Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Fairview School Dedicated

The hardened SWNIDish heart is warmed to know that the new Fairview-Clifton German Language School was dedicated today. For those who continue to think that it's impossible to get a good public school education in Cincinnati proper, we urge a look at this school's outstanding record of over a generation.

Cantor: What Bailout Redux May Be

NRO has Rep. Eric Cantor, a Republican rising star who worked to get the first bailout bill improved and showed the moxie to vote for it on the floor, answering questions about what may be contained in Bailout II: This Time We Pass the Bill. Along the way, he debunks a lot of stuff.

If the media paid more attention to Cantor and less to Barney Frank, America might be a marginally better place.

"We're All Creationists Now (Even the Skeptics!)"

That's the provocative title attached to this week's "ToTheSource" column by Dr. Benjamin Wiker. His point, ably put, is that the present state of science makes theism a highly appealing explanation for the existence of our universe, quite the opposite of the claim of aggressive atheists. He even declares the present as the dawning of theist-friendly science.

We keenly recommend this column for its excellent summary of the present state of real science and its thoughtful critique of flawed views of the relationship between science and religion held both by non-theists and by religious people.

Teetering at the Precipice

We offer telegraphic opinions, sans hyperlinks, on the present distress:

  • Yesterday, hardly a single politician looked good. Pelosi proved how shallow a Speaker of the House can be. Barney Frank proved how shamelessly he can lie. Democrats in general proved that they can't be trusted to govern, no matter what they say about Republicans. McCain and Obama proved that they are completely impotent as leaders of their parties. Bush proved he's the lamest of ducks. Every member of the House who voted against the so-called bailout proved that she or he would rather risk a deflationary depression than take a stand that's unpopular in the short term. The single politician who hardly looked good was John Boehner, House Minority Leader, who at least made a good speech in favor of the doomed bill, even if he can't deliver his party's votes.
  • American voters, every bit as eager as SWNID to blame the politicians, have exactly the government they deserve. Has a nation ever been more willing to scapegoat someone--anyone--as the greedy blankety-blank responsible for this mess while failing to acknowledge that everyone is a greedy blankety-blank who has benefited directly or indirectly from the agglomeration of policies that pumped air into the housing and finance bubbles that have burst?
  • Political ideology has seldom been as perniciously used as in the present "debate." The hard right is insisting that free markets be genuinely free, as if panics never happen when they are. The left is insisting that markets must be stringently regulated to avoid disasters, as if there's ever been a market regulated that actually avoided disaster. Neither side has much empirical data to support their doctrinnaire conclusions.
  • The Treasury and the Fed are not without tools to alleviate the present distress. Reports that cross the SWNIDish desk indicate that they're working hard to get cash in banks where it can be lent to businesses who need it to do business. For now, they aren't empowered to do cancer surgery on the finance system, but the patient has already authorized aggressive treatment with drugs and radiation. The finance system's implosion may still be limited, and the consequent recession may still be contained.
  • Barring some unforeseen development (scandalous revelations, new international crisis, effective political Hail Mary), Obama will be the next president. Pray that he empowers Democrats like Robert Rubin, not Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi. If he chooses the latter, look for terms like "tax shelter," "stagflation," and "job action" to re-enter the popular vocabulary.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

CCU Beyond the Call Chapel

Video of CCU's Beyond the Call Chapel is available here, from radio station WLW of all places.*

Sorry not to embed it on the blog, but there's no handy like for doing so. Gentle readers will have to navigate.

SWNID joins the rest of the CCU family in thanking those who do dangerous stuff to keep the public safe from dangerous stuff. Firefighters and law enforcement personnel, thanks!
*This proves that the internet is just about as important to the media as their traditional media: who ever thought that radio stations would shoot video?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain's Second Coup

The first was selecting Palin.

The second is suspending his campaign to go to Capitol Hill and settle the bailout mess. This is extremely better than his previous dumb stuff like calling for the SEC chair to be fired.

McCain has managed to do multiple good things at once with today's shrewd move:
  • He shows that he sees himself as a leader, at least of his party, if not Congress and the country.
  • He looks like he cares more about the country than his campaign.
  • He shows a predisposition to action.
  • When a bill inevitably passes, he can claim some credit for the outcome, which will doubtless have salutary effects in the short term.
  • He has taken initiative away from his opponent, who is forced either to comply or find some grounds to object.
Obama chose not to comply, which would make him look weak, but to object. We think his objections look weak: not wanting to inject presidential politics into the process (Americans want their President injected in processes, and everything that happens among politicians is injected with presidential politics these days), and saying that the debates should go on because Presidents should be able to do more than one thing at a time (so should Roosevelt have opened a supermarket on December 8, 1941?). If Obama thinks he can pound McCain as a chicken for failing to show up for Friday's debate, we think Americans will again prefer action to talk.

Really, we think Obama is running like Thomas Dewey in 1948, trying to commit to nothing so as not to lose. By doing nothing, he risks Truman's "do-nothing" label being applied to him as Truman applied it to the Republican Congress that fateful year.

Best Catchphrase Since "Stuck on Stupid"

We nominate "a nut in search of a squirrel," used yesterday by the indispensible James Taranto.

We intend to drop this phrase into our conversation in the next few days. Appropriately and charitably, of course.

Where's This Guy When We Need Him to Solve the Financial Crisis?

We thank intrepid gentle reader KevinK for directing us to this vital video:

We confess that this trailer gives us hope. We like the new setting (far from LA) and the more global perspective. We admit that we're a sucker for kids too.

Politics in the Pulpit This Sunday

And speaking of government regulation and those who are above it all . . .

This Sunday is the day that thirty or so ministers will poke the IRS in the eye by explicitly endorsing from the pulpit candidates for POTUS. The Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that exists to provide legal defense for issues of religious liberty, is organizing the spectacle.

The rationale is that the IRS restricts freedom of speech and religious practice by forbidding churches to give official endorsements to candidates.

SWNID says that's a first-order canard.

The IRS does not restrict the right of churches or pastors to act politically. It simply enforces sensible legislation that forbids political activity by organizations that are authorized to receive donations for which the donors receive charitable tax deductions. Political activity, in the form of soliciting votes, is forbidden to the 501 (c) 3 organization. Partisan activity is taxable.

In other words, any church that wants to tell its members who to vote for can do so. Donors to the church just can't deduct their donations from their incomes on Schedule A, and the church has to make that clear.

Only by seeing a tax deduction for a donation as a constitutional right can this silly display be justified.

We give SWNIDish scorn to everyone connected with this upcoming spectacle for their breathtaking inconsistency: give me my tax deduction, to which I am permanently entitled, but don't tell me what I have to do to maintain it.

We give SWINDish scorn to the same group for their lack of foresight on this issue. If this group of renegades somehow prevailed legally, we would live in a world where every political party would incorporate as a church to enjoy the benefit of tax deductibility for donations given to finance TV ads that accuse the Other Guy of molesting children and stealing from widows.

A Failure of Regulation?

One way of looking at the present financial crisis is that Uncle Sugar failed to regulate the world of finance. That can mean that the present regulations were poorly administered or that proper regulations were never put in place. The fact that this accusation is made mostly by Democrats as part of the never-ending-story entitled "It's Bush's Fault" should not prejudice citizens one way or another as to its validity.

But maybe this will. Inside Higher Ed reports today that even though the recently passed reauthorization of the Higher Ed Act requires all American colleges and universities to have emergency response plans, a pending piece of new legislation, the School Safety Enhancements Act, will require the very same thing.

Why would the greatest minds in our country unnecessarily duplicate laws, thereby obscuring the very standards they seek to enforce? Well, cynics might say it's because they care more about the political impact of their having sponsored legislation to "keep our students safe" than actual outcomes of safety. In the upcoming election the pol will advertise, "I sponsored a bill to keep our students safe from terrorists and crazed shooters," and "my opponent refused to support a bill to keep our students safe," never mind that the law was already on the books.

But not being a cynic, we are loath to make such accusations.

We will, however, note that our Republic's institutions of higher education have responded with one voice in seeing such legislation as unnecessary government meddling that creates a burden of bureaucratic reporting with little real effect. These born-again libertarians are ready to dress up as Native Americans and throw the tea of higher ed regulation into Boston Harbor.

Of course, a significant number of them are currently decrying the present administration's failure to regulate finance adequately. Geese and ganders require different sauces, perhaps because financiers are not to be trusted while professors are.

And that is to say nothing about other regulatory issues, like greenhouse gases and vehicle fuel mileage and product safety and job safety and all that, all of which has massive support in the higher ed community. There's really just one area where the majority of university folk don't want government interference.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Owings: Kaboom Kaboom!

Saturday night Dusty Baker sent pitcher Micah Owings to the plate to pinch hit. The bases were loaded. Two were out.

Owings delivered a two-run single. The Reds never trailed thereafter.

We believe that makes him two for two as a Red, in both cases delivering the go-ahead-to-stay RBI.

We offer to personally purchase a first-baseman's glove for Owings, if it helps for next year. He'll need something to do on the days he doesn't pitch.

We also note that with this hit, Owings clinched a playoff berth for the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps this is the Cubs' year, a century since their last one.

The SWNID Dare: Deliver This Speech, Win Our Vote

SWNID pledges to vote for the first major-party candidate for President who delivers the following speech (and it doesn't need to be attributed):

My fellow Americans:

Today our country faces its greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and it comes in the middle of a presidential campaign. As a candidate in that campaign, I apologize to you, the citizens of this great country, for the way that I have mischaracterized the crisis and underestimated your judgment and wisdom as voters.

I apologize for trying to place blame for this crisis in the hands of a few people. It is not the President’s fault that Wall Street investment banks have come unraveled. Neither is it the fault of a few “fat cats” who acted with exceptional greed. In the last week my opponent and I have adopted rhetoric that sought to appeal to your anger and fear by scapegoating such powerful figures. That was wrong. I was wrong. I am sorry.

I also apologize for suggesting that a new round of government regulation will solve such problems. Today we must admit that government regulations were a part of the problem. I pledge that if you elect me your President, I will work with Congress, the Treasury Department and others to craft legislation and regulations that will protect the freedom of our economy to grow and prosper. But I promise that I will not pretend to have solved the next problem by passing laws to prevent the last one. You wouldn’t trust a doctor who told you that medicine that treats your last sickness will prevent you ever becoming sick again. I don’t think you should trust a politician who says that he or she will pass a law that claims to do the same.

With the help of leading economists, I believe that I have come to a better understanding of our present dilemma. I will not insult your intelligence by suggesting that I expected this crisis, any more than any significant group of economists can claim to have predicted it. And certainly neither my opponent nor his party expected it, either. Yes, many people suggested that there was danger in the credit markets, but such warnings did not and could not anticipate what has happened specifically in the last few weeks. Even the brightest, best informed human beings are bad prognosticators. That includes Presidents and presidential candidates. That’s why there was no proposed legislation that would have kept this mess from happening. No one is that smart about the future.

So, with hindsight, what has led to the financial crisis that we now face? First of all, money has been extremely cheap. Our Federal Reserve, in an effort to buoy our economy through the damage of 9/11 and other difficulties, made the choice to set interest rates lower than they have been at any point in modern history. This move came at a time when global investment funds were many times larger than at any point previously. As a result, billions of dollars were looking for an investment home. With interest rates historically low, it was possible to borrow even more money and loan it out at a higher rate, still very attractive, in the form of home mortgages, making a profit on the difference in interest rates. Any investor worth his salt could see the opportunity, and many did.

That opportunity was in part made possible by a long standing government policy. It has been the goal of both major parties since the Second World War to increase home ownership among our citizens. New laws and regulations have sought to encourage mortgage lending to an ever-wider circle of Americans. Private investors, encouraged by those policies, created mortgage-backed securities to provide money for buying homes. I am pleased to say that even with the profound difficulties that have arisen recently, home ownership in the United States is at a historic high. If it is good for people to own their own home, and for many people it certainly is, then our government has pursued a wise and honorable policy.

What this means is that as it became appealing for investors to enter the mortgage market, they had the strong encouragement of our nation’s laws and regulations, and they had the means. Investment banks, when they bought mortgage-backed securities, were doing what the government encouraged them to do. Let’s be honest here: we all want to live in a country where it’s easy to get a mortgage and buy a home. We have elected governments for generations that supported that goal. Investors have been doing what we wanted them to do. We can hardly blame them.

But when too much economic interest and activity focuses on a particular portion of the economy, bubbles develop. And bubbles inevitably burst. This is not the first bubble to burst in the United States. It is one of many. And it is not the last. Bubbles are the result of human enthusiasm, of the way that we all tend to follow the crowd, and even of human greed, something that affects all of us, not just the wealthy.

That bubble’s burst has been more serious for our economy precisely because of what our government did in response to another economic crisis. A few years ago, the Enron Corporation collapsed when it became clear that it had not placed a proper value for its investments on its books. In response, Congress passed a bill compelling corporations to value their investments at the price for which they could be sold immediately.

That seemed like good sense, like a means to protect Americans from future Enrons. But in the present case, it has made the situation worse. Investments in mortgage-backed securities, which are bundles of mortgages divided among several investors, are presently all but impossible to sell because no one is quite sure how many of the underlying mortgages are in default. Please remember, my fellow Americans, that our housing crisis, though significant, is contained. About 95% of American homeowners are paying their mortgages on time. But the uncertainty of these mortgage-backed securities has meant that their market is illiquid, that is, buyers are not ready to buy them immediately at a reasonable price. Consequently, investment banks holding those securities have been forced to value them at zero because the market for them has temporarily disappeared. The securities are not really worth nothing: the vast majority of mortgages are paying off, and those that aren’t are collateralized by houses and land that have some value even in the very worst of times. In a few months or a couple of years, the value of those securities will be much clearer and much higher than zero. But the rules require that these investment banks take an immediate loss on their books for these illiquid securities.

When a bank has to devalue its assets, it must raise more capital, more investment money, to continue to operate. But because other private investors are similarly affected by the present crisis, there simply isn’t enough capital to manage that. The only private entity that could buy a failing investment bank is another investment bank, and they’re all in the same fix. Only the government has the money to step in at such a time.

This so-called bailout is not a matter of saving rich investors. It is a matter of keeping money, the life-blood of our economy, circulating through the economy. If the major investment banks failed, money to start a business, build a factory, buy a car or home, or go to college would disappear. Businesses would be unable to borrow money to purchase goods to sell. Manufacturers would be unable to borrow money for raw materials and parts. The bailout is not for the investors, many of whom will see only pennies on the dollar for their investments. It is for all of us, to prevent a spiral of financial shut-down that would impoverish every American.

This bailout is not the first in our nation’s history. The first came early. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s Treasury Secretary, engineered the first government bailout of the financial system. It’s no accident that we honor those leaders today, as Washington’s picture is on our one-dollar bill and Hamilton’s on the ten. They did the right thing, as did other national leaders in later financial crises.

So I affirm what Secretary Paulson is doing. The Treasury Department has had to act quickly, improvising a solution to a problem with details that no one anticipated. I add that you should understand that the price tag for their proposals seems very high, as high as $900 billion. However, much of that money, perhaps all of it, can be recovered by the government as it sells off the assets that it is acquiring in the deal, assets that, as we noted before, have intrinsic value that the markets will reflect when the crisis has passed. In the end, we may find that Uncle Sam has made a small profit. In any case, all of us will be better off for this action.

So what of the future, and what of my plans as a candidate? I will not give you my program for solving this crisis. By the time I take office, the solution to this crisis had better be well underway, as indeed it appears to be. Solving the investment banking crisis will not be on the agenda by January 2009.

But there will certainly be other economic issues to face. Neither I nor my opponent nor anyone who advises us can possibly predict the precise situation of our economy on inauguration day in January 2009.

But I can offer to you the following principles and observations that will guide the decisions that I make. Many of these do not resemble the things I’ve said over the last few days as I have indulged a politician’s taste for populist red meat. I again apologize for that foolish indulgence as I offer you the following pledges.

First, I promise not to appeal to your greed and envy by promising to raise others’ taxes while lowering yours. You know in your heart that if Bill Gates and Warren Buffet pay higher taxes, it won’t make you one penny better off. No one ever taxed a country into prosperity. Instead, I pledge to look at ways that American tax rates can be adjusted to make us more competitive globally and more prosperous domestically. The fact that our corporate tax rate is second highest in the world does not help us keep jobs in this country. I promise to explore ways to fix that.

Second, I promise not to demonize the corporations that provide needed goods and services to Americans. We cannot ask for more oil and cheaper gas and at the same time blame “big oil,” the very companies that drill for oil and supply our gas, for all our ills. Oil companies are entitled to their profits, and they need them to reinvest in new oil fields. The same can be said for other large corporations, which employ so many of our citizens and supply so much of what makes our lives more comfortable and safe. Rather than demonizing big business, I will encourage ordinary Americans to invest in big business, to become owners of our corporations. Consequently, I will ask Congress to consider legislation allowing Americans to invest a portion of their Social Security contributions in private investment accounts through which they can buy mutual funds that will make them the owners of corporations large and not so large.

Third, I promise not to interfere with the inevitable failure of businesses in this country, even large ones of which we have been justifiably proud. Today some in the American automobile industry are asking for a “bailout” like what the investment banks have received. Let’s note that the investment banks are not being saved. The government is selling them off in an orderly way that maintains the liquidity of our financial system. That’s not what some want for GM, Ford and Chrysler. They want guarantees that those corporations will continue to operate. As President, I won’t give such guarantees. Especially at a time when automotive companies from around the world are investing in new manufacturing plants in the United States, we have no special need for companies with headquarters in Detroit. Our government will support efforts to retrain and relocate displaced workers if such failures happen. But we will not nationalize industries in this country. We’ve seen the miserable results of nationalized industries in Europe’s experiments in the twentieth century.

Fourth, I promise to articulate clearly the relationship between government and business in this country. Government isn’t exactly the problem, but it certainly isn’t the solution either. Governments must provide the rule of law that makes business possible. As business evolves, government must find new ways to encourage transparent, honest dealings between people. But no set of rules can eliminate entirely the human penchant for greed and dishonesty. Citizens who want to buy a home or an investment or even a can of beans bear personal responsibility to check the claims made for their prospective purchase. There’s a reason that we express this with an ancient Latin phrase, caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware.” It’s a rule of life that’s as older as the Romans.

The present financial crisis is both a failure of regulation and a failure to regulate. Saying that this crisis proves we need more or less regulation is the kind of nonsense you’ve come to expect from politicians.

Fifth, I promise that I will never pretend that as President, I manage the economy. I won’t take credit for economic growth. I won’t claim to have created jobs. The credit for such good news goes to the women and men who raise capital to start businesses, who gain skills to fill jobs, who save money to invest, who use their God-given creativity, imagination, intelligence and ambition to find new ways to fulfill the needs and desires of their fellow humans in this country and around the world.

Likewise, I won’t pretend to bring an end to the inevitable cycles of our economy. Economic ups and downs happen because none of us are wise enough, singly or even collectively, to know every time that we are acting excessively, with bad judgment. Collective over-reaction is what leads to bubbles that burst. The economy will have its ups and downs for as long as it is the consequence of human action.

Consequently, I will never pretend that government by itself can solve what markets cannot. Markets need government, as I noted before, but both markets and government are run by frail humans. Businesspeople and politicians alike have severe limits to their judgment. Worse, they are susceptible to hubris and greed to roughly the same degree. Good government can enforce a degree of honesty, but even the best law cannot foil a determined scoundrel.

These days have been trying ones for those in the business of finance. Consequently, they’ve been trying for all of us. But let’s not exaggerate our situation. Americans at every level of our social structure enjoy greater access to housing, food, clothing, education and medical care than at any time in our nation’s history. Our economy and culture continue to be enriched as new generations of immigrants come to these shores to make better lives for themselves, just did the ancestors of the native born, even “native Americans,” whose ancestors simply made the move earlier than the rest of us. We can say that we are all beneficiaries of a culture, a constitution, a legal system and a business environment that makes it possible for millions to pursue happiness in a context of life and liberty. We can say with confidence that God has blessed America.

And so we ask God to bless America once again.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Finance, the Economy, and the Campaign

Let's make some things clear, briefly and SWNIDishly, about Wall Street and November 4.

First, the present crisis is one of finance, not the economy. Those are different things. Pillars of finance, the companies that keep money flowing to businesses and so to individuals so that commerce--production and consumption--can take place, have been hit hard. The "bailout" is not happening to save fat cats (though it could do that as well) but to keep money flowing so that the economy doesn't seize up.

Second, neither presidential candidate is quitting himself with dignity this week. When not exaggerating the significance of the other's statements and record (and we aren't especially interested in deciding which one has done that more egregiously, though we'll aver that Obama does it with a Democrat's greater sense of entitlement to do so), both have made absurd statements about what's wrong and what ought to be done.

Third, in such hysterical times, we note the positions of the parties in general on such matters, as the candidates seem consumed with the next soundbite, knowing that when they assume office, things will have moved along. The Dems have solons among them who know how this stuff works. Robert Rubin, Clinton's Treasury Secretary and now chairman of Citigroup, is one. Obama seems to be saying that he'll surround himself with such folk. The GOP consists almost entirely of such solons, as Henry Paulson, Bush's Treasury Secretary and former chairman of Goldman Sachs, illustrates. Said solons will likely proceed on similar paths regarding crises like this one.

But the difference comes in the larger economic and fiscal paradigms of the parties. We won't belabor the point because Mike Ramierez, cartoonist for Investors Business Daily, makes the point so well above. Obama's policies look dismally like the mix of Republican and Democratic mismanagment that yielded 20% unemployment for a decade in the 1930s. For more on that historical perspective, we defer to Amity Shlaes, who in today's WSJ summarizes her historical work on policy, finance and the economy in the Great Depression, with disturbing implications for both candidates' current rhetoric and one candidate's current policy positions.
More could be said about how the last spasm of regulation, the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules, have exacerbated this crisis, or the way that heavy regulation can create the very moral hazards that lead to crises like this one. Something could be said about how the Fed's policy of extremely low interest rates fueled the housing credit bubble that, like all bubbles, has now burst. Further, we could discuss that the issue is not whether the government ought to regulate markets, as government always creates the rule of law that makes markets possible, but what kind and how much regulation. We could even discuss the hypocrisy of those politicians who point fingers at their opposite numbers, accusing them of having taken no action to anticipate and deflect this crisis, when said politicians were themselves in office, even as committee chairs in Congress.
But life is short and filled with more important things than blogging. For now we leave this much to the consideration of our gentle readership.

Friday, September 19, 2008

SWNID Apologizes for Biden

Some nine months ago, implored by a gentle reader to advise on which Democrat a loyal Democrat should back for the nomination, we offered some analysis of the candidates at the time, including this about Joe Biden:

Anyone who votes for Biden should remember that (a) he has an awful tendency to speak before thinking, a tendency that we recognize easily as a fellow sufferer; (b) he has no chance of actually getting the nomination. A vote for Biden is a vote that he be appointed to the cabinet by the next President, which strikes us as what he's probably after in his campaign, aside from the adrenaline rush of being near the action.

Well, certainly Biden got more than he expected with the veep nomination. And he's proved to be everything we suggested, and more. Even the Gray Lady is saying as much:

Yet Joltin’ Joe has also become a fascinating Off Broadway spectacle in his own right. He is a distinctive blend of pit bull and odd duck whose weak filters make him capable of blurting out pretty much anything — “gaffes,” out-of-nowhere comments (pivoting midspeech to say “Excuse my back!” to people seated behind him), goofy asides (tapping a reporter’s chest and telling him, “You need to work on your pecs.”) . . .

[Referring to Senator McCain] “It literally saddens me,” added Mr. Biden, who tends to used the word “literally” about a dozen times per speech (literally).

We are literally apologizing for ever suggesting, even half seriously, that folks vote for this motormouth. And we ask why Obama thought that someone who had run twice for the presidential nomination and never even come close would add something to his ticket. And we wonder why people think that a guy with this level of verbal discipline is ready to be a heartbeat from the presidency while Governor Palin is not.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

For All Who've Been to Church Camp

Dan Smith, leading rap artist of the Christian Churches who spoke and rapped in CCU's chapel today, has created this tribute to a beloved institution.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bronson on Hurricane Relativity

The Enquirer's Peter Bronson nicely contextualizes the differing impacts of the hurricane season on different communities, namely Cincinnati and Gonaives

Downed trees and lost shingles are one thing, but devastating floods in a subsistence economy are another.

So Much for Reinventing Politics

Obama will not redraw the electoral map. If he wins, it will be by carrying blue states plus a crucial swing state or two. That much is clear today.

Andrew Romano at Newsweek is noting the obvious trend: red states are getting redder; blue states, purpler. Obama's eroding lead in Pennsylvania and Minnesota are particularly notable.

It would be foolish to assume that these trends are permanent, even though we have SWNIDishly called the election already. However, we do insist that if Obama continues to respond with tired Democratic Party tropes--Karl Rove! Lies! Swiftboating! More of Bush! Out of touch!--he'll wither.

The present unease among the electorate does not make them willing to listen to Obama when he sounds like Dukakis or Gore or Kerry. He says he's all about change, so how about changing the way his party runs for president?

Same goes for the mainstream media. It's come out that a photographer working for the Atlantic used pictures of McCain to post some photoshopped goofiness. We'll allow that she was freebooting, but it's also worth noting that the storied monthly ran a less doctored picture on its cover with the perfectly objective title, "Why War Is His Answer." And it's also worth noting that the photographer in question has a history of egregious bias in manipulating photographs and photographic subjects.

We doubt that anyone's vote was changed by the Atlantic's running what was at best an ironic cover title, any more than they flipped votes the previous month with their heroic portrayal (in conver and contents) of Obama over against McCain. Folks who read the monthly actually have to read it to enjoy it, so we expect that they can factor for writers' and editors' preferences.

Still, when as evenhanded and "above-it-all" a publication as the Atlantic, whose editoral position is labeled "center-right" by Wikipedia, does this, one can hardly affirm that the media has developed a better consciousness about its alleged biases.

How to Respond to a Closed or Open Campus

Yesterday many CCU students enjoyed a cookout on the quad, decorated the sidewalks with chalk drawings, read, played board games, assisted with traffic control on Glenway Avenue, and found other ways to redeem their un-electrified time.

Miami University, with the benefit of an emergency generating system, announced that it would be open today. Some 1000 students protested, complaining that while power was available on campus, students living off campus were unable to set alarms, cook, or use computers. The university's reminder that such students could avail themselves of the library for study were insufficient to quell the protests.

We don't mean to imply that either institution's students are all alike in their adaptability or lack thereof. We simply note the irony of students complaining that their university is too well prepared for an emergency.

CCU Closed on Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yesterday the power was on. Then it was off again.

It's still off.

So classes are canceled at CCU for the main campus today. That's true even if the power does come back on, since we can't un-cancel effectively.

By the way, this means that the CCU web site, email and phone system are not functioning.

SWNID is tired of this. We never thought we'd say it, but we hate Ike.

Update: The power came back on at 7:55 a.m., ironically enough, and has stayed on all day. So our early version of Sukkot looks set to end, with classes extremely likely on Wednesday.

Monday, September 15, 2008

CCU Closed on Monday, September 15, 2008

This blog is normally a place for miscellaneous observations of the kind shared around the coffee maker and the water cooler.

But because of the extraordinary events of the last eighteen hours, we now use it as a backup to more conventional means of communication.

Some local media outlets are sharing this official announcement; others seem to be having trouble catching up. Other means that one would normally use to spread the word are unavailable: thanks to the power failure, CCU's email and and web page are down.

But the SWNID household is blessed with electricity, and Blogspot is working. So here's the gospel:

Cincinnati Christian University is closed on Monday, September 15, 2008 because there is no electrical power on campus.

We thank those local media outlets who are announcing this accurately and hope for better things soon from those who haven't yet caught up with the latest closings.

It's a weird day for everyone around here and a hard day for some. This little matter is significant but hardly the most significant.

Update: As of 10:18 p.m. EDT on Monday, September 15, 2008, we have not yet made a decision about opening or closing on Tuesday, September 16, 2008, despite what you might have inferred from channel 19 WXIX. Power was restored for a few hours on campus this afternoon, only to disappear later. We'll see what's happening early in the morning and make the call then. Check local media for the announcement, as we can only use the web site and the phone system if there's power on campus to run the servers and phone messages.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Advice for the Palin Kids

With all the stupidly cruel stuff that's been circulated about Trig Palin, SWNID recommends Michael Franc's reflection on being siblings with a developmentally disabled citizen.

Franc recounts how his life was enriched by his late brother John. He then offers some advice to the elder Palin children on being brothers and sisters to Trig. Here's SWNID's favorite part:

Don’t hesitate to hold his hand in public when you walk down Main Street, even (especially) after he reaches adulthood. Be honored to be known simply as Trig’s brother or sister.

Owings as a Red: Kaboom!

Saturday's debut of player-to-be-named-later Micah Owings, the Babe Ruth of the 21st century, with the Cincinnati Reds, couldn't have been more dramatic.

Dusty Baker today told Marty Brennaman that Owings had said that he wasn't sure whether he could pitch but he was sure he could hit.

Owings was understatedly right. In the tenth inning, he knocked a pinch-hit double to drive in the deciding run.

Gentle readers will be glad to know that Owings is a committed Christian as well as an amazing hitter and talented pitcher.

Welcome to Cincinnati, Micah! We hope that you have a lot of nights like Saturday.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Palin on the Bush Doctrine

We didn't watch former morning show personality Charlie Gibson's interview of Sarah Palin, as we have actual work to do and as we figure that the media interpretation of the interview is as important as the interview itself. This morning it appears that the "gotcha" is Gov. Palin's handling of Gibson's opaque question about the "Bush Doctrine."

The problem is, of course, the question, not the answer. The "Bush Doctrine" means many things to many people. And for a candidate in 2008, how anyone responds to anything labeled "Bush" is fraught with peril ("Governor, do you enjoy Bush's baked beans?"). So Palin's first response, to seek clarification, is natural and necessary, even wise.

When Gibson then identified the "Bush Doctrine" as the right to strike preemptively, he did two things. One was to identify as the "Bush Doctrine" something that Bush asserted but which was not originally the substance of the thing. The original "Bush Doctrine" was that nations harboring terrorists will be treated as terrorists. Remember the famous post-9/11 speech in which Bush said that those who aren't with us are against us? SWNID does, but Gibson has forgotten that speech, remembering instead only parts of later speeches on the rationale for the invasion of Iraq.

At any rate, Palin did what national figures on the international stage have to do with vague questions that call for specific commitments about future hypotheticals: answered according to a vague but important general principle. To wit, she didn't say that she'd strike preemptively, but she said that the primary function of national government is to protect its people. Good enough.

In SWNID's own sphere and away from the cameras, we get asked this stuff all the time, as in "What do you think of . . ."
  • "the emerging church movement?"
  • "the emergent church movement?"
  • "the idea that Satan is bound right now?"
  • "higher criticism?"
  • "unaccredited seminaries?"
  • "ministers who don't have degrees from one of our Bible colleges?"
  • "ministers who are elected as elders?"
  • "community churches?"
  • "contemporary Christian music?"
  • "the way that so-and-so is running his church/organization?"
Given that one seldom knows what is in the mind of the inquirer who offers such broad, vaguely defined objects of inquiry, let alone whether the inquirer is interested in thinking more about the subject, in learning SWNID's point of view as a potentially stimulating one, or in deciding whether SWNID is worthy of elevation to the bishopric or burning at the stake, it's hard to know how to answer. We don't exactly know the question or the motive, after all. So we typically ask for clarification and then give an answer that runs toward "On the one hand . . . On the other hand."

More's the case, we assume, when the question is asked in front of a hundred million voters.

So it is the knowledgeable politician who answers an opaque question with an opaque answer. In some circles, such answers are called "diplomatic."

For more on this, we direct gentle readers to Andy McCarthy's post on National Review Online's collaborative blog, "The Corner."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eyewitness to Gonaives Flood

Friend of SWNID Bill Fudge was in Gonaives, Haiti, when Hurricane Hanna destroyed the city. Today on WKRC, he recounted some of his experiences. Bill is an extreme veteran of work in Haiti, but he'll tell you that this is the worst thing he's seen.

Here's the video:

As always, we recommend that our thoughtful global readership send donations for relief to International Disaster Emergency Services. We can guarantee that all monies will get to the point of need and help people rebuild their lives after the initial wave of disaster relief is gone.

Deters: No Charges

We've been expecting it all along. We were especially expecting it after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters explained the legal issues in an Enquirer op-ed. We've been happy about it since Deters made the official announcement last night and are still happy today.

Jodie Edwards will not be charged in the tragic death of her daughter Jenna.

Again, everyone at CCU and beyond thanks everyone who has prayed for Jodie, Chris and Eli. They've got a long, long way to go from here. But this is one burden lifted.

SWNID reminds gentle readers that the best response to make to those who have cruelly mischaracterized this tragedy is to ignore them. The other best response is to pray for them as we pray for the Edwards family.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Campaign Analysis Like SWNID's

At the NY Post, regular opinionist Mark Cunningham notes the inability of the Obama campaign to come up with an answer to its slipping popularity. Cunningham's cogent explanation is that Obama has no real experience in a competitive election, and the folks running his campaign only have experience in extremely blue states or in losing national campaigns.

In other words, they're all true-blue Democrats, which is exactly what they've been acting like lately.

Meanwhile, US News and Book of Lists columnist James Pethokoukis compares the Obama phenomenon to various speculative bubbles in economics, like the classic tulip bulb bubble or the more recent tech stock bubble. The analogy isn't perfect, but the behavior of crowds nevertheless can explain a lot.

In other words, he used to look cool, but now it's time to get serious.

Spore Sports Intelligent Designer

We understand that the gaming world, which is apparently still connected somehow to the real world, is agog over the latest game from the creator of Sim City, the Sims, and other simulation games. Spore, we are told, allows the player to direct the evolution of a virtual creature from single-cell organism to something considerably more complex--an intelligent, self-conscious, social being who builds a civilization and perhaps even takes on space travel.

Of course, the very existence of the game demands design at two levels: the game itself is designed, and it calls on the player to make choices about the design of the creature.

Game designer Will Wright describes matters this way to USA Today:

I think the game is really trying to give an overview of evolution in a way that is very toy-like and caricature-like. We put the player in the role of an intelligent designer. When we first started the prototypes (of Spore) that wasn't the case. We had the game carefully mutating things and it just was not emotionally engaging. When we put the players in the role of intelligent designer then people were much more emotionally attached to what they made.

But if you step back from it, you see creatures over many generations get more advanced. All this happens over billions of years. So, however you slice it, is definitely not a creationist universe. You might say it has aspects of intelligent design.

Computer games are not, of course, exactly analogous to the real world. But we think that Spore reflects that all possible worlds, even virtual ones, demand a designer's direction for their existence, let alone their orderliness.

As Campaign Crashes, Obama Meets Godfather

So much is going on so quickly in the campaigns, one can hardly name it all, let alone hyperlink it all:
  • As noted, McCain is getting a bump from Palin and probably from the recognition, as people start paying attention, that he's been right on Iraq.
  • Obama, apparently reading SWNID, has suddenly tacked back to the center, grudgingly admitting the success of the surge, offering support for charter schools, pledging to delay his tax hikes until after the economy recovers so that they don't damage the economy during the current downturn. Why one would want economy-damaging tax hikes at any point in the economic cycle remains an open question, but the moves are nevertheless away from the deadly left and toward the lively center. Whether he can keep his union/leftist base energized and credibly appeal to independents on the issues will take time to tell.
  • Obama has laid some Dubya-like verbal eggs: "my Muslim faith" and "lipstick on a pig." McCainiacs seem ready to pounce on these, but to what effect we can't possibly imagine. Still, the Great Communicator is stammering a bit.
  • Rumors swirl around Palin: that she had an affair, that she runs Alaska like Don Corleone ran the olive oil importation business, that she was for earmarks before she was against them, that she thinks American Soldiers are on a Mission from God, that she will bring about the End of Days if given half a chance. But these rumors seem to enhance public support, admittedly narrow but nonetheless electorally significant. We think that the Voting Public has been reading SWNID on these points as well.

None of this bodes well for the Junior Senator from Illinois, for whom there has been little good news of late.

So Obama's response appears to be a panicked one: he is meeting with the Godfather of the Democratic Party, William Jefferson Clinton, in the esteemed former POTUS's Harlem office. We label this an act of desperation for obvious reasons:

  • Clinton's electoral success, largely a function of his larger-than-life personality, did not translate into success for his party. He lost control of Congress two years after winning the presidency and did not see himself succeeded in office by a member of his own party.
  • Clinton's obvious self-interest lies with his (privately estranged) wife, whose ambitions are at best delayed by Obama's ascendancy.
  • Clinton is famous for destroying his political enemies.

For Obama to be asking Slick for advice has about it a whiff of desperation. Can such advice be trusted, given all that we know of the Man from Hot Springs? Can he expect that his requests will be honored? After all, Clinton is not Sicilian, and it is not the day of his daughter's wedding, so even if Obama calls him "Godfather" and honors him with a pledge to do him some small service in the future (e.g. send Delta Force to capture Ken Starr), will the Godfather do him honest bidding?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Tied? Over!

Well, no sooner do we pronounce that McCain has the mo' and the thing is tied than McCain pulls ahead of Obama in the RCP national poll average.

Newsweek's Andrew Romano has got all the explanations and reasons that can be offered. But we're not entirely sure that he's right about the interpretation: that this is simply what folks expected, i.e. that the election would get close when people started paying attention.

We think Michael Barone is closer to it: McCain has a viable theme for his campaign, but Obama is still trying to run against Dubya.

What continues to make us think that this is decided is that Obama-Biden continue to pound away at liberal themes. That hasn't worked for anyone nationally since LBJ (Clinton and Carter, we hasten to remind ourselves, ran as moderates) and before that worked only for FDR.

SWNID is much more confident of the outcome of this election than in 2000 or 2004 because the Rs aren't saddled with Dubya's weaknesses as a candidate. We're ready to call it on this date, 57 days before the election.

This will test the meaning of "seldom."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

This Election is So Tied

Television audiences for the respective political conventions were of equal size.

Television audiences for the respective presidential nomination acceptance speeches were of equal size.

A poll shows that Sarah Palin is more popular with voters than either Barack Obama or John McCain.

Obama's massive lead with Intrade bets, arguably the best lagging barometer of public opinion, has slipped precipitously in the last week.

National polling shows anything from a slipping Obama lead to a statistical tie to a slight advantage for McCain.

State polls, which come out slowly, show a shrinking Obama lead in the Electoral College (soon to be renamed "Electoral University"?) which shrinks further when McCain's slight lead in close states is credited as wins. If a single state flips in the "no tossups" analysis, McCain wins.

In this age of cell phones no one is quite sure whether pollsters are reaching a statistically valid sampling by calling land lines.

In this age of American Idol no one is quite sure whether the remarkable turnout for Democratic primaries reflects a commitment stronger than the desire to vote on everything that's on TV.

In this present, evil age, no one is quite sure whether white folk who tell pollsters they'll vote for Obama actually will when they enter the voting booth.*

Both candidates have an enormous pile of moolah to lavish on a media hungry for advertising revenues and so ready to goose electoral interest with every aspect of its programming.

So tied it is!
*SWNID recalls, but cannot document, a survey (in CT?) that showed only about 25% of white Americans articulate attitudes that can properly be defined as racist, coupled with the observation that this outcome means that there are two white American racists for every black American. We do not dispute in the least the nature of that finding.

And Since the Subject Is the End Times . . .

Gentle readers should take the "What's Your Eschatology" quiz at QuizFarm.com. We recommend repeated attempts until one's score attains 100% for amillennial.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Candidates' Preachers

Sarah Palin's Pentecostalism is now under media scrutiny. For outsiders, the alarming bit is not the speaking in tongues or praying for the Spirit of Prophecy or such. It's the imminent apocalyptic expectation coupled with advocacy for Israel, which together seem like an itch to personally bring on The End of Days.

SWNID famously despises the dispensationalism (not inherent in Pentecostalism but somehow coincident with it much of the time, at least in North America). We despise it for its miserable exegetical basis, and we despise it for its unintentional but nevertheless significant denigration of the suffering of people at present, which is somehow not great enough to merit categorization as The Great Tribulation (try telling that to folks in Gonaives right now). We have in the past noted with disdain the way that Christians infected with dispensationalism tend to interpret every glass as half empty and every new development as a sign of Impending Doom for All That Is Good.

But now we'll say this: Pentecostals manage somehow to raise families, build businesses, live their lives, pay their debts, make friends, and serve their communities. In fact, most seem to do it quite well. The fact is that their gloomy view of the future doesn't much interfere with their practical lives, their ordinary decisions, or even their extraordinary ones.

So we don't expect that Sarah Palin will try to get us all involved in Armageddon because she used to be a member at Wasilla Assembly of God. Least of all should her preacher's sermons be rehearsed for remarks that, if taken as a political program, appear politically radical. He wasn't imagining someone acting politically on his remarks when he made them.

So, fellow conservatives, we say once again that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The gander is Obama, and his preacher, Jeremiah Wright, has said some stuff himself. But since neither the candidate nor any significant number of his fellow parishioners seem to have taken those statements as an immediate call to radical political action, we say again that Obama's membership in Trinity United Church of Christ is no big deal.

So enough on the pastor-bashing and religion parsing. We'd be happy to go to church with any of these candidates, though we'd be happier for them to go to church with us. But let's settle this on the policy positions, not the theological exotica.

The Best Part of McCain's Acceptance Speech

From the transcript (emphasis inserted):

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.
The call to service thing has been done before, famously by JFK, less famously with G. H. W. Bush's "Thousand Points of Light." We're pretty sure that no President or presidential candidate is well known for having challenged Americans to enter the ministry.

SWNID likes.

Sick Leaves Leaves Sick Ohio

The labor-union-sponsored organization that sought to make paid sick leave mandatory for employees in Ohio has asked that its initiative be removed from the November ballot.

Their public reason is that "a shrill and vitriolic ballot campaign marred by misinformation and disinformation would be impossible to avoid," per a union officer widely quoted on the subject. We appreciate the fact that this spokesperson did not specify that the shrillness and vitriol would emanate from backers of the measure, not opponents, who have patently obvious economic reasoning on their side.

Faux-populist politicians like Senator Sherrod Brown (motto: "suits custom rumpled daily") are pledging to their labor union overlords to pass federal legislation on the subject and claim to have the support of Barack Obama (motto: "giveaways for everyone, costs for no one"). Their slick reasoning goes thus: if Ohio alone mandates paid sick leave, then Ohio will lose jobs to other states; but if the entire United States mandates paid sick leave, jobs will surely not go to Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, China, Laos, or Ghana, since President Obama will ruthlessly punish those who "export" American jobs.

Right. Was it Thomas Friedman who said, "The world is flat, but you can build a wall around America and keep all the good stuff inside"?*

Again, we believe that we are watching the implosion of the Democratic Party, much like the implosion of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The internal contradictions of the party's discredited ideology, so frustrating to those of us who'd like a political debate that is informed and honest, are on display more often than the industrious blogging classes can chronicle. Continuing to pretend that more mandates, stricter regulations and higher taxes are the keys to productivity and prosperity, the Dems are squandering the electoral advantage they seized with moderate and conservative Congressional candidates in 2006.

And Ohio's Democrats are just about the worst of the bunch. So far, the so-called "moderate" Ted Strickland has equivocated on the removal of frat-boy attorney general Mark Dann, given the state's compulsive gamblers a steadier fix with Keno games, and now first supported and then unsupported mandatory sick leave for every employee of every company with more than 25 employees, all while doing nothing to stem the exodus of jobs for which he so richly blamed his predecessors.

Meanwhile, in Washington, wrinkly Sherrod Brown is hoarsely communicating with the shade of George Meany as he plans to have Leon Trotsky's picture put on the $10 bill. Or so we expect to learn sometime next week.

*Attention leftists: don't bother calling us a hypocrite for making fun of a metaphorical wall around the United States because conservatives want to build a literal wall around it, since this conservative has no interest in building walls at borders, as you'd know if you read this blog as often as you should. Attention rightists: don't get us started again on immigration, or you'll betray the inconsistency of your own adherence to free markets, equal opportunity, the virtue of work and the importance of family, as you'd know if you read this blog as often as you should.

Thinking Ahead

Thursday, September 04, 2008

And in Other Places . . .

Condi Rice is in Libya, which from the perspective of recent history is pretty amazing. It wasn't that long ago in the SWNIDish experience that concerned friends were calling us to be sure that we weren't aboard Pan Am 770, bombed out of the Scottish skies by the same Libyan dictator whom President Bush has now brought to heel and Secretary Rice now meets as a partner in rolling back radical Islamism.

And the unutterably wicked Dick Cheney is in Georgia pledging generous support for rebuilding and for future NATO membership. Bold stuff, clearly fired by the conviction that liberty needs to be protected more than by caution that national interests must be preserved.

So much for the awful Bush administration's lack of positive accomplishments and complete irrelevancy in its lame-duck year.

But on Fox News . . .

Obama is telling Bill O'Reilly that the surge succeeded "beyond our wildest dreams" and "in ways that nobody anticipated."

Well, we think that General Petraeus probably dreamed and anticipated as much. Maybe even John McCain, who can rightly claim to be the first in Congress to advocate more boots on the ground (SWNID sadly recalls his own inclinations to flirt with Bidenian partition of Iraq before converting to aggressive anti-insurgency). Not that Petraeus and McCain are "anybody."

Nevertheless, Obama is wise to get this out of the way. Good grief, Anbar Province was just handed over to the Iraqi security forces. It would be best for Obama not to continue pressing the war's impending failure in October, when American troops are busy organizing trick-or-treats in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, in "New Pennsylvania" . . .

That is, New Philadelphia, Ohio, which Barack Obama, apparently channeling Dubya, referred to as "New Pennsylvania," the Democratic Party's nominee sought to get some momentum back after the Palin Revolution by promising to pass legislation guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work.

SWNID thinks that this is the most troublesome sign so far from the Obama campaign. Trying to counterpunch on gender, the best Obama has is a liberal holdover from the 1970s.

Of course, the only women who would benefit financially from equal pay legislation are female labor lawyers. And Senator Obama seems to have had ample opportunity to introduce or at least co-sponsor equal-pay legislation for the last four years, so we're not exactly sure why he hasn't.

But we're as concerned about Obama's lack of resources to fight back as we are with the economic lameness and political hypocrisy of his proposal. It begins to appear that Obama doesn't know how to move to the center and appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans. He's got only the left's boilerplate from the last three decades: higher taxes on "the rich," government planning of industrial development, regulation of the marketplace, and more giveaways than ten military budgets could pay for. And if you lose, it's because the Republicans stole the election.

If Obama wants to regain momentum, he's got to offer more than a litany of giveaways and regulations. It isn't 1932, and in point of fact, the New Deal didn't work especially well then anyway. Most people mostly understand that.

Obama is the first African-American to be a major-party presidential nominee because he is the first to seek the office who had political credibility (contra Alan Keyes or Al Sharpton) and was not entirely tied to the civil rights establishment (contra Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton). But he looks like he might not be elected for the same reason that Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry were not elected: there just aren't enough liberals in America to elect a liberal President.

Still More Palin

Despite the revelation of her daughter's pregnancy, the suggestion of her own once-upon-a-time marital infidelity, and the obvious fact that she's a politician who has done political things, we find ourselves still liking Sarah Palin today. Knowing more confirms that she is yet another flawed person in politics, hardly a surprise. Of course, we also now know that she can really deliver a convention speech.

Daniel Henninger of the WSJ has expressed as well as anyone what's up with Palin's appeal, and his analysis resonates with distaff members of the SWNID editorial board (motto: "seldom consulted before publication"). In sum, she's more like what a lot of women are or aspire to be than certain other female politicians.

For a piquant perspective on the anti-Palin counterattack, we suggest the Telegraph's Janet Daily, who makes this stirring comparison:

Like Margaret Thatcher before her, Mrs Palin is coming in for both barrels of Left-wing contempt: misogyny and snobbery. Where Lady Thatcher was dismissed as a "grocer's daughter" by people who called themselves egalitarian, Mrs Palin is regarded as a small-town nobody by those who claim to represent "ordinary people".

What the metropolitan sophisticates failed to understand in the 1980s when Thatcher won election after election is even more the case in the US: most (and I do mean most) ordinary people actually believe in the basic decencies, the "small-town values", of family, marital fidelity, and personal responsibility. They believe in and honour them - even if they do not manage to uphold them.

New Addition to SWNID Fiction Club

Having named Leif Enger's wonderful first novel, Peace Like a River, as a charter member of the SWNID Fiction Club, we now heartily appoint his second, So Brave, Young, and Handsome.

The novel is a story set in the fading American Western Frontier, an elegy for the Old West as the modern world takes hold. More than that, it is, like its predecessor, a meditation on biblical ideas.

Enger is a fluent writer who gives his characters distinctive voices. He clearly loves his characters. And he manages to do what few writers of so-called Christian fiction even approach: writing a story that is theologically informed without appearing contrived.

For a notion of what's up, we recommend the brief video interview with Enger available here.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Georgia on the SWNIDish Mind

We opine the following about the crisis in the Republic of Georgia, much of which can be found elsewhere but which nevertheless resonates with the SWNIDish worldview.

First, Putin's Russia has clearly intended to destabilize Georgia for some time. Most obvious in this regard was freely distributing Russian passports to Georgian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia well before the alleged Georgian military provocation. Can one imagine the United States in wholesale giving US passports to citizens of New Brunswick and not creating a stir? That their intentions are so have been reinforced by every move thereafter, including the atrocities committed by its soldiers in the invasion, the indiscriminate destruction of the Georgian infrastructure, the continued occupation, the insistence that President Saakashvili resign, and now the call for an embargo against Georgia.

Second, all this is clearly a revival of the way Russian nationalism has been expressed since Peter the Great: to make Russia a Great Nation by making it an imperial overlord. Georgia's future is as a dismembered vassal of Russia (something that NATO probably cannot prevent), and other former Republics of the Soviet Union can expect the same if no action is taken.

Third, what motivates this imperialism is not primarily the need to restore national pride after a period of decline. It is the need of the fascist kleptocracy that runs Russia to justify to Russians its stranglehold on the Russian nation. Fascists always justify their domestic extremism with adventurism abroad. Fascism always needs a crisis.

So the question is whether Russia's will be more like Germany's fascism or more like Italy's. We suspect the latter. Russia's economy depends entirely on the bubble in prices for raw materials, especially crude oil, that is probably already bursting. Its army demonstrated significant flaws in Georgian operations, suggesting that it could not sustain a campaign in a less isolated corner of the neighborhood. Russia's population is in a decline of historic proportions. Russia cannot be a superpower.

Still, the world's citizens don't need an imperialistic, fascist petrostate, no matter how hollow, making war against its neighbors. So . . .

Fourth, here's the SWNID program. Strengthening NATO is vital, if it's possible to get the feckless Western Europeans to join with the intrepid Poles and others to provide a firm, modulated response. We're not for Georgian membership in NATO right now, which is clearly impossible, nor even for Ukrainian membership, which would be unduly provocative. We are for strengthening logistical preparations to resist Russian intervention in NATO member states and their nearest neighbors, mostly as a warning.

But here's what we'd like to see that no one seems to be talking about: the thoughtful, deliberate infiltration of alternative voices to connect with the Russian people. Right now our back-channel sources tell us the ordinary Russians think that their army went to Georgia to save actual Russians from American genocide. The yet-again-ironically-named Pravda is filled with such propaganda these days (along with tabloid-style nonsense about Bigfoot creatures and asteroids set to crash into Planet Earth any day). But there's this thing called the wireless, and the television, and the internet, the older of which were once successfully exploited against even more ruthless totalitarians. Such organs can and should be employed to give Russians a different perspective.

There is another deep tradition in Russia besides Peter the Great's. It belongs to such luminaries as Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. Profoundly informed by the christocentric theology of Russian Orthodoxy (sadly the Orthodox Church in Russia seems now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Putin's fascist nationalism), it reckons with the fundamental flaws in human nature and with the call to a different life embodied in Jesus Christ. Many Russians will listen if they are told that evil people have, in the name of their own might, done evil to the weak. Their best traditions tell them how to listen.

So we call for a quiet, deliberate, thorough campaign to bring information to Russians, laced with appeals to the better angels of their nature. If Georgia and Ukraine could have internal, peaceful revolutions toward democratic liberty, so can Mother Russia, if the impulses are nurtured.

The Speech That Wasn't, And the One That Might Be

For SWNID, the Dem-vention was like a dinnertime rerun of a 1990s sitcom: the dreary, endless reiteration of a single theme that once was thought to have traction with the public, punctuated with the conditioned response of approval from a preprogrammed audience. So, as Friends seems endlessly to pound the notion that fornication is hilarious, so the party of Jefferson endlessly pounds the notion that Americans are fundamentally miserable thanks to Republican wickedness.

Most disappointing to us is that the party's historic nominee passed up the opportunity in his well-staged acceptance speech to sound the higher themes of which his candidacy is an obvious indicator. Obama's acceptance speech could've been more like his speech in Philly, delivered in response to the Jeremiah Wright controversy, that articulated superbly the issue of race in our Republic. Instead, it was Democratic Party War Room Boilerplate, of the same variety as delivered by Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry.

Michael Gerson of the Boston Globe, no friend of Republicans, shares SWNIDish disappointment:

By the last firework of the Democratic convention, Obama’s transformation was complete. He had systemically taken the advice of every cynical, hard-edged Democratic political consultant. Get rid of the airy, cerebral rhetoric. Pitch your message to the focus groups, not the historians. Go for the old man’s jugular.

In the process, opportunities were lost. Obama said nothing interesting about race in America, at a moment when that might have been expected. He made no serious outreach to religious conservatives, something that now seems more like a ploy than a project. He offered no creative policy proposals that might transcend partisan divisions. In fact, his message ran with perfect smoothness along old partisan grooves. That is genuinely disappointing. A Democrat who wins in this fashion will be unable to rein in the inevitable excesses of the Democratic Congress. And the inevitable counter-reaction of Republicans will leave Washington, once again, a World War I battlefield of trenches and grudges.

The Dems have managed only once to win with this playbook and without an incumbent to run it, in 2000. Then they had a charismatic politician atop the ticket and an unpopular Republican to run against. This year they probably have the former but only have the latter as a surrogate. Do we then understand why the Dems' main ploy is endlessly to repeat "four more years of Bush"?

And are others disappointed that this is the best a popular, well-funded political party can do?

So what will John McCain, clearly no great orator, do with his upcoming opportunity? SWNID urges that he thoroughly acknowledge that Obama's nomination is historic and must provide a turning point for racial reconciliation in the United States. He must acknowledge the brokenness of his party's governance, most especially in the failure to restrain federal spending. And so he must pledge principled devotion to the Republic's ideals, its vigor and prosperity, thoroughly informed not by the rhetoric of class warfare and isolationism but by our experience that free markets make people prosperous and militarily strong democracies advance liberty.