9.30.2010

Extension of Khadr Perspective

Let me elaborate on Omar Khadr a bit, since that particular post is generating some heat. Sergeant First Class Christopher J. Speers was killed during an engagement with a small group of insurgents in Afghanistan, one of whom was Omar Khadr.

This is war, and SFC Speers was well aware of the chances one takes when going to war. I do not consider Khadr to be a murderer because he engaged in combat with U.S. forces and managed to kill one of our men. I wish SFC Speers had still had his helmet on and that he had not been killed, but the fact is that happens to soldiers in battle, no matter how hard we try to prevent it.

Nevertheless, Khadr did engage in combat with U.S. forces knowing full well the likely outcome of that action would be death or capture. That he was not part of any lawfully constituted armed force but simply a guerilla/insurgent fighter makes him, as these things are described in international law, an "unlawful combatant" and, since he was an "unlawful combatant", killing somebody in combat is considered murder. I will grant you that such concepts don't mean much in the mountainous region along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan - or anywhere in Afghanistan outside of Khabul, for that matter. I will also assert, however, that it is only outside that region that his age at the time of the action makes much of a difference. It might bother folks in the coffeeshops of Toronto or San Francisco, who think that 15-year-olds are just "children" and don't know, but in Afghanistan, a 15-year-old male is functionally an adult - every bit as much so as a 25-year-old.

What should happen is that he is detained along with other prisoners of war until the end of hostilities. That's not good enough for the nattering nabobs of moral obtuseness. So we have to formally charge him with being an "unlawful combatant" (and therefore murder), go through a stupid court process to prove it, and then we may detain him until the end of hostilities. It's just a ludicrous over-lawyering of a combat situation forced on us by useful idiots of the political left (including UNICEF and Amnesty - don't get me started on Amnesty International). One can only imagine how these people would have been a thorn in our side in dealing with captured North Vietnamese soldiers and VC guerillas.

The United States, however, is a merciful nation and Khadr is a Canadian citizen, though he did not live there very long and probably doesn't remember much about it. So we offered to turn him over to Canadian authorities. They declined the offer.

The notion that the United States is being unjust is an affront to reason. The idea that Khadr is a poor, innocent victim is nonsense and, frankly, an insult to his own code of honor.

Particular History

Another decent couple of articles in The Banner are those by Bob DeMoor and Mike Vanden Bosch on story-telling. It is important that our children and grandchildren know of our failings, our missteps, our successes, and our good fortune in being cared for by a loving God. It's one thing to hear it in church as a kind of broad generality. It's quite another to hear that about my father or grandmother. It's worth preserving those stories and passing them on. Mr. Vanden Bosch gives some good tips on how to do that and it's worth heeding him.

Separation - Good? Bad? Maybe?

There's a response to the article from last month asserting that separation and distinctions are usually sin - something Timothy Palmer would not dispute, since he only asserted that "sometimes" separation is not a sin. We separate people all the time - Children's Church, Youth Group, Couples' Club, Ladies' Aid Society, Boys' Clubs, Girls' Clubs, Men's Bible Study, and so on. All of these are quite valid and useful distinctions.

It is also quite legitimate to separate on the basis of language. If I don't speak Korean and they don't speak English, and so we routinely worship in congregations that use the languages we respectively speak, why is that sin? Sure, there's nothing wrong with worshipping together, either, if people are willing. When I was in what was then called Junion High, we attended a church in which the first half was done in English and after preaching in English, the pastor gave the same sermon in Navajo and then we finished the second half of the service in Navajo, too. I still remember "Revive Us Again" in Navajo (we used it as the doxology almost every Sunday), though it was some time before I knew what I was singing. Occasional joint services are a way to do this, too. We have a monthly service in this city in which multiple languages are used in the singing and Scripture reading and sometimes the sermon.

Rather than hear what Mr. Palmer actually said, however, Lugo takes half his response to quote a correspondent who says that Palmer will be perceived as racist, that racism is bad, and that in a context of "hate and racial bigotry that is being carried [out] in political circles..." I should like to know what hate and racial bigotry he means. I see lots of accusations of hate and racial bigotry, but I do not see very much actual hate and bigotry. Most of the accusations, like these accusations against Mr. Palmer, are aimed more at silencing dissent from received leftist dogma rather than advancing love and racial harmony.

Lugo's own thoughts also miss Palmer's point, in part because he initially casts it off as a "typical White person's perspective" - a rather racist response, in my opinion, but one Lugo tries to overcome. Palmer's point is not that we can't have ethnic or racial or linguistic diversity, much less that we should exclude certain people from authority within the Church. He is simply saying that, if Navajo members of the Christian Reformed Church find it more conducive to their participation in the CRC to organize as a separate, Navajo Classis, there's nothing wrong with that. Same for the Koreans, just as the same once applied to Germans in the CRC. He is not saying White people or the majority should force them to this, but that we should allow for this - and the Belhar Confession does not. Therefore, we should not adopt the Belhar as a confessional document.

Some Good Articles

Having touched on some of the irksome pieces in The Banner, it is also worth noting a piece written by the last really great editor of that magazine, Rev. Andrew Kuyvenhoven. He's in his early 80's now and reflects on getting old with his characteristic honesty and charm. Well worth reading, but I'll let you read it rather than tell you what he says.

There's also a simple list of 30 things that you can do to be more hospitable towards people with disabilities. A couple reflect our current cultural obsession with "correct" language. Trying to find a way to describe a painful or depressing condition without sounding painful or depressing is rather difficult, however, and the nature of English tends to put the adjective first ("disabled person" rather than "person disabled"). Most of them are very good reminders, however, and the main point is - regardless of where you put the adjective - think "human being" first and foremost. That, by the way, is good advice no matter who you're dealing with or what the adjectives are.

9.29.2010

Pseudo-Constitutional Nonsense

There's this piece in Newsweek on the GOP Pledge to America. It's predictably leftist, as Newsweek always is, and in the course of their little pout, the author says this:
Not so harmless, however, is the promise to require every bill to be certified as constitutional before it is voted on. We have a mechanism for assessing the constitutionality of legislation, which is the independent judiciary. An extraconstitutional attempt to limit the powers of Congress is dangerous even as a mere suggestion, and it constitutes an encroachment on the judiciary.
Get that. He is saying that there is something wrong with Congress deigning to assess whether a given measure is constitutional or not. Congress shouldn't be thinking about whether it's constitutional because only the courts can make that decision and this would be an intrusion on the courts. If this were just some lunatic in Newsweek, I'd ignore it. Who, after all, reads Newsweek? But sadly this kind of stupidity is gaining some traction amongst leftists, so let's address it.

Article 6 of the Constitution says:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution (emphasis added); but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
In accordance with this, an oath was drawn up and later modified. Since 1884, every congressman and senator has sworn the following oath:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same (emphasis added); that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
In other words, even though they have sworn an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, and to support and defend it, but Newsweek doesn't think they should consider whether or not what they're doing actually does bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution.

The thing is, ALL officials of the U.S. government - the President, the members of Congress, judges - ALL are required to conform their actions to the Constitution. Nowhere in that document is the Supreme Court set as the final arbiter of what that Constitution says and nowhere in that document is that determination restricted to the courts. If there are to be checks and balances, one cannot give to a single branch of government sole authority over interpretations of the fundamental law governing them all. The idea that we cannot understand the Constitution until some over-educated tyrant in a black robe mysteriously interprets it for us is moronic idiocy and a threat to the Republic.

More Tales of Useful Idiocy

I see from the Banner that some students and faculty at King's College in Edmonton - "a school supported by members of the Christian Reformed Church" - are suffering from rectal-cranial inversion syndrome.

See, there's this guy Omar Khadr, who was captured after a firefight with American troops in Afghanistan. He was brought to Gitmo and has been there for 7 years. Turns out he is a Canadian citizen, even though he did not live in Canada very long (he was born in Canada, but returned to Afghanistan with his family when very young and grew up there). Canada doesn't want him. The U.S. routinely turns over Gitmo prisoners to countries who want them - England, Canada, Germany, even Turkey and Yemen. Canada says that he's facing a judicial process in the U.S. so the U.S. can keep him.

"Rev. Roy Berkenbosch, director of the college's Micah Center, said that a group of students and faculty have gathered weekly to pray for Khadr and his lawyer for the last two years, as well as for others who suffer injustice."

On what grounds do they assert Khadr is suffering injustice? Why, he was only 15 when he threw grenades at U.S. troops and shot at them before being wounded and captured himself. Right.

I wonder if they're praying for the American soldiers he tried to kill, or the women he and those with him would condemn to near-slavery under a strict shari'a code, or the Afghan civilians he and those with him routinely terrorize? No. Probably not. He's such a cute kid, you know. Have to make allowances for kids with guns and grenades. Then again, maybe they should ask the school board at Columbine just how well that philosophy works out in reality.

The photo in the actual magazine has these idiots looking so serious and concerned and full of themselves. Leave it to the Banner to celebrate the dumbest people they can find as paragons of moral virtue. Frankly, I'd like to take these well-heeled, well-coifed females in the photo and have them try to live under the Taliban in Pakistan or Afghanistan. After about five years of that, we could ask the survivors whether they still think this way. If any of them do survive.

FAQ Commentary

We have The Banner's always fun FAQ, too. The first question is, "Our church can’t seem to get an effective outreach effort going. What’s working these days?"

The person answering does well - God doesn't need a dog & pony show. The purpose of the Church is not to stage great entertainment. It is to bear witness to Jesus Christ and teach what he taught. We must do so not from the other side, but from within. That is, we must be involved in community events, develop friendships in our neighborhoods and schools, and do so always and primarily as Christians. A great show will bring people for the great show, but they will leave once the show is over. A great friend will bring people for the great friendship - and they will stay as long as the friendship lasts.

The next question has to do with accountability at Calvin Seminary. He mentions the Board of Trustees and then goes to the "regions" of the CRC from which these board members come - plus the "at large" members. In other words, the Board of Trustees is accountable to Synod, but otherwise fairly free to act as they choose - the moreso since they have considerable control over what Synod gets told. The whole bit about regions and so on is a smokescreen. There is no accountability along those lines as many in the regions don't even know who their regional delegate is, much less how he or she votes at board meetings or anything else.


The third question is another of those "I can't believe somebody is asking the Banner about this" kinds of questions. "I've got password overload - how do I keep track of them all?" He gets a standard IT guy's answer. My answer is, "read a book."

False Confessions

The October issue of The Banner is now out. They've been running a series called "True Confessions" that looks at the creeds of the Church. So far, they've covered the Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort (the links are to the actual documents, not the articles about them). They've been OK, but nothing great - pretty basic.

This month they look at The Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God (I'll call it CT) and they get Rev. Morris Greidanus, one of its authors, to sing its praises. I've had dealings with Rev. Greidanus on one level or another, off and on, since the early 1980s. In those dealings, the impression I have gained of him has been largely negative. The CT has not done anything to mitigate that impression. I figured, though, that I'd best tell you that so you can properly judge what I write - you may wish to discount my opinion as more personal than substantive, but I leave that to you.

The first thing you notice in Greidanus' song is the notion that changing political and social circumstances required a new confession.

It became obvious in the 1960s and ’70s that not only did our historic confessions say some things about other Christians that we would no longer want to say, we also had to appoint study committees and adopt lengthy declarations on issues not covered in the confessions. Our world had changed!
Note the rather inappropriate exclamation point. The CT is rife with exclamation points that make no sense - it's one of the stylistic irritants of the document. Even so, it is true that we no longer wished to say that we detested the Anabaptists because they were seditious, as Article 36 of the Belgic Confession originally stated, particularly since we had come to agree with them as to the limited sphere of civil government (an agreement that required further modification of Article 36). We also feel a little squeamish about Q&A 80 in the Catechism - calling the Catholic Mass a "damnable idolatry", well, it just isn't done these days.

But did we really have to appoint study committees and adopt lengthy declarations on issues of (as he gets to in his next paragraph) "worship (1968), church and film arts (1966), racism, the authority of Scripture, war, world hunger, and more" because the confessions were inadequate? I hardly think so, and in any case, the existence of the CT has not caused a noticeable decline in the number of study committees or the length of their declarations. Indeed, they seem to have proliferated ad nauseum. Soon we will require a synodical study committee on the proper methods of toilet training infants and toddlers.

The thing is, the issues Greidanus highlights are (or were in the '60s and '70s) mostly hot-button political issues. Political liberals, like Greidanus, were not content to simply argue their political opinions. They wanted, nay, demanded official ecclesiastical sanction of their politics with the implied condemnation of their political opponents. In other words, they wanted to make liberal political views a requirement for office-bearers in the Church, which is what a confessional statement would do. They still want that, as their recent attempt to modify the Form of Subscription to include the CT, and even their inclusion of it in The Banner's review of the CRC's confessions amply demonstrate. This was, and is, not unique to leftists in the CRC. Greidanus notes also that other churches were writing confessions "for our time", too.

To be sure, much of the CT is rather innocuous. It's all stuff that's in the actual creeds and confessions. It's said better in the creeds and confessions than in the CT, but then, the owner's manual for my car is written in better style than is the CT. Article 38 does contain a bit of heresy ("In the Lord’s Supper, Christ offers his own crucified body and shed blood to his people...") - unless you're Catholic - but why should we be concerned about that? Besides, it's only one heretical article and there's nearly 60 of the darn things. Can't be expected to get all the p's & q's right, can we? Not in "our time", we can't.

If, however, you look at
articles 41-54, you'll see exactly what I mean concerning the reliably leftist political bent of the document. About the only place where it deviates from liberal orthodoxy is on the question of abortion, but even that is softened by equating it with pollution and gluttony. This was the novelty that, in the opinion of Greidanus and others like him, we needed for the Church. We needed to bind the Church to the Democrat Party (in the US) and Labor (in Canada).

I have banned the use of these articles in our congregation and I steadfastly ignore the rest of the document whenever possible. I will not teach it or preach it and I strongly resist any attempt to force this odious document upon me or my congregation. Where it is a "true confession" it is stated better elsewhere, and there are too many places where it simply is not true.

9.28.2010

Pew Foundation Research - Hot on the Trail of the Obvious

The Pew Foundation is at it again, coming up with survey results to prove the obvious. For instance, we find that Obama is perceived as being better at explaining his vision than Congressional Republicans. Well, how many Obamas are there? How many Congressional Republicans are there? And does the press tend to explain Obama in a more sympathetic light or in a more critical light? Same question regarding Congressional Republicans?

So who do you think is going to have an easier time formulating a single, coherent message and then getting that message out? Why, that would be the President, wouldn't it? Duh.

They also tell us that Americans are somewhat confused about what various religions teach, although those who have formally rejected religion tend to be less confused. This would also be rather obvious. Most people are brought up in a religious environment. Take your typical Mexican immigrant. They're baptized Catholic, go to Mass at least occasionally, get confirmed, and so does everybody else they know. In such an environment, deciding to be an atheist almost forces one to actually think about the Mass, confirmation, baptism, and so on, while being Catholic requires only that one continue to go along with everyone else. Even if he does know what the Catholic Church teaches, why should he be expected to know who the heck Vishnu supposedly is? Naturally, then, the atheist is going to tend to have a greater awareness of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

The report on FoxNews tries to have a little fun at religious folks' expense and, to be honest, we rate it. But very little of what's in this survey (or most Pew surveys) should really be surprising. Indeed, that could be their motto: The Pew Foundatoin - Spending Millions to Prove the Obvious!

Obama's Expanding Nuclear Club

Seeing how little President Obama is willing to do in order to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, Venezuela's resident thug, Hugo Chavez, is now looking into whether he might obtain them, too.

Of course, he's calling it a "nuclear energy" program, but one must wonder why a relatively poor economy (Chavez has impoverished the Venezuelans greatly) of a major oil exporter (Chavez has not, however, impoverished himself) needs nuclear power.

I also notice that Burma is apparently also developing nuclear weapons. So, in addition to major powers like India, China, Russia, France, and Great Britain having nukes, we are now looking at such stalwart paragons of international decorum as North Korea, Venezuela, and Burma joining Israel, South Africa, and that long-standing but perennially unstable Pakistan in the Nuclear Club.

Gee. President Obama's foreign policy prowess just leaves me breathless.

GOP Pledge

So, the GOP has issued it's Pledge to America. If you want to read through it, go ahead. On one level, it is a little better than the 1994 Contract with America in that it articulates a governing philosophy and then specifies particular objectives on various issues. For the most part, it's Contract II: We've Learned.

But have they learned? They certainly want us to believe it, and they cannot deny that the present mood of the electorate is not one that tolerates the typical linquini-spined RINO. Nevertheless, there are far too many Republicans who think they will be able to weather this storm and that we'll calm down afterwards so they can continue with business as usual. While this may or may not be true of the country as a whole, it is most decidedly not true of the Republican Party. The Republican Party's survival as an institution depends on them pursuing with vigor, patience and determination a conservative, Constitutional path. They are being given a second chance. There will be no third chance.

If the Republicans in the Senate function as they did after the 1994 elections and on through the first 6 years of George W. Bush, they will simply be written off. In an era when Chris Christie's style is so thrilling for so many, John McCain's "reaching across the aisle" style of soft capitulation is not acceptable. He knows that, and is running his campaign in Arizona as if he knows that, but once he's re-elected he has six years before worrying about voters again. If he slips back into his fawning efforts to kiss the collective posterior of the New York Times, watch out.

In other words, if this "Pledge to America" turns out to be nothing more than a short-term gimmick to garner votes, the document will turn out to be the GOP's epitaph rather than its rebirth. The jury's still out as to which it is.

Cruelty of Reduced Standards

We had a regional meeting of churches to discuss various matters affecting us. We do this every March and September, so it's not like it was all that big a deal. In the course of this meeting, we examined an individual who wants to be ordained as a minister. His performance in that exam was dismal, near catastrophic. Basic concepts of ministry, of biblical interpretation, and of theology were evidently not known to him.

That was not the real tragedy, though. To be sure, he evidently did very little to prepare for the exam, was extremely nervous (understandably), and had a hard time rooting his answers in the Bible even when asked to do so point blank. No, the real tragedy was that the delegates to this regional assembly, though they were quite willing to express their concerns and opinions prior to the vote, nevertheless voted to pass him.

The man was obviously not ready for the ordained ministry - not intellectually, not in terms of what he knows, and arguably not emotionally or spiritually. And yet we allowed him into the ministry anyway. He will either learn very, very quickly (possible), or he will be chased out of that congregation in about 4 years, completely burnt out if not utterly destroyed. The delegates did not want to seem mean, and in choosing as they did, they were as cruel as they could possibly be to this guy.

Maybe in 1813 England a congregation could tolerate a Mr. Collins and survive (about 1:50 into the clip). Not today.

9.22.2010

Colbert to Congress

Although he is a reliable leftist, I have no knowledge of Stephen Colbert's grasp of immigration issues. Of course, since he is a reliable leftist, one may reliably conclude that his grasp of any issue is somewhat limited. Mostly he is simply another Hollywood comic actor with a rather entertaining show. Nevertheless, he has been asked to testify before one of our congress' many committees.

Why? Because he is a popular man who has a popular television show that an unpopular congress wants to tap so these nattering nabobs can look hip. That's it. You might as well grab some random guy off the tour bus to see what he thinks as get some actor or actress to spout off and tell the rest of us how to think and what to do.

Stick to your show, Mr. Colbert. You have ample opportunity to air your views there. But you are no more an expert than I am and you should have sufficient dignity to not become a mere tool in the hands of these political operatives. Well, judging from your show, maybe not.

Catch the Wave - Turn Off the News

I was scanning Breitbart's Big Journalism site and saw this blurb about the ratings of the old "big three" network news broadcasts (ABC/NBC/CBS) losing almost 740,000 viewers over the last year.

The article quotes something or other and, in that context, mentioned how few people watch "Brian, Katie and Diane". My first thought was, "Who? Oh, yeah, Katie Couric. But who are those other guys?" I looked 'em up. The "Diane" is Diane Sawyer, whom I vaguely remember. The "Brian" is Brian Williams. I couldn't have told you what he looks like without the picture.

The thing is, I haven't watched television news - not Fox or CNN either - for nearly a decade. Television doesn't give you news. It gives you headlines accompanied by pictures. It's like glancing at the front page of a newspaper without picking it up. I simply do not trust TV as a source of information. Pictures are modified, presentations are slanted, and the speed of both is such that you are left thinking you know without actually knowing. It's the same reason I stopped watching/listening to presidential speeches and started reading them the day afterwards. What you remember from a speech is a mood, the ambiance, the occasional dramatic phrase. What you don't remember are the caveats, conditions, nuances, and qualifiers that empty that dramatic phrase of any real meaning.

In Isaac Asimov's book Foundation - the first and best of his Foundation series - there's a section where some imperial functionary is sent out to visit our hero (Salvor Hardin). Everyone else listens to the functionary's speeches and promises and statements and is assured of the Emperor's support. Hardin records those speeches and promises and subjects them to a logical analysis. He finds out that everything in it is canceled out by some other statement so that all one is left with is nothing. You might be able to concentrate while paying close attention and catch that while watching or listening to a speech or the evening news. It's far easier to do with the transcript afterwards.

So go ahead and turn off the evening news - you won't learn anything useful anyway - and pick up a book, a magazine, or something to read on the internet. Weigh what is said in the councils of your reason and faith. Don't assume they're actually trying to inform you. Often it is quite the opposite.

James E. Carter - Dilapidated Failure

My father just adored Jimmy Carter. He was the model of a Christian politician, especially in his work with Habitat for Humanity after leaving the White House. I think one of my father's chief complaints against Ronald Reagan was that he defeated Carter in winning the presidency. If he'd beaten McGovern or somebody else, it would have been more tolerable.

But Carter was a disastrous president. His dealings with other nations left them suspicious of U.S. intentions and uncertain of our actual stance. To be sure, Egypt and Israel signed a historic peace agreement during Carter's oval office tour, but that was not brought about by anything Carter did. Carter's only contribution to it was not to get in the way. Carter's domestic and economic policies were even worse, causing both double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. He irritated Congressional leaders of both parties and was about as gifted as a dead horse in the horse-trading game of crafting legislation up on Capitol Hill.

In the years since he left the White House, Carter has been a celebrity spokesman for Habitat for Humanity, which is not a bad thing to be. He has gotten involved in some international matters, largely for show or to interfere with the policies of his successors. Across the world, he has embraced thugs, dictators and tyrants while ignoring democratic leaders who want a more open and free society. His writings - at least the ones I've seen - in the years since his well-earned defeat at the polls have been self-congratulatory fluff as substantive as the meringue on a lemon pie.

And now the old nincompoop has come out and said he's the greatest ex-president ever because, well, he's done some things at his library/think-tank/international-interference-center. Realizing he stepped in it again, he's trying to backtrack a bit, but his ego keeps getting in the way.

Carter is just as venal, self-centered, and self-absorbed as any other politician who thinks he has all the answers, if only God would do what he's told. The world would be well served if Carter would just crawl back into his library and shut up. Meanwhile, it's a good thing Carter's got a big mouth - more room for the feet he keeps cramming in there.

A Brief Meditation on Job 28

Where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? (Job 28:12 NIV)

Job goes through the struggles, the difficulties, the effort that people go through in order to obtain gold, silver, sapphires, even iron, and then asks this question. All that wealth cannot purchase it - "it cannot be found in the land of the living." (v. 13b)

Even "Destruction and Death say, 'Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.'" (v.22). Indeed, facing destruction and death give one a certain amount of wisdom. One of the reasons older people tend to be wiser than younger people is because they have lived long enough to suffer and such wisdom as we are able to obtain does not come without suffering. One of the reasons a lot of combat veterans seem wiser than their years is because many of them have seen a lot of suffering in a very short period of time. But the wisdom gained in the face of suffering, while not something to be scoffed at, is still "only a rumor of it." God alone, as Job tells us in verse 23, understands. God alone knows where wisdom dwells. Having found it, "[God] said to man, 'The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'"

We have no end of things and people summoning us away from the Lord - painful events, joyful celebrations, gadgets, shows, and activities. Many of them promise prosperity and are judged as "smart". No end of books offer us ways to be wise and look out for ourselves. All of it is a chasing after wind. The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.

Sore Losers with Big Egos

So, O'Donnell - the GOP senate nominee in Delaware - dabbled in "witchcraft" as a teenager and has conservative sexual morals (no sex until married, no masturbating, etc.). From some of the stuff I've seen, I get the impression our friends in the mainstream media are having difficulty deciding which of these to trumpet. The witchcraft thing will hurt with O'Donnell's base, but isn't that big a deal to a bunch of leftists who think Wicca is wonderful. The sexual morality bit is what strikes them as really weird, but her base (and quite a few others) think it's about time somebody normal ran for office.

Meanwhile, her opponent, Mike Castle, is still pouting. Lisa Murkowski over in Alaska is throwing an outright temper-tantrum over her loss - she's mounting a write-in campaign. It's not much different than Charlie Crist down in Florida running as an "independent" after getting trounced in the GOP primary. Every one of these guys would have expected their opponents to play nice, support them, and endorse the GOP candidate had they won their primaries. All they are showing is the typical leftist, elitist, double standard - one rule for you, no rules for me. They're also showing that they're poor losers with really big egos. At least Castle isn't running for office still. He's only refusing to endorse the winner. He may be a sore loser with a big ego, but at least he isn't stupid. Crist & Murkowski can't make that claim, as their poll numbers are amply demonstrating.

What do I think about O'Donnell? I still think she's a bit of a nut job and I would not want to vouch for her stability, but dabbling in "witchcraft" could be anything from reading a book or two and trying to cast a spell on an ex-boyfriend to mucking about with a ouija board. Dumb? Yeah, but try to find me a teenager who isn't dumb.

9.17.2010

Cram It in October

I got an e-mail from my denomination's hyper-active social justice office about some "restorative justice week" in November. I get a lot of those kinds of things, so I decided to see how many days, weeks, and months have been dedicated to particular causes.

September is rather light. We have "All Nations Heritage Week" the end of the month, an "International Day of Peace" on the 21st (I wonder if the Taliban is aware of this?), and a challenge to "sometime this fall" show our hands in support of the millenium development goals (MDGs - because all such things need acronyms to be official).

October is, in its entirety, designated as "Fair Trade Month" (whatever the h**l that is) but also includes "World Food Day" (the 16th) and "Bread for the World Sunday" (the 17th).

November is really packed. The first week is "World Hunger Week", since we assume they didn't get food on October 16th or bread on October 17th and even if they did, that was two weeks ago so the world is hungry again by the first of November. The 7th is "International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted" (IDPP, I presume). The 14th is, of course, the start of "Restorative Justice Week". Let's not forget Thanksgiving Day (in the U.S.) is on the 25th, so we'll acknowledge those less fortunate then, too.

December starts out with "World Aids Day" on the first, but after that they keep it clear for Advent and Christmas, which is nice.

Do all these various days, weeks and months designated to somebody's favorite cause actually do anything? No. It's a way of wearing ribbons on our calendars to show how much better we are than those who just think it's Saturday instead of "World Food Day". We're "aware" (I have developed an intense dislike for that word). The mere multitude of such days tends to cheapen them, like a business that has a furniture sale "This week only!!" every week. Essentially they're all for the same cause anyway - we've got money, they don't, so feel guilty and give us some so we can give part of it to them. After we skim off our salaries and expenses first, of course.

Some of these organizations that are supported through these events do noble work, don't get me wrong. Some of them are just socialist fronts that spend more time in politics than they do with the poor. But even if we accept the nobility of all of them, by inundating us with these various events they overwhelm us. It isn't inspiring. It's draining. We don't feel motivated to serve the Lord with gladness. We feel motivated to get this nagging - uh - "itch" off our back.

So how about we simply designate October as "World Leftist Cause Month". We can have a day for multi-culti junk (don't forget to blame Columbus for all that's wrong in America), a week for freeing prisoners (separate days for Gitmo, cop-killers, Manson, CIA rendition prisoners, and remembering Abu Ghraib), another week for various diseases that bother us, and a week for "economic fair justice trade world hunger poverty" stuff. Then we can close the month off with an international day of something or other and be done with it. Whenever somebody comes up with a new cause/day/week, we tell 'em to fit it in October somewhere. Get it all out of our system in those 31 days and leave the other 11 months alone.

9.15.2010

Misguided Aid

This is what you get when you have an office of "social justice" - feel good measures that do nothing to actually solve the problem but go a long way towards making us feel smugly superior. They want some sort of show of hands, which is to say, they want us to buy a bunch of mediocre artwork, splatter it about our church, and tell people they should send their money to the address below.

The Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice wants this to support what are called "The Millennium Development Goals" or "MDG".
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are measurable. They include reducing disease, boosting maternal health, eradicating illiteracy, helping deal with world hunger, improving primary school education and providing foreign assistance to help achieve these goals.
These goals have been pretty much constant since 1948 - reduce disease, boost women's health, fight illiteracy, "help" with world hunger (the world isn't hungry, but some people on it are), primary education. And the "foreign assistance" to help achieve these goals has been as constant.

Dambisa Moyo asks in the introduction to her book, Dead Aid, "But has more than US $1 trillion in development assistance over the last several decades made African people better off?" She answers the question, too. "No. In fact, across the globe the recipients of this aid are worse off; much worse off. Aid has helped make the poor poorer, and growth slower."


Unless we are prepared to recolonize Africa - a course of action as problematic as it is politically impossible - we must find a different way to help the people of those benighted countries other than having White saviors swoop in with fistfuls of cash to dispense to dictators, thugs, and the corrupt bureaucracies that sustain them. It is high time we stopped treating Africans and Africa as if they were recalcitrant and ignorant children and started treating them as responsible adults. That means an end to aid and other freebies and the beginning of actual investment - investment where we expect to get a return. Africa doesn't need more handouts. Africa needs capitalism.

Can I see a show of hands for that?

9.14.2010

A Tidbit of Truth

This is from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's Truth and Tolerance. I haven't read the whole thing yet, and was just browsing it when I read this.

"Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic."

It would be well if all those who work in government, whether elected or not, paid heed to that truth.

Senate - and Delaware - Politics

O'Donnell and Castle are contending in the Republican primary in Delaware and the conservative blogosphere, news, and commentariat has been abuzz with it. O'Donnell has been sanctioned by Palin. Castle has been sanctioned by...well, Castle.

Delaware is a left-leaning state and Castle has been a left leaning representative in Congress. Fair enough. He's supposed to represent his district, right? With a solid conservative majority in the House, the GOP can afford a Castle. But the Senate has long been the home of liberal Republicans who do as much as they can to frustrate the conservative agenda - folks like Specter, McCain, Graham, and others who aren't opposed on principle to government taking over our lives, but think it should be more gradual. Putting Castle in the Senate as a Republican would continue that status quo in the Senate GOP.

O'Donnell is, as nearly as I can tell, a nut case. Honesty does not seem to come naturally to her. She very quickly feels picked upon and every misfortune seems to be somebody else's fault. To be sure, I do not know her beyond what I have read in the various reports advocating and denouncing her. The picture I get is a conservative version of Cynthia McKinney who is a certifiable loon of the political left (the Wikipedia entry does not do justice to her "inside job" conspiracy rantings). Whether she would assault a Capitol Hill police officer or not, I do not know, but O'Donnell does not strike me as all that stable.

My own thinking is that it would be better to have a Democrat as the new senator from Delaware than it would be to have yet another RINO. The way a RINO would interfere with the conservative agenda would simply augment the frustration conservatives have had with the GOP's failure to provide a valid alternative to liberal progressivism. A Democrat would interfere with that agenda as well, but we expect a Democrat to do that. The GOP will not be blamed for the limitations on conservative policies that a Democrat would build. Even so, it might, however, mean it is another 2 years, possibly 4, before we have a GOP majority in the Senate.

Having O'Donnell in the Senate would make for some colorful stories behind the scenes, and the likelihood of her being re-elected in 2014 (it's a special election to fill Biden's seat) will be slim, but she would also have a very clear notion of which side of her bread was buttered - and by whom. She would stick with the conservative majority of her party, potentially establish a GOP senate majority this year, and advance the conservative agenda, though admittedly with quite a bit of unseemly fodder for news outlets and blogs.

Winning the primary is not winning the election, however. O'Donnell seems poised to win the primary today. If she does, I rather doubt she will win the general election in a couple months. If we are but one seat away from a Senate majority, expect quite a bit of caterwauling in response from the GOP and others blaming the "Tea Party" purists. But there is a difference between the GOP and the Tea Party. The former is a long-standing institution and is invested in promoting that institution rather than any particular agenda. If items on the agenda don't generate votes, they are quite prepared to jettison them. The Tea Party is not really even an institution yet. It is a bunch of people who gather together every so often to shout, "ENOUGH!" at the federal government. They are driven by ideas, not by institutional survival. They are, naturally, quite ready to sacrifice a candidate or two if in the long run it advances their ideals. And I'm with them on that score.

9.11.2010

September 11 Reflections

It's 20 minutes past 8 pm, local time. Thinking back to 9 years ago, I was working with a Navy Special Warfare unit out of Little Creek, Virginia. It took a bit for it to sink in that we were actually under attack. I remember watching with some people in the intel shop as the second plane flew into the tower and saying, "That was deliberate. This is no accident." Talk about a paradigm shift!

I spent the rest of that day calming people down, preparing them emotionally for possible deployment, and suggesting that they would be better off not trying to call relatives in New York or at the Pentagon as folks there had enough on their plates without worrying about answering the phone. If they really wanted to help, head down to the local Red Cross or over to Portsmouth Naval Hospital and donate blood. It was going to be needed.

At the time, we assumed it was some kind of Middle East terrorist group behind the attack and we were not sure if we would need to deploy on short notice or, if we did, how many of us would need to go. Word came down to be ready on 48 hours notice. I put word in that, if they needed chaplains at either place, I was available on 24 hours notice. The next day, we stood down. Our response would not be that rapid. There seemed to be enough people there on scene already and with unsolicited volunteers coming from all over the country, we would simply add to the confusion, so we stayed put.

A year and a half later, in February 2003, I shipped out for Kuwait and was there with our SEAL teams and Special Boat Teams through April. I was not on the front line - I was back at HQ, preparing for casualties, planning notification procedures, helping to establish "unofficial" lines of communication with Royal Marine Commandoes and regular Navy logistics people. Most of this was small scale and ended up not being needed, but when you're headed into battle, you can never have too many friends - folks who will cut a few corners for you so you get what you need now instead of next week or next month. In April I went to Afghanistan. I visited some of the outlying posts and worked with some of the Army's special forces units there - again, not really on the front lines, but close enough. It was a relatively quiet time there, and in June I went back to the States.

That October, I transferred down to 2nd Marine Division out of Camp LeJeune to begin training with a battalion slated to go to Iraq in March 2004. We did. We got involved in a few significant fights and a lot of smaller ones. I was not in heavy combat, but I did get shot at a couple times and was under rocket and mortar fire with some regularity. I can't say I ever felt unsafe, though. I was more curious as to what it would feel like to get shot than afraid it would do me any serious or permanent injury. I still don't know - they missed me. That's OK. I'm told that ignorance is bliss.

Quite a few of those guys I went to war with in '03 and '04 have been killed or wounded. I haven't kept track of them all, but it's in the dozens. I stopped counting some time ago.

I can't say I did a whole lot. I did my job and most of the time it was neither difficult nor dangerous. I wish I could still be with those Marines and sailors, but God has called me elsewhere and now my sons are preparing for the possibility that they may go. My oldest boy goes to Basic Training (Navy) in a couple months. He'll likely end up with a Marine unit and could very well be in Afghanistan by this time next year. He'll do fine. My youngest will finish high school next May and will try for one of the commissioning programs, either with ROTC or one of the Service Academies. I'm sure there will still be plenty of war left for him in 2015, too.

Lieutenant Colonel White, addressing some graduates of Ft. Benning's Infantry School captures the spirit of those who go to war. I can add nothing to what he says.


God bless, boys.

9.10.2010

Duh - Local Edition

This is from our local rag. I love the headline: "Noem's stance on Buffalo Gap draws ire from unexpected source."

Noem, by the way, is the local Republican candidate for Congress, running against Democrat Herseth-Sandlin. Buffalo Gap is an area of about 48,000 acres that Congress is considering declaring a "Federal Wilderness Area." Noem doesn't think this should happen.

The "unexpected source" is the guy - Democrat senator Tim Johnson - who sponsored the bill setting the area aside as Federal Wilderness. What, pray tell, is so terribly unexpected about a Democrat expressing irritation when a Republican says his bill is stupid? Herseth-Sandlin, the Democrat running for Congress, says the Republican's rhetoric is "over the top", but to a Democrat, all Republican rhetoric is "over the top" unless it expresses agreement with the Democrats (like Lindsey Graham's rhetoric frequently does). Nevertheless, since H-S wants the votes of the cattlemen affected, she also acknowledges that their objections "are legitimate."

In other words, both our congressional candidates - the Republican and the Democrat - think it's a dumb idea. Tim Johnson, the Democrat senator who sponsored the legislation, disagrees. They've expressed their respective views on the matter. This, apparently, is "unexpected" by the Argus Leader.

Judicial Tyranny Strikes Again

This is off the AP wire - a southern California judge (gee, California...now why doesn't that surprise me?) has decided that she knows more about military readiness and preparedness than all the generations before her. She has decided that the military ban on openly gay personnel is unconstitutional.

Of course. Wedged in there between the 17th and 18th amendments is a little 17 1/2 amendment guaranteeing all military personnel the right to poke whatever hole they wish without fear of repercussions.

Her ruling is also contrary to several decades of jurisprudence, for court after court after court has ruled to the contrary. There is, you see, no constitutional right to serve in the military at all. The military discriminates against all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Not just anybody can even enlist, much less make it through basic training, and this is intentional. Not everybody can fight and we neither need nor want mere cannon fodder.

The "Log Cabin Republicans" who filed the suit claim that the military policy violates their freedom of association, freedom of speech, and due process rights. Hmmph. The military routinely regulates the speech of its members - just ask Gen. McChrystal who was relieved of his command after speaking to Rolling Stone. Maybe you could talk to others who have been disciplined for political speech while in uniform.

The military also regulates associations. Some are permitted on base, some are not. And you may assert your right to associate freely all you wish, but you're still going to be disciplined rather severely if you join the KKK or the Aryan nation while in the military - as you should be. Certain associations are prejudicial to the good order and discipline essential to the military's mission. In fact, the only possible right that might pertain is the due process claim, except that the military does provide due process in ascertaining whether or not one has decided to openly assert one's homosexuality. The law requires them to do so, as does the UCMJ.

One may argue, as I'm sure the Log Cabin Republicans would, that homosexual associations in this day and age are no longer prejudicial to good order and discipline and therefore need no longer be shunned by the military. That's debatable. More to the point, it is not for Virginia Phillips to decide. We have a political process and I am tired of black-robed tyrants feeling free to simply short-circuit it whenever they wish.

9.09.2010

God's Not the One Who Needs Saving

Here's an interesting article from the UK. I think Cottingham gets it pretty well spot on, so I won't comment on him other than to encourage you to read his article.

What struck me, though, were the comments. In their passion to refute him, they attribute to him things he did not say, reference historical events with a damning certainty even though they are utterly irrelevant to his argument, and toss out snidely ignorant asides as if they alone can bring down the walls of Cottingham's Jericho.

For instance, "Mines a Newt" goes on this long comparative religion streak to prove that gods might require their followers to do evil. Cottingham, by the way, only said that it is difficult to define "good" and "evil" in a purely naturalistic way apart from a supernatural (divine) source. He did not say that divine source has to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, although that is the source Cottingham holds to.

"JonJ" thinks Cottingham just made up a word (I'm guessing it's the word "creatureliness", but he doesn't specify it) and therefore his argument collapses for want of logic. I'm not entirely clear how this follows, but it's also evident that JonJ's vocabulary is strangely limited. None of the words in the section of Cottingham's argument that he cites are neologisms. It's been 20 years since I was in seminary, but I remember most of those words from books published years before that. One might suggest to JonJ that the constricted nature of his own vocabulary and consequent inability to comprehend another's argument does not, in and of itself, invalidate that argument. It is not Cottingham that wants logic and common sense.

"S T Lakshmikumar" thinks that somehow Lincoln's astute observation that both sides in the American Civil War read the same Bible and prayed to the same God proves that Christianity is wrong, as "every Hindu theologian knows." What this has to do with Cottingham's piece is not clear to me. Indeed, his entire chain of reasoning is not clear to me. Perhaps it has lost something in the translation.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Enjoy Cottingham's piece and, if you've an appetite for human folly, enjoy the comments on it.

9.08.2010

Christian Leadership on the P. T. Barnum Principle

Here's a booklet received in the mail - "Pastor Resources: Helping Ministers Grow Healthy Churches".

Of course, ministers don't grow healthy churches. The Holy Spirit does that. But we'll look past that bit of heresy and self-glorification to see what's inside. There's a love cruise on page 1 that is hosted by a smiling, well-groomed couple by the name of Dennis and Barbara Rainey, whoever the heck they are. A couple pages farther, we find Zion Oil and Gas, but I'm not sure what they're selling and even less sure what that has to do with growing a healthy church here in South Dakota (or anywhere else, for that matter). They quote Hal Lindsey, that font of theological wisdom and discernment, Joel Rosenberg (no, I don't know who he is), and Pastor John Hagee, whose name I've heard before, I think, somewhere, maybe. Doesn't he have some TV show? I don't know. Anyway, if I circle #5 on some card, I'll get a free book about it.

Digital art and music services come next, but if that doesn't suit your fancy, you can have a DELUXE OFFER! of WARM WELCOME CUSTOM FOLDERS & LEAFLETS. If you'd rather have Gospel tracts, those are here alongside cheesy bulletin covers and fresh-baked cookies.

In case you're a pastor with no real formal education, you can get your degree online, but that's not necessary since you can sign up for Homiletics Online or Sermons dot Com and get sermons from somebody else. There's a Church Policy & Procedure Manual, too. Let's not forget the famous "Poinsettia Display Racks", either. There are prestige pulpits which you can pay for by selling cutlery or, just forego that by getting "Maximize: How to Develop Extravagant Givers in Your Church".

Oh. Sorry. You weren't ordained? Well, we can fix that because we can sign up with the "International Ministerial Fellowship" which provides ordination for "Indepent Clergy, Lay Pastors, Chaplains and Missionaries" through "Membership and Appropriate Credentialing (rostering) by a Recognized Faith Group."

It's a free country, but that means there's an awful lot of crap out there to wade through some days.

Oh - the P. T. Barnum Principle? A quote variously attributed to him and others: "There's a sucker born every minute."

More Little Children Leading

The CRC seems to be on a "young people" kick. We want "youth advisors" to Synod - youth advisors who are hand picked by denominational leadership and who will, in effect, be little more than puppets. Sure, there will be the token who says differently, but only a token. We now have had a youth leadership conference in Grand Rapids. Some seminarian talks of the great adventure of following Jesus - and it is an adventure. But it's also hard, often mundane, frequently dull slogging. They don't show that in the movies because it's really boring watching somebody clean out the church bathrooms, but it has to be done.

For you young people who want to be leaders in the church, take a bit from the movie The Man from Snowy River. "Ownin' it's got nothing to do with it. It's who can make a go of it up here. You go down to the low country and earn the right to live up here." Pay your dues in the committees and infrastructure of the congregation. Pay attention to your elders (both literally older people and those who hold the office) - not just to see what they do that you like or dislike, but more particularly how they go about building consensus and making things happen. Find a leader or two you admire, preferrably at least one with a very different leadership style than yours, and ask a bunch of questions. Like Solomon, seek wisdom.

Nobody gave me a sudden badge of "leadership" when I was 25. Even when I was ordained at the tender age of 27, my leadership was largely as a figurehead - others really led that congregation and I spent a lot of my energy paying attention to them. I'm in my late 40s now, having worked for over 20 years to get to where I am. Just because some flunky touting "youth" shows up with a program for "young adult leadership" doesn't mean I'm going to turn over the keys to the asylum. Get some experience under your belt. Pay attention to multiple perspectives and how they can be nuanced or balanced. Learn patience. Take the long view (and 20 years is not "long view" - I'm thinking in terms of centuries). Your day will come, and it will be as brief as your predecessors'.

And when you are my age, don't forget what it was like to be young. Don't cater to them or pander to them. You know more than they do, because you've lived longer and seen more than they have. Just because they can operate whatever gadget or gizmo is all the rage 20 years from now doesn't mean the tykes are smarter.

Remember, always, that the Constitution grants you only the right to speak your mind. An audience has to be earned.

9.07.2010

Burning Qur'ans

Back to Religion & Politics, it seems some guy down in Florida is going to organize a Qur'an burning. Naturally, this is being used to show that all Christians are bigots and nincompoops.

I have strong opinions regarding Islam. I think these terrorists are reading the Qur'an fairly closely and interpreting it as it was originally intended - that they are originalists. To them, this is a religious war, quite literally. The believe (and I agree with them) that Western democracies, liberty, and capitalism are incompatible with Islam. If you want to compare life for a peasant under some Caliph in the 13th century with life for a peasant under some baron in Europe at that time, you might be able to make a case for Islamic civilization. But life for those peasants in Muslim territories hasn't gotten much better in the past 700 years - as noted by the fact that there are still quite a few peasants, slaves, and oppressed women in Muslim countries today. Life for the European peasant has gotten significantly better. Check out Bernard Lewis' books.

I also look at Islam and see that it has only rarely advanced by means of persuasion. Most of the time, people have converted to Islam because they have been conquered by Muslims. In fact, almost all the time. While there have been wars of conquest that ended in forced or near-forced conversions within Christendom (most of Latin America, for instance), it has never been the preferred method and it is most certainly not the method advocated in the book that is the basis for the religion. For Islam, however, it is not merely an option, but a moral and religious duty according to their holy book.

I find that it is difficult, even dangerous, to be a moderate Muslim. The Church gave up on executing heretics 350 years ago. Muslims haven't given up on it yet.

So I am prepared to accept that our war is not against a radical form of Islam, but a rather mainstream version. The radicals of Islam are those who want to embrace European democracy, economics, and liberty. By all means encourage them - an Islam so radicalized would be much safer. But mainstream Islam must be defeated, not because I have a problem with people being Muslim, but because too many Muslims have a problem with us being free, and are willing to kill us because of it.

What does this have to do with burning Qur'ans? Well, it means I reject those who are trying to apply all sorts of politically correct/incorrect, racist/bigoted labels on this guy. I also think this guy is dumb. Really, really dumb. The only purpose of this stunt is to get his 15 minutes of fame and he is quite willing to undermine the cause of defeating Islam in order to get it.

Yeah, he has the right to do it. Yeah, it's dangerously stupid. No, it is not the essence of Christians that they believe as he does. Imam Rauf also has the right to do what he's doing. And he, also, is dangerously stupid about it. But he can claim that his beliefs are essential to Islam. That's the difference between an inconsequential nut trying to grab the spotlight in Florida, and an enemy of the United States of America trying to hoodwink us in New York.

Really, Really Slow News Day

Here's one for the Why-the-Heck-Is-This-News? file. A McDonald's restaurant in San Francisco, no doubt overburdened by stupid regulations, red tape, and high taxes, has decided to discontinue its dollar menu. Instead, most of the items on that menu will cost $1.50. Homeless people are upset about this.

They're homeless. How is that they can afford to eat out, anyway? Besides, when did McDonald's start functioning as the dining hall of a homeless shelter? These guys are there to make money. If they think they can make more money this way, then fine. Let 'em.

More to the point, This is one of the lead articles on FoxNews' web site. Why should anybody outside that immediate neighborhood give a rat's posterior what a particular McDonald's charges?

Another Presidential Candidate

Tim Pawlenty is running for president. This is no real surprise to observers of the Minnesota governor, but that's really all this National Review Online article tells us. Teachers' unions are bad, stand in the way of reform, and are a major cause of tenured teachers who cannot teach, excessive costs, and minimal results in America's education system.

Fine. We know that. And you are going to do...what, exactly? "Market based reforms", which are? Everybody should have access to religious ed, not just a privileged few. Why? More to the point, why is that a matter for government involvement? Everybody should have access to a church, but it is not the government's job to subsidize church buildings, pastors, or worship leaders. Still less are these the province of the federal government. Pawlenty's op-ed is pretty thin gruel as these things go.

Pawlenty compliments Obama and his ed secretary Duncan on their commitment to this "Race to the Top" initiative and talks of redirecting federal money. What he doesn't talk about is getting federal government money out of the picture all together. What kind of silly system is it that puts hundreds of millions of dollars on the line based on a 1,000 page application being exactly, 100% absolutely perfect? And if that application is what funds my school, rather than the parents who send their kids to that school, what - and whom - do you think my school administration is really going to care about keeping happy? It sure won't be me.

You want to know why schools are failing? They are no longer answerable to the parents who fund them - because those parents don't fund them, not directly. Instead they are funded through the federal government, so they answer not to parents, but to federal agents. They don't have to persuade voters who can see the dismal results in their own kids' inability to read a newspaper. They only have to persuade Washington bureaucrats who, like them, are long on theory but short on practice.

Which is why government funding of private education won't work, either. Like federal grants and loans at the college level, all it will do is cause the cost of private education to skyrocket. I think I've explained this before, but let's do it again.

The local private school my son attends has an enrollment of about 800 students, K-12. It may be a bit more, but let's leave it at that for now. Their existing building and infrastructure could accommodate perhaps another 250 students before getting rather cramped and maybe 500 before needing to build more space. They are limited by physical realities of land, building square footage, number of classrooms, and so on. The city is growing and demand for that school is increasing already.

Now, let's insert a bunch of government money into this picture so that everybody and their uncle can now afford to send their kid to that school, given its existing tuition rates. They still only have room for 1,300 students, so they are going to have to pare away some of the applicants. They will still have more applicants than they have space. What happens when supply is more limited than demand? You know your basic economics, don't you? Right. The price goes up.

Tuition, room and board at the private college I attended 25 years ago has gone from about $5,000 to nearly $35,000 per year. The student's share of that, out of pocket, as a percentage of family income, has remained relatively flat, even declined. When I attended, they had reason to listen to me and heed my complaints because a significant portion of their money came from my tuition payments. Today, they have very little reason to listen to students or their parents since most of their money comes from other sources.

Right now, the high school my son attends is utterly dependent upon the tuition paid by parents and grandparents. If we don't like what they're doing enough to send our kids to another school, that hurts the school in a tangible way. They have every incentive, then, to make sure parents are satisfied with the education the students are getting, and they respond to that incentive. Insert millions of government money into schools like this one, however, and they won't care what I think nearly as much as they'll care about the opinion of some federal director of secondary education grants. But it is precisely that parental involvement that helps ensure a decent education (one of the reasons home-schooled children tend to outperform others).

So, costs will rise, control will decline, and the education on offer will be of a lower quality.

The answer, then, is not to redirect federal money. The answer is to minimize government involvement and maximize parental involvement. Neither Pawlenty, nor Obama, nor Duncan seem to be offering much in that regard.

Unions on Life Support

Unions are in the news a lot lately. Unions, primarily public sector unions, are in trouble. Private sector unions have been in trouble for quite a while, but the recent economic downturn provides an opportunity to break the back of public unions, too.

If freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, one would think that freedom of association would also mean freedom from association. If the Constitution's First Amemendment not only grants me the right to go to whatever church I want, but also to not go at all, then that same amendment's grant of a freedom to associate with whomever I wish must also entail a freedom to not associate, too. A requirement to associate with a union, particularly as a condition for employment by a government, would be a violation of my rights as a U.S. citizen. It would be interesting to see some union members bring that case to court.

Unions have largely achieved their purpose and are now an added weight around the necks of their members even in the public sector. Teachers, for instance, get paid plenty, at least in the public schools. The
average teacher salary in South Dakota is $34,700. The state's median income for single-earner households is $36,800. If you figure the typical teacher works only 10 months out of twelve, and then break that down to average monthly income, you get $3,470 for teachers and $3,067 for the median, single-earner household income. Note, too, that this only addresses cash salary. It does not look at benefits like insurance, pension, 401(k), flexible spending accounts, or anything else. In some states, teacher salaries average $60,000. By way of comparison, the median salary of a cop in the United States is just shy of $50,000.

The fact is, unions are too expensive, too political, and unresponsive to their membership. Instead of a way to beat back a too-powerful big-business management, they have become just one more burden on the backs of their workers along with that big-business management and the big-government that supports them both. A union worker is taxed by the government, taxed by the union, and dictated to by government, union, and management. It's time for them to go.

Faux Palestinian Peace Talks

So-called "peace talks" are underway again between Palestinians and Israel. They will fail. They will fail because the Palestinians do not want peace. If Abbas agreed to a peace treaty with Israel and tried to enforce it, he'd be dead within a month. The only reason Hamas doesn't control the West Bank the way they control the Gaza Strip is because Abbas won't hold elections there.

Islam is a religion of peace the way Communism was an economic system of prosperity for all.

If you want peace in Palestine, be prepared to utterly destroy the Palestinian leadership and their capacity for war. The political infrastructure must be torn out root and branch before something decent can be reconstructed on its remains. And the Palestinian people must be convinced that nothing will destroy Israel, so they might as well learn to live with her. It seems that will require a great deal of violence, censorship, and ruthlessness. So be it. Otherwise, learn to live with Palestinian terrorists and the occasional murder of one's citizenry.

Those are your options and it is because of the recalcitrance of the Palestinians that it is so. I have no sympathy for them. None at all.

The only reason this is happening is because Obama is searching for something - anything - that can give him a bump in the polls going into November. He isn't going to get it from terrified Democrats in the House, so he's looking to foreign policy matters, where he is even less competent. It won't work. Meanwhile the rest of the world impatiently waits for 2012 in hopes that we will elect an adult as president next time.

How about Allen West? Ok, Ok - a little early for that. A man can dream, can't he?

Freedom From the Press

If you want to know what has changed about the news/information industry in the last 20 years, all you need is this statement from a Howard Kurtz column:
Zaleski says such trend research is used mainly to tweak headlines and search terms. But, she adds, "what we're realizing is that we can't live in a vacuum, where we decide what people want to read."
That's Katherine Zaleski, by the way - the Washington Post head of digital news products.

It started, of course, with the growth of Talk Radio, which is to say, with Rush Limbaugh. Coming in under the radar on what was thought to be a defunct medium (AM radio), he broke through the wall constructed by the New York-Washington paragons of media and offered a valid alternative to these closed-minded journalists. About the same time he came on the radio, folks were starting to get on the Internet, initially through companies like AOL and CompuServe. As HTML language was advanced, they became less necessary and the barriers to information were obliterated. We got to decide for ourselves what we wanted to read, what we thought was important, and what we thought worthwhile - not the editors of the New York Times or the Washington Post.

These old organs of information control have largely failed to realize that and respond to it. They have also not figured out how to make money by satisfying their customers. Indeed, for many years, their response was simply to say that their customers are stupid (though not in public, at least, not in those exact words). Such venerable institutions of propaganda have, therefore, lost market share, hemorrhaged audience and advertising revenue, and are on the verge of a long overdue extinction. Newsweek was sold for one dollar to a Democrat Party activist. Time magazine is not in much better condition. Many stately, overly dignified newspapers full of their own importance have gone belly-up in recent years and many more are at death's door. They are trying, through their influence with government, to reconstruct the walls where they get to determine what we read - the so-called "Fairness Doctrine", subsidies to newspapers, welfare for journalists, and so on. But they can't put that genie back in the bottle. That ossified and sclerotic way of doing business in the news industry will go the way of the town crier in not too many years.

And it all boils down to the fact that they don't get to decide what is important anymore. Their customers do.

9.02.2010

Hawking Logic - An Exercise in Failure

I can't speak to Stephen Hawking's skill at physics or mathematics, but as a logician and philosopher, he leaves much to be desired. According to this Reuters report, the would be apologist for atheism says that God is redundant.
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," Hawking writes.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."
Really.

May I inquire, Mr. Hawking, as to who established the law of gravity? Are you saying that gravity (and the mass that generates it) are eternal, without beginning or end? On what basis do you make this claim? That gravity exists? All you've really said is that, because something existed, it exists and we don't need God to explain it.

To be honest, Hawking is right on one point. We don't need God to explain it, though that's only because we don't need an explanation in the first place. But as efforts to disprove God go, this is pretty pathetic. Indeed, if the Reuters report on his views is accurate - I know that's a rather dubious "if" - your arguments are nothing but a series of question-begging non-sequiturs. If this is the best your vaunted intellect can muster, well, we Christians have very little to fear from you. Stick to quantum physics.

9.01.2010

Democrat Suggests We Should Vote Republican

My local representative in Congress apparently thinks we should vote for the other candidate.

Well, she didn't exactly say we should. She said that a more evenly balanced House of Representatives would force more bipartisanship. Like that's a good thing. She claimed to be a moderate and that this would give her more power.

Following that logic, giving complete control of the Congress to Republicans, given that we have a Democrat in the White House, would force that bipartisanship across the entire federal government, right? So you should vote for the Republican, Kristi Noem. At least, if you take Democrat Herseth-Sandlin's logic to its conclusion.

Now, I intend to vote for Noem, so I like that conclusion. But I do not like this shibboleth of "bipartisanship". The Democrats are simply wrong. They misunderstand the role of government, they are a threat to freedom, and they do not accept the limits imposed on government by the Constitution. I do not want "bipartisanship" with someone that is wrong. Now, in the nature of government, I may be forced to compromise, to prioritize my objectives, and so on. That's just the natural workings of a democratic republic. Compromise is something one accepts in order to achieve a greater good. Herseth-Sandlin speaks as if compromise is, in and of itself, the objective. It isn't.