Monday, December 29, 2008

Samuel P. Huntington 1927-2008

The great Harvard political scientist, Samuel P. Huntington, died Christmas Eve. My first exposure to Huntington was as an undergraduate when I read American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (1981). In that book, he presented America as a uniquely principled nation that, because it was founded moral-political principles rather than on blood or soil, we are always living with an "I v I gap," an ideals versus institutions gap. We aspire to realize certain noble principles as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, but because we are flesh we always fall sort of them to some degree or another. Sometimes the gap is wider and sometimes not so wide. At times when the gap becomes painfully wide, we throw ourselves into domestic turmoil. The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movements are just two salient examples of such times. This struck me as a theory that does justice to what is admirable in the American political experience while at the same time recognizing American shortcomings, as opposed to constantly accusing the nation of hypocrisy as the they do on the political left.

From one generation to the next, Samuel Huntington helped bring clarity to what is so often the confusion that is political life, both at home and abroad.

Read Robert Kaplan's 2001 article on Huntington in The Atlantic, "Looking the World in the Eye." It gives you a good overview of his education, his professional life, and his publications.

The Economist calls Huntington "one of America's great public intellectuals." His politics, they tell us, were more complicated than today's hard left, hard right, and confused and compromised center.

He was a lifelong Democrat, a representative of that dying breed, the hard-headed cold war liberal. He wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson and acted as a foreign-policy adviser to Hubert Humphrey. He briefly served in the Johnson and Carter administrations (he was a particularly close friend of Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of Barack Obama’s early backers). He was a fierce opponent of the neoconservatives who thought they could transplant American values into Mesopotamia.

But he believed that it was vital to mix liberal idealism with a pessimism rooted in a conservative reading of history. He rejected the economic reductionism that drove the Washington consensus, and insisted instead on seeing people as products of culture rather than as profit-and-loss calculating machines. He also rejected the beguiling idea (some say it has beguiled The Economist) that all good things tend to go together—that free markets go hand in hand with pluralism, democracy and the American way. He felt that America was a living paradox: America’s culture turned it into a universal civilisation but those values were in fact rooted in a unique set of circumstances.

His faculty page biography:
Samuel P. Huntington is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor. He graduated with distinction from Yale at age 18, served in the Army, and then received his Ph.D. from Harvard and started teaching there when he was 23. He has been a member of Harvard’s Department of Government since 1950 (except for a brief period between 1959 and 1962 when he was associate professor of government at Columbia University). He has served as chairman of the Government Department and of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. His principal interests are: national security, strategy, and civil military relations; democratization and political and economic development of less-developed countries; cultural factors in world politics; and American national identity. During 1977 and 1978 he worked at the White House as coordinator of security planning for the National Security Council. He was a founder and co-editor for seven years of the journal Foreign Policy.


• The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (1957)
• The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics (1961)
• Political Order in Changing Societies (1968)
• American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (1981)
• The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (1991)
• The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order (1996)
• Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004).
"Assimilation Nation" is a 2004 review of Who Are We? from the May 31, 2004 issue of National Review.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Principal Children's Films

Now that three of our children are between ages six and nine, we've seen many children's movies. Of course, you have to be discerning. Even G-rated films contain a lot of potty mouth, back talk, and rebellion that is unhelpful to be pouring into the tender souls of little people. There was a lot of gutter humor in Cars, and in The Little Mermaid Ariel defies her father and she is neither reproved nor suffers unhappy consequences for it.

There are also social and political messages that Hollywood wants children to internalize. They are generally the self-congratulating themes of that spoilt and irresponsible 1960s generation--wise in their own eyes--with which they continue to indoctrinate the rest of us. Essentially, they tell us that families are hopelessly dysfunctional, children are wise, and parents are foolish, and so children must save their parents and the world.

But there are films, even recently made films, that teach children in artful and entertaining ways that family is good, parents are wise, and children have a lot to learn. They teach that there are worthy objects of striving, and that obtaining them requires great effort, moral self-restraint, and even sacrifice.

Here are some examples.

The Sound of Music (1965; Dir. Robert Wise) - Both the children and the nanny learn self-control. On the other hand, the uberdisciplinarian and distant father learns humanity. Together, led by the father, an Austrian army officer, they defy and eventually flee the inhumane and tyrannically disciplinarian Nazi occupiers. The film is about love, charitable discipline, and healthy relationships in both the family and the political community.

The Incredibles (2004; dir. and screenplay, Brad Bird) and Meet The Robinsons (2007; dir. Stephen Anderson) - Both films celebrate the irreplaceable value of a loving, traditional family.

Pinocchio (1940; Disney Studios) - The wooden boy has a conscience! He disobeys his father and gets into trouble! He goes to an island where children get to indulge their selfish desires, but they end up enslaved. Sin does that. Notice how he gets to be a real boy.

Peter Pan (2003; dir. and screenplay, P.J. Hogan) - Peter can indulge all his childhood fantasies forever, but he has no family, no mother and father to love him and care for him. His freedom is premature, stunting, and unsatisfying. The children see this and head home to their parents. The end of the film is touching.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971; screenplay by Roald Dahl) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005; dir. Tim Burton) - Both these films set bad children in contrast with a good child who loves his family and sacrifices his pleasures for the sake of his moral obligations.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968; Disney Studios; screenplay by Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes) - The father is an oddball inventor who ekes out a living, but he works hard to provide for his children. It is he who must save them from Baron Bomburst after they disobey their father and succumb to temptation. The baron's vice is not fundamentally that he hates children, but that he is altogether childish himself, which would be fine except that he is not a child.

Mary Poppins (1964; Disney Studios) - In this film, the parents are foolish, but it is not the children who save them. It is a nanny named Mary Poppins, a gracious, otherworldly woman who is full of adult wisdom. Clearly, a father should not be so devoted to his work that he neglects his family which is the more important responsibility. If you save the company but lose your children in the process, you are a failure. But the film drives the lesson too far. In the end, all the elders of British banking have learned to be childish and silly. They have cut back their hours at the bank and are flying kites instead.

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing category:

Nanny McPhee (2005; screenplay by Emma Thompson) - One lesson we learn in this film is a good one. Well-mannered children are a blessing both to themselves and to others, and that begins with simple habits such as saying please and thank-you, and going to bed without complaining when one is told. What mars this otherwise edifying film is that it presents the little boy as wiser than his father who, he says, "never listens." So it is not surprising that it is the children (in their suddenly discovered wisdom) who save the day in the end.

There is also one very regrettable line near the end of the film when Evangeline, the girl whom the family has employed as a maid, tells old Aunt Adelaide to "Sod off, you old trout." Regardless of old auntie's behavior, this rebuke is appallingly disrespectful on account of both its content and its source. But the film holds it up for admiration. That alone would be enough to disqualify this film for recommendation to your children.

Though there is a good lesson at the beginning, the end of the film undermines it. Through firm but wise discipline (albeit magical), Nanny McFee swiftly trains the children to be self-controlled and obedient, and thus frees them to be happy and sweet (but, alas, also wiser than the adults). In the end, however, they save the day through the same wild, ill-mannered, childishly destructive behavior--although now put to a "good" purpose--and all the good adults join in the fun. The children learn a degree of self-control from Nanny McFee, but only enough to know how to use terrorism selectively for socially constructive ends, and the adults learn to be more like the children. While this film is styled after Mary Poppins, it is no Mary Poppins.

A few other great children's films:

Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005; dir. Andrew Adamson) - This is C. S. Lewis's great allegory of the gospel. In Edmund, we see repentance, and in the great lion, Aslan, we see redemption through Christ's substitutionary atonement.

Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008; dir. Andrew Adamson) - Peter brings disaster upon himself and others when he follows his own wisdom and trusts in his own strength rather than waiting for Aslan and trusting in his wise, almighty and gracious provision. Aslan, of course, represents Christ.

Anne of Green Gables and The Sequel (1985 and 1987; dir. Kevin Sullivan) - Simply one of the most delightful films ever made, and a fitting tribute to the classic of Canadian literature.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Lawful Celebration of the Incarnate Son

I agree with Charles Spurgeon in his view of Christmas.

At the opening of his 1871 Lord's Day morning sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the "Prince of Preachers," explained his Christmas sermon ("Joy Born at Bethlehem" - Luke 2:10-12) this way:

We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas:

First, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English;

And, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour;

And, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.

Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour's birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. Fabricius gives a catalogue of 136 different learned opinions upon the matter; and various divines invent weighty arguments for advocating a date in every month in the year. It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it; while, since the day of the death of our Saviour might be determined with much certainty, therefore superstition shifts the date of its observance every year. Where is the method in the madness of the superstitious? Probably the fact is that the holy days were arranged to fit in with heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Saviour was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December.

Nevertheless since, the current of men's thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream
, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men's superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son.

If you wish to read a Spurgeon sermon as part of your Christmas celebration, go to "Going Home--A Christmas Sermon." The great London preacher delivered it on the Lord's Day morning of December 21, 1856 at the Music Hall, Surrey Gardens.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Auto Bailouts and Sinking American Prospects

In the 1970s, my dad bought American cars on point of principle. He thought it was right to support the North American auto industry. Eventually, however, he found that American car manufacturers were doing him no favors in return. So since the late 1970s, he has bought Peugeot, Saab, Volvo, and Acura (which is Honda). I drive a Honda Odyssey.

As consumers, we direct our money to the companies we think will give us the best products. But recently, the so-called Big Three American automakers went to Washington asking for $15 billion of your money and mine to make up for the money we have not been spending on their cars. The trouble has been not only that many Americans have been preferring the products of other companies. But even when we have been buying GM, Ford and Chrysler, we have been paying only the market price, which is considerably less than what the companies need to make a profit. So having failed in the marketplace, they asked the government to take from us what we have freely chosen not to give them.

Congress refused. But on Friday, President Bush gave them, by executive decree, over $17 billion from the Congressionally established $700 billion slush fund (TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program) designated for stabilizing the financial markets.

George Will sees not just an unwise use of public funds, but a deterioration of our constitutional system of government.

The expansion of government entails an increasingly swollen executive branch and the steady enlargement of executive discretion. This inevitably means the eclipse of Congress and attenuation of the rule of law.

Mark Steyn tells us why these car companies are failing and will continue to fail.

General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a vast retirement home with a small loss-making auto subsidiary. The UAW is AARP in an Edsel: It has 3 times as many retirees and widows as "workers" (I use the term loosely). GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people. How do you make that math add up? Not by selling cars: Honda and Nissan make a pre-tax operating profit per vehicle of around $1,600; Ford, Chrysler and GM make a loss of between $500 and $1,500. That's to say, they lose money on every vehicle they sell. Like Henry Ford said, you can get it in any color as long as it's red.

Steyn actually takes you on a jolly ride through several aspects of America's present decline: "See the USA from your Chevrolet: An hereditary legislature, a media fawning its way into bankruptcy, its iconic coastal states driving out innovators and entrepreneurs, the arrival of the new messiah heralded only by the leaden dirge of "We Three Kings Of Ol' Detroit Are/Seeking checks we traverse afar," and Route 66 looking ever more like a one-way dead-end street to Bailoutistan."

But he ends upbeat, wishing us all "a very Hopey Changemas."

Whoever said the era of Great Canadians would die with William Shatner haven't been reading Mark Steyn.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The King's College Puzzles New York City

The King's College is in the news again. But it's the same story that everyone writes. The Village Voice. The Washington Post. Now The New York Times. ("In a Worldly City's Tallest Tower, a College With a Heavenly Bent," December 19, 2008. The title as it originally appeared was "For Evangelical College, Home is Where the Sin Is." I wonder what went into that editorial change of mind.)

They just can't get over the fact that an Evangelical Christian college would wade into a city that provides so many opportunities for sin. (Never mind the cultural, intellectual, media, and business opportunities.)

But the opportunity for sin is not isolated in any one city or in cities in general. Sin is in every heart and makes its own opportunities. You can't run away from sin any more than you can run away from your shadow.

These reporters marvel that The King's College doesn't have a long list of rules and that yet they don't exercise the licentious freedom that other college students do. That is because being a Christian is not just a church affiliation or an ideology, as these reporters imagine it is. It is a work of grace in the human heart that drives out old loves and introduces new ones, viz., a love for Christ and for all that he loves. A Christian who is growing spiritually is a Christian who is growing in those new loves. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 35) tells us that sanctification is "the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness." I see this in my students.

So the story reports Jonathan Seidl, a senior at the college, saying, “One of the reasons we’re not interested in getting drunk like ‘typical’ college students is because our faith teaches us that being responsible, and in some cases abstaining from those things, offers the most fulfilling life.” The reporter adds, "The same applied, several students said, to premarital sex."

But I'm glad we got the New York Times before the paper goes belly up. Perhaps The New York Sun, a much better newspaper, will return to take it's place.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

No Child Left Behind Dead

We should be thankful for what we have in this country. Regardless of what criticism people have of President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform (NCLB), keep in kind that in Egypt education reform means NCLD--No Child Left Dead.

Look at this story about a 23 year old teacher who beat a child to death for not doing his homework. ("Egypt Teacher Tried Over Beating," BBC News, December 20, 2008.)

Cairo's Al-Ahram has a more complete account. "The trial on manslaughter charges of Haitham Nabil Abdel-Hamid, a 23-year-old mathematics teacher at Saad Othman school in Alexandria, begins on 16 November. Abdel-Hamid is accused of causing the unlawful death of 11-year-old Islam Amr on 27 October. When Amr refused to hold out his hand to be hit with a ruler along with 15 other students who had failed to do their homework Abdel-Hamid took him outside the classroom and beat him so severely that the 11-year-old died. In his defence Abdel-Hamid says he was only trying to 'discipline the boy, not to kill him.'"

The nation is outraged, not only at the "teacher" but also at the state of public education in Egypt.

This reminds me of a story my grandfather told me about a horrible incident in his classroom when he was a boy in Scotland, perhaps a few years before World War I. (For those of you in the public school system, that would be around 1912.) Do you remember the pointers that teachers had in the classroom? Perhaps they still have them. Well teachers would administer corporal punishment with those rapier weapons. WHACK across the seat of the pants or the hands. On one occasion the teacher had become so frustrated with this one ill-behaved lad that she jabbed him in the back of the ear with it. (I still recoil at the thought.) This is also called stabbing. He was taken to the hospital, and my grandfather didn't know what happened after that either to the boy or the teacher. He was just a little boy.

Of course, today we have no discipline at all, neither in the schools nor in the homes. Children take full advantage of this unilateral disarmament, and as a consequence the learning environment has given way to classroom chaos and teacher despair in many instances.

Perhaps the problem lies in the very notion of a government school system, especially one that is run increasingly from state capitals and even from the nation's capital, and especially still in a nation which, as officially administered, has abandoned every philosophical and spiritual foundation for distinguishing between right and wrong. Public schooling is an impossibility for a people with no cultural consensus, and even less so for a people philosophically opposed to the very idea of a cultural consensus.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Yes, Political Economy Can Be Funny

I have not posted in a few days because I am grading exams. But the reading world must be satisfied!

So here is a lesson in political economy. With all this bailin' out by government goin' on, and with this socialistic Obama administration coming to Washington, many Americans these days could do with a primer in economic theory, and, with the economy global these days, perhaps even international economic theory.

The following is a series of old jokes, but I have adapted "Capitalism," and wrote "Socialism," "American," "American Entrepreneur" and "Peasant" myself. Perhaps it shows.

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful.
You vote people into office that put a tax on your cows, forcing you to sell one to raise money to pay the tax. The people you voted for then take the tax money, buy a cow and give it to your neighbor.
You feel righteous.
There are still only two cows.

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.

You have two cows.
You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.
Beef prices go down.
Everyone's eating steak.

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
Cows are nationalized as a social asset. They are the People's cows.
Everyone milks them. No one feeds them.
The cows die.
No more cows.

You have a cow.
Your neighbor has a cow.
Your neighbor manages to buy a bull and begins to prosper.
You economize on your spending, take a second job, and save for a bull of your own.
You and your neighbor form the American Cattleman's Association.

You have a cow.
Your neighbor has a cow.
Your neighbor manages to buy a bull and begins to prosper.
You get out of cattle and into vinyl fencing.

You have a cow.
Your neighbor has a cow.
Your neighbor manages to buy a bull and begins to prosper.
You shoot your neighbor's bull.

You have two cows.
The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, and then pours the milk down the drain.

You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.
You go to lunch.
Life is good.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded trains. Most are at the top of their class at cow school.

You have two cows.
You engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour.
Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

You have two cows but you don't know where they are.
While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman.
You break for lunch.
Life is good.

You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You have some more vodka.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
You count them again and learn you have 12 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.
You produce your 10th, 5-year plan in the last 3 months.
The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Gospel as Comedy

cartoon by John Guido

What makes this funny? (If you don't think it's funny, just pretend.) A chastened spirit is the last thing you expect from a Viking. Yet Haldor, who is clearly just coming off a rampage or an outburst of Nordic wrath, is looking all sheepish and so-very-sorry. My eleventh grade teacher told us that humor is the juxtaposition of the incongruous. Think of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Airplane.

But for that reason, Haldor illustrates the gospel. That transformation, that new nature, that unnatural kindness and, on the other hand, that brokenness over the evil that lurks within and bursts forth, is what Jesus does with sinners.

Christianity, in that respect, is comedy, not tragedy. My wife, a Grove City College educated English teacher, tells me that comedies and tragedies are distinguished by how they end. Comedies end in weddings, whereas tragedies end in funerals. Consider Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing ends in a wedding; Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet end in funerals. The Bible ends with the hope and promise of a wedding. "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'" Christ, the bridegroom, responds, "Yes, I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:17, 20).

I recall Patrick Downey (assoc. prof. of philosophy, St Mary's College, CA) saying something like that when I knew him at Boston College fifteen years ago. You will find something of interest along those lines in his book, Serious Comedy: The Philosophical and Theological Significance of Tragic and Comic Writing in the Western Tradition (Lexington, 2001).

Back to humor--cartoon humor in particular--if you are interested in this subject, you need to read The Naked Cartoonist by Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor for The New Yorker. He knows what's funny, and he explains why what works works and why what doesn't doesn't. On pp. 21-22 his advice is "just a little more inking--and a lot more thinking." He shows the magic of layering an idea over what otherwise is an ordinary picture, perhaps just by a caption. I always found that this is what separated Bizzaro from The Far Side (aside from off-putting pointy characters versus attractive round ones).

You can read this 2006 HuffPost interview with him.

For example, "If you're watching America's Funniest Home Videos you never say, "I don't get it." You're not saying, "Ok, a guy fell off a chair. Can someone explain that to me again?" But if you're looking at a Danny Shanahan cartoon in which there's two praying mantises -one male and one female and the male is missing his head and the female is saying "You slept with her, didn't you?" There's something to piece together. There's a slight delay where these different sort of competing ideas come together - mesh and produce laughter."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Iraqi Gives Bush the Boot

Watch here as an Iraqi reporter surprises President Bush by throwing both his shoes at him at a press conference during his "Goodbye, it's been great" final visit to Iraq. After almost eight years in office, an American President becomes good at ducking, as you will see.

The shoe toss is puzzling to Americans primarily because it is so impractical. How can you make a getaway without your shoes? Even if you expect to get hauled off, why add the indignity of leaving in your stocking feet? And as much as you dislike the President, is getting a whack at him really worth a pair of Florsheims? Perhaps Payless reduces the cost of this stunt.

So what is it with the shoes? We saw the same thing when Saddam fell from power. People would take off a shoe and hit Saddam's face on a poster with it. It is symbolic of having the person under your foot in conquest. It's a disgrace. You see this expressed in the Bible. The Apostle Paul says of Jesus, "he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (I Cor. 15:25, alluding to Psalm 110:1). When John says he is not worthy to untie the Lord's sandals, which would involve lowering himself to the level of Jesus' feet, he is abasing himself. It is quite a statement. Then to top it all off, when Jesus takes the role of a household slave and lowers himself to bath the disciples' feet, it is an infinitely greater humiliation because, as the Lord of glory, he has further to descend.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Indispensable Mom

It is not only homosexuals and Sesame Street who are trying to redefine the family out of existence, and along with it civilization itself. Ordinary moms and dads--even Christian ones--are doing the same thing. When moms and dads, husbands and wives, become merely "parents" and "spouses," indistinguishable bread-winners with careers and all the time constraints and pressures that go with careers, then children need to be raised by day-care workers and school teachers as well as by televisions and video games. If you change the family, you change the civilization. If you destroy the family, you will destroy civilization.

The role of the mother qua mother is indispensable. Children need her wise, minutely attentive, and loving attention to the thousands matters of protection, instruction, and discipline that come up in the course of every day from waking to sleeping. No one else can provide this. Many children survive childhood without it. But it is surviving, not thriving. Civilization depends on a critical mass of people thriving.

Anita Renfroe's "Mom Song," set to the tune of the William Tell Overture, captures some of what's involved in the mother's task.

The Mom Song from Northland Video on Vimeo.

Evangelical Christians need to develop a political philosophy that begins with the family and extends to the highest authorities.

(Go here to see the original with Renfroe herself performing and with a better ending. You can also see the words written out.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Commercial Captivity of the Church

What if coffee shops were like churches? Or rather, what if churches were even more like coffee shops than they are already?

It appears that this video is making fun of the contemporary megachurch, not because it has been commercialized, but because it has been insufficiently commercialized. Do you think I have that right?

They seem to be saying, "Look at the cheap signs and banners and community bulletin board. See how they try welcoming those two into a community, when the hapless couple only wants some coffee. How ridiculous it all is. Ha, ha, ha. We laugh at them. But here's the answer: we should treat Christ even more like a commodity, responding uncritically to people's "consumer preferences," and then the church will see more customers, and even return customers! Then money! Power! Prestige! Entertainers won't laugh at us when we're trying to be serious. The church will succeed!

Were the makers of this video just having some laughs? Highly unlikely. It's satire. It's designed to change attitudes about how the church does its work of worship, mutual love, and evangelism. It's made by " (what does that mean?), for a culturally strategic church." So it appears to be concerned about strategy for the church in our culture.

Ask yourself: Did God send his Son to suffer, die, and rise again...for this?

Smoking Spiritualized

As I watched David Niven and friends puffing away on their fags last night on The Pink Panther, I was reminded how common it was to smoke not so long ago. But smoking has largely gone the way of haberdashery. Well, good riddance...even though you wouldn't know it in New York City. But whereas a fine hat is glorifying to God in the beauty of its style, cigarette smoking is a violation of the sixth commandment (look it up; Exodus 20:1-17).

That aside, I am unaware of anything unwholesome in the enjoyment of a pipe or cigar...unless of course your wife objects to the smell.

Consider this pious meditation on smoking by Ralph Erskine (Scottish Presbyterian minister, 1685-1752).

Smoking Spiritualized

In Two Parts. The first Part being an old Meditation upon Smoking Tobacco;
the second, a new Addition to it, or Improvement of it.

Part One: The Law

THIS Indian weed now wither'd quite,
Tho' green at noon, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe, so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak
Thou art ev'n such,
Gone with a touch.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldy stuff,
Gone with a puff.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defil'd with sin;
For then the fire,
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away;
Then to thyself thou mayest say,
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Part Two: The Gospel

WAS this small plant for thee cut down!
So was the Plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what's the power
Of Jesse's flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon's rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heav'nly fire
The heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense, tow'rs;
So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Of course, Erskine is writing about pipe tobacco. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the cigar, and the cigarette is largely a twentieth century craze. gives us this brief history of the cigarette.

In the nineteenth century, tobacco was smoked by gentlemen only in the form of cigars. Cigarettes, which were basically the sweepings off the floor of the cigar factory, were only smoked by the very poor.

As machines to mass produce cigarettes came into the fore in the 1880s, smoking cigarettes became more common but the number of cigarettes smoked was still, relatively small. During World War I tobacco companies gave away free cigarettes to millions of soldiers, and it was only after the war that large numbers of Americans smoked cigarettes.

Since there is a time lag of approximately 20 to 30 years between the onset of smoking and the development of lung cancer, the damage done was not immediately apparent. Doctors were surprised to see a sudden epidemic of lung cancer cases in the 1930s. They quickly discovered the association between smoking and lung cancer. Large statistical studies in England and the United States in the 1950s (Doll and Hill, Cutler) conclusively proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that cigarette smoking markedly increased the chances of developing lung cancer.

By the 1970s, lung cancer had gone from one of the rarest of cancers to the number one killer cancer in the Western world.

Thomas Addison, M.D., shares this little gem of information. In 1900, "Smoking is primarily a male habit and most smokers choose cigars. Smoking cigarettes is considered pedestrian and unmanly." World War I was the turning point for cigarette popularity, however.

During World War I cigarettes become the smoke of choice as pipes and cigars prove unmanageable at the front. Between 1910 and 1919 cigarette production increases by 633% from under 10 billion/year to nearly 70 billion/year, and cigarette smoking begins to become fixed among American men. The American Red Cross and the Young Men's Christian Association, previously opposed to the propagation of cigarettes, actively supply them to the troops overseas.
Here is a bibliography on the history of cigarette smoking.

There is no rational defense for cigarette smoking. It is a form of slow suicide. It enslaves your will, squanders your money, poisons your neighbors, and fouls the air. It is a sinful misuse of God's creation and a wreckless disregard for the value of the few precious years he has given you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Modern Child Discipline

Children are the citizens of tomorrow, and how we raise them shapes the world of tomorrow. In truth, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Child discipline, therefore, is political. That is why the cultural left is ferocious about stamping out corporal punishment, and bringing all children at the earliest possible age under the formative influence of the government school system.

Mindful of this, I read this parenting tip in an email today.

Most people think it improper to spank children, so I have tried other methods of child discipline when mine have one of 'those moments.'

One method that I found effective is just to take the child for a car ride, and talk.

Some say it's the vibration from the car, others say it's the time away from any distractions such as TV, Video Games, Computer, IPod, etc.

Either way, my kids usually calm down and stop misbehaving after our car ride together. Eye to eye contact helps a lot too.

I've included a photo below of one of my sessions with my son, in case you would like to use the technique.


I personally don't recommend this method. For greater wisdom on the subject of child-rearing, I do recommend Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp (Shepherd Press, 1995), Withhold Not Correction by Bruce Ray (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1978), and the whole series of books from Babywise onwards by Gary Ezzo.

Harold adds:

Spare the hotrod, spoil the child, I always say.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Those Outrageous Evangelicals

Wow. Meacham has a fit. And in public.

In this week's Editor's Desk in Newsweek, Jon Meacham takes Evangelical Christians out to the woodshed to lick some sense into them. Actually is more like a stern, disapproving frown that is supposed to shame Evangelicals into adopting a liberal view of the Bible if they want to have any hope joining the serious conversation among the most influential people on public affairs.

No matter what one thinks about gay rights – for, against or somewhere in between – this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt – it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

In his spluttering rage, he mentions "millennia of critical attention," even though the "critical" approach to the Bible goes back only as far as Spinoza in the seventeeth century, or perhaps back to Hobbes. That's only centuries, not millennia, and it only really got going a hundred and fifty years ago.

And he seems to be saying that any appeal to the Bible for an authoritative word from God is fundamentalism, and thus "the worst kind of fundamentalism."

But surely I have taken his words out of context. Perhaps he just doing a Harry Emerson Fosdick impersonation for the entertainment of his readers, giving us a parody of "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"

No. He's serious.

What is truly amazing is that despite editorials like this from no less than Newsweek magazine, the kingdom of God advances.

For intellectually serious defenses of the Bible as the Word of God, and thus as the ultimate authority on any matter it intends to address, see...

B. B. Warfield, The Inspirsation and Authority of the Bible (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948);

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Eerdmans, 1923);

J. I. Packer, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Eerdmans, 1958).

Congressional Motors

From the WSJ this morning, under the headline "US Could Take Stakes in Big Three":

WASHINGTON -- Congress and the White House inched toward a financial rescue of the Big Three auto makers, negotiating legislation that would give the U.S. government a substantial ownership stake in the industry and a central role in its restructuring.

But Iowahawk was all over this story way back on November 24th, when he leaked the advertising campaign being considered for the new era of nationalization being planned by the Pelosi Democats.

It's got a "return to the golden 70's" kind of feel to it. What do you think?


Innes adds:

Ask any American this question. Would the company that employs you be a better company, make a better product, be more innovative, if it were run by the government? (FYI: Rasmussen finds that "Just 14% Say Government Will Run Big Three Better.")

My closest personal experience with a government run company is the Long Island Rail Road. I like them. The conductors are friendly and the trains run more or less on time. They are yet another reason that I am glad I don't live in New Jersey. But the LIRR runs at a huge loss and the trains travel at half the speed they did forty years ago. That is not what made America great.

How is it that these three companies are faring so poorly in the auto market, whereas Toyota, Honda, Hyundai etc. are all turning profits selling American built cars? Does Congress have any clue? If they did understand, would they have the political will to do what is necessary to free these companies to make a profit? Given their illicit relationship with the unions (it is illicit for Congress, a publicly interested body, to be controlled by unions which are organized to promote narrowly private interests) and their fixation with regulation, especially environmental regulation, it seems highly unlikely.

If the federal government takes control of the banks, the auto industry and the health care system, why should it not also proceed to all the "commanding heights" of the economy? Why should these huge economic entities that control the lives of so many ordinary Americans not come under social control for the benefit of the people instead of the few? As the first post-war British prime minister put it, this would be "the embodiment of our socialist principle of placing the welfare of the nation before any section" or narrow interest. He advocated "a mixed economy developing toward socialism.... The doctrines of abundance, of full employment, and of social security require the transfer to public ownership of certain major economic forces and the planned control in the public interest of many other economic activities."

Perhaps Barack Obama will be remembered as the American Clement Atlee.

If so, we will have to suffer through decades of economic stagnation and self-inflicted misery until we learn our lesson and, in response to our tearful prayers, the Lord mercifully raises up an American Margaret Thatcher to remedy the whole mess.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Coup d'Etat in Canada

Because no one in America reports on what is happening in Canadian government (perhaps because it is not wise to know much about our number one trading partner, the vast nation immediately to our north), I take up the responsibility myself. This account comes from a friend in Ottawa (look it up on a map).

At first, it seemed to me that what the opposition was doing was perfectly democratic. No one has a parliamentary majority, and as long as the province of Quebec keeps electing MPs from the separatist Bloc Quebecois, it is unlikely anyone ever will. So whoever can form a majority coalition runs the government. If the Grits (Liberals) can duct tape something together, they are entitled to do that.

But this Canadian correspondent (whose identity I am concealing so as not to expose him or her to charges of thoughtcrime) explains how it is not that simple.


I don't know how much news you have had of what has transpired in Canada. It would appear that we have a reprieve for a few weeks and perhaps common sense will yet prevail, by the Lord's grace.

We had a general election in mid-October, the results of which were 143 Conservatives, 76 Liberals, 37 New Democrats, 50 Bloc Quebecois, and 2 independents elected to a 308-seat House of Commons. The previous results in 2006 were 124 Conservatives, 103 Liberals, 29 NDP, 51 Bloc Quebecois, and 1 independent. Clearly the results showed an increase in support for the Conservatives, a decrease in support for the Liberals (who received the lowest percentage of the popular vote ever accorded the Liberal party since Confederation, at just over 26 percent), and unchanged numbers for the Bloc.

The Conservative government, under Stephen Harper, won by all accounts an increased mandate. The Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, announced his resignation within a week of the results, indicating that he would stay on until a leadership convention (previously scheduled as a leadership review, slated for May, 2009) were held. The new government was sworn in and had been back at work in Parliament only a week or so when an interim economic statement was tabled by the Finance Minister, which among other things proposed elimination of the subsidy (of $1.95 per vote received) to the political parties for funding. This was a measure introduced by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien when he abolished corporate funding for political parties and limited individual contributions to $1,000. The results of Mr. Chretien's reform have been dramatic: the Conservative Party has done well, because it has a relatively large grass-roots network of supporters who give small donations. The Liberals and NDP have been heavily in debt because they lack the grassroots network to make up the formerly large corporate or union contributions. The Bloc Quebecois have been heavily dependent on the government's funding.

The backlash against this relatively minor (30 million dollars in total) cut to spending was immediate and galvanised the opposition parties to announce the formulation of a coalition (apparently previous conceived) aimed at defeating the government and forming a new coalition government with a signed "agreement" between the Liberals and the NDP to work as a coalition until June, 2011, terms to include installing none other than Stephane Dion as PM (until May 2, 2009 when he pledges to step down in favour of a yet-to-be-elected Liberal leader) with the NDP to have six of 24 cabinet seats, and a side-bar signed agreement with the Bloc Quebecois to support the coalition until June, 2010. Notice that the combined seats for the two parties in the coalition are 113 (76 Liberals and 37 NDP), some 30 fewer than the Conservatives. Further, note that it is only with the support of the Bloc Quebecois (a party whose raison d'etre is to work to enable Quebec to secede from Canada) that such coalition would be able to govern. All of this is under the guise of providing economic leadership for the country in troubled times (understood to mean opening the gates of government spending, deficit spending, to try to stave off or buy the way out of a recession). This is all in the face of an increased mandate given to the first economist to be elected as Prime Minister and whose approach has been to seek to maintain balanced budgets while reducing taxes to stimulate the economy, and with the result that of the major industrial nations Canada ranks first in fiscal health.

Now we are not without our problems, but it is telling that the latest poll says 60 percent of the population agrees with the planned elimination of the subsidy for political parties, even though the Prime Minister announced he would withdraw this proposal in the face of the opposition's opposition.

The non-confidence vote proposed was worded in such a way as to state categorically that the House lacks confidence in the government and that a new government-in-waiting would command the confidence of the House. The motion was due for debate and vote on December 8th. Yesterday, the Governor General acceded to the request of the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament until late January, (thus avoiding the vote), and the Prime Minister has invited the opposition parties to submit suggestions for consideration by the government in the formulation of the 2009 fiscal budget, due to be tabled the day after Parliament resumes.

Demonstrations are planned on both sides for various cities across the land, several for tomorrow. What comes of this is known only to the Lord. The waste of time and energy which otherwise could and should have been devoted to careful governance and consideration of prudent measures in the face of worldwide economic challenges is colossal and inexcusable.

Where one is astonished and where the notion of a coup surfaces is in the grab for power by a coalition which is comprised of two parties who together saw their total number of seats drop from 132 (103 Liberals and 29 NDP) to 113 (76 Liberals and 37 NDP) and who have the audacity to propose a coalition headed by a leader who led his party through an election which resulted in the lowest-ever support for that party in the history of the country, who has promised to step down in less than six months, and yet who wants to commit the government of the country to a yet-to-be-elected leader, beholden to the support of the party devoted to the break-up of the country throughout the term of the proposed "government". The sane and sanctified mind has difficulty taking this all in and more difficulty in finding words to express what it thinks of such foolishness.

Heavens Above! Ambassador Bill?

Apparently, Sean Rubin is not only a good cartoonist, he's also a mind reader.

Message to President Clinton: If Barack Obama offers you the new post as "Ambassador to the Stars," you should not envisage yourself hobnobbing in Hollywood.

Actually this is the way Peter Sellers' Heavens Above (1963) ends. It was his last film before rocketing to stardom. It is actually a fine film that explores the moral and economic consequences of thoughtless charity understood as giving to the poor. It could have been subtitled, "The Tragedy of Christian Compassion." Marvin Olasky take note!

At first, it might seem to be a condemnation of Christian morality from the point of view of modern economic science, but the film is more multilayered than that. It is seems to be more of a dialogue than a message. The idea for the film came from Malcolm Muggeridge, but the film predates his conversion.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Democracy Hath Wrought

The WSJ's Matthew Kaminski's Weekend Interview is with Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union-SEIU, a key interest group among the coalition that is the Democrat party. Union money was second only to Soros money in funding the huge national rush to take government back for the people. One should ignore what the titular heads of the party officially say: it is mostly legerdemain, meant to placate and distract the public, the way a magician misdirects attention in order to pull off a trick, or the way a parent distracts a fussy little one. It is a rarity, always considered a gaffe, when any of them out with what they are really up to. Obama's "spread the wealth" thing for example. Recall the war-room mobilization across the media to renounce the slander of "socialism" against the One? Unlike conservatives, who are unapologetic about being conservatives, it is hard to find a liberal besides Barney Frank who will accept the label. They know most people don't want what they are selling. They have to use subterfuge, Orwellian naming tricks, stealth legislation, the courts, and regulation through executive branch agencies to effect their policies. If taken to a vote by the people, most of the liberal agenda would still be a gleam in the eye of Wiliam Ayers and at a wholesome distance from reality.

Thus, the expectations, proclivities, and demands of leftist interest groups that have delivered us into the hands of the Democrats deserve more attention than those of elected Democrats, who, after all, must live in the limelight and be reelected. The Code Pinks, the Sierra Clubs, the Emily's Lists, NARAL, the trial lawyers, labor unions, ad nauseum, are better barometers than the Democrat political class per se. Kaminski notes in the piece that "universal health care, widespread unionization, stronger regulations on business, profit-sharing for employees, higher taxes -- all that sounds like Western Europe. Mr. Stern considers that a worthy model."

Says Mr Stern:

"I think Western Europe as much as we used to make fun of it has made different trade-offs which may have ended up with a little more unemployment but a lot more equality."

If one considers eleven or twelve percent unemployment merely "a little more", then perhaps that vaunted "equality" might seem a bargain. But then there is a lot packed into that term "equality" under socialism. Those who have seen the Europe of the working and welafare class--those Mr Stern and his ilk pretend to represent so well--understand that the equality offered by socialism is equality of poverty, with a distinctly unimpoverished upper class, reeking of solicitous concern for the masses. Ever seen the size of a flat in Rome or Paris? See what cars they drive in any European city? Wonder why everyone wears black in the cities? (black clothes don't show dirt, and since many people have only small clothing budgets, they must wear the same suits over and over. This partly accounts for the smells on a bus.) On the other hand, for those with union or government jobs--the majority of those who have jobs--things are pretty cushy--short work weeks, Adriatic vacations, retirement at fifty.

Until the thing collapses, which it must. Our unionized auto industry is European socialism writ small, and it is the model for the future Messrs. Soros, Stern, and all the leading lights among the Democrats are bringing to a town near you. We're all GM now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Oprah's View of History

In Hempstead on Long Island, they have renamed a school after Barack Obama, even though he is not even president yet. Other namings and renamings are proceeding apace. Can we expect a planet to be renamed Obama? Perhaps this planet?

Don't be surprised if Oprah Winfrey suggests that we start renumbering the years, with 2009 as year 1. Given some of the things she has said in the past as well as what she has now said about Obama's upcoming inauguration as President in January, that is the reasonable next step.

There are not even words to talk about what this night means,” Oprah said of Obama's inauguration. “Everybody keeps using the word historic — there’s never been a night like this on the planet earth… Nothing can compare to this.

So in the mind of Oprah Winfrey (and how many others?), that makes Obama's inauguration of greater world historical significance than the death and resurrection of Christ. It also beats the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and the inauguration of George Washington.

Doodling on Duty

The incoming president is facing tough tests in the economy, social policy, and international affairs. A President cannot disregard any sphere of responsibility. He cannot forgo understanding the economy (John McCain). He cannot pretend that the wider world is no longer of any importance (Bill Clinton in '93). And he cannot think that posterity will not judge his artistic abilities.

Here is Obama's doodle from one of the few moments he found himself in the U.S. Senate

This fetched $2,075 at auction. The market has spoken. What will history say?

And then there's the Reagan test. Can he doodle like the Gipper?

By the way, if you cannot recognize Obama's subjects (that would say something!), they are (L-R, not politically), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hoist on His Own Petard

Conservatives were on to this from the beginning, and Karl Rove in today's WSJ lays out just what the effect was of the epochal "Campaign Finance Reform" that John McCain so loudly championed, and that a large majority of both the electorate and the Congress lined up behind. Now, by taking the biggest empirical measure, we know the net--and intended, by the way--effect of getting the money out of politics. Really? The Messiah, after first piously pledging to abide by the public financing regime, which was to be the central pillar of the new regime of clean politics, shifted, pivoted, pirouetted--backslid--into accepting the torrent of mainly illicit money raised through Soros-funded back offices and boiler rooms set up for the purpose. Obama's treasury was so lopsidedly huge he simply drown out McCain's efforts to get a word in. Think of Obama with a stadium-sized public address system, with Jumbotrons and massive lighting, speaking to tens of thousands--and McCain standing on his campaign-finance approved soapbox in the town square with his hand cupped around his mouth, speaking to tens.

We now find that the main point wielded by the Obama campaign to legitimize this amazing flood of campaign money--that it was mostly an outpouring of sincere, motivated--and small--individual givers joining the newly clean political process for the first time--was a total myth. Over half of Obama's money came from the biggest of big fish, giving over a thousand dollars, with a significant fraction coming in amounts over two hundred dollars. This fiction of the little giver--one thinks of the widow and her mite--supporting the Promised One with her butter and egg money--is now exploded.

The taint of cheating and outright fraud and criminality attaches to this historic victory through the credit card donations of Daffy Duck et. al. These were made possible by the ministrations of some anonymous backroom operative, instructed to turn off the screening and verification function that websites taking money use to prevent stolen credit cards from being used. Thus, this campaign was funded with an unknown number of fraudulent transactions, using either the routine scam of stealing the card number and using it without the owners knowledge, or by the repeated use of certain accounts under the control of the campaign for "donations" from deep pockets using fake names to create the illusion of many separate givers. And of course they will get away with it--nothing to see here folks, go back to your homes.

I wonder if John McCain knows that one of his career-defining pieces of work wrong-footed his last campaign from the start. This is a perfect example of the conundrum Plato offers in Book 1 of the Republic. How can the just man, who must always hold to the truth and can never avail himself of dishonest practice, ever prevail against the unjust man who can lie, cheat and steal, all while accusing the just man of these very things? That the appearance of justice is what is key, not actually being just, is the lesson the world teaches everyday. It is that on which the Saul Alinski School of Politics and Public Policy grounds its entire franchise.

It's why Jesus' instruction to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves was necessary--he knew it's hard to out-snake a snake. As we are wont to say these days, I don't question McCain's patriotism, only his judgment.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Coffee Haters Come Around

If you like coffee (or if you are considering the habit), you will appreciate this clever series of napkin sketches by Christoph Niemann in The New York Times ("Coffee," Dec. 3, 2008).

He illustrates his journey into the appreciation of the dark alternative to glorious tea.

I began drinking tea around the age of ten. Each week, when my parents came home with the groceries, one of my exciting rituals (aside from picking the crunchberries out of the Captain Crunch and eating the heal of the fresh rye bread) was breaking open the Red Rose Tea box, discovering which porcelain animal figurine it contained, and then burying my nose in the tea bags and inhaling the exotic aroma (yes, gross). Tea was also the family heritage. To drink it several times a day was to affirm my deep satisfaction with being Scottish.

When I entered the pastoral ministry at age 35, however, I decided that I had to start drinking coffee, or at least develop a tolerance for it. It was simply unacceptable to go into the corner tavern in Walker, Iowa, and order tea. The waitress looks at you funny. Then she goes into the back and blows the dust off a box of tea bags. Then she doesn't quite know what to do with them. She puts a bag in small coffee cup and pours hot water over it, and you think to yourself, "I'm paying for this?," or "This is not a drink."

Therefore, coffee.

Niemann shares his own experience:

At 17 I still suffered from coffee schizophrenia: I loved the concept of coffee, but resented the taste. I decided to cure myself through auto-hazing. Around that time, my parents took me on my first trip to Paris. We arrived by train early in the morning and went straight to a little cafe. I ordered a large café au lait and forced down the entire bowl. It worked. Since then I have enjoyed coffee pretty much every day.
And there's much more.

"Christoph Niemann's illustrations have appeared on the covers of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine and American Illustration. He is the author of two children's books, "The Pet Dragon," which teaches Chinese characters to young readers, and "The Police Cloud." His Web site is"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Eat More Donuts

Fred Thompson explains how the stimulus package(s) coming our way actually work: its like telling a fat guy he can lose weight by eating more donuts. Call it the Homer Simpson Recovery Act.

Innes adds: Fred is good at this. But while this video is entertaining, I doubt that the former Senator from Tennessee and recent candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is going to all this bother simply for our entertainment.

The "comment from Fred's den" that I have given you here was Thompson's response to Michael Moore after he challenged Thompson to a debate. When I saw it I thought I saw the next president. I saw strong principles, republican principles, and an ability to communicate such principles that we haven't seen in years.

But he delayed announcing his candidacy, he had severe organizational problems, and an appearance of sleepy indifference, something I have never seen before in any aspirant for the executive office.

So is Fred back on his feet? Are these videos to parallel Reagan's many radio addresses that he delivered on a myriad of political, economic and cultural issues in the 1970s? Is Fred positioning himself and building his base for a better organized run in 2012? I see that Chris Cillizza does not list him in the GOP Ten Mostly Likely list. So much for early lists.

GOP Top Ten As Of Now

Perhaps you have read numerous accounts now of what has gone wrong in the Republican party, and of how we can repent and find our way back into the good graces of the wise and good voting public. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post offers this list of ten Republican leaders and potential leaders who will be offering themselves as the One To Whom We Will Turn when we have learned our lesson for having embraced the Boy King, and the O-phoria has worn off. In traditional, Late Night fashion, he starts with number 10.

10. Steve Poizner, the Insurance Commissioner of California, likely Republican nominee for governor in 2010.

9. Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi since 2003.

8. Jon Huntsman Jr., Governor of Utah.

7. Eric Cantor, Virginia Congressman and now also the House Minority Whip.

6. Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina and newly elected chair of the Republican Governors Association.

5. Bob McDonnell, Virginia's attorney general, and surely the Republican candidate for governor in 2009.

4. Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana.

3. Mitt Romney, who needs no introduction.

2. John Thune, South Dakota Senator who beat former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004.

1. Bobby Jindal, 37-year-old Indian American governor of Louisiana.

Well, print that up and post it on your wall, then check back with it in three years. Or you can just ignore the whole matter, and whoever shows up in three years shows up. Cillizza explains his exclusion of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. I've heard Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas has ambitions beyond the U.S. Senate.

If you're interested in the particulars on these fine horses, you can read "The Friday Line: Ten Republicans To Watch."

Those Who Hate Me Love Death

Dennis Prager, a talk show host and recovering lawyer out in San Diego, often has worthwhile commentary. He offers this on the Bombay attacks over Thanksgiving and asks, why would Pakistani terrorists seeking war with their hated enemies in India specifically target Jews? With the possible exception of the Chinese variant of totalitarianism, all the other instantiations of political God-hatred include specific programs designed to humiliate and then exterminate Jews. Go down the list: Hitler of course; the Soviet Union; the Sandinistas; Castro; Chavez in Venezuela, almost all the South American dictatorships left and right; and even "enlightened" Europe going back to the French Revolution only strengthened the traditional European bigotry against Jews stretching back though the Medieval era as it moved steadily into overt atheism.

One of the great lines in Fiddler on the Roof is Tevya plaintively asking God, "why can't you choose someone else once in a while?" It seems clear that it is the Jewish claim, and the Bible's claim, that they are the "Chosen People" of God that puts the target on their backs.

Political murder is the favorite tool in the shed reached for by those who would remake the world in their own image, whether that image has a religious guise or is outright in its denial of God. Either way, those who love death hate God (Proverbs 8:36), and the most explicit expression of that stance is to kill Jews. And Prager warns that these God- and Jew-haters rarely stop there:

For years I have warned that great evils often begin with the murder of Jews, and therefore non-Jews who dismiss Jew-hatred (aka anti-Semitism, aka anti-Zionism), will learn too late that Jew- and Israel-haters only begin with Jews but never end with them. When Israeli Jews were almost the only targets of Muslim terrorists, the world dismissed it as a Jewish or Israeli problem. Then it became an American and European and Filipino and Thai and Indonesian and Hindu problem.

Two final points:
One is that it is exquisitely fitting that the same week the murders in Mumbai were taking place, the United Nations General Assembly passed six more anti-Israel resolutions. As it has for decades, the U.N. has again sanctioned hatred for a good and decent country as small on the map of the world as the Chabad House is on the map of Mumbai.

Two: Statements from Chabad in reaction to the torture-murders of a 28-year-old Chabad rabbi and his wife called on humanity to react to this evil "with random acts of kindness." Evil hates goodness. That's why the terrorists targeted a Chabad Rabbi and his wife.

So--reach out in a non-random way, to an Indian, a Pakistani, or a Jew, if you know one, and offer some word of kindness. And think of it as a thumb in the eye of the Evil One and those who do his bidding.