Monday, April 28, 2008

The Campaign: Nothing New, But Well Said

With the slow-motion train wreck that is the Democratic nominating process having attained an even slower motion, we commend today's WSJ column by Joseph Epstein, who manages to wring from the monotony of an electoral draw between two flawed candidates enough new comparisons, mostly literary, to amuse us hardened political observers.

A delicious quotation:

I have always considered the Clintons as little more than a branch of William Faulkner's Snopes family, in their cases Snopeses who have given high SAT scores a bad name. I don't find it easy to imagine how anyone outside her immediate family could find Mrs. Clinton, in her bouncy campaign persona – Hubert Humphrey in drag – appealing.

More easily imagined is Mrs. Clinton at the start of a new day, slipping into yet another pants-suit, stepping into the makeover room, plastering on that frozen smile, and taking three deep breaths before hitting the bricks in the hope of coming across as more sincere than a Brian Williams necktie – while doing her best impression of a deeply caring person.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Duelling Expelled Reviews

At tothesource this week gentle readers may imbibe contrasting reviews of the anti-Darwinism movie Expelled.

In favor is Dinesh D'Souza of Stanford's Hoover Institute. Against is John Haught of Georgetown University.

We still haven't seen the film. So our comments will be tentative. But being Seldom Wrong, we have opinions even on movies that we haven't seen.

We expect many gentle readers to be excited about the way, as noted by D'Souza, Expelled exposes Richard Dawkins's belief that life on earth was seeded by extraterrestrials. That is genuinely as good a demonstration as one can imagine that it's not reasonable to think that life arose by chance. We like the ET versus God dilemma that this problem presents, because we think God wins.

We have some sympathy for Haught's objection that Expelled throws out the entirety of "Darwinism" because of its failure to address the origin of life or to point inexorably to the existence of God. However, we think that Haught is ignoring a very real issue here, and probably the one that the movie addresses, even if imperfectly.

And so we return to a common complaint: in the United States we glory in interdisciplinary education unless it has to do with the relationship of science to religion. Then the purity of scientific inquiry must be protected against sinister inroads from religion.

We think that science can take care of itself and seriously doubt that rampant superstition and a revival of alchemy or sorcery will break out if discussion of the existence of God or the likelihood of life arising by chance is seriously discussed in a science classroom. We also think that religious belief can take care of itself in such a forum if it is not unfairly disparaged along the lines of the trash talk between professional wrestlers. And we think that no one much cares about the origins and development of life except as it relates to the ultimate question of God and whether human life has significance.

We assert further that evolutionary biology and ID are really only different in very narrow areas that have to do with these very questions: is it reasonable to think that life arose by chance, and is it reasonable to think that an intelligence designed the universe?

What Haught won't acknowledge is that mainstream higher ed is dominated not just by a division between science as a way of knowing and other disciplines but by an exaltation of scientific knowledge as the best knowledge and an irrational hostility to religion (or Judaism and Christianity, really, probably with some recent uneasiness with Islam, but for different reasons). That hostility is illustrated in many reactions to the announcement of a Wheaton College professor's resignation because of his divorce (see previous post below).

That's the problem: that the folks who control much of the power in higher ed want to exclude religion from consideration in our most exalted educational institutions, except to be studied as a curiosity of human behavior--one that can be explained (away) in evolutionary terms.

Wheaton Prof, Divorcing, Resigns: Some in Higher Ed Seethe

In the world of Christian higher education, the big news is that a Wheaton College professor of English has resigned his position because he and his wife are divorcing. Professor Kent Gramm could discuss the circumstances of his divorce with Wheaton administrators for their judgment as to whether his divorce fits biblical parameters but has chosen not to do so.

Press coverage notes Gramm's personal dilemma and sense of grievance, naturally. We do not blame him for anything that he expresses. We simply acknowledge two points. One is that what is reported is much less than what is known by the parties involved, so outsiders should restrain themselves from making judgments. The other is that Christian institutions that take seriously the moral lives of their employees face the necessity of making inevitably imperfect decisions in formulating policies and applying them. The alternative to facing these difficulties is never adhering to behavioral standards, which for those who think that such behavior matters is the worse alternative.

In sum, we offer our sympathy to Prof. Gramm and to Wheaton. This is hard on everyone--no doubt harder on Prof. Gramm but no picnic for the people who were compelled to carry out Wheaton's policy.

We draw attention to the comments on the article that we have linked, as they likely come from members of the higher education community. In particular, we note those who equate religion with ignorance. We know of no definitive study of how widely such attitudes are expressed by folks in higher ed, but we certainly know that these comments fit a certain stereotype. More on that in the next post (above, for those who need reminding that blogs move backward in time from top to bottom).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Virginia Tech: An Honest Report

A year after the shootings at Virginia Tech, we welcome in Christian Standard the reflection on the last year from Virginia Tech campus minister and utterly-respected-by-SWNID CCU alum Steve Wilkin. His narrative is remarkably frank, free of self-promotion or sensationalism and reflective of honest ministry.

We offer a quote of the kind that, if other Christian organizations spoke with such honest modesty, would indicate that the church had entered a new level
of discipleship:

We rejoice that many students who were only nominal believers and who were dabbling in the “pleasures of this world” have been sobered (in more ways than one) by this tragedy. With the help of their fellow student believers in the campus ministries, many of these students are now experiencing a vibrant relationship with God.

I wish I could say this is happening on a massive scale and revival is breaking out like wildfire. That’s just not the case. Some people have been drawn closer to Christ through this adversity, and others have not.

Preemptive SWNIDisms on Critical Reaction to Expelled

A gentle reader informs us that critics don't much like the anti-Darwinism, pro-ID documentary Expelled. Not having seen the movie, we'll offer the following generalizations that may or may not apply:

  • Movie critics do react to the ideology of films more than they realize or will acknowledge. We remember in the early 80s that a number of critics panned Chariots of Fire because of its religious content, seeing anything that ventured into such territory as sentimental and manipulative.
  • If the movie uses the Michael Moore techniques of “documentary” filmmaking, we can certainly understand someone seeing it as less than entertaining or honest.
  • Christians have operated at least since the 1970s with the false hope that if they just had the right media products to get their message out, massive revival would break out. One of Bill Bright’s last public statements was that The Passion of the Christ represented the greatest evangelistic opportunity of our lifetimes. Well, so much for that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The "Secular" Campus and Religion

As a follow-up to our recent posting on Sex and the Soul, we point to the article in Inside Higher Ed on a recent attempt of some colleges to address how being "secular" affects their addressing "big questions" on their campuses.

We suggest slogging through the article with the following SWINDism in mind: "secular" colleges indulge and even endorse their faculty's abdicating responsibility to gain even a rudimentary grasp of the religious and philosophical issues that their various academic disciplines touch. That is nowhere better reflected than in the quotation that ends the article:

When religious content comes up, “Every classroom has very different rules and those rules aren’t written down anywhere,” [Bucknell chaplain] Reverend Oliver says. “What I describe it as is approaching a boundary or a limit and as you get closer you begin to feel like you’re treading into more and more difficult territory because people don’t know what kinds of responses they’re going to get.”

“Those are moments,” he says, “when people pay attention.”

Indeed they are, because no one really cares about the little questions, only the big ones. But putting up boundaries of various kinds is exactly what the "secular" classroom does, and in contrast to the "religious" classroom, the boundaries "aren't written down" or even publicly acknowledged.

That's why Donna Freitas can marvel at the integration and community of the evangelical campus and find it utterly lacking on the secular campus.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We're Breaking Editorial Policy for This

This blog is most obviously not about "cute stuff." See all the forwards in your inbox for that. If something even remotely resembles "cute," we refuse on principle to link it.

We violate that to link this. It is probably "cute," but we place it here because we think that the singer shows an impressive grasp of dynamics, rhythm and tempo for her tender age. Her breath control also seems precocious, and her pitch is probably pretty good considering her youth as well.

But it's not here because it's "cute," OK?

Hamas to Carter: What Hamas Were You Talking About?

It seems that Jimmy Carter's misoverestimation of Hamas's desire for peace was noticed by everyone except Jimmy Carter. This from the BBC:

Palestinian militant group Hamas will not recognise Israel, its political leader Khaled Meshaal has insisted.

He was responding to comments by former US President Jimmy Carter, following their talks in Syria at the weekend.

Seems Hamas's offer is to live in a Palestinian State that includes all the West Bank and Jerusalem with a 10-year truce and no recognition of Israel. In Israel, this alternative is known as "unconditional surrender followed by genocide."

How did our Republic ever elect that sanctimonious Southern clown to anything? Or as Mort Zuckerman of US News closes his column this week (hat tip to JB in CA): "A senior foreign policy official summed it all up: 'Carter is an idiot savant,' he said with a sigh. 'But hold the savant!'"

Video Commentary on the Democrats' Epic Struggle

On the advice of multiple gentle readers, we note with amusement the following YouTube artifacts offering provocative perspectives on the Democratic Party's presidential candidates.

We also express our thanks that at least we don't have to look at John Kerry much this year.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Carter: This Time We Can Really Trust the Terrorists

AP reports the following:

Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday that Hamas — the Islamic militant group that has called for the destruction of Israel — is prepared to accept the
right of the Jewish state to "live as a neighbor next door in peace."

We're not amazed that Carter is naive enough to believe these guys. We're amazed that he's still that naive after the number of times he's been through things like this.

We're also amazed that (a) after all these years the press still reports Carter's babe-in-the-woods comments; (b) Americans voted for this guy once.*

The phrase "prepared to accept" should be considered in other hypothetical contexts:
  • The alcoholic: "I am prepared to attend AA meetings."
  • The smoker: "I am prepared to quit smoking."
  • Bill Clinton: "I am prepared to stop seeing young women."
  • SWNID: "I am prepared to stop blogging arrogantly."

We expect adults to understand the nature of statements like this.

And we urge gentle readers to remember that no current politician resembles Carter more than the one who says that he'll immediately have talks with all the Bad Guys as soon as he's inaugurated.

*That, at least, can be ascribed to the grim despair of the 1970s, and maybe partly to the use of illegal narcotics.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not to Be Missed: P. J. on the Theodore Roosevelt

Our hero-worship of P. J. O'Rourke is sustained by his latest journalistic tour de force, an article for the Weekly Standard detailing his experiences visiting the US Navy's aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.

Normally we offer a quote or two to whet the appetite. But O'Rourke is so inventive that we don't want to spoil for gentle readers the effect of reading his best lines in context for the first time. So just follow the link and read the whole thing.

Recommended comments: quote your own favorite line. Ours is his description of Barack Obama.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This Year's Hot Book on Social Science, Religion, Higher Education and That Other Thing

Our gentle readers' attention is of late being given to a newly published book with the provocative title Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses. Clearly if the author, Donna Freitas, had figured a way to work Brittney Spears and American Idol into the title too, she could have an even-bigger seller.

The book's contents appear to be most interesting, and so we refer our gentle readers to the most informative review we've seen so far, at Inside Higher Ed. Freitas's findings include the following, which we quote from the review:

At Catholic colleges, Freitas writes that many students were apathetic about faith traditions and some “literally laughed out loud” at the church’s teachings on sex. And at Catholic and nonsectarian public and private colleges, hookup cultures — hookups are defined as physically intimate encounters occurring outside long-term relationships — dominate the social scene.

But Freitas finds that many students who participate in the hookup scene do so with
serious qualms – and “suffer in silence.” . . .

By contrast, she finds that students at evangelical institutions are extraordinarily well-anchored. “Religion and sex are inseparable. You can’t even begin to think about sex without grounding that reflection in God and your Christianity.” But, Freitas points out, for students who feel they can’t live up to or fit into the pervading purity culture, the anchor weighs them down – sometimes tragically.

There's more, of course, including observations about the difficulties of students who experience same-sex attraction on evangelical college campuses. That bit is suffused with the usual identification of sexual attraction with "self," a move that SWNID finds uncritical and problematic.

Still, our heart is strangely warmed by another observation made by Freitas:

“On the flipside at evangelical campuses, what I saw that I didn’t see at other places was a level of integrated community. Talk about educating the whole person. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Freitas says. “Watching a community build itself around shared values was pretty extraordinary and I think really fulfilling for most of the students even if it can be stressful.”

We figure we ought to read this book, and we figure everyone who cares about any issue in the title might want to give it a look. On the other hand, we note that only one reader of Inside Higher Ed deigned to comment on the review, a low number for a hot topic at a web site that normally gets a dozen or so comments on ordinary articles. This suggests to us the general refusal of the "secular" and "spiritual" higher-ed community to take any interest in the sexual behavior of its undergraduates, for such interest would lead to taking responsibility to address their behavior, the last thing these folks seem to want to do.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Politics: More Condi or Less, Hypocrisy on Global Economics, What Dems Should Regret Most

We offer this WSJ video for its informative mix of current political topics, with the following SWNIDish commentary:

  • If McCain has really said that Condi bears some responsibility for the "failed strategy" that initially guided the Iraq invasion, then he has poisoned any possibility of sharing the ticket with her, having handed the Democrats a sound bite that they can use in endless ads. More's the pity.
  • Hillary's firing Mark Penn, who was working on the side for the Columbian trade deal's passage, is exhibit A in the case against the Democrats for hypocrisy on global trade. They know that these trade deals are good for everyone, but they talk like their goofy union supporters. Of course, the Republicans are equally hypocritical on immigration: they know that undocumented workers are good for the United States and would be better if they were documented, but they talk like their goofy xenophobic supporters. Call this one a draw for the parties and a loss for the globe.
  • Howard Dean says that the only thing that can sink the Dems in the fall is their failure to unite now, and that it's his job to do that. The first statement is false, as the Dems have shown: Obama's sketchy friends and Hillary's sketchy declarations are just some of the Dems' other potentially fatal flaws. But what's worse is the second part, since Howard Dean is demonstrably the last person on earth that anyone would ask to negotiate a settlement on anything.

Dog Bites Man, But We Link It Anyway

Lake Superior State University told a professor to remove from his office door the political cartoons and other materials that the university deemed offensive. The materials were politically conservative. Now with the help of a conservative legal defense organization, the professor is litigating against the university.

We inform gentle readers not because there's anything surprising about a politically conservative professor being held to a different standard than his liberal colleagues who numerically predominate. We bring up the affair simply to underline the point that institutions of higher education often become so insulated that they can't realize when they're acting like the most common negative stereotypes of insulated institutions of higher education.

Individuals do the same, of course.

Burns put it well in the immortal "To a Louse," aptly set in a church:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Or we could state it as a prayer: O God, please help me not to act like the stereotype of people like me. I pray in the name of Jesus who destroyed stereotypes by bringing your victory by his death on the cross, amen!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reflections on Green Energy and the Science Classroom

Tonight's All Things Considered story on the development of a wind farm in Lewis County, New York, provides unintentional demonstration of two too-seldom observed truths.

The first is that even the "greenest" energy sources have environmental impact. Before we succumb to the apocalyptic scenarios offered by environmental alarmists, we should recognize that we have already radically reduced the environmental effects of our technology but we will never eliminate the human footprint on our privileged planet. The most advanced countries aren't exactly poisoning the planet as it is, and we aren't ever going to leave "nature" undisturbed. It is an unfortunate myth that the world is better off without us, after all.

The second is more indirect. The story closes with the vignette of an eighth-grade science class discussing how communities might more effectively manage the development of wind farms. We draw attention to this exercise not just for the uncritical way that the teacher affirmed students in solutions that offered vague, bland, collectivist approaches that erode the private-property rights that provide the financial incentive for development that benefit communities. We note instead that science teachers have no qualms whatsoever about using the science classroom to discuss what is not natural science but social science, i.e. politics and economics.

Such interdisciplinary learning is, of course, encouraged in public school classrooms. And we encourage its encouragement. However, interdisciplinary learning in the public school classroom is not encouraged if the disciplines are evolutionary biology, cosmology, philosophy and religion. There the lines must be drawn and maintained at any cost.

Could SWNIDish Dream Become Reality?

The recent PBS Frontline series on the Iraq War (entitled "Bush's War" with a smugness that confirms the belief that PBS is un-self-consciously left wing) documented who the clear winner in the Iraq War has been: Condi Rice, whose power has increased throughout the war as her views have been vindicated and her political maneuvers have been successful.

SWNID has admired the former National Security Adviser and current Secretary of State as a forthright, honest and intelligent analyst of human affairs. We have hoped that Dr. Rice would appear on a national ticket in 2008.

She has consistently denied that she is a candidate for Vice President. But today CNN is reporting two most interesting Rice-related factoids.

One is that recent polling shows a McCain-Rice ticket narrowly beating either Clinton, Obama or both in the extremely blue Empire State. Any Republican win in NY is the mathematical end of the Democrats' chance at the Big House.

The other is that Dr. Rice recently spoke at the weekly meeting of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist's high-powered organization of conservative insiders.

We sincerely hope that the first is the incentive that Dr. Rice needs and the second is the indication that she has the inclination to continue to serve our Republic.

Yet Again: Health Insurance Nonsense

Back to something serious, we note with dismay the inability of our body politic to acknowledge reality in the debate about "healthcare" (really health insurance).

Thanking gentle reader and nearly-co-blogger JB in CA for his tip, we offer the incisive commentary of Maggie Gallagher, who lays bare Hillary Clinton's repeated use of a "healthcare" sob story that has all the political virtues except a basis in fact. Of course, Hillary's story about a woman who died after being denied treatment (when in fact she wasn't denied treatment) is her means of suggesting that the enemy death itself can be defeated if only we will let Hillary do What's Right for America. Gallagher nicely lays out the issue of health insurance as it actually exists: if the government controls costs, it also controls supply. If you like the idea of the government rationing something that can save your life, you'll love the Hillary Plan.

Still in denial, but honestly so, is "economist" Paul Krugman, who last week in the Gray Lady seriously offered that government control of healthcare costs would be preferable to market forces. His example? What he styles as the enormously successful Veterans Administration hospital system!* We applaud Krugman for admitting what the rest of us have been saying for a long time: if you want to know what government-funded healthcare will be like, go to the VA.

Krugman decries the fact that Americans spend more on healthcare than anyone else. We'll leave aside the question as to how much of that spending has to do with interference in the market by government and and undersupply of providers created by quasi-governmental professional associations. Instead, we'll celebrate the relative liberty and prosperity that gives Americans the ability to decide to use their huge piles of mammon (that's for you, Rustypants) on healthcare if they want to.

Face it: if you had unlimited cash and limited scruples, you'd spend everything you could to improve your health and forestall your death. That's what Americans are doing. The load of baloney that they're considering is the notion that Uncle Sugar will pay the bill for them with the reckless abandon with which they would personally pay if only they could. If Americans take the Democrats' bargain, Americans will gain nothing in exchange for what liberty they had over their own health.

*SWNID gratefully asserts that many employees of the VA work hard to make the system work, providing superb personal care whenever they are given the opportunity. SWNID insists that for nearly all veterans, VA hospitals are providers of last resort.

Not a Fair Fight: Ehrman vs. Wright on Problem of Evil

We commend this week's To the Source column, a comparison of the recently published explorations of the problem of evil by contrasting Neutestamentlers Bart Ehrman and N. T. Wright.

Even more briefly than the review, we summarize: Ehrman, darling of the media looking for interesting skeptics, continues to exploit his biography as Former Believer by asserting that biblical responses to the problem of evil are inadequate. Wright, by contrast, asserts that the biblical responses are far more nuanced, paradoxical and shocking than often thought, and become eminently challenging and so, to the eye of faith, satisfying.

We will add a bit of SWNIDish dogma to the mix: when people say that the Bible does not adequately address the problem of evil, what they really mean is that they don't like what the Bible says about it and are not prepared to give up their objection to theism. By contrast, far too many believers have personally suffered far more than Ehrman, have wrestled with the limits of their understanding and the burden of their experience, and have said at the end that they know that their Redeemer lives. That, it seems to us, is satisfaction.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Wholesome and Educational Diversion

Tired of world affairs, discouraged at the bottom-line entry of our 1040, we turn to the vast resources of the Internet to amuse our SWNIDish self. And what do we find but a most excellent blog, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, featuring photos of signs and notices sporting pointless inverted commas.

We enjoyed the feeling of punctuational superiority that this delightful and public-spirited blog gave as we perused its menagerie of quotation marks used for every reason except marking a quotation.

We salute the intrepid blogger and wish him well in his quest for yet more vestigial curlicues.

Words to Live By

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

McCain the Comedian

While the Dems implode, the GOP is having a laugh. John McCain did just fine trading scripted insults last night with Letterman.