Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama's Tax Spree: Economic Scorched Earth

The indispensable opinion page of the WSJ continues to warn of the danger to our Republic's pursuit of happiness posed by promises of higher taxes.

Tallied, Obama's tax-the-rich proposals would push the top marginal rate close to 2/3. That means that those with money to invest in greater economic productivity would be de-incentivized to the point that they'd keep just over a third of what their productivity earned.

"Tax shelter" was a widely used word in the 1970s, when inflation and unemployment had highs that paralleled marginal tax rates. Folks with dough spent their time protecting it from Washington's robber barons rather than finding ways to invest it for greater returns and greater public benefit. We fear that this miserable phrase will return to common usage when the politics of envy has its day again.

Edwards Love Child Story: Media Bias or Perceptiveness?

As the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer adds the dollar signs to its scoop on John Edwards's extramarital affair, few national media outlets are soiling its hands with the story.

All the possible reasons for spiking it appear bogus to us, as noted here. The governing assumption of many conservatives is that l'affaire Edwards proves that the MSM is in the tank for the Dems, even those who aren't running anymore.

We say that the reason is this: the media doesn't hold Democrats to standards because as a party they don't have them. The opposite is true for Republicans, whose standards ipso facto define them has hypocrites (see Larry Craig and Ted Stevens as examples of actual GOP hypocrites).

We object that having standards by itself doesn't make one a hypocrite. But we note that it's indeed impossible to violate standards that one doesn't have. So maybe the media is on to something.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gallup: McCain Leads

McCain has overtaken Obama in the latest Gallup/USA Today poll of likely voters.

So Obama's speech from the Berlin zoo to the people of the world from the Berlin zoo wasn't all that after all.

It's going to be another close one.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Program of Note

Our esteemed colleagues at Johnson Bible College will be hosting Fr. Justin Siniates, who is in charge of digitizing the famous manuscript library of the Monastery of St. Catherine, on November 18-20, 2008.

Here's a related story.

More details to follow. Given the impulsive and inconsistent pattern of SWNIDish blogging, we recommend consulting the JBC web site nearer the date for particulars.

For arranging this event, kudos go to Johnson's Dr. Jerry Mattingly, known to his friends as the Constantine Tischendorf of the 21st century.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

CCU Wins Major Federal Court Case

Colorado Christian University (gotcha, denizens of Cincinnati Christian) yesterday won a major federal case challenging the state of Colorado policy that withheld state-based student aid to students at "pervasively sectarian colleges."

Federal judges sensibly ruled that if the state grants money to students going to some religious colleges, it ought not deny it to others because they are differently religious.

Barry Linn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (suggested comment: names of organizations containing oxymorons that rival "united for separation") complains that this will require people without faith to support faith-based colleges with their tax dollars. We say, So what? The shoe is on the other foot, too. In fact, because the secular educational establishment is so large and dominated by state universities, people of faith have a lot more of their dough supporting faith-hostile higher education than the other way around. So the un-faithers are getting the better deal while the faithers just pay their taxes and move on.

The pervasively sectarian SWNID says that this ruling proves that not everything moves inexorably toward secularization, atheism and evil. It just shifts around all the time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Obama's Trip

Investor's Business Daily cartoonist Michael Ramierez has it just right.

Edwards Sex Scandal: Too Many Ironies

The National Enquirer's* story that their reporters found John Edwards at a hotel with a woman alleged to be his mistress and a child alleged to be theirs is for SWNID too ripe with irony to ignore.

Edwards made a valiant attempt to run on his wife's tragic cancer story and their long and successful marriage. So much for that. Now he sounds like a polygamist wannabe. Mr. Senator, meet "Elkanah."

The populist Edwards was champion of the working man. So much for that. Now he's jetting about to visit his paramour in a swanky hotel and likely sending a nice check each month for the child's upkeep.

Buzz had it that the Breck Girl was on Obama's short list for veep. We thought that was pretty dumb, given Edwards's nationwide flop in 2004 and again so far in 2008. Now we'd say he's doomed, unless Obama is so convinced of his inevitability that he'd take on this liability on top of Edwards's general lack of appeal.

*Yes, it's a supermarket tabloid. It also has a legendary fact-checking department (to avoid legal entanglements) and is one of the most profitable publications in the history of civilization(?).

The Tax Disgrace That Every Politician Loves

The State of Ohio--beset with mediocre education, declining industry, and an emigrating population--has found a solution to its problems.

It's "keno," an electronic numbers game that allows gamblers to place long-odds bets every four minutes. Odds of winning the top prize of $100,000 are just under 9 million to one against.

In other words, "keno" is a highly accessible, highly addictive way to draw the compulsive gambler into a vortex of sucker bets, all in the name of "plugging a hole" in Ohio's bloated, misdirected state budget and calling it a benefit to "our children's schools." With the prospect of frequent play and the long odds, this game is quite likely the most exploitative to date.

Lotteries are maybe the worst way ever devised to raise government revenue. Can a tax at the same time be regressive (all studies show that poorer people tend to play the lottery disproportionately more than the better off), expensive (lotteries use far more of their revenue for their own administration than other taxes), and damaging to public morals (lotteries not only feed compulsive gambling and prey on ignorance, they also discourage labor and thrift for the offer of getting lucky)? The miserable answer is yes. Beelzebub himself must have devised this plan personally.

We could blame Ted Strickland for this mess, as he's been boosting it. But we blame just about every politician in just about every party. Rs are supposed to stand for honest money, honest business and hard work. Ds are supposed to stand for the good of the little guy against the big guy. But given the opportunity to snatch some public money with a popular, voluntary tax, Rs and Ds suddenly become radical social-Darwinist libertarians who say, "To Tartarus with the ignorant public; let's give 'em what they want and bleed 'em dry!"

SWNID has had enough of this gambling mess. We know too many people whose lives have been seriously damaged by gambling. But even those who don't go to the poor house or the divorce court because of state-sanctioned gambling theft are still being lied to by their so-called public servants who never tell them that they're teasing them with prizes so that they'll ignore the mathematics of informed self-interest and let the politicians off the hook for inflated spending and spineless tax policies.

We want no more enabling of a situation that went beyond stupid ages ago. We therefore call on all gentle readers to start the revolution. Please, if you have any sense at all, do the following:
  • If you buy lottery tickets, even occasionally, even "for fun," stop. Don't participate in this usurious sham.
  • Begin now to communicate to your state legislators, simply and steadily, that you object to this inefficient and inhuman form of taxation. Challenge them to honest budgeting and revenue-raising.
  • Speak up with gentle reason when the subject comes up. Heap gentle scorn on lottery commercials. Tell you kids to avoid the lottery like they avoid other damaging habits. Help people understand the simple math that says a dollar saved is always worth more than a dollar bet on any lottery.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hitchens's "Discovery" of Something Prosaic

At the urging of gentle reader Kevin B, we take up the latest anti-theistic screed of Christopher Hitchens, a.k.a. the world's smartest human.

Hitch claims to have had an epiphany while watching the TV series Planet Earth, i.e. that the blind salamanders found in subterranean caves prove ineluctably the truth of naturalistic Darwinism and the falsity of all forms of theism, including especially "creationism," by which Hitch means everything from the young earthers to the ID advocates to, presumably, theistic evolutionists.

His reason, in sum: while the vestigial eye sockets of blind salamanders clearly demonstrate that the creatures' ancestors had eyes which disappeared over generations, they make a mockery of the notion that a designer so designed said salamanders. Here's what we see as the crucial statement in Hitchens's characteristically meandering and overwrought (the man writes so much that no one ever edits it) article:

Why on earth would God create a salamander with vestiges of eyes? If he wanted to create blind salamanders, why not just create blind salamanders? Why give them dummy eyes that don't work and that look as though they were inherited from sighted ancestors?

Our retort is, essentially, "Why not?" Hitchens's point, which he fancies so clever and original, is the mirror image of one made by the late, great Stephen J. Gould in his celebrated essay, "The Panda's Thumb": pandas have thumb-like appendages perfectly adapted for stripping the leaves from bamboo shoots, the primary occupation of pandas, but the appendages are not thumbs at all but a strange extension of the wrist bone, clearly a sign of evolution but clearly not something that a designer god would do.

In sum, Gould and Hitchens object to the design in each case. Hitchens assumes that a "designer" has to design everything anew for each new creature. Hence, a blind salamander must be redesigned without eye sockets if the designer intends him to be eyeless. Gould, contrariwise, said that a "designer" must design everything on the standard plan: all thumb-like appendages must be true thumbs and not wrist-bone extensions.

SWNID, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable with both outcomes being the result of a process of design that includes the gradual adaptation of creatures to their environments over time by means of genetic variation.

Let's take an example closer to home. SWNID is a pale person. Our most recent ancestors developed ghostly pallor as an adaptation to their inhospitably cold, dark Northern European environment. Our more distant ancestors, inhabitants of sunnier climes, likely were blessed with a greater measure of melanin, for them an adaptation to their more tropical environment. The fact that SWNID exhibits vestigial freckles is a humorous reminder of this genetic variation and, we believe, of the designer's cleverness in making us so that our kind adapt to changing environments over time.

So what's the big deal if salamanders who make their way to caves and stay eventually have many eyeless descendants because a salamander or two who in the course of natural variation happens to get no eyes has a small advantage (nothing to get poked? two less organs to supply blood to?) over his peers? Is that a sign that there's no designer or merely that the designer made his design adaptable to various environments?

Hitchens and Gould haven't disproved a designer. They've said that they don't like the design.

Theists beware, however. It's worth remembering that notions in Darwinism like variation and natural selection have proved convincing to many because they are so palpably observable. The argument between the naturalistic Darwinists and the theists is not an either/or debate in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Hitchens and his atheist friends are still stuck on the classic, unanswerable questions of naturalism: why is there something instead of nothing (Hitch makes a stab at this, noting that someday again there will be nothing, or at least no humans, but that hardly solves his problem or creates one for theists who have an eschatology), why is there life as well as non-life, and why are there humans as well as non-human creatures?

That's why we're still placing our bets on God.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Purpose-Driven Presidential Campaign

Both Obama and McCain will appear at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion at Saddleback Church on August 16.

Rick Warren will ask questions of each for an hour, with McCain (age over beauty? no, winner of a coin toss) going first.

What does SWNID think about this?
  • We commend Warren for managing this in a nonpartisan way. It makes us continue to think that he's a closet Campbellite.
  • We think the one-at-a-time format is likely more enlightening than the so-called debates that preoccupy campaigns as decisive events.
  • We don't know whether this will have any salutary effect on the public image of evangelical Christians or not, but it has to be better than something managed by the usual suspects (Rev. Robertson, Dr. Dobson, the late Rev. Falwell).
  • But at times all the churchy political hullabaloo makes us tire of politics altogether. Yes, even us, the perpetually opinionated political blogger.

Obama as George H. W. Bush's Second Term

Over the weekend, as the Obama pilgrimage to the Middle East was the only news worth discussing, pundits favorable to Obama attempted to capture the junior senator's foreign policy philosophy. "Realism" was the byword, and comparison to the first Bush presidency, George H. W. Bush, him of the first Iraq War, was the order of the day. So opined Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria.

It all sounds great: Bush I was "realistic" and so restrained, disinclined to overplay his hand, opposed to unnecessarily military intervention, and above all committed to international coalitions. Bush II, by contrast, is "idealistic" in a bad, neo-con way, and so patently rash and aggressive, near Manichean in his indiscriminate use of "evil" as a geopolitical label.

We are not impressed. Bush I was an able president who fought Saddam effectively with a big coalition. He also stopped short of ending Saddam's reign of terror. Worse, his actions encouraged Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south to try to overthrow their tyrant ruler, with genocide as the result when he refused, even with legal warrant from the terms of Saddam's military capitulation, to stop it.

What Bush II seems to have learned from that is that sometimes you can't leave the tyrant in place. Was that not a lesson well learned?

It seems to us that Obama's embrace of Bush I is little more than a way to affect a centrist appearance while at the same time continuing to say that we shouldn't have invaded Iraq. That's not a philosophy of international relations. It's a political calculation. And it tells us little about how Obama would respond to the crises that will develop during his own administration.

Why Dems' Call for Higher Tax Rates Is Dumb

Here it is again, in case the people who haven't been listening have suddenly started.

"Higher taxes for the rich" sounds great to the electorate. After all, "the rich" are always richer than I am, because I'm middle class (various studies show how pervasive this phenomenon is: most folks, no matter how well off, know several people better off than they). Higher taxes for them gives me a sense of moving toward equality, which is a better way to put than to say it satisfies my desire to bring down someone who has something that I don't. I can even imagine myself the beneficiary of government spending that higher taxes will fund, though thinking that anyone will benefit from increased government spending is a stretch even for those indulging in the other fantasies.

But the truth is, as tax rates go up, the amount of taxes paid by the upper-income brackets and even the proportion of total taxes that those brackets pay, often go down.

For those who doubt this phenomenon, today's WSJ opinion page explains. As the chart atop this post reveals (shamelessly copied from WSJ), with Bush's "tax cuts for the wealthy," the amount and percentage of taxes paid by the wealthy has skyrocketed. By contrast, the bottom half of American earners paid only 3% of federal income taxes last year. Kinda hard to give that group a tax break, we think.
And so the political lesson, per the good editorialists:
If Mr. Obama does succeed in raising tax rates on the rich, we'd also wager that the rich share of tax payments would fall. The last time tax rates were as high as the Senator wants them -- the Carter years -- the rich paid only 19% of all income taxes, half of the 40% share they pay today. Why? Because they either worked less, earned less, or they found ways to shelter income from taxes so it was never reported to the IRS as income.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bush Moves on Iran Talks Demonstrate Influence of Condi

While pundits spend the weekend discussing whether Bush's recent diplomatic initiatives* represent his moving (or caving) to the center in response to Obama's popularity, SWNID will offer a suitably contrarian point of view.

The administration's recent diplomacy, most especially with Iraq, are Condi Rice's doing. And they're after other initiatives that have taken time to develop. Ms. Rice has persuaded the President to approach Iran as the US approached the USSR during the Cold War: with multiple sources of pressure followed by strong diplomatic moves. Differently viewed, she is using TR's "speak softly" after having brandished the "big stick."

Time and again we believe Ms. Rice has proved the most deft hand within the administration.
Here's another example.

*Follow this link to an article in WaPo and see definitive evidence of the impending doom of the Old Media: the Washington Post now links the Onion as a "partner."

Low-Quality Video of High-Quality Music

Like it was yesterday, we remember the closing musical performance on the first episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno as permanent host. Kathleen Battle sang a spiritual, accompanied by Kenny Kirkland on piano and the incomparable Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone. Someone who shares our fond memory of that moment and taped the show on VHS has recently posted the video on YouTube.

If our survivors want to play this at our funeral, we will not object.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore: The Pat Robertson of the Political Left?

Al Gore's recent speech proposing that the United States commit itself to generating all its electricity by "earth-friendly" means in ten years doubtless ranks as one of the most hideously absurd pieces of political speechmaking in recent memory. As a figure of the eco-socialist left, Gore is now as embarrassing to his cause as Pat Robertson is to Christianity.

We defer in large measure to the critique by James Pethoukoukis of US News and Rankings for Everything. He puts the absurdity of Gore in proper perspective, noting its technical impossibility, economic outrageousness, and even its ecological recklessness.

To Pethoukoukis's observations, we add the following:
  • The beginning of Gore's speech is at the same time the most overblown nonsense and most hackneyed, bland rhetoric we've ever seen coming from a significant public figure. To quote: "There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge of a present danger. In such moments, we are called upon to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes. Those who, for whatever reason, refuse to do their part must either be persuaded to join the effort or asked to step aside. This is such a moment." To that we say, Mr. Gore, what other moments in our nation's history are you referring to? We can't think of a one in which the entire economy of the country was "transformed" permanently by centralized command and control. Even in our most desperate wars, government control of the economy was temporary and partial. And how does your call to accept the "big changes" or "step aside" accord with your concern for civil liberties? Apparently, there is no place for dissent in the Republic of Earth in the Balance, though there's plenty of room for mealy-mouthed cliches.
  • Most of the comments on Pethoukoukis's posting seem to assume that civilization is really facing its complete demise without action as prescribed by Gore. We SWNIDishly take such attitudes to reflect the views of such a tiny, fringe element that we are unconcerned at their irrational recklessness. But we wish for the same outlook for those, like panelists on Diane Rehm's program today, who think that even though the New Yorker cover was satire, too many people in the United States won't get the joke and will think Obama a Muslim (not that there's anything wrong with being a Muslim, right?). It's time for a bit more realistic indifference to the fringes and a lot less condescension toward the ignorant masses.
  • E. J. Dionne, a liberal but normally a thoughtful one, actually liked the Gore speech, even though he admitted it was completely absurd in its premises and proposals. Dionne thinks that Gore is trying to give space to the candidates to make proposals on green energy by going out far to the left. We think that such a move is counterproductive to Gore's cause, as it makes the whole matter sound entirely silly. More for geopolitical reasons than ecological ones we think it's time to power ourselves with less oil from the Saudis, Iranians, Chavez and other petrol-totalitarians, but the cause isn't helped by silly appeals to the impossible.*
  • But Dionne is probably not alone. A few days ago, NPR's Mara Liasson, one of the last holdovers from NPR's "Radio Sandinista" era of the 1980s, was on a panel on Morning Edition to offer buzz on veep selections. Asked at the end of the segment who she thought was likely, she gushed that Al Gore was the perfect running mate for Obama (since most people think he already won the 2000 election, of course). Never mind that Gore blew the perfect political chance in 2000 (heir to a popular president in a prosperous and peaceful era with a flawed candidate as his opponent) and has repeatedly made a fool of himself since: he's still the Perfect Candidate. (All this says more about the Democratic Party's political liabilities than one cares to consider.)
  • We ask all media figures to please stop speaking of Gore as "Nobel Laureate Al Gore." The pretentiousness simply magnifies the man's already enormous pathos.
*We are reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who recounted a church board meeting. At the meeting, the board had settled on a budget that was greater in cost than the previous year's but not as much as some among them had wanted. After the meeting, one member of the group complained about the outcome, saying something on the order of, I just think God is big enough to supply $300,000 if we put our faith in him. To which my friend and I thought the best response would be, Why stop at $300,000? Let's keep adding zeros! God is big enough!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Best Reasons to Vote For and Against Obama

If SWNID votes for Obama, it's likely to be for one reason: that his presidency could provide the impetus to break the sad dysfunctionality--to be sure, a legacy of the racism that justified slavery and Jim Crow and continues to fuel "the soft bigotry of low expectations"--that plagues a disproportionate segment of the African-American community. From the Oval Office's bully pulpit (a phrase coined by civil-rights advocate TR, of course), President Obama could enshrine the civic virtues of family stability, self-discipline and self-help like no one since Booker T. Washington and smartly combine that advocacy with targeted compensatory and corrective government action of the kind championed by W. E. B. DuBois, modulated for present realities. His speech to the NAACP is Exhibit A in making that case.

If SWNID votes against Obama, it's likely to be for one reason: we don't know what in the world he'll do in the present, unresolved struggle with Islamism. His ever-evolving position now seems to imply that he might redeploy American forces to attack Pakistan, a position whose only discernible point of contact with his now-obsolete opposition to the Iraq War is that it involves war someplace--anyplace--outside Iraq. That's an interesting idea from a man who says he also wants to improve American relations with our allies.*

How far afield Obama's position on Islamism remains, despite his recent rush to the center, is nowhere better demonstrated than in today's WSJ opinion piece by the formidable Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan and Jack Keane, early advocates of the anti-insurgency "surge" strategy that has worked so brilliantly. These folks know that the heart of Al Qaida and of American interest are now not in the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, needful of attention as those regions are, but in Iraq, where the US has shown itself able to inflict a most humiliating defeat on the Islamists, who are as handicapped by their ideology as they are driven by it.

We wish we could depend on Obama to listen to the Kagans and Keane. But we can't. Lacking both a consistent position on the war and a record by which voters can gauge his judgment, he offers no assurance that his ear would turn to the best voices. The specter of failure in the Middle East, when success is so very close, is for us too great a risk.

Obama's presidency is almost worth that risk for the benefit his influence could have over one of the most pressing and seemingly intractable problems in our Republic, a problem 400 years in the making: the problem of race.


*McCain's better on this one: don't send Americans to Pakistan, whose very presence would fuel resistance, but cooperate with tribal leaders willing to fight the Islamists while pressing with American forces in Afghanistan. The difference with Obama is substantial: both know that the mountain insurgents need attention, but McCain instinctively knows how to address the issue while Obama searches for a position that will placate the left, appear consistent with earlier statements, and not fuel the impression that he is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the pacifist left.

Reality Check on Civil Rights and Politics

We urge delegates in Cincinnati for the NAACP convention to heed the reminder of Bruce Bartlett in today's WSJ: if one asks, "Which American political party can lay claim to being the party of civil rights?" the answer is "The GOP."

Everyone knows that the Republicans are the party of Lincoln. Too few remember that the Republicans began in 1856 as a party of former Whigs, disaffected Democrats, imaginative Free Soilers and some reformed Know-Nothings specifically to contain the spread of slavery in the United States. Still fewer know that the Rs championed civil rights legislation for 100 years after the Civil War, only to be thwarted in their efforts by Southern Democrats.

We'll concede that Bartlett's brief article underplays the effect of FDR's New Deal politics on African-Americans, especially as it was coupled with Eleanor Roosevelt's heartfelt advocacy for civil rights. The same can be said for Johnson's support for civil rights and welfare legislation in the 1960s. Bartlett also could acknowledge more the poisonous effect of Nixon's "southern strategy," though he nicely notes how Nixon also supported affirmative action and government-contract set-asides for minority-owned businesses.

To Bartlett's litany of historic Republican actions to support the rights of African-Americans, we add that TR famously invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, a symbolic action of no small significance in its day, and that Johnson's civil rights legislation was passed largely because of Republican support in the congress, led by the skillful Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.

Does anyone besides SWNID remember Condi Rice's stirring speech before the Republican Convention in 2000, when she recalled that in Little Rock her father could not find a single Democrat who would register him to vote but was enthusiastically welcomed by the tiny Republican Party in that city that would become a center of the struggle in the 1950s?

But let's imagine for a moment how different our Republic and the fate of its citizens might be if the civil rights legislation of Reconstruction, backed by the continued use of federal troops to enforce the law, had been sustained for a generation and not just a decade; if the anti-lynching laws advocated by McKinley, TR, Harding and Coolidge had been passed; if Wilson's segregation of the armed forces hadn't happened . . .

And if Jack Kemp had been elected Vice President in 1996. Could we then have eliminated forever the but also in things like Kemp's Britannica Online biography: "he championed conservative causes but also strongly supported civil rights legislation"?

That would be the least of the benefits.

On That Cartoon

The brouhaha over the New Yorker's cover cartoon slyly depicting the Obamas as everything that the left wing fears that the ignorant masses think of them prompts a SWNIDish question:

Who is least likely to "get" satire: political partisans or religious partisans?

As is the case with many questions posed with "or," the answer is "yes."

SWNID seriously attributes the inability to laugh at the satirizing of those individuals or groups with which one is affiliated as symptomatic of hubris. Taking oneself (as opposed to one's convictions) too seriously, misunderestimating one's very human and inescapable limitations of judgment while at the same time misunderestimating others' ability to sort out obvious realities, breeds hypersensitivity about sarcasm. Worse, it imagines offense in actions and remarks that are neither sarcastic nor in any reasonable sense offensive.

We SWNIDishly pity those few, earnest people we've known who find insult and threat everywhere, who rail against every perceived deviation from orthodoxy as they define and redefine it, including imagined slights against those fellow mortals whom they lionize as imagined allies for their personal agendas. They are no less pitiable for being religious than for being political, or vice versa, as the saying goes.

And what pains us most is how unfunny it is to draw attention to this persistent reality. But we will say it plainly: Lighten up, humans! You're not all that you imagine, and ordinary folks get the joke when someone tells it. Enjoying the gag will do more for your cause than complaining about it.

So as a supplement to the Obama cartoon, published by a magazine that is second to none in its support for the junior Senator's candidacy, we draw attention to the satiric response from David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (motto: "Our name proves that Bush isn't the only one who makes up silly words!"), who imagines what an equivalent McCain cartoon might look like on the equally partisan National Review.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Blessing from Tony Snow

Amidst the media and public mourning at the passing of commentator and former Bush press secretary Tony Snow, we offer the reminder that Snow was a very fine writer and a very thoughtful Christian. Not long ago he wrote a piece about what his cancer has meant to him, "Cancer's Unexpected Blessings," for Christianity Today. Those who read it at the time should read it again, as it becomes all the more poignant now that Snow is gone from us. Those who didn't read it the first time should.

A pemmican quotation, worthy of Lewis had he experienced four-wheel drive:

We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see--but God likes to go off-road.

Tied, And It's Only July

Rasmussen today reported that its daily tracking poll shows Obama and McCain tied.

Meanwhile, Newsweek has Obama up only 3%, within the margin of error, so calls the race a dead heat and draws attention to the lost glow of the Avatar of Hope.

This development does not surprise SWNID, though it is happening much faster than we thought it might.

Obama's charisma remains formidable, as does the electorate's desire for a break from Republicans. But the sad fact for Democrats is the conservatives have the best side of the issues and McCain has the best resume.

Pre-Emptive Strike Against Gentle Readers

Yes, gentle readers, we know that you all think that SWNID should read and take to heart today's "Pearls Before Swine" (acknowledged as Best New Comic Strip in the SWNID Superlatives of 2005).

Well, we beat you to it.

Finally, Reason on Free Trade

Seems comedian Drew Carey has involved himself in something called Reason TV. We tip the SWNIDish hat to gentle reader Bryan D for pointing us to a nice little video essay on the silliness of bashing free trade that's as clear on the issue as anything we've seen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Wiretap Law, Only Six Years Late

Three cheers for the US Senate, for passing a bill to bring laws regulating wiretapping into reasonable touch with the needs of the moment.

A special cheer for Senator Obama, who found it in his heart to renounce his silly objection to immunity for cooperating telecom companies and so to vote yea. At the rate that the presumptive nominee is moving to the right, we can expect him to place flowers on Jesse Helms's grave by August.

A good 2.5 years ago, SWNID complained that instead of endlessly bloviating about violated civil rights or threatened national security, Congress should craft new legislation. Our complaint was only about four years after 9/11 "changed everything," so we don't think we can be accused of impatience. Now we thank Congress for its timely action.

Who says you can't get things done in an election year?

Derry Offers Article Reinforcing SWNIDish Self-Importance

We commend the recent article in Christian Standard by John Derry, President of Hope International University, offering that Bible colleges are an important source of cohesion among the independent Christian churches and churches of Christ.

We, as a Bible college academic drudge, agree wholeheartedly, of course, as Derry's view feeds our hunger for self-importance.

We hasten to add a bit of information. Derry answers critics of Bible colleges who complain that too many students major in subjects other than ministry by saying that 30-40% is better than none. The math is undeniable, but the particulars need correcting, at least for SWNID's place, where the proportion of undergrads majoring in Bible is 100%, the proportion of undergrads with a program directed explicitly toward ministry is around 60-65% (higher still for men, whose career prospects in ministry are stronger than women's), and the number of graduate students in a program that is not ministry related is 0%.

We add also this perspective. The thoughtful editor of the Christian Standard asks adherents of the Restoration Movement to offer what keeps the movement together. We say that it is not any kind of institution or activity. It is the ideals of the movement, which are more potent than we sometimes reckon. SWNID is happy to know lots of people from lots of places and to become acquainted with even more though what they write. In our roughly three decades of paying attention, we've noticed more and more how many people articulate ideals associated with the Restoration Movement without being able to identify said movement. We think that they got the ideas from Scripture, which is clear, and found them powerful, an expected finding if the ideas are indeed prominent in the Word of God.

We are no Polyanna-in-the-Baptistery. We know all the sects and all the goofy things said and done in the name of the Bible. Hey, we chronicle some of them at this very URL! But we also know that there are other, better things happening than those.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

SWNID Commends: Institute for Christian Resources

We commend to gentle readers' attention the fine organization known as the Institute for Christian Resources. This resourceful bunch is making available for free the audio from lots of lectures by some decently interesting and informed Christian folk that SWNID knows or knows about.

Navigate here to find links to the currently available audio. Those who click on the link entitled "Introduction to the Gospels" and further click on links that appear thereafter will hear a voice that is to some familiar, even haunting.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dear DNC: A SWNID Epistle

Dear Democratic National Committee, Governor Dean and Senator Obama:

Thank you for the very kind letter that we received in the post yesterday. We appreciate all your efforts to stay in touch with us as the political season wears on and on. Ever since 2004 when we first subscribed to your email updates, Governor Dean, we've appreciated the personal efforts of you and other members of the Democratic Party to stay in touch with us.

We are grateful for the opportunity to respond to the survey enclosed in your letter. We found some of the choices of response rather constrained, shall we say. However, we don't doubt the sincerity of your efforts to gather our opinions as you shape your platform for the upcoming election.

We were so anxious to respond to your survey that we discarded the paper form and went immediately to the web site mentioned in your letter: But navigating to that site, we discovered what we think is an error in programming. That URL directed us not to a survey but instead to, a page that solicits not our views but our hard-earned money.

As a member of the middle class--purported by the patriots of the Democratic Party to be the victims of an historic, Karl-Rove-orchestrated "squeeze" of corporate welfare, stagnating wages, high gas prices and upper-income tax cuts that benefit only the wealthy--we have not a penny for tribute.

But we do have opinions and look forward to sharing them with you. So could you please get that page fixed so that we can tell you what we think about gas prices, taxes, Iraq, the credit crisis, immigration and all that other stuff?

Thanks for your kind attention to this humble request. Please accept our very best wishes for the upcoming election.

Very sincerely yours,

P.S. Just a point of information: you mention that our Republic faces the prospect of a third term for George W. Bush and Karl Rove. We want to remind you that Mr. Bush is forbidden by the constitution from serving another term and the Mr. Rove resigned from the Bush administration some months ago. Perhaps you were speaking metaphorically of a candidate who would be a surrogate for a prior president who is constitutionally forbidden from serving again. In that case, we want to assure you that Mrs. Clinton will not receive her party's nomination for this year.

You Can Do Something with That Degree

Attention naysayers: employment possibilities abound even for those with the most arcane college degrees. Like, say, biblical studies, music and worship.

The esteemed Community Press gives ample coverage to CCU student Daniel Read, an entertainment intern and budding local celebrity with the Lakeland Tigers baseball organization of Lakeland, Florida.

Having appreciated Mr. Read's inventive imagination and comic timing, we commend his between-innings antics to all our gentle readers who live in or pass through the Sunshine State.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Hillary Supporters Going to McCain?

As Obama's apple continues to lose its luster, various sources report polling that Hillary's boosters are not exactly becoming Obamaniacs in large numbers. Many say they'll vote the Man from Arizona. Others say that they have other plans on November 4. The big bucks are also not going from the Hillraisers to Obama's non-federally-funded campaign.

This election thing is not over, any more than the pennant races are. It's starting to look like Hare v. Tortoise, with the strong potential for a close finish.

"Gabriel's Revelation": Actual News in Biblical Archaeology

After The Da Vinci Code (admittedly fiction, though coyly admitted) and "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," (purportedly nonfiction, though slyly presented), and The Gospel of Judas (of genuine scholarly interest but exploited for maximum commercial impact) gentle readers have a right to feel skeptical about news articles reporting amazing new findings related to Jesus and all things Christian.

SWNID thinks, however, that the Gray Lady's weekend discussion of the so-called "Gabriel's Revelation" actually has the smell of potentially significant scholarship about it.

For what details are available on this issue, we urge gentle readers to read the Times's piece. We offer the following observations that assume knowledge of what reporter Ethan Bronner lays out with fine clarity.

  • The significant issue potentially raised by this tablet, whether any Jews of the Second Temple period expected a dying-and-rising messiah, is an interesting and important one. It is not so important that it will in any real sense "revolutionize" the typical Christian's understanding of Jesus. But it does have the potential to change the shape of scholarly discussion of Jesus, especially of his death, a subject often avoided by historical Jesus scholarship.
  • Everything depends on the accuracy of Israel Knohl's reconstruction of the text, which like many textual artifacts has portions obscured by the ravages of age. Knohl has been out to prove for awhile that some parts of Judaism before expected a dying-and-rising messiah, so his reconstruction is likely to receive careful scrutiny, as well it should.
  • If Knohl is right--a big if, the matter is a two-edged sword for the understanding of the Christian gospel: (a) to some it will be more historically credible that Jesus could have spoken prophetically of his death and resurrection, something widely questioned in critical scholarship; (b) to some it will be more historically credible that followers of Jesus shaped their story of his death and resurrection less out of the events that happened and more to meet the expectations of at least one extant Jewish sect.
  • On the second edge of the sword noted above, the edge is not so sharp after all. Assuming that some Jews of the Second Temple period did indeed expect a dying-and-rising messiah, one still must explain why among all the messianic groups of the Second Temple period, only one--the followers of Jesus--preached a message that he had died and arisen, or at least that they alone preached such a message with any success at all.
Stay tuned on this one. When the dust settles and some other folks have a close look at the tablet, we'll have a better idea whether Knohl is on to something more than his imagination. But in the end, those who want to understand Jesus as something other than what Christians believe him to be still run up against the monumental problem of explaining how such a fantastical story took shape as it did.

Update: Our colleague-at-another-place Rafael has read what more there is to read in the news on this topic and discussed it more thoroughly than our superficial self. Interested gentle readers ought to delve therein.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Max Boot Applies Analytical Foot to Sy Hersh's Backside

Seymour Hersh became a notable journalist for breaking the story of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Since then he's kept himself in beans and cornbread by offering faux insider information that feeds the conspiracy fears of the far left.

Since 9/11 he has presented in the pages of the New Yorker, his most recent journalistic home, various reportages, based always on anonymous sources, alleging all kinds of frightening high jinx amongst the Bush Administration's most evil neocons, always opposed by sensible, righteous folks in the military, of all places.

Most recently Hersh offered the organic-Chardonnay-swilling readership of what was once America's premier weekly magazine more of his alarmist "journalism": the assertion that the Bushies are softening up Iran for an end-of-administration invasion via ramped-up covert operations.

Enter Max Boot--him of the superb name to be what he is, an esteemed military and diplomatic analyst and columnist. Boot, whose competence is most recently demonstrated by his prescient championing of the Iraq surge before the administration even began its own serious consideration of that strategic change, notes just how poorly sourced and poorly reasoned Hersh's conspiracy theories are. At best, Hersh consistently notes that on any matter of global action, there are differences of opinion among government officials. How surprising!

SWNID draws attention to this very lopsided debate for several reasons.

One is to lament again that what was once a favorite SWNIDish read, the literate, apolitical eclecticism of William Shawn's New Yorker, has become wealthy, effete, Upper-West-Side socialist nonsense since the imposition of the execrable Tina Brown and her successors as editors. Even the fact that the magazine continues at an inexpensive price to be a haven of witty cartoons and readable short fiction is not enough to induce us to browse it at the library, let alone subscribe.

Another is to note that the worst fears of the pacifist opposition to military action in the Middle East continue to be unrealized. Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be tougher than anyone wants, but the outcomes continue to be slowly transformative of the global landscape. Guys like Boot, who unlike Hersh remember events before 1968, keep telling us that important truth.

We wrap up with a reminder to the many gentle readers who were born after 1975 and didn't really experience Vietnam and its immediate aftermath. Guys like Hersh, leftovers of the 1960s and 1970s antiwar left sound bold and cool without the full story on their roots and the full examination of their fruits. Those of us who've been watching realize that when their view was ascendant and the United States isolated itself from intervention in global affairs, the world was a significantly worse place to live.

SWNID, having lived on this present earth longer already than we expect to live on it in the future, now listens to the many people younger than himself who seem to perceive a world more conformed to the view of the Hershes than the Boots. Against such, we urge a more careful consideration of history, both recent and not so.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Obama Continues to Provoke Wonder

The formidable Charles Krauthammer devoted his column last week to chronicling and analyzing Senator Obama's notable recent shifts from clearly articulated leftist positions to less clearly articulated centrist positions.

But the Junior Senator from Illinois has with additional shifts, most obviously on Iraq, compelled Dr. Krauthammer to address the same subject this week.

SWNID has said all along that any Democrat elected to the Oval Office would be forced by events to pursue essentially the same policy toward Iraq that her or his Republican challenger would have pursued. But we did not expect that the truth of this obvious prognostication would be so soon revealed.

We expect the following to occur, and hereby offer the attached advice:

  • Obama will visit Iraq and return to announce all that he has learned that necessitates a different approach than he has previously taken to Iraq, blaming all that was bad on pernicious George W. Bush and crediting all that is good to America's intrepid military. We note that the assertion that he needed the trip to see the truth, if honestly made, does not speak well for the acuity of the candidate.
  • Many voters will ask themselves whether there's a good reason to vote for McCain instead of Obama if Obama will follow more or less the same policy on Iraq as McCain, and many will conclude that they'd rather vote for the cool guy than the old guy. They should then wonder on which set of principles the cool guy will act when the next crisis arises.

Who would have thought that the mercurial McCain would be pitted against someone whose political philosophy is so markedly less firm than his own?


SWNID commends to public attention the latest venture of the ever creative, ever energetic Ron Vance: Biblesticks.

Ron, co-creator of a vintage video that holds a fond place in the SWNIDish memory, has leveraged his talent and skill in a hobby, serendipitously begun, through which he can speak about things Christian to all kinds of audiences.

We will describe nothing more, expecting gentle readers to follow the link.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Premature SWNID Superlative

The year is but half over, but we're confident that the following SWNID Superlative will remain superlative at year's end:

Best Use of a Che Guevara T-Shirt: The brilliant Colombian covert operation to free FARC hostages. Having infiltrated the highest levels of the FARC command structure to convince them that a third party was working on a negotiation for the hostages, the government's operatives wore the classic symbol of leftist revolution on their arrival to spirit the hostages away from their captors.

SWNID delights to think of the suspicions, recriminations, fear and dread that must now completely infect FARC. We hope that it reaches as far as their sinister patron, Hugo Chavez. Have a great weekend, silly Marxist totalitarian kleptocrats!

For those looking for an alternative to the cliched Che insignia, we recommend this.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Can Christian Love Be Bought?

As of yesterday, Barack Obama backs Faith-Based Initiatives.

For the uninitiated, Faith-Based Initiatives are social-service programs run by religious organizations but funded by Uncle Sugar. The approach was invented by Chimpy W. Hitliar himself, so for the left, they have represented the sinister destruction of the massive wall that keeps the barbarian Christian hordes from overrunning the blissfully secular, constitutional state.

For thoughtful Christians, FBIs have been a quandary. We like to talk about the higher rate of success of our own efforts to help the addicted and the poor versus government programs. But we like our programs to be . . . well . . . Christian, and Washington's money comes with strings attached, like no "religious discrimination" in the hiring of employees or selection of clients.

What's notable about Obama's move is that even the blandest reporting of his announcement is accompanied by the analysis that with this move, part of Obama's faith-and-values week, the Coolest Candidate is overtly courting evangelicals.

We think that this move will be only marginally successful because FBIs have only marginal support in the faith community. Our take is that most religious conservatives do believe that their ideology (call it "The Gospel") offers the best hope for improving the human condition now as well as later, and they appreciate some political recognition of their success. But they are ambivalent about taking federal swag to fund their stuff, not sure that they're ready to accept the burdens that come with it.

It'll take a big move on Obama's part to make a significant dent in conservative Christian support for the GOP. We're thinking of a word that begins with the first letter of the alphabet. And the thought prompts an image of airborne hogs.

Alert: Listen to This Now!

For those gentle readers who missed the "This I Believe" segment on the June 30 All Things Considered broadcast on NPR, it can be found here.

We recommend actually listening to the author's reading of her piece, as opposed to reading the transcript.

For those of us who lived during the Vietnam War, there could hardly be a more poignant outcome of its abject misery.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

SWNID Travel Recommendation: Peach Park

We heartily recommend that gentle readers trekking along I-65 in Alabama--be it to visit the Gulf beaches, play the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, or view the historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement--plan a stop at Peach Park of Clanton, Alabama.

The roadside operation features terrific local produce, including peaches from the 8000 trees belonging to Peach Park, a restaurant with respectable pulled pork barbecue and amazing fresh fruit cobblers, including peach cobbler made from the selfsame peaches, and some pleasant areas for sitting in the shade. The gift shop features cheezy merchandise celebrating the football programs at the University of Alabama and Auburn University. One can even watch a nice older lady wash the peaches after they have been delivered from the orchard.

In sum, Peach Park is everything the interstate traveler wants in a break from travel.

Just exit I-65 at exit 205 and look for the giant peach. Mmm!

And Ohio Gets Its Due, Too

And that comes from WSJ guest commentator Chester E. Finn, who last week detailed "The Self-Inflicted Economic Death of Ohio." That bleak fate involves such symptoms and likely causes as the following observed by the astute Mr. Finn:

  • In 1990 Ohio had the 30th highest state and local tax burden in the USA. Today it is fifth highest.
  • Ohio's unemployment rate is 6.3%, well above the national rate of 5.5%
  • Of Ohio's ten largest corporations, only two have positive returns so far this year.
  • Ohio ranks 41st nationally in the number of adults with bachelor's degrees.
  • Recent surveys show that Ohio's best high school students are studying outside of Ohio and that many graduates of Ohio's universities leave the state for better employment opportunities elsewhere.

We'll go out on a speculative limb (what are blogs for?) and opine that Ohio is now suffering from a full generation of old-boy politics. The legacy of Governor James Rhodes is not one but two Ohio political parties entirely beholden to political supporters, be they favored businesses or trade unions (especially trade unions for teachers and public employees). Bob Taft was rightly blamed for his ineffective cronyism. But let's be fair. George Voinovich saw to the expansion of state government with the massive expansion of taxes, all with the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. Further back Dick Celeste managed to pay off all the unions who got him into office. And then there was Big Jim, the Grandaddy of them all, who ran the state like a classical Roman patronage operation.

The solution is as obvious as it will be painful to those who want to live out their days as unionized government workers in a high-tax, low-wage, high-unemployment state: a state government that will champion downsizing of state government to reduce the tax burden, innovation in elementary and secondary education to improve outcomes, and restructuring of higher education to retain Ohio's brightest students and attract out-of-state talent while providing access and resources for success for the less well prepared. Those measures must be accompanied by a serious round of tax cuts and a serious set of right-to-work laws aimed at attracting businesses to Ohio.

Ted Strickland has had nearly two years to prove that he is the man to lead that government. Aside from Eric Fingerhut's moves to begin reform of higher education and an unintentionally funny campaign to advertise Ohio's business climate to decision-makers, Strickland has little to show. Content to bask in his modestly positive polls, Strickland aims to avoid mistakes by avoiding change. But it's change that Ohio obviously needs, or Ohio will be begging for change on a streetcorner.

The Commonwealth Gets Its Due

For our many gentle readers in that state south of the Ohio, we note the recent, appreciative review in the Chicago Tribune of entertainment opportunities in Lexington and the Bluegrass Region.

But surely the title of the review says all that needs to be said about what natives call "God's Country": "Kentucky: It's not just horses and bourbon -- but there sure are a lot of both."