Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama's Showing Some Backbone On Foreign Policy

Obama has finally realized that the Durbin conference is really just an exercise in Jew-bashing and pulled out. How unilateral of him... I'm sure George Bush is saying, "I told you so" somewhere right now, but better late than never. After hanging a "kick me" sign around America's neck since his inauguration, it's nice to know that it may have dawned on him that not everyone wants to be his friend.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why In The World Do I Deserve An Apology?

It sometimes seems as if every new days finds us discovering new ways to become more sensitive and easily offended. Recently, Kim Kardashian (for those who don't know about her, think Paris Hilton, but with less money and talent) posted pictures of her new pet monkey on her blog. Because we all know that celebrity blogs are written by the actual celebrity, right? Well, unfortunately she had the bad timing to post these pictures around the same time as the chimp attack. You can read all about it here, at the LA Times' blog. What really caught me though, was this question. "Is Kardashian's apology good enough for you?"

Excuse me? Why do I, or any other reader of the Times get any say? The only one who has any right to this apology is the critically injured woman. In order to deserve an apology from someone, you must be WRONGED in some way. Now, if I actually had to watch Kim's reality TV show for some reason, an apology might be in order, but not for posting pictures that may be insensitive to someone else.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Anti-Bono

This is an interesting read. Are we doing more harm than good in the third world?

Monday, February 23, 2009

--Updated--Thanks For Clearing That Up...

SCIENCE!!! says that men like looking at women in bikinis. Thanks for clearing that up. I'm sure you probably didn't need to be told, but the study was conducted by a woman. It probably shocked her to learn that men and women might actually have innate differences, something the average college campus tries to deny as often as possible. I also appreciated her definition of what she called "benevolent sexism", which is basically the idea that gender roles matter. That's more legendary university tolerance at work.

Read the whole thing for other stunning advances in our understanding of gender, such as: men who see half-nekkid photos are more likely to be thinking about sex when they converse with live women later, and men who see half-nekkid female bodies remember those bodies really well. Then there's the crown jewel of the article, from another professor. "Many men make foolish choices because of sexual attraction." The word "duh" readily springs to mind. One wonders what financial backer thought that such conclusions were really in need of a more solid scientific foundation.

Next week, the professor who ran the experiment will announce the shocking results of her, "do women like chocolate" study.

I just noticed the conclusion. "Another avenue to explore would be showing images of men's wives and girlfriends in bikinis, Raison said. He predicts the objectifying effect would not happen in this context." I have two thoughts. 1. Saying, "Hey, as an experiment, how would you like to look at pictures I took of your girlfriend in a bikini?" sounds like a good way to do some firsthand research on how black eyes form. 2. How sad must this guy's own relationship be if he thinks seeing one's wife in a bikini is LESS likely to induce all of these icky male behaviors?

The Face Of The Enemy

Don't let the unnatural cuteness fool you. Just keep reminding yourself where it leads.

To Expand

I've had some time to mull it over and I'd like to expand on what I wrote Thursday. I think the point I was trying to get across in the last post is that the fact that most of us don't get into discussions of racial issues with our friends and peers on a daily basis is not emblematic of racial cowardice, but rather of widespread racial acceptance. I'm Irish, but when I hang out with someone of British ethnicity I don't feel the need to discuss Cromwell's repression of the Irish with them (or even the status of Northern Ireland) because it DOESN'T MATTER to either of us. I'd like to believe that, while this country's racial wounds are not entirely healed, and racism does still exist in isolated pockets of American society, most of us are simply OK with each other. I hope my black friends don't primarily see me as their "white friend", but rather as simply their friend, because that is honestly how I view them.

Of course, to say that to someone like Eric Holder is to be labelled either "naive", "willfully blind", or worse, unaware of my own deep racism. But I think it's the Eric Holders who are willfully blind. Racial grievance and ethnic politics are key pieces of American politics, and people like Holder refuse to accept how the vast majority of Americans feel because their own lives are hopelessly caught up in grievance-mongering and racial identity. Think about it. Whatever your views are on American society at large, how do you PERSONALLY feel about friends of another ethnicity or race? How do you think they feel about you? In my (admittedly limited) experience, most people see their friends as "the good guys" while holding on to the idea that society at large has widespread and severe racial problems. Well, maybe it's not true. Maybe your friends are the rule, and the bigots are the exception.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Country Of Cowards

So, if I don't think Eric Holder's speech is worth commenting on, does that make me a coward? I would respectfully submit to Mr. Holder that much of his cynical view of American racial integration probably stems from living in the vast intellectual and cultural ghetto that is New York, followed by a stay in the cesspool of Washington, DC. People in the rest of the country don't have the luxury of living in such a bubble. If he would like to come to my family's next gathering, I'm sure he will find a crowd that is far more diverse both politically and ethnically than anything he has the opportunity to experience in Queens or DC.

The Chimp Cartoon

There's been a bit of a controversy over a cartoon in the New York Post that seemingly implies the stimulus bill was written by a rabid chimp. Of course, thoughtful and sensitive types like Al Sharpton are arguing that it is, in effect, calling the president a rabid chimp while implying violence, and is therefore racist. A couple of points immediately come to mind. First of all, the stimulus bill was not written by the president. Congress wrote it. And if we can't call a body whose current 31% approval rating is considered HIGH a bunch of chimps, well, I just don't know who we can mock anymore. Secondly, which has greater racial undertones, implying the a wasteful spending bill was written by a chimp, or calling a black man "childlike" and "unthreatening" as Chris Matthews did to Michael Steele?

I do agree though, that comparing a president to a chimp is wrong. We know it would never be done to a white president. Nor should political cartoons ever dabble in racism. And don't even get me started on how inappropriate it would be for someone to toy with the idea of assassinating a sitting president. The only thing that might be worse would be to portray a US president as Hitler.

I don't think this cartoon meant what people are reading into it. If it did, it's inexcusable. But I would just like people to get some perspective. The left has been engaging in full-throated anti-Bush nuttery for the past 8 years. If they're in for some of the same, I think it's regrettable, dishonorable on the part of those on the right who engage in it, and a sad sign of the times. But it is hardly new or uniquely based on Obama's race.

I've Said It Before And I'll Say It Again

For a reprehensible dirt-bag, Christopher Hitchens keeps finding ways to make me love him!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seeker-Sensitive Ministry

I'm generally ok if churches want to experiment with a little bit of the seeker-sensitive strategies suggested by some of the Emergent Church crowd, but never at the expense of any watering down of the Gospel message. Use "Christ-follower" if you want rather than "Christian", as long as you emphasize the need to adopt Christ and leave your former world behind. Come up with new and different ways to explain the cross in order to make it easier to understand, but never leave it out of the picture in order to make "Christ-following" easier to market. If you do, what exactly is it you're marketing? What is Christ-following without the Christ? As Paul put it, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (I Corinthians 2:1-2) Paul says this despite knowing that, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Paul preached a doctrine that was foreign and offensive, not in spite of those facts, but BECAUSE of them. If this world and everyone in it is fallen, then why would we expect the greatest and most elevated fact of human history to be palatable to a fallen world? Why would we WANT to make it palatable to a fallen world? Stooping down into the mud rather than washing off the muddy isn't loving, it's just silly. Christ came to shake sinful people up and offend them out of their sloth and self-love. Isn't He the God who chased moneylenders out of His temple and called the Pharisees "vipers"? Did He approach the Samaritan woman with seeker-sensitive strategies or did he remind her that she was shacking up with her boyfriend? When he talked to Nicodemus, he purposefully confused the man in order to shake him out of his confident complacency.

The McLaren approach (not to pick on just one emergent guy) goes like this. "I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord." (A Generous Orthodoxy, 260, 262, 264)

The traditional Christian approach is something a little closer to St. Boniface. When trying to evangelize among Germanic pagans, he found that they feared conversion because they were afraid of reprisal from their own god, Thor. In one community, there was a sacred oak at which the worship of Thor took place. Boniface cut down the tree, saying in essence, "Thor isn't striking me dead for chopping up his sacred tree, so what are you afraid of? It's either the god of the tree, or the God of The Tree."

Boniface was facing a crowd who saw Christianity as something foreign, just like any unchurched person in the world today. In fact, they were probably more alien to it than today's non-Christians, because even many foreign societies today have been influenced by, or at least exposed to, western christian values. His challenges were far greater than anything McLaren is worried about having to overcome, and yet he was concerned with content, not delivery or audience comfort. Honestly, which approach do you think is most pleasing to this guy?

Friday, February 13, 2009

What's The Deal With Darwin?

Yesterday was the 200th birthday of two very famous men. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Now, I'm guessing it's not necessary to give biographical sketches of either man. If you aren't familiar with one or the other, please stop reading my blog, go to the door of your bomb shelter, and let in some sunlight.

Who did Google choose to honor? Chuck Darwin. Who got more time at Little Green Footballs? Darwin again (Although in all fairness, based on recent posting, Charles Johnson seems to consider creationists and jihadis to be equal threats to American liberty. Maybe it's their shared given name.) Newsweek seems to feel a tad guilty over calling Lincoln the more important figure. Even Pepperdine got in on the act. My question is...why?

First off, THIS IS NOT a creation versus evolution debate. For the purposes of this post, let's all assume that Darwinian evolution is the soundest, least-controversial scientific theory since the fire=hot days. I still can't figure out why, based on his scientific achievements, Darwin is held in such high esteem. He didn't even come up with the idea of evolution per se, just the process by which it occurred (i.e. natural selection through competition). Evolution as a concept has been around since the days of the Greek philosophers.

I've heard many people just blandly assert that evolution underpins all of modern biology. Really? All of it? Even the genetic stuff, which seems like it is MORE fundamental than evolution, since evolution only operates BECAUSE of genetics, rather than vice versa? Doesn't that mean genetics is fundamental for properly understanding evolution, not the other way around?

In physics one can realistically argue that the foundations of the discipline rest on the shoulders of Isaac Newton. While classical mechanics has been modified and complemented in the modern age by ideas like relativity theory and quantum mechanics, for several centuries physics MEANT classical Newtonian mechanics. It really was all there was on the topic. Evolution, on the other hand, is just a tool for understanding how species differentiate over time. Does it really shed substantial useful light on a doctor's study of heart disease, or chemical reactions within a cell?

If someone can give me an intelligent answer as to just how Darwin is as fundamental to modern biology as Newton is to physics, I may re-think the topic, but until then, I'm going to have to assume that ending slavery in the US while guiding us through the bloodiest war in our history scores a little higher on the charts than figuring out that if two blue birds get busy, their offspring are more likely to be blue as well. My own personal theory is that Darwin's value to modern society is as a representative of a concept, not his actual value as a naturalist. Darwin represents the triumph of secular reason over backward religious superstition. He's the reason guys like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris feel superior to backwards rubes like C.S. Lewis or Francis Collins (yes, I know both of them believe in evolution, but they're on the SAME TEAM as the crazies, which makes them no better).

If anyone has a better explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Double Standards?

Las Vegas' mayor is complaining that President Obama is hurting his city with comments he made this week at a town hall event in Indiana. The president made it clear that he expected companies receiving bailout funds not to spend them on entertainment events in places like Vegas. "You can't get corporate jets, you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime."

So let me get this straight. President Hurry-Up-And-Authorize-Us-To-Spend-Money-On-Anything-We-Can-Throw-It-At is lecturing someone on how they throw around taxpayer money? The man who claims that any delay in authorizing his government to spend over $800 billion in largely unaccountable ways is tantamount to a vote for lengthening the economic crisis is suddenly choosy about what is stimulative spending and what isn't? Lets apply the standard of respecting taxpayer money to your own pet projects first Mr. President, shall we?


"As a state delegate from 1996 until last year representing Alexandria and a tiny corner of Fairfax County, he has lived quite literally in Jim's shadow."


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sometimes Good Theology Is Not Enough

It's one of the ironies of human life that the sight of the death of a puppy in the street is more likely to evoke tears in the average person than the news that ten thousand died of starvation in a foreign country. None of us want to admit it, but it takes a personal touch to really get us in the gut. It's a survival mechanism, one designed to protect us from completely shutting down as we would if we felt every human heartache in this vale of tears.

I've recently had a spate of sad events that were far enough removed from my life to leave me unaffected, yet close enough to leave me saddened and thoughtful. A man at church died of cancer, leaving his wife and son behind. A friend is being professionally and personally imperilled by the foolish actions of a co-worker. Worst of all, a child of six just died unexpectedly, of a disease that displayed only cold-like symptoms.

All of this adds up to remind me that, though proper theology can help to put such events in perspective, and give a believer the necessary strength to move beyond them, sometimes it simply isn't sufficient for the needs of the moment. In Job 1:20, Job has learned that his family are dead, and all his wealth has been carried off by raiders. His response? "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." His theology was spot on. He is then physically afflicted with painful ailments. His response in chapter 2, verse 10 is again, correct. "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" And yet, his actions are those of despair. He gives up, sits on an ash heap, and curses the day he was born. Job never loses his faith in God or his wisdom, despite his wife and friends, but he also cannot deal with what has happened to him until God himself comes down to rectify matters.

Sometimes, one of the worst things a Christian can do is give the correct theological answer to the wrong person at the wrong time. A person has to be willing to listen before the answer can be given. Think of it this way. If I leave a space heater running and it burns down my home, the time for a lecture on fire safety is not as I'm sifting through the ashes looking for my photo albums. At times, the best thing a Christian can do is love on someone, and wait for them to start asking the questions.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Obama Bumps Head

It's news. Seriously. Do a Google News search. You can even find video of it. CARE PEOPLE, OUR RATINGS ARE IN THE TOILET!!!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stimulus Roundup

Anyone who has been paying attention has probably seen a lot of this elsewhere, but I thought that I'd round up some of the various objections to the stimulus package in one posting. First, a quick note though. These are primarily practical objections to the stimulus package currently being debated. Obviously there is also the overarching and more general philosophical debate about the proper place of government in assuring prosperity, but that's for a different time and place.

-How about this as a place to begin? The current economic conditions were caused by too much risk-taking, high debt, and easy money (in the form of low interest rates). The government's proposed solution? Protecting companies from the consequences of their risky activities by giving away borrowed money. How could it possibly fail?

-According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus package is harmful in the long-term because it will crowd out private enterprise.

-Oh, and did I forget to mention that the CBO estimates that only 20% of the stimulus will actually be distributed this year, and only 65% will be distributed before the economy is projected to recover on it's own?

-The noted right-wingers at Popular Mechanics examine the problems with the idea of "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects.

-What if the bill banned religious activities (including secular departments of religious studies) at local universities from using campus facilities constructed with stimulus money?

-K-Hammer brings the pain.

-The return of pre-reform welfare.

-Cry "havoc" and let slip the libertarians!

Fair And Balanced

Of course reporters are completely objective in covering Obama. Why do you ask?

Here's something to consider. When Sarah Palin was running on the Republican ticket, many ignored all the practical benefits for McCain, (drawing tens of thousands to rallies, millions in new donations, her gender, her reputation as a reformer, her youth, her charisma, etc.) and darkly implied that McCain chose her as some sort of dirty old man's fantasy fulfillment. The argument went on to imply that male voters supported her for many of the same reasons. As "proof" we were supplied with silly evidence like Rich Lowry's comment that Sarah Palin "winked at me" (which was in support of his observation that some politicians can project into your living room, not in support of the observation that she's super-hot), that McCain knew little of her before deciding to pursue her as VP, and the fact that her popularity was far higher among men (it's called the partisan gender gap geniuses...look it up). It was stupid and silly then, but now it looks even more ridiculous, because now we have people at the New York Times openly discussing Obama sexual fantasies, how the Obamas look like they "love sex", etc. Of course, it's perfectly natural and acceptable...healthy even, when it's the Obamessiah who is the recipient of adulatory fantasy.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The President Goes On The Offensive

Aside from the obvious straw man arguments (who has ever said that "we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures"), I think this may be a mistake by the president on a strategic level. Everyone, including G.W. Bush, talks about being "bipartisan" in the beginning. It's one of those meaningless words that everyone throws out because it sounds better than saying, "I'm gonna shove this #%$*%!@ bill down your throat because I have the votes to do it!" The reason it never actually OCCURS is because "bipartisan" has come to mean, "you need to cross the aisle and agree with my policies". No conservative ever says, "I'm going to vote to increase government in order to be bipartisan" and no liberal ever says, "I'm going to vote to cancel this social giveaway in order to be bipartisan". It's always code for the other guy compromising HIS values, not you compromising yours.

Anyway, the president had a golden opportunity here to look like a true bipartisan, and I think he may be blowing it. The Republicans have been arguing against the Democratic CONGRESS and their bill, not the president. This is largely because he seems to have kept himself out of the details of the bill. He should have come out and publicly said something along the lines of, "The Republicans in Congress have made some very valid criticisms of the bill, and I would ask Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid to do their best to accommodate their concerns. At the same time, I ask the Congressional Republicans to be open to listening to new ideas." At this point, Reid and Pelosi would have had cover to make cosmetic changes to the most unpopular parts of the bill very publicly. Had they done so, the Republicans would have been left with two choices. Either they could have continued to oppose the bill and looked petty in the face of "compromise" by the majority party, or enough of them would have broken ranks to give the bill bipartisan cover.

As it is, the president and the Democrats in Congress now own this thing. By making it about Republican obstructionism, rather than legitimate concerns about the content of the bill, the president is choosing the same course as every partisan chief executive before him...making bipartisan noises while taking a partisan course of action. The Republicans have effectively been completely locked out of this bill. If the economy doesn't seem particularly affected by the bill, this could have a major impact on the 2010 congressional elections (assuming nothing else shiny distracts people in the meantime). An even worse case scenario would be if the unmodified bill fails to pass in the Senate. With the majority needed to shove it through (assuming no filibuster), the Democrats can only look ineffective in the face of crisis if they can't even rally the members of their own party to vote it through.

Obviously, this is all ignoring the actual content of the bill and just focusing on the politics of it. The bill itself sucks, and could be easily and vastly improved without much in the way of ideological compromise by the Dems. Is it really that hard to throw in a few tax cuts with expiration dates, keep the giveaways to real infrastructure projects rather than lawn maintenance, and try to fast-track a specific and limited set of projects past current regulatory roadblocks while keeping those regulations in place for non-stimulus projects?

What Deluded Fools

Can you say "onanistic symbolism"?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Obama Keeps Rendition Intact

So apparently all that stuff about not torturing really just meant, "I won't let Americans torture, but I'll sure as heck aid others in doing it."

Despite my posts of the last few days, I'm really not a fan of waterboarding, secret prisons, etc. I just feel that trying to weigh the lives of Americans versus one's moral obligations is a difficult, nasty position to be in. Therefore, it can really only be made by the person sitting in the big chair, once he has all the information we don't have access to, and once he has felt the weight of his obligation to protect the nation's safety resting on his shoulders. Perhaps now that president Obama feels that weight, he's thinking twice about his campaign rhetoric. If so, good for him. It's just too bad it has to come with a certain amount of moral preening and deceptiveness.

First of all, for a counter-point to the LA Times piece, go here. This author seems to think that the writer of the Times piece is conflating "rendition" and "extraordinary rendition". It seems to me that he might be right, or the rules outlined in the piece might be the administration's way of covering itself. After all, "substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture" is a subjective call. What if a state like Egypt, with a less-than-sterling human rights record crossed their fingers and promised very hard NOT to torture someone? Does that provide enough cover to hand them off? We won't really know for sure until we see how the rules are actually applied.

My other thought was this. Assuming the LA Times article is the more accurate view, for someone who is on the anti-torture side of the argument, isn't this the worse scenario? If you have a choice between the US working it's coercive magic on people or Egypt/Pakistan/Iraq doing so, and if your main concern is the dignity and safety of the individual in question, isn't it better to have the US working the bad guy over? After all, the worst reports seem to limited to techniques like stress positions, extreme temperatures, and waterboarding. I'm relatively sure that Pakistani officials are willing to go much further than that in pursuit of their interests.