Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It’s Like This

I didn’t mean to scare you,
But I need to speak plain.
I don’t need more friends,
Not the woman kind,
And I sure don’t want
To be a friend of yours.

Don’t misunderstand; I ain’t mad;
You ain’t got no sorryin’ to do.
But I can’t stand around like
I don’t care where you go,
And who you go with.

You flat out don’t know
No guys as cool as me.
I know two men
Better than me,
But they ain’t callin’
And I ain’t leavin.’

Best chew on this
And don’t forget:
We ain’t made for lonely,
And my stomach for losing out
Is at an end.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Greg Maddux: A Brief Appreciation
The greatest pitcher I've ever seen, Greg Maddux, has retired. I could recount his impressive stats in order to persuade you, but that won't move you to feel what it was like to watch Greg Maddux. Let me just tell you the story of a few games that define him for me. I remember a game in 2003 up in Montreal, before they became the Nationals. Montreal got several soft hits on the speedy turf in the first inning; a few balls barely found holes. Before I knew it, the score was 5-0, and Greg was upset. I thought for sure they'd yank him out. He must've prevailed upon pitching coach Leo Mazzone, or Leo saw how lucky they were, because Maddux stayed in--for seven more innings. Montreal got nothing more, and the Braves were victors, 6-5.
Another game was in St. Louis a couple years later. Maddux pitched for the Cubs then, and my hometown Cards hit him hard that night. Four runs in the first, I think. But Maddux returned, this time pitching six more innings. Though the Cubs lost 4-3, Maddux surrendered no more runs. It remains one of my favorite nights, as I was in attendance. Two seasons ago, Maddux came to St. Louis again, this time with San Diego. On this night, he was matched against Cardinals starter Mark Mulder. This game was the epitome of a pitchers' duel: 2-1 in the 6th inning when the Padres pinch-hit for Maddux to try scoring the tying run. They failed. St. Louis prevailed, 2-1. The last game I'd like to recall was in 2005, I believe, in Chicago. Maddux pitched against Cincinatti for the Cubs. Maddux was deadly efficient, and I thought he had a shot--even at 39--to finish the game. I think it's a starting pitcher's best accomplishment to finish a game. Maddux finished 109 games of the 740 he started, an extremely high total for this era. As it turned out, this game was one of them. Maddux only surrendered 2 runs, both on separate home runs by the catcher, Javier Valentin. These games from the twilight of a Hall of Fame career illustrate just how great he was, even how great he was at his height, when I was too young and foolish to appreciate him. He beautified the game just by playing it, and that is truly the only compliment a baseball player needs.

Friday, December 05, 2008

She asked me with words,
But with words I could speak not
By beauty silenced.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I'll get back to reaming the Democrats for sport some time in the future, but for now, I'd like to talk about something else: music. When I was young, I remember three albums playing continuously: a Marty Robbins greatest hits collection, one for Ben E. King (the guy from The Platters, and the singer of "Stand By Me") and the greatest hits of The Eagles, 1971-1975. I'm pretty musically provincial; there are many artists and genres that are unknown to me. But you could do worse than these, by far.
I also think it readily explains my musical taste, which ranges from Alan Jackson to Blackstreet, from Bryan Adams to Babyface. I skipped over "rock" per se; better said, I skipped the white '60s, at least outside Nashville. Which is fine by me; I think music (and political ideas) from the rebellious teen years of (white) Boomers is ridiculously overrated. I don't particularly like Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan, because they couldn't (or can't) sing. Ditto for many others. It could be a political hostility that bleeds into the music. The only thing that angers me about Viet Nam is that "we" lost. I concede that Nixon is in the running for Worst President Ever; however, I pity him rather than hate him. I think the Carpenters rule. If the activist types lamented that we lost our taste for rage, that we retreated into the soothing of Richard and (and especially) Karen, well, too bad. Because in all the rage, they lost a feel for melody. More to the point, they lost joy. It's not to say you can't make authentic, good, sad/angry music; it's just that those feelings are best understood relative to joy and happiness. Good sad music yearns for joy; good angry music is indignant at the robbing of joy. The only music I utterly hate is either: 1) jarringly discordant, or 2) nihilistic, or both. I've written 10 posts like this; sorry.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hell Freezes Over (or I might be turning into a statist liberal hippie)
When Glenn Greenwald starts making sense to me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I know she is in
The throes of love; surely, yes
When she twirls her hair.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And I Don’t Want To

Any idiot
Sees it coming
A mile away.

And the wise run
Before their hearts
Are won
By the One
Who knows not,
And cares not,
Like the unending sun
That beats down
From the desert sky.

And she’ll never know;
She hasn’t a clue.
I can’t escape
And I don’t want to.

You’re alone, but you
Shouldn’t be.
And I’m alone
And I should.
You don’t feel;
I can’t move on
And I don’t want to.

Let me love you;
Why must you wait,
As a blooming flower
Long past its due?
I must admit,
I see noone else,
And I don’t want to.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

10 Reasons to be Dismayed by Democrats: #7 Blaming the Stupidity of Republicans on the Free Market. Obama is doing this routinely. Too bad it's not true. The Republicans wouldn't know a free market if it walked up and shook their hands. Surely the Democrats know this. Unfortunately, their left flank prepares for the overthrow of economic freedom as we speak.
I'm a little lighter in the wallet today, (God love you, Seminary Bookstore) but it was a relatively painless trip. I always like to look around at the non-textbook shelves to see if there's anything from an intellectual standpoint or other vista that would make good reading. I always find something! Today, it was this book. I'm not sure if it will actually address the subjectivism issue that seems inherent in even the most nuanced versions of Sola Scriptura, but for hermeneutical process itself (if I may borrow a phrase--taking for granted that we mean the same thing--the "literal sense" of the text) theologically "conservative" Reformed people will find much agreement across the Christian world on the soundness of the process, even if the systematic theologies applied afterward widely differ. A rather boisterous, opinionated, gloriously anti-gnostic professor who teaches Covenant Theology here (let the reader understand) often unintentionally says "our tradition" a few too many times for my taste with respect to the fullness of Truth in Christ--as if I care what the Reformed tradition says, unless it's the whole Truth as best as we can know--doesn't seem to be at all bothered by hermeneutical subjectivity, as he said when pressed, "Hermeneutics is messy." Which was one of the things which started this whole inquiry. My pal Barrett Hamilton Turner said that statements like this and others provoked him as well, and now, chillingly, he has "swum the Tiber." I say "chillingly" because though I love Barrett and his young family and know that the Roman Church is ten times better (at least) with them in it, I don't see her claims as warranted yet. Comforting? Yes. Doctrine less confusing and contradictory than over here? It would appear. Christ's only real Church? Settle down, Sparky. She really is like a girl I'd lead on, but don't want to marry. (Not that I would do that in real life) What's with the crazy stuff she says?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

After the Days of War: The Making of A Conservative Obamican

I am aware, and do accept the fact that this essay represents a retraction--and a resounding one--of my previous endorsement of John McCain. Little did I know that the 2008 election here in the United States--contested by presidential candidates who routinely fail to answer the important theoretical questions posed by their stated philosophies--would become a watershed. Nor did I expect the heart of the question--American foreign policy--would become a strength for Obama, and a weakness for McCain. Especially in light of the views of the one who evaluates the case (that is, me). After 9/11 a self-professed neoconservative, I did not, and still in large measure do not, fear the projection of US military power. I believe this time of its ascendancy was altogether natural and understandable, given the rotted corpse of a certain realism which seems to prize an honored place at European cocktail parties above justice itself. I cannot overstate my contempt for it: half-hearted apologies for a blatantly corrupt UN bureaucracy which to the present day is not only ineffective (were it only this!) but actively aids, abets, and promotes injustice all over the world. I certainly sympathize even now with those American leaders, who, faced with the choice between this sad state and the troubles and trials of a Pax Americana imposed by force, would gladly choose the latter. Ask me this day who I think is a nobler example of humanity, Kofi Annan and his predecessors, or a battallion of US Marines, that's an easy call and not simply because I'm an American. And John McCain is the epitome of that heroic sort. Let me underline it: The military of the United States not occasionally but routinely attracts and produces the selfless and the other-centered. That should not be in doubt.

But war is war, and everyone pays a price. There's no discount for nobility. The monsters who attacked the United States on 9/11, all the adherents of that vicious ideology (whether before or since) thrive on death and chaos. The justifications for such violence rest, as they often do, on dubious moral equivalences. None will be made here. But shall we oblige them by creating the same destruction, varying intents notwithstanding? Perhaps we sow the seeds of the next grievance in so doing, and we reap it, even--and this is critical--when that grievance is wholly unjustified.

Yes, we should fight them, terrorists, rogue states, and other oppressors. But the means by which we do so are more numerous than we think. Commerce and technology can combine to produce an interconnected future surely more desirable than hostility. And if, after we have resolutely chosen the path of nonviolence, our enemies persist, surely it will be said that they molested a truly humble and agreeable people. In such a case, we would not be alone, and no equivalences would stand against us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Both The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games were on AMC last night. I caught the end of Red October and the start of PG at 1:30 in the morning. The latter gets at the complicated nature of terrorism when it's not perpetrated by far-off strangers, but by neighbors. After I watched this video again, the film took on a new freshness. What if--rather than a legitimate means reluctantly employed by a civilized people--violence was a manifestation of our propensity to evil? In other words, what if 'civilized' is a lie? And is violence any more civil when conducted by a state, one much more powerful than the roving bands we often imagine? Is a call for peace nothing more than a limp passivity, a refuge for those too timid to stand against injustice, to defend one's own people? You tell me. But why do Christians celebrate and proclaim the death of a murdered innocent man? Are they crazy? Why did that man forbid violence in his own defense at his moment of greatest need? He must be of no account, and his friends, plain stupid. But what if this is true? How can you win by losing? This supposed weakling has a lot of power. What's going on here? I think he may have told his people what violence would get them. But you're right; Ghandi and MLK, Jr. were lucky outliers. Right.

Friday, October 03, 2008

10 Reasons to be Dismayed About Democrats: #8 Envy. I cannot remember the last time I heard a Democrat say something about economics that didn't involve an overt attempt to make us envious of rich people, even angry at them. Absolutely, if wealth was acquired dishonestly, tell us about the wicked Wall Street CEOs and their golden parachutes. But if not, I DON'T CARE. My first thought is, "Good for them; Isn't America great?" Now, what one does with one's wealth is a spritual matter, one that I will be constrained to offer my biblically-informed advice on when the time comes. But what a blessing it is to have the challenge of thinking spiritually (and globally) about how to be rich. The balances between investing in people (via the state) and destroying their freedom or initiative, as well as the meaning of "general welfare" are difficult ones to strike. But the Democrats never seem to try.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

10 Reasons to be Dismayed About Democrats (and John McCain, sadly) #9: "Energy independence". This is a fatuous, meaningless phrase. 2 things in basic outline can happen with our energy. Either we produce more than enough for ourselves, in which case we'd sell the rest of it to someone who needed it, or we'd purchase it from elsewhere (the dominant method right now). Before we get all in a lather about the peoples and countries and regions whence our oil comes, let's ask ourselves if, generally, people making money like to kill those from whom they take money. No. And if indeed that region depends solely upon sales of oil, and we were concerned about its influence, wouldn't we buy as much oil as possible, so as to hasten the day when they need things we Americans have to sell? Furthermore, doesn't importing certain things mean that we have time to create other things?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

10 Reasons to be Dismayed About Democrats--#10: Trade
I struggle with the urge to physically attack political candidates who (and the frequency is increasing) say some variant of, "My opponent voted to give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas!" When I hear this, my mind hears, I hate capitalism and foreigners. My mind might also hear I am envious of the wealth and success of others, even though it has no impact on my wealth or success. Say it with me now, everyone: Voluntary partnerships between two or more parties for the exchange of goods or services is good, and almost always of at least indirect benefit to the common good. Hello, capitalism, my old friend.
Debate #1

I'll keep it brief, but I wanted to share my thoughts. I agree with what was said over at the Volokh Conspiracy; the first 20 minutes were the mindless bromides that indicate both these candidates think we are stupid. But the rest, with its foreign policy emphasis, struck me as really significant. That is, we were treated to the national conversation on the use of force in basic outline: national honor (and sense of self) vs. strategic prudence. Given the fact that the strength of AQI is unknown, that our impending withdrawal's impact on that nation is unknown, Obama gave a more than adequate defense of his own view in contrast to the once-dominant neoconservative view (which McCain still holds). I was actually very impressed with Obama's defense of 'without preconditions.' Yet McCain almost trapped him here into a mistake, noting usefully, "Low-level meetings like this already happen all the time." The question becomes, "What impact will Obama's outspoken articulation of such practices do to his own position in negotiation?" That's the weak point. It's clear that he has no sympathy for our enemies. But if they think he does, or that they can take him for a ride, that could be highly problematic. The discussion of Afghanistan was highly useful on both sides. (To this day, you cannot pay me to say that Iraq was a "distraction" from Afghanistan; whether I'd do it at all is another question.) As Obama spoke, I thought, "I can tell he's read the International Crisis Group report on Afghanistan." I was also in agreement with McCain that Petraeus should go fix Afghanistan at his earliest opportunity. If this election turns on the means by which the economy is improved, McCain wins. If it turns simply on the fact that it is bad, Obama wins. Democrats, as usual, are worthless on economics. But as this was a foreign policy debate, I'd say it's 1-0 Obama if you're scoring at home.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Good luck resisting this song. Of course I know the original. They're both great, but Gwen's is better. "Pray tell," you ask, "why mention a song whose remake is itself not current?" I have a theory: try to be behind the times (or at least behind the charts) a bit. If a song sounds good to you three years later, there's a good chance you won't be ashamed of it in five or six. If you think it's still good then, chances are you're golden for 15-20. At that point, unless you are a total freak-show, (or even if you are) there are other souls who share your view that this track stinkin' rules the world, man! I know some of my music scares my friends. It's terribly eclectic, so that's no surprise. But music is powerful. Let noone deny this. I'll bet you can stop a war with a song. Or start one, for that matter. People do everything to music. I saw a commericial a couple weeks ago that moved me. No, it was a vignette of a commercial. A hippie in a cab says to a cab driver, "You can't just like music, man; you gotta love music." My friend thought it was funny; I did not. I could not agree more. Almighty God delights to receive worship in song. What further proof is needed that to make music is a primal, basic human function? I can be a little reticent to embrace a new kind of music, and a bit parochial in my almost visceral dislike of baby-boomer music (old white rock, that is) but I love music.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

That’s what I keep thinking. She does appear to be exactly the sort for whom I’d vote. As I noted, Obama is alienating me again. I am fully prepared to overlook his gravest weakness if he will make the effort to convince me he’s not Huey Long (or Father Coughlin). Or that his foreign policy will not be the Obama Apology Tour. I may well want to go in a different direction, but Europe or anyone else can firmly plant their lips on my posterior if they think I’m ashamed of my president or my country. I appreciate rather the gravity of those decisions and the office, even if I disagree (e.g. waterboarding). I noticed also that I like McCain better when others extol him. Maybe he should do what Kerry tried: stay away, and shut up. That’s really your best option when you are a pompous windbag in a winnable election. (Thanks, Mickey) Honestly, Obama’s appeal is also his weakness: he thinks like a college freshman. He’s an idealist. Sure, he can’t be bothered with messy realities (like socialism kills people) but, particularly when we’re dropping bombs on people (shorthand for Iraq) to highly questionable and unclear ends, “give peace a chance” sounds pretty good. But let’s cut though it: Obama is lying about a “new kind of politics.” If you didn’t know it, he plays dirty. He threw out red meat (red tofu?) to the delegates, and that’s what makes the old politics what it is. Unless everyone wants a less hawkish foreign policy, these vaunted Obamicans must not be too smart; limited government is just a bad joke to Obama.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Since my withdrawal of the endorsement for John McCain, I have endeavored to maintain (at least officially) a certain level demeanor about the whole thing. If I have an ideological point to make, I'll make it. But I think people who don't know me intimately could only guess for whom I'll vote. You'll pardon me then while I speak bluntly about Obama's nomination acceptance speech Thursday night in Denver: I hated it. And darn near every second of it. I felt alienated; I felt the crushing weight of impending statism. I felt that important discussions about the market economy (and the rationale for a decidedly free one) were being sidestepped or minimized. I also felt that profound moral questions were likewise minimized, with little thought to the weight or validity of opposing arguments. (Abortion is by far Obama's biggest weakness.) The criticism of John McCain was fairly harsh and personal, especially for one who claims to desire a new kind of politics. I would hasten to add that President Bush is not running in 2008. It may be desirable to invoke "the failed policies of George W. Bush" to excite the large crowd of his supporters, but I would venture to say that a not insignificant portion of what would be the winning electoral coalition for Obama are/were Bush supporters. The fatal flaw in the strategy of tying McCain to Bush is that a Bush voter in 2000 was motivated in some part by disdain for McCain. I remember (as a Bush supporter) reviling McCain. We felt that any Republican beloved by the media, as McCain was, was suspect. He has always courted Democrats and Independents, and I believe that his formidable challenge to Bush was due to these groups, not to committed Republicans. Therefore, Obama needs to stop moving left. Every time Obama has had the chance to claim the center, he's moved left. Obama's greatest strength this year (foreign policy) was barely mentioned. Liberal laundry lists on economics, like we heard Thursday, will cost Obama the election.

Monday, August 25, 2008

As It Was

I saw it for what it was,
After so long a mosaic surprise.
Hidden like the forgotten key
Under the flower-pot.
What it adds
And what is gained
Cannot be lost.
There is no pretending
That what is seen
Is not seen; No,
That will not do.

Say what we see;
What is before us?
Yes, us.
Shall we not study it together?
If not,
Then we ourselves
Must cease.
But we may not ignore beauty,
And we may not lie.
As for me,
I saw the glory in the picture.
I saw that you saw.
And I will not go back.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thanks to Nate Van Valkenburg (and his facebook profile) for the pointer to this. As I watched this new Batman film, at the unfolding moral equivalence, I scoffed. Only an idiot would consider that notion for more than a second. What the Joker does is show human beings as grievous sinners. I'm not sure we need help with that. There is something definitely Christ-like in the way Batman deals with the ending problem, though not entirely. The film was undoubtedly an Oscar-worthy performance for the late Mr. Ledger, and should be recognized as such. However, the script itself, replete with facile arguments, wastes the formidable talents of this cast. I'd give it 4/5.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The High Court and 2008

Oftentimes when I read noted Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen, I must confess a common, uncharitable reaction: “That is the most mindless drivel that has ever been printed in an American magazine.” If I may continue the insults for at least this sentence, I shake my head knowingly as I read her biography, which notes her time as an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. (Their place as an organ of rank, illiberal, apologists for statism is well assured.) But this piece is worth something. She is more than correct to note the place the Supreme Court has had in shaping our views of the Constitution, an effect that we take for granted whether we cheer the Court or not. She is, however, blatantly wrong to impugn judicial restraint by citing Brown v. Board as an example of judicial activism. In reality, it was nothing of the sort.
We must remember that Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) was a high-profile, historic flag planted in the demolished bunker of segregation. It has more symbolic power than even its historic actual results, though those cannot be denied. Were that case the only political victory that is helping us realize equality before the law irrespective of race, perhaps Quindlen’s assertion would have merit. But to pretend that it was alone would be to disrespect all who fought tirelessly for their rights over two centuries! Recall at the very least that the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were added quickly after the Civil War. Had those been esteemed at the time as the outworking of inalienable rights set forth in our founding documents, the sad history of the fight for equal rights would be much shorter. We fought, as a nation, the bloodiest war in our history to secure these rights. We radically modified the Constitution itself three times (!), a nearly impossible task to do once. Two presidents lost their lives trying to execute the dictates of the people regarding civil rights. In other words, the other branches did plenty of acting on these matters, but Americans were still denied the exercise of their rights. What better time for the Court to defend the Constitution than at that time will you ever find? Rights were long articulated, and long denied, by majorities and pluralities of people. They were tyrants, who mistook our republic for a democracy, men who used the tools of decision as tools of oppression. Our rights have never—(nor should they ever)--depended upon the will of a majority. Therefore, it was not an activist Court who ‘found’ such rights, it was a Court who correctly saw their decision as the natural consequence of the Constitution’s enumerated rights and the people’s diligent use of their inalienable rights, which they dare not impede. Whether it was racially progressive at the time to affirm these inherent rights, or whether supported by most people (or most originalists) is entirely irrelevant. Given the Constitution, Brown v. Board was entirely consistent with originalism. If it were not, Dr. King could not have appealed to the Declaration and the Constitution with such great success. We the people had already decided, with great cost, what rights an American has. It was a rejection of the majority, a rejection of democracy that helped all of us realize the implications of liberty. And so, I want judges who will settle the disputes of the day in terms set by the Constitution, in either its limitations upon governments, or in its inhibition of tyrannical majorities, who would deprive individuals of their inalienable rights.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

With apologies to Mr. Butler, I had begun to write more on the subject of liturgy as character formation, and as I did so, I realized it was the same bloody essay as before! If I come up with better, I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm sitting here watching the Cards and Royals, and it occurs to me that St. Louis has not even begun to play up to their abilities. And that may well be an outlandish statement, given their record (42-29, 2nd, NL Central). As for the Royals, their record (28-42, 5th, AL Central) is not at all a reflection of their talents. They need more walks. Not enough runs? Get on base; the most hit-challenged teams can get lucky runs with men on base. The pitching is pretty good. But I could be crazy. Doubtless Mr. Hall would say I'm simply "choking on Coke and belligerent comments."

Friday, June 06, 2008

The weather has been scary the past few hours here in St. Louis. Thunder I have never liked, as I am easily startled. I played some poker, (badly) read some politics, and just sat around. I should pray, or read the Bible. We’ll see if I actually do this. I am hopeful that the Cardinals do not suffer another soul-crushing defeat like last night; 10-9 to the Washington Nationals they fell, on a sudden two-run homer from Elijah Dukes. And that after clawing back into the game down 7-0, capped by a Joe Mather home run (good on ya, rookie) to make it 9-8 Cards in the top of that same 10th inning. I feel for poor Ryan Franklin. It wasn’t that bad a pitch, from what I could tell, and it was a fastball with something on it, you might say. Dukes hit it to straightaway center; it was not a “Crawford box” (let the reader understand) shot by any stretch. The boys need to put it out of their minds before tonight’s contest, a series-opening game against the hated Astros in Houston. My grudging respect for them has noticeably declined since the retirement of Astros legend Craig Biggio, who rightly is a mortal lock for baseball’s Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible. Even at the announcement of his retirement, various self-important snobs weighed in on the comments sections of articles, calling Biggio a “glorified David Eckstein” and overrated. Such an occasion can be a time for fruitful debate about the meaning of statistics, and the creation of meaningless ones, but I have another goal, which will become clear. This is a story about Omar Vizquel, one of the more celebrated shortstops in the American League of the 1990s. My mental encyclopedia entry for Omar Vizquel says: “One of the best defensive shortstops in the history of baseball, Vizquel earned a reputation as an error-free playmaker, saving runs on plays both routine and spectacular.” [Of course, the entry would include relevant statistics, as well.] As I was forced to reconsider my fawning opinion of Omar Vizquel in light of some of the statistical analysis in the comments, it got me thinking. And what I thought next was this: Stat-heads are ruining baseball. Every generation overrates the greats that they watched. No less for my generation, who is about to induct an alarmingly high percentage of the players it watched, most likely due to marketing and technology. But given that sports Halls of Fame are by their very nature idolatrous (think about it), I say we should allow for the fondness of memories in watching the game as fans play a role. (If I had my way, if it were up for a vote, I’d vote for Gary Gaetti, a perennially good but not often great player with a decently impressive resume.) Because it’s baseball, not rocket-science! Baseball, though it relies more heavily on statistics than other team sports, is inherently subjective and relies more on the experiences of the game than its raw data for its charm. Here’s a good example: Albert Pujols is a great player. By almost any measure, he is a dominant player, who’s very likely to reach 500 HR before he retires. And yet dare to ask a St. Louis native who the greatest Cardinal of them all is, even granting Pujols’ status as a Hall of Famer in the making, and there is only one answer: Stan Musial. When Albert retires, the answer will be the same. You’ll get some argument for Ozzie from the young fans born after 1980, or for Gibson, but that answer, I guarantee you, will never change. If there were a Cardinal Fan’s Catechism, that’s question 1. But Major League Baseball itself is built around such subjectively derived catechesis; arguing over the greats (and by extension, the Hall of Fame) is a dispute over competing meta-narratives. And the meaning is this: If we collectively decide to admit players to the Hall who are “overrated,” such is our right. And it is a natural thing that it has already occurred, and will occur again, in someone’s eyes. It’s unwise to trample people’s heroes. With that in mind, I’d happily vote in Omar Vizquel. I watched him very little compared to some, but I wonder what Venezuelans think, eh?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Brief thoughts on McCain's speech: The delivery was horrid. Bush on his worst day is better than this. But ignoring the juvenile 'gotcha' games so beloved by uneducated opponents of President Bush, which are given occasion by his well-known verbal inacuity, I'd say it was pretty good speech by McCain. Though he demonstrated he is no movement conservative, he will find plenty of opportunity to punch holes in Obama's statist dreams. He gave an able defense of non-withdrawal in Iraq (whether persuasive or not) and gave a decent critique of "big government" and our attendant loss of freedom. I must be a genius, because McCain pointedly emphasized the oldness of the proposals coming from the young Senator. I am skeptical of McCain's commitment to lower tariffs, taxes, and regulations, but at least we know that Obama will either ruin our economy, or lie to his own base (if he has any sense, that is).
Update: I have now watched McCain’s address from last night. More thoughts to follow…
Barack Obama gave another soaring speech last night in claiming the Democratic nomination, as we have come to expect. Whatever you think of him, I think he’s proven that his prepared speeches are must-see TV. I actually didn’t watch John McCain’s speech; I did see Senator Clinton’s. But I digress. Indeed, after the “shock and awe” of an Obama speech, after the emotion fades, several questions are going to be asked and criticisms leveled. Such as those articulated by Karl Rove, asking whether Obama had the ability to “make” oil companies use their profits in the way he wants (to say nothing of the morality/constitutionality of such a move), and whether it was possible to provide healthcare to every American. (And there remains that same moral/constitutional question, which deserves an excursus)
[Sidebar: The means of arriving at a desired good, and the opportunity costs of the various means, are exactly at issue in politics. Obama ought not expect that his opponents simply lack in compassion or imagination in opposing his plans. Somewhat disturbingly, he seems to believe this, or at least he fails to educate his audiences about this. One actually conducts useful disputation in politics by acknowledging the merits, or at least the appeal, of opposing ideas, and then explaining the superiority of one’s own ideas. It is not enough to acknowledge the personhood of one’s opponent; even the most closed-minded individuals can squeeze out a gracious remark or two. Instead, one must teach people. I realize this is almost impossible in American politics today, and it’s never actually happened, but we ought to demand this.]
And when that grumpy neocon Fred Barnes is right, he’s right. He pointed out that the whole Obama speech was “liberal boilerplate” that we’ve heard before. One wonders if these newly motivated participants we often hear about are so new that they fail to notice how old Obama’s ideas and promises are! In Obama’s defense, he has hinted at possible deviations from liberal orthodoxy in education, such as merit pay for teachers and school choice, but has retreated at other times. An argument could be made that Obama need not speak these heresies in front of staunch supporters, but I disagree. That’s the perfect time to educate the audience, both in person and those watching at home. For example, as Obama said, “meeting today’s threats requires not just our firepower but the power of our diplomacy” and “tough, direct diplomacy where the President of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands, and what we stand for,” I wonder: Are we to believe President Bush has never thought of this? No negotiation has been conducted? He invokes the litany of Democratic presidential heroes as an example, apparently unaware or willfully ignorant of the fact that every single one of them started a war, and was unashamedly in favor of American victory. Surely what makes them well-respected by all quarters was their willingness to use force when they felt “where we stand” required it. I agree with Obama that negotiation with staunch enemies is not surrender necessarily, but suppose our “preconditions” were the safety of our people, and innocent people in other lands. There is a point where discussion is fruitless, and Obama must tell us where he determines that point to lie with say, Iran. Is a nuclear Iran something he considers a threat? Why or why not? If it is a problem, what might Obama say that would be substantially different from George W. Bush, or Secretary Rice, or Hadley? If Iran or any other nation wished to take actions we considered threats irrespective of our diplomatic overtures, what would he do? Despite the Democratic claims of preference for multilateralism, the issue is not multilateralism vs. unilateralism, or even soft vs. hard power; rather, the issue is how to address the failure of multinational alliances (the UN) in the face of its unaccountable bureaucracy, and rank anti-Americanism. And that is especially relevant, given that the UN is often posited as a better alternative to unilateral action, and the deployment of American power. If the widespread use of American power (neoconservatism) is not the best option for the threats of the 21st century, then critics must spend less time personally attacking its advocates (Bush) and more time developing coherent alternatives that answer these questions.
On a more personal level, I do not value John McCain’s (alleged) independence from his party. I like his party, and almost all the ideas that animate it. In fact, if McCain “stood with George Bush 95% of the time” it likely means he was too out of step with conservatism anyway! But this is to be expected when one party is drunk with power, and the other hasn’t had a new idea or a diverse ideological makeup since 1896 (when they dismissed Cleveland). And lest this become a simplistic “pox on both your houses!” statement, let me add that constant calls for ‘unity’ and an ‘end to the bickering’ these days amount to nothing more than a plea for ignorance, an intellectual vapidity that is only exceeded by the shallowness of our debates. We are debate-averse and stupid, and that is a horrible place for the nation to remain.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who might Babyface vote for in this election? I could guess, but that would be slightly unfair to Mr. Edmonds. Anyway, before you dismiss the question [yeah, this is a shallow exercise that cheapens politics and the political process.—ed.] consider 1) how truly awesome Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds’s music truly is [sorry, couldn’t help myself!], and 2) what the pop culture sensibilities of our presidents might say about their relation to us. For example, President Bush’s favorite TV show is Baseball Tonight. I’d be lying if I said that factoid had no impact upon how I view him. (And that’s why they tell us those things, surely) It is almost beyond question that we care about such things, despite our claims to make decisions on “the issues.” Al Gore lost in 2000 essentially as the incumbent, in a robust economy, in a time of peace, because we just didn’t like him. Though it was extremely close, the “With whom would you hang out?” polls were very telling. And they’ll be telling again, I’m sure. Vice-President Gore sounded awfully shrill in those final days, and I don’t think it was entirely shoring up the base. Did he know he was losing? Or was it a big mistake? Either way, he didn’t (and doesn’t) seem much like us, the regular people. This election is weird on the identification front; each man (Sorry, Hillary) has a compelling biography. I’d venture to say the likability polls will be very close all the way. And that’s a good thing, candidates we all generally like, because it will be all the more likely that it’ll turn on issues. I think the Democrats realize that no matter how poorly a Republican president allegedly performs, a complete tool of a candidate will not become that perfect vessel for our dissatisfaction. I recall Michael Barone noting the day of Bush’s second inauguration that Bush had found the absolute floor of his support at 51 percent, while Kerry was at his ceiling. We liked Bush, so we gave him a pass. He’d done nearly everything to alienate his own base of support, while predictably drawing the most extreme hostility from his opposition, but survived. And I honestly believe that it’s because we generally found him hard to dislike. So, I want to know what kind of music these guys listen to, etc. And why, do you ask? When the president looks his worst, when I think he might be the dumbest person ever to hold the office, I want to turn to a friend and say patriotically, “Well, at least he listens to Babyface.”

Monday, June 02, 2008

Karen Carpenter

“O for a thousand tongues to sing…”
But yours is silent.
We mourn again,
Even those who are young,
Because there is no glory in death.

The songs now are knives to us.
We are reminded
There is no glory in death,
And you will not sing for us
In the land of the living.

Even now, I hope
Through the pain.
Hope in the Resurrection.
I wonder aloud:
Will you sing for Him again?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

OK, funny story: I took one of those "How Reformed Are You?" quizzes. It came back as 'Very Reformed'...and I was disappointed. I was trying to answer as dangerously non-Reformed as I could without lying. We know I'm an Anglican or a Catholic at heart! Well, I guess that goes to show, well, me that the Reformation wasn't completely pointless. But I'm still disappointed.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm strongly considering a withdrawal of my previous presidential endorsement of John McCain, based upon a needed assessment of some new information on a most weighty matter. In light of the nature of it, it would be irresponsible to reveal my intuitions as they stand now.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Letter

I wrote you a letter
Plain as day
The pained way
From the heart.

But not because
It’s too sick
To bear to watch
What I did today.

But because noone knows
How many days between today
And the joyous bells,
Which when they ring
Mean too late to say,
“You’re Beautiful.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Beautiful Lie

It was a new thing
And if it went bad,
You’d laugh in that way you do;
It seemed right
At the time.

I didn’t mean to scare you;
It was a spot and nothing more.
I need to know if I can relate
One time without falling in love.

Was it you or me?
I’d like to think it was you.
And yet…
You’re that scary kind of beautiful;
From the first,
I’d do anything you say.

I’m on my way
If that’s for the best.
But if I smile just a little
Too much,
Well, I’m only a man
And you’re most certainly
A woman.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Obama and the Politics of Symbolism

Some time ago, I wrote that Barack Obama may well be undeserving of the high praise he engendered from nearly all quarters (myself included) regarding his ability to transcend race, politics, and division. Certainly, this man has some obvious weaknesses that now threaten this hagiographic narrative. How will this man--who has not only failed to repudiate the politics of identity, but actively embraced them--going to restart the dialogue on racism in America? How will this utterly conventional liberal--who not only rejects conservative thought, but shows a very limited ability to interact meaningfully with it--going to change political culture from poisonous to one of respectful disputation? All these and more are worthy challenges to the preferred Obama narrative.
BUT, we’re way past policy in some ways now. The criticisms that Obama is a blank slate upon which we project our desires (and policy preferences) is a valid one, perhaps the most valid of the campaign. That said, don’t we do that very thing with every president and potential president? I certainly have something invested in the history of President Bush’s tenure. My friends with whom I discussed these matters saw in our respective choices possibility, possibility that we could do something great, and we would, in and through our president. Perhaps we were at best naïve, and at worst, president-worshippers. Very well. But we saw our chance to (I know, cliché) make a difference, to improve upon our past. It was our country. [Thanks, John Mellencamp!] I hear my readers saying, “Oh, no! A conservative about to encourage us to vote for Obama on the basis of his skin color!” No…and yes. I’m simply wondering who Mr. Obama represents. Whose dreams does he carry? Are those dreams even bigger than his limited vision? Could he even transcend himself, all his flaws, and grow into the moment that none of us can see, that by his ideology, he might even strain to avoid? No, he’s certainly not a messiah. But history has a funny way of turning the ordinary into heroes. All of us have a statement to make about our history, corners we’d turn if we had the chance. Are we sure this is a moment we want to pass up? Barack Obama might be a black Jimmy Carter, he might be a terrible president. Maybe we should respect him and all people enough not to patronize them by ignoring their stupidity. But, like it or not, in either case for the Democrats, history will be made. And the reasons for wanting to make it don’t always make sense. (For the record, I cannot fathom celebrating Hillary’s election.) On the one hand, I’ll be voting for McCain, my only rational choice. On the other, Obama’s election, for purely symbolic reasons, for the opportunity to begin again regarding race in America, would be a thrill. He’s playing on this desire, this white guilt, if you will. And it works. We like him, white people, don’t we? Our sins of racism need putting away. We need to know that we’re unbound to a wicked past. What better way to do it? What better way to start a new era could be found? If you are white, and you haven’t thought what I’m thinking, I’m surprised. You’re likely lying. I’m sorry for being so irrational.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

“Shouldn’t you say some words?” The humor and the weight of that story hung over us. Dr. Calhoun related a tale of a man who had never tried the sweet resin of a tree. (Was it a maple?) The man’s friend offered to rectify the situation, and he accepted. As the man humbled himself by letting his friend pour the sweetness into his mouth—nay, he paused just before and asked the question. And it contains the profoundest wisdom; I summarize it thusly: We humans instinctively need to mark the moments of our lives with ceremony, with ritual. In every area of life, we follow patterns. We are creatures of liturgy. Indeed, we are made to worship, and to do so continually. I gratefully acknowledge the pastoral instruction of Travis Tamerius on this; I have not had an original thought ever in my 28 years of existence, and my best ideas, I stole from him, at least for the last 6 or so. (smile) So why—in the face of so many monstrous idolatries and competing allegiances—have we in the American church decided that the answer is in throwing off the familiar, the old, the repetitious? Sin and death continue their liturgies undeterred, it seems, and our reaction is to remake the church, to re-brand her. Either we think we are beyond the barbaric tendencies of our forefathers, or we think our days are so novel that the old ways won’t help us. In either case, we are profoundly mistaken. Have we considered that this postmodern age throws off all hints of memory because it truly believes it has nothing to commemorate? Are we as Christians certain that we want to affirm that notion? Indeed, have we unwittingly cooperated in this process of historical erasure because we are ‘bored’ or we want to be ‘relevant’? For whom, and to what end, do we modify our Christian tradition? [Quick, dangerous aside: With the holy catholic church in pieces, can I say ‘our tradition’ without being naïve, or burned at the stake?] If we come as the Body of Christ to a fuller, purer, understanding of ourselves and our mission in the world, fair enough; a more noble reason to modify tradition could not be found. But, if we modify it in a rush to please those outside of Christ, that is folly. Make no mistake: A clear affirmation of the historic, apostolic faith in every culture is what attracts people to Christ, not that we are like the cultures in which we live. Here in America, we are so afraid of offense that we try to be as ‘normal’ as possible. No wonder, then, that we are now irrelevant.
This is not simply an apology for traditional liturgies in worship, though it is not less. But it is a call to begin again, to remember. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, then have had the gall to blame the baby. The ones who throw their elders off a cliff will soon forget the way, and compound their mistake.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Well, I was engaging in that hallowed tradition among theology students—watching YouTube instead of studying—just now. As I left this morning, one of my favorite songs was playing: “Two Occasions” by The Deele (a band that included Babyface and noted producer Antonio “LA” Reid in the 1980s). Because I had to rush out, the video played to an audience of zero. But I have returned. So, it dutifully asked me if I’d like to watch that video again, which I did. YouTube shows you other related videos, so as I watched, I noted that Pebbles’ “Love Makes Things Happen” was an option. (This song shows you what beautiful things are possible with a keyboard before any words are sung.) And I like the song, I guess. That ambivalence is why I’m writing this post. From a Christian perspective, this is one of the worst songs ever written. Love is portrayed as a disease you catch, a mysterious force that leads normal people to commit adultery, (or at least fantasize about other people) and that it’s all really OK, because it’s so powerful. In the comments for the video, many people pointed out that it sounded like lust to them, and that’s right, I think. Here are the words. Interestingly, Babyface seems very aware of this when he wrote “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” two years later (1992) for Toni Braxton and the Boomerang soundtrack. (You’ll get a great line from the movie from a female character (Nia Long, maybe?) explaining that very thing, in the full video on Yahoo. The chorus of that song:

Love shoulda brought you (brought you) home last night
You shoulda been with me
Shoulda been right by my side, baby
If you cared anything for me
Then love woulda brought you to me last night

Yeah, this song only is poignant because of adultery, and that sucks, but it’s well-crafted, true, and well sung. No surprise there. Much better than “Love Makes Things Happen.” And that is too bad, because it too (apart from the lyrics) is well-crafted and sung.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I don’t have to write this post. And I could dispatch with recent days’ events with a fairly nerdy, clinical recitation of the relevant football statistics. [Frankly, maybe I should write about the horror of this.] But I’m hurting right now, and it has nothing at all to do with anything serious, or important. Not for people outside of sports. And I feel guilty about that, in a way. But as I noted, Brett Favre is walking away. For me, that’s very hard. And I won’t say he’s a hero; heck, I won’t even say he’s my hero. But a joy to watch, good or bad? Yes. Do I feel privileged to have done so? Yes, indeed. Will watching football be less fun? Certainly. Go ahead and call me an idolator (if the Bible’s any guide, I am the worst) and I’ll admit that. Moving on. People can sometimes be more powerful symbols than they are as human beings. I think of Favre, I think: man, tough, strong, America, team, guts, like me, like us, your neighbor, your dad, your friend. If someone did a Fourth of July montage that showed Favre as something American, something good, nobody (outside Chicago) would flinch. In 5-10 years, if he chose to run for office, he’d win. Not kidding. Lots of sports ‘heroes,’ true, but not like him. I’m feeling safe on that one.
Many of us lived through him, (me included) at least on Sundays after church. There’ll be a million ‘regular guy’ stories about him (as there were throughout) but they’re basically true. And it makes it all the harder. Many NFL legends (lots of quarterbacks) have retired recently. I don’t honestly remember hurting when they left. Football’s not even my favorite sport. But something about Favre, a certain something, a certain ‘we’ that we can’t explain, he carried, just by playing a game. Better than most, but not flawlessly. He screwed up often, and we liked that about him. A lot. ‘Legend’ and ‘beatable’ don’t go together in sports, but with Brett, they did. Brett got addicted to painkillers and alcohol back when; that’d tarnish some athletes, but not Brett. I daresay the identification got deeper.
And that’s not even fair, certainly to black athletes we’d shun if they rented a porno. But that’s how it goes. It defies logic with Favre, though, more than usual. We watched him blackmail the Packers with retirement talk, skip out on camps, etc. and we, Favre Nation, just didn’t care. I don’t, and I’ll admit it. He’s a great teammate, but not always. Likely a great husband and father, but not always. And yet…I cried today, just like he did. I still don’t regret becoming a Packers fan in 2003. I don’t know who my team will be now; perhaps I’ll stay. I loved every second I saw Brett Favre play. If I could preach to three famous people right now, as a personal chaplain, they’d be President Bush, John Mayer, or Brett Favre. And wonder at this: the God who made the world, who gave us His Son, made this one guy, whose giftedness at throwing a ball for far too much money, has made me cry, for wanting to do something else. That’s at once sad, and perfectly understandable, no?
I’d venture to say that if you’re a football fan, you’ve heard the criticism of noted former coach, John Madden—namely, that Madden is the biggest Favre apologist on Earth. I’ve laughed and wondered if Mrs. Favre loves Brett that much! But tell the truth: you felt like Madden every day of these 17 years. Me certainly, for these four I counted myself a fan. Brett’s 38, and ¾ of the league would take him as their quarterback right now, even for the sheer fun of watching, I daresay. I exaggerate, and perhaps I say too much, but I’m less sad, and I needed that.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

This one’s been percolating in the brain for a bit now; it’s controversial, so please hang on. I don’t think the defense of ‘justification by faith alone’ (as traditionally understood) is the most pressing issue of the day in the church. Rather, it is the relation between the finished work of Christ, the sacraments, (I am referring to Baptism and the Eucharist) the individual, and our ecclesiology. In no sense do I mean to deny Luther’s important contribution, but rather to ask, “What are the means of experiencing that justification?” If the blessedness of justification by faith alone is that, on my own, I wage a battle to convince myself that my sins are erased by the work of Christ on the Cross, if the (chief) work of the Church is to help individuals contemplate the gloriousness of their individual reconciliations with God in Christ, then, frankly, I want no part of it. It makes very little sense. I’ve now been a Christian 10 years, (6+ baptized) and for the first 7 or so, this is exactly how I thought. But I began to realize that it was beyond me, to hold in my mind the reality of God’s declaration of my innocence before him by the work of Christ. And the reason is not simply because of the greatness of it, though that is true as well. The truth is, the individual ‘Jason Kettinger’ is dead. The reason I found it so hard to contemplate how this individual could be forgiven by God is because he wasn’t. God had that guy killed, started over, and revived the body. I only know this because I’m still here, but things are different. I’m not so much important now, and the beauty is, I get blessings galore, even as someone else is getting the glory. Do we not sing, “My life is hid with Christ on high/With Christ my Savior and my God”? My point is this: ‘Salvation’ and ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ etc. cannot be understood (and barely contemplated!) individually. It was never intended to be that way. Read the Old Testament as I’m doing now; you’ll notice (if you read it plainly, not turning it into your own allegorical pop-up book, or ‘Where’s Waldo?—Jesus Edition’) that the story isn’t about you or me, or even about the people that are actually in its pages. God is up to something, and he isn’t laying the whole plan out at once, and even his chosen ones are on a ‘need-to-know’ basis as it unfolds. If you start your reading the Bible always with the question, ‘What does this mean for me?’ you’re guaranteed to foul it up. You might as well read a how-to book on whatever problem it is you’re concerned about. Sorry. The Bible has something to say, and it may or may not bear directly on your situation. To presume always that it does, well, is very arrogant. OK, that’s enough.
But I digress (petulantly, it seems). I’m wondering: What is the true meaning of the Reformation? Is it individualism vs. collectivism? Clerical vs. anti-clerical? Intellectual freedom vs. stability and orthodoxy? It may have been all these things, but what if…the most legitimate concern of the Reformers was the de-coupling of sacramental awareness and observance from the all-sufficient work of Christ? And church authority had insisted that it existed apart from Christ’s work. (and still does, to an extent) That is a more foolhardy notion than every excess ever conceived in the mind of a Protestant, that the Church could exist outside of Christ! (I hesitate, by the way, to say ‘finished work of Christ’ because we as individuals are unfinished--not yet conformed to his image—and the mission of the Church continues. And does He not promise his presence until the end?) But, though we’re right to view ourselves as innocent before God if we are in Christ, we cannot apprehend it, much less claim to possess it, except by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Body, of which we are a member. Should I try to think of my innocence by myself, contemplating the legal declaration wrought for me, I’ll be chasing a ghost for the rest of my days. Still, I surely know Him at his Table, as we share it. I know God by his Scripture, read to us, and through us, every Sunday. (Save two Sundays ago, when a dear friend and I worshipped the Lord over pancakes later that evening, because we are morning challenged!) I know God by our love for one another, and our songs.
If this is too Federal Vision-y/Catholic for my Reformed Presbyterian overlords, er, brethren, well, like Angelina Jolie, I can only say what I witnessed. As Jeff Smith would say, then, I bid you peace.
Tough news. I knew it would come some day, just not today, Brett, just not today. I won't write another lengthy post about him; I'll just say that Favre is the only one who could make me pause a second before answering the question, "Which is your favorite sport?" I reserve the right to write a sickeningly hagiographic post the day of the press conference.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I have a Facebook account, (it remains the more attractive option for non-teens in the social-networking world) and an application within it called ‘iLike’ that allows you to do various music-related things. It pleasantly informed me (as per my instructions) that Mariah Carey would be releasing an album in March, 2008 called, “Rainbow.” I said, “Wait, didn’t she already release an album by that name in 2000?” I clicked on the Amazon link, and sure enough, it redirected to the old album. Why don’t you just admit, iLike, that you have no idea what the new album in called? I wasted an entire 5 minutes of my life unraveling that mystery! Well, you wasted half your life listening to Mariah Carey.—ed. Touche! But if you had gone through the “I want to be ‘Black’” phase that every suburban white kid does (with no more than a quizzical curiosity about gangsta rap) you’d listen to MC as well. You’re still in that phase, aren’t you?—ed. Be quiet about that! Disclaimer: I in no wise endorse Ms. Carey’s annoying tendency to rip her clothes off in videos. Carey was a musical gateway to less ‘white’ soul/R&B music, like this cat Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, (The Man, in case you’re wondering) so I’m indebted to her. (Her early stuff especially rules anyway, IMO.) Her new single sucks, though; it’s trampy and not even catchy. Oh, well. Mr. Edmonds put out this song. I love this guy, but it shows you how much divorce is the devil’s work when the best (pop) songwriter of the last two decades can’t take the sting off it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I’m really mad today. And before I tell you why, let me preface it with this: I hope that RINO (let the reader understand) “Democrat” John McCain politically carves Obama in bite-sized, quivering little progressive pieces. Now, formalities aside, I don’t give a rat’s behind that Mr. Obama’s middle name is Hussein. It does not evoke fear in me, nor conjure a memory of a deposed Iraqi dictator (not a lasting one, anyway). I do not believe that his election will bring Sharia law into the center of US life. If he says he’s not a Muslim, I believe him. And there is NO reason whatsoever to continue stating his full name in the hope of scaring people into not voting for him. I can think of a hundred reasons to vote against Senator Barack Obama; his connection to Islam (by family, or the technicalities of conversion from Islam) is not one of them. Some guy named Cunningham brought this out again. They say Cunningham is a conservative radio talk show host. Spewing hostility in the direction of a Democratic candidate for president does not automatically make one conservative, and that he blathers on the airwaves only means that the fans of the medium need to self-regulate. As a semi-related aside, it is quite legitimate to ask whether those past connections to Islam could affect how extremists view him. Daniel Pipes, a noted scholar on the Middle East, and onetime presidential appointee, addresses such issues here. He’s a little harsher on Obama re: openness on this issue than I am, but an interesting piece nonetheless. I’ve never heard Obama or his supporters use McCain’s middle name. Because nobody cares until you are president. (Or nobody should, in any case.) McCain was absolutely right to disavow the comments.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For the record, if and when the Republican nomination is decided in the expected fashion, John McCain has my full, unequivocal, unhesitating support. His many crimes against movement conservatism, and various constituent parts of it, are hereby pardoned. We cannot take the risk that American foreign policy (especially vis a vis Iraq) will substantially change in the coming months. Questioning the decision now is fruitless, and bringing the opposing policy to bear on the people of Iraq is immoral and stupid. We owe them at least a fair shot at a free country; to do anything less would be to ensure that the enormous cost in blood and treasure will have been in vain. This policy represents the very heart of liberal internationalism, and how terribly ironic that the opposition now pretends to disavow it. The numerous errors in execution and strategy do not change the mission from worthy to unworthy. The hardships on our soldiers and their families (and us) break our hearts, but they should not break our will. We do not decide policy based upon what is popular or easy. Senator Obama, look the people of Iraq in the eyes as you tell them that they’re not worth it. Look at their progress, look at the fragile freedom and scorn it; look at our past mistakes in that country and say our sins against it make us unfit to correct the mistake. Is this your vision? Is this your new direction? You have said you will stop genocide; is Iraq’s genocidal history unworthy of your attention? Have you failed to notice that its chief perpetrator was duly convicted and punished, aided by the American military power you claim should never have been used? This is not about George Bush, Dick Cheney, or anyone else the Democrats despise; it’s about whether our word means anything, it’s about whether we understand the gravity of war. That question ought not only be asked at the outset, but throughout. We are required to ask ourselves what obligations the unleashing of power has laid upon us, and to accept them. McCain understands this; his Democratic opponents do not. For chiefly this reason, I support John McCain for President of the United States.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It seems proper to me today to pray for this nation. (The United States, that is, if I am lucky enough to have overseas readers, which I apparently do. Thank you, Tim.) We’re picking a president, even today, in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. One of these four people will be our next president (Sen. McCain, Sen. Clinton, Sen. Obama, or Gov. Huckabee) and, to put it mildly, they’ll need all the help they can get. Pray this with me:

Heavenly Father, we know that you already know who our next president will be. We humbly ask that you equip that person with everything they need to lead us. Grant them wisdom, patience, and love to carry out this high calling. Bless every one of the candidates to finish well, and give them grace and graciousness to accept the outcome of the contests, in victory or defeat.

We ask you to bless in a special way Mrs. Edwards, and Mrs. Romney, who deal with illness and affliction. Give them a knowledge of your true presence there with them.

May you forgive the candidates their sins, and their sins against one another. May you grant faith and repentance to the ones who do not know you in truth, and faith and repentance to your disciples among them, that they may abide in you, and you in them.

Forgive me for failing to pray for all our leaders as I ought, and grant, by your Holy Spirit, the reminder to do so.

While our nation holds such a prominent place of influence, we ask for your special wisdom, that our leaders might think of justice, love, and mercy for all people, not only for us.

We pray that we would be united in love to our brothers and sisters in other lands; that our allegiance would be to them, and to your Church, over and above our loyalty to the United States, even as we love her and are thankful for our country.

We pray for the visible and spiritual unity of your Church; rid us of schism and heresy, bring us back together, as we were in the beginning. Thank you Jesus, for dying for us when we were your enemies. Teach us to follow you and you alone, and to lead others to do the same.

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Friday, February 08, 2008

I have an ongoing dialogue with Nathan Hall of re: U.S. military intervention. He would like us to take a less involved approach, in contrast to my position, which (arguably) favors more. He identifies the desirable position (in response to my queries) as follows:

“When would Libertarians use force? When US property, territory, or citizens are threatened and force is the only way of meeting the threat. In principle, it isn't a hard question to answer at all.” [Italics are mine, and indicate the foci of my response.]

After I indicated that my response to a request for an apology for invading Iraq (from the ‘international community’ for instance) would be along the lines of, “Kiss my ass,” Nathan replied thusly:

“I don't want to see hand-wringing guilt or abject, tearful apologies. I also don't want us to run away from Iraq with our tail between our legs. I just think we should learn from our mistakes and follow the principle below in the future, possibly with an exception that would allow intervention in genocide even when the US isn't directly affected."

Property, territory, or citizens—I know of no place on the Earth at this point that fails to contain at least one of these; in many places, there are all three.

Force is the only way to meet the threat—this seems, in some manner, a silly qualification; it is precisely what is at issue when the wisdom of entering a conflict is discussed. In Iraq, for example, it is very clear to all concerned that our president believed the threat was credible. Most of the criticism of that decision, it seems to me, center around the president’s threat assessment skills after the fact, no? In other words, whether his belief that the threat was credible was reasonable. That he ultimately convinced the United States Senate to grant him the authority to use force, and the responsibility to determine alone whether such measures were necessary likely indicates that, by and large, they concurred with his threat assessment and trusted his judgment. Why should he alone bear the consequences if we have decided it was a mistake? If the drums of war were beaten, we the people beat them.

Genocide exception—this is bigger than we realize. It is eminently reasonable to view Iraq as the theater for past and ongoing genocide between 1988-2003. If any US intervention satisfied such a condition, the Iraq mission did. Remember also that the tipping point in Bosnia was the UN’s failure to protect a city under its control. (Sorry, can’t spell the city:) but you know what I mean). So, it would be folly to suggest that the Bush administration had a litany of effective soft-power options re: Iraq that went unused. They had every right to believe that the UN would fail, and that any further genuflecting before them was fruitless. The UN Security Council had passed Res. 1441, calling Iraq in “material breach” of its obligations under the cease-fire. If Iraq wasn’t a threat, why did the UN say it was? (Sorry, getting off-track) But if the ‘international community’ didn’t act in 1988-89 when genocide was obviously occurring, (and 1994, for good measure) I hope they will not mediate these decisions in the future. I’ll most certainly take US ‘imperialism’ over worthless multilateral chatting any day. But that’s exactly the point: the system has only functioned because of a decided lack of foreign policy ‘humility’ on the part of the US. And our interference with the proper functioning of the system, ironically, has occurred because our leaders construed American interests and concerns too narrowly. Bottom line: stopping genocide will require more involvement (and more wars) not less.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fine, I admit it: I’ve been giving Obama a free pass on his outlandish liberalism, which, as a conservative, I normally would hammer such ideologies with glee. But these are not normal times. We could use a little hope, a little lofty rhetoric. I also admit that this blog is Right-Wing Obama Fan Central, and in the end, I may conclude that he’s another hopeless statist, liberal dreamer who’s completely undeserving of the high compliments I’ve paid him. (I could not disagree more on issues than I do with him; I will not vote for him.) But I appreciate above all the tone he is setting; by sheer force of personality and (apparent) character, he does indeed have a chance to be a liberal Reagan, because a president Americans like and trust is one who can shift the terms of debate with less effort. As correct as I may perceive Reaganism to be ideologically, I’d be a fool to deny that some portion of its acceptance owes to Reagan himself, not some seismic shift in the intelligentsia’s evaluation of the merits of free-market capitalism. Maybe a good portion of the electorate only remembers that he gave them hope; is that enough? I don’t know. But Hillary Clinton is in the fight of her political life with a rival whose only real virtue is the uncanny ability to inspire. Go ahead, ask conservative Republicans if they like Obama. You know the answer. And the affection for Hillary Clinton in the GOP? Quite a difference!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My favorite political blogger (other than Instapundit--simply required daily reading) Mickey Kaus seems to think Obama is about to be jobbed by racism in tonight's SC primary. Geez, I hope not. I'll be the first to out Hillary's modified "Southern Strategy" if most Edwards supporters go to Clinton. (Not that it's her fault, but I want her to lose.) If one is truly liberal, Hillary is not your candidate. She betrays would-be liberal supporters routinely, as Ed Klein's book so amply demonstrates. If Pat Moynihan doesn't like you (and you're a Democrat) that's a really bad sign. The book details the late Senator's antipathy toward her very well indeed. (I was not inclined to dislike her until I read Klein's book. I have a generally favorable view of President Clinton, likely more favorable than he gets from most conservative Republicans.) She has never said anything that I felt deserved my affirmation. The only major vote she cast with which I agreed was her vote to authorize the Iraq war, and that vote she has stopped just short of disavowing. (which means she lacks the courage to affirm it, or the courage to admit she made a mistake.) She does not inspire; I cannot say I'll wake up after Election Day if she wins believing and hoping for the best. Hillary Clinton cannot unite America, even around the idea of being American. In her losing Iowa speech, after appealing to Democrats and moderates to join her, she said, "...even Republicans who've seen the light." What, we're former Republicans? Even if she meant extremely disaffected Republicans--likely more conservative than the president, by the way--with what could she entice them? She is the most unlikely Democrat to peel off Republican voters you could imagine. If the Republican nominee is McCain, does she really think she'll be winning independents from him? Mr. Independent would crush her. Unless all American women vote for her simply because she's a woman, she has no chance to overcome this and win the White House. If she wins the nomination, does she really think former Obama supporters will be so afraid of John McCain (?) that she could pull out a close one on turnout? She'll have to slime Mr. Likable, Mr. Black JFK just to get there, and she'll pay dearly.
Obama, on the other hand, is/has been geared for the general election from Day 1. He's Mr. "One America," remember? "No Red States or Blue States..." he says. He has indeed praised Reagan; he did utter the words, "middle-class tax cut," and "entrepreneur" in his Iowa victory speech; he has wiggle-room on health care that Hillary doesn't. He's a better, scarier opponent in November. Heck, I like him, and I'm a conservative Republican. His stump speeches range from adequate to absolutely mesmerizing. If I were a Democrat, and the choice was simply between Clinton and Obama, it's not close. I'm not sure why she is winning.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's MLK, Jr. Day here in our beloved United States. Whether it should be a federal holiday or not has lost a bit of salience because many businesses continue to operate. And it is indeed separate from the question of King's importance and legacy, despite some attempts to equate not supporting the creation of the holiday with the very racism that King opposed. I would surmise that King would oppose a holiday about himself. Here is a curious article. Would we not expect that King would lose support as he took stands that reflected a particular political ideology? In spite of his many flaws, King is to me an American hero. He has (rightly) been appropriated as a symbol by nearly everyone--right, left, and center--and by people in other nations. But I can say that I differ with Dr. King with respect to the Vietnam War, Ali, and probably economics, as well. Must I have been in lockstep with him politically at all times to share his 'Dream'? I should say not! It seems to me that King understood that the most vital aspects of his message involved civil rights long promised and long denied, and that he had to frame it as an American problem, as a national identity crisis, touching us all. The very thing that makes King so inspiring is that he saw the problem in this way, and helped us all to see it this way, too. He was not in fact the leader of black Americans, demanding rights for black Americans; (Though that is part of the story.) King was an American, asking fellow Americans of all colors and creeds to look in the mirror. "Which America sounds like the one you love?" he seemed to ask. And we decided that his vision of America, by and large, was the right one. He would have known that his later activities were premised on less universal themes, that his solutions were more transparently ideological than the highest points of the civil rights movement. This is what I'd like to think, anyway. The March on Washington, I'd like to think, included future Goldwater supporters. All that is to say that King united many kinds of people around American ideals in fighting for civil rights, a coalition that would not hold through all of King's endeavors. And that's OK, even natural.
His widow, Coretta Scott King, makes no secret of her progressive politics. It is to the credit of progressive ideologues that their ideas have, in the minds of many, become synonymous with fidelity to civil rights and the civil rights movement. But that is a detriment to King's dream, and to the country in the end. The idea that only those who agreed entirely with MLK, Jr.'s agenda throughout can claim him, or look to him for inspiration is frankly illiberal and immoral. I hope that he would see my opposition to affirmative action and other preferences based upon race as a testament to his dream partially realized, not a reflection of a recalcitrant racist.
Anyway, the fact that Americans view King's entire legacy and career differently, but are nearly unanimous in holding that it was significant, and (on balance) positive demonstrates that Americans are capable of a nuanced view of even our heroes.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This past Sunday (if ESPN Classic is to be believed) was Joe Frazier's birthday. Yes, that Joe Frazier. Happy Birthday, Joe. They say he had the scariest left hook ever. If Ali-Frazier III is any guide, I'd have to agree, and so would "The Greatest." Speaking of that fight, have you ever seen it? (All of you who think boxing's barbarity should be outlawed can surf elsewhere now.) The last time ESPN Classic aired it (that I knew of, anyway) I watched it maybe 12 times over the next couple months. Someone from the modern day commenting on it between rounds made the astute observation that two aging legends declining at the same rate can make for a great fight; some say it was the best boxing match ever. (Not in the down-to-the-wire, "Who'll win?" sense; Ali won in 14, and it was trending his way for a few rounds prior.) But you saw shadows, glimpses of what each guy could do back in his younger days, and it's astounding to me that these two men were still the two best heavyweights on Earth that day in 1975, though both in their mid-30s. Ali would remain champion until 1978, losing the title to Leon Spinks, then regaining it later that year, before ill-fated fights in 1980-81. As it ended up, Ali lost 5 times before retirement, but his fans only count 2 or 3; Once he outpointed Spinks in their second fight, they say, he should've walked away. I sure don't want to see that Larry Holmes fight or the other (was it Berbick?) that showed a too-slow Ali getting mauled. For my part, I just like to remember those fast hands, the fastest I ever saw on a heavyweight, I think. Watch Ali in the 1960s to understand.
Ali won 2 of the 3 bouts with Frazier, but indeed, folks are right to wonder if Ali would have such a place in our cultural imagination had he lost twice to Joe. [Note: I was going off my memory in this post; look dates and records up for yourself to double-check.]

Monday, January 14, 2008

Before I get to something substantive and theological, there are 3 things I am positively amped (that's right, AMPED) about. Tomorrow (or today, in roughly 10 minutes) when I rise, my seminary grades for the last term will be made known to me. (It's about time, boys, with all due respect.) Also tomorrow, the Michigan primaries for both Democrats and Republicans will take place, and we'll be that much closer to knowing who our (main) two parties will nominate for President of the United States. (It inspires me just to type that; I couldn't be cynical about this even if I tried!) Thinking back on it, my mother instilled in us a quiet, yet forceful patriotism and love for this USA. We're not unquestioning apologists, by any means, but we have/had this hope that this country can be what we want it to be, that people can indeed change things for the better. I have grown up simply knowing that:

1. It's un-American to talk loudly/make excessive noise/boo when our president is giving a major speech; (like when a group of folks is viewing it on TV)
2. It only makes sense to vote at least every 2 years;
3. The people/person we didn't vote for is a human being, and it's also un-American to wish them ill even if they really are an immoral, lying liar. (smile)
4. The American people make the right choices in elections (looking back on it) a lot of the time.
5. High elected offices are not the easiest jobs, so we ought to temper even our harshest criticism with the realization that the vast majority of us would assume the fetal position within a week of holding said offices, no matter how smart we think we are.

I applaud whenever the president is introduced for the State of the Union, and I have done so as far back as I can remember. I thought everyone did this, even in their living rooms. Apparently, that's trite and naive. I put my hand over my heart during our national anthem, and sometimes I sing it. Again, I thought everyone did this. I don't recall ever thinking that America was held hostage by any of the occupants of Oval Office. Frankly, I can't really remember hoping for the end of anyone's presidency; even today, it seems profoundly immoral to think that. I'm a sheep, I know. Fine, be bitter and angry; people like that never change anything for the better. In spite of ourselves, Americans have done good in the world. The Republic has endured many things, some challenges so great that, by rights, this nation should have fallen. But we are still here, after some 230 years. Our founders must've been on to something. We'll endure, despite whatever horrific policies certain politicians we dislike will enact. I believe this because not all of us think only of ourselves; not all of us are ignorant of the magnitude of the gift that is our republic. Indeed, a great many know that we must cherish and protect our rights and those of our fellow citizens, even when they exercise them in a way we dislike. So long as we are free--no, so long as God the Just rules and reigns, we have no reason to lose hope. Even if we did not live in so free and blessed a nation as this one, hope would abide; faith abides; love, most certainly, as well. How could we possibly take refuge in a detached cynicism in such a place, though visions of America are as numerous as sand on the seashore? Though politics is a war of sorts, and its contests ought to be marked by profound disagreement (for truth of any kind scarcely becomes known with ease) we Americans are happy warriors, because we have committed ourselves (very successfully, on the whole) to a set of noble processes, to which we will adhere unswervingly, even in the face of political and ideological defeat. That is the very definition of patriotism, to me. So when I speak of unity, I am referring not to a unaminity of thought, but to that unswerving loyalty to our Constitution, which speaks to our common humanity, and our common inheritance in liberty as Americans. This is why I'm excited about our election.

(What a pompous paragraph.) I'm also extremely excited that Brett Favre is so close to the Super Bowl. Some said he was too old. They were wrong. When I think of an athlete I'd want to be, it's often him. He seemingly truly is a regular guy. If I could be the personal chaplain to a famous athlete, he's my first choice. I'm not sure why, exactly; football isn't even my favorite sport. But Favre shows us above all that football (and sports in general) should be fun, even when millions of dollars are at stake. I saw Brett play his best game the night after he suddenly lost his father before Christmas in 2003. I saw him demolish my hometown team on Monday Night Football in his 200th consecutive start at quarterback (a streak still current, roughly four years later). I can recall watching him play his worst game against that same home team (when he threw 6 interceptions) and I knew I had begun to appreciate this man when I wasn't remotely happy about winning that game, a playoff contest in 2001. When Favre's skills were at their height, I don't recall appreciating what I was seeing, understanding its rarity. So if I am too effusive in my praise for an aging legend, please forgive me; I'm making up for lost time. Go Packers!

Friday, January 04, 2008

I've been a long time away, but it is the night after the caucuses in Iowa, and we had two big winners: Barack Obama, and Mike Huckabee. To me, they are the most likable of all the candidates. If they should win their parties' nominations, it would demonstrate that the young evangelicals have arrived. We are still figuring ourselves out politically; enormous shifts may still occur. Many of us are just learning that the scope of God's redemptive concern goes beyond the personal salvation of individuals. As a consequence, we should expect a statist, leftish hue to both nominees backed by evangelicals. The first step for many of us is to realize that God is not single-issue anything. The next phase is the realization that candidates on offer in the past may not have been holistic in their concern. The third phase would be the continuing wrestling with individual issues, abandonment of certain reductionisms adopted in idealistic and religious zeal. For an economic conservative, this is the phase where Christian statism is abandoned, and we come to terms with the notion that simply caring about a problem is not enough; zeal is no shield for error, in theology or politics. Many have overreacted to the heavy reliance of the GOP on evangelicals in my lifetime by simply becoming Democrats, out of an infantile need to be contrarian. If the Democrats remain committed to statism, (not to mention abortion) the dreams of these hesitantly liberal young evangelicals will wither. And the GOP has moved toward statism as well; the dreams of its fiscally liberal young evangelicals will be dashed as well. Statism never has been vindicated, in the sense that in America, it recedes in response to political pressure. I think that a future President Huckabee would face a pretty stiff primary challenge from the right on economic issues, if he governs as expected. I think a President Obama is destined to disillusion evangelicals on social and economic issues. If the Republicans fail to repudiate their statism this year, or in four years, expect the Democrats to move right to take up the slack. (It would be a shock if the parties swapped bases like this, but parties exist solely to win elections, not to carry ideological banners.) Obama may already be doing this; wait and see.
President Bush is not now, nor ever was, a conservative in the economic sense. He is, at best, a Kennedy "growth liberal," to borrow a phrase from (I think) history professor Dr. Robert Collins of the University of Missouri--a mix of pro-growth initiatives (especially on taxes) with welfare statism. Christians voted enthusiastically for him. (Whether they'd do so again if they could depends largely on their view of economics.) Incidentally, the JFK similarities don't end there; Bush's foreign policy has echoes of JFK's muscular internationalism; compare JFK's Inaugural Address with Bush's Second Inaugural if you don't believe me.
It's axiomatic that America leans center-right, but the question is: which right?