It's time for our annual compendium of SWNIDish reflection, evaluation and prognostication, awarding various persons, issues and ideas the coveted title "SWNID Superlative," offering right-thinking people everywhere a digest of what presently in our vale of tears is the most and least in this and that.
And for those who can't give to this blog the hourly attention it so richly deserves, this post provides an annual summary of anything that we've expressed here that might remotely matter plus a foretaste of posts to come.
And so, to the list that's anticipated more than the Queen's New Year's Honours or the Academic Award Nominations:
Most Embarrassing Christian of 2010: Ted Haggard. Not because he struggled with same-sex attraction but because he claimed to have "over-repented" and reneged on every promise he made to his shepherds. Thanks, Ted, for re-demonstrating the SWNIDism that ministry attracts people with narcissistic personality disorders.
Worst Syndicated Columnist of 2010: No contest or surprise here--it's BHO's fellow Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who now presides over a personality cult of socialist fantasy. The best indicator that civilization will survive is that no one in power anywhere has any intention whatsoever of doing anything that Krugman endorses.
Most Pressing Issue of Governance for Cincinnati: Not the construction of the hapless Streetcar Named Expire, whose eventual construction we still doubt. Rather, the issue of local-government consolidation. As the recent Cincinnati City Council debacle over the 2011 budget amply illustrates, Ohio's Hamilton County is a grossly inefficient assemblage of city, village, township and county governments, the existence of which can only be justified as a means of keeping otherwise unemployable elected officials on the public dole. The SWNIDs pass through three municipal jurisdictions on their two-mile trip to church. Where's the sense in that?
Most Pressing Issue of Governance in Ohio: Reducing tax and regulatory burdens to attract expanding businesses. Ohio loses two House seats with the 2010 census, tying New York, a much bigger and more hapless entity for population stagnation, amazingly. Now that the patrons of organized labor have been swept from power in Ohio, there's a chance, however remote, that "The Heart of It All" can regain an economic pulse, if the mercurial John Kasich can manage to lead a scale-down of state government intrusion and expense, improving the state's moribund business climate.
Most Prominent "Next Victim": Sherrod Brown. Time to buy an iron, Senator. The 2010 election presages 2012, and by then, you're lunch-bucket constituency of labor-union drones will be even more sharply reduced. We appoint you to turn out the lights on northeastern Ohio.
Most Obvious Issue of Federal Governance: Can DC govern on the 19% of GDP that has historically been the ceiling for federal tax revenues? Obvious answer: yes. Ancillary question, less likely to be answered in the positive: Will politicians, addicted to patronage, act on the obvious answer?
Most Pressing Question for the Democratic Party: Can FDR's coalition continue if organized labor stands for no one except government workers? Ancillary questions: can any Democrat admit that government workers' wages are unfairly high and government workers' pensions are ridiculously unsustainable, leading the walk-back to sanity? Key observation: co-dependency is a mighty difficult thing to end.
Most Pressing Question for the Republican Party: How quickly can the GOP get media attention away from ersatz celebrity candidates with no chance of winning the nomination (in order of least likelihood: Palin, Romney, Huckabee, Gingrich) and on real candidates who get it (Daniels, who ought to be the prohibitive favorite, or Jindal, Pawlenty, Christie, Ryan, Pence)?
Least Pressing Question for the Republican Party: Will Palin choose to enhance her celebrity status and income by running an unsuccessful campaign for POTUS or by "nobly" agreeing to stand aside while continuing to influence policy from outside government? We expect the latter, as losing elections would expose Palin's political haplessness and so reduce her stature. But in any case the issue is inconsequential: the Left will run against her regardless, but it won't matter to anyone who isn't already on the left, which means about one voter in five.
Most Potent Macroeconomic Question: Can we once-and-for-all agree that income inequality is preferable to further stifling upward mobility? Key examples: China, India. Ancillary question: Can Christians and other morally sensitive people live with the reality that economic development does more to help the poor than "social justice" initiatives?
Most Pressing Environmental Question: Can we deal with the present and stop the malinvestment in hapless prognostications? Implications: (a) end subsidies for so-called "green energy" initiatives; (b) once and for all stop trying to reduce CO2 emissions and let people adapt to and even take advantage of climate change, whatever unpredictable direction it takes for whatever murky combination of causes; (c) invest in uninteresting stuff like sewers.
Best Polling Question: If a passenger rail service traveling at an average speed of 50 mph were offered between [your major city] and [another city in your region] at a cost roughly equal to airfare, how many times per year would you ride on that service? Note well that when recently asked whether there was actual interest in riding "high-speed rail," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could only answer that there was loads and loads of interest in getting federal money to finance studies of high-speed rail, and the whole thing was a government-works project to stimulate the economy. Nice business model, Mr. Secretary!
Buzzword Most Likely to Be Dropped from Political Discourse, At Least in a Positive Sense: "Stimulus." The federal government has tried to seduce business activity with the fiscal equivalents of sparkling wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, skanky lingerie, candlelight, satin sheets, and Barry White songs. Business hasn't responded. Explanation: the federal government is unappealingly overweight, an obvious turn-off even if the room is pitch dark. Less stimulus and more fitness is the resolution for 2011. Otherwise, business will continue to insist that it wants to finish its book (which happens to be The Road to Serfdom).
Most Significant American Theological Shifts of 2010 (six-way tie): The loss of steam in the movements known as Emerging Church, Emergent Church, Young-Earth Creationism, the Evangelical Left, Militant Atheism, and Paleo-Reformed Theology. We expect a couple of these, namely Young Earth and Evangelical Lefties, to continue as zombies in 2011 because of funding from sugar daddies (like George "Flush-My-Fortune-Down-the-Loo" Soros for Jim Wallis & Co.). And Reformed theology and its unsupported claim to be the only biblically, philosophically and historically legitimate approach to Christian faith aren't going away soon. But they've all had their day in the sun of reaction to or symbiosis with megachurch evangelicalism, which remains the dominant influencer of religious life on the Preferred Side of the Atlantic. Sorry, but the megachurch, like Wal-Mart, is a fact of existence, gentle readers.
Most Underreported Ecclesial Developments of 2000-2010: the bursting of the bubble of theological education and church planting in Our Republic. Seminary and Bible college enrollment rose steeply until the middle of the previous decade and have since declined. Movie theaters now advertise openly for churches to rent them on Sunday mornings, but the proportion of church plants that fail has increased. The gospel and ministry aren't in decline, but our investment in particular ways of promulgating them peaked awhile back. SWNID thinks that the two most widely held professional fantasies are (a) starting and running one's own church; (b) starting and running one's own bar. The floor is open for comparisons.
Most Provocative Technological Development: the Nissan Leaf, a true all-electric car that just might lead the way a bit closer to eclipsing the internal combustion engine as the main means of moving around our homely planet. But let's wait and see, rather than investing the public purse in related projects. As China amply demonstrates, you don't have to be first to the party to be part of the party.
Most Underreported Story in Higher Education: The study-abroad syndicate. US universities offer students a semester in a place that's scenic, warm or both, but that certainly offers easier access to alcoholic beverages. Overseas universities welcome said students, largely insulating them from direct contact with the locals while collecting fees from home institutions significantly greater than their expenses. Meanwhile, even with inflated costs relative to expenses, US institutions save on the differential between costs to educate students on campus versus outsourcing. Students add a semester of paryting to their CVs, pretending that they have developed multicultural skills when they can barely converse to locate the WC. It's a win all around. Note well: earnest students can make this swindle work well for them, but like most educational matters, in the end it's up to the student.
Most Intractable International Problem: Not the Middle East but Haiti. Nearly a year after the earthquake, Haitians, objects of massive international charity, live in rubble. Lawrence Harrison told us why: the culture was broken to begin with, and it's been smashed to bits with dependency on aid that destroyed the last vestiges of economic activity and social responsibility. Haiti is blessed by many hundreds of Haitians and non-Haitians who are dedicated to making the lives of individual Haitians livable. But the objective of making Haiti work is farther away than ever. We grimly affirm the judgment of a leader in Christian mission and development who recently affirmed in our presence that Haiti is a place where the best strategies simply don't work. And so we affirm with determination that the aim for now must be to provide the means of survival and advancement for individuals that will enable some at least to escape the country's cultural quicksand by emigration, and some to answer the call to join in the rescue effort.
Local Institution Most Tenuously Situated: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Cincinnati Pops. Erich Kunzel is dead. Paavo Jarvi is leaving. Neither will be succeeded by figures as iconic. All the while, the economics of the music business changes with stunning rapidity. The SWNIDs be in our seats come next season, but how many will wait and see?
Cinematic Event Most to Be Savored: True Grit. We wondered whether there was any reason to remake John Wayne's Oscar vehicle, but now we know. This is a move about civilization and chaos. The Coen brothers could have been Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke.
Biggest Upcoming Cinematic Flop: The Valerie Plame flick. There's no story. No one cared then, and the indifference increases with time. A few in Hollywood will scratch their heads at why the public just doesn't want what they know the public wants.
Most "Deja Vu All Over Again" Moment Upcoming: BHO's SOTU address, which will doubtless happen to little effect sometime in the present lunar cycle. Tides may change, but despite our hope, we don't think our Chief Executive has the same capability.
Most Interesting Question of What People Call "History" These Days: Have you noticed that historians get asked more about the present and the future than the past? These days, "history" is how the future evaluates the present or recent past. But these days the question is no longer, How will "history" evaluate Dubya? but How quickly will "history's" estimate of Dubya soar?
Inevitable Upcoming Event That Will Tell Us Little: The death of Christopher Hitchens. Hitch will not convert, to anyone's knowledge save God's and his. Neither will his refusal to convert demonstrate anything except his own stubbornness, hardly something that needs demonstrating. Category Qualification: Hitch's death will tell us all that we're all stubborn and dying. Category De-Qualification: people don't listen to that message much.
Happy 2011, mortals!