the earth is about one degree Celsius warmer than it was 100 years ago; (b) global warming, like any phenomenon in a complex system, has multiple causes, the contribution of any one of which is daunting to estimate; (c) humanly predicted apocalypses hardly ever happen; (d) while reductions in the use of fossil fuels would be salutary on multiple counts, enforcing reductions with draconian laws would create more harm than good.

So we'll affirm this conclusion from the good minds at WSJ:

While everyone concedes that the Earth is about a degree Celsius warmer than it was a century ago, the debate continues over the cause and consequences. We don't deny that carbon emissions may play a role, but we don't believe that the case is sufficiently proven to justify a revolution in global energy use. The economic dislocations of such an abrupt policy change could be far more severe than warming itself, especially if it reduces the growth and innovation that would help the world cope with, say, rising sea levels. There are also other problems--AIDS, malaria and clean drinking water, for example--whose claims on scarce resources are at least as urgent as climate change.

Update: George Will offers similar analysis in Newsweek:

We do not know how much we must change our economic activity to produce a particular reduction of warming. And we do not know whether warming is necessarily dangerous. Over the millennia, the planet has warmed and cooled for reasons that are unclear but clearly were unrelated to SUVs. Was live better when ice a mile think covered Chicago? Was it worse when Greenland was so warm that Vikings farmed there? Are we sure the climate at this particular moment is exactly right, and that it must be preserved, no matter the cost?

It could cost tens of trillions (in expenditures and foregone economic growth, here an in less-favored parts of the planet) to try to fine-tune the planet's temperature. We cannot know if these trillions would purchase benefits commensurate with the benefits that would have come from social wealth that was not produced.

More Bad News For Rudy Haters

At the NY Post, political chamelion Dick Morris and co-writer Eileen McGann note what SWNID has been saying for months and what certain commenters on this blog have been ignoring. Namely: (a) Rudy Giuliani polls better than John McCain or any "conservative" among Republicans and conservatives; (b) he's probably the only person who can beat Hillary.

We promise to stop repeating it when you promise to accept reality. This "conservative on one issue," as he has been mischaracterized recently, is the favorite among conservatives for the nomination. And he's made the commitment to do what a pro-choice President (cf. Nixon in China or Johnson with voting rights) can do best: effectively nominate pro-life justices and support anti-abortion legislation.

Of course, we have to play the game to see who really wins. But remember that you did read it here first: 2008 will be Hillary v. Rudy, with a win to Rudy when Hillary's shrillness and prevaricating wear thin and Rudy carries NY and CA.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Edwards Assumes Losing Position for 2008

The following is a list of recent presidential candidates elected on platforms that included increases in taxes: .

That's what makes so impressive the announcement from John Edwards that as President he would raise taxes to extend Medicaid to more people at a cost of $120 billion. Edwards clearly either thinks he is so brilliant a politician that he can do what Walter Mondale and his disciples could not, namely, get elected by promising to tax people more. Or he intends to become the Democrats' Harold Stassen, the man who always runs and never gets close to the White House.

The bad news is that this puts Hillary one step closer to the nomination. Granted, her history with federal health care plans suggests that she thinks much like Edwards on this point. But her husband's having run in 1992 on a platform of tax cuts that he withdrew as soon as he was elected suggests that she will be less forthcoming about her intentions.

Colts Win Confirms Feminization of America

With their decisive win over the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts have done more than confirm that they are football's best team. They have also confirmed that the United States has become a thoroughly emasculated, feminized nation.

The victory of a glorified arena football club over the old-school Bears continues the trend represented by the cultural ascendancy of Oprah Winfrey and the political ascendancy of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Even this year's halftime show, featuring the virtuosic and thoroughly creative but consistently androgynous Prince, pushed this sorry trend.

Rumors are that next year's Super Bowl telecast will feature commercials for herbal teas instead of beer.

SWNID's Superbowl Pregame

Risking a trademark infringement suit from the NFL for not referring to the event with the generic "Big Game," we hereby make our prediction, which is to say express our preference, for the outcome of today's Superbowl.

Here's how the teams stack up:

The Chicago Bears are one of the NFL's original franchises, founded by Papa Bear George Halas himself. They play at celebrated Soldier Field, named to honor America's military personnel, on the shore of beautiful Lake Michigan and on the edge of one of the world's most impressive cityscapes, the Chicago Loop. The weather during football season at this venue is generally cold, windy and wet. The team, this year and traditionally, plays manly, physical defense and grinding offense. They win with courage, strength and determination.

The Indianapolis Colts are a franchise that left their original city by night, under cover of darkness to hide the shame of abandoning generations of fans. Forsaking the traditions of Unitas and company, they located in one of America's up-and-coming mid-sized cities, with an indoor stadium, the RCA Dome--named to honor a giant corporation, to protect its febrile players from the rigors of central Indiana's moderate autumn weather and keep its pharmaceutical executives and insurance actuaries comfortable in their Izod shirtsleeves. They are famous for their celebrity quarterback, Peyton Manning--scion of a quarterback family, endorser of every imaginable product ever sold and subject to the Heimlich maneuver in every big game he's played except the most recent one. The Colts play an effete, feminine style of football, characterized on defense by weak tackling and on offense by the swiveling of hips and other ballet moves to catch passes thrown on every down by the overanxious Manning.

For those who know that this blogger was reared in Indianapolis, we note that our Indianapolis had no stolen NFL franchise. Further, we lived in Chicago, still our favorite city in America, during the Bears' last NFL championship. So we know about football righteousness in this instance.

Go Bears!

For a more objective view, we refer readers to the trenchant analysis of today's event by sports expert and Miami resident Dave Barry.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Not in the News: Two Grassroots Military Opinions

We have recently enjoyed brief conversations with two intrepid members of the American military, both enlisted soldiers in the Army Reserves and both with orders that will likely take them to Iraq, where they have served before. On such occasions, we resist the temptation to guide the conversation to our own points of interest and instead cultivate the difficult art of listening.

About these conversations we note the following:
  • Neither soldier appreciates having his life interrupted by active duty, but both accept the necessity and importance of the task and so refuse to complain. They embrace the notion of duty.
  • Both express frustration at the inner workings of the military bureaucracy, which to their minds consistently wastes resources of time, talent and money. But they understand it is endemic and was the experience of their forebears in the military.
  • Both express confidence that their efforts in Iraq have been fruitful in the past, whatever the problems and setbacks.
  • Both express optimism that current changes in tactics will yield better results. They understand that a shift from force protection and training Iraqis to anti-insurgency operations and supporting Iraqis will mean greater risk to themselves but offers a greater opportunity for success.
  • Neither thinks that Iraq will become a peaceful place quickly.
  • Both consider that their mission is too important to abandon.
  • One in particular complained that he does not appreciate those who claim to support the troops but not the war. His words, to paraphrase, went something like, "The war is my job. It's what I do. You can't say you support me and not support what I do."
Once again, we thank these brave individuals for their sacrifices. We are humbled by their humility, not to mention their determination, patience and wisdom.

Friday, February 02, 2007

More on Comments: A Reminder of a Policy

Having recently offered tips to commenters, we realize it is timely to state afresh what is a SWNIDish policy of blogging.

To wit: this is a blog, not a forum. That is to say, we express our own opinions in the blog entries. We invite comments, but we do not respond to them except under the most exceptional of circumstances. Any discussion that ensues will be among readers of the blog, not with the blogger, who sits in his ivory tower far above the madding crowd. We write to express our own views, not to get the discussion going. Discuss if you will, but we will move on to something else.

There is a specific rationale for this policy, and it is out of respect for the very people who comment in a way that seems to plead for a response. After a few months of SWNIDishness, we came to realize that those who wanted to use the comments to argue with us were in the main simply ignoring the substance of what we had already stated. Hence, we spent our precious, SWNIDish time restating ourselves, often with an undignified but fully justified tone of impatience. And of course, those who didn't pay attention the first time didn't the second either. And so we responded again, with more undignified impatience.

This, we believed, might seem insulting to those who so comment. And since superstition is the repetition of an action expecting a different response, and since we put high stock on advice about the conservation of valuables before the canine and porcine, we decided to desist from commenting on comments except under the most exceptional of circumstances.

And as it happens, in most instances other gentle readers have taken up the challenge to offer what might be termed a SWNIDish response. This saves us precious time and saves the argumentative commenter unneeded embarrassment engendered by our SWNIDish impatience.

But there are exceptions. Certain gentle readers have by now become well known to others for their erudition and logic. Others occasionally rise to the standard. And so we will, on occasion, deign to respond to them. But only when we have loads of time, which isn't often, and the infrequency of our own recent posts would suggest.

But that's it. So don't expect to see our SWNIDish profile linked in the comments. If you do, count it a singular moment.

Krauthammer: Blame in a War like This

Today is Friday, or as it is regarded in the SWNID household, Charles Krauthammer Day. The fog of world affairs lifts for readers of his exquisite, every-Friday column, especially with a column like today's.

SWNID warms to Krauthammer because his analysis drinks deep at the wells of history and understanding of human nature. Like those explicitly informed by the notion of human sinfulness, Dr. K considers both the noble capacity and deep weaknesses of human beings. He also stands sufficiently apart from the moment to consider how the past, displaying human potential and depravity, puts the present in perspective. In the present environment, that makes his opinions contrary to the mainstream, delighting our hard, cold, contrarian heart.

Krauthammer's subject today is, not surprisingly, the Iraq War and its assessment. Specifically he wonders why a successfully fought battle in Najaf is seen by so many as a sign of the failure of American policy. His reply deserves reading in full (reminder to gentle readers: anything linked on this blog is thus deserving). But we offer this most insightful of excerpts:

Iraqis were given their freedom, and yet many have chosen civil war. Among all these religious prejudices, ancient wounds, social resentments and tribal antagonisms, who gets the blame for the rivers of blood? You can always count on some to find the blame in America. "We did not give them a republic," insists Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. "We gave them a civil war."

Of all the accounts of the current situation, this is by far the most stupid. And the most pernicious. Did Britain "give" India the Hindu-Muslim war of 1947-48 that killed a million souls and ethnically cleansed 12 million more? The Jewish-Arab wars in Palestine? The tribal wars of post-colonial Uganda?

We gave them a civil war? Why? Because we failed to prevent it? Do the police in America have on their hands the blood of the 16,000 murders they failed to prevent last year?