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.