Friday, December 14, 2007

Barneycam 2007

In keeping with our annual tradition, we gladly link gentle readers to Barneycam 2007, the White House's annual Christmas video. This year's edition proves once again that

  • the White House looks very tasteful at Christmas
  • politicians are worse actors than we imagine them to be
  • nearly all amateur video producers could stand to leave more footage on the cutting room floor
  • everyone loves dogs

Holiday Music All in One Gulp

This video has been recommended to us by multiple gentle readers. For those who need to take their Christmas music like medicine, it's like an easy-to-swallow coated caplet. It's also an impressive, entertaining performance.

Reds Are Losers Because They're Clean?

Given the near-absence of Cincinnati Reds players in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, we true fans wonder whether our team's miserable performance over the last decade can be attributed to clean living. Current Red's relief pitcher Mike Stanton is named in the report as a user when he was a Yankee, but certainly nothing has enhanced his performance lately.

The Mitchell Report provokes a certain SWNIDish nostalgia for a book that we devoured in our formative years, Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Among the nefarious escapades detailed in that amoral memoir was the many players' habit of ingesting "greenies," amphetamines that raised their alertness and reflexes in the grueling schedule of a cross-continental, six-month, 162-game baseball season, the resulting fatigue compounded by frequent hangovers.

It has always been so among baseball players, it seems.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

SWNID Holds Nose, Discusses Dems

We only do this kind of thing because you ask. It isn't easy for us.

Members of the gentle-reader community have requested that we provide SWNIDish analysis of Democratic candidates for POTUS. The request is not that we fillet and flambe the pathetic posse of poseurs who populate the party of "the people." Some cannot bring themselves even to consider a candidate of the GOP, thanks to that party's own rather embarrassing history of misdeeds and mismanagement (cf. human condition, which we excuse in Republicans). For these, we are asked to provide definitive guidance to their alternatives.

So we offer a summation of our SWNIDish view of the Democratic herd, alphabetically by last name and with as much sympathy as we can muster.

Note that we are not critiquing policy positions in detail. We offer the blanket admonition that the Democrats' current preoccupation with the socialism that impoverishes and the pacifism that kills makes it impossible for us to split out their candidates' nuances with any degree of confidence. To put it differently, our political soul asks, what is the point of deciding among people whose political philosophy is inferior to the alternative?

But you asked for it, and we try to oblige.

Joe Biden is at once among the most comical and the most serious of candidates. He's comical because it seems he's run in every election since 1952 that hasn't had a Democratic incumbent in it. He's serious because, unlike just about all the others, he has thoughtfully engaged the Iraq issue. In this matter events have overtaken him, as they have all the Democrats. But Biden deserves props for at least trying to find a thoughtful approach to Iraq that goes beyond the smokescreen of blame and promises.

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.

Hillary Rodham Clinton to her credit has staked out the most moderate positions among the major Democrats. And no one doubts her intelligence. The question is whether we want to get on the Clinton joy ride again.

Aside from her sanctimony-tinged ambition, what is Senator Clinton? How can one whose second-most familiar catchphrase is "the politics of personal destruction" allow her campaign to savage Barak Obama for things his kindergarten teacher says and then turn around days later and savage him with rumors of past drug use?

And who has any confidence that she'll be able to control the behavior of her husband if she's in office? One observes that she's had less than full success in doing so in the past. The whole thing starts to look like Putin's Russia, with the quasi-fascist, soon-to-be-ex-President manipulating his way into perpetual power. And further, we blessedly know nothing of the ex-President's "personal" life since he left office. What is he up to that might make him subject to the influences of blackmail when his wife is in office? We seriously doubt that as an old man he's anything other than the dirty kind.

In sum, we think that Hillary would probably not pursue a policy agenda that would damage the country as seriously as others. What should not be underestimated is the degree of risk that one takes with a President who so wholly has sold her soul to obtain political power.

Chris Dodd is, like Biden, a serious-minded Senator with no prospect of national election. Again, we think he's after a cabinet post or the veep nomination. We applaud his statement months ago that he doesn't really think Iraq is lost: events have proved him more right than he could possibly have imagined.

John Edwards is probably the candidate that we SWNIDishly despise most. Edwards has the most obvious connection to the Democratic Party's collocation of special interest groups: among union members, government employees, ideological left-wing counterculturalists, academics, African-Americans and trial lawyers, he is a member in good standing of the last group, an attorney retired from a mega-rich tort practice.

This makes his populism faux populism. Edwards could buy and sell the little guys he claims to stand for. And his roots weren't that humble to begin with: like a lot of overachievers, his family was in middle management, not the working class.

Nevertheless, what makes Edwards abominable is not that his populism is faux, it's that it is empirically false. Edwards's proposals for restrictive trade and labor policies would absolutely cripple American business, destroying the jobs and investment opportunities that his Ordinary Americans need. His solution is worse for the aggrieved than the problem. He knows it (how could he not?), but he's betting that the electorate is too stupid to realize it.

Edwards is still the tort lawyer who advertises on TV that he'll get you the money you deserve. What he doesn't tell you is that the money comes at an enormous cost to everyone--and that he takes his share off the top. This time Edwards isn't taking cases to win settlements that earn him big fees: he's running a campaign on a set of propositions that all self-conscious beings recognize as false in hopes of gaining power, and he's doing it all for poor folks who are powerless to help themselves. How kind of the Great Man!

Mike Gravel is obviously one of that fascinating, ever-changing (except for Alan Keyes) cast of characters who run for President without any hope of getting even a single delegate at the national convention. Let's all be glad that we live in a Republic that still recognizes the doom we'd all face if someone like Gravel were taken seriously.

Dennis Kucinich is reason enough for the rest of Ohio to force Greater Cleveland to secede and join Canada. We know that this nutjob gets a thrill from his occasional appearances on the national stage. We ask another question: what salary does he draw from his campaign?

Barak Obama was best summed up last week by senior statesman and plain-talker Andrew Young. Those who heard only the sound bites should listen to the entire statement, which is a gem of experience and wisdom. We especially note his admonitions that Obama should let his kids get older before he goes for the big prize, not to mention his warnings about suffering.

Obama is perhaps the most gifted politician of his generation. But his youth and inexperience show right now. He doesn't have a clear policy position on anything except health care, the particulars of which were doubtless the product more of his handlers' estimates than of his particular convictions. "Hope" is not a position.

And Oprah shouldn't be a kingmaker. She's the lady who brought America Dr. Phil, for goodness' sake!

We think that Obama should be seen as a formidable personage for Democrats in the future. He should take a page from Hillary's playbook and take some time to build a record (as governor of Illinois, not Senator from Illinois), longer than she did because he's younger (and prettier, for that matter).

As a Republican, what we most fear is a Clinton-Obama ticket. We doubt that any Republican under any circumstances short of an enormous Democrat scandal could overcome it.

Bill Richardson is officially our Biggest Disappointment of 2007 politics. Richardson is far and away the best qualified Democrat in the field. He's not just widely experienced and accomplished; his record is notably rightward by Democrat standards. He understands economics and global politics and has demonstrated the capacity to govern.

The disappointment, of course, is that to separate himself from the crowd he rolled the dice and took the most radical position of Iraq imaginable: every American soldier and Marine out of Iraq in the first year of his administration. Imagine Thomas Dewey in 1944 running on bringing every American home from Europe and the Pacific in 1945. The irresponsibility of the position is unprecedented in a candidate of stature.

We are totally convinced that Richardson currently runs only to become Hillary's veep. He decided to run to the far left on the war. If the war went terribly, he could play his position to get the nomination. If it went even marginally better than that, he could run with Hillary and protect her left flank. We applaud the excellent political calculus and abhor the cynicism that it entails.

Shame on you, Bill! You could have been something special. Now, you're just another hitchhiker trying catch a ride on Clinton's bus. Again.

In sum, for whom should the dedicated Democrat vote? To make a stand on principle with no hope to influence the outcome, it's Biden. To cast a vote for the future with no regard to the present, it's Obama. To support the candidate with the best chance to govern effectively, it's (amazingly, desperately, convulsively) Hillary. But with the attendant risks of her presidency, we urge holding the Democratic nose and voting for Our Man Rudy, who is everything a Democrat should be except for pro-life and a faithful spouse, making him the best Democrat in the field.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Point of Information on Copyright

SWNID hears remarks. Sometimes we think that we ought to respond with SWNIDish wisdom. Generally, we restrain ourselves. This is not one of those times.

Of late we've heard at least two people offer remarks that reflect a widely held point of view that is inaccurate in a way that could prove damaging to people who hold the view. We herein provide corrective, protective service.

In essence, the false and dangerous view is this: that written material is not under copyright if the copyright has not been overtly declared by the author or registered with the government. Hence, if a person finds material in a publication or on the Internet that does not declare a copyright or indicate its registration in Washington, the material is free for the taking. That is, the material may be used without attribution in student papers or even attributed use in reprinting.

Such, of course, is not the case. Copyright exists whether it is explicitly declared or not and whether it is officially registered or not. If disputed, it is easier to prove if declared or registered. But intellectual property doesn't need to be branded as such, any more than a TV set is less mine because I didn't engrave my social security number on its chassis.

And it matters not that the re-use of another's written material is not for profit, as in a student paper, for example. The material belongs to the author or the person to whom the author assigns rights. That person has the right to forbid its publication entirely, if he so chooses. That's what the "right" of "copyright" is: the power to decide whether and how written work will be copied.

Students who do such are not just representing another's work as their own. They are also using another's property without permission.

The same, by the way, is true of oral discourse. Using another's sermon, sermon outline or sermon illustration as if it were one's own is a tawdry example of intellectual theft, even if it is a relatively common one.

Of course, it should go without saying that one can never distribute copies of another's work without that person's permission. That includes dissemination on the internet, by the way. Again, the absence of overt declaration of copyright is in no way a surrender of copyright, any more than failing to double lock the front door means that a person who comes into the house without an invitation is therefore not trespassing.

So the rules are: (a) attribute quotations; (b) get explicit permission for any publication or distribution of portions beyond the bounds of limited, attributed quotation.

In this end of the academic season, soon to turn to the beginning of another, we mention this factoid to help our gentle readers avoid the embarrassment that comes when one inappropriately appropriates intellectual property.

Three Ways the GOP Is Diminishing Its Future

We note three trends in our political party of choice--the party of Lincoln, TR, Coolidge, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes, yea, even Nixon--that we believe are unnecessarily and unwisely mortgaging its hold on political power in coming years.

The appearance of theocracy. We think that fears of a Christian theocracy are overblown in this country. Fractious American Christians lack the will and the means to take over. Besides, a majority of American Christians aren't very Christian, so over the long term they're unlikely to vote in ways that would compromise their indulgence in things immoral that might be forbidden in such a regime.*

However, as long as many Christians who vote Republican use overtly religious criteria for choosing a candidate, plenty of secular types--and we speak of ordinary folk, not media elites and such--will blanch. They don't want a pastor running the country.

So we think it's a terrible thing for Republicans that many are refusing to consider Romney because he's a Mormon. It's no better that many Republicans become so preoccupied with a single issue, important as it genuinely is, that they won't vote for a candidate like Giuliani who is mildly pro-choice, even though in the last 28 years, 20 years of pro-life presidents haven't moved Roe v. Wade an inch. And we think it's weird that Rs are at the moment psyched about Huckabee, whose positions on economic matters are awful and whose record of executive achievement is short, largely because he is clearly an ideologically and religiously orthodox candidate.

All this feeds the perception that Rs want a theocracy: they'll take the less accomplished, less generally appealing candidate purely because he's religiously one of them. And that perception will marginalize the party with everyone who isn't one of them and with many who are Christians but who worry about either the church being taken over by politics or vice versa.

The appearance of xenophobia. The Republican discussion of immigration is becoming a contest to see who can offer the most draconian measures against illegal immigrants. This is bad in multiple respects.

One is that it obscures the Republican insistence that natural law, or God's law, is greater than laws made by humans. The party began with that notion in its opposition to slavery (the Republic did too, of course, though it was proto-Democrat Jefferson who expressed it so well in the Declaration). The party continues with that notion as it stands against abortion.

For immigration, the natural/divine law issue is this: it is good for a person to work to support himself and his family, so to seek opportunities to do that is good as well. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are obeying that higher law. So for Republicans to insist that illegal immigrants be treated as lawbreakers for doing what is naturally right and good is paradoxical for them in ways that it would not be for Democrats, who in this day and age tend to see right as what the majority says and rights as what the government bestows.

A second problem is purely political: a harsh stance on illegals looks like hatred for Hispanics. Hispanics are now more inclined to vote Democrat than Republican than in 2004. That's going to make it tough to elect a Republican in 2008 and beyond. Hispanics, many of them seriously religious and family oriented, are a natural constituency for Republicans, who simply need to get their moral thinking straight to make the move that will also be politically expedient.

The appearance of racism. Nixon sadly squandered the Republicans' remaining appeal for African-American voters with his so-called Southern Strategy. By appealing tacitly to segregationists, he broke up the Democrats' Solid South but also wasted the legacy of Lincoln, TR, Eisenhower and Everett Dirksen (Republican minority leader in the Senate whose support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, forming a coalition with progressive Democrats against segregationist Democrats, was decisive in its passage).

Since that time, Republicans with few exceptions have appeared unwilling to make appearances at African-American venues. Once it may have been their desire to keep the segregationist margins in their coalition, even if the candidates themselves had no intention of doing anything to support segregation. More recently it may be because candidates expect a hostile reception at black venues and don't want the negative publicity following them. Whatever the reason, the behavior continues to confirm for many African-Americans (and by many we mean 90-95%) that Lincoln's party would have preferred to send them back where they came from.

This problem is bad not just for Republicans, who could use some black votes in their coalition, but for African-Americans who are merely taken for granted by the party that they overwhelmingly support. As more black leaders sound themes of family, responsibility, education and hard work that naturally belong to the Rs, their agenda, the agenda needed by their community, will be ignored by a party that owes more to public employee unions dependent on dependency than to citizens at large who need the general welfare promoted.

Note that all these are matters of perception. Republicans are right when they say that they hate theocracy and love immigrants and minorities. But in politics, perception is reality.

We call on our party to do something to show what you really believe. We doubt that anyone is listening, but we call nevertheless.
*Note that the church's obvious agenda to realize God's rule on earth should therefore be evangelism and edification, not politicking as such.

Golden Compass Evaluation

As The Golden Compass appears to be headed quickly to the discount theaters, we recommend the assessment of the books and movie on "tothesource," where Peter Vere and Sandra Miesel, authors of The Pied Piper of Atheism, are interviewed.

We note this remark from Vere:

I was asked to review the movie this past weekend. It exemplifies the one trait that will kill any epic fantasy at the box office: It's boring!

We SWNIDishly opine that atheism in all forms is extremely boring. Not to mention bleak, presumptuous, uncurious, and intellectually incoherent. If an atheist is interesting, it's despite her atheism. If a believer is boring, his faith is nevertheless interesting.

From our Correspondent in Venezuela

The best news from the western hemisphere this year is doubtless the defeat of Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional amendments in Venezuela. The prospect of Venezuela becoming a permanently socialist state is seriously diminished by this amazing event.

But times are still hard in Venezuela. We quote one of our correspondents who describes the present situation:

There is a real crisis regarding basic necessities. There is a lack of milk, sugar, oil, toilet paper, etc. Sometimes you have to wait for hours in line to be given simply one package per person. I believe this is contributing to an environment of hate and violence, which is affecting everyone, even Christians. For instance, last week a lady asked me to pray for her – specifically, for God to remove that hatred she felt for the president and his followers. She said that this hatred was totally consuming her. So we prayed with her and tried to exhort her, but just as she said, many brothers and sisters in the church are feeling the same way too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Press Conference with the Hero

Knowing that some of our gentle readers have accepted the grim responsibility to protect the general welfare and safety of others with the threat of deadly force, we point out the impressive press conference with Jeanne Assam, the security guard who neutralized the shooter at New Life Church of Colorado Springs.

Feel free to proceed with discussion as to the awful necessity of law enforcement using deadly force, the somber wisdom of concealed carry, the solemn inescapability of just war, or related topics. We stand aloof, as the matter is by now self evident.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Very Local Artistic Expression

Many readers of this blog will appreciate the local culture reflected in this fine "music" video:

From Our Correspondent in Iraq

This message comes to us from a brother who serves in the United States Armed Forces in Iraq (emphasis SWNIDishly inserted):

Iraq is getting quite boring, er...I mean stable. The Iraqis are doing a good job in taking back their country. Their army and police force grows by the day, and IED attacks are going down quite a bit. The region is not yet stable, but with time, it will be. I only hope the American public can grow to realize that to do anything worthwhile takes time.

No need for us to to editorialize.

Romney's Religion Speech: Well Done, Not Enough, Amusing on One Point

Yesterday Mitt Romney finally delivered his much-needed speech on his Mormon religion, read with interest by our SWNIDish self. We believe that the speech was superbly conceived and well crafted, contained all that it should have contained, sounded themes crucial to the American pluralistic republic, and will not prove sufficient to overcome people's reluctance about Romney's religion.

What's right about the speech was this: it clearly articulated the notion that voters should consider a candidate on the basis of the values that the candidate shares with the voter. And Romney can make a very strong case that as a Mormon, he shares values that other religious Americans share.

What's to us interesting about the speech is this: Romney did what in our experience LDS folk generally do. He tried to articulate common ground with Christians by making what is ostensibly an orthodox Christological confession. Of course, the problem with that is that many Christians know that Mormons don't mean what other Christians have historically meant when they say "son of God" or "savior of the world." Someone in his camp should have warned that people are very aware that he doesn't mean what they mean by these words. And indeed, Romney did acknowledge as much. But it seems to be part of the LDS DNA to say this nevertheless.

What's politically true about the speech, from our SWNIDish POV, is this: Romney probably took some gas out of Mike Huckabee's tank by shaming some evangelical voters into reconsidering Romney despite his Mormonism. However, we expect that the general reluctance to vote for a Mormon will nevertheless fatally handicap Romney in the end. And we think that for two reasons.

One is particular. As a Campbellite whose ecclesiastical experience has always been avowedly apolitical, we are amazed that many evangelical pastors consider it their responsibility to tell their congregations which candidate to vote for.* And quite naturally, those pastors who undertaken this responsibility and who have spent their time telling folks that the LDS church is a cult are highly reluctant to endorse Romney. We have heard such folk say as much, and we are once again prompted to thankfulness not to be saddled with such a problem for ourselves. But we expect that a significant minority of evangelicals will never consider Romney, forgetting that they are voting for a chief executive and not a theologian, thereby depleting his potential base of support.

The other is a bigger issue, we believe. In Papa George Romney's time, Americans thought that religion was what a person did at church and on holidays, that it has little influence on their decision making. That notion was reflective of the era and articulated in John Kennedy's justly famous speech in which he declared that the bishops wouldn't tell him what to do as President (and indeed, Kennedy's personal life demonstrated just how true that declaration was). However, today people have returned to the idea that what a person believes about God has a lot to do with the decisions that person makes on a daily basis. And most people, not just evangelicals, think that Mormonism is goofy. They can't bring themselves to take seriously the ideas that Jesus came to North America, that Joseph Smith got temporary loan of golden tablets and special spectacles, that when the right people die they start populating their own universes, and other distinctive Mormon notions. And they have trouble trusting a man who believes such things, despite his impressive record as an executive in business and government.

What is amusing to us is this: Romney equates the early persecution of the followers of Joseph Smith with the religious intolerance early in the history of the New England colonies. While there's probably much to dislike about the treatment of proto-Mormons, our take is that people thought that a polygamous religious group overtly trying to set up a theocracy was, well, socially threatening. In other words, it was precisely because they had rejected the theocratic intolerance of New England that they were hostile toward the Smith, Young & Co. This speech surely was not the place to admit that, but neither was it the place to raise the issue in a way that invited someone to point it out.

Finally, we declare again that we think Mitt Romney would make a fine President. With Our Man Rudy, he shares a characteristic not found among any of the other candidates of either party: significant and highly successful executive experience.

But Rudy remains Our Man. And here's why: we think that Romney might prove to be the Republicans' Michael Dukakis, that is, a demonstrably capable governor who proves too wonkish to woo a national electorate.

So we'll trade Romney's religious baggage for Rudy's personal baggage, admittedly an uneven trade, to get Rudy's passionate engagement.

*Explanation of the obvious: yes, we know that we endorse candidates all the time here. But we do it not because it is some kind of pastoral responsibility but because we enjoy sharing our brilliant, Seldom-Wrong opinions. Further, we expect to persuade not because of our official status, whatever that is, but because of the impeccable reasoning that supports our views.

Editor's note: This posting exhausts our quota of colons for the 2007 blogging year. We will be forced to rely on other marks of punctuation until January.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gospel of Judas Update

Scholarship takes time and the effort of many people. Making money on scholarship frequently undermines those necessities.

That's the lesson of today's NY Times op-ed by Rice University professor April DeConick, author of the new book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says. DeConick, one of the few people who reads Coptic, the language of the Gospel of Judas, has noted several ways in which the National Geographic's team of scholars obviously misread the manuscript.

The differences in content that she notes amount to this:

So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” In certain Gnostic traditions, this is the given name of the king of demons — an entity known as Ialdabaoth who lives in the 13th realm above the earth. Judas is his human alter ego, his undercover agent in the world. These Gnostics equated Ialdabaoth with the Hebrew Yahweh, whom they saw as a jealous and wrathful deity and an opponent of the supreme God whom Jesus came to earth to reveal.

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals. Because Judas is a demon working for Ialdabaoth, the author believed, when Judas sacrifices Jesus he does so to the demons, not to the supreme God. This mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist.

Not being among that small group of scholars who reads Coptic, we depend on DeConick's expertise, noting that the offering of a revisionist reading that ratchets down the public interest requires pretty solid evidence to be successful and so assuming that any rational scholar would have as much before going forward. If she proves right--and it will take time and collective effort to make that clear to us non-Coptic readers, another big story has gone bust.

The Easter-season historical blockbusters of the last two years, the Gospel of Judas and the so-called Jesus tomb, have now collapsed completely. Let's hope that publishers, and the scholars who work for them, think twice before trying to profit from the flash of religious interest that blooms and disappears like crocuses. And let's hope that the public decides it won't be fooled again.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Local Artists Do Nativity "Synoptically"

Cincinnati's delightful Rohs Street Cafe, hosted and operated by Cincinnati's delightful University Christian Church, announces a distinctive, collective art show for the nativity season. To us it sounds like an excellent way to enjoy advent/Christmas/the holiday.

We quote the blurb:

SceneTogether: an art nativity scene

We get the story of Jesus’ birth from the Synoptic Gospels. These documents are called “synoptic” because they can be “seen together.” They tell the same story with different voices, adding a richness to the narrative.

In the same way, here in “Scene Together,” eleven artists tell their own versions of the birth narrative, all the more colorful and multi-faceted for the many ways they tell it.

Institutions Invulnerable to Annoying Controversies? And Then There Were None

In our profession, SWNID commonly deals with people who are upset over something that is happening at SWNID's place of wage slavery. Those upsets are caused by matters ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. But they generally fall under the category, Things That Are Endemic to the Human Condition.

Some of our conversation partners in such matters believe that the constant voicing of and responding to such concerns is a special characteristic of Christian organizations. They believe that other organizations, richer and more professionally operated, don't have such problems. Or they believe that Christian organizations, having ideals up to which to live, have them, while secular organizations, with nothing to pursue but self-interest, haven't them.

We note as a counter example to this parochial point of view the amazing controversy, local to Greater Cincinnati but now nationally and internationally famous, about the staging at Lakota East High School of Agatha Christie's classic and twice-renamed play And Then There Were None.

Said controversy has been resolved--at least partially and at least for now--as the play will now be un-canceled and performed under its most recent title, noted above.

We will not opine as to whether the staging of a play that once had a racist term in its title is sufficiently insensitive as to be unconscionable. We will instead empathize with school officials who have found themselves between the Scylla and Charibdis of aggrieved parents on both sides and note that they probably wish that they had used the most recent, least offensive title for the play as soon as it went into rehearsals.

We especially point out to our brothers and sisters the obvious point that such endless arguments are found all over, not just at church and related organizations where people do their arguing in the name of Jesus.

Now, we must end this post to keep an appointment with an aggrieved person. [Note to self: open ears, shut mouth.]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Impressive Speech on Hope for Inner Cities

We profusely thank gentle reader PS/SWNID for directing us to this video enjoining engagement in the lives of children and youths growing up in the impoverished inner city.

This speech is all the more impressive to SWNID because it is delivered by a subject of the UK--David Sharples, who founded Kidz Klub, a Christian mentoring program in the UK--at the Conservative Party Conference of 2007. One doesn't expect to hear about the aggressive engagement of Christians in the UK, let alone hear expect to hear discussion of such things at a major political event. And for those who are unaware, the UK Conservative Party has not had a relationship with the "religious right" (as if such a thing existed in the UK) as has the US Republican Party.

So we take this opportunity to express our profound respect and thanks to all those who read this blog who do the kind of thing that Sharples does. God is taking his world back, including the inner cities, and y'all are his Special Forces in that greatest of endeavors.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stuck on the Bus with Dignified Humans

We thank gentle reader Dan for taking us "To the Source," that is, to a web site entitled "To the Source" for this wide-ranging essay on the development of human stem cells without the destruction of embryos and the larger issue of human dignity.

To say that the piece, by one Robert S. Paul, is wide-ranging is an understatement, but it isn't a ramble. We urge reading of its entirety, but for your enticement offer this quotation:

In the work where I'm involved with impoverished communities, LifeWind International, the principle of Equal Dignity is foundational. It is the coming issue, I believe, in the continuing campaign to find solutions to world poverty. Dignity forces the discussion of poverty beyond economic development, a discourse that too easily slides down the path of condescending pity and lurking superiority. In our secret hearts we are tempted to believe that poverty might be a sign of some intrinsic defect, while wealth is the confirmation of our superior abilities. Noblesse oblige. Here come the rich to rescue the poor. But those on the receiving side of our intended generosity see the truth of what we believe behind our stuffed pocketbooks. If we deny equal dignity, we sow the seeds of long-term resentment. Dignity for the poor and oppressed is not the prize we give them at the end, once we have won the battle, but the starting point for a new way of working together.

When Doing Bad Is Good

Here's a fundraising strategy that we fear more institutions of higher education may now employ:

1. Experience financial misdeeds on the part of senior administrators.
2. Then allow the scoundrel(s) to resign when the problem comes to light.
3. Then accept a big gift from a donor who wants to make everything right again.

That's the continuing saga at Oral Roberts University. After Friday's resignation of allegedly nefarious president Richard Roberts, ORU now announces that it will receive a $70 million gift from Hobby Lobby founder Mart Green.

The gift has strings attached: Green is demanding that the university reform its governance. Already, the boards of ORU and the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association are separating.

SWNID asks Mr. Green, who may or may not be a reader of this blog, please to consider a gift of similar size to Cincinnati Christian University. Or even one of reduced size.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Demography to Cities: Grow with Families

Today's WSJ has a most important opinion piece for those who care about the future of American cities, including people who live in them, like SWNID.

Joel Kotkin of Chapman University notes that while many cities, including the one where we reside, have sought economic growth by appealing to the "creative class" of young singles, cities that have actually experienced economic and numerical growth in recent years have been those that are appealing to married people with children.

We simply say that we wouldn't mind in the least of Our City Fathers took this message to heart. To appeal to companies looking to bring jobs, Cincinnati doesn't need more nightclubs (unless they are jazz venues like the Blue Wisp, whose survival seems relatively secure now). It needs good schools, affordable housing, and social networks that nurture parents and children.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Where to Give Year-End Gifts

SWNID's gentle readers, largely being members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, tend to be extremely wealthy. In this holiday season, they are generally concerned to find ways to shelter their ill-gotten gains from payment of their already-smaller-than-fair share of taxes. (Note: this paragraph contains sarcasm.)

This year, we recommend generous donations and longer-term pledges to Cincinnati Christian University's "Beyond the Walls" campaign, detailed nicely in this piece from Friday's Enquirer.

Signature sarcasm aside, and with due caution for the obvious self-interest* in our mentioning this, we are hard pressed to think of a way that one can use one's dollars, euros, pounds sterling, yen, yuan, pesos, bolivars, rubles or other units of currency more strategically than through gifts that will secure the future ministry of CCU and other institutions that develop the talents and interests of Christians who will lead the church in its global mission to subvert the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

Other projects may be more trendy or deliver a warmer, fuzzier feeling. But when one scratches and sniffs the people who lead the big stuff that gets done, one discovers a significant number of such folk were shaped by their experiences at CCU and similar institutions of biblical higher education. Investments in such joints are significantly leveraged in their influence.

We hasten to add that we always expect a degree of skepticism about such appeals. We therefore invite gentle readers who want to ask questions or express such skepticism to do so in the comments on this posting, where we will answer as much as this busy season allows, and with as much honesty as our calloused heart can muster.

*SWNID has a rather large personal commitment to the ministry of CCU. We will not receive any financial emolument from donations to the campaign.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Rosin Chronicles Golden Compass Transformation

As Christians across the USA gear up for a campaign against the atheism of The Golden Compass, SWNID urges gentle readers first to read the backgrounder on the movie's production by the esteemed journalist of American religion Hannah Rosin in this month's Atlantic (full access requires subscription, well worth the money in our SWNIDish opinion).

Rosin notes that market concerns motivated the movie's producers from the beginning to reduce, modulate and even obliterate the overt anti-theistic themes of the blockbuster fantasy books. Author Philip Pullman, who is unrepentant about his aggressive atheism, cooperated in the corruption in order to get the books to the silver screen (and presumably to get his royalty checks deposited).

The result, says Rosin, is the usual Hollywood religious mish-mosh: a bland, quasi-Buddhism akin to Star Wars that will probably offend few. In fact, Rosin judges that the movie that will mostly anger only those who liked the books' original message but will probably flummox wider audiences who try to understand it beyond its flashy special effects.

More broadly, we scold our Christian siblings for their obsession, positively and negatively, with media messages. For years, we've protested the messages that the media gives our impressionable minds, imagining a better world in which movies and television reinforced positive values and even the Christian good news.

Then we got The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And massive revival broke out.

No, wait: it didn't.

We therefore opine that media messages, with us or against us, have relatively less impact than we sometimes hope or fear. Not to deny the effect that worldviews embedded in entertainment and news reporting have on the consciousness of many, we nevertheless conclude that the media largely gives people what they insist they want and help them think what they think already.

In the case of The Golden Compass, what many people want is spectacular fantasy, but what only about 14% wants is anti-theism. So Hollywood is giving the former while minimizing the latter. And we expect a religious impact about equivalent to what we got from Lord of the Rings.

For Thanksgiving: Less Violence in Iraq

Sometimes we ignore the obvious on this blog. Today we draw attention to it.

Finally the MSM has caught up with our repeated statement that the surge is working.

We like the Financial Times's (motto: the pink newspaper for people rich enough not to worry about their appearance while reading a pink newspaper) headline that includes the term "phenomenal."

From here, expect three things:

  • Democrats will continue to complain that "there's no political progress" and will consequently call for a timed withdrawal.
  • Various media outlets will report any significant violent incidents and ask whether they indicate that the bad guys have recovered.
  • Various pundits will speculate as to whether the bad guys are saving up for next autumn, when they'll let loose with enough explosions to scare the American electorate into voting for the Democrat.
And, to be frank, those are legitimate concerns. But they don't negate the potency of Petraeus's strategy. They simply urge patience with and further adaptation of a fundamentally sound strategy in a part of the world where it takes centuries to mark significant change. War, as always, is at least heck, and it takes tenacious guts to see it through to a decent conclusion.

This, of course, is not the strategy now endorsed by retired General Ricardo Sanchez, who says that political progress is insufficient to justify continued US progress and so now calls for a withdrawal. We note the obvious: Sanchez commanded in Iraq with a different strategy, one that surely didn't work, and now has a vested personal interest in advocating an outcome in which the current commander's strategy is not allowed to outshine his failure.

Note well that the Democrats are now in the unenviable position that they held during the Civil War: recruiting failed generals to speak for their party's position of abandoning the difficult war effort. With his upcoming radio speech on Saturday, Sanchez becomes the McClellan of our era.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Listening Past Bush Hatred

Rhetorically every Democratic presidential candidate, knowing that Bush hatred is the strongest impulse in the Party of Jefferson, is running against Dubya.

But substantively, two of the leaders are running on what has become known as the Bush Doctrine: that US interests are best served by the expansion of democracy in the Middle East, not just the preservation of "stability."

The NY Sun documents as much today, with statements from the Dem-bate out of the mouths of Senators Obama and Clinton.

If the unthinkable happens in November next, let's hope that this commitment can withstand the pressures of doctrinaire isolationism and pacifism that seem poised to overwhelm the party of Wilson, FDR and Truman.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hagee: Jesus Didn't Come as Messiah

Gentle reader KevinK suggests to us that John Hagee may have surpassed Pat Robertson as World's Most Embarrassing Christian. This video clip may just prove that he has:

Well, we guess that Jesus' saying "I am" to the high priest's question, "Are you the Christ [Messiah]" isn't claiming to be Messiah after all.

Hagee's hyper-idiosyncratic dispensationalism is super-duper embarrassing. We just hope that no one notices.

Longmont's LifeBridge Takes Heat for Real Estate Development

Today's Denver Post contains an intriguing and disturbing article about a real estate venture of the LifeBridge Christian Church of Longmont, Colorado, where friend of SWNID is the well-known and widely respected senior pastor.

What's intriguing is that the church is using the acumen of many of its members to pursue a real-estate development that will, if successful, finance its construction of a new campus.

What's disturbing is that despite the fact that there is no evidence of impropriety, and despite the fact that the church has a superb reputation for its service to the community, plenty of skeptics assume that the church is up to no good. To get a feel for the hysteria, read the comments, not just the article.

Obviously there's recently been enough nefarious real-estate dealing by Christians and Clintons to nurture such suspicions. We just pray that Rusaw and crew can live in such a way as to demonstrate their critics mistaken.

'Nother News Flash: Cohabitation Dangerous for Kids

Ever notice how local news stories about abused children frequently involve the mother's live-in boyfriend as perpetrator? Well, today the AP noticed too.

The esteemed wire service today carries the story by David Crary that children living with unrelated adults are 50 times more likely to be victims of assault than children living with both biological parents.

So it seems that staying together for the children was a better idea than people thought.

News Flash: Executions Deter Murders

In a stunning piece of contrarian journalism, today's Gray Lady publicizes recent studies arguing that the death penalty does indeed deter murders. Statistical links are shaky, of course, since it's a big country and there aren't lots of executions. And cause-effect relationships can't be proved solely on the fact that event Y (fewer murders) happens after event X (an execution).

But at least a few brave economists, some not fans of the death penalty, have argued that statistics coupled with the economic postulate that people choose against things that are costly make the conclusion secure.

We'll anticipate an objection by some noble and gentle reader: so if executions deter murders, maybe we should execute people for other crimes, like auto theft. Well, let's recall that deterrence is only one issue in punishing crimes. Retribution is another, and it demands that the punishment fit the crime. A life for a car isn't just. A life for a life is another matter.

This debate isn't over. But we're still not exactly sure that the NY Times is still the paper we thought it was when it puts articles like this in its fabled Sunday edition.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Play-by-Play on Dem-bate

We interrupt blogging silence to do the obvious: take note of what really went on in last night's Democratic candidate debate. Our reference point is this CNN article.

Hillary said: "The American people know where I've stood for 35 years."

SWNID explains: Yes. You were rainmaker for the Rose Law Firm. You did real estate deals in Whitewater. You managed bimbo eruptions for your philandering husband. You didn't hold public office until you moved to New York to run for a safe Senate seat. You've mouthed the objectives of the left and far left while manipulating the fringes of free enterprise to make the money that your husband couldn't make as a career politician.

Hillary said: "This is going to be one of the most important elections we've ever had in our country's history, and it is important that we have a candidate who is tested as a president who is ready to lead from day one."

SWNID asks: As important as 1788, 1860, 1864, 1916, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972? Tested how?

Hillary said: "I don't mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and right out of the Republican playbook. . . . For [Edwards] to be throwing this mud and making these charges I think really detracts from what we're trying to do here tonight. We need to put forth a positive agenda for America."

SWNID asks: Um, how is it personal and not about issues to say that you voted to authorize the war or to say that you work in Washington? And, um, is not the characterization of mudslinging as distinctly Republican itself a form of mudslinging?

Bill Richardson said: "It seems that John wants to start a class war. It seems that Barack wants to start a generational war. It seems that Sen. Clinton, with all due respect on her plan on Iraq, doesn't end the war. All I want to do is give peace a chance."

SWNID translates: Attention, nostalgic baby boomers who long for 1968: I pander to you! Attention, Hillary: I am totally nice to you and totally saying what the Angry Left wants to hear. And don't forget that I'm a Hispanic governor of a purple state and that I have the actual experience that you claim. I am your running mate!

Others: [various comments]

SWNID translates: Please, someone notice me!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Much Awaited: SWNID on Robertson and Giuliani

Busy but begged, we offer our SWNIDish judgment on the incredible event of Pat Robertson's endorsement of Our Man Rudy.

On what this says about the World's Most Embarrassing Christian now that he has chosen rightly in Our Man, we simply offer the ancient aphorism that even a blind pig finds the occasional acorn.

On wider matters, our ever-optimistic heart beats faster with the thought that this event may give Our Man enough social conservative support to win the nomination while at the same time destroying Embarrassing Pat's credibility with his constituency and so eliminating his public influence and visibility.

It is too much to hope for both, but hope we will.

Reformation Polka

We interrupt our blogging silence to share this brilliant video, sent to us by gentle historian Rick C.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Telegraph's Top 100s

With all the objectivity of British journalists looking at America, the Telegraph offers lists of Top 100 Most Influential Conservatives in America and Top 100 Most Influential Liberals in America.

Number one on the lib list is Bill Clinton. That's indisputable.

Number one on the conservative list is Rudy. That's disputable, but we like it nevertheless.

A couple of observations:
  • Hitchens is listed as a conservative.
  • Schwartzenegger is listed as liberal.
  • Lieberman is on both lists.
  • Pundits appear but are generally low. We'd rank them higher, but our political activity is more reading than doing real stuff.

Our sources at the Telegraph tell us that SWNID was ranked 101 on the conservative list, just missing the cut.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

And Now the Real News: Economy Booming

Lawrence Kudlow today performs the public service of noting that GDP is way up, inflation is down, incomes are up, energy use per unit of GDP is down, and loads of other positive economic news.

You won't hear this from the MSM, who focus on sectors like housing or finance to suggest that things are awful economically. We aren't so paranoid as to think that the lefty journalists are trying to gin up discontent leading to the 08 elections. We just think that they need a story, don't really care about the bigger picture, and know that good news is no news at all.

Of course, you won't hear the Ds talk about this at all.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Poll Roundup: Ds Slipping

RealClearPolitics today offers its usual excellent analysis of recent polls, including the latest Quinnipiac. The news: Ds are slipping, Rs are rising, Hillary's negatives equal her positives. And Rudy is beating Hillary again, and now Thompson beats Obama and McCain isn't a slouch in any head-to-head.

If yesterday's boys v. girl Democrat debate is any indication, the overall weakness of the Democratic field may be starting to show.

So we may see "Grand" coming back to "GOP."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Man Again Overtakes That Woman

The latest Rasmussen poll, only about a week old, shows Rudy ahead of Hillary by 2%, well within the margin of error but the first lead any R has had over Mommie Dearest in months.

Here's a comforting line:

But, the current results suggest a return to the longer trend-line established for this race.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A British Take on Moore's Take on British Health

We pretty consistently ignore media mogul Michael Moore, since life is too short to waste time on political propaganda for profit. But our SWNIDish eye was drawn to the London Times column by one Minette Marin roundly criticizing Moore's Sicko for its hugely distorted, falsely positive take on the British National Health Service.

Marin details the various failures of the NHS, most of them failures that are worsening with time, which go unmentioned in Moore's latest film. Then she ends with this:

By ignoring these problems, and similar ones in France’s even more generous and expensive health service, Moore is lying about the answer to that question. I wonder whether the grotesquely fat film-maker is aware of the delicious irony that in our state-run system, the government and the NHS have been having serious public discussion about the necessity of refusing to treat people who are extremely obese.

One can only wonder why Sicko is so dishonestly biased. It must be partly down to Moore’s personal vainglory; he has cast himself as a high priest of righteous indignation, the people’s prophet, and he has an almost religious following. He’s a sort of docu-evangelist, dressed like a parody of the American man of the people, with jutting jaw, infantile questions and aggressively aligned baseball cap.

However, behind the pleasures of righteous indignation for him and his audience, there is something more sinister. There’s money in indignation, big money. It is just one of the many extreme sensations that are lucrative for journalists to whip up, along with prurience, disgust and envy. Michael Moore is not Mr Valiant-for-truth. He is Mr Worldly-wiseman, laughing behind his hand at all the gawping suckers in Vanity Fair. Don’t go to his show.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

SWNIDish Reflections: Evangelical Gloom

We recently have been preoccupied with our interactions with colleagues at other institutions of biblical higher education. In our deanish capacity, we often attend meetings at which the deanish and presidential creatures of other Bible colleges hang out to speak their minds.

And we have been wondering lately why our peers' minds seem strangely different from our own.

Some anecdotes that illustrate:

  • In a roundtable meeting of senior leader-types of such institutions, all acknowledge enthusiastically that in the last 20 years, regional accrediting associations have become increasingly open to Bible colleges. They acknowledge further that the regionals have done little or nothing to interfere with the beliefs or missions of their institutions. But then the conversation turns dark as one says that an "expert" tells him to expect the regionals to require his institution to hire practicing homosexuals within five years.
  • In a discussion of what makes a Bible college distinct from other institutions of higher education, including Christian colleges teaching a traditional arts and sciences curriculum (what is historically labeled "liberal arts," not a term that one can utter these days without causing someone heartburn), a similar group discusses the term "missional." They show great enthusiasm for the term until one offers the bleak remark that the word has been co-opted by the "emergent church movement" to mean something "very different from what we mean," thereby destroying the commitment to the gospel of many formerly faithful churches as they promote the "social gospel." Thereafter, no one save our SWNIDish self wants to speak for the term as an apt descriptor of their institutions.
  • In a meeting discussing the US Department of Education's plans for accreditation, a senior figure of the Bible college movement declares that he sees the plans of (Republican) Education Secretary Spellings as part of the inevitable progress toward one world government.

Why does SWNID (and, we believe, at least many of our Campbellite colleagues, none of whom made any of the remarks above) feel so alienated by these episodes? We expect that the answer is obvious: these comments reflect an extreme pessimism that ignores the past and the present in favor of grim prognostication. For Christians engaged in the cause of the gospel, there is nothing too good, it seems, that it can't go bad in an instant.

It's no coincidence, of course, that in these conversations, SWNID belongs to a minority of conversationalists who reject the tenets of dispensationalism, i.e. that the present "church age" is on the verge of yielding to a "tribulation" of untold awfulness for those who are, dare we say, "left behind" after the "rapture." There can be no question whatsoever that our colleagues are deeply rooted in the pessimism about the future that such a view necessarily engenders.

Of course, there's more than just dispensationalism at work in these judgments. There's also the legacy of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. In that century-old event, the shockwaves of which linger to the present, Christians who held to historic beliefs found themselves besieged by "modernists" who sought to take over institutions with dogmas shaped more by the contemporary insights of the nascent social and historical "sciences" (always more important than the natural sciences in these battles, we believe) than by Holy Writ. For many in institutions forged in those battles, the battle itself becomes the paradigm of all history: new movements are by definition suspect and are readily labeled with terms that properly refer to elements of those past battles. So, for example, "social gospel" is unchallenged as a term for those who say that the church must do well at doing good in order to win a hearing for the evangel.

SWNID, on the other hand, is ready to think other thoughts. We aren't dispensational. Neither, of course are we postmillennial, as JB in CA playfully accused us recently, thinking that things are inexorably marching toward a better future. We are amillennial. So we think that the world has been a pretty awful place for a long time and will remain so until the return of Jesus, the time of which we faithfully refuse to prognosticate. But we also think, with all the strength that our fallen but redeemed spirit can muster, that God's victory is powerfully at work in the world and that we, unworthy as we are, are blessed to participate in it.

We also tend to think that the fundamentalist-modernist controversy is not the model of all church history, any more than the present conflict between the broad tents of "conservatives" (fiscal, military, social and libertarian) and "liberals" (including socialists, populists, pacifists, and organized labor) defines every era of politics. We don't think that every new movement that "emerges" should be denounced until further notice, not least because the present shows that even the fundamentalist-modernist controversy yielded an overall victory for the orthodox side. So we are unlikely to think that someone who recommends a revision of present practices isn't by definition a wolf in sheep's clothing. We believe that when such folk speak, we have a responsibility to listen, think, and act on the best judgment that we can, informed by everything available to us but free of the suspicion that assumes monsters under the bed because you can never be too careful.

Call that outcome Christian critical, realistic, historically orthodox optimism. We think that too many Christians operate from a standpoint of fear. We keep trying to fear not.

These days, we think that this matter is what separates us from many of our non-Campbellite Bible college colleagues more than the classically definitive questions of getting in and staying in, i.e. predestination, baptism and security.

So we remain committed not to pander to or provoke the fears of our brothers and sisters. Instead, let's try to do stuff in the name of Jesus, figuring that he wins because he won already.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Krauthammer to Conservatives: Stop Whining About Candidates

We point gentle readers gratefully to the impeccable Charles Krauthammer's column that today remonstrates conservatives for complaining that they don't have any good presidential candidates this year. A quotation:

In 2007 we have, by any reasonable historical standard, a fine Republican field: One of the great big-city mayors of the past century; a former governor of extraordinary executive talent; a war hero, highly principled and deeply schooled in national security; and a former senator with impeccable conservative credentials.

So why all the angst?

Indeed! We continue to prefer Our Man Rudy but enthusiastically affirm that we will vote enthusiastically for Romney, McCain or even the sphinx-like Thompson.

Take heart, friends! We have good frontrunners, and Pat Robertson isn't running at all.

24 Day 7 Trailer: Apologies, Torture and More Resurrection

We tip the SWNIDish hat to gentle reader KevinK for pointing us to the "world premiere" trailer for 24 Day 7.

We observe that Kiefer begins out of character with a statement of thanks to viewers that is essentially an apology for a weak Day 6 and a promise that Day 7 will be the Greatest Day Ever (biblical allusions are assumed to be unintentional here). But as Jack, addressing the recurrent 24 theme of torture he immediately refuses to apologize: "Don't expect me to regret the decisions that I have made, because, sir, the truth is, I don't."

No wonder our Seldom-Wrong pulse quickens whenever we watch 24.

We also observe that Jack is not the only character who can rise from the dead. Tony Almeda, favorite of females in the SWNID household, returns.

Rowling "Christian," Dumbledore "Gay": SWNID Catches Up

So J. K. Rowling has at last stated that the Christian imagery in the Harry Potter books, most obvious in book seven, is, well, deliberately Christian. And Rowling goes to church. And she describes her faith like that of Graham Greene (see The Heart of the Matter in the SWNID Fiction Club), that is, a struggle to believe.

That sounds about right. Rowling wasn't writing Christian allegory, which was obvious. And she probably couldn't if she tried, which is fine. And she's on a pilgrimage, which is at worst honest and at best an honestly more accurate self-assessment for anyone than the kind that claims to have it all together.

So the books are what they have always appeared to be: an imaginary tour de force that explores the longings of humanity for justice, redemption and love and incorporates elements drawn from That Which Answers those longings, however imperfectly the author grasps those answers (for further reflection on this issue, we recommend reading, in addition to Greene, books at left by Dostoyevski, Endo, Updike, and O'Connor).

SWNID, who believes that evocation and provocation are often more powerful than indoctrination, is happy with this outcome.

Meanwhile, others are enraged that Rowling reveals that Dumbledore was gay. His relationship with Grindelwald, it seems, involved a powerful attachment of the future headmaster with the powerful, charismatic wizard. For whatever reason, the relationship was unconsummated.

Some Christians are incensed. We're not.*

Here's the deal, brothers and sisters. Every character in Potter's world is flawed. And as the background story develops in Deathly Hallows, we realize Dumbledore's youthful attachment to Grindlewald, whatever its nature, is his undoing.

Further, per Rowling, Dumbledore never acts sexually on his attraction and, per our own observation, in the story world never makes another such attachment. In other words, he experiences same-sex attraction but doesn't act on the urge.

That's the point, and to make the point, we'll oversimplify. In itself experiencing same-sex attraction is not sin, any more than in itself experiencing the urge to have sex with a member of the opposite sex to whom one is not married is sin, or experiencing a desire to slap someone's face is a sin. It's a temptation. The sin is in what one does with the urge.

Part of the fascinating power of Rowling's books is the Dickensian richness of her palette of characterization, which is to say that every character is a full-bodied, unique, believable person. Dumbledore is but one of many, and his experience is but one of many that evokes the fallenness of all.

The hysterical Potter critic linked above worries about Christians exposing their children to a gay character. She needs to realize that her children are in contact with real "gay" characters all the time. But let's be precise and stop saying "gay." Many people experience same-sex attraction, some more commonly and more powerfully than others. Some act on it, and some don't. As a Christian, I want to support those who don't, just as I myself need support to resist the urges that lead me to sin when I give in to them. As a parent and educator, I want people to understand that there's a big difference between affirming the presence and worth of people who experience same-sex attraction and treating homosexual acts as the moral equivalent of sex in permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

Dumbledore's experience is so much in the background of the Potter narrative that Christians hardly need to worry that their children will be corrupted by reading the books, any more than they should worry that the theme from Mr. Ed if played backwards sounds like "someone sang this song for Satan."

In fact, let's say the obvious: parents who think that this element of the narrative will corrupt young readers reveal thereby that they don't trust their children over time to develop critical thinking skills and don't trust the power of the gospel to overcome evil. For them, the message of God is so weak that it doesn't work in people's lives even if they hear it every day, and the message of Satan is so strong that it will overwhelm even when it is buried deep behind a fantasy narrative, so deep that the author has to tell us what was in her mind as she wrote.

Or to be blunt: Jesus wins; Satan loses. We are not called to retreat to a fortress. We are called to charge into enemy territory. It's God's world and he's taking it back. As in, "Take heart, for I have overcome the world."

*Those ready to accuse SWNID of being a relativist on homosexuality ought to read these posts as a reminder.

Another Reality Check: Fund on Huckabee

A lot of us are lately charmed by Mike Huckabee, despite his economically disastrous views on trade, taxes and greenhouse gas regulation. Some of us conservative realists who support Our Man have contemplated him openly as 08 running mate.

WSJ's John Fund makes us think carefully about this today, noting that Huckabee is not necessarily well respected by the southern conservatives who know him best.

We grant several qualifications as we read this article. One is that anyone whom the perpetually angry Phyllis Schafly finds objectionable has our prima facie endorsement, and the Anti-Hillary characterizes Huckabee as a Judas to conservatives. Another is that in certain circles in the South (e.g. the Southern Baptist Convention) the term "conservative" has become at once so extreme and so indiscriminate in its application as it make it impossible to know what members of such circles mean when they say Huckabee is no conservative.

However, Fund tempers our enthusiasm for the socially, geographically and temperamentally balanced elegance of a Giuliani-Huckabee ticket with the reality that Huckabee enthusiastically supports economic policies that would make people poorer than they are at present and the likelihood that Huckabee's positions are rooted in things other than the politically conservative intellectual tradition of Smith, Burke, Hayek, Kirk, Buckley, and Friedman.

Huckabee might not really balance Rudy's ticket, in other words. He might differently unbalance it.

Swing State FL Provides Republic with Reality Check

Our Man has been trailing That Woman in most national polls of late.

There's little wonder there. The electorate trails the news cycle by about 6 months. Recent events affirm that (a) the military is taking care of business in Iraq; (b) the Ds have no ability to govern. But voters will register this in their preferences sometime around Easter.

Nevertheless, there are leading indicators: Quinnipiac now shows Rudy leading Hillary Rodham Puffenstuff 46-43 in Florida.

Interestingly, a margin of these Rudy supporters cite disaffection from the party of Jefferson, Jackson and FDR because of its strong-arm tactics to settle when the state's presidential primary ought to be held. We assume that they realize that a party that can't govern itself won't do well with bigger responsibilities, as Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi demonstrate often.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Right-Wing Facebook

We thank BryanD for sending us a link to the delightful parody "Right-Wing Facebook." It's also not bad as a quick summary of the state of the quest for the GOP nomination.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Stupid Are Voters Who Go to Church?

Bob Novak's latest is entitled "Rudy and Religion." We probably don't need to say more to induce gentle readers to follow the link and read the column, but we will offer this quotation:

Giuliani's opponents tend to blame his otherwise inexplicable support from churchgoers on the veils of ignorance that in time, they say, will be lifted from the eyes of voters. That implies voters are just too stupid to know the truth about him.

So whether you agree or disagree that Social Conservatives for Giuliani (honorary chair: SWNID) should be called "Stupid Is as Stupid Does," you'll want to read Novak's take on the matter.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Buchanan Raises Alarm, SWNID Quiets Irrational Fears

Respected gentle reader and Honorary Co-Blogger JB in CA today invites our comments on a recent column by distinguished protectionist ranter and occasional third-party candidate Patrick Buchanan. In this column Buchanan does what he has done since 1988: declare the imminent fall of the sky. In this case, he is declaring the actual collapse of conservatism under Dubya.

Buchanan outlines his objections to Bushism in four points:

  • It is about big government instead of small-government, giving us No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D.
  • It is Wilsonian interventionism instead of isolationism, giving us the Iraq War.
  • It is in favor of more open immigration, giving us, well, more immigrants.
  • It is pro-free-trade, giving us lots of imports from countries that don't buy our stuff.

And the results of this, per Buchanan, are big federal deficits, the worst strategic blunder in history, a backlash against the Republican party because Americans don't want more immigrants, and a massive trade deficit, giving dollars to the Chinese to invest in American businesses.

JB ask us, why should we not be concerned?

Well, to be frank, SWNID isn't concerned.

First, on big versus small government. These are relative terms. Part of the Bush calculation is to offer a relatively smaller federal program where the body politic for a big federal program and the Ds are ready to deliver all that and more. Bush's approach to the federalization of primary and secondary education and prescription drug coverage for seniors may not have been doctrinaire conservatism, but they at least kept the reins on what could otherwise have been much worse. NCLB is largely about demanding results for money spent, and Medicare D is still largely driven by the market. Still, we'll concede a bit of unease on some parts of this.

But on the rest, we're really comfortable.

Buchanan complains that Bush's big-government binge has frittered away the federal surplus and yielded big deficits. First, let's remember that in war, countries run deficits. But then, let's get real about the deficit. It's a record only in unadjusted dollars. As a percentage of the GDP, it's currently below the average for the last 50 years.

Further, let's be honest, as Greenspan was in his recent book. In the long term, federal surpluses are worse than deficits. With surpluses, once the federal debt is paid down (and it doesn't take a lot of years of surpluses to do that, despite the size of the debt), there's nothing to do with a surplus except to spend it (making bigger government), give it back (lowering taxes, a good thing, but will anyone do it?) or invest it. That last one is what the Democrat deficit hawks want to do: let Uncle Sam decide where America's money needs to be invested. We find that unsettling. Central economic planning has a miserable record to date.

However, the notion that the best budget is a balanced federal budget ignores other economic realities. Like Adam Smith, let's use a household as an example. Who are the wiser managers of household money: the father and mother who refuse ever to borrow a penny and so live with their children in a rented apartment until they can scrape together enough to buy a house at the end of their lives, or the father and mother who buy a house with a mortgage, raise their family in it, and pay it off near the end of their lives? The answer has to do with the fact that judicious borrowing for capital expenditures is wise because the value of the capital will be realized over the time that the loan is paid off.

So it is with federal deficits. Much governmental expenditure is capital: buildings, roads, tanks, ships, planes. Borrowing for such things is wise, and that means deficit spending. So treating a surplus budget like the best kind of budget is like treating a home mortgage like an unwise thing.

On Bush's muscular Wilsonianism, we continue to applaud the notion that American power can be used to bring freedom and democracy to other parts of the world. Iraq demonstrates that this requires wisdom and patience, that it will never go perfectly and so action must be judicious and sparing. But it doesn't disprove the value of the ideal. The idea that we could effectively advance democracy with diplomacy apart from the threat of force simply misjudges the nature of the undemocratic folk who lead the countries who need democracy. Buchanan would think that using diplomacy to advance democracy is even more ridiculous, and rightly so. But Buchanan just wants the rest of the world to ... well ... you know.

On open immigration, we insist that those nations in the present world and in history that have been most prosperous also have been most open to accepting and assimilating immigrants. Why, for example, are so many Poles living and working in Ireland right now? We think it's great to be in a country where everyone else wants to live and work, and we welcome everyone who wants to contribute to the welfare of others who live here.

On free trade, Buchanan doesn't realize the economic dogma that trade deficits are self-correcting. The weak dollar resulting from our trade deficit is a good thing, part of the cycle of correction, and will stimulate American manufacturing growth and exports. Likewise, who is worried that the Chinese are buying interests in US businesses? Their money will buy capital improvements that will increase productivity and create jobs and wealth for Americans. Their investments, their hiring of employees and their business activities will be regulated by American law. The more invested the Chinese are here, and the more we are invested there, the less likely we are to go to war with them.

SWNID is about to make an unfair judgment, which is what SWNID does best. Pat Buchanan is insecure and consequently xenophobic. He thinks that the good that we have in this country is fragile, that it must be protected or it will collapse. We think that there are people who, given the opportunity, would take stuff from us, including our lives. But America won't collapse because we buy grapes from Chile or TVs from China or because they guy who puts siding on our house came from Mexico or Ukraine. Neither will it collapse because some of our businesses are owned by folks who look different from us (BTW, the UK remains the biggest foreign investor in the US, but Buchanan doesn't use them as an example, does he?).

We do remain concerned that the electorate is unaware of these realities. But we aren't in favor of pandering to their fears. Rather, let's just keep telling the truth.

Guthrie Right, Campolo Deaf but Not Mute

Check out the exchange at Christianity Today between CT editor Stan Guthrie and evangelical bad boy Tony Campolo.

Guthrie is essentially accusing Campolo of posturing with his recent "Red Letter Christians" tag, asserting that concern for justice means being on the left but then acting as if the whole thing is nonpartisan.

Campolo replays his usual rhetoric that ignores the obvious point Guthrie makes.

Furthermore, Campolo shows himself a poor theologian to boot. Note how he sets up Jesus as the adversary of Moses. This is simply a poor reading of the Hebrew Bible, not to mention a poor reading of the New Testament. We'd say more, but we talk about this so much in class that we expect many readers of this blog, being current and former students, can fill in the blanks.

Here's Guthrie's most excellent closing observation:

How we vote as Christians may differ, and that's okay. But let's not insist that we are somehow above the political fray. That is just the kind of sophistry the Lord warned against.

We most heartily agree.

Please, Dr. Campolo, Jim Wallis and all who act as if Christianity and pacifistic socialism are identical: quit claiming to love Jesus more than Christians who support free markets, small government and just war. It's just possible that socialism impoverishes and pacifism kills.

Gore Lies, Wins the Nobel Prize

We hate to be as indiscreet as the title to this posting, but recent events call for frank speech.

On Wednesday a British judge ruled that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth could be shown in Britain's secondary schools only if students were first warned that the film contained "serious scientific inaccuracies, political propaganda and sentimental mush."

Today the Nobel Prize Committee announced that Gore would share the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Nobel Peace Prize is now officially the equivalent of a championship awarded by World Wrestling Entertainment. And the British High Court is officially the last bastion of common sense in Europe, save maybe the brain of Nicholas Sarkozy.

We would make comparison to the charge that Dubya lied about WMD, but it's simply too obvious to bother.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Limbaugh: Dems Will Deep-Six Iraq Issue

Today we do something we have never done before: provide a link to the extremely talented, perpetually amusing, continually controversial recovering drug abuser, cigar aficionado, serial monogamist and iconic conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, the Charlie Parker of his genre.

Say what you will about Rush (and we'll say his radio show is a shadow of its former self, rather like Garrison Keillor's, who will really appreciate our mentioning him in the same sentence as Limbaugh), he's got impressive political instincts. That's why his observation is so provocative that the Dems have already decided to "move on" from Iraq as an election issue. With everyone but Bill Richardson, who has as much chance of the nomination as SWNID has of the Nobel Prize for literature, admitting that troops will remain in Iraq for at least another five years (only a tenth of our tenure in Korea, of course), it appears that Dems will only bring up Iraq long enough to feed the expectations of their hard left base.

What this may well mean is that the 2008 election will be fought on terms closer to 2000 than 2004, namely the difference between center-left economic interventionism and center-right economic libertarianism, with a side-dish of red meat about social issues for the party faithful. The difference, however, will be that in 2000 voters were tired of the Ds, while in 2008 they're tired of the Rs.

In that respect, the upcoming election may most closely resemble 1992. Which is why Rs need a candidate who will shake up the party's status quo. Which is why we support [fill in rest of paragraph from memory].