Wednesday, November 29, 2006

World Ends--everyone else moves on

Finally! We can stop worrying about global warming because the situation is hopeless!

Billions of people could be wiped out over the next century because of climate change, a leading expert said. Professor James Lovelock, who pioneered the idea of the Earth as a living organism, said as the planet heats up humans will find it increasingly hard to survive.

He warned that as conditions worsen, the global population which is currently around 6.5 billion, may sink as low as 500 million. Prof Lovelock also claims that any attempts to tackle climate change will not be able to solve the
problem, merely buy us time.

He warned there are no simple solutions to global heating and there is nothing we can do now to "save the earth."

Well, glad that's settled. On to issues of true importance...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Should bad parenting be a crime?

In yet another example of our bizarre culture in which companies are held responsible for how other people use their products:
Family members of three people slain by a 14-year-old on newsman Sam Donaldson's New Mexico ranch sued the makers of the video game ''Grand Theft Auto: Vice City'' on Monday, claiming the crimes would not have occurred had the teenager never played the violent game.
Here's an idea: the crimes would not have occured had the teenager never been allowed to play the violent game in the first place.

Violent video games don't kill people, kids whose parents let their video game playing get out of control kill people.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


The "blame corporate America" mentality lives on. WORLD Magazine reports:

Hedgehogs 1, McDonald's 0. A group of environmentalists won a concession from the world's largest fast-food company when McDonald's announced it would redesign its McFlurry cup. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society complained for years that hedgehogs would come upon littered McFlurry containers, make an attempt to lick up the leftover ice cream, and get their heads stuck in the cup. In the redesign, McDonald's made the opening in the container too small for hedgehogs to penetrate, though the spiny mammals may have preferred a container with a mouth wide enough to permit easy access to the leftover ice cream without a danger of getting stuck.
Did anyone think to stop harassing McDonald's and start blaming the people who litter?

T-Shirt Slogan: "McDonald's doesn't kill hedgehogs. Discourteous, lawbreaking citizens kill hedgehogs."

[cross-posted at Critical Mass]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Are the terrorists getting smarter?

I keep hearing that our terrorist enemies are getting smarter. This story about Arabic speakers learning Spanish and hiring "coyotes" to smuggle them across the border seems to support such a notion. Then again, how smart can they be if they are wearing patches like these on their jackets?



[Cross-posted at Critical Mass]

Sunday, August 06, 2006

French casualties in Vietnam

A quick aside while I work on a Vietnam essay for class.

France had been in Vietnam for almost two centuries before the U.S. military set foot there. Occupation and control of the region was standard fare for the imperialists, but Vietnam had proved tricky for the French, both politically and militarily. An official war against Ho Chi Min's Vietminh fighters began in 1947 (46?). Here's what the book I'm currently reading on the conflict says:
By late 1952, the French dead, wounded, missing and captured totaled more than ninety thousand since the war had begun six years earlier, and France had spent twice the sume it had received in U.S. aid under the Marshall Plan (203) ... "Officers are being lost... at a faster rate than they are being graduated from officer schools in France" (193).
In a war of liberation (ie. against tyranny and imperialism), the U.S. has lost a little over two thousand troops. Sure, "war is hell." But anyone who thinks the conflicts the West is involved in today compare by any measure to the carnage inflicted in the wars of the last century is simply ignorant.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Attack of the hammer-headed Iranian

Iran is threatening to react militarily if Israel attacks Syria. Hussein Sif al-Din, a Hezbollah rep in Iran,
threatened that his organization planned to increase its attacks in Israel, until "no place in Israel will be safe." [al-Din also threatened that] "this war will be remembered as the beginning of the end of Israel."
The crazy Iranian regime apparently has enough ammo to arm Hezbollah. The terrorist group may one day have something more powerful than rockets. But at the moment, I believe I've discovered the secret weapon Hezbollah has been hiding: al-Din's forehead.

("Die, Zionist pigs!" head-but, head-but)

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Re-carve the map?

The AP reports that Iranian President Ahmadinutjob
called for a cease-fire in Lebanon and criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East on Wednesday, saying Washington wants to "recarve the map" of the region with Israel's help.
Re-carve the map? Last time I checked, Hezbollah is not a sovereign nation. It has no borders and no legitimate authority. Israel’s stated intent is to disarm and/or destroy Hezbollah and then go home—leaving Lebanon a freer nation in the process, I might add. If anyone is a map-carver, it's Iran: Ahmadinutjob is the one pining for Israel to be wiped off the map.
Ahmadinejad's nation is a major backer of Hezbollah and a sworn enemy of Israel, but he denied that Tehran provides military support to the militant group.
And we all believe that one, right?

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A victory of judicial restraint

The Washington State Supreme Court upheld the state’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) today, arguing that the issue of marriage is a topic for the elected legislature to decide. What a breath of fresh air from one of the most liberal states in the union!
"While same-sex marriage may be the law at a future time, it will be because the people declare it to be, not because five members of this court have dictated it," Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the opinion.
Heck yeah, baby. That is the essence of conservative (and constitutional) jurisprudence. As long as the legal issues surrounding tax and inheritance benefits (which is the essence of marriage as far as the state is concerned) remain in that legal realm, rather than become a civil rights issue, then regulation of marriage is safely in the jurisdiction of the individual states. No doubt a few more states will mimic the Massachusetts approach to marriage, but the overall trend in the states is a vigorous defense of the traditional view: Around 20 states have passed (or will vote on) constitutional amendments protecting marriage, and more state are in the process.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fair fight?

I think it's fair to say this describes the situation pretty well. (Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"A maiden is in a ring now"

More details here, due to popular demand.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blame the victim? Heck yes.

This editorial in the LA Times tries to slip another liberal technique by us, one that Ann Coulter (albeit crassly and with overblown rhetoric) has exposed using her most recent media spotlight. The liberals' argument goes that because someone is a victim, we can't a) respond to their actions/criticisms, or b) hold them responsible for their actions due to their "victim status." Coulter's example was the Jersey Girls--the women who used their platform as grieving widows to denounce Bush and actively campaign for Kerry in the 2004 election; these ladies were vigorously defended by the media and leftwing pundits (ah, but I repeat myself) from virtually any criticism because of their victim status. The same happened with Cindy Sheehan, who the media proclaimed had "absolute moral authority": How can you criticize this poor woman? She lost her son in Iraq, for goodness sake! As ridiculous as this sounds, it happens all to often.

The latest occurrence of the lefties defending the unequivocally wrong actions of "victims" is the Katrina FEMA emergency funds abuse scandal. Turns out at least 16% ($9.6 million) of the cash cards handed out by FEMA to recipients of the hurricane were used for bogus purposes--everything from buying trashy videos and expensive liquor to funding vacations in the Bahamas. The Times editorializes:
Some misuse of the FEMA-issued debit cards, however, is hardly shocking. The aim of the $2,000 cards was to give individuals immediate aid to be spent according to his or her judgment, rather than earmarking items that the government guessed would be of greatest assistance. For every "Girls Gone Wild" video purchased, thousands of families used their cards for clothing, food and temporary shelter without having to deal with federal red tape. Bad spending decisions are an unfortunate side effect of a clever and responsive policy.
So because lots of recipients used their money wisely, it excuses the thievery of the others? Keep in mind the low estimate is 9.6 million bucks. But wait, it gets better:
It's easy, and necessary, to criticize FEMA's across-the-board incompetence in responding to the largest displacement of Americans since the Civil War. But obsessing about the spending habits of refugees comes perilously close to blaming the victim.
Let me get this straight: FEMA did the virtuous thing poorly, while scores of Katrina victims did the immoral thing excellently, and we can criticize FEMA but not the thieves?

The notion of "blaming the victim" has potential merit only if one is blaming a victim for the actual event that made him or her the victim--which is why we don't blame New Orleanders for getting hit by a hurricane. What we can--and most definitely should--blame anyone for (Katrina victim or not) is thievery and deception. Suffering through a hurricane does not entitle anyone to take money given in good faith and use it for smut, booze and massages in the tropics.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World on Fire

I was already a fan of Sarah McLachlan's music. Now I am impressed by her generosity and humanitarianism. This is old news (her video released last year), but I learned about it today from last week's Relevant Podcast. Sarah had $150,000 to make her music video for her single "World on Fire," but instead she spent just 15 bucks to make the thing, and spent the rest of it helping people all around the world. Besides the few frames of Sarah playing her guitar and singing, the video details how they spent the money--from providing 6 months' worth of medical supplies for 5000 people in Nairobi to funding an orphanage in South Africa, adopting the elderly in Easter Europe to providing scholarships for people in Ghana. Go here for the entire list of donations. Watch the video on Relevant TV (perhaps only until the end of this week); the permanent video link is here.

I am deeply impressed by Sarah's virtuous actions.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Late Tuesday on a late Thursday

This week the latest CD from Late Tuesday arrived in the mail. The trio probably wondered who could possibly know of their music all the way down in Arkansas, considering that unless you live in the Pacific Northwest you probably haven't heard of Late Tuesday. What a shame--these phenomenal musicians deserve all the exposure they can get. Fortunately, someone higher up has heard LT: they have a song on the latest "Christmas in the Northwest" compilation CD, in the company of Harvey Danger and Dave Matthews. Let's hope it continues.

I don't understand why, but it seems these girls are still unsigned to a record company. It surely isn't for lack of talent, fan base, or good press. Perhaps they want to keep autonomy over their tunes, or rake in a few more cents per disc than a typical record contract allows (they've sold over 10,000 CDs since they formed in 2001). In any case, Late Tuesday has scored again with their latest disc.

"Drowning Out Love" was released this month, and if you were quick enough you got free shipping with your order. (Or, if you happened to have a birthday right around that time [ahem], you didn't pay a dime.) As I've listened to the CD in the last few days, I've reflected on Late Tuesday's musical journey.

The first song I ever heard by LT was "I Must Go," the stirring 6/8 piano melody from their 2001 debut release--I was traveling with a fellow Camp Firwood Summer Staff member who had the CD in her car. I was drawn in by the lush vocals and folksy acoustic sound. I can freely admit that I burned the CD from her because later I went out and bought it--that's how good it was. Indeed, some of us performed "I Must Go" at my high school graduation.

"Drowning Out Love" is the band's fifth release, if one includes their Christmas EP. Each full-scale project has been significantly different musically than the others.

"Drowning Out Love" is much closer musically to "Remember We Forgot" than their self-titled. In fact, the girls have almost left completely behind the folksy songs driven by acoustic guitars, mandolins and violins, apparently finding song-writing joy in the Rhodes electric keyboard tone--epitomized and prominently played in "To Not Be Let Down" from their second album, "Looking For Flowers Again." The first time I listened through "Drowning" I realized about the fifth song in that I hadn't noticed any significant acoustic guitar whatsoever. Even "Looking For Flowers Again," while definitely a style change from the self-titled album, had such guitar-driven songs as "Hallways" and "Home." Their latest release has little in that vein. This departure is not necessarily bad; it simply reflects the evolution LT has undergone musically.

One thing that hasn't changed is LT's unique ability to take a commonplace, ubiquitous chord structure and make it sound original. Typically this means inserting some chromatic movements instrumentally ("My Nice-Friend Face"), or throwing out some 6ths or 9ths vocally ("Simply Beautiful")--an inevitable tummy twirler, if you ask me. (Just listen to the vocals on their Christmas EP... ahhh, bliss). Indeed, my favorite thing about LT's music is their vocals. Sometimes they will leave me grinning for a solid minute as I bask in stacked harmonies and dischordant tension. Case in point: "Song of Songs" from "Drowning Out Love" is an incrediblel mixture of rich minor chords fleshed out with full harmonies sung to Biblical poetry. The incredible vocals in "Simply Beautiful" have at times left me gasping for air and wiping away tears. (In case the LT girls ever read this, one of my favorite vocal meshes ever is the thick major 9 chord [or something like that] in the a capella measures of "118." YEAH!!!)

These girls write wonderfully creative music, but one wonders what will happen once they finally find the love that's been eluding (most of) them. Sure, each CD has a "Song of Songs," or a "118," or a "103 and Other Things," but I doubt the band will have enough of those to fill an entire album once the void of heartache and yearning is filled. And we all know that post-marriage love songs, no matter how much stronger the love, simply aren't as good. Perhaps when that day comes they will prove again how truly creative they can be.

Their CDs are for sale here. Buy all of them. Each disc is unique, but they all have something in common: they are filled with incredible music you won't hear anywhere else.

UPDATE: another Firwood alumni weighs in on "Drowning Out Love."

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Mulling over Mill

On Friday OpinionJournal published a piece on John Stuart Mill in honor of his 200th birthday on May 20, tracing and commenting on the philosopher's ideas of utilitarianism, contained most famously and enduringly in On Liberty. Read the article here.

Utilitarianism as a moral code can appear reasonable, an objective standard; yet in the end it is as solid a foundation as relativism could ever hope for. Mill's moral code calls for protection of individual rights from the "tyranny of the majority." OpinionJournal notes:
This principle has a profound significance: It is saying that the purpose of law is not to uphold the will of the majority, or to impose the will of the sovereign, but to protect the will of the individual. It is the legal expression of the "sovereignty of the individual." The problem lies in the concept of harm. How can I prove that one person's action does not harm another? How can I prove, for example, that other people are not harmed by my public criticism of their religious beliefs--beliefs on which they depend for their peace of mind and emotional stability? How can I prove that consensual sex between two adults leaves the rest of us unaffected, when so much of life's meaning seems to rest on the assumption of shared sexual norms? These questions are as significant for us as they were for Mill; the difference is that radical Islam has now replaced Scottish puritanism as the enemy of liberal values.
Mill's philosophy is at the heart of the political/moral struggle today over sexual ethics and freedoms. Even some conservatives lean libertarian on these issues: Sean Hannity doesn't care what consenting adults do in their bedroom, as long as it stays there. The problem with this view is not just a moral one; it's a practical one. What happens in the bedroom inevitably effects the outside world. Thus, for moral and practical reasons, I support strong heterosexual marriages and healthy families.
The "harm" doctrine of "On Liberty" has been used again and again to subvert those aspects of law which are founded not in policy but in our inherited sense of the sacred and the prohibited. Hence this doctrine has made it impossible for the law to protect the core institutions of society, namely marriage and the family, from the sexual predators.
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Friday, May 12, 2006

The DaVinci Code is Cracking Catholics

And they need to get a grip on themselves. Catholic voices ranging from Vatican officials and Nigerian Cardinals to church scholars have increased their attacks on Dan Brown's best-selling novel just in time for the film. How long will it take people to realize that loud denounciations and calls for boycotts do nothing to subdue a film's public-drawing power? In fact, typically the opposite happens. "The Passion of the Christ" comes to mind immediately: the feverished, whiney screams of anti-semitism about Mel Gibson's phenomenal film no doubt helped propel it to the greatest profits ever for an R-rated film.

Make no mistake: I have read The DaVinci Code, and I believe it to be a fascinating story with a lighting-fast plot; it's no wonder the book kept me reading late into the night. However, as literature the book is lacking. It is low on character development, and the writing simply isn't stellar. In addition, the characters and plot line in The DaVinci Code are pathetically similar to its prequel, Angels and Demons--which I blogged about last year. Yet there is a bigger problem with the book. I won't detail Dan Brown's deceit and dishonesty here--plenty of other have done that. This post concerns the folks who have crossed the line in their opposition to the book and the film. According to this article,
Cardinals, speaking with the authorisation of the Vatican, have called for the Hollywood version of Dan Brown's bestselling novel to be boycotted.
First mistake. A boycott will only increase peoples' desire to see the film, and those (Christians) who do abstain will only be shooting themselves in the foot by being ignorant of an important discussion. One Catholic got it half right when he described the novel as "stridently anti-Christian" and called for believers to "reject the lies and gratuitous defamation" in the book. Agreed: reject the lies, but instead of boycotting anything DaVinci, engage the discussion! The wimperings about attacks on Christianity, without being coupled with an intellectual response, harken back to the days of William Jennings Bryan, who said in the 1925 Scopes Trial, “I have been so well satisfied with the Christian religion, that I have spent no time trying to find arguments against it.”

A common response to Christains' claims about The DaVinci Code is that the book is only fiction. Indeed, the film's star came out with such a defense:
[Tom Hanks said] the story we tell is loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense...If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake.
That's exactly the point: this "loaded with hooey" story (the book, at least) is packaged as factual, which it most definitely is not. Even the mainstream media has researched and exposed as false some of the basic historical assertions in the novel. Yet many religious leaders (especially Catholics) have called for measures against the film that would be completely counterproductive; some have even called for legal action!
[Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze said] Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and forget. Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical...Some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others.
Oh, please. Legal action because a movie innaccurately portrays Christianity? This is perfect fodder for the lefties who claim equivalance between Christians and the Islamic response to the Danish cartoons. Riots are quite different from threatening legal action, obviously, but any unreasonable response by Christians to the DaVinci controversey reflects negatively on them. Fortunately, there are plenty of reasonable responses to this issue. Three off the top of my head: Josh McDowell's book, pastor Mark D. Roberts' blogging on the subject, and Focus on the Family's roundup of valuable articles.

Of course, not every Christian leader opposed to the film/book do so for the standard reasons, or so goes the claim:
Another eminent Catholic, socialite Claus Von Bülow, said: "I am not going to see The Da Vinci Code. This has nothing to do with its historical claims but because I found the book unreadable."
I find that hard to believe.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who poses a threat?

As anyone who has ever watched South Park before, the show is ruthless to Christians. Of course, the hit comedy feels free to lampoon absolutely anything, so I know I'm in good company.

Oops, let me rephrase that: South Park feels free to skewer anyone and anything--except Islam. Since the show often gets its material from the latest headlines, the Mohommad cartoons debacle was ripe for ridicule. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show's primary writers, served up an episode mocking Islam. Comedy Central blacked those parts out. Never mind the fact that this same episode, as WORLD notes, contained a "blasphemous scene involving Jesus, the American flag, and President Bush," none of which the network elected to censor. WORLD's analysis is spot on:
Comedy Central could have axed the entire show and initiated a policy of respecting all religions. But instead, the network made Islam off-limits for satire, while letting Christianity be fair game. This privileging of Islam over Christianity came not because the TV execs are more sympathetic to the Muslim religion. They acted out of sheer fear. They knew they had nothing to fear from offending Christians, but that Muslims really might kill them.
Why is the left so fearful of the Christian right, yet wants to reach out to the so-called "religion of peace"? Sure, non-believers don't want to be told to change their lifestyle. I understand that. But a political system in America dominated by Islam would re-define the idea of "cramming your religion down my throat." The moment I try to force-convert you or attempt to lower your citizenship status because of our religious differences, then you can be worried about the oppressive Christians. But for now, the left is choosing its enemies poorly.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Of Swords and Plowshares

My mind converged on a realization today as I was listening to music. The first thing I noticed was a line in the second verse of Don Henley's "End of the Innocence":
O’ beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They’re beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie
It's a beautiful song, with sad and poetic lyrics, but I recognized something today I never had before. I knew I'd heard plowshares and swords put together before. After about 2 seconds, I knew it what it was--Les Mis:
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.

The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.
My first thought was, "Wow! Don Henley knew Les Mis!" Then I realized how unlikely that was, so I wondered where else this idea came up. I googled it, and lo and behold, the concept is taken from a verse in Joel:
Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
"I am strong!"
The search results turned up other uses of this verse (knowingly or not is not always easy to tell), including an essay about John Brown (the civil war-era abolitionist), a blogger's post about Russia's recent arms deal with Algeria, a politically-motivated inversion of the phrase by a Christian musician, a 1977 Time Magazine article about American farmers, a 1997 news article about Iraq's military build-up, and plenty of book titles.

Ooo, turns out Wikipedia has a useful entry on the phrase: "
"Swords to ploughshares" is a concept in which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications. The plowshare is often used to symbolize creative tools that benefit mankind, as opposed to destructive tools of war, symbolized by the sword, a similar sharp metal tool with an arguably opposite use. The common expression "beat swords into plowshares" has been used by disparate social and political groups. The term's origin is a number of biblical quotes:
Wikipedia lists two other verses beside Joel that the concept is found in--two almost identical passages in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 (hey, isn't it nice to read something from Micah besides "He has shown the..."?)
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
I just skimmed through the first 10 pages of search results. Wow. I wonder how many other things that we don't even recognize give testimony to the profundity and ubiquitousness of the Scriptures in culture? Who would have thought a single thought process could take me from Don Henley and Les Mis to Iraq and the Scriptures!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Day Without Miranda Rights

Scott Ott just keeps 'em coming:
(2006-04-28) — As May 1st draws near and America prepares for the hardship and suffering of “A Day without Illegal Immigrants”, the Justice Department announced today plans to mark the protest movement with its own act of civil disobedience.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he’ll encourage federal, state and local law enforcement on Monday to respond to illegal immigration rallies by observing “A Day without Miranda Rights” followed by “A Month without Habeas Corpus” and “A Year without Bail.”
I just about fell out of my chair when I read that. Hat tip: Cody.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Rise, Purpose and Threat of Modern Progressivism

[The following is an adaptation from a paper I wrote for my Law and American History course. The paper was about the relationship between law and society in general, and the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in specific. Unless otherwise noted, all citations refer to historian Jeffrey Moran's book, described below.]

Some media, instead of defining progressivism, are defined by it. At the time of the Scopes trial, the New Republic, while opposed to the Butler Law [a Tenessee statute that barred public schools from teaching anything which contradicted the fundamentalist view of the Genesis creation story], argued that the state legislature was the place to correct a bad law, not the court system. Better to leave popular sovereignty intact, even if it means allowing a bad law to remain on the books (Moran 38). The magazine in essence argued that society changes law, not the other way around: “Courts can no more make us wise and tolerant and eager for the truth than they can make us kind or generous. No community can become enlightened by having enlightenment judicially thrust upon it” (Courts Should Not Rule over Legislature 138). Today such a view would place one squarely in the conservative camp. The New Republic and other liberal or progressive publications in 2006 would most likely argue the exact opposite point.

Historically, progressivism has backed some remarkable ideas. One could say the movement was principled. Yet today it risks defining its principles not on an objective standard of morality, but on the concept of pursuing whatever the next unattained idea is. When the rights of the British colonies were endangered, progressive-minded people took the lead in implementing an idea never successfully accomplished before in human history. When America was entrenched politically and economically in slavery, progressives were the first to call for a stop to that moral evil. When women lacked the right to vote, progressivism advocated universal suffrage. When big cities had major health and sanitation issues with their poor populations, progressives started and supported places like Hull House and advocated for better treatment of the “least of these.” Progressives were behind the Civil Rights movement in the mid-twentieth century. These were all good ideas, and they were all moral. But modern progressivism, or modernism, or liberalism, seems to have reached a limit. Modern progressivism supports ideas that go beyond what the moral standards of America have historically restrained. Modern progressivism is where one finds support for gay marriage, abortion rights, unlimited and inconsequential sexual freedom, euthanasia, multiculturalism and moral relativism. But the value of an idea is not found in its not being reached yet. Progression for progression’s sake is dangerous, especially if that progression leads in the wrong moral direction. Some may say that we are in a cultural shift similar to the ones in the 1920s or the 1970s. Indeed, the following quote is from the second decade of the last century, although it just as well could have been published today:

Finally, we come to religion. The younger members of society have thrown religion overboard—that is, religion as conceived by their elders. No longer do we believe in a Deity moulded [sic] in the form of a police inspector. But out own faith in an Infinite Being possessed of infinite comprehension is too great to leave us stranded high and dry on the rocks of unbelief. As we sought, and are finding freedom in other channels, so will we find it in religious ones. (Malone 202)

The decline of fundamentalism in America began, at the most basic level, with the type of un-helpful rhetoric that William Jennings Bryan [chief prosecutor in the Scopes trial] personified. In reacting to his non-believing contemporaries who expressed skepticism for Christianity, Bryan seemed to dismiss skepticism altogether, in any form. Indeed, he readily admitted the following the Clarence Darrow [Scopes' chief defense lawyer]: “I have been so well satisfied with the Christian religion, that I have spent no time trying to find arguments against it” (Did the Flood Wipe Out Civilization? 152). Bryan clearly illustrates the difference between the blind-faith believer, irresponsibly untroubled by any hint of paradox or inconsistency within his faith, yet who viciously reacts to any skepticism (honest and defamatory alike), and the believer who struggles honestly with his faith, asks questions and seeks wisdom, yet in the end is bound, despite his uncertainties, to the salvation granted to him by faith and the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Bryan’s lazy brand of fundamentalism no doubt festered due to a lack of significant intellectual opposition and historical entrenchment. When finally challenged, the believers, rather than engage in a legitimate dialogue, took the attacks personally and chose to cry “martyr!”

Interestingly enough, the challenge to complacent and lazy thinking has come full circle. Evolutionists are the majority today, yet conservative Christians are launching an intellectual and scientific attack on what has morphed into more than just a theory, but rather an ideology and a philosophy. The ideas of evolution, which have fomented in America over the last hundred years or so, have contributed to the naturalist worldview that a significant population shares. It came about by the victory of socially liberal thought over fundamentalism, and the latter’s consequential decrease in social authority. The basic, original tenets of fundamentalism—the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for human sins, the miracles or the inevitability of Jesus’ return to earth to usher in a millennium of peace (Moran 12)—remain solid, even if the intellectual and cultural connotations of such a term remain pejorative. The orthodox, Biblical approach to discerning truth, combined with a healthy dose of skepticism and intellectual training (the missing ingredient in the past), can successfully compete with the now dominant cultural forces of evolutionism, naturalism and secularism.

Progressivism should always strive for what is better, not just what is new and different. The cultural changes it pursues should be qualitative. Fortunately for the movement, most of its historical causes up have fit within a correct view of morality and its restraints. Now it has surpassed those constraints and abandoned its moral authority. There is no right or wrong answer about the relationship between law and society, because both affect each other. Indeed, people often argue one over the other in order to fit a certain political or religious ideology: One argument against the re-criminalization of abortion is that women would get abortions anyway. In other words, they are saying that a law banning abortion would not significantly affect society’s views on abortion. Perhaps the only supporting argument for this point is the fact that, despite abortion having been legal for over thirty years, most Americans remain opposed to certain abortive procedures. However, I doubt the abortion supporters are itching to use that fact to boost their case. In contrast to abortion, many people believe that legalizing gay marriage and publicly affirming the homosexual lifestyle will lead to more social acceptance for homosexuals. Obviously, those folks believe that changing the law would influence society. Ironically, it is safe to assert that most Americans who agree with one of the above views agrees with the other as well. This simply illustrates the inextricable nature of law and society; the cause-effect relationship is mutual. A perfect recent example is the “public domain” case of Kelo v. The City of New London, Connecticut. When the Supreme Court ruled, in essence expanding eminent domain latitude to claiming privately-owned land and re-selling it to businesses in an effort to bring in more tax dollars, a flurry of legal activity erupted across the states. Already, many states have enacted legislation aimed at limiting Kelo’s power. It is a fascinating example of the intertwined relationship between law and society. The bottom line is that law will always influence society, and society will always influence law. The exciting next step is to look to the future and attempt to take part in the process.

Moran, Jeffrey P. The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents. Bedford/St. Martin’s. New York: 2002.

Regina Malone. “The Fabulous Monster,” Forum, July 1926. As published in The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents. By Jeffrey P. Moran. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. p 201.

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The "Dumb and Dumber" Generation

Recently, National Geographic polled 510 people between ages 18-24. Here are some results.
  • One-third of respondents couldn't pinpoint Louisiana on a map and 48 percent were unable to locate Mississippi.
  • Fewer than three in 10 think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14 percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.
  • Two-thirds didn't know that the earthquake that killed 70,000 people in October 2005 occurred in Pakistan.
  • Six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.
  • While the outsourcing of jobs to India has been a major U.S. business story, 47 percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia. [are you freaking kidding me?]
  • While Israeli-Palestinian strife has been in the news for the entire lives of the respondents, 75 percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.
Can these morons even spell their own names? Forget "Generation Y." I'm dubbing my peers "Generation Dumb and Dumber."

Now let's work on fixing the problem.

I say we pour more money into the public schools.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

When it rains it Snows

Going only from the information contained in this story, it seems the MSM is trying (yet again) to fabricate a story out of thin air in order to smear a conservative. Tony Snow is reported to have said in 2003 that "racism isn't that big a deal anymore."

There are two things Mr. Snow could have intended with such an assertion. One, that racism is unimportant, that racial issues don't matter. If that was his intent, then I vigorously disagree with Mr. Snow. Simply watch "Crash" and tell me there aren't significant racial issues in America. However, it seems clear to me that this view of racism is not in fact Mr. Snow's. The second possible meaning of his statement is explained by his further comments, also quoted in the article:
Snow argued that "no sensible person supports" racism, arguing that the problem is "quickly becoming an ugly memory."
It seems clear (and the video the DNC put out confirms it) that Snow is saying that racism is no longer important in that nobody actually supports it anymore. This is a legitimate point.

Racism has been society's standard fare for most of American history, both in the North and the South. It was even written in to our Constitution (the three-fifths clause). One impassioned Mississippi preacher spoke out against the impending loss of the Civil War: “If we cannot gain our political, let us establish at least our mental independence [sic].”

A 1954 neighborhood study of race relations within a large city, published in the American Sociological Review, found that the local whites formed a Civic Club with the “main purpose…[of] keep[ing] up the bar against the colored element moving in here. That was the purpose when it was first organized and that is still the purpose today...[W]e are interested in keeping this community white..."

Situations like these are almost impossible to find anymore. Today, people argue heatedly over what is or isn't racism, but nobody argues that racism is good. It seems clear that was Mr. Snow's point. Not that the media cared.

There's no news like made up news.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My influence grows

It seems my actions have had repercussions in our nation's capitol.

Last week a member of the U.S. House of Representatives visited my history class and allowed us free reign to question him on virtually anything--Iraq, oil prices, immigration, etc. Before the class began, some of us were goofing off with the professor. (And by "some of us," I mean me.) I showed the class the spoof VW ad that depicts a suicide bomber's explosion foiled by the "small but tough" VW Polo. I blogged about it last year.

So I get into class today (it meets once a week) and our prof tells us that Mr. Representative thought the video was so hilarious that it made the rounds in Washington all last week!

This goes to show that if you want to have an impact in Washington D.C., just show a mildly-offensive, politically incorrect video clip to your local representative.

[cross-posted at Critical Mass]

Friday, April 14, 2006

It ends in victory...

That was the phrase which reverberated through my mind as I left church tonight, teary-eyed, after having watched "The Passion of the Christ."

It ends in victory.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

The truth about guns: Arm the good guys!

A friend of mine wore a t-shirt the other day which had a picture of a gun on it and the text, “Guns don’t kill people. People with mustaches kill people.” Obviously, that is absurd. Another absurd idea is that that guns, rather than people, are the problem behind violence, yet such reasoning is taken seriously by many on the left. They apparently don’t see the connection between, for example, the high homocide rate in Washington, D.C., and the fact that 30 years ago all private citizens were barred from owning a gun. In 2005 the Metropolitan Police Department recovered 2,316 guns. How many of those came from law abiding citizens, do you think?

A case can be made for legal gun ownership (and no, I’m not making a 2nd Ammendment argument here). Typically, crooks would much rather target a weaker party, someone who won’t put up a fight. D.C. city official Sandra Seegars, who lost one brother to a treacherous partner in crime and another brother to a 20-year prison sentence for murder, says, “I know from my brothers being criminals that they like easy targets.” Seegars, head of the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission, has long been an advocate of gun rights in our nation's capital. Specifically, she supports allowing taxi drivers to carry handguns in their vehicles, and advises them to avoid certain neighborhoods. However, would more guns on the streets actually deter crime?

John Lott of the American Enterprise Institute thinks so. He and Bill Landes of the University of Chicago Law School compared “multiple-victim public shootings in the United States from 1977 to 1999 and [found] that when states passed right-to-carry laws, these attacks fell by 60 percent. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78 percent.” Indeed, the story linked to above details how one man’s defensive shooting of a criminal “saved lives…[e]veryone here agrees”:
When [attacker] Arroyo faced the choice of continuing to shoot others or defending himself [from the private citizen fighting back], he was forced to defend himself. Making Arroyo's attacks more risky caused him to change his behavior.
If I were a thug I would definitely think twice before holding up some guy in an alley if there was a good chance he was armed. Wouldn’t you? Here's a new tagline: "Government doesn't keep our neighborhoods safe. Armed citizens keep our neighborhoods safe by deterring crime." Doesn't have the same ring to it. Shoot.

[cross-posted at Critical Mass Blog]
[cross-posted at Right Way Show]

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Are Muslim countries ready for democracy?

The featured article on today's Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page is a response by Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, to three conservative—and one ex-conservative—pundits who are "harsh critics of the Iraq war." They are William F. Buckley Jr., George Will, and Francis Fukuyama, respectively. While I support the war for various reasons, I found myself defending the war critics. Below are some selections from Mr. Wehner's article, and my thoughts.

Does Mr. Fukuyama believe Iraqis prefer subjugation to freedom? Does he think they, unlike he, relish life in a gulag, or the lash of the whip, or the midnight knock of the secret police? Who among us wants a jackboot forever stomping on his face?***[T]he critics of the Iraq war have chosen an odd time to criticize the appeal and power of democracy. After all, we are witnessing the swiftest advance of freedom in history.

What Wehner really means is that we are witnessing the swiftest advance of democracy in history. And perhaps he is right. But since democracy does not equal freedom, Wehner's claim is beside the point.

Of course, implicit in Wehner's praise of democracy is that we support it only if we approve of the results. After all, just as democracy brought Hitler to power, so could it usher in Islamic (Shariah) Law to Muslim nations. In fact, this is the danger in Afghanistan: Abdul Rahman was charged with converting to Christianity, a capital crime, and only avoided conviction on a technicality (i.e. international pressure). Fortunately, he is now safe in Italy. Here is what the judge said during the trial: "We have the perfect constitution. It is Islamic law and it is illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished." What good is a democracy that chooses to impose on itself a strict totalitarian religious law oppressive to women and other minorities?

The problem with Iraq, Mr. Will said in a Manhattan Institute lecture, is that it "lacks a Washington, a Madison, a [John] Marshall--and it lacks the astonishingly rich social and cultural soil from which such people sprout." There is no "existing democratic culture" that will allow liberty to succeed, he argues. And he scoffs at the assertion by President Bush that it is "cultural condescension" to claim that some peoples, cultures or religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government. The most obvious rebuttal to Mr. Will's first point is that only one nation in history had at its creation a Washington, Madison and Marshall--yet there are 122 democracies in the world right now. So clearly founders of the quality of Washington and Madison are not the necessary condition for freedom to succeed.

True, not every single free nation needs their own Founding Fathers of America's caliber,but I would venture a guess that most modern democracies have a stronger historical foundation in natural law and the idea of human rights than most Muslim countries have today. Democracy is not simply the silver bullet to the world's problems. Democracy is arguably the best method to achieve a society that respects the rule of law and lives according to it; it also serves well as a check against the government gaining dangerous levels of power. Once again, if a people vote in a vile dictatorship, what good was the democratic process?

If cultures are as intractable as Mr. Will asserts, and if an existing democratic culture was as indispensable as he insists, we would not have seen democracy take root in Japan after World War II, Southern Europe in the 1970s, Latin America and East Asia in the '80s, and South Africa in the '90s. It was believed by many that these nations' and regions' traditions and cultures--including by turns Confucianism, Catholicism, dictatorships, authoritarianism, apartheid, military juntas and oligarchies--made them incompatible with self-government.

Perhaps, but it seems glaringly obvious that not a single one of these examples is a Muslim nation. (I'm not sure of this; correct me if I'm wrong. The place where I may be wrong is likely a South African country. However, the influences of the European empires--most notably the British--is a unique contributor to a foundation in natural law.) The standard example in rebuttal to the claim that Islam is incompatible with democracy, natural law and/or human rights is Turkey: democratic, a prime minister, elected legislature, civil law system, universal suffrage at 18, independent judicial branch, high literacy rate for both sexes, and 99.8% Sunni Muslim. Honestly, I don't know why Turkey is the exception, but whatever they've got seems to work. NRO's Jim Geraghty currently blogs from Turkey, and apparently he hasn't been imprisoned or killed for speaking from a western, non-Muslim perspective.

[Culture] matters a great deal. But so do incentives and creeds and the power of ideas, which can profoundly shape culture.

Indeed, the supreme question is whether the ideas of natural law and human rights are powerful enough to gain support among those whose religion promotes Shariah law. And that is where I doubt. President Bush has declared that all people desire freedom, that it is a basic and universal part of humanity. I may agree with that. But if history (and psychology) has shown us anything, it has proved that man is incredibly adept at denying, suppressing, or alternately fulfilling certain "natural" instincts or desires (especially inconvenient ones). Ted Bundy's desire for sexual fulfillment, which was fed and twisted by the evil that is violent pornography, led to rapings and killings of innocent girls. Corrupt leaders often speak in the words of equal rights and natural law, yet their own greed and/or lust for power informs decisions which directly contradict their public presentation. Every religion tries to answer certain questions about man; all faiths besides Christianity are alternate fulfiller which ultimately fail. Back to government: this ability and tendency in man is exactly why checks and balances are necessary in our democratic system, lest a small group of leaders lets their so-called "basic human desire for freedom and equality" morph into a power-grab.

What has plagued the Arab Middle East is not simply, or even primarily, culture; it is antidemocratic ideologies and oppressive institutions. And the way to counteract pernicious ideologies and oppressive institutions is with better ones. Liberty, and the institutions that support liberty, is a pathway to human flourishing.

True, but forcefully giving people a choice when they don't even understand the options is not actually giving them a choice. I refuse to believe that any people group that truly understands the undeniable truths of natural law, human rights, and equality, would ever purposefully choose totalitarianism. Did the Afghanis truly get what their options were? I doubt it. Perhaps they were too afraid to vote right, or a convoluted form of self-interest prohibited them. How many Muslim men, immersed in the Shariah culture, would choose to lessen their power over their wives and children? And how many Muslim women, oppressed and--perhaps happily--subservient to men, would choose to vote for their rights if such a vote was in violation of their husbands' will?

Despite my uncertainty about all this, I still support the Afghan and Iraq wars. The former was a necessary response to 9/11, and the latter I still believe was necessary from a national security standpoint. Indeed, more information continues to be unearthed about Saddam's terror connections and his pursuit of WMDs, including nukes, and at least we're fighting terrorists overseas instead of on American soil. Who knows if the goal of a western-friendly democratic Iraq will pan out. Maybe Iraq will make a correct choice and make itself look more like Turkey than what Afghanistan seems to be headed for.

Democracy and the accompanying rise of political and civic institutions are the only route to a better world [in the Middle East]--and because the work is difficult doesn't mean it can be ignored. The cycle has to be broken.

Agreed. The question is how. It remains to be seen if simply blowing away a murderous regime, rebuilding a country and training a home-grown Iraqi military is enough to convince the Iraqis that natural law and human rights should be their vote. (Apparently that's already failed in Afghanistan.) The point could be made that we shouldn't even give them their chance to choose until we know they'll choose right. But what would that look like--an increase in Voice of America broadcasts into Muslim countries? Dropping millions of pamphlets about natural law on the citizens of oppressed nations? No, that seems ridiculous and unfruitful. Is the best strategy for gaining a natural law-friendly Middle East to encourage democracy in the region (with possible military force), let nations make mistakes, and hope for the best? Even if Iraq ends up not choosing the way we would want, they sure are a heck of a lot closer to that ideal than they ever would have been under Saddam. Is that progress? Only time will tell.

[cross posted at Critical Mass]
[cross-posted at Right of Way Show]

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Swinging from one pole to the other

Five Saudi Arabian women, tired of the ultraconservative patriarchy of their Islamic country, decided to swing as far left as one can go (so far, anyway) for a solution, and got sex changes.
Al Watan newspaper said the five women underwent sex change surgery abroad over the past 12 months after they developed a "psychological complex" due to male domination.

Women in Saudi Arabia, which adopts an austere interpretation of Islam, are not allowed to drive or even go to public places unaccompanied by a male relative.

The newspaper quoted a senior cleric as saying the authorities have to fill what he described as a legal vacuum by issuing laws against sex change operations.

An interior ministry official told al Watan such cases are examined by religious authorities, and sometimes by psychologists, but those who undergo sex change are never arrested.
Just when you thought there wasn't anything else the Muslims could get mad at western culture about...

I tell ya what: women always screw things up. Uh, even if those women are men.

As the world turns: the life and death of bloggers

Let us have a moment of silence for a blogger no longer with us: Frank Castle over at Obviously Pseudonymous has retired from the blogosphere. His site, while completely devoid of any personal information that could give away his age or location, consistently had solid analysis and thoughts on the political and cultural issues of the day. He will be missed.

Yet, just as a new pheonix rises from the flames of destruction, so does my blogroll both lose and gain a member. Frank is gone, but Cody is here. A good friend of mine, Cody is a "conservatarian," a fellow Bible-believer, a solid thinker, and he's the head honcho at Believing in Thinking. Perhaps his blog is not as solid as Frank's was, but Cody is new to the blogosphere, so we'll cut him some slack. Anyways, welcome!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Howard Dean opens his yapper again

Howard Dean, in typical fashion, is off his rocker again.
[A]t a speech in an Oakland union hall, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate sought to tie Bush to a much tougher House bill that would tighten borders and make it a crime to be in the United States illegally or to offer aid to illegal immigrants. Bush does not back the House bill.
Translation: the bill would make it a crime to committ a crime! Oh, horror! But wait, there's more:
"This is a nonsensical proposal put out by far right-wingers in the Republican Party who have been endorsed for re-election by the president of the United States," Dean said. "The president has a moral obligation to rein in the right-wing extremists in his party and stop this divisive rhetoric about immigrants."
Did Howard Dean just use an argument from morality in the public square? Oh no! Actually, Dean probably didn't even know he used moral language, considering his favorite New Testament book is Job.
Dean accused Bush and fellow Republicans of demagoguery in the immigration debate, saying it fit with a long-standing pattern. He cited the president's opposition to the University of Michigan's affirmative-action program and Bush's decision to "pick on" homosexuals--an apparent reference to the gay marriage issue in the 2004 election.
If defending traditional marriage is picking on homosexuals, then it wasn't just Bush. It was also the voters in 13 states who ammended their constitutions to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

[cross-posted at Right of Way Show]

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Federal Court to the ACLU: "Shove it"

Not quite a direct quote, but close enough.

Today I was alerted to yet another ACLU suit against a public display of the Ten Commandments. Nothing to see here, right? Almost. The case was decided in late December, and the court sided with the defendant, Mercer County, KY. The judge who wrote the opinion had some great words for the ACLU:
The ACLU's argument contains three fundamental flaws. First, the ACLU makes repeated reference to "the separation of church and state." This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.
Second, the ACLU focuses on the religiousness of the Ten Commandments. No reasonable person would dispute their sectarian nature, but they also have a secular nature that the ACLU does not address. That they are religious merely begs the question whether this display is religious; it does not answer it.
We will not presume endorsement from the mere display of the Ten Commandments. If the reasonable observer perceived all government references to the Deity as endorsements, then many of our Nation's cherished traditions would be unconstitutional, including the Declaration of Independence and the national motto. Fortunately, the reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff.
Translation: ACLU, lighten up and go home.

Ha! I love it.

[cross-posted at Right of Way Show]

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Faith, Reason, and Western Civ

[I sent the following email to a few of my favorite professors:]

I ran across a couple fascinating articles which I believe you, the faculty with whom I have the most contact with and/or most enjoyed over my college career, may be interested in. No doubt other colleagues would enjoy it as well. Perhaps some of you are already aware of what I am about to describe. Noted sociologist Rodney Stark (credentials here) has written a book entitled, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005). It is noteworthy that Stark is not a Christian (or so he claims), and in researching his book he actually intended to prove the opposite--that Christianity was not the driving force behind the West's growth and dominance.

For those who don't want to buy the book (or, like me, are simply too cheap), The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an article by Stark, located here, that summarizes his points. The Boston Globe interviews Stark here.

In contrast, Alan Wolfe, writing in The New Republic's January 16 edition (subscription required; however, I have a digital copy of the text if desired), mercilessly tears Stark apart. Since my knowledge of history and theology from both the Christian and pagan realms is meager, I cannot know if or when Wolfe is right or wrong. However, my initial reaction to Wolfe's rebuttal to Stark was that, although occasionally mean (and definitely sarcastic), Wolfe seemed to know his stuff better than Stark. On the other hand, some of his statements directly contradict what I know to be true not through science or history, but through my faith and theology. I'm curious what the experts (uh, that would be you guys) have to say.