Thursday, April 30, 2009
Thought question: is it mere coincidence that "swine" is a near-anagram for SWNID?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Germany's Radio Bremen reports that the Canada-based research plane "Polar 5" recently discovered that at the North Pole new polar ice is forming at twice the rate observed previously. The radio service observes dryly, "Für die Wissenschaftler steht dieses Ergebnis derzeit noch im Widerspruch zur Erwärmung des Meerwassers. " Translation: "For the scientists, this result presently stands in contradiction to the warming of ocean water."
Gentle readers who prefer to get their problematic news in English may copy the URL of the story into the ever-faithful, often amusing Babelfish Translator.
Monday, April 27, 2009
And now we have the swine flu, a throwback to 1976, when dear old Jerry Ford ordered every American immunized after a private at Fort Dix died of the disease.
It all makes us want to drive a Ford Pinto to Riverfront Stadium to watch the Big Red Machine, sporting some tartan, polyester slacks, with K.C. and the Sunshine Band providing the soundtrack.
Specifically, Americans in growing numbers tend to refer to themselves as "spiritual" rather than Christian and are in greater numbers aligning with non-denominational churches. Similarly, the weight of Roman Catholic demographics is shifting from the Northeast to the Southwest, concurrently going from white to Hispanic.
Probably the most interesting statistic is that membership in nondenominational churches has grown from 200,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in 2001 to over 8 million at present.
In sum, the long decline of America's historic "mainline" denominations continues, and its nominal Christians are not naming the name of their nominalism as often as they used to. Meanwhile, refugees from both groups are landing in new churches without denominational affiliations. We add our surmise that many churches are deliberately playing down, if not hiding, their denominational identities to join this trend.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
HUC also operates in New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem.
Students quoted in the story complain that the Cincinnati campus houses valuable archives and provides a cheaper cost of living than the coasts.
SWNIDish readers will doubtless register that HUC's Cincinnati campus has been a hotbed of graduate study of the Hebrew Bible for aspiring Christian scholars. In recent years HUC's administration has publicly expressed the tension that has doubtless existed for years over the fact that Christian grad students rival Jewish rabbinic students as the dominant presence on campus.
If the likely event does occur, it will be a loss for Our Fair City and for biblical scholarship.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Obama may be the most partisan 100-day president of the modern era, but only by a hair's margin. Obama's partisan gap averages 60 percentage points. Bush was the most partisan modern president at 57 points. Clinton closed his first 100 days with a 51-point gap. The partisan gap is the margin between the high approval of a president's political base and the low approval of the opposition party.
The polarized view of Obama would hardly be notable if not for the tenor of Obama's candidacy, as partisanship has steadily risen since Clinton. Transcending the two tribes of Washington was the nucleus of Obama's campaign.
So notes David Paul Kuhn, analyzing Obama's polls historically.
And little wonder that the polarization is what it is. Every item on the left's wish list is on the legislative table, with caution and debate thrown aside in the rush to take advantage of the President's post-election popularity. Obama's rhetoric has been the extension of Bush hatred as a justification for avoiding discussion of anything at odds with the left's vision.
We still believe that political reality will frustrate the Democrats' agenda. It is not easy in this Republic to change things, and deliberately so. That's true even when Democrats hold all the reins of power.
At this point we simply wonder whether the opposition is capable of mounting a serious enough response to rescue the outcome from anthing other than ad hominem recrimination.
Hannity couldn't be waterboarded because he can't shut his mouth. Olbermann's dares have no persuasive force because his moral stature is so negligible.
Those with the stomach to watch the video at the link above should be repelled by Lawrence O'Donnell's celebration of the courage of terrorists coupled with his anti-empirical assertion that waterboarding couldn't extract information from so committed an individual as a terrorist.
We're willing to listen to such analysis, not least when he acknowledges that the world's poor shouldn't wait for alternatives to carbon to be developed.
Friday, April 24, 2009
We quote with approval a few paragraphs:
Such detailed rules suggest that serious thought was given to where to draw the line between coercion — “stress and duress” — and torture. You can disagree with where those lines were drawn, but I don’t see how you can say no attempt was made to set limits.
Nor do I see how — except in an Orwellian universe — lawyers from the current administration can prosecute lawyers from the previous administration because they disagree with their legal opinions.
Not only lawyers but also physicians and psychologists were involved in these decisions. Indeed, these interrogations were supervised by physicians and psychologists who had the power to stop them.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
We therefore refuse to make that observation. Standards must be upheld.
We also refuse to say things like "Nancy Pelosi is a harsh interrogation technique." We will not stoop to insults. It is beneath us.
We will resist these temptations just as firmly as the left of late has resisted the temptation to overplay its political hand.
So ridiculous that Roger Cohen, doubtless one of the looniest members of the left's journalistic opinion squad, says that prosecutions are out of the question.
For those blessedly unfamiliar with Roger Cohen, we urge two steps. One is not to confuse him with Richard Cohen, whose work we used to pillory but now ignore as inconsequential. The other is to peruse James Taranto's recent catalog of Cohen's outrageous pronouncements.
So, Mr. President, here's the deal: when even the hard left says prosecutions are out of the question, even as they praise your confessional world tour featuring gracious greetings of totalitarian dictators, you need to back off from criminalizing policy differences.
This week the estimable ToTheSource says nearly everything we've ever wanted to say about Dr. Ehrman's work. In sum, Ehrman misrepresents his assertions entirely. They are matters neither hidden from the church nor believed by a consensus of scholars nor the produced by objective scholarship.
When one reads a Bart Ehrman bestseller, one waits for the devastating evidence that destroys biblical Christianity. At the end, when one finds the usual catalog of textual and historical problems, one recalls that such issues have been regularly and satisfactorily addressed by scholars whose faith remained intact even after doing the same kind of study that reportedly destroyed Dr. Ehrman's faith. One even recalls hearing about such matters in church or a church-related college, the very place Dr. Ehrman says the information was suppressed. So one reads again to find the really explosive stuff missed on the first reading. And it's not there, even though the stuff written by the marketing folks at Dr. Ehrman's publisher promised as much.
As the aggressive Robert Funk has passed on to his reward and the clever John Dominic Crossan has eased into retirement, the media and publishing industry have turned to the repetitive Dr. Ehrman as the new doyen of anti-Christian biblical scholarship. We hope that he continues to enjoy his role and urge gentle readers to give his work the attention it deserves.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Obama administration has completed two terms. It has had the typical round of successes, some notable failures, and numerous political controversies. For various reasons the electorate selects a Republican administration in 2016. It matters not whether the President inaugurated in January 2017 is this or that Republican, only that the candidate ran in part in opposition to the more controversial moves of the Obama administration, including especially its aggressive--but by that time clearly temporary--takeover of large segments of the American financial system and manufacturing economy.
By this time the economy has largely recovered. Banks are mostly sound and are lending money. Automobiles are still being manufactured by what's left of the Detroit automakers, now much smaller than before. Most government control of these segments of the economy has abated, and the plan for returning banks and automakers entirely to private hands are moving forward. For a time GM became "Green Motors," but even here sensible voices prevailed, and the company manufactures decent cars that consumers want instead of unprofitable cars that regulators adore but consumers hate.
But the victorious Republican candidate has managed a successful campaign strategy playing on the public's unease with the Obama administration's economic policies, especially those followed in the deepest part of the crisis. The charismatic Republican harnessed the fears and frustrations of many by declaring openly that he would restore America's constitutional commitment to economic liberty after the socialistic program of Obama. Specifically, he has declared it unconstitutional for the government to intervene to bail out banks and automakers and left open the question as to whether those who did so should be prosecuted.
Months after her inauguration, the new President is pressured by her political base to put her campaign rhetoric into action. Those like Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, and their underlings, who masterminded the bailouts and for a time controlled the decisions at GM and Citigroup, have violated their oaths to uphold and defend the constitution, acting outside American bankruptcy laws, arrogating to the executive branch bankruptcy authority that belong to the judiciary and compromising the rights of shareholders, bondholders and others with claims on the corporations. They must be punished.
At first the President says nothing. Pressed by reporters, her chief of staff states on an interview program that she has no plans to prosecute those who led the goverment takeover of banks and automakers. But facing still more pressure, the new President states publicly that the decision is not closed, that the Attorney General must determine whether to prosecute those who gave legal and policy advice that overstepped the boundaries of the constitution.
Individuals who had given policy and legal advice in a time of crisis now find themselves subjects of federal investigations. They face the prospect of crippling legal proceedings with crippling legal bills, of careers ruined because they gave advice that was followed, with which others disagreed, and which was deemed criminal when power changed hands.
Well, our little fantasy is transparent. This very scenario plays itself out today as the authors of the so-called "torture memos" from the Bush administration are now potentially targets of prosecution by the Obama Justice Department.
We leave aside the finer points of legal interpretation here, as well as the debated benefits of "harsh interrogation" in the War on Man-Caused Disasters. We confine ourselves to the larger issue of political and governmental philosophy. Who thought that our storied Republic would become one in which the electoral victors throw the vanquished in jail?
Those who decide to criminalize policy differences must simultaneously assure that they never lose power, lest in sowing the wind they reap the whirlwind of retribution.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
We leave it to the insightful writers at Politico and elsewhere to note the problems in doing such, not least when a politician does so for ideological or purely political reasons.
Instead, we note that the very President who makes this pledge also pledges to devote unprecedented dollars to the development of as-yet untested "green" energy initiatives. If that isn't creating a bubble, we don't know what is. For those who question our judgment, we appeal to the ethanol debacle of 2007-08.
Friday, April 17, 2009
On the one hand, we prefer public conveyances to private ones. The idea that someone will operate a machine to take our SWNIDish self from where we are to where we want to be delights us. It renders the world like a huge theme park for our personal enjoyment.
And we find modern trains to be the most pleasant of public conveyances. The ride is smooth, the cabin spacious, the noise negligible, and the view intriguing if not always beautiful.
On the other hand is grim economic reality, which we grimly enumerate as bullet points:
- Obama's proposed funding won't pay for more than a tiny fraction of what he proposes.
- Americans complain that if they take the train, they still need a car when they get to their destination. This seems true for all but that tiny fraction of the population that is willing to brave municipal public conveyances. Hence, Americans will generally drive even when they have attractive public transportation options.
- Rail is a more comfortable experience, and at its modern peak faster, but buses are still marvelously cheaper, more flexible and just as effective in getting cars off crowded highways. Case in point: the cost to take the esteemed Megabus from Cincinnati to Chicago is today about the same cost as taking the train over the same route fifty years ago. We speak not in inflation-adjusted dollars but plain dollars: $15 would get you a ticket on the B&O in 1959, and it'll get you on the Megabus today. And the bus trip takes less time than rail did then, hardly longer than a trip in a private car today and at less than the cost to gas the car for the same distance.
- And the truth is that Obama won't have the money to finish what he's proposing as the barest start. See the esteemed Charles Krauthammer today if you doubt this patent truism.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
- effective regulation for Wall Street
- investment in education
- investment in renewable energy and technology
- health-care reform
- deficit reduction
Obviously, there's nothing in Obama's initiatives that bears the slightest resemblance to deficit reduction. All he's been able to claim, effectively, is that his deficits are smaller than they could have been had he spent more or taxed less. That fifth pillar is a sad joke. Politically he should drop it, as it casts a shadow of untruthfulness on everything.
Regulating Wall Street to ensure financial and corporate focus on the long term instead of the short term is a noble goal. Whether regulation can do that effectively is another matter. If regulators knew what one could do to guarantee long-term profits, certainly the word would be out already and would not require regulations to enforce compliance. Enforcing greater transparency might be a more effective objective.
We make similar remarks for investment in education. We believe that making education more effective and accessible is an important public priority for the good of all. However, we don't know that greater governmental involvement in education will accomplish that. Federal subsidies have had the effect of driving educational costs higher, as the inflation rate for education has exceeded the core inflation rate for years. Raising the Pell Grant sounded good, though it was not raised much relative to educational costs. But more government money gives institutions of higher education the opportunity to raise prices, as history seems to demonstrate amply. As to eliminating federally subsidized student loans and making them direct loans from the government, we doubt that the elimination of private profit will make for more efficiency or better service. As to P-12 education, Obama's resistance to initiatives that diversify educational supply don't auger well for progress on this front.
As to energy and health care, we agree with the esteemed Michael Barone: Obama's moves depend entirely on mathematical models that are far too subject to failure. The energy move is less a matter of toxins than carbon dioxide, harmless unless it indeed creates devastating climate change. The health-care move is premised on the notion that greater federal control of payment and standards will yield cost savings. Both depend on elaborate models that attempt to account for all contributory factors but which by nature simply cannot.
In other words, it's presumption bordering on insanity to expend large amounts of money on what is an inherently speculative enterprise. One initiative--reducing carbon emissions--assumes a disaster that may not happen, or if it does happen may not be a disaster. The other--health-care reform that involves offering federal standards for care and a federal program of insurance--offers no sure way to better care for more people.
Better, we say, to act on what we actually know. On energy, what we know is this:
- A diverse set of eneregy sources is less likely to create economic, political or environmental (we say again: "renewables" have huge environmental impact, as acres are devoted to solar or wind power and the transmission of that power across vast distances), problems than a non-diverse set. It is therefore wise to develop so-called renewables, but only as far as they are commercially viable. It is at least equally wise to develop other sources of "carbon" energy; that is, to drill domestic and offshore fields aggressively.
- The prospect of gradual, marginal climate change is not so much a threat as an inevitability to which human populations will adapt. Directing resources toward preventing climate change--without knowing whether it is occurring, what causes it, or whether it can be stopped--simply makes it harder to do the adapting.
- There's no historical evidence that having the government pay for health care directly will make it cheaper (Medicare and Medicaid are cheaper than private care precisely because the government pays less by fiat, shifting the cost of capital investment to the privately insured). There's much to suggest that doing so will make it less available and less effective.
- The noble goal of providing health insurance for the uninsured is most effectively addressed by de-linking employment benefits and health insurance, reducing the number of mandates on what must be covered, creating a national market for health insurance instead of a state-by-state market, and providing a subsidy to individuals of low income to purchase insurance privately. These moves put decisions about health care costs and benefits in the hands of individuals, the very people whose lives are at stake in the doctor's office.
And so, Mr. President, we ask that in place of your five pillars, you erect another pillar. It states that the government exists not to solve people's problems but to protect their liberties. With liberties, they are free to work together or on their own , experiment, fail and sometimes ultimately succeed in solving problems. But as citizens become clients, their liberties are lost, and with them are lost the individual's opportunity to make a difference for anyone's life, including his own.
Boyle's story is full of the elements that make it a near parable. We like the way that Susan Douglas Home has laid out many of those elements in her column for the Herald, not least the way she notes that Ms. Boyle's talent is less significant than her character.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Prominent leftist blog Daily Kos includes a post from a regular contributor who says that Captain Phillips was a foolhardy grandstander to resist the Somali pirates. All that was at stake, says the blogger identified as KLS, was ransom money from the ship's owners. Hence, Phillips should not have put his crew, himself and the intrepid Navy Seals at risk by resisting. Unrighteous mammon is not worth risk to human lives.
Immanuel Kant, please call KLS to discuss ethics.
We look forward to a world run by pirates when KLS and his ilk have their way.
Is this a parody attempting nothing more than humor or self-parody attempting with humor to re-energize nominal Roman Catholics to accept the sacrament of confession? You decide!
Either way, there's much to be said about this little presentation. But we'll leave it to others to say it.
Friday, April 10, 2009
It is by an aging wife and mother, active politically her entire life, who now faces huge medical bills because of her daughter having suffered a horse-riding accident and her husband having a catastrophic fall after developing Parkinson's. It is indeed a sad tale of the choices that must be made under such tragic circumstances.
One could observe various things about the story: that the daughter was foolhardy to embark on a physically dangerous career as a horse trainer without health insurance, that the family might not even have the choice of the care they've received if the government were paying all the bills, that protecting the family's financial assets might not be a priority for the public that is called upon to shoulder the costs of their medical care.
But we point out something else. The author of the story is Kate Michelman. That's right: the former president of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
One wonders, does Ms. Michelman ponder whether the dignity which she denied to the unborn ought to be extended to the born-but-broken members of her family?
As the pirates wait for "reinforcements," their partners in crime are coming to the scene with an estimated fifty-four additional hostages from around the globe.
We don't mean to minimize the dilemma of addressing piracy, kidnapping and other forms of terrorism and extortion. But we do wonder whether this "bubble" of nefarious activity is the consequence of shipping companies and their governments having for too long calculated the cost of ransoming their crews as less than the cost of fighting pirates.
Choosing appeasement over war seems generally to yield war, at higher cost.
Needless to say, it's a stirring piece. Read it and get stirred.
On Good Friday it's traditional that the media cover this as "news."
On Good Friday it's traditional that SWNID points out what we see as the difference between these acts of "devotion" and thoughtful Christian theology. And we strive to explain matters succinctly.
Jesus voluntarily submitted to crucifixion for the sake of others.
These devotees benefit no one with their gruesome display, except--perhaps and perversely--themselves. That's not honoring the Christ of the Cross.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
What all this suggests is either a deliberate blindness to reality or a profound disingenuousness on the part of those who insist that upwards of $600 billion is needed to insure uninsured Americans. Given the actual number of uninsured Americans, either we will buy them the most expensive health insurance ever or we will buy insurance for a lot of people who could get it elsewhere. Or worst of all, both are true.
The summary is worth reading both for those who are familiar with the nuances of theistic arguments as well as those who are new to the discussion. For those without the will to read the brief summary, we provide a briefer one: Craig effectively lays out the key arguments for the existence of the Christian God, not just any "god," but Hitchens insists that the idea of a god is so fabulously unlikely that these arguments are inadequate. To put it more keenly, Hitchens simply doesn't like the kind of God that these arguments argue for.
We find ourself amused by Hitchens's insistence that if the universe is "designed" for human life, it ought not have obvious cosmic events in the future that would destroy human life, like the explosion of the Sun or the collision of the Andromeda galaxy with the Milky Way. Nothing illustrates our characterization better: if there is a god who wants humans to exist in this universe, s/he must want those humans to exist forever. The fun fact that Christian theology expressed a belief in a coming judgment and transition to a "new heaven and earth" before anyone knew that stars like the sun explode or that galaxies collide is for Hitchens no hint that a god might so design the universe as to provide for lengthy but temporary residence by humans.
There's more, but time is short, as the previous paragraph reminds us. Gentle readers must read the article and do their own thinking.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Newsweek's celebrated editor and congenital complainer about the religious right Jon Meacham offers a longish discussion of the decline of Christianity. Per Meacham, recent polls show fewer confessing Christians in our Republic, which is an indicator of the failure of the religious right to carry out its vision of an avowedly Christian America.
Meanwhile, Economist writers Michelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge write in WSJ that it's far too early to count Christianity out, either in sheer numbers or in influence. Our Republic's history is too full of examples of the faith's resurgence.
SWNID, ever the cynical optimist, finds more in the second article to affirm than in the first, though the first is far less dour than one might think. More particularly, however, we note what Meacham narrates at the beginning and end of his essay: the gloom that present demographics bring to Al Mohlers of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We note in that the repeated tendency of certain Christian leaders to declare the advent of a crisis that will make the future far different from the present.
Most often we think such judgments have to do with the rhetorical need to stir up the faithful with the imminent falling of the sky. And maybe to raise some dough for one's seminary too.
As one listens, one can imagine a world without recordings by Kenny G.
Belated hat tip: gentle reader Christian, he with the superb name.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
It's not the press of real-world duties that has impeded our cyber-world bloviation. It is our very deep, painful re-evaluation of our political, economic and social views, a process ongoing since the first Tuesday of November, 2008.
That process has taken us to this day to complete. And so we are now prepared to reveal the transformation, something akin to Saul's on the Damascus Road.
Our views on matters of faith and art remain unchanged. But the revolution has overtaken us in politics, economics and society. We hereby repudiate our earlier positions to affirm the following:
- The body politic consists of two groups: worthy and unworthy. The former, if they work and have access to a shower, shower after work. The latter, if what they do can be deemed "work," shower before. The former are blameless in all matters. The latter are to blame for everything. The former are not subject to the hubris that gives rise to what Christians call "sin." The latter are incapable of anything but. Call this "limited total depravity." Or Proletarian Gnosticism, if you prefer.
- Though the worthy class is indeed worthy, it is also mostly helpless. It needs an exceptional few champions to rise up, either transcending the limitations of their origins or abandoning the privilege of their class, to enter the political fray and protect the hapless plebes who otherwise would be continually victimized by the unworthy.
- Economics is inherently a zero-sum game. If someone has more, it's always because someone else has less. Productivity is unimportant. Distribution is everything. Nevermind that something has to be produced before it can be distributed: production happens irrespective of the incentives to do so, largely because there is a class of good people in the world who always do the producing as long as they aren't victimized by the unworthy.
- When the right people, those who are pledged to protect the worthy folk, are elected, they can be trusted to do what is right. Limitations on their power, out of fear that they might abuse their power, merely interfere with their doing what needs to be done.
- The world is filled with peace-loving, friendly people who want nothing but harmony and goodwill with their global neighbors. The only thing that can provoke them to hostility is the hostile attitude and futile saber-rattling consistently demonstrated when the wrong people get elected to power in the United States.
- A very special class of worthy humans are scientists. These exceptional women and men know not only their disciplines, with their specific methods and narrow outcomes, but precisely what the implications of their findings are for the public at large. Their conclusions, mediated by the right people in public office, can never be questioned.
- The great heritage of conservative political and economic thought (Locke, Smith, the Federalist Papers, Burke, von Mises, Buckley, Friedman, Kirk, everything every published by National Review, even including P. J. O'Rourke) is really an intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt sham to keep the wrong people in power and oppress the right people.
- Conservatism is completely uncool: pale, fat, backward and nasty, like Ned Beatty in Deliverance.
- Conservatism is also inconsistent with Christian faith, which is obvious to anyone who knows the gospel. See all points above.