Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Mist -- Extended

"[Y]et you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." James 4:14 (ESV)

Sometimes at this holiday season, generic expressions of thanks may indicate a lack of thoughtfulness. Sometimes not. As this Thansgiving weekend comes to a close, I can say with deep sincerity that I am grateful to be alive. It was almost not the case.

Last Monday, I was driving near the speed limit on an interstate in a rural area in my silver Jaguar which I had recently purchased and of which I was so proud. I looked up from hunting for a radio station and suddenly realized that traffic had come to a complete stop in front of me. I stood on my brakes, but realized it was too late. Seeing that I was about to go sliding underneath the semi truck in front of me, I cut the wheel hard to the right and went into an open field. The car then rolled over and my head hit the windshield hard. Once the car stopped, I reached up to touch my forehead and felt the gash. I also saw that my shirt was covered with blood. Although I didn't feel that much pain, I knew that I was cut pretty badly, and my first thought was that I was going to bleed to death before anyone would be able to help me.

I wish that there were a way to personally say thanks to the wonderful people who left their vehicles and came to help keep me calm and hold a towel on my head until the emergency personnel arrived. I guess that I will never know their names. Once they arrived, the EMT's called for a helicopter to come get me and take me to the hospital.

I left the hospital Wednesday evening and flew back to Dallas last night. Remarkably, I have no broken bones. Stitches hold together what was described as an 8 centimeter cut starting on my forehead and going up to near the top of my head. I also have a horrible looking black eye and my neck is bruised deeply behind my right ear. None of those things hurt. My left shoulder, which shows no bruises, aches. In another day I may have to go back to the doctor about that.

The word is not yet official, but I assume that my car was totalled. I guess I should thank it for saving my life. More than one person has told me that I likely would not have made it if I had been driving a lighter car. I think they are right.

The experience also did not rob me of my sense of humor. As I mentioned, I flew home last night. It was basically the first time I have been in public, and I am sure that the reader can imagine the stares. As I was getting on the plane, a flight attendant looked at my face, and her eyes widened.

I smiled and said, "That was done by the flight attendant on my last plane."

"Oh really?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied. "I called her a stewardess and she beat the daylights out of me."

Fortunately, she laughed.

I really am thankful to be alive.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rounding Third and Heading for Home One Last Time

Joe Nuxhall passed away late Thursday night after years of battling lymphoma. He was 79.

In 1944, Mr. Nuxhall, who was 15 at the time, became the youngest player to appear in a major league baseball game in the modern era, pitching 2/3 of an inning against the St. Louis Cardinals. After concluding his playing career, he became an announcer on the Reds radio broadcasts in 1967. He continued working games through this past season, though he was limited to a small number of games the last few years due to illness. During portions of games when his long time partner, Marty Brennamen, was announcing, Mr. Nuxhall could frequently be heard in the background shouting for long hit balls off of Reds bats to "get out of here." He was also known for his signature line at the conclusion of broadcasts: "This is the old lefthander rounding third and heading for home."

I have enjoyed many an evening over the last hearing Mr. Nuxhall sign off in that way. May he rest in peace.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grading Text Books

Reviewers with the Texas State Board of Education uncovered over 100,000 errors in math textbooks proposed for use by the state, the Dallas Morning News reports. Over 86,000 of the errors were in books from one publisher, Houghton Mifflin Co.

The story reminds me of a persistent error I have noticed in high school American literature textbooks over the years. I noted it when I was in high school myself back in the Medieval period and again a few years ago while skimming through a textbook of a student I knew. It annoys me because it concerns one of my favorite historical figures.

In presenting a reading from Jonathon Edwards' famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, those books asked the reader to imagine Mr. Edwards shouting the vivid phrases at the congregation and delivering an animated sermon. That is misleading, at best. It is well known that Mr. Edwards was a dry speaker who read his sermons in a monotone while rarely looking up. As Mr. Edwards work has been the subject of much scholarship through both the 19th and the 20th centuries -- much of it by secular, not Christian, academics -- the error is inexcusable.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scavenging for Dead Meat

With the exception of a few conservative writers, the way that billionaire Warren Buffett benefits from taxes on death goes widely unreported, thus lending undeserved credibility to his testimony before a congressional committee that the tax should be retained. Many Americans erroneously believe that Mr. Buffett's testimony runs counter to his personal financial interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only does Mr. Buffett own an insurance company selling life insurance for people who need to provide cash to their heirs to pay estate taxes, but he has also made his fortune largely from the financial plight of families forced to sell in order to pay high taxes. Those families have too often had to resort to the kind of fire sales that Mr. Buffett is so keen on.

Ruining the Neighborhood

If ever there was an argument for strict zoning laws, it is this.

The house in question is being built in anticipation of -- I kid you not -- the first meeting of the World Toilet Association, which is seeking to start a "toilet revolution" in which people "talk about toilet issues freely."

You really can't make this stuff up.

Hat Tip: Jay Nordlinger

Unappreciated Parent Quote of the Day

“When they got back there, they just had this look on their face, they couldn’t move. It was their first time to really meet somebody that they thought was a real celebrity.”

-- Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, describing taking his daughters to meet Hannah Montana.

What Was Known? When Did They Know It?

An interesting story developed in the last week in Middle Tennessee involving the intersection of blogging and state and local politics there. In short, the governor and first lady of Tennessee have been promoting a major new building project on the grounds of the governor's mansion. Numerous residents of the upscale community in which those grounds are located do not view that expansion favorably. The city manager of said community has provided leadership for the opposition. Last week, A.C. Kleinheider, the political blogger for the local ABC affiliate in Nashville, broke a story based on an L.A. Times newspaper article from a decade ago reporting a criminal charge that was filed against that city manager in California a quarter of a century ago.

In comments to that post, Bill Hobbs, a prominent local blogger who recently began working for the state Republican Party, asked Mr. Kleinheider to reveal who gave him the story. Some left wing bloggers in the Nashville area are offended that Mr. Hobbs is permitted the pleasure of breathing, much less commenting on blogs, and they quickly responded with unsolicited support of Mr. Kleinheider at the level of sophistication one might expect from a high school cheerleader -- to be. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for Mr. Kleinheider to decline to discuss that issue, but the story does raise some legitimate questions:

1. Did the governor's office, or that of his wife, use a local political blogger to plant a story sliming an opponent.
2. If so, was the story offered to more traditional media outlets first, or was Mr. Kleinheider the first choice? If to traditional media, why did they refuse to run it? If he was the first choice, why?

While on one level Mr. Kleinheider is to be congratulated for breaking this story first, I must say that I dislike the kind of politics I suspect made it possible. Seeking to embarrass and perhaps silence a local official with a 25 year old story strikes me as below the belt.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Expect Little -- and Get it Much of the Time

According to a trusted source, the Plano Independent School District has implemented at the elementary level, and will likely soon do so at the middle and high school levels, policies that will restrict the ability of teachers to require achievement from their students. Under the policies, teachers are not allowed to give zeroes for work that is not turned in, are not allowed to give scores below 50%, and are required to accept and give full credit for work that is up to 3 weeks late.

Why is the school district doing this? While much of Plano, Texas -- a suburb on the north side of Dallas -- is affluent, the city also includes housing projects and a large number of apartments inhabited by families of limited means. As with lower income groups in other communities, children in those households, for varying reasons, tend not to do as well in school. In some instances, parents working long hours are not around to help their children with homework.

That being stated, those who understand that a good education provides the best opportunity for impoverished children to escape poverty cannot overstate the level of disdain that these types of policies deserve. Lowering expectations is tantamount to sentencing these kids to failure, as these kids will not be academically prepared to compete in the real world of work once they leave school. In addition, these sorts of policies typify the kind of thinking that leads to ever worsening academic results. Half of Texas high school graduates entering college require remedial classes for which they receive no credit at the university. That represents a fundamental failure of the school system.

These types of policies also point to a reason why good and dedicated teachers all too often end up throwing their hands up in frustration and deciding to go do something else. Good teachers typically enter the profession because they care about kids and want to make a difference in their lives. They don't make great money and frequently are not shown the respect they deserve. If pointy headed bureaucrats restrict their ability to make a difference, then why bother?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Scriptures and Sexy Dice

Lynn Vincent, noting a Newsweek report suggesting that many hotels are moving away from having Bibles in rooms and instead making available sexually oriented products, bemusedly asks a series of valid questions:

All that aside, my question for hotel managers who are nixing the Bible, but installing sexual accessories is this: Why must the two be mutually exclusive? Does someone in hotel marketing somewhere believe that only non-Christians enjoy fun sex? Or that people who use condoms don’t read the Bible? Or that only unmarried people have sex in hotel rooms? Or that a married couple who reads the Bible would not be interested in a sexy dice game?

Apparently, the Song of Solomon isn’t well-read among hotel marketing execs.

Better off Than We Thought

For a discussion of an important U.S. Treasury Department study that shows that opportunities for upward mobility remain alive and well in the United States, see here. The study is based on an analysis of a sampling of tax returns over a 10 year period.

Populist grievance oriented rhetoric based on anecdotal evidence is powerful in an age in which marketers are constantly explaining how much we need to have more. Such rhetoric is fortunately untrue.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

For Those Who Know the Difference between Scatology and Eschatology....

One understands the desire for speakers of all kinds to have catchy titles for their orations, but is it really the best thing for the pastor of a church to seek to capture attention with a cheeky reference to the profane?

Thus, while The Oracle commends Dr. Joseph Clifford of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas for his willingness to take on a text from Leviticus, we would question his judgment for selecting the title for his sermon (as advertised in the Dallas Morning News): "A Lot of Bull."

Sometimes in the quest for relevance one merely becomes tacky.

College Football Quote of the Day

"...[A] prudent man never makes a career decision based on the whims of Nick Saban. The Alabama coach is this generation's Larry Brown, only without the charm."

-- Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington, disputing the notion that Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville might be interested in the soon to be vacant Texas A&M job because the state of Alabama is not large enough for both him and Mr. Saban.

Ironic Quote of the Day

"I'm glad I'm on somebody's VIP list, because I'm d*** sure I don't have any money."

--Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, commenting on an investigative report in the Dallas Morning News regarding favored treatment of certain individuals by UT Southwestern Medical Center. The story relates to the discovery of a list maintained by the hospital of prominent local individuals who are to be given preferential treatment.

The story describes Mr. Price as someone who "rode into political power as an activist and a fighter for social justice."

When It Comes to Politics, No One Speaks for the Church...

...And American Christians and the cause of Christ would be better off if those who think they do so speak would stop trying. From the Dallas Morning News:

Several Christian conservative leaders, troubled by the appearance the movement is divided, are moving toward Republican Mike Huckabee in hopes of making him the consensus candidate of the religious right.

The effort seeks to blunt the impact of recent high-profile endorsements for other presidential candidates, notably televangelist Pat Robertson's support of Rudy Giuliani.

The reality is that Christians are not likely to unite behind any candidate during the primaries. They can hardly be expected to unite behind a second tier flash in the pan just because James Dobson thinks they should. Unless you are a leader who stakes your identity on your ability to deliver a block of votes, that is not a bad thing. In fact, to the extent that it could distance American Christianity from the notion that it has become a political movement, it would be a good thing.

Christian belief holds political implications, but Christianity is not fundamentally a political movement. Christians hope for the transformation of culture not by the coercive power of politics, but by the life changing power of the Gospel. In engaging culture, Christians are motivated by thoughts both of God's justice and His mercy. A world lacking in justice would be anarchic. A world lacking in mercy would be dark and cold. The Christian message should remind the larger world of those truisms.

In some presidential election years over the last few decades, there have been some fairly clear choices for conservative Christians seeking to apply those truths. When that was the case, those who had taken on leadership roles could claim to speak with some level of authority for large groups of Christians. In a year when no clear candidate emerges, they can not deliver those votes, and they demean themselves and the cause of Christ when they try.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Profoundly Wrong

For many of those who have mixed feelings about the war, who are neither enthusiastic about the Bush administration's handling of the war effort nor of the Democratic response to it, these thoughts from a speech by Joe Lieberman (as quoted in this article by Bill Kristol) hit the mark and explain why the Democratic Congress has remained as unpopular as the administration:

. . . [T]here is something profoundly wrong--something that should trouble all of us--when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran's murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops.

There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base--even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

The Mess in Pakistan

For an outside observer -- and one suspects even for an inside one -- the turmoil taking place in Pakistan is difficult to sort out. President Pervez Musharraf faces opposition on multiple fronts, ranging from Islamic militants to liberalizing reformers, and it is not easy to tell who will benefit more from either supporting or opposing him in the current battle. Nor can one say of Mr. Musharraf that being in the middle of the extremes makes one right, especially given his seeming eagerness to trade the rule of law for military dictatorship. In the meantime, while the leader of the reformers, Benazzir Bhutto, might be expected to draw sympathy from the United States against the threat of military dictatorship, an acquaintance (an American citizen originally from Pakistan) assures The Oracle that Ms. Bhutto is hopelessly corrupt.

Given the uneasy, but generally supportive, relationship that President Musharraf has had with the United States over the course of the war against terrorism being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the fact that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, the situation is a mess without clear cut solutions. Of the pieces I have read attempting to sort through this mess, I have found this column by Charles Krauthammer to be the most illuminating. Mr. Krauthammer, while comparing and contrasting this situation with others in which the U.S. helped to ease out dictators, draws some conclusions:

The only thing we know for sure about Pakistan is that there will be no such happy ending. President Pervez Musharraf was a good bet in 2001 when, under extreme pressure from the Bush administration, he flipped and joined our war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But like Marcos and Pinochet, he has now become near-terminally unpopular, illegitimate and destructive to his own country. Is it time to revisit the 1980s and help push him over the edge?

That depends on whether we think Benazir Bhutto is Corazon Aquino and whether Bhutto and her allies can successfully take power, which means keeping both the army and the country intact. Heightening the risk of dumping Musharraf is that external conditions today are not like the relatively benign conditions of the 1980s. The Taliban and its allies are gaining in strength and waiting to pick up the pieces from the civil war developing between the two most westernized, most modernizing elements of Pakistani society -- the army, one of the few functioning institutions of the state, and the elite of civil society, including lawyers, jurists, journalists and students.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Succumbing to Vanity and Materialism

The Oracle, having driven Sentras for the last 10 years, has splurged on an upgrade.

A Tweak of Lance's Explanation

Joe Lance explains the decision of Pat Robertson to endorse Rudy Giuliani as follows:

A believer in authoritarianism such as Robertson would naturally try to suck up to the perceived frontrunner, who, even though his views on social/cultural issues are different, is still the boss.

I think that is close, but not quite correct. Mr. Robertson's endorsement likely does not arise out of authoritarianism as much as from an interest in relevance and an inclination toward pragmatism. Unlike some others on the religious right, he has made the decision to jump on the horse that he believes will win. He has likely calculated that a Giuliani victory owing nothing to the religious right will reduce them to irrelevance.

Mr. Robertson has said so many outrageous things -- especially in recent years -- that it is easy to forget that he was once a fairly astute political observer. That ability enabled him to build a personal empire and rise to a certain level of influence in spite of the limitations of some of his viewpoints.

The Sources of Looniness in American Culture

This post does not arise from any particular current event. I am simply offering some random observations about American culture.

Being something of an egghead, I am prone to dismiss criticisms of the content and conduct of college classrooms as reflecting anti-intellectualism or parochialism on the part of the critics.

As a Christian, I am prone to dismiss criticisms of Christianity as reflecting a hostility toward religion or an inability to understand Christian beliefs and motivations.

Having made those two statements, I will ask: are there any sectors of American life that are more likely to promote the advocacy of loony ideas than the university and the church?

To be sure, there are many differences in the nature of these two animals. University looniness most frequently, though not always, veers to the left and influences elite culture. Ecclesiastical looniness most frequently, though not always, veers to the right and influences popular culture.

And these mirror images, not recognizing their reflections, despise one another.

Keeping Good Teachers

Drew Johnson of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research argues that the ultimate key to improving the educational system is keeping better teachers, and the best way to keep better teachers is to reward the best by paying them better. Of course, the teachers unions, who talk about educators being respected as professionals most of the time but transform themselves into low grade union thugs when pay becomes the issue, disagree with the notion of rewarding good performance.

Mr. Johnson is right. It is unfortunate that the only way good teachers can improve their pay is to leave teaching either for the central office or for employment in the private sector. The best teachers should be the best paid employees in the school system.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pumping Our Food Supply Down the Gas Tank

Writing more expansively than I did on a similar subject, Donald Sensing questions the wisdom of converting food resources into fuel for automobiles.

Why do not more policy makers question the ethanol herd mentality? The potential for catastrophic consequence seems rather obvious.

Saying that Christian Politicos Should Add, not Subtract

In a lengthy essay that is worth the time and effort required to trudge through it, Marvin Olasky points out that Christian conservatives engaged in politics have been politically ineffective and have damaged the cause of Christ due to an errant theology that equates the United States and Old Testament Israel. Mr. Olasky contends that a biblical corrective would align those Christian conservatives on many issues with those who hold views closer to libertarianism and thus forestall the seeming breakup of the coalition that elected Ronald Reagan a generation ago.

Read it here.

Will They Protect the Nation?

Alan Dershowitz warns Democrats that they will fare poorly in 2008 if they fail to set forth a strong national security policy:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans may watch Michael Moore's movies or cheer Cindy Sheehan's demonstrations, but tens of millions want the Moores and Sheehans of our nation as far away as possible from influencing national security policy. That is why Rudy Giuliani seems to be doing surprisingly well among many segments of the electorate, ranging from centrist Democrats to Republicans and even some on the religious right.

Democrats today have the same potential problem that they faced unsuccessfully in 2004. They lack a coherent national security policy, including a policy for how they will deal with international terrorism. All they really have is an anti-Bush policy. While the unpopularity of the current administration provides them with some hope, they are taking an enormous risk -- as they did in 2004 -- if they fail to set forth their own program for protecting the nation.

They also continue to face another potential obstacle -- American success. One is reminded of the presidential election in 1864, when, on the eve of Sherman's successful overtaking of Atlanta, the Democrats adopted at their convention a peace platform that was an embarrassment within a week. It remains unclear how much progress is being made in Iraq, and in no event would one expect any victories there to be as dramatic as Atlanta, but the Democrats make a mistake if they again let themselves get in a position where good news for the United States is bad for their electability.

None of this is to say that anti-war Democrats must renounce their anti-war views, but, if they wish to be credible, they must find a way to be strong on national security, even if they oppose the present conflict in Iraq.

A Welcoming Country

Local WBAP radio talk personality and Dallas Morning News columnist Mark Davis describes his thoughts after recently speaking at a naturalization ceremony at which over 700 immigrants became United States citizens:

With hardly a dry eye in the house, we all filed into the parking lot. I met fellow Texans who had come to support friends and co-workers born in Korea, Lithuania, India and elsewhere. Native Mexicans definitely were the largest contingent, but more than half of the new citizens were from elsewhere.

To see them, to meet many of them, to help welcome them into their new lives, was a soul-lifting tonic in these times when it seems the only immigrants we hear about are those who do not respect our laws, embrace our culture or even speak our language.

Those of us who spend a lot of time taking a hard line on immigration laws have a responsibility to be particularly gracious in welcoming those who come to America the right way.

When I first heard Mr. Davis' radio program after moving to Dallas earlier this year, I realized I was listening to a familiar voice. He hosted a talk show in Memphis when I lived there in the 1980's.

On Victims and Equal Rights

It is interesting that in the same week that syndicated columnist Clarence Page argued that the firing of Merrill Lynch's black CEO was evidence of a new level of respect for African Americans, Hillary Clinton's campaign chose to present her as a victim after the frontrunner was challenged during a debate.

It will be interesting to see if Ms. Clinton's tactic of playing the victim will play well in the remainder of the Democratic primary. One columnist I read (and I apologize I can't remember who and can't find it) may be right when he suggests that Ms. Clinton comes out ahead because, whether intentionally or not, her campaign managed to move the debate from the subject of her actual answers -- if one can call them answers -- to the questions raised about illegal immigration during the debate. As uncomfortable as it may be for Ms. Clinton to play the helpless little girl in Democratic politics, it may be less uncomfortable than national scrutiny of her attempt to play both sides in the illegal immigration debate.

I would note that accounts that have described this as new territory for Ms. Clinton are inaccurate. She took the same route during her Senate campaign against Rick Lazio. When Mr. Lazio approached her with a pen and document during a debate and asked her to sign a pledge not to increase taxes, her campaign described the Congressman as a bully who reminded women everywhere of their abusive ex husbands. That spinning of the event proved to be a successful tactic.

Ms. Clinton, a U.S. Senator from New York, is an accomplished professional, a capable politician, and, for those who would challenge her, a worthy opponent. As such, she merits respect -- including the respect of being criticized in the way that frontrunners are always criticized. However, if her campaign wishes to present her as though she is a girl who should be flipping her hair and giggling, then she loses that respect.

In Mr. Page's column (referenced above), he writes:

After hiring his newspaper's first black journalist to hold a management position, an editor insisted that the pioneering move was not such a big deal, as I recall. Real progress comes not when you are able to hire a black editor, he said, but when you also are able to fire her.

By that standard, Ms. Clinton's campaign may be proving, perversely, that women's rights have not come as far as they had hoped.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Over the Top

One begins to wonder if centuries from now people will still make comparisons between those with whom they disagree and Adolph Hitler, even when their opponents did nothing remotely approximating the killing of 6 million Jews and initiating a horrible world war.

The latest example: Linda Hirshman, who at The New Republic's blog somehow imagines that Tim Russert deserves comparisons to Hitler for the audacious act of asking Hillary Clinton a question that Ms. Hirschman considers inappropriate.

What next? Will those of us who defend Mr. Russert draw comparisons to Heimlich Himmler?

Hat Tip: James Taranto

Whatever Happened to That Right to Privacy?

In discussing economic trends likely to endure once the current unsettled economy reaches a state of stability, Irwin Seltzer suggests the following:

Adding to that pressure will be the increase in longevity, in turn a result of a new emphasis on what is called "wellness." There can be no denying the propensity of the smoking and food police to extend their reach. That process will accelerate when a Democratic-controlled White House and congress--almost a certainty--make government an increasingly important player in health care markets. When an obese person has to pay for his own gluttony, there is little moral case for denying him the sustenance he feels he needs. When the cost of his care is borne by taxpayers--which would be the case under most of the Democratic plans--society has a good case for developing programs that will induce him to replace his burgers with salads. So look for a long-term trend toward less satisfying, healthier eating, the sale of more gym equipment, and good years for sneaker manufacturers.

Indeed, numerous companies are gearing up to ratchet up their wellness programs, and this will be an increased emphasis on the part of both government and large employers. Many Americans will be taken by surprise at the extent to which such programs intrude into what they once regarded as personal issues.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Downplaying Party Affiliation

In Kentucky, Republicans made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to defeat incumbent governor Ernie Fletcher in the primary. Dr. Fletcher's (he is an M.D.) administration has been marred by scandal, though even his opponents seem to agree that his problem has been more administrative and political ineptitude than actual corruption. His Republican opponents have refused to endorse him in the general election, leaving the party in turmoil and giving his opponent, Steve Beshear a 20 point lead in the polls.

Given the disarray of the party on the state level and the unpopularity of the Republican administration in Washington, it was surprising to me (I'm visiting the state over the weekend) to note that the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Jack Conway, who also has a double digit lead in his race, doesn't mention his party affiliation in the television ad that I saw last night. A generation ago, being the Democratic candidate would have virtually guaranteed election in the state. Yet, currently, even with Republicans on the defensive on both the state and national level, being a Democrat is not now considered to be an advantage in the state.

"Utter Failures" of Christ

Many American Christians are embracing independent churches without denominational affiliations on the seeming assumption that such churches promote a greater level of authentic Christianity than denominational churches. Many of these believers will differentiate the "spirituality" promoted by nonaffiliated churches and the "religion" offered by the denominations. Be that as it may, there can be little doubt that this article in The Tennessean is sadly correct in its assertion that the growth of independent churches will result in more congregations becoming embroiled in lawsuits.

The article emphasizes that this will occur (and is already occurring) for at least two reasons. First, churches that are a part of historic denominations tend to have structures for resolving disputes over finances and church governance. Unaffiliated congregations frequently lack these structures. Second, independent churches tend to be built around charismatic personalities who are permitted extraordinary discretion and little accountability with regard to church finances and authority. Both laymen and Christian leaders might be more circumspect about that tendency if they took the time to consider the implications of the Christian doctrine of original sin and the susceptibility of the very best of us to succumb to temptation, but doctrinal teaching tends not to be a strong point of these megachurches, and charismatic leadership and pragmatism, not thoughtful Christian reasoning, tend to rule the day. The result has sometimes been poor judgement: sometimes, scandalously poor judgement.

Another tendency in modern churches that is important in this regard, but not discussed in the article, is the modern tendency of American Christians to "church shop." Rather than invest themselves in churches with which their families will form deep relationships, American Christians increasingly tend to be consumers seeking out churches that will meet their perceived needs. People deeply invested in a community are less likely to sue their neighbors than those who move around frequently and never become so deeply involved.

The results of all of this are thoroughly unbiblical. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that their inability to resolve conflicts internally and their resorting to the civil courts represented an "utter failure" of the body of Christ (I Cor. 6:7). Paul asked the Corinthians why they could not manage to agree on one wise person to arbitrate the conflict and then suggested that it would be better to give in on an issue than to resort to suing fellow Christians. That is no less true today.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Describing the Problem; Demonstrating It

An editorial in today's The Tennessean says some things about Social Security and Medicare that conservatives have been saying for decades. Perhaps realizing that, the paper seems to feel a reflexive need to take a pot shot at conservatives:

Saving the programs will require the willpower to do things like limit benefits, raise taxes, increase the retirement age or look at other options to make the numbers work. There must be compromise. That said, there is a certain amount of amusement at hearing "conservative" approaches to fixing Medicare and Social Security. They are liberal programs. Americans like them. Conservatives realize Americans demand that the programs continue. So it's interesting to hear conservatives' ideas on how to "save" Social Security and Medicare. If there were a truly conservative approach, Social Security and Medicare would be abolished. Thankfully, that won't happen.

It is a bit odd that in the same paragraph in which the author writes of the need for a bipartisan "compromise," that they decide to take a cheap shot at one side. One supposes that the writer must not have much experience at building bridges. Leaving that aside, the editorial also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of conservatism. Conservatives take as their beginning point the world as it is, which is the reason that I know of no serious conservative politician who has called for abolishing social security in more than a generation. Abolishing Social Security and Medicare at this point in time when millions of older Americans have planned for retirement based on receiving those benefits would be catastrophic, and everyone knows that

Thus, no serious conservative is calling for their abolition, even though the impending cataclysmic problems that The Tennessean describes are exactly those that conservatives have warned about since the programs' beginnings.

The Tennessean is applauding legislation that would create a commission to deal with the problems. The commission may be a good idea, but it is important to note that its seeming need arises from a failure of the democratic and political processes caused by politicians that demagogue an issue for partisan advantage rather than deal with it forthrightly. That fact makes the editorial all the more ironic and sad.

Shouldn't Be the Cost of Being Involved in Government

Anyone who deals with state legislatures or city councils on a regular basis sees this happen so much that they often become inured to it, but the Courier Journal -- and the citizen they reference -- are correct to describe it as an issue of basic respect:

...[I]t was refreshing when a massage therapist told Kevin Kramer, R-11th District, what she thought of his announcement that the Metro Council committee he was chairing would postpone action on the issue that had brought her to the meeting. "You just cost some people $200 (in lost business) to come here tonight, and you did that two weeks ago," Denise Logsdon, a member of the Kentucky Board of Massage Licensure, scolded. "Nice."

Friday, November 02, 2007

British List of American Conservatives/Liberals Misses Mark

At first I was intrigued to learn that the London Daily Telegraph had compiled lists of the 100 most influential conservatives and liberals in the United States. But the lists are so bad as to defy comment. David Petraus the second most influential conservative in the U.S.? Matt Drudge third? Arnold Schwarzenegger the 8th most influential liberal in the U.S.?

I don't think so.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

Never Telling

It is an absolute shame that The Oracle does not traffic in salacious gossip about star athletes, of which there are an abundance in the Dallas area. If I did so, I have a great story to tell.

And my source is absolutely solid.

But I don't do that sort of thing.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

You Think You Had a Bad Day at Work?

The Insurance Journal passes on a report that a man was injured at his Ft. Worth insurance office after a gun he had stuffed in his pocket accidentally fired and shot him in both legs. In addition to going through both of his legs, the bullet also passed through a bookshelf before lodging in the wall of a cubicle.

SayUncle, do you think you could get this guy some safety training?

Hat Tip: Joe Paduda

Opaque Government

Keller, Texas city councilman Jim Carson had this reaction to a claim that a city attorney's opinion that he had requested is privileged and not subject to public disclosure: "So, dear taxpayer, I am not allowed to tell you what your high-priced attorney has done to you. Sorry."

Accountability Via the Assembly Line

Dan Lips argues that No Child Left Behind has been bad for Hispanic students and that a reauthorization bill offered by George Miller (D-CA) would make matters worse:

This change would force public schools across the country to make a tough decision: tackle the challenge of teaching Spanish-speaking children English so they can pass regular exams or take the easier path of using native-language tests and portfolio assessments. Because NCLB would continue to pressure schools with high-stakes state tests, federal law would provide an incentive for states to choose the easier path. The result: Fewer Hispanic children would learn the critical skills of reading, writing, and speaking English at an early age.

While some of the resistance on the part of educators to testing represents a desire to avoid accountability, there is an argument to be made that one size fits all federal requirements based on Utopian ("no child") and centralized notions of the possibilities of achievement do more harm than good.

I know that some educators read this blog. Even if you choose to comment anonymously, I would be interested in your reactions.

Primary Effects

Michael Barone has an interesting post on the effect that the course of the Democratic presidential race will have on the Republican contest. Because Rudy Giuliani gets much of his support from independent voters (as does John McCain), he would benefit from an early victory by Hillary Clinton, which would leave independents with only the Republican battle to consider. If Ms. Clinton were to falter, that would keep some of the independent focus on the Democratic race and favor Fred Thompson and perhaps Mitt Romney.

About More than Singing Cool Songs in Church

The reader may recall the portrayal of the upper class men in the movie Titanic, who fought for limited positions on life boats to the detriment of those less fortunate, including women and children. Those who fought for their lives, even at the cost of others', were presented in the most negative light.

It is easy to so judge others, but Tom Ascol, writing primarily to a Christian audience of church leaders, asks how believers will respond to a scenario that very well could arise in our lifetimes, a deadly flu pandemic so widespread that there is not enough vaccine for everyone:

How will American Christians respond to a deadly pandemic? Will we clamour for the vaccine without regard for our neighbors? Will we be terrorized like those who have no hope? Those of us who know the Gospel should minister out of the grace that we receive in Christ, and should prefer others above ourselves and teach our people to do the same.

Rev. Ascol goes on to discuss historical precedents for Christian response. Read it here.

Reactionary Progressives

George Will argues that those who ruined the respectability of the appellation "liberal" will do the same for the term "progressive" by, for example, promoting the reactionary positions of the teachers unions. Regarding an attempt to defeat school choice in Utah by means of a referendum, he writes:

Intellectually bankrupt but flush with cash, the teachers unions continue to push their threadbare arguments, undeterred by the fact that Utah's vouchers will increase per-pupil spending and will lower class sizes in public schools. Why the perverse perseverance? There are two large, banal reasons -- fear of competition and desire for the maximum number of dues-paying public school teachers.

When Values Conflict

Marvin Olasky applauds those having concerns for the environment and for the poor, but asks who wins when those values come into conflict:

One of the many justifications Al Gore offers for the $150 billion annual price tag of the Kyoto accords is that global warming will increase the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. But Danish economist Bjørn Lomborg and others say that global warming will increase the number of people at risk for malaria by only three percent – and that with an annual expenditure of only $3 billion on health and economic measures, malaria infections could be cut by 50% over the next eight years.

Mr. Olasky is directing his point primarily at young evangelical politicos, but in actuality it is a line of thinking that should be provocative for any audience on any number of issues. Ideologues often talk as though there are no trade-offs. Real life is not like that.

Cruel Tongue in Cheek Birthday Notice

Lyle Lovett turned 50 today.

By marrying Julia Roberts many years ago, Mr. Lovett did a disservice to unattractive men every where by providing them with reason for false hope.

No, it really can't happen for most of us. Believe me, I've tried.