Monday, May 16, 2005

Monday Notes

I'm back from a quick vacation over the weekend, visiting my sister and her husband in Massachusetts. While I was there, I read most of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, which was on their coffee table. He has an interesting thesis, explaining sudden societal changes in terms of epidemics. I need to get my own copy so I can finish reading it!

I took them out to dinner Friday night at Blue Ginger in Wellesley, which is owned by Chef Ming Tsai. While pricey, with entrees at $21-35, it was worth every penny! The food was delicately flavored and presented beautifully by the attentive staff. If you're in the area, I recommend it for an exceptional treat. They take reservations, but also set aside tables for walk-ins.

Last Tuesday, Robert Plant's [warning: that site is a bandwidth beast!] new album "Mighty Rearranger" came out in the US. I had put it on my "must-buy" list when I first heard the single "Shine It All Around" a couple of months ago, so I hied myself to Best Buy on Wednesday and bought the last copy in the rack. I've been listening to it—some would say OD'ing—ever since, especially on the drive to and from MA. One thing I haven't seen any mention of is his use of Christian imagery in several songs. Of course, I might be reading too much into lyrics like this from "Shine It All Around":
This is the heart of the man
This is the heart of the matter [man?]
Break a little bread now, spread it all around
Perhaps it just goes to an old-fashioned liberal British education where students read the classics? At any rate, I get a charge every time I hear the song. The rest of the album is musically diverse and I discover something new in every listening, whether it's harmony, lyrics, or rhythms. A reasonably friendly fan site is at Robert Plant Homepage.

Over at the NRO Corner, a couple of items caught my attention:
  • IRANIAN REVELATIONS [Michael Ledeen] posts a remarkable email that purports to translate parts of a letter to "Rafsanjani ... written by a Karaj based cleric. He says in the letter that he is ill and near death, so presumably that is what has given him the extra ordinary courage needed to write this letter." Ledeen comments, "I think it is enormously important, because it shows the depth of the hatred of the regime from a leading Shi'ite mullah, in a degree of detail I think most of us would find amazing. And it also provides very useful information about the official presidential candidate, Rafsanjani, who is often described as a "moderate.""
  • THEOCRATS AND ALL THAT [Andrew Stuttaford] highlights an article by Mark Lilla in the NYT, as well as a book review in the Financial Times, that is "a nice little example of the way in which liberalism has swapped reason for dreams, fantasy and paranoia."
OpinionJournal, meanwhile, posted a prescient WSJ editorial "Liberal Fundamentalism: Who are the intolerant extremists?" that was originally published on Sept. 13, 1984. It opens,

We have been following the extensive theological commentary in the press on the subject of politics and religion in the current presidential campaign. It might not otherwise have occurred to us that so many editorialists and columnists harbored so many deep, pent-up opinions on religious worship, voluntary school prayer or Christian fundamentalism.

What we have been looking for but have so far missed in this great awakening of religious writing is a short sermon on the subject of liberal fundamentalism. And so in the spirit of Samuel Johnson, who once wrote homilies for his church pastor so as not to fall asleep during Sunday services, we would like to offer a few thoughts on what has been far and away the most messianic religion in America the past two decades--liberal politics.

Plus ça change, plus ça même.

John Hinderocker (of Powerline) has a column up at The Weekly Standard that looks into the oddities of the UN's proposed $1.2 Billion renovation project. The verdict?

It appears there are serious questions about the U.N.'s renovation project. Depending on which assumptions one accepts about cost and square footage, anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion in expense is unaccounted for. Given the U.N.'s history, is there any reason to doubt that the costs projected by that organization include substantial sums representing, as Trump put it, incompetence or fraud? Given what we know about the oil-for-food program, is there any reason to trust the U.N.'s business or accounting practices?

American taxpayers have a legitimate interest in knowing the answers to these questions. The renovation is to be financed by a low-interest, 30-year, $1.2 billion loan from the U.S. government. (Kofi Annan's original request for an interest-free loan was turned down.) And, of course, the loan will then be repaid largely by American taxpayers, who foot a little over 20 percent of the U.N.'s bills.

A few congressmen and senators have finally begun to ask whether the U.N. building project is a boondoggle. It's about time.

Also check out the Powerline post: "Anything goes if you're planning to attack believing Christians." They summarize a Robert Novak piece, noting that "NARAL Pro-Choice America hired two operatives to obtain and probe the financial disclosure records of 30 appellate court judges considered potential nominees for the Supreme Court," a move that Novak terms "a fishing expedition to find irregularities in potential selections for the Supreme Court." Not a promising development, to say the least.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Theocracy Debate

My pastor and I have been having some wide-ranging philosophical conversations after study group the past few weeks. One evening, he commented that he was becoming increasingly concerned about the Theocracy movement and the threat it represents. That piqued my blogging instincts, to see who was saying what out in the blogosphere and MSM.

It's rather curious when you think about it: the media attention about the "theocracy threat" vilifies certain religious viewpoints in a manner that would be un-PC if the religion were anything other than Christianity or Judaism. John McCandlish Phillips summarized the recent "rhetorical heavy artillery" in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post on May 4 (also available here). Hugh Hewitt opined:
The main thrust of [Phillips'] column is to throw a spotlight on the absurd hysteria among MSM as to evangelicals, and on what ought to be --but is not-- the embarrassing lack of knowledge about American history that undergirds that hysteria. It is a wonderful piece. Not that it will change a single mind among the MSMbots, but worth your time nonetheless.
There's lots of hot air being expended on the topic, with some writers engaged in on-going debates with each other, such as James Taranto (4th item) and Max Blumenthal; Nooilforpacifists has the box score. Frequently, the cogent arguments on side A are totally opaque to those on side B and vice versa. Part of the problem is that there are actually several related debates going on at the same time.

One debate is about whether the President and the Republican Party have been taken over by the ultra-conservative religious Right. Some of this paranoia goes back to the angst over the Terry Schiavo travesty, and the attempted intervention by Congress and the President, while others such as Andrew Sullivan are still smarting from last fall's elections and the results of various referenda.

Typical of this strain is the reporting on the conference entitled "Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right". All of the conservative commentary I saw was based off the same Washington Times article, which had a followup here.
NEW YORK -- Secular humanists and leftist activists convened here over the weekend to strategize how to counter what they contend is a growing political threat from Christian conservatives.

Understanding and answering the "religious far right" that propelled President Bush's re-election is key to preventing a "theocracy" from governing the nation, speakers argued at a weekend conference.

"The religious right now has an unprecedented influence on American politics and policy," said Ralph White, co-founder of the Open Center, a New York City institution focused on holistic learning. "It is incumbent upon all of us to understand as precisely as possible its aims, methods, beliefs, theology and psychology."
Dr. Sanity writes, "Here we are in a war on Islamic fundamentalism, and the Left seems to think that the U.S. is at risk for a Christian theocracy" (hat tip to MOM). She continues,
However comforting it is to believe that Christianity is the religion that poses a threat to freedom and democracy, the Real World will eventually intrude on such fantasies. While these clever people "bravely" confront the straw man they have set up, the real danger will slip in unnoticed and without hindrance.

When do you suppose the "secular humanists" and Leftists will organize a conference to discuss the threat that Islam poses to their political freedoms? Don't hold your breath.

I would suggest that if "smiting theocracy" is the goal, then they need to grow up and deal with the anxiety, helplessness, anger, and rage they are feeling; then focus on the real danger we face as a country.
Captains Quarters and Powerline commentaries both derided the motives of the panelists and organizers. I shared the CQ post with my pastor, and he then shared an email he had received which provided a different perspective. It was forwarded to him as the anonymous reflections of a pastoral counselling colleague of a staff member at another Methodist church:
...I think that whether you are a conservative republican, an evangelical, a moderate, a liveral or a democrate of any kind the material discussed in this conference should scare you to death. Many conservative republicans have been very concerned that our present government is not "conservative" and does not represent conservative values of smaller government, no deficits and moving many areas of government to the states. The conference characterized what is replacing these conservative values and has come into control of the Republican Party.

To summarize the carefully documented conclusions of the excellent speakers at the conference: There are two streams of far right that have converged through an "elective affinity" in President George W. Bush, who was describe (sic) by one presenter as an extrememly intelligent leader of deep passion and ambition, an oral intuitive style and dyslexia which causes him to appear foolish and unlearned. One of these streams is Dominion Theology or Christian Reconstructionism. Leaders like Tim LeHay (sic), Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, the late Rausea Rashddony and James Dobson. The Dominionists began in the 1970's to move to take over the government. They ultimately organized by going into individual districts of the Republican Party and slowly moving the conservative political leaders out and replacing them with Dominionist leaders thereby taking over the party from the bottom up. Their goal is to "reclaim" the United States as a Christian country under the rule of God and the values of God's law. Last year, 41 Republican senators and one Democratic senator voted 100% of the time for their policies, according to the Christian Coalition. The second stream is the Neoconservatives represented by Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and others. They see this as the American Century and consider that it is the century of American rule. In the early 1990's they developed a plan to invade Iraq as the jump off point to securing the oil prodictuion of the Middle East in order to establish this American rule. However, they were pushed aside by Bush I and generally ignored by Clinton. They belived that only a Pearl Harbor-like event would bring the populous (sic) behind their plan. That came with 9/11. At first the President was stunned by this event but within days found his footing. He turned to his fundamentalist world view and this ideological group of leaders and we have seen the road he has followed.
I'm definitely behind the times. Here I'd been thinking that the Trilateral Commission was the power behind the throne! Fortunately, MaxedOutMomma has better research skills (and wit) than I:
So I went in search of this theocracy, because frankly I'm feeling a bit peeved at being left out. Not only was I left out, but I have asked among my acquaintances and friends who are dedicated church goers, and we've all been left out. I asked Mormons, Brethren, Assembly of God'rs, Catholics (and considering the amount of money I've dropped in the plate over there, they owed me an honest answer), Baptists, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, even a Methodist - the list goes on and on. I could find no one who had been invited to be a part of this theocracy. No one. I have located a couple of extremely progressive northeastern Episcopalians who believed in the theocracy and blamed it for the declining membership of the ECUSA. But I could find not one person who had been invited to participate. Now that's security.

Not a single one of us got the memo:
Go read the whole funny piece.

Another debate is whether the Religious Right has the right to participate in the political process like any other organized interest group, since their views are just so "wrong". This is where James Tarato weighed in with his Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, "Why I'm Rooting for the Religious Right":
One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn't the same as the oft-heard complaint of "anti-Christian bigotry," which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land.

For the most part, the religious right has responded in good civic-minded fashion: by organizing, becoming politically active, and supporting like-minded candidates. This has required exquisite discipline and patience, since changing court-imposed policies entails first changing the courts, a process that can take decades. Even then, "conservative" judges are not about to impose conservative policies; the best the religious right can hope for is the opportunity to make its case through ordinary democratic means.
Which brings me to the third thread: the debate about Bush's judicial nominees, the Democrat's filibustering, and the "nuclear option". Are the Republicans, as a party, really this devious or stupid? Here's a commentary I came across on those nasty Republicans who propose the "nuclear option" for changing the filibuster rules:
What they want is to establish a theocracy with their brand of Christianity running everything. Then you will have to become their brand of religion, or leave the country for fear of violent reprisals, just like how the Taliban ran things in Afghanistan. If you listen to the rhetoric of the religious folks the Republicans are following, you will hear all sorts of things about this. (from Maags Blog)
Great shades of The Handmaid's Tale! And that came out in 1985.

As you wander around the internet, you'll discover that claims about the religious far right are being applied to conservatives and Republicans as a generality, rather than as specifically describing a small, but vocal, minority. Fortunately, conservatives aren't afraid of the political tension this might create. William F. Buckley observes,
"Whether Bush owes his election to any explicit connection with evangelical Christianity is sheer speculation, as noted. But a derivative point, made by Wilfred McClay and of quite general interest, is: What has happened to the political idealism associated with the liberals? He refers to Martin Peretz of The New Republic, whose views he summarizes. “Liberals, he argues, find themselves today where conservatives were a half-century ago, without ideas, without a vision of the good society, bookless, forced to feed on stale ideas from the 60s, and therefore, dying.”

Let them die. Meanwhile, conservatives will keep our eyes on President Bush, and stop him before he campaigns for compulsory baptism." (emph. added)

Since I have more material than time to post, let me give you some other links to follow:

Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday reads

Victor David Hansen writes in National Review Online, "Democratic Suicide":

Philosophically, two grand themes explain the Democratic dilemma. One, the United States does not suffer from the sort of oppression, poverty, or Vietnam nightmares of the 1950s and 1960s that created the present Democratic ideology. Thus calcified solutions of big government entitlements, race-based largess, and knee-jerk suspicion of U.S. power abroad come off as either impractical or hysterical.

Second, there is the widening gulf between word and deed — and Americans hate hypocrites most of all. When you meet a guy from the Chamber of Commerce or insurance association, you pretty much know that what you see is what you get: comfort with American culture and values, an upscale lifestyle that reflects his ideology and work, and no apologies for success or excuses for lack of same.

But if you listen to Dr. Dean and his class venom, it hardly seems comparable with how he lives or how he was brought up. John Kerry's super power boat, Teresa Kerry's numerous mansions, Arianna Huffington's gated estate, George Soros's jet, Ted Turner's ranches, Sean Penn's digs — all this and more, whether fairly or unfairly, suggest hypocrisy and insincerity: Something like, "High taxes, government regulation, racial quotas, and more entitlements won't hurt me since I have so much money at my own disposal anyway, but will at least make me feel good that we are transferring capital to the less fortunate."

With the opening of the movie "The Crusades", American Thinker ran a chilling two-part history lesson this week: Jihad begot the Crusades (1) and Jihad begot the Crusades (2). A sample:
The Iberian peninsula was conquered in 710-716 C.E. by Arab tribes originating from northern, central and southern Arabia. Massive Berber and Arab immigration, and the colonization of the Iberian peninsula, followed the conquest. Most churches were converted into mosques. Although the conquest had been planned and conducted jointly with a faction of Iberian Christian dissidents, including a bishop, it proceeded as a classical jihad with massive pillages, enslavements, deportations and killings. [...]

Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year (or multiple times within a year as “seasonal” razzias [ghazwa]) raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Many thousands of non-Muslim captives were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousand of Christian slaves, brought from all parts of Christian Europe (the Saqaliba), and a harem filled with captured Christian women.

A much faster read is the commentary by military historian John B. Dwyer.

Over at TechCentralStation, Ryan Sager pens "The Left Catches On":

Three years after the passage of McCain-Feingold (a.k.a. the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, a.k.a. the End of Free Speech As We Know It), a smattering of Democrats and liberal activists are slowly coming to the conclusion that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to let the government decide who can and cannot engage in political speech.

After all, what would prevent incumbents in Congress from passing laws to secure their jobs by making it harder for their opponents to criticize them? And what would prevent a political party -- holding, say, power in both houses of Congress and the White House -- from using election laws to try to smother the opposition?

Right: Nothing.

Daniel Henninger writes about the policy effects of the CDC's statistical gaffe on the obesity non-epidemic:
Public officials will always ride in the slipstream of an evident crisis. But there is a cautionary tale here. The informational world we inhabit has become a volatile mixture of news, rumor and often incomplete science. This or that threat, need or cause comes at us constantly. But there may be a limit to how often politicians can lower a bucket into the well of public credibility, asking people to alter their behavior and pay handsomely for the privilege--as here, or climate change or fuel alternatives. There might not be much left when the authorities most clearly must ask people, for example, to prepare for an avian flu pandemic before it arrives from Asia.

When the 400,000-dead obesity study unraveled, the CDC's director called it a "lesson in humility." In a world that is evermore complex, busy and costly, it would be a good thing if the people in Washington with the power to impose solutions to the problems of life on all of us made their new watchword "humility." Fat chance.

Tech Central Station has related articles here, here, and here.

Down Under, Arthur Chrenkoff's roundup of Good News from Afghanistan is in its 12th edition, and I expect he'll post another Good News From Iraq on Monday. He also has a pictorial on "The disadvantages of pissing off America, or Why life as a top Al Qaeda operative is not good for your health and well-being, not to mention your skin."

And finally, Mudville Gazette posts a handy guide to the "knobology" of blogging, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Blogging (But were Afraid to Ask)"

Monday, May 02, 2005

New Jersey's Next Governor?

I met Bret Schundler yesterday evening at a campaign appearance in Merchantville, about 3 miles from my house, which meant I had no reason at all to not show up! The event was organized by the Merchantville and Haddonfield Republican Clubs, and while many of the 65-70 people attending got emails, I heard about it from an automated phone message from the candidate himself.

Like other Republicans, I've been subject to mailings from one or more of the 7 Republican candidates weekly for the past three months. So I was curious to meet Bret in person, and hear firsthand how his plan to lower property taxes differs from the other candidates' plans.

Bret spoke and answered questions for about 30 minutes. I was impressed by his plan for reform, which combines property tax relief with constitutional amendments to constrain spending at the local, county, and state levels. He's working to get the amendments on the November ballot--regardless of whether he gets the nomination. As he states on his site:

Most campaigns offer vague proposals and empty, breakable promises.


We're focusing this campaign on passing specific property tax, spending, and anti-corruption reforms now – before Election Day!

After all, the corrupt politicians who are blocking reform in the New Jersey State Legislature each have to run for re-election next year.

That gives us, the people of New Jersey, an opportunity to put real pressure on these legislators by informing them, in no uncertain terms, that if they do not pass our “Reform NOW Agenda” before Election Day we will vote against them!"

He compared his plan with that of Doug Forrester, emphasizing that with his program, the spending constraints come first, and the lower taxes follow naturally, while claiming that Doug's program didn't deal with spending limits (not entirely true, according to the info on this page, although it's vague on any implementation details). Bret's recommendations are quite specific, based on research at the University of Pennsylvania to find the "magic" multiplier that allows a "rate of spending growth [that] is fast enough to enable government not only to cover the rising costs of existing programs, but also to create some brand new programs, or otherwise improve services, each year," even while property taxes fall (full text here).

As I mentioned, it was a fairly small gathering, so Bret spent time before and after his speech meeting everyone and engaging in conversation. I happened to be talking with a newly-elected Cherry Hill school board member and her husband when Bret came over. The two men started talking about Bob somebody-or-other who was going to be the subject of a documentary. Bret's social skills are such that he stopped, looked at me, and asked, "Do you know who we're talking about?" (He already knew I was fairly new to the state, from our conversation before the speech.) I admitted that I was clueless, so he took the time to fill me in on the remarkable story of basketball Coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony's in Jersey City. A gracious gesture by a gracious man to make sure I was included in the group.

I suggest you check out his campaign site and blog for yourself. I've become a believer!