Friday, March 28, 2008

Al Gore on Reality, Fantasy

CBS is reporting that on this week's 60 Minutes Al Gore will compare people who doubt that global warming is caused by human activity to people who think that the moon landings were staged in Arizona or that the earth is flat.

First, we lecture Mr. Gore.

Here's how global warming skeptics are not like people who think the moon landings were fake. Global warming skeptics aren't conspiracy theorists, who believe against all probability that there are hundreds or thousands of people, sworn to secrecy, putting one over on the rest of the world. Rather, they are students of history who know that certain broad concepts can take hold in communities and become fashionable, even required for membership in those communities. They know further that climate is too complex ever to be attributed to a single cause or kind of cause.

Here's how global warming skeptics are not like people who think the earth is flat. One can demonstrate the curve of the earth to any sighted person by means of observation: watch the mast of the sailing ship appear on the horizon before the body of the ship. One cannot, however, directly observe the effects of human activity on the climate. One can only infer it from a broad array of suggestive data, and again, one cannot know to what degree the climate effects have specifically human causes.

So, Mr. Gore, please do not disparage--even "a little," as you characterize your remarks--those who remain skeptical about human causes of climate change. They're better at understanding the limits of evidence than are you.

Now we move from lecturing to celebrating.

CBS writes this story with the kind of mildly disparaging and incredulous tone normally reserved for religious conservatives and publicity-seeking demagogues. Gore is termed the "Self-avowed 'P.R. agent for the planet.'" He is said to have been "confronted" by reporter Leslie Stahl with the reality of skepticism. He is said to have formed "unlikely alliances" with the likes of Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson, hardly on CBS's good-citizenship list. They also show a photo and a video clip of Gore which can charitably be described as taken in an unflattering light.

This is not the end of the media wars. But it does show that even CBS can reach its limit with the liberal dog-and-pony show.

Is Yale a Diploma Mill?

A South Korean university is suing storied Yale University for having sent a letter affirming that an prospective faculty member for the South Korean University had a Yale PhD when in fact that individual did not. Yale claims that it made the mistake under the pressure of doing business.

SWNID, despite our motto, makes mistakes,* as does the institution we serve. We thank God that this isn't our mistake.

But we wonder, how did Yale, with all its billions of dollars, get so busy in the registrar's office that it sent out a letter affirming a doctoral degree, in essence a de facto transcript, without actually checking the files? If a huge pile of mammon can't buy bureaucratic accuracy, what can it buy?

*For example, we repeatedly shift ungrammatically between third person singular and first person plural when referring to ourself [a word that does not exist] on this blog.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Guess Who Lives More Generously?

The answer to that question will not surprise those gentle readers who see the world SWNIDishly, though it will irk those who affirm our humane values but reject our economic and political means to humane ends. As summarized by WaPo mega-columnist George Will, Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks has found that conservatives give more time, money and blood (literally) than do liberals.

The best indicator of how much a person gives is religion. And since religion in the United States is largely Christianity, well, you can do the math.

It's worth noting as well that those who don't agree that government should redistribute wealth to reduce the gap between rich and poor give a substantially higher percentage of their income to charity than those who do agree to forced income equality.

And liberals are 6% richer than conservatives to boot.

So we say, Away with the sanctimony, lefties. Or if you just have to assert that you're more compassionate than all those right-wingers, at least put a little more money where your mouth is. If we can't have income equality, maybe we can have generosity equality.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute 2008 National Leadership Conference

Thanks to their interest in Christian values and market economics and because a disproportionate number are students, our gentle readers may well be interested in the upcoming National Leadership Conference of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Entitled "The Free Market and the Common Good: Wilhelm Roepke and the Future of the Humane Economy," the conference will be held April 12 at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis. Registration for students is free (who says economic conservatives aren't generous?) and available online.

How to Settle Obama's Pastor Problem

Scott Ott, creator of Scrappleface, offers the political satire we'd most like to offer ourselves. He's permanently linked on this blog, but we draw special attention to his latest entry: "Obama to Disown Pastor If Hillary Dumps Bill." How we wish we'd come up with that.

Greatest Action Story Ever Told

Well, we went through an Easter season without a media blockbuster story about Jesus. So perhaps this sketch from Mad TV was all that there was.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is McCain in Catbird Seat?

We break blogging silence to draw attention to Gallup's latest finding, which warms the cold, hard SWNIDish heart.

If Obama is nominated, 28% of Democrats who support Hillary say that they'll vote for McCain.

If the unlikely happens and Hillary is nominated, 19% of Obama supporters say that they'll vote for McCain.

Either way, if this pattern holds, it will be way, way hard for either Democrat to cobble together a majority in the Electoral College. Such demographics could put blue states in play in a way that will deplete campaign coffers and threaten down-ticket candidates.

We will sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Prof. SWNID Assigns Required Reading

We assign as a requirement for all gentle readers the text of Senator Obama's speech delivered today in Philadelphia, which we read not long after posting the preceding missive on his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Our differences with Senator Obama in regard to particulars of economic and foreign policy do not for us obscure the impressive clarity with which he expresses the ideals of American citizenship and the present state of race in our Republic. We can't recall a better recent statement of either gravid matter.

Only three speeches belong in the first rank of American oratory: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address and King's "I Have a Dream." We will rashly nominate Senator Obama's speech today as belonging in the second rank.

Those gentle readers who fail to read the speech will hereafter be known as "harsh nonreaders."

Jeremiah Wright or Wrong

We respond at last to the clamor of our gentle readers for our take on Barak Obama's pastor problem. We warn our readers that we are likely to frustrate their desire for red meat.

In short, we think that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and especially his parishioner Senator Obama should be given a pass on this one. Mostly, that is. We don't deny that Wright has made multiple statements that are highly provocative, even offensive, and sometimes just silly. We don't deny that Obama has some explaining to do about his relationship with Wright. We just aren't as exercised about this as are many of those who share our wish that a candidate besides Obama be the next POTUS.

But here's the deal (and we say it with massive love and respect for the profession we are about to characterize, as we are one ourself): Wright is a preacher. Saying stuff like this is what preachers do.

OK, now that most of our readers are as mad at us as they were at Wright, we will hasten to explain our intemperate remark.

Preachers orate. Oratory involves highly charged, provocative rhetoric, intended less to describe or inform than to summon to commitment and action. When Wright referred to the US of KKKA or said that America deserved the 9/11 attacks for its own terrorism or suggested that because of the country's many sins of oppression the appropriate song would be "God Damn America," he was doing what preachers do as they reach the emotional climax of their messages: having gained the congregation's trust and carried them to the point of decision, he was crystalizing the message in sharply ironic language that left no room for indifference.

It has been widely observed that Wright's remarks on 9/11 were similar to Jerry Falwell's except that their cited proximate causes were on different sides of the political spectrum (for Falwell it was abortion and homosexual behavior that left America deserving what it got). Let's say further that (a) the same could be said for thousands of obscure sermons preached in the wake of 9/11 from varying political perspectives; (b) any of Wright's other remarks could find parallels from various preachers on the religious right (e.g., "United States of Infanticide" has probably been uttered in more than one American pulpit). These observations have been widely employed to argue whether a politically conservative candidate would be called to account for his pastor's similar remarks (and the obvious answer is yes). We cite them merely to illustrate that there's nothing unique about Wright's language.

Further, many of Wright's remarks were particularly expressive of frustrations about racial issues in the United States. We are not terribly shocked that an African-American preacher would be so blunt on the subject. It is not so long ago that rampant racism produced lynchings, Jim Crow laws and various other acts of systematic exploitation of African-Americans. Though the worst of racism blessedly is now history, its legacy is hardly erased in the day-to-day experience of many. By definition, SWNID is not an object of racist attitudes, but we find it hard to imagine that our being otherwise would be less than a source of outrage for our otherwise placid self.

All that having been said by way of excusing the Rev. Wright, we nevertheless offer some less charitable evaluations.

By all accounts, Jeremiah Wright is an enormously talented preacher, powerfully charismatic (in the non-theological sense). In our experience, preachers of exceptional talent are sometimes seduced by their talent into a habit of intemperate and inconsiderate expression. Seeing only a glimpse of Wright through media reports and clips of recordings, he might just fit that category.

What's obvious about the Rev. Wright, however, is that his commitment to making the gospel relevant in the here and now is a commitment to the political agenda of the radical left. For that, we find fault. The failures of American society are many, but the solutions of the left can only deepen those failures. When concern for the plight of the oppressed glibly equates to pacifism and socialism, critical judgment has failed.

Some of Wright's failures of critical judgment are pretty obvious. While it's not at all outrageous to suggest that the higher legal penalties for the usage of crack cocaine over powder cocaine have had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, it's silly to suggest that the government created crack to oppress blacks. Same goes for suggesting that the government created AIDS for the same reason. And giving an award to Louis Farrakhan is the epitome of silliness.

So we SWNIDishly judge Jeremiah Wright guilty of being an uncritical thinker who lets his talent get the better of him, but in largely harmless ways. That's a venial sin, not a mortal one. We absolve him. Preachers do that kind of thing. We reserve the privilege of nominating him as Most Embarrassing Christian, but that's about the worst of it.

Now, where is Obama in all this? He's been a member of Wright's church for 20 years, is reported to have donated $20,000 to the church in that period (a figure that Thomas Sowell cites as considerable but which should be a source of shame for someone with Obama's family income), and names Wright as his spiritual mentor. Why is Jeremiah Wright's church Barak Obama's church? Should Obama be castigated for his long-time association with Wright?

Well, we ask SWNIDishly, why is your church yours? We suspect that the answer is more complex than we are inclined to admit. It always has to do with much more than our agreement with what we hear from the pulpit. People choose churches for all kinds of reasons, but in general I suspect that most would say "It feels like a place where I can belong."

For the Obama family, prominent and ambitious members of Chicago's African-American community, Wright's church would present a place where they could "belong" in many respects. It was a church where being black is the norm (those who think it reprehensible that Wright's church is avowedly "Afrocentric" should consider how "Eurocentric" are other churches, without their admitting it openly). It had plenty of members like them, black folk on the move to power and prestige. It was big enough that their celebrity would not be an enormous distraction. There are lots of churches in Chicago, but probably not many that offered all that.

And Wright's church was a place where the Obamas could network with other members and with the church's powerful pastor. If Barak Obama wanted a mentoring relationship with an older man of color who had used his talent to gain influence and who could help him think about how to process his life in politics from the perspective of faith, he could have that relationship by joining Jeremiah Wright's church.

In making that move, Obama was in no sense endorsing or agreeing with everything that his pastor might say, let alone his offensive-to-many way of saying it. He took the bad Wright with the good Wright. And SWNID actually thinks that's typical and decent. Leaving a church every time you have a disagreement with the preacher is not exactly what we call good churchmanship.

We actually wonder whether Obama hasn't all along realized that to accomplish what he seeks to accomplish, he will need a very different rhetoric than his pastor's. As Lincoln was to Garrison, so perhaps is Obama to Wright.

Still, it's hard to believe that Obama didn't see this one coming. How could any professional politician with national ambitions expect not to be called to account for his pastor's incendiary remarks? Perhaps Obama's habit of mind, week by week filtering Wright's rhetoric, was so deeply established for him that he couldn't hear what others would hear. Perhaps his loyalty to a friend was so strong that he ignored an issue that he should have at least thought through in advance. Perhaps he thought that anything that didn't come up in a Chicago or Illinois political campaign, where political hardball was perfected, wouldn't come up in a national election. Whatever the cause, not having a planned-in-advance response to the pastor problem was a political mistake that any good politician shouldn't have made.

So for us, the rap on Obama coming out of the Wright imbroglio is not that Obama might be as radical as his pastor. It's that it may show him to be as naive as his opponents suggest he is.

Eliot Spitzer: The Crusader as Compensator

We begin with an apology for gentle readers who have been unable to function in the absence of regular posts. Our excuse is that we have a life outside the blog.

And we take up one of the two hot political stories of the last week: the downfall of New York's crusading and whoring governor, Eliot Spitzer.

With many others, we ask why he did it. But we are asking about a different "it." Most pundits have asked why a successful, powerful, rising politician would risk his future by consorting with prostitutes. The predictable answers repeat the well-worn truism about the congruence of the lust for power and the lust for forbidden sex. The observation that Spitzer regularly stepped outside the bounds of ethics and even legality in his use of prosecutorial powers has been widely collated with his just-revealed habit of stepping outside the bounds of his marriage vows.

We ask a different question: Why did a man who lived a sordid private life fashion his public image as a moral crusader? Spitzer wasn't just a powerful politician addicted to sex, like Bill Clinton. He was an aggressive "reformer," a prosecutor who went after the most powerful figures with what was often the slimmest of justification. Meanwhile, he was privately using his own personal fortune--and likely some of the public purse in the form of security details--to break state and federal laws, not to mention his most sacred personal commitments.

In the SWNIDish experience, such a disparity is not surprising. Those who adopt the persona of crusader and whose crusades appear unbridled, disproportionate to the real nature of their object, are all too often those who harbor some hidden moral failing for which they seek to compensate with their crusading.

We note a particular case of our own experience, with particulars unaddressed to protect the identity of the guilty. Not quite a quarter century ago, we made brief acquaintance with a minister who took brief but intense interest in our SWNIDish career as a young graduate student. The minister decided to ask us about our view of an article, recently published in a prominent Christian journal, that addressed a topic of mild controversy. Expressing our qualified support for the article's point of view, we then experienced about 90 minutes of verbal scorn from our new acquaintance. Being young and inexperienced, we attempted dialogue in violation of the dominical saying recorded in Matthew 7:6, with predictable failure to come to a meeting of the minds. We left the conversation puzzled as to why anyone would argue so vociferously with a new acquaintance on a point of theology that was at most marginally consequential.

Months later, our adversary was revealed as a serial adulterer.

Since then, we have been impressed by other such cases in which individuals with secret moral failures attempt to balance them with their public posturing as ideological or moral exemplars. This, by the way, is more than the talented, charismatic public figure (politician or clergyman) who gratifies his ego with public adulation and private sexual predation. It is the individual who is privately drawn, even addicted, to a darkly immoral behavior and who couples it with a public persona of not just moral rectitude but aggressive moral leadership.

We hasten to add the obvious: not all crusaders are compensating for hidden sins, and not all who hide their sin compensate by crusading. But when a crusader is revealed as was Spitzer, we find ourselves unsurprised.

For SWNID, the lesson of such cases is this: human beings are inherently and persistently compelled to view themselves as moral creatures. Eliot Spitzer, no less than less prominent and powerful folk, wants to be fancied--by himself as much as by others--as a good person. Crusading against corruption in business and government gave him that sense, for him putting a bandage on the gaping wound of his sexual misbehavior.

For us, this is more than an example of the dangers of rationalization or the seductions of power or the pitfalls of relativism. It's ironic confirmation that people at their most lost want nothing more than to be restored to uprightness and significance. We just want to be found.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Tribute to Human Ingenuity

We thank one of our colleagues for sharing this impressive photo with us, a example of the endless creativity and adaptability of human beings, even those who belong to the most despised classes.

Where the Dems Are These Days

It's not a pleasant place to be.

We commend the Huffington-Posted rant of one Seth Grahame-Smith, who uses a few hundred words to articulate his determination no longer to enable the former First Enabler, Senator Clinton. Ms. Rodham-Clinton's* flaws of character and experience are so many and varied that they eventually overcome even those whose politics commit them to the habitual ignoring of obvious realities.

Meanwhile, it remains a mathematical unlikelihood that the Democrats can avoid having their candidate chosen by party elders, the so-called superdelegates, which puts on display the inherent commitment of the left not to be bound by any rules or principles, even of their own making.

The Party of Jefferson and Jackson a generation ago devised a presidential nominating system that largely enshrined "the will of the people" to select its nominee but still empowered a large class of senior sages to make the final determination when the people's will was unclear. With the power to review and revise that system whenever it wished, the party continued with it happily until it actually needed the wisdom of the sages whom it so empowered.

And so now the party's own chairman has publicly told the sages not to exercise their judgment against the will of the people, as if such a thing could be discerned in such a tight series of primaries. Meanwhile, the calls continue for a mulligan for Michigan and Florida, forbidden to seat committed delegates by party rules and rulings. So one wonders after such a do-over is granted whether Iowans and New Hampshirites will ask to choose again from the now shortened list of candidates who endure the Democratic nominating spectacle. After all, they wasted some of their votes on Edwards and Biden and (saints preserve us) Kucinich. And things have changed since January. And we must count every vote! Every day!

One further wonders how a party that fully expects to be able to fund a government takeover of 18% of the US economy refuses to pay for a mail-in primary for two populous states that it styles as disenfranchised by its own ineptitude.

Such a cycle cannot end for those for whom principle is mere sentiment, laws are subject to endless reinterpretation, and contracts can be voided on political or magisterial whim. The relativists are hoist by their own petard, bereft of even the most obvious fixed points by which to extricate themselves from their self-laid trap.

*One of the world's shortest books: Republicans with Hypenated Last Names.

Shroud of Turin Accidentally Washed with Cardinal's Red T-Shirt

One of the better recent Onion parodies of religion, topic per title above, is found here, just in time for Easter.

What's sad is that the "real" media will likely come out with something no less funny, just not intentionally so.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

SWNID Inquires: Hairstyles

Normally we use this blog to tell our gentle readers what to think and why to think it. Today we reverse roles. Teach us, O blessed flock!

Specifically, we are ignorant of a cultural phenomenon that has recently entered our consciousness, namely, that young men have taken to combing the hairs on top of their head from the left and right sides toward the middle, so that the ends of the hairs stand upright, perpendicular to the ground in a ridge that runs along the circumference that intersects the nose and the spinal cord. We note that these same young men may have instructed their hairstylists to leave the hairs of the central top circumference longer for this very purpose.

We'd call this cut a "Mohawk," but we recall that that hairstyle involved shaving the head except for the central circumference. This doesn't. Further, Mohawks sported hair ridges that were generally wider, if memory serves.

If we were naming it, we'd probably call this style a "Shark Fin," though in all SWNIDish honesty it really should be called a "Silly Haircut."

We would supply an illustrative picture, but we don't know what keywords to use to find an image.

So our questions are these:

1. What is this hairstyle actually called?

2. Where in the world did it come from?

3. Why would anyone bother to do that with his hair?

4. Are women doing this too?

N.B. that we have noticed this style as of late we have observed various students and alumni of our august institution of higher education. We are committed to the maxim that when a trend reaches our students and alumni, it is by definition out of style. More simply, when a trend is spotted at 2700 Glenway, it is at that moment untrendy. We encourage comments on the mindset of CCU students and alumni who pursue such trends despite this immutable truth.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Take the Church Leaders Survey

Our gentle readers, who by definition are church leaders, are gently urged to take the church leaders' survey being conducted by the excellent folks at Christian Standard. It's fun and easy!

Be sure to indicate that you read SWNID regularly and consider SWNID critically important to your life and to the future of the Restoration Movement.

The Morning After: SWNID Pontificates

Our SWNIDish observations on political matters local and national following yesterday's highly significant primaries:

  • Locally, the most obvious effect of the highly contested Democratic Party Presidential Primary is the passage of the Cincinnati Public Schools tax levy. Such could not happen without the large number of Democrats who came out to vote for their preferred liberal Their natural inclination being to ratify taxes for just about any purpose, the levy squeaked by despite little campaigning and much high-profile opposition. As a qualified fan of CPS, we take ironic pleasure in this outcome.
  • In essence, McCain won all the primaries last night on both sides. He can now depend on the Dems to continue to go negative on each other, giving his campaign staff plenty of footage that they can assemble next fall for their own ads. He can also depend on the Democrats' slugfest to awaken grouchy conservatives to the stark reality that he is not just their only choice in November but is a fundamentally better choice than enduring four years of a left-wing executive with a congressional majority. The fight between the Democrats will both split them and energize their opponents, in other words.
  • Hillary still can't possibly win the nomination outright on the first ballot, but Obama likewise has a tough road to a majority of delegates if she continues to run and to capture around half of the committed delegates that remain to be chosen. This leaves the Dems with a nomination that must be decided by its own rules and its own leadership, the so-called superdelegates. But given the Democrats' proclivity to fighting about their rules and litigating election results, we think that the most interesting bets are on the proposition that before all this is over, Hillary and Obama will end up in court over something, perhaps the standing of delegates from Michigan and Florida. We wonder whether Vegas bookmakers are taking bets on that. We also expect this spectacle further to damage the party of the left.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

From Our Correspondent: An Obama Insider Speaks

We thank a gentle reader who will remain totally anonymous for sharing these tidbits from a conversation while seated on an airplane next to an Obama staffer, which we quote in our correspondent's own words:

  • The Obama camp are shocked at how well things have gone. They thought they could give her a run for the money but no one thought they could possibly TKO her at this rather early date.
  • His head campaign directors (Axelrod & Pluff are the last names I think) are seen as geniuses within political circles and their strategies will be copied for years to come.
  • The Clinton machine is unbelievably well built and he respects his adversary immensely.
  • The base of their support sounds a lot like a large scale Huckabee type operation…literally millions of people volunteering their time and giving small donations over and over again to keep the campaign rolling at a phenomenal pace. In fact in front of me was a kid from Stanford who flew in between exams to work free for the campaign for the weekend in Cincinnati. A ton of volunteer free labor that dwarfs Clinton’s army.