New Year

It's coming up on A.D. 2009 (or 2009 C.E.) - just a few more hours. The temptation to wax eloquent on the fleeting years, the wonders of the past and the glories of the future mounts yet again. But what has me wondering is why this date and day got to be the start of the year. Why January? I suppose I could look it up and find that it has something to do with the Julian calendar's original imposition, but that's still rather odd.

The Jewish calendar marks its new year on the first day of Tishrei, which generally falls sometime in September (they use a lunisolar calendar while the Julian/Gregorian calendar we use is a solar calendar). This is said to correspond with the creation of Adam and Eve. Tishrei, by the way, is the seventh month - the first month of the year is Aviv, or as it is more commonly known, Nisan. This corresponds to March-April. Tishrei is the civil new year and Nisan is the religious new year. Each is in the 7th month of the other year. I'm sure there's a rabbinical comment somewhere on the miracle of the Sabbath regarding that, but I don't feel like looking for it.

The Chinese calendar, also a lunisolar calendar, puts the first day of the year sometime between mid-January and mid-February, based on the new moon and certain astrological signs that I'm a bit fuzzy on.

But the thing is, all these calendars are cyclical. The Jews have biblical warrant for both, since God tells them that Aviv/Nisan is to be the beginning of their months and somewhere in Ezekiel there's a reference to Rosh Hoshanna. For the rest, why not begin with the midpoint between winter and spring solsti? Why not on one of the 4 solsti? Julius didn't even begin the year in the month named for him. Personally, I like the month of Nisan. Starting the year in the spring seems good to me. Of course, nobody asked me...


More Newspaper Woes

According to this piece (hat tip: Byron York at NRO's The Corner), the NY Times is being hit with a $27 million lawsuit for defamation. Frankly, I hope Ms. Iseman wins - not because I'm suddenly becoming a fan of lawsuits, but the story the NY Times ran was blatant in its attempt to parlay unfounded rumours, obscure innuendoes, and wholesale fiction into a hit-piece on Senator McCain by implying that he was unfaithful to his second wife and had an affair with Ms. Iseman. It was roundly criticized all around at the time, but it was obviously an editorial hit-piece masquerading as news unbecoming of the most fevered swamps of the Huntington Post, much less the supposed arbiter of American Journalism that is the NY Times. Ms. Iseman was and is a private citizen, not seeking any office. She has good reason to be upset that her name was dragged through the mud in this seedy attempt to defame Senator McCain.

I also see that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch may well go under, the Detroit Free Press is reducing its home delivery service to just a few days a week, and that a few other major newspapers are on the verge of dissolution. One can only hope the old "Big Three" networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) are right behind them.

Beware the gatekeepers who control the flow of information.

Go After Him, Not an Entire Nation...

So said one Ziad Koraz, according to this FoxNews report, as his home was damaged by Israeli missiles destroying a nearby (empty) Hamas government compound.

Sorry, Mr. Koraz, it doesn't wash. Hamas was voted in by a majority of the Palestinian people. One of their selling points during that election was the pledge to destroy Israel, to not waver from that goal and go soft as they claimed the Fatah faction was doing. This same electorate danced in the streets when 3,000 Americans were murdered in 2001 and celebrates the "martyrdom" of idiots who blow themselves up in Israeli pizza parlors or buses. Separating Hamas from the "nation" that gave power to the terrorist organization is neither desirable nor possible. The people chose. The people pay.

For all that, the news reports are claiming that no more than 20% of the fatalities are "civilian". Consider that some civilians are still legitimate military targets as they contribute to the Hamas war effort (for instance, the U.S. Secretary of Defense is technically a civilian and I wouldn't be surprised if over half the people working in the Pentagon are civilian). If my experience in Iraq is any indication, there is also the fact that the press labels anyone not wearing a uniform as "civilian" even if they've got guns and are shooting at us. So I'd say that it's closer to 10-15% collateral, civilian casualties, though keep in mind the point made in the first paragraphs. Israeli casualties from Hamas attacks have been almost 100% civilian, and deliberately so.

I'm pleased to hear that Israel has so far rejected calls for a cease fire or truce. Good for them. Hamas has hidden behind the UN long enough. Kill them. Hamas won't change, but those who aspire to Hamas mgiht think twice after this.


More on Israel & Palestine

I see most of the pictures are of wailing Palestinians about their dead. Where were the pictures of weeping Israelis at the funerals of their children murdered by suicide bombers, or killed when their schools were hit by rockets and mortars? I see pictures of Palestinian buildings turned to rubble, but where were the pictures of the Israeli buildings hit by Palestinian attackers? Outside of Israeli news coverage, there weren't any.

I have no sympathy for these wailing Palestinians who danced in the streets when the World Trade towers came down. I think of it the same way I thought of it when my youngest child would complain that his older brother thrashed him. "Son," I said. "If you pick a fight with somebody bigger, stronger and smarter than you, that's gonna happen."

The UN helpfully calls for a cease fire, now that Israel has decided to do something. Where were the calls for a cease fire when Hamas was lobbing rockets at Israel - some 300 in the past week according to the Fox News report? Hamas uses hospitals, mosques, schools, and even civilian homes as bases from which to launch attacks, then makes sure to use the resultant destruction of these (now) military targets to claim a moral high ground and Western European governments blandly accept it. Nonsense.

The party responsible for the civilian deaths is Hamas, hiding behind the burqas of their women and callously using their children as human shields. We saw the same thing in Iraq. People would put a kid in a car thinking we wouldn't shoot, and then explode the car alongside a convoy - except we did shoot. And yes, sometimes a child was killed, but it is the adults who tried to use them as a shield so they could get close enough to blow up Marines who killed them.

Invade Gaza. Destroy Hamas. Pacify the populace by whatever means are necessary. Relocate them to Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Libya, let their governments deal with these permanent malcontents. Or, if they really want to die, accommodate them.


Surprising Caroline

According to this news report, would-be senator from New York Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg is "surprised and dismayed" by the fact that she hasn't voted in any of the senate elections in New York since she registerred to vote in the state back in 1988.

Since the news might cost her the seat, I can see where she might be dismayed, but "surprised"??? Does this mean she thought she had voted in the senate races? Did she think that when she filled out the little survey from the DNC asking for money that they would handle voting for her? How does one get surprised by the fact one hasn't voted?

On the other hand, I think a senator from New York who can't be bothered to vote might be a good thing...

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

According to the latest news reports, Palestinians from Gaza have been launching rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel ever since the U.S. election. That's over six weeks ago. Gaza is nominally controlled by Hamas. In the latest of these strikes, the terrorists mis-fired and killed two Palestinian civilians - girls aged 5 and 12. These mortar and rocket barrages are fairly random. That is, the terrorists just lob a few artillery rounds into civilian areas of Israel and whoever dies, dies. Doesn't matter. When you want to kill all the Jews, the military/civilian distinction is rather academic, isn't it? I haven't seen the casualty figures from those attacks, but I'm sure there have been some killed and many wounded.

Israel finally responded with airstrikes on valid military targets. They attacaked, according to the press report I saw "Hamas Security compounds" and killed what are euphemistically labeled as "militants" and "security personnel." I'm sure they will find a civilian or two conveniently burried in the rubble with which to pummel Israel yet again. Hamas has promised "revenge." I think the proper phrase is "renewed assaults".

There will be no peace with the Palestinians until they are completely and utterly defeated. The Israelis have tried land for peace and no matter how much is given, they want more. Money has been tried. They just use it to buy more weapons. Neither can the terrorist elements be separated from the general populace, since the general populace supports the goal of Israel's destruction and killing all the Jews. The Palestinians have chosen war and will accept nothing less than the destruction of Israel.

Spare me the trope of how it was "their" land before the Israelis took it. No. It was not. There was no political or ethnic entity of "Palestine" prior to 1948. Until that time, the whole was part of Jordan - the Transjordan as it was called then. Jews obtained land and property legally in spite of official British policies that actively discouraged Jewish settlement in the region. The entire area was governed by Britain as part of a League of Nations Mandate left over from the collapse of the Ottoman empire after they picked the wrong side in World War I. This responsibility and authority was transferred to the United Nations after the League fell apart. The UN decided to partition the region into Jordan (including the West Bank, Gaza and a few ancilliary plots) and Israel in 1948.

The Arabs, with active British support, tried to crush Israel in 1948 - and lost. In 1956, they tried again - and lost. In 1967, they were about to try again and got their butts handed to them so fast they have never regained contact with reality. In 1973, Egypt launched another assault which, after initial success, almost saw Israeli armor inside Cairo. The peace brokered afterwards has held since 1976. The Palestinians, with the active support of the other Muslim powers, have resorted to terrorist attacks on Israelis since 1967, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich games, hijackings (including the one resolved by the spectacular raid on Entebbe in 1976), murders, suicide bombers in pizza parlors and public transit, random artillery and rocket attacks, and so on. Jews have been kicked out of every Muslim country in the Middle East, and they have resettled. It has been a deliberate policy of the Arab and Muslim governments to keep the Palestinians in refugee settlements and impoverished communities in order to maintain the festering sore and garner recruits for their unholy war.

Enough. For sixty years, Israel has fought for its existence. The most prosperous, free Arabs in the world live under Israeli law. As a nation, Israel has as much right to exist as Jordan or Syria or Lebanon or any of the other countries created after the League of Nations/UN Mandates were terminated in the 1940s. There are only three possible options for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 1)Palestinians decide to live in peace with the nation of Israel; 2)Palestinians achieve their goal of killing all the Jews in the area and destroying Israel; 3)Israel destroys the Palestinians by conquest and forced pacification. Option 2 is unacceptable. Option 1 would be optimal, but the Palestinians refuse. That leaves option 3.

UPDATE: Hamas' statement is to seek revenge "until the last drop of blood". Sounds like a good New Year's resolution for the IDF in 2009 - find the last drop of Hamas blood.


A Christmas Meditation on John 1

John’s Gospel goes straight back to the beginning. It begins with a word. God said, “let there be light.” Consider the power of that word. There is nothing. God utters a word. There is something. Christianity – along with Judaism and Islam – is often called a “religion of the book.” This is actually a Muslim formulation. We are not a religion of the book. We are a religion of the Word. God spoke, and there was; there is. Everything that is and has been and will be is the result of a word uttered by God. Or rather, the Word. The power of God to shape reality subsists in the Word of God. The beginning of all things is the Word. That word was life and life was the light. John is very much in mind of the very beginning when God said “let there be light.” That is the word – light. No light, no life, no nothing apart from the word. The darkness is not fond of the light, but light by definition – see again the power of the word – overcomes darkness.

We tend to think of things as “just words.” Blah blah blah. Words words words. Empty words. Just rhetoric. Blather. Talk to the hand. Talk is cheap. Talk talk talk. We have lots of phrases, idioms, and yes, words for meaningless words. Let me see ACTION! Actions speak louder than words, so do something. But it all begins with a word that is itself active. Indeed, all action begins with a word. What got Obama the presidency? Words. A speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 kicked it all off. Words. What motivated men to fight and die for American independence? Slogans and the Declaration of 1776. Words. What constitutes a marriage? Two people who say “I do” in response to questions and then make vows to God and each other. More words. What ended World War II? It was not the atomic bomb. It was an unprecedented radio broadcast by Emperor Hirohito. Words again.

Romans 13 says the government is given the power of the sword. The Church, however, has been entrusted with the power of the Word and it is the latter that is the more potent. The old saw about sticks and stones is wrong. Words can hurt. Words can kill. But while words can kill, the Word of God brought life. The Word of God is what created my life – and yours. All things came into being through the Word. Without him nothing was made that has been made. And now the strangest thing of all. The Word, which is with God and in fact is God, became flesh. The Word became a physical thing, or rather, a physical being. The word that is life became a life: Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ. The word that was light in the dark nothingness before Creation now became man – a man of light in the darkness of our sin.

The world made by that word uttered by God so long ago did not recognize the Word made flesh that lived among us. We knew the darkness, and preferred it. We prefer it still. Why, do you think, the world does not object to Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or Kwanzaa, but does object to Christmas? Only the latter word has real power. Why do you think the world has no problem with the Qur’an but objects to the Bible? It certainly is not because the former is tolerant and the latter not. No, it is because the former is a book of empty words, but this book is filled with the Word who is grace and truth. The Church is opposed, but all other religions are welcomed. Why should that be? It is because the Church is connected to the Word that is true and powerful and the source of all light and life. That word is frightening to the world.

Understand the fear the world has at the power of this Word. The darkness they know and are comfortable with is stripped away and, like our first parents, they see their nakedness and want to hide. I sure did when I was first overpowered by the Word of light. Be compassionate, for sure, but shine the light anyway. Realize the power of the Word – which is not the power to do what we want, necessarily, or to eliminate our discomfort. We are in the pains of birth; a new birth for by the Word made flesh all things are remade and filled with the grace and truth of Jesus, the Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father. Speak the Word in season and out of season. Use the Word for teaching, encouraging, rebuking, strengthening. Never shrink from the power of the Word entrusted to us in Jesus our Lord.


Purveyors of Panic


According to this silly report from FoxNews, ten people every week are admitted to hospital because of injuries sustained while playing with Nintendo's Wii.

One wonders how much Sony and MicroSoft (manufacturers of PlayStation and X-Box) are paying these doctors for such a report. Maybe nothing, but the number of reports about the terrible strain of Wii is not coincidental. It is a popular, revolutionary gaming system at a fairly low price. It's smacking down its competition while making tons of money for Nintendo. Some pretty powerful people aren't going to like that.

So, game systems are turning too many kids into couch-potatoes. This is a horrible health risk requiring wide spread panic followed by government regulation. Childhood Obesity! Childhood Obesity!! Nintendo invents a game system that will actually get the little rug rats some exercise and now it's Wii-itis! Wii-itis!! I'm sure this also will require wide spread panic and government regulation.

"Excuse me, ma'am. Do you have a license for that Wii?"

Will the purveyors of panic please run, do not walk, to the nearest window for rapid defenestration.

On a completely unrelated note, I love that word - "defenestration." I think I'll say it again. Defenestration.


On College

There's a post up by Mark Steyn over at National Review's Corner referencing an article by Zac Bissonnette on Daily Beast site. Mr. Bissonnette's article is worth a read, and I'll take it as an opportunity to put forward my own views on college.

The first thing every aspiring college student must get through his or her head is that education is not the purpose of college. It's a by-product, and may or may not attend the achievement of a degree, although in some colleges and universities it is impossible to get an education and a degree at the same time.

Colleges require a certain amount of work by which one may display competence (or incompetence) in a given task. Can you wade through tedious tomes that would not sell 3 copies unless they were required reading by some professor, do sums, remember formulas, apply algebra or calculus, cite sources in a bibliography, write obtusely about obscure topics, parrot back a professor's opinions to him/herself, etc? Do these things over four years or so and you will receive a very elaborately calligraphed piece of paper that certifies you as "educated." In exposing the student to these books and practices along with the discussions and lectures that occur in a classroom, it is hoped that the student will in fact be educated, but there's no real way to force that.

Now, it is possible to be exposed to those ideas, to engage in discussions, practice sums and obtuse writing, etc. without ever going to college. All you need is a reasonably decent public library, access to the Internet, or preferably both. A couple of reading guides to point you in the right direction or help you sort out the wheat from chaff (especially on the Internet) and you're well on your way to an education. But there is only one place where you can get the certificate with the elaborate calligraphy and important signatures that officially says you're educated. That's a college or university.

College is hard work. A lot of employers like to see a college degree not so much because they believe you're educated - the number of "training" programs they require you to go through before actually giving you work indicates that they do not. They do know, however, that you can work with numbers and words and ideas. They also know you can work. This is a good thing to know about an employee since work is what one expects him (or her) to do. Note that, for this purpose, the college you attend and the degree you obtain are irrelevant.

There are, however, other ways to prove to an employer that you can work. Working is one method. Military service is another. There are more. There are a few technical professions that require a demonstration that you can work with specific kinds of ideas and perform certain specific kinds of tasks - engineering comes to mind - but even here, there are ways to prove you can do this without college, though they are more time-consuming and difficult.

The other, unofficial, purpose of college is to find a spouse. Let's face it, one tends to meet a higher class of people at a college than one does at a bar. Internet dating services may or may not be OK, but there's a tinge of desperation about them that leaves one feeling a little queasy. Otherwise you're dependent on the judgment of your friends or Great-Aunt Martha's bridge partner who has a lovely niece... Thanks, but no thanks. Still, there are other options for this, too. High school sweethearts can be sustainable if you're inclined to move early. The military isn't a giant stag party anymore. The occasional co-worker might do. Community groups and social clubs also offer opportunities to mix and mingle.

So before you pick a college and head off to spend $150,000-$500,000 getting an elaborately calligraphed certificate, ask yourself if you really need the certificate and/or what sort of young single people attend. At a big university, you'll have to ask what kind of young single people are typically in the program you're thinking of. Do you want a name-brand school (like Harvard or CalTech), a religious school (like Oral Roberts or Regents) or a Wal-Mart school (like University of Phoenix or your local community college)? Match money, potential mate and/or certificate, then off you go. Or not.


An Excuse to talk about the Belhar...

In October of 2008, Allan Boesak, of the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa and one time leader of the opposition to Apartheid, asserted that the Belhar Confession "demands the defense of the full rights of gay members," according to an article in the latest issue of the CRC newsletter/magazine The Banner. The Christian Reformed Church is considering adopting this Confession and adding it to the current three - the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort.

The Synod of the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa rejected Boesak's recommendations largely on procedural grounds. Nevertheless, while merely being tempted to homosexual acts is not grounds for exclusion, there is no right to moral approbation of one's behavior. We are not required by the Belhar Confession to say a sin is not a sin, whether that sin be adultery, murder, theft, deceit, blasphemy, or homosexual acts. The assertion that it does is a calumny on the authors of that document, in my opinion. Even so, I do not think the CRC should adopt it.

Personally, my objection to the Belhar Confession is that the Christian Reformed Church has no intention of living up to it. We are only considering it because we want to feel noble about our dealings with Black South Africans. The Belhar Confession specifically states that its authors reject any teaching:

which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;
and any teaching:

which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
Yet the Christian Reformed Church maintains Classis Red Mesa and Classis Pacific Hanmi - the former for Navajo (and nominally for Zuni as well), the latter for Korean immigrants. There is precedent for this, by the way, in the old German Reformed Classis of the 19th century and on into the early years of the 20th. All of these were, by definition, separate church formations established for the sake of diversity and based on an absolutizing of cultural and natural diversity (i.e., race), though not in despair of reconciliation.

The Christian Reformed Church further absolutizes the distinction of race by means of specific racial advisors to synod and uses racial distinctions in both hiring and admissions to its college and seminary. This, too, is something explicitly rejected in the Belhar Confession. That it favors Black, Hispanic and Indian ("Native American") races over the white races is immaterial. The Belhar does not say that racism, separation, and "diversity" are only bad when used to oppress those with darker pigmentation. They are simply bad of themselves. I agree.

It would be a fine thing for the CRC to no longer single out people by race, ethnicity, or pigmentation for any particular reason (including hiring, college admissions, and so on). I think it would be a good thing if Red Mesa and Pacific Hanmi officially adopted a policy of pursuing eventual merger with other area Classes as they become more confident of themselves and their place within the CRC, just as the German classis is no more. But we have begun to view our church the way we view our state - as a series of interest groups or factions that sometimes compete, sometimes cooperate, but all of whom must be represented. These two will be more permanent, I think. Given that, it seems the CRC as a whole does not agree with, and will not implement, the principles of the Belhar Confession and therefore we should not adopt it.


Church Business

Just got a call from a salesman. Small group ministry stuff.

"We've got books and materials by these famous people. Pastor, are you familiar with X?"

Nope. Never heard of him.

"Well he's written this NY Times best seller and spoken at these famous churches and venues and he's really popular. He says this and this. By the way are you familiar with Y?"


"Anyway, we have this kit that presents four different topics that are really of interest to people right now and...blah blah blah blah" About this time, I started playing Minesweeper. (By the way, have you seen the Minesweeper movie on Youtube by College humor? You should.)

Finally he paused for breath and I was able to say that I'm not interested. So he asked if that was just my personal opinion or my small group leaders. Impertinent question, isn't it? He's basically asking permission to go over my head.

So I asked him whether it mattered, and in any event it was a bit of both. "Why don't you think they'll work for you?" I think we need to get back to the Bible relatively unfiltered. I have very little use for fads. I distrust the popular and that it was on some secular paper's best seller list is rather a red flag instead of a selling point. This constant pursuit of the latest and greatest is nothing but chasing after every wind of doctrine. Instead we need to hold fast to the ancient truth - the greatest is not the latest, but the 2,000-year-old truth of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

"Well, if at some point we're able to minister with you in the future, you'll see that this material is really not like that."

That's an interesting phrase: "minister with you in the future." You're not ministering with me now. You're trying to sell me somebody's over-priced book because it's the hottest thing at the moment. You won't be ministering with me in the future, either. You'll still be trying to make a profit on the gullibility of American evangelicals who, like all their countrymen, want the New, Now, Next best seller that everybody's reading. Is it good? Don't know. Don't care. Everybody's doing it, so I need to, too. Somebody out there is just trying to find the "Christian" Harry Potter ticket.

I'll pass.

Education Policy

For those of you resigned to on-going Federal interference in education, this open letter provides some decent policy goals. Personally, the one I like best is the notion that a reliable measurement might be put in place via nationwide testing. The test needs to be sufficiently difficult that it differentiates (if everyone everywhere gets a perfect score, it tells me nothing) and it needs to be open. This isn't for a grade or anything like that, but to let the world know how the school is doing.

As for what school districts, states, or parents do with that information, that should be up to them. Reliable, consistent data, however, would go a long way.

I still want the Feds out of the education business all together - and I want sports divorced from the schools. Let folks who want a football team get together and generate a football team. Why four high schools in a small city should each spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on equipment, fields, coaching staff, travel expenses, and everything else is beyond me. I cannot comprehend why a single, rather small, private school in that same city needs three gyms, either. No volleyball, no basketball, no nothing. Join a soccer or basketball club if you want that. One gym for PE classes, that's it.

Oh well. Not gonna happen.


Heroes and Heroes

According to the Washington Post, this guy who threw shoes at the President of the United States is a hero "in the Arab world." Despite the fact that "Arab world" is a racist construct that assumes all people of a certain ethno-religious background think alike (one would think the p-c police at the Post would have caught that)*; despite the fact that most of the Iraqis present for the incident were deeply embarrassed by his behavior; despite the fact that his point of view is not shared by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have gratefully risked their lives to take advantage of the opportunities for self-government President Bush and the American military have given them; despite the fact that this thrower's perspective is belied by the very incident itself; the Washington Post is eager to proclaim him a hero to the masses. I'm sure he's a hero to the good people at the Post, too.

You can go over to Michael Yon's site, however, and read about different kinds of heroes here, or here, or here. Or you can read the citations accompanying the Congressional Medal of Honor earned by soldiers, sailors and Marines engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan (by the way, all of these heroes died in the course of the action for which they were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor). From what I saw of men in battle and the way awards are given, you can pretty much figure that for every Congressional Medal of Honor awarded, there are probably 3 or 4 individuals who did something very similar but never got the attention, don't think they did anything special, and genuinely point out people they think are more brave at any opportunity.

So you can pick your hero - a petulant, insolent man who, because of the sacrifice of others risked nearly nothing for an impudent display of childish emotion, or men who were willing to give their lives for others. Personally, I'll go with the latter group.

*One might also note that most Iraqis and all Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis are not Arabs. Neither are the Egyptians for whom this child was reporting. Iraqis speak an Arabic dialect. Iranians speak Farsi. Afghans and Pakistanis speak Pashto, Dari, Farsi, and a bunch of other languages you can find out about here. Some of the educated speak Arabic, but it is not common. Like I said, "Arab world" is a western - and racist - construct.


Social Workers Of the World Unite...

Here's a wonderful story about a whiny conservative. He decided to pursue a degree in social work from a school that requires for a final project something that advances "progressive social change". So, you know from the word "go" that it's a liberal school. You also know that the entire profession is nothing but a liberal indoctrination network. That's what it is. It's like suing Code Pink for discriminating against pro-war white guys. Come to think of it, I'll bet there are a lot of Code Pinkers that are social workers.

Yeah, it's not fair. Who ever said life was fair? He'd get more respect from me if he were working to de-certify the entire "social(ist) worker" profession. But no, he pays these people for the privilege of going to their liberal labor camp and then complains that it is what it has always been and claimed to be. Go cry on somebody else's shoulder, fella.


Fire in Alaska

Seems somebody set fire to the church Governor Palin attends. Hhmmm. Why should that be? People wonder if it's political. Right. That's a question. Of course it's political.

Oh yes, there is a full-press effort by homosexual rights groups to squash the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons). The ads put out against Mormons in California are breathtaking in their bigotry, animosity, and ignorance. There have been death threats, attempts at terrorizing via (so far) fake anthrax. A few Mormon establishments have been vandalized in California and elsewhere.

These, by the way, are real unlike the supposed church-burnings President Clinton "remembered" in Arkansas (the only ones documented turned out to be set by folks wanting to collect insurance money, not racial at all). Add to these the rage and hatred aimed at President Bush with a blind ignorance that becomes rabid and incoherent whenever it's challenged.

I know the political left is not the only source of such violent, intolerant, irrational behavior. I do know, however, that from Lenin to Mao to Castro to Bill Ayers to Code Pink the political left sanctimoniously claims to be tolerant while practicing this kind of violent, intolerant behavior. It is the political left that claims free speech rights for pornographers while denying it to conservatives and Christians. Don't believe me? See what happens at a campus "free speech" rally when somebody tries to take the mike and argue for conservative politics or traditional morals. Look over campus speech codes and see how thoroughly they are weighted in favor of shutting down dissent by conservatives, or even discussion.

Frankly, I'd be happy if the left would just deep-six the sanctimonious holier-than-thou nonsense. Then we might actually get free discussions and mutual tolerance. I won't hold my breath.

More on Children

Rush Limbaugh cited this story from the AP the other day on his show. This is the opening 'graph:

It's a tough economy out there, even for a kid. And many parents are wondering how to broach the subject. Should they shield their children from the hard times and spend like there's no tomorrow? Or is it better to share the reality that more families — often their own — simply can't have it all, even at Christmas? It can be a real dilemma.

In the first place, nobody can have it all - at Christmas or any other time. None of the families cited for this story are starving or homeless or unclothed or debilitated by illness. Not a single one of them can honestly be said to be suffering, but oh are they gifted whiners. You can go to Limbaugh's site for his take on it (though you have to be a 24/7 member to access archived shows), but one of his callers hit the nail on the head. When Limbaugh asked her why she thought that children had this sense of entitlement, she said "It's the parents."

When my children were little and would throw fits in the store because their mother (my wife) wouldn't get them what they wanted, the invariable response was to get them nothing. If the fit continued, we simply left the store and there were times when my wife abandoned her grocery shopping entirely. They learned very early that the surest way to make sure they did not get what they wanted was to throw a fit or whine about it.

I would take their toys when they started saying "mine." "No, it's not yours. You didn't pay for it. You didn't work for it. You have no claim whatsoever on that. Nothing in this house is yours. It's mine. And it is entirely up to me whether to let you use it, give it to your brother, or just put it on a shelf somewhere."

It is not my job, as a father, to be liked by my child. It is my job to be right.

It is not my job to make my child happy, much as I enjoy having happy children. It is my job to prepare them for the responsibilities of adulthood.

It is not my job to shield them from life. It is my job to help them face it.

I did not tolerate the kind of self-centered, dishonest complaining that makes up the bulk of the AP "story". My children will tell you that more than once, as they sat there with tears welling up in their eyes over some trivial disappointment, I would ask them, "Are there any bones broken? Are you bleeding? Did somebody die? No? Then can it. Save your tears for something that matters."

As we come up on the new year, can the whining please stop?


Thoughts on Raising Kids

We run into quite a few troubled teens these days. Although they tended to be a couple years older, I saw them in the Navy, too. There are two pretty common themes that run through these situations.

First, there is the fact that raising children is a difficult responsibility. Too many parents find it too hard and basically quit. They foist it off on schools, youth pastors, social workers, drill instructors - anyone but themselves. It's not a problem when the kids are little. Then they're cute. Once they're not animated dolls, but demanding, difficult, independent human beings, some parents quit. This is not something that plagues only single-parent or poor households. A parent tries X, it doesn't work, so he throws up his hands in despair and goes golfing with his buddies or hits the mall with her girlfriends. Even those that don't absolutely absolve themselves of responsibility for their children tend to take the path of least resistance rather than thinking through how their behavior influences their children and sets the path they'll trod later.

This brings us to the second common theme in these troubled kids, and that is the sense of entitlement. Often the path of least resistance is to give the child stuff. This fosters in teenagers the notion that one is entitled to a car, a cell phone, a computer, a Wii, an X-Box, a Playstation, cool shoes, cool clothes, an appropriately reversed ball-cap, "bling" (I believe that's the slang for jewelry these days), sex, cash, and everything else. To be expected to get decent grades in school, hold down a job, make a commitment to another human being, help with chores around the house, and so on - oh no. That's not fair.

I've seen enough of human evil to know that it is possible for a child to be evil even when his or her parents recognize their duty and fulfill it as best they can. There are no sure bets when raising children. Nevertheless, we need to get back to the notion that primary responsibility for raising children rests with the parents. That means letting things fall through when Mom and/or Dad don't do their duty. Yes, little Johnnie or Suzie will suffer. They're suffering now, and the whole society will suffer later if we do not. By the way, that also means letting Mom and/or Dad call the shots (school vouchers, anyone?).

The other thing to get away from is the notion of entitlements. Johnnie is not entitled to a cell phone, and neither is Johnnie's parent. Neither are they entitled to health care, schooling, a house, a car, or anything else. While food, clothing, shelter are basic necessities, a can of soup, cheap jeans, a t-shirt, and a room shared with the rest of the family or space in a common room satisfy those basics. Everything else, and I mean everything else is luxury. Nobody's entitled to luxuries.

I know. That's not going to fix every troubled teen. This probably won't fix any of those who are currently in trouble. But if practiced from the very beginning of a child's life, fewer of them will become troubled teens later.

The Indian Navy

Give a shout-out for the Indian Navy. Let them have the job policing the Gulf of Aden - they actually seem inclined to do something.

India is shaping up into a major regional player and a close ally in Asia - all of Asia. Their navy is playing a major role in the Indian Ocean as well as the southwest Pacific. They are developing a competent ship-building industry and should soon have their own home-grown aircraft carrier. Granted, it will be along the British V-STOL model rather than the massive angled-deck Nimitz Class carriers produced in the US, but it will carry sufficient helicoptor and fixed-wing aircraft to pose a threat.

Their army is also competent and many units have combat experience from clashes with militants and Pakistani forces along the Kashmir. The Air Force is decent, though many of the aircraft are a bit dated by US and NATO standards. India also has nuclear missiles and bombs as well as the capacity to make more. They are a significant power in the region, quite capable of making life difficult for the Chinese, Pakistanis, Somali pirates, Indonesian pirates (yes, there are pirates over on the other side of the Indian Ocean, too).

People who worry about China must also remember that China worries about India. President Bush has been very diligent in cultivating the relationship with India, based on shared interests in the region. Let us hope that before he talks to the president of Iran, Obama talks to the Prime Minister of India.


Auto Bailout & More

I'm pleased to see the GOP in the Senate has finally found a spine and managed to kill this rotten idea for the time being. Let's see if they manage to keep the backbone now.

I saw a suggestion by Jonah Goldberg that, with oil below $50/barrel, now might be the time to raise gas taxes. Um, no. Not unless they reduce corporate taxes, even out the tax rates (right now 25% of income earners pay 86% of the federal income tax and 40% of income earners pay no income tax at all), or otherwise compensate by lowering taxes elsewhere. One ought not increase the allowance we give the government every time they demonstrate an inability to manage the allowance they already get.

Yes, I know I'm spitting into the wind on this one, but I'll do it anyway. There's this little thing called the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. It reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
There's a lot in the Constitution, but there's nothing in the Constitution to give the federal government any say in housing, urban development, health, education, "human services" (whatever that is), pensions, wetlands, drylands, just-kind-of-damplands, arts, humanities, inhumanities, kitsch, legal drinking age, or a host of other things the Feds muck around with. In other words, these "powers" are not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited by the Constitution to the several States. As such, they are reserved for the States or for individuals.

In other words, according to the plain meaning of the Constitutional text - not that lawyers actually read anything plainly - the Federal Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Health and Human Services are flatly unconstitutional. So also are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, a good chunk of environmental regulation, the national drinking age requirement, social security, medicare/medicaid, WIC, S-CHIP, and other sometimes popular programs.

That these programs exist at all is because FDR and others have deliberately fostered the idolatry of the State, in particular, the Federal Government. We cannot, of course, simply wipe out at a stroke 80 years of history or just stop these programs on a dime - too many people have been given promises, and believed promises, that ought never have been made. But it is high time to start weaning people of this excessive dependence on Washington, D.C., to begin again to reassert the principles of federalism that began to erode with seccession, and expect individuals to accept individual responsibility for their decisions.

I highly doubt that will begin any time soon. Maybe with the collapse of the Obama presidency in 2012.... Then again, maybe not.


Blagojevich & Obama

Obama is being disingenuous when he states that he did not talk to the governor or the governor's office. Given what was released by the District Attorney, it is clear that somebody on the governor's staff was talking to somebody on the President-elect's staff.

That's OK. It doesn't mean Obama or his staff did anything wrong and it's entirely possible they have been and are cooperating fully with the investigation. At this point in the investigation and with the limited release of information, it seems highly unlikely that Obama's team did anything other than listen to the price Blagojevich was setting. Being offered a bribe is a far cry from taking it.

So why is he being so disingenuous? Why not just spit it out? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, so I don't know all of it. I suspect that it's because Obama is by nature an extremely cautious man. He'll always maintain plausible deniability. Thuggery and intimidation are fine, as are corrupt deals, bombs in the Pentagon, racial hatred, and everything else - as long as nothing gets pinned on Obama. So, a scandal blows up and right away his instinct is to say, "I don't know who that man is and I had nothing to do with it."

Except he does know that man.

Chuck E. Cheese Fight Club

This rather speaks for itself... (hat tip: The Corner).

...further comment would be redundant.


Which Came First - the Money or the Brain?

Here's a lovely little piece from the Wall Street Journal.

The author concludes that "It means that children who grow up in highly privileged households don’t just have money advantages–they also develop brain advantages. The differences may become apparent in problem solving and school performance."

Umm, no, it doesn't mean that. It may mean that. But then again, it may mean quite the opposite or nothing at all. The author is assuming that, because there is a correlation, there is a causal factor. In logic we call this a non sequitur. It does not follow.

He is also assuming that the causal factor (if it exists) goes from money to brain development. It is possible that it goes the other way, however. If, for instance, the brain development difference is genetic then we would expect to see this same correlation.

Of course, the prescription is the same. We need more programs for poor children to go to museums, read books, and play stimulating games. These will be run by government bureaucrats who are, as you know, thoroughly acquainted with museums, books and stimulating games.

Maybe what we really need is a program for smart men to mate with stupid women and vice versa in order to even out the gene pool. How about a $5,000 annual tax credit for the duration of your marriage on the provisal that you marry somebody with an IQ at least 40 points below your own? Yeah. That should fix it...

Car Czar???

I see from news reports that Nancy Pelosi is proposing a "Car Czar". Why a democratic republic, not to mention a Representative from the Democrat Party, would want any kind of a czar is beyond me. Czars are, by definition, tyrants.

Even more to the point, Czars are - at least since the collapse of the Roman Empire - uniformly failures. The Russian Tsar (or Czar) was a failure as far back as Napoleon and that failure is one of the reasons we got Soviet Communism. Napoleon himself was supposedly a kind of Caesar, but he lasted less than 20 years. In our own country, the "Drug Czar" hasn't done much to get illegal drugs off the street; the "Education Czar" has presided over the utter collapse of American public education; and now we are apparently to have a "Car Czar" to make sure the Yugo looks like the car of the future.

I also see from news reports that the proposal wending its way through congress includes a 20% ownership stake in the companies. Yup. That's right. The U.S. Government will own 20% of GM, Ford and Chrysler - at least, to start. Why not just nationalize them immediately?

Give her credit, though. Pelosi couldn't manage a 7-11 and make a respectable profit, yet she apparently knows the secret to solving all the intricate problems of not just a car dealership or manufacturer, but the entire automobile industry. Such unmerited self-confidence is a sight to behold.


More on Newspapers

Here's a piece in The New Republic (hat tip: the Corner at National Review).

You can read the thing for yourself, but the bottom line is that people who fail in business - and journalism is a business just like any other - should be protected from their failure. Republicans are supposedly the party of the greedy rich, but this is not so. The GOP is the party of those who want to get rich. The Democrats are the party of those who already are.

Newspapers and their writers are producing a lousy product at a high cost and are therefore losing jobs and revenue. Whether it is because of unions, foolish promises made decades ago, silly federal regulations that ignore realities of markets, technology and science, or some combination of these or other causes, this is the same basic phenomenon in the automobile industry. GM, Ford & Chrysler are producing mediocre products at non-competitive prices, so people are buying Toyotas, Hondas, Hyundais, and Volkswagons.

Bail-out money isn't going to change that because it protects their mediocrity and non-competitive products. Bankruptcy and reorganization, however, will allow the fact of painful economic consequences inspire them (or others) to find ways to produce higher quality products at lower cost. Indeed, protecting these failing companies from that pain will eventually discourage anyone from producing higher quality products at a lower cost, because doing so will only result in the government taking away the money their success generates in order to give it to unsuccessful, mediocre, non-competitive companies. Why should an entrepreneur bust his backside in order to sustain his inefficient, mediocre competition? I can't think of a single reason. With that, there goes job growth, economic growth, savings and consumer demand, work ethic, innovation, and all the other things that go into successful economies.

No, we do not need to provide federal bail-outs for failed newspapers or their writers. Neither should we provide bail-out money to foolish investors, inefficient car manufacturers, or bloated unions. Pain is a wonderful teacher. Deny the pain, deny the lesson. Let it teach.

Newspapers Going Down

Check this little piece out on FoxNews.

The Chicago Tribune is looking at bankruptcy. The NY Times is heavily in debt and rated as junk - financially. Newspapers are hemorrhaging massively with subscriptions in the toilet, ad revenue even lower, and an ego that can't figure out what's going on.

I haven't subscribed to a newspaper or news magazine since 1995. Initially, it was personal - I'd joined the Navy and moved to Sicily. Newspapers were out of the question and news magazines tended to get to me 3-4 weeks late. The writing was predictable, lame, and out of touch. They were, in a word, boring.

When I got back to the States in '99, our family was so busy we didn't have time to read the paper. The few times the publisher gave us sample copies it sat in the plastic for three or four days before being put in the trash unread. I thought it might be nice to get just the Sunday paper - the one day I might actually have time to read it. Couldn't. The publisher wanted me to get a "weekend" subscription which meant Thursday-Sunday for 25 cents less than the full week's subscription. In other words, three days of trash for one day I might be able to read the darn thing at no appreciable savings over the regular rate. No thanks. Once in a great while, I'd buy a Sunday paper to look at the ad fliers and the comics. The rest went straight to recycling.

Then, of course, there is the Internet. I can check out 15 different news services with varying political slants, zeroing in on stories that actually interest me effortlessly. I can identify writers that are quality, save that data, and find their comments on any given topic at any time. And I can do this in a couple minutes on my schedule at no additional cost (beyond that of the Internet service provider). If I'm interested in particular products (books, electronics, games) or stores (Barnes & Noble, Kohl's, Amazon), I can subscribe to e-mail fliers for free.

For an entirely superfluous product, they take themselves so irritatingly seriously that, even though they invite parody, it is difficult to top the tripe they print themselves, although The Onion and Scrappleface do a fairly good job of it. Come to think of it, these may be the only papers worth subscribing to - and you can get them on line.

Without even addressing the stunning level of dishonesty, political-correctness, group-think, and hypocrisy that marked their coverage of the recent elections, newspapers have close to zero value added to justify the cost of a subscription. I am not alone in thinking so, and as people tighten belts the subscription to the local paper is going to be among the first things to go.


The Church Should Conform to Me!!

Check out this story over on the FoxNews site.

Look, I think it's a dumb rule, too. But it's their rule. The guy didn't have a problem with it as long as it only affected other people. He signed on to the covenant required of all Salvation Army officers with nary a murmur. Now that it affects him, though, he wants to change it. Sorry. I'm not inclined to sympathy. In all fairness to him, FoxNews is making a bigger deal of it than he is - he says "I feel God is leading me out of the church." But then, why is he sticking around to fight it? Why not just resign and go where he feels God is leading him? Yeah, it's a man-made rule. There are lots of them, all through every denomination. So?

The same kind of thing is rampant in American religion generally. When you sign up for the Catholic priesthood, you know you're going to be vowing celibacy. To then come up with all sorts of reasons why it shouldn't apply to you is dishonest. Nobody forced you to be Catholic or a priest. I remember the screaming from various universities when John Paul II issued his Ex Corde Ecclessiae encyclical. All he really said in that thing was, if you're going to claim to be a Catholic university or a Catholic theologian, you have to actually teach Catholic theology. Catholic theology is not set by the individual but by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Pope Benedict XVI's old hang-out). Even so, that doesn't sound to me like a restriction on free speech so much as an insistence on truth in advertising. If you don't like it, don't be Catholic. Problem solved.

The issue is also alive in the Christian Reformed Church. As long as this denomination has existed, it has based its doctrine and thought on the "Three Forms of Unity" - the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. And for at least the last 50 years, people have been trying to change that. Catechism instruction is boring (no, catechism instructors are boring). It's hard. People don't want to hear it or don't understand it or (insert lame excuse here). The whole project of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony is an attempt to water down those creeds with lame left-wing political and social activism as far removed from doctrine as possible. There's also a movement in the works to water down or eliminate the Formula of Subscription which leaders in the CRC are (ostensibly) required to sign. That document is a promise to teach and defend the doctrine in the Three Forms of Unity and, if one disagrees, to either keep it to one's self or submit it to the judgment of the church councils rather than foment public dissension. Can't have that, can we? Nope. We should be allowed, even encouraged, to create needless division within the already overly-divided CRC.

I'm not saying, by the way, that denominations and churches don't need to change. But these are attempts to change things at the core of denominational identity, to essentially redefine what it means to be Catholic, or Christian Reformed, or Salvation Army. They are, in effect, precisely the error Paul cautioned against in 1 Corinthians 12. Instead of trying to make your denomination into something it's not, as if insisting that the hand must be a foot, pick one of the others. It won't kill you or damn you. The Reformed Church of America is much more lax on those creeds. Baptist churches don't even have such a detailed doctrinal basis for unity. There are non-denominational congregations all over the place. Episcopalians can have all the bells & smells without any of that celibacy or papal "nonsense". You have more choices within Christianity in the United States than you can shake a stick at. You'll be happier; they'll be happier; and the overall unity of the Body and its parts will be rather enhanced than not.


Calvinist Theology and the Lord's Supper

Apparently the Christian Reformed Church has decided to jettison 450 years of Protestant teaching on the Eucharist in favor of the Catholic doctrine Calvin rejected in 1539. According to the recently adopted revision of Our World Belongs to God: a Contemporary Testimony, article 38,
In the Lord’s Supper, Christ offers his own crucified body and shed blood to his people, assuring them a share in his death and resurrection. By the Holy Spirit, he feeds us with his resurrection life and binds us to each other as we share one loaf and cup. We receive this food gladly, believing, as we eat, that Jesus is our life-giving food and drink and that he will come again to call us to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
No, in the Lord's Supper we memorialize and remember Christ's sacrificial offering of his crucified body and shed blood. There is no continuing sacrifice since "It is finished." That doesn't even address the ambiguity of this statement in regards to the real presence of Christ in the elements.

Please don't take me wrong. I have no problem with Catholics believing this, or Lutherans or Episcopalians. But I'm a Calvinist, and Calvinists have always rejected this "perpetual sacrifice" and "real presence" language. Until now. On the other hand, though, it is contemporary - kind of a theological "Retro" look.


Religion on the Right

Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind makes a good case for a Catholic/Calvinist strain within conservative thought and Richard Hofstadter once wrote that the U.S. was founded on the religion of Calvin and the philosophy of Hobbes. I think that’s true. Thomas Sowell’s contrast between the constrained/unconstrained vision is not merely a philosophical contrast, but religious one as well. All of these entail a view of human nature as fundamentally flawed, something that needs to be checked, restrained, even forced into moral behavior and this view is an essential characteristic of conservative intellectual history. The Catholic and Calvinist (Augustinian?) theology that underlies this view is part of thoroughly systematized, even intellectual versions of Christianity with a rich rational heritage. (Lutheranism has an intellectual and rational heritage, too - and is derived from Augustine as well - but Luther was not a systematizer in the way Calvin was and that shows itself in subsequent Lutheran thought.)

American popular evangelicalism, with its roots in the Anabaptist and Pentecostal movements, is a new force in conservatism and it is much more attuned to emotionally appealing populism. Rarely is it systematic and there is even a strong anti-intellectual streak within it. Its practitioners are also far less likely to try to reason with somebody of a different perspective than to simply respond with visceral emotion, since their apprehension of truth, both political and religious, is primarily via emotion.

Add to this the influence of Abram Kuyper in American Protestantism (sadly, a Dutch Calvinist like myself). Even though he railed against the Revolution (French), he did not escape its influence. The Stone Lectures he gave at Princeton in 1898 connect him to the same progressive stream that gave us President Wilson a few years later. In part via my own denomination (the Christian Reformed Church), this stream has found its way into American Evangelicalism and the upshot has been the Christian Reconstructionist movement. There is an earthly utopic quality to it that is populist, progressive, and unconstrained in its vision for all its talk of family values. You can see it in the populist policies and ideas of people like Huckabee, GW Bush, Robertson, Dobson and others on the right side of the political aisle and I think this is a major factor in the confusion among conservative ranks.

The thing is, both the liberal/progressive view and this - for lack of a better term - evangelical/progressive view are drinking the same poison. Though their moral visions are different, both seem to think that it is possible to impose their moral vision on society in such a way as to create true, absolute justice. And the primary means of imposing this moral vision is government action.

It will not work. It never has, although human beings have repeatedly tried it (French Revolution, Constantine, Muhammed, Lenin, Mao, etc.). There will always be evil, injustice, and suffering. Striving to eliminate them and create an earthly paradise of true justice and peace will only give these forces free reign. Accepting that they are part of life in this vale of tears while trying to restrict them and soften their effects will do far more to achieve practical justice and peace than any political messiah could ever hope to do. The doctrine of total depravity is at the center of the Conservative mind.

UPDATE: Kathleen Parker, who provided some of the impetus for these reflections, has clarified herself in an article here.


More on Volunteering

I saw the most fascinating sign the other day as I was driving down the expressway:



Raising Children and Mandatory Volunteers

This article in the New Yorker is interesting on several levels, and I commend it to your attention. I think we have discarded known, effective means of raising children in favor of convenient fads with promises of practically perfect progeny on the cheap. Well, not "cheap" in terms of money, but "cheap" in terms of forethought, wisdom, time, discipline and effort.

My own, most succinct, advice for child-rearing is: cancel your cable TV subscription. Anyway, read the article yourself.

One statement in the article caught my eye, though, in regards to other trends I've been commenting on. The author, in a parenthetical comment, says that "Recent surveys have found that today’s teen-agers are volunteering for community service at a rate unequalled since the nineteen-forties."

Gee. Could it be the result of mandatory community service requirements in almost all high schools, public and private? Can it really be called "volunteering," then? I haven't seen the surveys, so I don't know if they adjust for these factors. The article does not reference specific surveys anyway, so I don't know which "recent surveys" the author has in mind. I just find it somewhat suspect, that's all.