Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fox: Fair and Balanced

This ad was banned by Fox from its Super Bowl commercial lineup.

And we're glad it won't air. Not because we think anyone would take this seriously, but because the whole concept is entirely lame and unfunny.

It won't do with this one to claim that lefties lack a sense of humor. They do, of course. But this just isn't funny. Not because it's blasphemous; just because it utterly lacks wit.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Cure for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

The writer with whom SWNID agrees most often has an article in a recent Christian Standard, entitled The Cure for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

We agree with the diagnosis and encourage appropriating the cure.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Krugman Watch: Can We Tolerate This Rhetoric in a Free Society?

Paul Krugman, economist, today is Paul Krugman, moralist.

Our Republic divided, per Krugman, between exactly two views of morality. They are mutually exclusive, and one is the source of violence.

We are not making this up. Krugmanesque logic proceeds as follows:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

There’s no middle ground between these views.

This is the kind of mind that teaches our nation's elite students and writes for our nation's paper of record.

Fun exercise: read Krugman's column to note the point where he explicitly acknowledges the actual existence of common ground further down.

And it is a move of logic and rhetoric that found its way into BHO's speeches as well, except that in his the middle ground was always what he occupied. In BHO's rhetoric there are three choices, his self-evidently the only rational one. In Krugman's, the choices are two.

Mothers, teach your children logic, and don't let them grow up to be columnists for the Times.

And to spoil the sarcasm in this post's heading by answering the question: yes, even illogical elites have the right to free speech.

As If SWNID Required Corroboration

Today's WSJ includes a fine column by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach discussing the history of the term "blood libel." Gentle readers will hear the echo of a familiar voice when they read it.

Boteach's false choice on who killed Jesus notwithstanding, we encourage reading of his discussion.

And we repeat here something that our real self often says in person: Christians should stop saying "The Jews killed Jesus." Some did instigate his death; Gentiles carried it out. Some of both groups resisted the move. All kinds of people became his followers after his death and that other thing he did. The main spiritual heroes of Christians are all Jews who didn't stop being Jews when they became Christians.

For those who want to figure out how 1 Thessalonians 2: 14-15 fits into all this, there's a book that we can recommend.

Mitch Daniels = Ned Flanders

Reflecting on the boon that Illinois' state tax increases are to Midwest states that are lower taxes, WSJ's Kim Strassell quotes Mitch Daniels, the 45th President of the United States, as saying that living next to Illinois is like "living next to the Simpsons."

Hey-diddly-ho, Mr. President!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Man Bites Dog: Preacher Apologies for Inaccurate, Embellished Anecdote

Messiah College history prof John Fea chronicles what may be a first: a prominent preacher has apologized for circulating a historical anecdote with multiple historical inaccuracies about it.

The preacher in question is Dudley Rutherford of California's Shepherd of the Hills megachurch, and president of the upcoming North American Christian Convention.

We like this, a lot, though it puts pressure on us should we ever deviate from SWNIDishness and commit an error.

Lesson to be re-learned: if you don't like being treated as a stereotype, don't act like one. Christians and clergypersons, if you want secular respect, don't play the hypocrite. Take it like a disciple when they ridicule your loyalty to that Jesus guy, but don't let them rightly call you an evildoer. 1 Peter and all that.

For the Record: A SWNIDish Appreciation

We didn't listen to the President's speech last night, being occupied with other activity. We did read the text of his speech. We think it succeeded in doing exactly what it ought to do, which is memorialize the dead and call citizens to honest reflection that in the end has nothing to do with politics but much to do with citizenship and humanity.

We've heard a few clips of the speech, and we suspect it is better read than listened to. We don't care to hear all the reflexive cheering in the basketball arena at what was really a funeral.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Blood Libel" Libel

At last, our political blogging and our actual expertise intersect. Prompted by a gentle reader, we will speak out for a change.

For the roughly 7 billion people who don't know, in real life SWNID's doctoral research was on the notion that Luke-Acts in the New Testament corpus was somehow antisemitic. Our conclusion was that the primary basis for concluding that was being rashly misunderstood, given all the factors of interpretation that ought to be brought to bear on the issue.

So, all that is to say that we are quite familiar with the use of the expression "blood libel" to refer to antisemitic falsehoods about Jews consuming human blood and such.

And so Sarah Palin has used the term to refer to the onslaught of accusations that her now infamous "cross-hairs" map somehow spun the windmills of Jared Loughner's mind toward political assassination.

And she's been widely criticized, by some even called antisemitic, for using the term in self-reference.

To that, we make a number of observations.

First, Palin wasn't the first to use the phrase to refer to the widespread blaming of intemperate conservative political rhetoric for the Giffords shooting. Multiple pundits and journalists had done the same. Of course, it's only wrong when Palin says it. Palin has replaced Bush as the object of leftist deranged hatred, of course. Whatever she does is simply terrible.

Second, those, like the writers of the Gray Lady, who make the phrase quite narrow in its traditional application are arguably misstating the history. "Blood libel" has been used to refer to all kinds of libelous statements about Jews being engaged in murder, not just to the weird accusation that they use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzos. For example, as Matthew 27:25 has been historically quite commonly misinterpreted by Christians as exacting responsibility on all Jews for Jesus' death, that notion has often fallen under the general heading "blood libel."

Third, the extension of various expressions from one referent to a related one is common enough to hardly demand note or comment, let alone provoke umbrage. For instance, the expression "holocaust" was applied to the Turkish genocide against Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, far before it was applied to what Hitler did to Jews. But before that, the expression referred to the sacred sacrifice of the whole animal in Leviticus, part of the Jewish Torah. There and back again with the references.

So, fourth, we note that the whole discussion to this point has been about finding fault with the way conservatives, Ms. Palin in particular, express themselves. No measure of counter examples suffices to show that everyone uses such metaphors, regardless of their political stripe, or that no one can show that Loughner was motivated by anything other than a schizophrenic's irrational collocation of absurd ideas, perhaps first and mostly prompted by his pathetically misguided conclusion that Giffords had rejected him as a suitor. This is, in the end, an attempt to elevate matters of taste and style to matters of morality. As such, these accusations display the utterly un-self-aware, uncritical belief of many on the left that their positions are so self-evidently true and right that those who disagree are ipso facto ignorant and evil. Sound familiar?

But that leads to what we think in fifth place. Palin and other conservatives are responding all wrong to this. SWNID has lots of experience with bullying, and the stylish way to respond to bullies is never to acknowledge them. But she took the bait. Dumb move. She lowered herself. She sounds whiny: I'm a victim of blood libel!

Of course, she took the bait to [mixed metaphor alert] throw red meat to her base. That's a missed opportunity. The smart move is to make a statement about one's indifference to the now-common mischaracterization of a conservative's statements. Palin could even say that she appreciates the honor of being the person the left most loves to hate most. Reagan responded to his vitriolic critics with humor, often self-depreciating. Never let them think they're under your skin.

Finally, those who don't read James Taranto should. His daily Best of the Web Today column has been devoted entirely since Monday to demonstrating just how ridiculously false every accusation in this whole sorry affair has been. Taranto normally provides a compendium of observations about news on the web, but this matter has prompted him to write about this single issue each day.

We think his singular attention is not misguided. Inasmuch as the discussion is about whether certain kinds of common political speech are acceptable from certain political figures, this discussion is about whether in a free republic certain kinds of ordinary political speech ought to be censored. We don't think we're about to lose our rights in Our Republic, but we think it's repugnant to offer such thoughts and expect them to be taken seriously.

In the Crosshairs of the SWNIDish Memory

Since Saturday we've been sleepless trying to recall what it was in the SWNIDish memory that resembled the absurd blaming of conservative metaphoric language for Jared Loughner's rampage.

At last, we recall.

It is Ross Perot's dropping out of the 1992 Presidential campaign [violent metaphor alert] because he said that the Bush campaign was about to release altered photos of his daughter's wedding.

In politics one can blame anyone for anything, for any or no reason.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Does Political Conservatism Provoke Psychosis?

The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is bringing out the predictable accusations that the Tea Party, Fox News, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are responsible for massive political violence in this country. We bothered to read some of the comments on a Gray Lady news story and guesstimate that 80% of the commenters where saying such.

Which is no surprise when Paul Krugman said it first.

Really, Dr. Krugman, what we object to is not the fact that you're a liberal but that you're so utterly conformist and predictable as a liberal. We bet there's lots of original thought expressed in your graduate seminars at Princeton.

But to the subject. The shooter is apparently one Jared Lee Loughner, who has left a considerable ouvre of incoherent video on YouTube. Here's a little sample:

So let's make the obvious point: Loughner is psychotic. It's a fair question to ask how and why he could get a gun, but it's not fair to blame someone engaged in partisan political speech for such nonsense. Near as we can tell, Loughner is as likely to have been influenced by The Matrix as by Sarah Palin, inasmuch as he seems to think that he can change reality by dreaming.

Or maybe we should talk about Ted Kazynski instead, everyone's favorite liberal homicidal nut. But there's really no point. It is widely observed that the extremes of both sides of the political spectrum meet somewhere on the other side of rationality, so we'll mention that and save a commenter the embarrassment of gravely intoning the obvious. We prefer another bromide, from Jacob Neusner: "Look, we have our kooks; you have your kooks. We don't want to trade our kooks for your kooks."

Except these kooks aren't anyone's. They're just kooks.

So, leftists who want to silence dissent from what is obviously true and just and moral, please knock off the hackneyed accusations that radio talk show hosts have blood on their hands. If you do, we won't accuse you of not believing in free speech.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Mitch is "75% In"

Mitch Daniels, the Coolidge of the New Millennium, is making the rounds in DC. Pubbies in Indy say he's "75% in" for a presidential run in the Year the World Ends.

BHO v. My Man Mitch is an exquisitely interesting matchup, prospectively as stimulating as the JFK v. Goldwater campaign that tragically never happened.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Fiction Club Entry

Obsessive readers will have already noted the addition of a new entry to the SWNID Fiction Club. It is Tartarin de Tarascon, Alphonse Daudet's hilarious satire of French provincial life, hunting, colonialism, and human pretension. For two and a half decades, SWNID has heard this book lauded. Now we know why. Daudet bites without hurting, with farce that barely asks for suspended disbelief.

And if you own one of those newfangled e-reader thingies, the price is right.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The SWNID Superlatives for 2010

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!