Monday, December 31, 2007

Movies in 2007

Greg Veltman of Comment magazine discusses his favorite films of 2007. I only saw four that are on his list, but I agree that each of them are well worth watching. The four are Amazing Grace, Blood Diamond, The Lives of Others, and Ratatouille.

Here's a list, in no particular order, of the films I watched (or watched again) this past year. Some of these, depending on taste and interest, are highly recommended. Some are entertaining but not particularly memorable. Others were not worth the time. Those with a single asterisk I thought offered a message or technical effects that made them stand out. The double asterisk indicates that, for me, the movie was exceptional:

  • Cinema Paradiso*
  • Legends of the Fall
  • Maria Full of Grace*
  • Blood Diamond**
  • Beyond the Gates*
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Human Stain
  • Lives of Others**
  • 300*
  • Dune
  • Bourne Identity*
  • Bourne Supremacy
  • Emperor's Club
  • A Beautiful Mind**
  • Salvador*
  • Failure to Launch
  • 13Tzameti
  • The Pianist**
  • Stalingrad*
  • Ratatouille**
  • Pirates of the Caribbean*
  • Gangs of New York*
  • Nowhere in Africa
  • Algiers
  • The Great Raid*
  • Wyatt Earp
  • Amazing Grace**
  • Casino Royale*
  • No Man's Land*
  • Tears of the Sun*
  • Kingdom of Heaven*
  • Die Hard: With A Vengeance
  • Russia House
  • Bang Rajan
  • I, Robot
  • David Copperfield*
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • Apocalypto*
  • Troy*
  • Hunt For Red October*
  • Babette's Feast
  • Jackal
  • Training Day*
  • Sum of All Fears
  • Lucky Number Slevin
  • Das Boot**
  • City of God*

On the recommendation of friends I tried to watch Damon/Affleck's Good Will Hunting, but found it so gratuitously vulgar that I couldn't make it past the first ten minutes.


Books in 2007

The New York Times has published its list of the top ten books for 2007. I confess that I haven't read any of them.

For what it's worth, here's a list of the books I did read this year. I found most of them well worth the time and recommend them to anyone interested in the topics they're written about. The ones marked with an asterisk were especially good reads:

  • For the Glory of God: Rodney Stark (Christian History)*
  • The Victory of Reason: Rodney Stark (Christian History)
  • From Darwin to Hitler: Richard Weikert (History of Ideas)*
  • The Edge of Evolution: Michael Behe (Biology - Evolution/Intelligent Design)*
  • A History of Christianity: Paul Johnson (Christian History)*
  • Erasmus and the Age of Reformation: Johan Huizinga (Biography)
  • Deliver Us from Evil: Ravi Zacharias (Social/Religious Commentary)
  • Can We Trust the Gospels: Mark Roberts (Theology) Nature, Design and Science (Reread): Del Ratszch (Philosophy of Science)*
  • When God Says War Is Right: Darrell Cole (Ethics - Just War Theory)
  • Epicenter: Joel Rosenberg (Dispensational Eschatology)
  • David Copperfield: Charles Dickens (Classic Literature)*
  • Atheist Manifesto: Michael Onfray (Sociology of Religion)
  • The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini (Novel about Afghanistan under the Taliban)*
  • The Spiritual Brain: Mario Beauregard & Denyse O'Leary (Philosophy of Mind/ Psychology)
  • Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe: Simon Singh (Cosmology)*
  • Boys Adrift: Leonard Sax (Sociology)*
  • There Is a God: Antony Flew (Biography/ Philosophy of Religion)
  • The Bottom Billion: Paul Collier (Analysis of Global Poverty)*
  • Heroic Conservatism: Michael Gerson (Political Ideology/Memoir)*
  • My Grandfather's Son: Clarence Thomas (Autobiography)*

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Intellectual Progress

Ramirez notes that we've come a long way in 235 years:


Poverty in America

Byron sends along this sobering essay by Bart Campolo about his work for justice among the poor. It reminds us in this season of good will that we have a moral obligation to help - in whatever way we feel most competent - those who are in need.

Unfortunately, any long term solution to the plight of America's disadvantaged is going to involve more than providing goods and services and other forms of temporary relief to destitute people. Somehow, the culture into which these individuals are born has to be changed. A culture that breeds babies without fathers, which breeds dependency on government or on the benevolence of people like Campolo, which breeds a lack of discipline and a disdain for education and learning, which fosters a terrible work ethic, which fails to place a premium on family, which glorifies the "gangsta" lifestyle, which nurtures a dependency upon drugs and alcohol, which normalizes promiscuous sex and gratuitous violence, is a culture which dooms the people trapped in it to generational poverty.

I wish someone knew how to get the urban poor out of that culture. Unfortunately, anyone who calls for tearing down the prison walls within which our poor are stuck, especially if that person is white, is often dismissed as a racist, an elitist, a cultural chauvinist, an insensitive boor who's guilty of blaming the victim, etc. Consequently, nothing much gets done beyond the tut-tutting that occurs in the wake of a disaster like Katrina or publication of the latest homicide statistics out of Philadelphia.

I sure don't know what all the answers are, but I'm convinced that the first step toward winning the "war" on poverty is a loud, sustained national condemnation of the deracinated, dysfunctional culture which, like the muck in a swamp, makes it hard for these people to lift themselves out of the mire and into the middle class. It'd be worth suffering the obloquy of the race-hustlers and other small minds who will be quick to condemn anyone who spoke in such accents if doing so eventually broke the shackles that chain so many in the miseries of poverty.


'Twas a Very Good Year

Lawrence Kudlow writes that President Bush has had a very good year in 2007:

The troop surge in Iraq is succeeding. America remains safe from terrorist attacks. And the Goldilocks economy is outperforming all expectations.

At his year-end news conference, Mr. Bush said with optimism that the economy is fundamentally sound, despite the housing downturn and the subprime credit crunch. The very next day, that optimism was reinforced with news of the best consumer spending in two years. The prophets of recessionary doom, such as former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, Republican adviser Martin Feldstein, ex-Democratic Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and bond-maven Bill Gross have been proven wrong once again.

Calendar year 2007 looks set to produce 3 percent growth in real gross domestic product, nearly 3 percent growth in consumer spending, and more than 3 percent growth in after-tax inflation-adjusted incomes.

Meanwhile, headline inflation (including food and energy) will have run at 21/2 percent, with only 2 percent core inflation.

Jobs are rising more than 100,000 monthly and the stock market is set to turn in a respectable year despite enormous headwinds. Low tax rates, modest inflation, and declining interest rates continue to boost Goldilocks, which is still the greatest story never told.

Mr. Bush's optimism is well-earned, in Congress too. He has stopped a lot of bad legislation on higher taxing and spending. He won on S-CHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) and the alternative minimum tax. He mostly prevailed on domestic spending. And he got much of what he wanted on war funding without any pullout dates.

On the other hand, Ambrose Evans Pritchard foresees catastrophe looming on the near horizon. I haven't talked to him recently about this, but I know what my brother Bill would say: Invest in precious metals.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Nasty, Brutish and Short

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto causes us to wonder anew why Islamic countries seem unable to advance beyond what passed for civilized behavior in the 6th century and why Western nations have.

Perhaps the reason is that the Christian worldview which shaped the West has fostered, albeit unevenly, a culture of technological, economic, and moral progress. Christian nations have been concerned with advancing the condition of the people who live in them, and, perhaps more to the point, Christianity has taught that we are to love our enemies, forgive those who offend us and tolerate those who disagree with us.

Islam has never been much concerned with progress, which Muslims often see as a path leading to apostasy. Nor have they been overly concerned with love and tolerance. Instead, Islam has throughout its history placed religious purity above all else, and in its radical modern mutation, at least, stresses not love, but hatred of one's enemies. A religion or ideology based on hatred will never advance nor progress. Its votaries are too busy settling scores and ridding themselves of heretics to be concerned with science and other progressive pursuits. For such people war, so far from being a necessary evil as it is often seen in the West, becomes a way of life. War and death in the cause of jihad become the whole point of earthly existence. In such a culture no progress is possible. It calls to mind the masterful cadences of Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan:

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

If it weren't for the fact that many Muslims, at least in the Arab world, happen to be living on top of vast deposits of oil, which they by themselves could neither extract, refine, or ship to market, they'd still be subsisting just as their ancestors did a thousand years ago, living in tents and merrily slaughtering each other whenever the opportunity arises.


The Right Word

There are a number of adjectives which come to mind to describe the kind of people who kill themselves in order to kill others - deranged, cruel, evil, vicious, sick, scum - but what they most emphatically are not is cowards. Anyone who is prepared to die to accomplish his purpose, no matter how twisted and malevolent that purpose may be, is not a coward. Why President Bush insists upon calling them that, most recently in his remarks on Benazir Bhutto's murder, is beyond me.

Perhaps he's just taunting the terrorists, but if so, it would make more sense to use some other pejorative. There are plenty of them available which would accurately describe these vermin without having to use one that doesn't describe them at all.


Huckabee Hints at Pardon

Mike Huckabee has a knack for co-opting issues guaranteed to endear him to social conservatives even though many fiscal and secular conservatives are very much put off by him. His latest example of this is to suggest that he would pardon Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, two border agents serving 10 to 12 years for shooting a drug smuggler in the buttocks and trying to conceal that they had violated some rules of engagement. Let's hope Huckabee's being sincere.

It is one of the most disgraceful legacies of George Bush's tenure that he has failed to pardon these men and anyone who says he'll do what Bush has refused to do is going to score big with conservatives. Perhaps they should have been suspended without pay. Perhaps they should have been fired, but they don't deserve to be doing twelve years in jail where one of them has already been severely beaten by inmates. Bush, to his shame, has commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby but refuses to get involved with Ramos and Compean.

Huckabee doesn't always say the right thing, in fact, he frequently says the wrong thing, but his Christmas ad and the hint of a pardon for Ramos and Compean show a certain political adroitness that keeps him in the race.


Thursday, December 27, 2007


Ramirez gives us his take on Dr. Clinton's experience in governing:


The New Reactionaries

Progressives, like Senator Clinton, are calling for change in November. Progressives are by definition always calling for change. Yet every time a change is proposed it is primarily progressives, oddly enough, who oppose it.

School choice, welfare reform, social security reform, tort reform, tax reform, deposing a tyrant in Iraq, banning partial birth abortion, teaching alternatives to Darwinism in our schools, increasing domestic oil production, using nuclear power rather than coal and oil, and on it goes - at every turn the "progressives" have argued for maintaining the status quo over the proposed change.

Progressives, it turns out, are the new reactionaries.


Most Electable?

Of all the candidates in the race for president which one seems at this stage to be the most electable? The question isn't asking which one would be the best for the country, or which one we are endorsing, but which one would be likely to garner the most votes.

The answer would be someone who would have appeal among both Republicans and Democrats. In my opinion, right now, that person is Mike Huckabee. Here's why: Huck appeals to a large segment of the Republican party because of his unabashed traditional values and religious views. He also appeals to a lot of liberals among Democrats who like his fiscal populism and concern for the poor. In a race between Huckabee and either Clinton or Obama, Huckabee would get all the Republican votes - the conservatives having nowhere else to go - and a sizable number of "Blue Dog" and liberal Democrat votes. Indeed, Huck seems to be a 1950s liberal in the "Scoop" Jackson mold. If he were around 40-50 years ago he'd have been a standard issue Democrat.

A lot can happen between now and the effective end of the primaries in February and the Huckaboom could easily turn into a Huckabust. There are lots of reasons for being concerned about Huckabee's record, as conservatives like George Will and the good people at National Review Online keep reminding us. But right now he looks like a vote-getter.

Ohio's Governor Ted Strickland serves as an example of Huckabee's cross party appeal.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shameless Promises and Incoherent Predictions

During the 2004 campaign vice-presidential candidate John Edwards claimed that if his running mate were elected president people like Christopher Reeves, a quadriplegic, would soon be walking. It was the crassest sort of pandering and Edwards sounded so fatuous one may have been forgiven for thinking that no presidential candidate would ever make such a stupidly shameless promise again.

Well, one should never underestimate a politician's appetite for shamelessness. Now comes a promise from Hillary Clinton that:

...just electing her President will cut the price of oil. When the world hears her commitment at her inauguration about ending American dependence on foreign fuel, Clinton says, oil-pumping countries will lower prices to stifle America's incentive to develop alternative energy.

"I predict to you, the oil-producing countries will drop the price of oil," Clinton said, speaking at the Manchester YWCA. "They will once again assume, once the cost pressure is off, Americans and our political process will recede."

If that last incoherent sentence is an accurate quote then Senator Clinton apparently had too much Christmas eggnog. Perhaps high octane eggnog also explains the absurd promise. In any event, in the chilling event that she actually gets to give the next inaugural speech, the eyes of the world will surely be transfixed on the per barrel price of oil as it plummets like the apple in Times Square on New Years' Eve. Oh, happy day. Vote Democratic and the Millenium will be upon us.


Judge Jones and the Demarcation Problem

This month marks the two year anniversary of the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of education trial presided over by the distinguished philosopher of science Judge John Jones. We might observe the occasion with a brief reflection on the most salient of the questions the Judge sought to settle.

This is the question of whether ID is or is not "science." This question is a specific instance of the larger question, called by philosophers the "Demarcation Problem," of what distinguishes genuine science from non-science. It's odd that the former chairman of the Pennsylvania liquor control board felt qualified to take this matter up and even odder that the defense did not instruct the court that most philosophers of science believe the problem has no answer. There simply are no characteristics of science which are both necessary, in the sense that any science must possess them, and also sufficient to warrant calling any discipline which does possess them a science.

Thus the Judge presumed to stroll where almost every contemporary philosopher of science fears to tread and boldly proclaims to have discerned what none of them has been able to discern after spending entire careers studying the matter. Judge Jones ruled that ID is indeed not science, implying that he, from the vantage of his lofty perch, can see clearly the distinguishing characteristics of science that no one else who studies these things has been able to espy.

The classic paper on the futility of doing precisely what Judge Jones nevertheless deigned to do was written in 1983 by Larry Laudan. I wonder if the Judge ever read it.


Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Story

The following is a parable we've run previously, but its message is important enough that it's worth repeating:

A man named Michael, a father of a teenage daughter named Jennifer, had been a member of a top-secret anti-terrorism task force in the military and his duties drew him away from home much of the time Jen was growing up. He was serving his country in a critically important, very dangerous capacity that required his absence and a great deal of personal sacrifice. As a result, his daughter grew from childhood to young adulthood pretty much without him. Indeed, his wife Judy had left him a couple of years previous and took the girl with her. But there was not a day that went by when he did not think of them and wish that he could be with them.

Finally, after several years abroad, Mike was able to return home. He longed to hold his princess in his arms and to spend every possible moment with her to try to make up for lost time, but when he knocked on the door of his ex-wife's house the girl who greeted him was almost unrecognizable. Jen had grown up physically and along the way she had rejected everything Michael valued. Her appearance shocked him and her words cut him like a razor. She told him coldly and bluntly that she really didn't want to see him, that he wasn't a father as far as she was concerned, that he had not been a part of her life before and wouldn't be in the future.

Michael, a man who had faced numerous hazards and threats in the course of his work and had been secretly cited for great heroism by the government, was staggered by her words. The loathing in her voice and in her eyes crushed his heart. He started to speak but the door was slammed in his face. Heartbroken and devastated he wandered the streets of the city wondering how, or if, he could ever regain the love his little girl once had for him.

Weeks went by during which he tried to contact both his ex-wife and his daughter, but they refused to return his calls. Then one night his cell phone rang. It was Judith and from her voice Mike could tell something was very wrong. Apparently, Jennifer had run off with some unsavory characters several days before and hadn't been heard from since. Judy had called the police, but she felt Mike should know, too. She told him that she thought the guys Jen had gone out with that night were heavily into drugs and she was worried sick about her.

She had good reason to be. Jen thought when she left the house that she was just going for a joy ride, but that's not what her "friends" had in mind. Once they had Jen back at their apartment they tied her to a bed, abused her, filmed the whole thing, and when she resisted they beat her until she submitted. She overheard them debating whether they should sell her to a man whom they knew sold girls into slavery in South America or whether they should just kill her now and dump her body in the bay. For three days her life was a living hell. She cried herself to sleep late every night after being forced to submit to almost unimaginable degradation.

Finally, her abductors sold her to a street gang in exchange for drugs. Bound and gagged, she was raped repeatedly and beaten savagely. For the first time in her life she prayed that God would help her, and for the first time in her life she missed her father. But as the days wore on she began to think she'd rather be dead than be forced to endure what she was being put through.

Mike knew some of the officers in the police force and was able to get a couple of leads from them as to who the guys who she originally left with might be. He set out not knowing Jennifer's peril, but determined to find her no matter what the cost. His search led him to another city and took days - days in which he scarcely ate or slept. Each day that passed Jennifer's condition grew worse and her danger more severe. She was by now in a cocaine-induced haze in which she hardly knew what was happening to her.

Somehow, Michael, weary and weak from his lack of sleep and food, managed to find the seedy, run down tenement building where Jennifer was imprisoned. Breaking through a flimsy door he saw his daughter lying on the filthy bed surrounded by three startled kidnappers. Enraged by the scene before his eyes he launched himself at them with a terrible, vengeful fury. Two of the thugs went down quickly, but the third escaped. With tears flowing down his cheeks, Mike unfastened the bonds that held Jen's wrists to the bed posts. She was alert enough to comprehend what was happening and as Michael helped her to her feet and led her to the doorway she realized that her father really had come for her.

As she passed into the hall a step ahead of Michael the third abductor appeared in front of her with a gun. Michael quickly stepped between them and told Jennifer to run back into the apartment and out the fire escape. The assailant tried to shoot her as she stumbled through the room, but Michael shielded her from the bullet, taking the round in his side. The thug fired twice more into Michael's body, but Mike was able to seize the gun and turn it on the shooter.

Finally, it was all over, finished.

Slumped against the wall, her father lay bleeding and bruised, the life draining out of him. Jennifer saw from the fire escape landing what had happened and ran back to her father. Cradling him in her arms she wept and told him over and over that she loved him and that she was so sorry for what she had said to him and for what she had done.

With the last bit of life left in him he gazed up at her, pursed his lips in a kiss, smiled and died. Jennifer wept hysterically. How could she ever forgive herself for how she had acted? How could she ever overcome the guilt and the loss she felt? How could she ever repay the tremendous love and sacrifice of her father?

Years passed. Jennifer eventually had a family of her own. She raised her children to revere the memory of Michael even though they had never known him. She resolved to live her own life in such a way that Michael, if he knew, would be enormously proud of her. Everything she did, she did out of gratitude to him for what he had done for her, and every year on the anniversary of his birthday she went to the cemetery alone and sat for a couple of hours at his graveside, talking to him and sharing her love and her life with him. Her father had given everything for her despite the cruel way she had treated him. He had given his life to save hers. His love for her, his sacrifice, had changed her life.

And that's why Christians celebrate Christmas.

Bill and I wish all our readers at Viewpoint a wonderful and meaningful Christmas.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Most Important Thing

This story has created a bit of a stir and even had Rush Limbaugh in a dither the other day, but it's hard to see what Dr. Williams says about the Christmas narrative that's obviously wrong or unorthodox:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, dismissed the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men yesterday as nothing but "legend".

There was scant evidence for the Magi, and none at all that there were three of them, or that they were kings, he said. All the evidence that existed was in Matthew's Gospel. The Archbishop said: "Matthew's Gospel doesn't tell us there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from. It says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told." Anything else was legend. "It works quite well as legend," the Archbishop said.

Further, there was no evidence that there were any oxen or asses in the stable. The chances of any snow falling around the stable in Bethlehem were "very unlikely". And as for the star rising and then standing still: the Archbishop pointed out that stars just don't behave like that.

Although he believed in it himself, he advised that new Christians need not fear that they had to leap over the "hurdle" of belief in the Virgin Birth before they could be "signed up". For good measure, he added, Jesus was probably not born in December at all. "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."

None of this is news to anyone who has spent any time studying the accounts of Jesus' birth, of course. Much of our traditional picture of the first Christmas is a result of later accretions. The only thing the prelate says that might be controversial among Christians is that people shouldn't be deterred from accepting the lordship of Christ because they have doubts about the possibility of the virgin birth.

Nevertheless, I think he's right about this. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, it's far more important that we enter into a proper relationship with God now than that we wait until all our doubts are resolved and all our questions are answered. There's nothing unChristian in reciting the words of Thomas as we submit our lives to God: "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief."

This is not to minimize the theological importance of the virgin birth, but merely to say that the Archbishop is correct not to make that doctrine the sine qua non of being reconciled to Christ. It's important for our understanding of who Christ actually was that theologians get the matter right, but for the average Christian layman paramount importance rests simply in one's surrender to Christ. I think that reading the Archbishop's words in context makes it clear that this is what he was trying to say, and Rush can relax.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hillary Claus

Friday we talked about Huckabee's Christmas greeting. Hillary's effort below offers an interesting contrast. In her's there's no mention of the reason for Christmas, no hint of the spiritual significance of the season, only the implied promise of something for everyone, a chicken in every pot, free gifts from Santa Clinton. Her ad follows the standard liberal trends toward secularization and desacralization of Christmas:

No wonder there's a "Huckaboom" among those who want Christmas to mean something more than just crass commercialism and cynical, tawdry attempts to bribe voters with promises of plunder from the public purse.

Jonah Goldberg writes about the two ads at NRO and recalls a nugget from a book by P.J. O'Roarke:

It's a profound commentary on the state of our political culture that Huckabee's ad is the controversial one. Huckabee promises nothing, Hillary everything.

The contrast between the Candidate of God and the Candidate of Goodies should remind everyone of P. J. O'Rourke's timeless book Parliament of Whores.

"I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat," wrote the indispensable O'Rourke.

"God" he explained, is "a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well being of the disadvantaged. ... God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God's heavenly country club."

P. J. continues: "Santa Claus is another matter. ... He's nonthreatening. He's always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without the thought of a quid pro quo."

"Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one," O'Rourke concluded. "There is no such thing as Santa Claus."

P.S. Fred Thompson serves up a greeting that is unassuming, poignant, and, unlike Hillary's, focusses on the sacrifice others are making rather than on what others will get if they vote for him:


No Credibility

On The Drudge Report:

'...this war is lost and...the surge is not accomplishing anything' --- Sen. Harry Reid, 4/19/07

'...the surge certainly hasn't hurt. It's helped. I recognize that' --- Sen. Harry Reid, 12/21/07

Anyone can change his mind in the face of new evidence. The problem with Sen. Reid is that he was in such a hurry to pronounce the surge a failure that he made the above claim in April, at least a month before the surge was fully implemented. Why was he so eager to pronounce the war lost? Why was he in such a rush to declare the surge a failure before it was even really begun? Either the man is reckless or he's dishonest. In either case he doesn't belong at the head of the U.S. Senate.


Nuclear Facility Attack

This is scary:

An underreported attack on a South African nuclear facility last month demonstrates the high risk of theft of nuclear materials by terrorists or criminals. Such a crime could have grave national security implications for the United States or any of the dozens of countries where nuclear materials are held in various states of security.

Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, four armed men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility 18 miles west of Pretoria, a site where hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium are stored. According to the South African Nuclear Energy Corp., the state-owned entity that runs the Pelindaba facility, these four "technically sophisticated criminals" deactivated several layers of security, including a 10,000-volt electrical fence, suggesting insider knowledge of the system. Though their images were captured on closed-circuit television, they were not detected by security officers because nobody was monitoring the cameras at the time.

There's more to the story at the link including a bit of heroics on the part of one of the plant's employees.

If this attack occured in South Africa one wonders how many succesful attacks have occured elsewhere in countries like Pakistan where word of the breach might never surface in the outside world.


Tanc Picks Mitt

Tom Tancredo has endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination for President. There was no one in the presidential race more committed to stopping illegal immigration than Tom Tancredo, who withdrew his candidacy Thursday. That he has passed the torch to Romney (instead of Duncan Hunter?!) will certainly go a long way to allay fears that Romney is not really serious about closing the border. Mitt did, after all, countenance sanctuary cities in Massachusetts when he was governor so there's reason to be dubious about his commitment to the cause.

Nevertheless, Tancredo's endorsement will surely boost Romney's stock among conservatives for whom this issue is a major criterion in deciding how to cast their vote. Tanc gives his reasons for selecting Romney here.

In our opinion this is one of the most significant endorsements of the primary campaign. Tancredo has a lot of credibility with conservative Republicans, especially on immigration, and Romney will surely benefit from having his support. It may even be decisive in Iowa where Mitt is in a tight battle with Mike Huckabee.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Huckabee's Christmas Ad

As everyone knows by now Mike Huckabee has taken a lot of flak from the media for his Christmas commercial in which a bookcase in the background forms a cross. The media thinks this is very devious of the nefarious Huckabites. Ron Paul seems to think that subliminal swastikas will be next.

Here's the commercial if you haven't seen it:

Gary Varvel offers this amusing commentary:


Off With Their Heads

Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views writes:

The producers of Expelled are hosting a contest where people submit videos discussing their persecution as a result of challenging Darwin.

Expelled is a forthcoming documentary which makes the case that the Darwinians are conducting an inquisition in the academy to weed out anyone who dissents from the accepted materialist orthodoxy on the matter of the origins of biological diversity.

Luskin posts this video as an example of how heretics are treated by the high priests of materialism:

The materialist clergy in the cathedrals of learning insist that even if alternatives to materialism like intelligent design are science they are nevertheless bad science and those who advocate those alternatives should not be permitted to teach the impressionable acolytes who sit at their feet.

Well. Marxist economics is certainly bad economics and Freudian psychology is bad psychology. Yet no one is excommunicating Marxists and Freudians, are they? Could it be that Marxists and Freudians are safe despite the quaintness of the ideas they teach because they are materialists? Perhaps, despite their adherence to deeply flawed theories of economic and human behavior, they're still on the right side of the only line that counts in the church of Darwinian orthodoxy - the line that separates those who believe that there is more to reality than just material nature from those who believe that material nature is all there is.

It's ironic that scientists are being harrassed and tyrannized, not for their scientific views, but for their metaphysical convictions. One expects this sort of thing in Middle Eastern schools run by the Taliban, but it truly is an outrage that this would be happening in American universities.


Worth the Cost

One of the current narrative threads concerning the situation in Iraq is that, even if we're winning, it wasn't worth the cost in blood and treasure. But how does one assess what price would be worth paying to accomplish what we have accomplished? Was the Revolutionary war worth the cost? How about the Civil war, or WWII, or Korea? How could anyone answer those questions at the time? They're difficult enough to answer even now. How do we assess how many American lives and how many American dollars are just the right price to:

  • Liberate 25 million people
  • Remove a bloodthirsty mass killer who was a threat to the entire region and a supporter of terrorism.
  • Induce Libya and, if the NIE is to be believed (I'm skeptical), Iran to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions.
  • Hand al Qaeda a crucial defeat on a battlefield of their choosing and kill tens of thousands of terrorist torturers and mass murderers.
  • Gain an important ally (or quasi-ally) in the region.

The nay-sayers counter with the claim that we've lost prestige around the world, but where's the evidence of that? The left-wing European media despises us, of course, but then they always have. The European people themselves, however, have chosen Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, and Nicholas Sarkozy to lead their countries, and all of these are pro-American leaders, the latter two even moreso than their predecessors. In South America Hugo Chavez's anti-American rhetoric is not being particularly well-received even by the people who elected him in Venezuela. In Australia staunch ally Prime Minister John Howard was defeated, but his successor, Kevin Rudd, is also pro-American.

In any event, so what if we're not loved? It's a sad fact of human nature that people who envy or who feel indebted to someone tend to resent the one they envy. Machiavelli was right when he said that it's better to be loved than hated, but it's much better to be feared than loved. When people perceive you as strong and willing to use your strength they'll fear and respect you even if they don't love you. If they perceive you to be weak they will despise you, especially if they envy and resent your success, and will work to destroy you.

The important thing is to use one's strength to make the world a more just place and to do it with as much compassion as circumstances allow. If people despise us for our efforts to bring about justice that's unfortunate but it shouldn't dissuade us.

The question concerning Iraq, then, is not whether it was worth the cost. Anyone who gives a yes or no answer to that question at the present moment doesn't know what he's talking about. Only time will give us the answer. What we can ask at this juncture, though, is why, given what we presently know, anyone would be convinced that the answer is no.

Having said that, the most important question we need to ask about Iraq is whether we have increased the amount of justice in the world by doing what we did. If the answer to that is yes, then all the arguments over WMD, etc. are unimportant. What we did was good. Whether the good achieved in this instance was worth the cost only time will tell.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tancredo Calls it Quits

Tom Tancredo, the best candidate on immigration issues currently contending for the White House, has decided to bow out of the race. We wonder who'll pick up his support. To see an excellent overview of where each of the Republicans stands on the issue of both legal and illegal immigration go here.

The best choice from among all the remaining candidates is Duncan Hunter with Ron Paul next. The best of the front-runners is Fred Thompson with Mitt Romney coming in a distant second. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are at the bottom, with Mike Huckabee somewhere in between.


Graphing the Violence

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal has some helpful graphs which show the effects of the surge on violence in Iraq. Every measure shows that the violence is declining sharply. Whether it will continue to decline no one knows, but surely now is not the time to be calling for the U.S. to get out of Iraq.


Miracles and the Laws of Nature

An argument one often hears made against the occurrence of miracles such as those upon which Christian belief is based is that they require an unacceptable intervention and tinkering with the laws of nature, and God wouldn't work that way. This is also one reason why some people have difficulty with some versions of intelligent design theory. They simply have a philosophical problem with violations or overrides of the laws of physics.

Well, perhaps the implied claim that miracles violate or supercede the laws of nature is not necessarily correct. Miracles like those recorded in the Gospels could actually be an expression of the laws of nature and still be miraculous all the same.

Imagine an engineer who designs and builds a computer (the universe). Along the way he programs that computer to produce certain images (living things) on the screen. Suppose that upon some of these images the engineer bestows the gift of consciousness. The software program is information (laws of nature) that governs how everything in the computer functions. When the computer is booted up the software causes the computer to produce screen images which behave in accord with the constraints imposed by the information contained in the software program.

Now suppose that integrated into that program are certain if/then commands which only express themselves under certain highly specific conditions. They might have the form: If P then Q unless R. If R never occurs, P > Q would seem to all observers in the screen to be the algorithm that governs the functioning of the computer. If R never occurs then whenever P happens Q happens.

If, however, R does on one occasion occur then in that instance Q would not follow upon P and everyone who witnessed the "breakdown" would be astonished. It would appear to the conscious screen images that the program had spontaneously been altered or violated even though it was not. It would appear to them that a miracle had occurred.

Suppose that one of the laws that governs our universe is: Whenever a denser object is immersed in a less dense substance the denser object will necessarily sink unless the denser object manifests the Son of God. If that were the law that governs buoyancy we would never see an exception to denser objects sinking in less dense substances unless we were witness to the Son of God standing on water. If we were, it would appear to us that we were witnessing a miracle, but we would not be witnessing a violation of the laws of nature. We would be witnessing instead an instance of those laws expressing themselves in a manner they had not previously had occasion to do.

It could well be that the laws of nature are like information or software that the Cosmic Engineer has designed to run the universe in the fashion described above. If so, it could also be that at least some miracles would not be exceptions to physical laws, but rather expressions of the way the laws manifest themselves in certain very extraordinary circumstances.

The point is that one need not oppose miracles or intelligent design on the basis of a visceral aversion to the notion that God somehow changes or revises the laws of nature as He goes along. It could be that at least some of the miracles recorded in the Gospels, as well as the appearance of biological novelty, are part of the outworking of a seamless creative design planned, engineered and carried out by God from before the creation of the world.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Congress Defunds the Fence

Last year Congress approved spending to build 700 miles of double-tiered fencing along our southern border. Monday night they passed a spending bill which gutted last year's bill. Meanwhile, the bill they passed allocates $10 million for attorneys for illegal immigrants.

Citizens of this country must make it clear that they will refuse to vote for any congressperson or presidential candidate who refuses to secure our border or whose record on illegal immigration is weak. This encompasses all the Democratic candidates for president and most of the Republicans except Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter.

The Democrats pander to Hispanics to get their votes and Republicans curry favor with businesses which rely on cheap labor. Between them they're selling out America for a mess of pottage.

See here for an explanation of why illegal immigration is a problem and here for what we should do about it.

Simply put, no candidate who goes squishy on the border fence without offering something better in its place will receive our vote.


Dumbing Down Education

It seems that the tension between faculty and administration over academic standards is close to universal. Teacjhers almost always want to make their courses more challenging than what their principals would prefer. It's unusual, though, for the administrator to be this blatant about wanting his teachers to moderate their standards and expectations:

Have teachers at an East Harlem school been ordered to lower their standards because many students there are poor? That's the impression some got from their principal's memo.

Last month, Principal Bennett Lieberman sent off a stern memo to teachers.

"If you are not passing more than 65 percent of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities, and you are setting your students up for failure, which, in turn, limits your success as a professional."

Was he ordering teachers to dumb down their classes?

The memo continued:

"Most of our students come from the lowest third percentile in academic achievement, have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school experience to our experiences growing up."

Some students took offense.

"That's not the way to pass," 12th grader Richard Palacios said. "That's not the way to get your education, so you're basically cheating yourself."

Lieberman told a newspaper Thursday he "confidently stands by" his words.

But late Thursday, the Department of Education weighed in. It sent him a letter demanding he clarify his views and state that he is not ordering his teachers to lower their standards.

Teachers at the school stand to receive $3,000 bonuses if their school improves.

During my career teaching in a public high school I heard lots of stories from colleagues in other districts, and some even in my own, who felt that they were pressured to be less demanding of their students, to lower their academic expectations, to fail fewer kids. Administrators don't like it when teachers set high standards (though they say they want them to) because when students don't do well parents complain and principals and superintendents get tired of taking angry phone calls and meeting with irate parents. It's easier to just make good grades a little easier to achieve. In one school of my acquaintance no student, no matter how poorly he or she did, could be given a grade of less than 50%. This is ridiculous, but it reflects the fear of administrators that if we demand too much of students too many of them will fail, and that makes the school and its leadership look bad.

This is what's wrong, by the way, with requiring that a state-wide test be passed in order to graduate. If the test is rigorous many minority students will not be able to pass it, and there will be immense political pressure to water down the standards. But if the test is diluted it'll be so easy as to be a meaningless joke for most of the state's students. It'll be interesting to see how many states are still requiring such tests ten years from now and how rigorous those tests will be by then.

My guess is that if they're still around they'll be so simple that a fifth grader could pass them.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today's Inspiration

Bill Dembski at Uncommon Descent writes about Paul Potts:

Watch the faces of the judges as this fellow walks on the stage. Based on his looks and the fact that he is a cell phone salesman, they initially misjudge him. Sometimes you have to stop believing what everyone is telling you and start listening to your passion.

Great talent, like great ideas, sometimes comes in very humble and ordinary packages.

Click here and watch the video to see what I'm talking about. It'll bring tears to your eyes. Be sure to scroll down to read about Potts' background.

Paul Potts is an ambassador for every ugly duckling who holds within himself wonderful beauty and a lesson for all of us to not judge people by what they look like.

He's currently enjoying a successful career traveling the world singing opera.


Atheism's Love-Child

Ideas have consequences and the ideas of zealous anti-theists are no exception. Atheism's logical offspring is nihilism, the belief that nothing has meaning, nothing has value, nothing matters. Most atheists can't live with this consequence of their convictions so they practice a kind of psychological contraception that enables them to enjoy the thrill of casting off the shackles of tradition without having to face up to the results of their philosophical concupiscence.

Not all atheists are so timid, however. In recent years we've been witness to the horrors perpetrated by those who choose to embrace the full consequence of a rejection of God.

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were two such young men. On a video they made before their killing spree at Columbine High School in April of 1999 they left no doubt about at least part of their motivation:

"What would Jesus do?" asks Klebold, yelling and making faces at the camera. "What would I do?" Then he points an imaginary shotgun at the camera, takes aim, and says, "Boosh!"

"Yeah, 'I love Jesus. I love Jesus.' Shut the f-up," Harris says on the same tape, made on March 15.

"Go Romans," Harris says later. "Thank God they crucified that a-hole." Then the two teenagers both chant, "Go Romans! Go Romans! Yeah! Whoo!"

Klebold, who reportedly had a crush on Christian student Rachel Scott, singles her out for particular disdain, calling her a "godly whore" and a "stuck-up little b-."

Scott was one of the young people they murdered.

Another example is Finnish student Pekka-Eric Auvinen who shot and killed eight others, including the female principal of Jokela High School, and then killed himself.

On his YouTube page he says, "I am a cynical existentialist, antihuman humanist, antisocial social darwinist, realistic idealist and godlike atheist."

He believed that he was serving nature by killing others. Atheism can offer no reason for saying that what he did was wrong. The atheist can only shake his head and say he wished he hadn't done it.

The most recent instance of an atheist embracing the nihilism to which his worldview has led him is Matthew Murray. Murray, calling himself "nghtmrchld26," posted a message on the internet that said this:

"I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @.%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill."

"God, I can't wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.

Well, one problem few Christians are to blame for is the surge in mass killings in our schools, malls, and churches over the last decade or so. Those crimes, like most other crimes, are committed by people for whom God long ago ceased to be relevant. They're committed by people who have lost the sense that shooting people is any different than shooting game animals. They're committed by people who, if nothing else, are consistent in carrying their atheism to its nihilistic end-point - the belief that nothing, not even their own lives, means anything at all.

They're committed by people like this:

HT: Cracked


Monday, December 17, 2007

Lady Macbeth

This column by Stuart Taylor of National Journal should be required reading for anyone planning to vote in the 2008 presidential election. Taylor reminds us that Hillary Clinton has attacked Barack Obama for alleged dishonesty because, after he'd claimed that he's not running to fulfill some long-held plans to become president, it turned out that he'd written something as a kindergartener about being President someday. Clinton's charge is ludicrous on the face of it, but especially so coming from one whose own record is so seriously marred by dishonesty. Taylor writes:

[L]et's take a trip down memory lane -- from the tawdriness of the 1992 presidential campaign through the mendacity of the ensuing years -- to revisit a sampling of why so many of us came to think that Hillary's first instinct when in an embarrassing spot is to lie.

Gennifer and Monica. Former lounge singer Gennifer Flowers surfaced in early 1992 with claims -- corroborated by tapes of phone calls -- that she had had a long affair with then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who had arranged a state job for her. Bill Clinton told the media, falsely, that the woman's "story is untrue." He later denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. Hillary has insisted that her husband was romantically involved with neither woman, but friends and former aides have revealed publicly that she knew her husband was lying all along.

Travelgate. In May 1993, Chief of Staff Mack McLarty fired the seven employees in the White House office that arranges travel for the press corps. The White House cited gross financial mismanagement. (The charge was never substantiated.) The sudden firings created a media uproar, especially when the dismissed employees were quickly replaced by friends and relatives of the Clintons.

Hillary later claimed that she had no role in the decision to fire the employees, did not know the "origin of the decision," and "did not direct that any action be taken by anyone" other than keeping her informed. But her statements were contradicted by evidence, including a long-concealed memo to McLarty and a written chronology prepared by White House aide David Watkins that came to light years later. Hillary, Watkins wrote, had said that "we need those people out and we need our people in" and had made it clear that "there would be hell to pay" unless she got "immediate action." Another aide wrote that Hillary intimate Susan Thomases had said, "Hillary wants these people fired."

Independent counsel Robert Ray reported in October 2000 that Hillary's statements had been "factually false" and that there was "overwhelming evidence that she in fact did have a role in the decision to fire the employees."

Cattle futures. The New York Times revealed in March 1994 that in 1978, just before her husband became governor, Hillary had made a $100,000 profit on a $1,000 investment in highly speculative cattle-futures contracts in only nine months. Hillary's first explanation (through aides) of this extraordinary windfall was that she had made the investment after "reading The Wall Street Journal" and placed all the trades herself after seeking advice from "numerous people." It was so preposterous that she soon had to abandon it. Eventually, she had to admit that longtime Clinton friend James Blair had executed 30 of her 32 trades directly with an Arkansas broker.

In an April 1994 press conference, Hillary denied knowing of "any favorable treatment" by Blair. But the astronomical odds against any financial novice making a 10,000 percent profit without the game being rigged led many to believe that Blair, the outside counsel to Arkansas-based poultry giant Tyson Foods, must have put only profitable trades in Hillary's account and absorbed her losses. The heavily regulated Tyson needed friends in high places, and Bill Clinton helped it pass a 1983 state law raising weight limits on chicken trucks.

Removal of Vince Foster documents. During the same press conference, Hillary was asked why her then-chief of staff, Maggie Williams, had been involved in removing documents from the office of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster after his suicide. Foster had been a partner of Hillary's at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark. "I don't know that she did remove any documents," Hillary said. But it was reported three months later that Hillary had instructed Williams to remove the Foster documents to the White House residence. Then they were turned over to Clinton attorney Bob Barnett.

Castle Grande. In the summer of 1995, the Resolution Trust Corp. reported that Hillary had been one of 11 Rose Law Firm lawyers who had done work in the mid-1980s on an Arkansas real estate development, widely known as Castle Grande. Castle Grande was a sewer of sham transactions, and its ultimate collapse cost taxpayers millions. Hillary told federal investigators that she knew nothing about Castle Grande. When it turned out that she had put in more than 30 hours of legal work involving Castle Grande, she said she had known the project under a different name. A 1996 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. report said that she had drafted documents that Castle Grande used to "deceive federal bank examiners."

Billing records. Hillary's billing records for Castle Grande were in a 116-page, 5-inch-thick computer printout that came to light under mysterious circumstances on January 4, 1996 -- 19 months after it had been subpoenaed by an independent prosecutor and amid prosecutorial pressure on Clinton aides who had been strikingly forgetful. For most of that time, Hillary claimed that the billing records had vanished. But a longtime Hillary assistant named Carolyn Huber later admitted coming across the printout in August 1995 on a table in a storage area next to Hillary's office; Huber said she had put it into a box in her own office, without realizing for five more months that these were the subpoenaed billing records.

This implausible tale, on top of other deceptions, prompted New York Times columnist William Safire to write on January 8, 1996, that "our first lady ... is a congenital liar."

The next day, the White House press secretary said that the president wanted to punch Safire in the nose for insulting his wife. Five days later, the president invited Monica Lewinsky to the Oval Office for what turned out to be one of their 10 oral-sex sessions. Two years and 13 days after that, Hillary was on the "Today" show suggesting that her husband's Lewinsky affair was a lie concocted by "this vast right-wing conspiracy."

And now she is citing Barack Obama's supposed kindergarten "essay" as evidence of dishonesty. Astonishing.

HT: Powerline

What's even more astonishing is that a lot of people in this country still support her and will vote for her to be President of the United States notwithstanding the steady stream of scandal and corruption which attended her tenure in the White House during her husband's administration.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Brains in a Petri Dish

I have no idea how this works, but it certainly sounds like an astounding development. Neurons are connected to a computer to form a hybrid "brain" and "taught" to fly a simulator?

If just a few dozen neurons can be taught to fly a plane why can't a brain with trillions of neurons be taught to clean up a bedroom? Just wondering.


Huckabee on Foreign Policy

Mike Huckabee has penned a major foreign policy piece in Foreign Affairs. Aside from the first two sentences of the second paragraph in which he makes a gratuitous swipe at Bush, it's pretty solid stuff. It's also noteworthy that not only is he putting his policy ideas in print but he's talking in specifics rather than generalities.

It'd be great if the rest of the candidates in both parties did likewise, although I don't believe any of the Republicans, except Ron Paul, would have any serious disagreements with Huckabee's paper. The interesting contrast would be between what Huckabee has written and what Obama, Clinton and Edwards would propose to do were they in the White House.

UPDATE: Bill Richardson also has a foreign policy piece in Foreign Affairs. It can be read here.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thought For A Sunday

Taken from Dying To Self by William Law...

Barnabas - There is no need of a number of practices or methods in this matter. For to die to self, or to come from under its power, cannot be done by any active resistance we can make to it by the powers of nature. For nature can no more overcome or suppress itself than wrath can heal wrath. So long as self acts, nothing but natural works are brought forth, and therefore the more labor of this kind, the more the self life is fed and strengthened with its own food.

But the one true way of dying to self is most simple and plain. There is no need of arts or methods; no cells, monasteries, or pilgrimages; it is equally accessible to everybody; it is always at hand; it meets you in everything; and is never without success.

If you ask what this one true, simple, plain, immediate, and unerring way is, it is the way of a patient, meek, humble resignation to God This is the way to die to self; it is nowhere else but in this state of heart.

John - The excellency and perfection of these virtues I readily acknowledge; but how will this prove the way of overcoming self to be so simple, plain, immediate, and unerring as you say? Is it not the teaching of almost all men and all books, and confirmed by our own sad experience, that a great deal of time, and effort and a variety of practices and methods are necessary, to the attainment of any one of these virtues?

Barnabas - When Christ was upon the earth, was there anything more simple, plain, immediate, unerring than the way to Him? Did scribes, Pharisees, publicans, and sinners need any length of time or exercise of rules and methods before they could have admission to Him or have the benefit of faith in Him?

John - I don't understand why you ask the question. How can it relate to the matter before us?

Barnabas - It not only relates to, but is the very heart of the matter. I refer you to a patient, meek, humble resignation to God as the one simple, plain, immediate, and unerring way of dying to self, I refer you to Christ Jesus the Lord. You can as easily and immediately, without art or method, by the mere turning to the Christ within you in simple faith, have all the benefit of these virtues, as publicans and sinners by their turning to Christ could be helped and saved by him when he walked among men.

John - You mean that simply by turning to Christ within is as certain and immediate a way of my being possessed and blessed by these virtues as when sinners turn to Christ to be helped and saved by Him?

Barnabas - Yes, I would have you strictly to believe this! And also to believe that the reasons why you are vainly seeking and never attaining these virtues is because you seek them in the wrong way; in a multitude of human rules, methods, and contrivances, and not in the simplicity of faith in which they who came to Christ immediately obtained that which they asked of Him.

"Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." How short and simple and certain a way to peace and comfort from the misery and burden of sin! So what about all the rules and methods and round about ways to be delivered from the power of sin, and to find the redeeming power and virtue of Christ? Will you say that turning to Christ in faith was once indeed the way for men to enter into life and be delivered from the power of their sins, but that all this ended when Pilate nailed Jesus to the cross?

How strange to suppose that Christ, after having finished His great work, overcome death, ascended into heaven, with all power in heaven and on earth, has become less a savior than He was before! How could He bring less help to those who by faith turn to Him now than when He was clothed with the infirmity of our flesh and blood upon earth? Does He have less power after He has conquered than while He was only resisting and fighting with our enemies? Or does He have less good will to assist His Church, His own body, now that He is in heaven than He had to assist publicans and sinners before He was crucified? And yet this must be the case if our simple turning to Him in faith is not as sure a way of obtaining immediate assistance from Him now as when He was upon earth.

When Christ was upon earth nothing was more simple, plain, immediate, and certain than the way of coming to Him. There was no length of time, no rules or methods to be observed; all who came in the simplicity of a faith that knew it could not help itself, and turned from itself to Him, found immediate access and relief. And now that Christ is in heaven and has taken His place on the throne of grace, there has been no change in the way to come to Him; now that we cannot see Him, more than ever the way to Him and to be helped by Him is a way of faith. Faith in Him can bring an immediate and effectual deliverance from self.

He is able to deliver them who trust in Him from the dominion of self. His exaltation to the throne calls us to a confidence and assurance such as those who were with Him never could have had. Let your heart be strengthened with the faith that He who is mighty to save can save you from the dominion of self, and that faith in Him is the one simple, only and immediate way to obtain this deliverance.

But do not be mistaken as to how this deliverance comes. Many think that it comes by the death and entire removal of self. This is not the way. The death of self is something very different from the death to self which God's word holds out to you. When Jesus died to sin, He did not slay sin in the sense of annihilating it. Sin is still living and reigning in all who submit to it. He died to it so that it had no more power to tempt or persecute Him. You are partakers of His death to sin, and to self, in which sin works; and the healing he now gives is the power of His death to sin and His living unto God in such a way that He frees you from the dominion of self. Now you are living in Him and His life is released to flow out through you.

And now, you may have accepted this gift of deliverance but still feel the need to have opened up to you what it implies and how you can fully enjoy it. Or you may want more insight as to how you can more fully possess this blessing. The important thing is to turn at once, even this moment, to the Christ who dwells within you as the one and only most certain deliverer from the power of self and sin.


John - It seems to me that you have stepped aside from the point. The question was not concerning turning to Christ in faith but whether my turning in faith and desire to patience, meekness, humility, and resignation to God would bring about the release and change as fully for me now as faith in Christ did for those who were his followers upon earth.

Barnabas - As a matter of fact, I have stuck closely to the point before us. Let's suppose I have given you a form of prayer in these words; "O Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world . . . " or, "O Bread that comes down from heaven . . . " Would you say that this was not a prayer to Christ because it did not call Him Jesus or the Son of God?

John - Yes, this is a prayer to Jesus, the Son of the living God! Who else but He is the Lamb of God and the bread that came down from heaven?

Barnabas - Well answered, my friend. When I exhort you to give up yourself in faith and hope to patience, meekness, humility, and surrender to God, I am pointing you directly to faith and hope in Jesus, the Lamb of God who is the perfection of patience, meekness, humility, and surrender to God!

Would you not say that a faith that makes you hunger and thirst for these virtues is a faith that makes you desire to be delivered from self by Jesus, the Lamb of God? So, therefore, every sincere desire, every inward inclination of your heart that presses after these virtues, and longs to be governed by them, is an immediate, direct appeal to Jesus, is worshiping and falling down before Him, is giving up yourself to Him, and is in itself the very perfection of faith in Him.

Hear the words of Christ Himself: "learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls." It is clear that to desire patience, meekness, humility, and surrender to God is the same thing as to learn of Christ, or to have faith in Him. This is the one simple, short, and infallible way to overcome or be delivered from all the evil and burden of self expresses in these words, "And you shall find rest unto your souls."

This simple tendency or inclination of your heart to sink down into patience, meekness, humility, and surrender to God is truly dying to self. It is leaving all that you have to follow and be with Christ. It is your highest act of faith in Him. It is the most ardent and earnest declaration of your cleaving to Him with all your heart and seeking for no other salvation but from Him and in Him.

Therefore all the goodness, pardon and deliverance from sin that ever happened to anyone by looking to Christ is sure to be had from this state of heart which stands continually turned to Him in a desire to be governed by His spirit of patience, meekness, humility, and surrender to God.

Another Baltimore Bus Assault

There's been yet another gang attack on bus passengers in Baltimore. Once again a pack of black teens has beaten two whites, apparently for the crime of being white.

The Maryland Transportation Authority took three days to release photos of the attackers and is not treating the attack as a hate crime but rather as "simply...a common assault."

Well, it seems that in Baltimore such assaults certainly are common. We return to a question we asked the other day about the Sarah Kreager beating: If seven white kids had beaten two black men for riding a bus how long would it take the authorities to release photos of the assailants and for the media to be screaming about the horrific bigotry that underlies such an atrocity?

There certainly is a double standard when it comes to interracial crime in our country, and until all such crimes are treated with the same social opprobrium bitterness and seething resentments are only going to increase. This is not how to produce racial harmony. Nor does it augur optimism for the future of race relations when a story like this can appear in the paper and everyone who reads it knows the race of both perpetrators and victims without having to be told anything more than that it was interracial.

Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin reports that the authorities are going to try as adults some of the thugs who beat Sarah Kreager. I wonder if Al Sharpton will organize a march to protest the injustice of it all.

One last thought. Maryland happens to be a difficult state in which to obtain a concealed weapon carry permit, but I wonder how long that will last as more people get fed up with living in fear.


Waterboarding Abu Zubaydah

For those interested in the controversy surrounding the resort to torture in general and waterboarding in particular an ABC interview with former CIA agent John Kiriakou may prove instructive. Kiriakou doesn't like it, he'd prefer we not do it, but nevertheless, not only does he claim it is effective but in some cases it's morally necessary (my gloss on his words).

According to Kiriakou waterboarding has been employed in only a handful of cases, one of which was that of Abu Zubaydah, a high ranking al Qaeda terrorist caught soon after 9/11. Zubaydah was subjected to the sensation of drowning for 35 seconds after which he told the interrogators everything he knew and the intell was used to prevent dozens of terrorist attacks and save perhaps hundreds of lives.

The question those who believe torture to be absolutely wrong have to be asked is why they think it wrong to subject a mass murderer to 35 seconds or less of physical discomfort, after which he is perfectly unharmed, in order to save his victims from being blown to bits. What moral calculus could possibly lead us to conclude that it is better to let perhaps hundreds of women and children be ripped apart by shrapnel than to induce a gag reflex in their would-be murderer for 35 seconds?

UPDATE: Ramirez weighs in on the waterboarding debate:

In point of fact, as Kiriakou explains in the interview, no water even enters the person's nose during waterboarding.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Design Matrix

How about this for a promo for a new book on Intelligent Design? The book is The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues by Mike Gene (a pseudonym) and it's getting a lot of publicity in ID circles. Check out the ad. It rocks.


Pope Benedict on Atheism

ABC News tells us that Pope Benedict XVI has released his second encyclical and in it he notes that modern atheism has:

...led to some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" ever known to mankind.

This, it would seem, would be a no-brainer, yet many of the neo-atheists who have been publishing attacks against theism in general and Christianity in particular, appear oblivious to the fact.

A worldview that strips human beings of any inherent dignity or worth while at the same time also stripping away any grounds for objective moral obligation is bound to wind up promoting a might-makes-right ethic. And it's almost inevitable that a might-makes-right ethic will devolve ultimately into cruelty and tyranny. Yet the current batch of anti-theists simply fail to see this consequence of what they prescribe.

The papal encyclical, titled Saved by Hope, is described by ABC News as:

...a deeply theological exploration of Christian hope in the afterlife - that in the suffering and misery of daily life, Christianity provides the faithful with a "journey of hope" to the Kingdom of God.

Atheism, it should be clear to everyone who thinks about it for more than a couple of minutes, provides us with nothing better than a journey of despair to the Kingdom of hell, in this life as well as the next.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kant For President

Suppose Immanuel Kant were alive today and ran for president. He'd probably be subjected to political advertising something like this from his opponent:

Pretty funny.

HT: No Left Turns


Sarah Kreager/Rosa Parks

How many of these attacks is going to take before we realize that we have a real problem in this country? In case you missed it last week here are the details:

As Sarah Kreager, 26, tried to sit down on a Baltimore City bus [last Tuesday], police say, a middle-schooler told her she couldn't. When she attempted to take another seat, a middle-schooler wouldn't let her. Finally, according to police, Kreager just sat down.

She was "immediately attacked" by nine students - three females and six males - from Robert Poole Middle School. They punched and kicked her at 2:59 p.m. at the intersection of 33rd Street and Chestnut Avenue, according to Maryland Transit Administration police.

Kreager was dragged off the bus and .... sustained "serious injuries" and had to be transported to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, according to a police report.

Kreager suffered two broken bones in her left eye socket, police said.

"She had eye muscles that were damaged," a police report states. "She had deep lacerations on the top of her head and another above her neck."

Two seats and the bus' rear glass were destroyed during the attack, police said.

The bus driver on the No. 27 line quickly called police, who responded and arrested the nine juveniles, said Jawauna Greene, an MTA police spokeswoman.

All nine suspects, ages 14 and 15, were arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

Their bus tickets - provided by the school - have been revoked. Greene said the investigation into the incident was ongoing and she didn't know whether the attack had anything to do with the victim's race.

The suspects in the incident are black. The victim is white.

Let's ask a couple of questions. Do you think that anyone would have expressed any reservations at all about making this a racially motivated incident if the woman had been black and her assailants white? For that matter, when was the last time you recall a black woman being severely beaten by a gang of white teenagers? When Rosa Parks made her historic stand for equality and just treatment by sitting in the "whites only" section of the bus outraged white racists didn't physically attack her. Accounts of whites being beaten or assaulted by blacks are, however, a regular feature of the daily police reports in our cities.

The fact is there is a deep pathology of violence and racism in the black community that for some reason is deemed impolite to mention. Yet it's there. That six boys would beat a young woman like this just for sitting down on the bus reveals something hideous about the world in which they are growing up, and that girls would join in is sickening beyond words.

How soon will it be until Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and the rest of the race hustlers demand justice for Ms Kreager? How long will it take before the Al Sharptons of the world express their outrage that this woman was savagely attacked (see her picture at the link) for no reason? How many editorials will the newspapers run condemning the dysfunctionality and bigotry in the black community underlying this attack and so many others like it? Here's our prediction: In a day or two this horrific episode will be totally forgotten by the media. Black racism and black on white crime simply are not regarded as newsworthy by the liberal media.

There are three reasons for this, I suspect. Some in the media, though they would never admit it, subliminally believe that you can't really expect much better of black people so there's no use campaigning against such behavior. The second reason is that liberals embrace a social/racial paradigm that sees all blacks as victims of the white oppressor. Crimes such as this one are jarring to that paradigm and the cognitive dissonance they unleash is best handled by forgetting about it or treating it as an aberration. The third reason is that liberals fear that by publicizing such atrocities they will only fuel white stereotypes of blacks and encourage a backlash of white racism that could undo much of the progress we've made in the last fifty years.

The first of these reasons is the bigotry of low expectations and is itself insidiously racist. It assumes that blacks simply can't be held to the same standard of behavior as others because they're inherently incapable of it. The second is an example of the absurd ideological blindness of liberals. When nine people are beating one young woman, who are the oppressors and who is the victim? The third reason is a legitimate fear and would be understandable if the media were equally concerned about the consequences of publicizing cases of white bigotry. The fact is they're not, indeed, they seem almost gleeful when they have the opportunity to do it, which itself points to an implicit assumption that whites somehow deserve black hostility, but blacks must never be made to look evil in the eyes of whites.

Maybe the day will come when the media will simply call savagery, thuggery, and moral depravity by its name, wherever it exists, and leave their ideological biases and motivations out of it, but we won't hold our breath waiting.

UPDATE: As predicted, this story has all but faded from view in the week since the beating happened. No Al Sharpton, no Jesse Jackson, no marches for justice, no introspectives on the virulence of racism in our society. I did read, though, that the perpetrators might be charged with a "hate crime." That's something, at least.

UPDATE: There's video of Sarah Kreager here. The news story contains statements like these:

"What took place was unacceptable and that has to be dealt with," said Mayor Sheila Dixon.

"Clearly, this is one incident in a population of 80,000 students. Things happen. It is a tragedy, as I said. It casts a light that I would rather not be cast on the school system," said Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso.

School leaders say they plan to talk to students and remind them to be courteous when they are on city buses.

This belies an astonishingly cavalier attitude toward an act of sheer savagery. This was not merely an "unacceptable" failure to be "courteous" or a "thing that just happened." Those who make such statements are downplaying the fact that there's a deep problem in their community that goes far beyond a mere lack of civility. The problem is a culture of violence perpetrated by kids who have only a rudimentary sense of human sympathy compounded by racism, and until people start naming the problem and calling the community to account, as has been done with white racism for the last fifty years, it will never go away.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NR Goes For Mitt

National Review, perhaps the premier conservative journal in the U.S., has been hard on Mike Huckabee's fiscal liberalism the last couple of weeks, and has now decided to endorse Mitt Romney. They make an excellent case as to why Romney is the most viable conservative in the field. It's hard to disagree with any of this:

Rudolph Giuliani did extraordinary work as mayor of New York and was inspirational on 9/11. But he and Mike Huckabee would pull apart the [conservative] coalition from opposite ends: Giuliani alienating the social conservatives, and Huckabee the economic (and foreign-policy) conservatives. A Republican party that abandoned either limited government or moral standards would be much diminished in the service it could give the country.

Two other major candidates would be able to keep the coalition together, but have drawbacks of their own. John McCain is not as conservative as Romney. He sponsored and still champions a campaign-finance law that impinged on fundamental rights of political speech; he voted against the Bush tax cuts; he supported this year's amnesty bill, although he now says he understands the need to control the border before doing anything else.

Fred Thompson is as conservative as Romney, and has distinguished himself with serious proposals on Social Security, immigration, and defense. But Thompson has never run any large enterprise - and he has not run his campaign well, either. Conservatives were excited this spring to hear that he might enter the race, but have been disappointed by the reality. He has been fading in crucial early states. He has not yet passed the threshold test of establishing for voters that he truly wants to be president.

Romney is an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished former businessman and governor. At a time when voters yearn for competence and have soured on Washington because too often the Bush administration has not demonstrated it, Romney offers proven executive skill. He has demonstrated it in everything he has done in his professional life, and his tightly organized, disciplined campaign is no exception. He himself has shown impressive focus and energy.

It is true that he has less foreign-policy experience than Thompson and (especially) McCain, but he has more executive experience than both. Since almost all of the candidates have the same foreign-policy principles, what matters most is which candidate has the skills to execute that vision.

Read the rest at the link. It will be interesting to see whether socially and fiscally conservative evangelicals will vote for Romney in significant numbers or whether his Mormonism will prove too great an impediment for them to surmount.

I have been impressed with Huckabee and have felt somewhat reassured by his clarifications of his views on taxes and immigration, but I don't like the way he has sought to distance himself from the President. It seems too opportunistic, especially since Huck is the presidential candidate whose political convictions seem most like those of George Bush. I've also been impressed with Romney and agree with NR that he seems to be the most viable of those in the race who are both socially and fiscally conservative.

Fortunately, there's still much time to decide between these two men. Unfortunately, mostly for the reasons NR gives in its endorsement of Romney, I can't see supporting any of the other Republican candidates in the primary field. Nevertheless, every one of them is sturdier presidential timber than either Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards.


Great Recruiting Ad

This ad for the National Guard makes even a superannuated tubby like me think about signing up:

HT: Evangelical Outpost


Journalistic Bad Odor

Journalists and other media people are often perplexed that they are held in low esteem by many Americans, and certainly many of them are fine professionals who deserve better. Nevertheless, it's decisions like the one to write and run pieces like this AP story that attaches to all of them such a bad odor.

Jeanne Assam is a brave woman who acted heroically to save dozens of lives at a church in Colorado Springs on Sunday and what thanks or respect does she get from our media? They go dumpster-diving into her past to dredge up whatever they can find to embarrass her and then publicize the story in newspapers all across the nation.

The story they felt just had to be told about Assam was that she was fired from her previous job as a police officer. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with what she did last Sunday, but the media had the chance to reward a true hero with national humiliation and they jumped at the chance to do it. They spent paragraphs revealing the details of an event that Ms Assam must surely prefer not to have made public, but what is the reputation of a hero when a journalist who has never done anything as remotely praiseworthy as Ms Assam can show that she's just as flawed as the rest of us?

The story came out yesterday. Perhaps more responsible adults in editorial offices around the nation are even now hammering out columns condemning this contemptible piece of tripe solemnly revealed by Amy Forliti of the Associated Press. Perhaps they will call for media reporters to stop trying to tear down everyone who somehow manages to rise above the rest of us. Perhaps they will decry the gang-like behavior of journalists who prey on innocent victims by beating them senseless for nothing more offensive than having the temerity to do something they themselves have never done. Maybe these columns will be out within the next twenty-four hours. Or maybe they won't. We'll see.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Huck and Homosexuality

The Politico thinks that positions Mike Huckabee took on AIDS and homosexuality back in the early nineties make him an unattractive candidate today.

Huckabee argued that 1) the government was spending a disproportionate amount of money on AIDS research, 2) that AIDS carriers should be isolated from the general population and 3) that homosexuality was both aberrant and sinful.

I think a good public policy case could be made for both 1) and 2) although the idea of quarantining AIDS carriers was becoming less urgent by the early nineties as we were learning more about the virus. Still, there was enough uncertainty as to how the disease was being transmitted that Huckabee's position was not unreasonable at the time.

On the matter of homosexuality it is certainly true that it is aberrant and that every major religion represented in the United States has traditionally regarded it as sinful. The definition of aberrant is a deviation from the norm, and homoeroticism is not normal either in terms of the design of our bodies, its acceptance among the general population, or in terms of the percentage of people who consider themselves homosexual.

The only demographic in which a majority would be upset by Huckabee's judgment would be the secular elites in Hollywood and on University campuses and he is very unlikely to have much support among these folks in any event.

Depending on how Huckabee articulates these positions when he's asked about them by the media - which he certainly will be - his views could well make him even more attractive with groups that Republicans usually have a hard time reaching, blacks and Hispanics, both of which are predominately of the same opinion regarding homosexuality as is Huckabee. The worst thing he could do when asked to defend himself would be to waffle.


Petraeus Wins Another Convert

Michael Golfarb of The Weekly Standard remarks on an editorial in the Washington Post in which Pete Hegseth, executive director of Vets for Freedom, has coauthored an op-ed with Major General John Batiste.

Batiste is the formerly antiwar general who spoke out against Donald Rumsfeld, and who, until recently, was a Board Member of (the antiwar vets front group).

Goldfarb notes that in his Post column Batiste and Hegseth write that:

First, the United States must be successful in the fight against worldwide Islamic extremism. We have seen this ruthless enemy firsthand, and its global ambitions are undeniable. This struggle, the Long War, will probably take decades to prosecute. Failure is not an option.

Second, whether or not we like it, Iraq is central to that fight. We cannot walk away from our strategic interests in the region. Iraq cannot become a staging ground for Islamic extremism or be dominated by other powers in the region, such as Iran and Syria. A premature or precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, without the requisite stability and security, is likely to cause the violence there -- which has decreased substantially but is still present -- to cascade into an even larger humanitarian crisis.

Third, the counterinsurgency campaign led by Gen. David Petraeus is the correct approach in Iraq. It is showing promise of success and, if continued, will provide the Iraqi government the opportunities it desperately needs to stabilize its country.

Goldfarb comments:

There are two stories here: 1) A formerly anti-war general flips on supporting the war, and now believes Petraeus has the right strategy; and 2) Batiste has left, and the antiwar movement, and joined up with the pro-troop, pro-surge, pro-victory Vets for Freedom.

The antiwar movement has lost one of its most powerful voices today, and it will be interesting to see whether they turn on one of their own, or come around to the view, supported by a preponderance of evidence, that the surge is working.

A year from now, if Iraq continues on its present trajectory, Bush could well be looking like a less eloquent version of Winston Churchill, and the Dems who so bitterly opposed him will be jumping off bridges.