You are currently viewing archive for April 2007
Amnesty International condemns human rights abuses in China in a recent report. Excerpt from the news story:

In a report released Monday, the group cataloged a wide range of continuing human rights abuses, including extensive use of detention-without-trial by police, persecution of civil-rights activists, and the use of new methods to rein in the domestic media and censor the Internet.

Amnesty International web site. From the Amnesty press release:

In its latest assessment of China's progress towards its promised human rights improvements ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Amnesty International also found that the Olympics is apparently acting as a catalyst to extend the use of detention without trial, at least in Beijing.

Yes indeed, economic liberalization will lead inevitably to political liberty. Bullfeathers.

Imagine yourself an average Methodist or Episcopal congregant. (Maybe no imagination is needed.) Then read this report from a conference on Queering the Church. Now perhaps you understand the concern many have. UPDATE: the link is correct but is opening very very slowly if at all. If and when I can open it again I'll try to paste the report in the extended section. Hat tip to MM for noticing.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Back in early February, the Okie Gardener raised the issue of Barack Obama's church (read the original post here).

FYI: That February post continues to be one of our most popular "Google" hits.

Since that post, much has been written about the candidate and his church and his pastor. Today, the New York Times weighs in with what strikes me as a relatively thorough and fair discussion of Obama and his spiritual journey. I will be interested to see if the Gardener has any additional thoughts on the matter.

I am pasting an abridged version of the introductory graphs below, followed by the link to the story in full, but, first, this comment:

As a dedicated parishioner of a sincere and loving church that is not always in accord with my political views, I am not eager to hold a congregant responsible for everything his pastor says in the pulpit or in other public spaces.

Having said that, I am interested in Obama's religious views and his spiritual biography.

Excerpts from the Times article by Jodi Kantor:

Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met [Rev. Jeremiah A.] Wright Jr., a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.

"Evidently, the pressures of Mr. Obama’s presidential run are placing a strain on the relationship between the star congregant and the man who led him from skeptic to self-described Christian."

Mr. Wright’s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.

Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright’s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But “we don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.”

It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign. He began his presidential announcement with the phrase “Giving all praise and honor to God,” a salutation common in the black church. He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and often talks about biblical underdogs, the mutual interests of religious and secular America, and the centrality of faith in public life.

The full article here.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a heroine of our times, gives a brief interview to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on her new book Defiant Infidel. Link from The Netherlands Post.
Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
Today (4/29) is the anniversary of the death of John Darby in 1882. Read more. He is the originator of the idea of the Rapture, that some time prior to Christ's return the Church will be removed from the world.

I am not a believer in the Rapture. To my mind, any new doctrine arising 1800 years after the apostles bears an immense burden of proof. The proof-texts and arguments offered by those who believe in it do not seem to me to meet that burden.

29/04: Man v Nature

Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
At this weekend's OpinionJournal James Tabor offers his list of the five best first-person man versus nature books. Worth a look.

When I was a boy, one of the juvenile genres in our school and public library was heroic biographies. I devoured them all: in my imagination I trekked to the North and the South Pole, caught wild animals in Africa for zoos, and explored for ancient ruins in mountain and jungle. I suppose these books are no longer on the shelf, banned by the better angels of political correctness. Too bad. Boys need to dream, even grown-up boys.
CONCORD – The Rev. V. Gene Robinson’s elevation as the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop divided the Anglican community worldwide, but in New Hampshire he just wants to be one of the many gay couples uniting with his partner under a soon-to-be-signed civil unions law.

“My partner and I look forward to taking full advantage of the new law,” Robinson told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Article here.

The world Anglican communion, especially the Third-World bishops will take this as a glove to the face.
Gateway Pundit has the info on the recent lesbian wedding in Nigeria and the aftermath: the theatre bulldozed and the participants in hiding. According to the Sharia Law (Islamic Law) of that state in Nigeria these women face death by stoning. The Nigerian interpretation is not unique, homosexuals have been hanged in Iran.

I am not an advocate of same-sex practice, as readers of this blog know.

My point here is that in a rational world San Francisco would today be erupting in protests against Sharia Law, gay and lesbian activist groups would be holding vigils in Washington, and Rosie O'Donnell would be on television, along with Ellen Degeneres, condemning Islamic intolerance. But none of this will happen. The left is so locked in to hatred of Bush, and so committed to multiculturalism, that no response will be forthcoming. The groups that most naturally would lead the fight against Islamic jihad are silent. Perhaps some forms of liberalism indeed are a mental disease.
Maybe. Article here.

Honor killings. Family members killing women they feel have shamed the family. Common in Islamic countries and in Islamic communities in Europe. Article here.

Three cheers for multiculturalism. All cultures indeed are equally worthy. But wait, you say. Honor killings are a perversion of Islam. If so, why are we not seeing a massive effort to eradicate honor killings from Muslim communities? Why are we not seeing massive and popular discussion in Islamic forums on how to "de-patriarchalize" the Quran, a book explicitly addressed to men, with occasional references to their women? Stupid is as stupid does. A religion is as that religion does. Show me the practice, not some idealized version with little or no reflection in the real world.
Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
Anyone but me concerned about China's recent and future attempts to control the weather? Stories here and here.

Chaos theory first was developed in regard to weather. Introduction to chaos theory here. The key idea is in the introduction to the article: (below)

» Read More

Two weeks later. The frenzied desire for satisfaction has been accomplished in the Don Imus affair.

Now what?

What did it all mean?

1. Timing is everything. If Imus had uttered the same infamous phrase one week later, it is likely that the forces that combined to bring about his public destruction would have been otherwise occupied. But Imus stumbled into a slow news cycle. America's powerful opinion-making and public-policy setting media elite were bored. Taking down Imus seemed a worthy and appealing thing to do at the moment. In the aftermath of the VA Tech massacre, Imus and his radio fiefdom seems much less consequential. But it matters little that the urgency of mid-April seems oddly dated and irrelevant; the deed is done. We are on to the next cause celebre with no remorse or regret.

2. The surreality of it all grows increasingly pungent with the passage of time. Eugene Robinson observed early on (April 10): "I can accept that Imus doesn't believe he is racist, but "nappy-headed hos" had to come from somewhere" (his full column from the Washington Post here).

Where did it come from? From some dark chamber in the black heart of Don Imus? This awful line of argument misses an obvious point made clumsily by Imus and others.

From where did the ugly remark emanate? The "nappy-headed hos" comment was a phrase borrowed from African American life, which had transmigrated from hip-hop culture to mainstream American pop culture. Imus, who makes his living synthesizing and exaggerating and lampooning American culture, threw the phrase out there with his usual recklessness. "Nappy-headed ho" was in Imus's repertoire because it had become as American as apple pie.

Unlike the atomic-bomb of contemporary speech, the n-word, "nappy-headed hos" originated with black America. And the argument is not merely that African Americans say "nappy" and "ho." Some incompetent Imus defenders conflated the import of the "n-word" and "nappy" and "ho" and proceeded to package them together as somehow comparable. True, for various reasons, individuals in the African American community have co-opted the derogatory n-word (used by whites to convey disrespect for blacks) for their own internal use; notwithstanding, the n-word remains the most potent vehicle to deliver egregious insult to black America.

The Salient Point: the difference is that "nappy" and "ho" are words still relatively unfamiliar to white America. In fact, they are words introduced to pop culture by black America. Even as Imus repeated the "slur," one had the sense that he really didn't quite understand what the words meant.

An anecdotal aside: Imus may be the first white person I ever heard utter "nappy."

Back to the Real Point: Castigating Don Imus for carelessly employing "nappy-headed ho" is tantamount to you spanking your children for picking up curse words that you regularly toss around at home.

Even now, we as a community are still wrestling with the meaning of the phrase. I have heard more than one random person take offense that Imus called the Rutgers players "whores." By that they mean prostitute. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of "ho." No fair reading of the incident leads to the conclusion that Imus meant to insinuate that the ladies in question accepted money for sex. "Ho" is a term of disparagement and degradation applied generically to women. While men are sometimes called "whores" in conversation, they are never called "hos." "Whores" and "hos," at least in this context, are completely different words conveying completely different ideas.

That doesn't get Imus off the hook--but it is a good place to segue into the fundamental hypocrisy and inconsistency of the disparate cultural forces that came together to bring him down.

Next time on Part II:

3. Keeping it Surreal. I will consider the tsunami of hypocrisy from all sides.

4. Imus picked the wrong friends. The conservative movement in American politics houses the true defenders of free speech. Imus's liberal buddies ran for cover in the face of politically protected opposition.

5. Why Imus's apology was cowardly, insincere and foolish. And, in a related matter, why I have not listened to Don Imus for ten years.

More to come...
Some Chinese Christians trying to hold their government responsible for mistreatment. Here. Link from Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, asserts that "I don't believe that there is any will in this church to move backward," and that the election of a practicing homosexual bishop was "a great blessing". Article here. The bishop compares the struggle for gay rights with those of women and the anti-slavery movement. Some context for the current Episcopal situation, in respect of the world-wide Anglican Communion here.

I think the comparisons are false. Regarding slavery: nowhere in Scripture is slavery enjoined, instead it is regulated; and, although slavery is nowhere condemned in the Bible, the implications of the creation stories in Genesis 1 & 2, and the implications of the gospels count against slavery.

Evangelicals come down on both sides of the women's rights question. Regarding women's rights: clearly the Old Testament especially is patriarchal, though women are to be treated justly and there are several examples of women who were heroines; in the gospels Jesus treated women with respect, though he chose only male apostles; and, although the New Testament prohibt women from teaching in the churches, or having authority in the churches over men, in the epistles we see women in various areas of service, including as deacons. Most importantly, the instructions for family relationships enjoin mutual submission that means treating women with respect.

Regarding same-sex practice, the Scripture is unanimously against it, with explicit prohibitions. And, same-sex practice contradicts the statements and the implications of the creation stories in Genesis 1 & 2.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Funeral coverage for a serviceman's funeral in Missouri. From Gateway Pundit. Here.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
We are approaching an election of great import. We are a nation at war, and we face grave external threats. We are buffeted by serious challenges at home that include healthcare, education, our increasing inability to live within our means and the coarsening of our culture. We will expect the next President to address all these problems as well as determine the course of American freedom through significant appointments to the federal judiciary and within the Executive. Much is at stake.

At the same time, we have never conducted a presidential canvass like this before, with so many candidates, with so much money and media attention on this scale so early in the election cycle. Therefore, there are no historical parallels. There are no compelling models (at least not during the primary season).

What should we expect? My mantra: Nobody knows anything.

Having said that, I am optimistic. I am confident that the American people are up to the duty of selecting the next chief executive. Moreover, I am convinced that the next president (whom ever he or she may prove to be) will be up to the difficult task.

Regardless of who wins the coming election, approximately half the nation, in varying degrees of vehemence, will greet the next president with disdain. However, that person will undoubtedly be a dedicated public servant who wants America to prosper and succeed. The burdensome office will test, torment and age the 44th President of the United States, but the sacred obligation will also summon the total of that individual’s inner strength and the best elements of his or her personality to meet the awesome challenges of the post.

More importantly, our nation has the innate capacity to overcome the limitations of our individual leaders. Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed: "the great advantage of the Americans consists in their [ability] to commit faults which they may afterwards repair." As a corollary, he wrote: "American democracy frequently errs in the choice of the individuals to whom it entrusts the power of the administration; but...the state prospers under their rule."

Why does American democracy prosper in spite of inferior leadership? Tocqueville offered three reasons: 1) the people are vigilant and jealous of their rights; 2) leaders are in power for relatively short periods of time; and, most importantly, 3) the interest of the leaders are more likely to be subsumed in the interest of the people.

While aristocratic (or elite) "magistrates" might offer more sterling talents and virtues individually, there is "a secret tendency in democratic institutions that [works toward the good] of the community in spite of their vices and mistakes." Ironically, Tocqueville argues, "in aristocratic governments public men may frequently do harm without intending it; and in democratic states they bring about good results of which they have never thought."

In truth, political passions tend to blind us to the good in American public servants. Looking back over American history, we do not see a pattern of good versus evil. While the battles between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were cast in those Manichean partisan terms during their own day, we now see that both Hamilton and Jefferson were earnest and self-sacrificing in their love of country; more importantly, they both proved essential to our corporate success.

The same can be said for Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay or William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan. This is a recurring theme in our national narrative.

My prediction for 2008 (with one caveat): As long as we the people do our job, the system will work and democracy will prevail.
More congregations leaving the (formerly) Mainline denominations.

Presbyterian. Episcopal.
Australia recently cracked down on the spread of radical Islam in its SuperMax prison. Story here. We need to take a proactive approach here.

21/04: No Limbo

Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Vatican has decided to drop the doctrine of limbo--the teaching that unbaptized infants upon death spend eternity neither in heaven nor hell. Prior to elevation to the papacy Cardinal Ratzinger expressed doubts about the existence of limbo. For the present, the Roman Church is taking no official position on the fate of unbaptized babies, expressing hope that God will bring them to salvation. Story here.
Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
An astounding collection of prehistoric stone carvings depicting ancestral beings has been discovered deep in an inhospitable area. Story here. Human beings are simply naturally religious.
Another reason not to buy Made in China. The contamination in the pet food appears to have begun as intentional chemical introductions to protein concentrates from China. The chemical introduced enhances the readings on protein content tests. Story here. Hat tip Photognome.

Buy American.
Tocquevill points out that three workers at a Bible publisher in Turkey recently were bound and had their throats slit. Here. This is an outrage.

Also an outrage is the way the MSM covered the incident. Note that the attackers are labeled "nationalists." Wrong. Turkish nationalism is secular. Those who slit the throats of Bible publishers are not motivated by nationalism. The Religion Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken was at it again.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This is actually the very first Bosque Boys post, which appeared on March 9, 2006; it also appeared in the Waco Tribune, March 3, 2006.

Benjamin Franklin purportedly cautioned: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Although the provenance of that statement is not without questions, the quote accurately reflected the spirit of the Imperial Crisis and the American Revolution. When Franklin and his compatriots finally “pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to a War for Independence, they perceived themselves fighting to maintain their rights against a renegade government illegitimately accumulating power and threatening liberty.

Once liberty was defended and independence won, however, Americans found governing more problematic than many of the revolutionary slogans had implied. Motivated by the conviction that “power was the enemy of liberty, but too much liberty was also the enemy of liberty,” the convention in Philadelphia in 1787 yielded the Constitution, which created a more centralized government and traded some liberty for stability.

The framers created a federal system in which the national government shared sovereignty with the states, at the same time asserting the supremacy of the new consolidated government. Although the Constitution backed away from the rhetoric of 1776, the framers showed respect for their revolutionary experience and bowed to their political reality. They placed limits on the new government, and they divided power into three branches, charging each component with oversight of the other two in order to provide “proper checks and balances.”

The framers would be struck by the current form of their handiwork as it has evolved over the course of two centuries. Notwithstanding, the problem that they identified as the central dilemma of Republican government, the tension between power and liberty, has remained constant in American history. And the antidote that they prescribed, competing sources of power, “counteracting ambition with ambition,” creating institutional interests and pitting them against rival interests, has served remarkably well to protect liberty from power over time.

The ancient problem and the eighteenth-century curative speak to an important current question: how much power shall we allow the President to exercise in exchange for security in a hostile world? How much power is too much? When does the power of the presidency pose an unacceptable threat to our liberty? These questions are not unprecedented. Much of our present dilemma is systemic and historical. There is no place on Mount Rushmore for presidents who remained satisfied with the scope of their power. Generally, presidents attempt to enlarge the power of the presidency; it is an institutional instinct.

Having said that, no practiced student of American history would trust ruling presidents to determine wisely the limits of their own power. That role falls to the other branches. In addition to those provided in the founding document, extraconstitutional interests have emerged in contemporary America as powerful players in the oversight of presidential authority. These agents include the opposition party in our two-party system, the free press and the giant federal bureaucracy, all of whom have contributed to the current examination of presidential power. As a result of this healthy debate, the legislative and judicial branches, which remain potent and jealous interests, ultimately and rightly, will determine the extent of presidential authority in this latest chapter concerning power and liberty.

Of course, all of these institutions serve merely as surrogates for the people. The power undergirding all these branches (constitutional and otherwise) is rooted in popular sovereignty. Benjamin Franklin, commenting at the close of the Constitutional Convention, optimistically predicted that a well-administered Republican government could last indefinitely. But the pragmatic Franklin also worried that self rule could easily “end in despotism…when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” The gravest threat to liberty comes when the people abdicate their crucial role in the process. May an enlightened debate with regard to the balance between liberty and power continue to flourish.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Dear Friends,

Just a note to inform you that I have been on the road lately (last week in Austin; this weekend in Southern California). I have had plenty of political thoughts during this stretch of silence, but due to my travel schedule, I have found difficulty in conveying them via this outlet.

However, my hat is off to the Okie Gardener, who has picked up my slack with several especially insightful pieces as of late.

One quick obvious thought on Austin:

My trips to Austin with our student government leaders have become a great source of pleasure for me. The more I see the Capitol, the more I find myself in awe. I have always loved Texas courthouses (the McLennan County Courthouse in Waco is a beauty). Courthouses built Texas-style (at the center of town on the square) and the Capitol in Austin are great examples of meaningful political architecture; they are in fact “cathedrals of democracy.”

Much more than merely functional venues to do the business of the people, these monuments are symbols of the American commitment to the rule of law. Moreover, they are consciously designed to inspire citizens to sacrifice and subordination of personal interest. Like the cathedrals of our ancient past built all over the Western world to embody Christian theology, our modern temples to our civil religion of republican self government stand as dramatic physical statements to our America creed.

One programming note:

I will post a few re-mixes and rewinds over the weekend on the assumption that everything old is new again.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Pew Forum offers a good survey of the powerful evangelical figures being courted by Republican presidential candidates. So far almost none of these figures has committed to a particular candidate.

This article affirms what I have said before, support for this election's roster of candidates is shallow, allowing room for an attractive conservative still to enter the race.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Yesterday evening, Wednesday, was beautiful--spring temperatures, green grass from recent rain, and only light breezes (for which Okies give thanks). The town was full of people walking in the streets, often arm-in-arm. (We don't have a lot of sidewalks, but also not a lot of traffic.) Many were headed uptown to view the chalk art on the sidewalks (we do have sidewalks there)drawn by local high-school students. Until dusk settled people sauntered past the storefronts, heads down, looking at the drawings. Many paused before the street and vacant lot where the carnival was setting up.

We do this every year, just before Rattlesnake Festival, our big town celebration. In the hills west of town, and further afield, rattlesnakes are caught during the weeks before the Festival. If long enough, they will be butchered, and their meat sold (cooked or raw to take home with you) on main street. Many will be kept in a cooler to be brought out into a pen in the street for shows. Our local "snake man" will stand inside the pen Friday and Saturday and Sunday, ankle deep in rattlesnakes all rattling furiously, and tell the crowd what wonderful creatures of God these snakes are. By this time the snakes are warm and active and not in a good humor. Some he will pick up and hold. Some he will milk the venom from. Even though he wears high-topped boots he has been bitten three times over the years. Antivenom is kept in a refrigerator nearby.

Vendors today were setting up their stands on the roped-off main street. Yard sales have sprouted around town, giving a sort of gypsy-camp look to the place. The ladies of our church are preparing for an all-you-can-eat free-will donation breakfast on Saturday. One of our church members is in charge of the Festival Pow-Wow and is even busier than usual as she makes sure that everything goes well. Dancers both local and from out-of-town will dance, drum, and sing. Early on Sunday morning I am to conduct a church service uptown before the stands and carnival opens--rather than my usual congregation of local Indians I'll be leading vendors and carnies in worship. (more below)

» Read More

19/04: Empty Promise

Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
When the Democrats were running for Congress they promised a new day of honesty if elected. Right. I missed this article when it came out last month about how an election finance loophole was used by the Dems. Technically legal, but a violation of the spirit of their campaign promises. Never ask a politician--how dumb do you think the voters are?--you won't want to hear the answer.
This article from Frontpage is damning for the WCC simply by stating the facts. (Link from The Institute on Religion and Democracy)The tyrant of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was aided in coming to power by church money through the WCC, especially from American Methodists. Even at an early stage Mugabe showed his brutality, his group committing atrocities on civilians white and black. The WCC owes the world, and the people of Zimbabwe, an apology.

Jesus told his disciples to be harmless as doves and as wise as serpents. The two characteristics go together. When churchmen are not wise as serpents then they can do great harm. Not every group with "Liberation" in its name is on the side of the angels. (As I think David Read once observed.) Another example of the Jane Fonda fallacy, I suppose: side A is evil therefore their opponents side B must be righteous.

The Church should always be on the side of justice. And the Church should exercise wisdom in weighing options for support. Shame on the WCC for its lack of wisdom.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This excerpt from the President's remarks at Cassell Coliseum on the campus of Virginia Tech yesterday are worth noting:

THE PRESIDENT: Yesterday began like any other day. Students woke up, and they grabbed their backpacks and they headed for class. And soon the day took a dark turn, with students and faculty barricading themselves in classrooms and dormitories -- confused, terrified, and deeply worried. By the end of the morning, it was the worst day of violence on a college campus in American history -- and for many of you here today, it was the worst day of your lives.

It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone -- and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.

In such times as this, we look for sources of strength to sustain us.

» Read More

In all politics, French included, I echo Farmer's thought: nobody knows nuthin. But, the next French government may indeed move away from big-state socialism. Here. We'll know more after Sunday's first round of voting. Perhaps there is hope for Europe yet.

Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants for U.S. Democrats.
Category: Courts
Posted by: an okie gardener
Good news. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the Congressionally approved restrictions on partial-birth abortions. Story here. The 5-4 vote underscores the importance of the '08 elections. In all probability the next president will nominate one and perhaps two Supreme Court judges. We should be asking presidential candidates, and Senate candidates, what sort of judges they want on the courts.

Here is the link from the Supreme Court official site to the ruling (pdf file). I'll comment after I've read all 73 pages.
Category: Courts
Posted by: an okie gardener
Reader and commentator Photognome points us to this article on a court case in Austria that may give rights to apes.

Personally, I am against cruelty to animals, and think that the more intelligent animals (such as chimps, elephants, dolphins, etc) deserve special protection. I am not sure that the structure of "rights" is the best way to go, though. I see potential court problems if this is the approach taken.

On a related note, while I think the idea of human rights is a handy way of thinking and talking, the idea has its limits. Perhaps it is no accident that neither of the two pillars of Western thought--Greek philosophy and Judaism/Christianity--think in terms of rights. Both think in terms of justice tied into a suprahuman agency.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
A topic we've covered for baseball. Fox Sports from Rotten Tomatoes gives a listing of over 50 films.

A Chicago church has become the first congregation in that diocese to split from the Episcopal denomination. Article here. The pastor of this parish confounds the usual stereotype of conservative religious leaders.

The Rev. George Byron Koch, a former civil rights leader and corporate executive, leads a West Chicago church that proudly welcomes creative types, free-thinkers and people who don't worry about dressing up.
. . .
A longtime member of the NAACP and a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Koch rejects the view that his church's stance is bigoted.

The issues are Episcopal blessing of same-sex marriage and practice, and the opinions of prominent Episcopal leaders that the Resurrection may be merely a metaphor.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
An article on Jackie Robinson's Christian faith. From Good News Magazine.

16/04: False Modesty

Category: Environment
Posted by: an okie gardener
Rush Limbaugh, and others, have asserted that humanity cannot change the earth's climate, because we are too small and weak; furthermore, to hold otherwise is to exalt humanity to god-like status. Only God can change climate.

While such an assertion sounds pious, in motive and content it is not. I have trouble believing that the motive for making such a statement is a desire to promote God's glory; more likely the motive is to protect the American standard of living and the environmental damage it does.

As a Christian, I judge the content of this assertion non-pious because it gives too little regard to the witness of Scripture. Genesis 1 teaches that humanity was created in the image of God and given dominion over the earth. While Genesis 3 teaches the Fall of humanity, that fall seems explained in the rest of Scripture as depravation, not deprivation. In other words, human power is depraved, bent in on itself away from God; it is not removed (deprived) from humanity.

Psalm 8:4-6 "what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou has made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands, . . ."

John 10:35 "If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), . . ."

We are the species that has made tracks on the moon, utilizes the fission of atoms for energy and the fission and fusion of atoms for weapons, mapped the human genome, makes clones, made dams on rivers like the Columbia and Nile, and drills miles beneath the earth for oil. Don't sell us short on the damage we can do.
A Dutch businessman faces genocide charges for selling chemicals to the Saddam regime that were used for poison gas attacks during the Iran/Iraq War and against the Kurds. Story here.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
From Shot in the Dark, an overview of periods in popular music--the good, the bad, and the merely ugly. He offers an interesting survey.

13/04: Hallelujah!

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Today is the anniversary of the first perfomance of The Messiah done in Dublin April 13, 1742; music by Handel, words by Jennens. Story here.

13/04: Calvinism

Farmer brings up Calvinism in a recent post. I think he is both attracted and repelled by my Reformed (Calvinist) theology. While predestination is not the center of Reformed thought, it is the best known (or most notorious) single idea. A good, short introduction to the idea of predestination is found here on the Presbyterian Church (USA) web site.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Gateway Pundit does a smack-down of the New York Times on voter fraud. Voter fraud is a problem and it usually benefits Democrats.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
"Human life is the basis of all goods, and is the necessary source and condition of every human activity and of all society."* In other words, to deprive you of life is to deprive you of all rights and of all possibilities on earth. Therefore, we as a society have held that the taking of a human life is serious, momentous, and radical. We offer extensive appeals on the death penalty to ensure that an innocent human life is not taken. We punish murder and manslaughter. We do not enter into war quickly or willingly, and observe rules of warfare. Our accepted social norms recognize the unique importance of a human life, and the seriousness of taking it.

Were we consistent, we would not be having the current debate on embryonic stem-cell research. Is an embryo an innocent human life? If you answer "yes", then you must oppose killing the embryo in order to extract stem cells. If you answer "no", then I challenge you to prove your position. Prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that an embryo is not an innocent human life.

You see, the burden of proof is on the one who would take an innocent human life, who would kill. We would bring charges against someone who threw a grenade into a room, killing those within. If that person argued that he was unaware that anyone was in the room, he still would be charged with manslaughter. If you are going to demolish a building by explosion, the burden is on you to make sure that no one is in the building before you detonate the explosives. Society expects that you will search the building, fence the building, and search again immediately before detonation. Society expects that we will take active steps so as not to kill.

Since human life is the basis of all other goods so that the taking of a human life is momentously radical, those who would "harvest" human embryos must prove they are not killing innocent human life.

* Quoted from the Declaration on Euthanasia by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Category: Race in America
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The hypocrisy?

The double standard?

The juxtaposition of the Duke athletes emerging from thirteen months of hell against the "scarred for life" Rutgers basketball players?

Will the Imus affair have a chilling effect on speech in the public square?

No comment.
Rick Weiss of the Washington Post has written a surprisingly even-handed account of the embryonic stem-cell funding bill just passed by the Senate. The president promises a veto.
As I have pointed out before, we are not alone in our fight against radical Islamists. Here is an embed account of fighting by British troops in Iraq. Link from Instapundit.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Doubting Thomas was convinced by the wounds (or scars) on the risen Christ. When I am tempted, because of the worldliness of the church or the unChristian actions of Christians, to doubt the faith, I think of those men and women who have faced persecution bravely. They embody the truth that God works in the lives of human beings.

Today we can remember Watchman Nee, the most famous modern Chinese Christian martyr. Through years of imprisonment the communists failed to break him. Story here.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Johnny Hart, of BC and Wizard of Id fame, died recently. Here is an interview done a few years ago by the Presbyterian Layman. You'll need to follow the link to the article.
According to CBS, President Bush will veto legislation to provide Federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, if the bill makes it out of the Senate. The bill is similar to one he vetoed previously.

Good for Dubya. Not only has adult stem-cell research shown more promise, but taking innocent human life is immoral.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Here's something odd. According to the Pew Forum, a recent survey indicated that the preferred candidates of white evangelical Republicans were Guilliani and McCain. Huckabee and Brownback, who would seem more natural favorites, have not gotten much traction with these voters. Nearly a quarter of white evangelical Republicans do not yet have a favorite.

My speculation: White evangelical Republicans want to keep the Democrats out of the White House worse than they want ideological purity in their own candidates, and do not think Brownback and Huckabee have a chance. As I've said before, if Guilliani or McCain can convince evangelicals that they will nominate conservative judges, evangelicals will pull the lever for them in spite of their personal marital history and other positions.

My conclusion: with nearly a quarter of these voters undecided, and the support of the others probably not very deep, there is still an opening for someone like Fred Thompson to gain white evangelical support if he is perceived to be capable of beating Hillary or Obama.
I wrote the following in July--but little has changed since then:

If someone had come to me ten years ago and told me that there were some excess human embryos laying around in a freezer somewhere, the waste product of a completed in vitro fertilization procedure, and we could use those terminal embryos in an experiment that might lead to advances toward curing diseases, I am almost certain that I would have said (without hesitation): "Go for it!"

But it is not ten years ago. Unfortunately, I have listened long and hard to nearly a decade of debate, and now I am unflinchingly ambivalent.

I grew up believing that "life began in the womb." "Life begins in the Petri dish" takes some getting used to. After almost a decade, I still wonder: if the embryos are human life, why are we allowing so many to be created and then frozen and eventually destroyed? Isn't that a much bigger problem than experimentation?

But I also hear the voices who are troubled by the larger issues in this debate. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I agree that there are dangerous precedents in what we do here. And I wonder about the long-range implications of the genetic engineering aspect of this process.

In this debate, I have been most swayed by my negative reaction to what the proponents have said. Today on C-SPAN [July 18, 2006] Tom Harkin was trying to explain how "potential human life" was not as valuable as "real human life." Listen to a politician for a while, and you start to realize how fraught with future peril this process (how slippery this slope) really is.

On the other hand, Orrin Hatch and Gordon Smith (two GOP stalwarts of conservatism) are set to vote for the Harkin-Specter bill today.

A few things worth considering:

1. There is no "federal ban" on embryonic stem cell research. This is a debate about funding. Shall we as a community spend our common funds in this particular way?

2. There is too much hype and politicization. Our sick friends and relatives are not being held hostage by this policy decision. No one is going to "get up and walk" in the foreseeable future, if this bill passes and the President signs it into law.

3. Many researchers and entities are working on embryonic stem cells. Big states and other nations are coming up with big dollars to move this along. The federal money is mostly symbolic (and political).

4. It is true, according to reputable opinion polls, that a large majority of Americans favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But that does not mean that a presidential veto circumvents the "political process." A presidential veto is the political process. All the people elect the president, and we expect him to execute the duties of his office to the best of his ability and, as Lincoln said, "with firmness in the right as God gives [him] to see the right."

5. There is precedent for localizing troubling national moral issues. The federal government has often punted on intractable moral questions (e.g., slavery, temperance, sex). A decision not to fund embryonic stem cell research with federal money because of the lack of moral clarity is a compromise not at odds with our history.

More on the politics of stem cell from last November (late October actually) here.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A few months back, I read with great interest the Okie Gardener's post and subsequent discussion concerning the "growth" of Calvinism and the future of American Protestantism.

The conversation made me wax nostalgic about my dear old church in Southern California and my all-time favorite pastor: John Calvin Powell.

John Powell has pastored Calvary Church in West Hills, California, for two decades. He earned his Masters in Divinity at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley. A native of Whitney, Texas, John Powell attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake before the call to ministry led him to the Golden State.

An aside: I am a native Texan, but I grew up in Southern California. Following my high school graduation, I returned to my Texas roots for a stint at Baylor University in Waco, after which I returned to the San Fernando Valley. After living and working in Southern California for a decade, I returned to Baylor to continue my education.

Texans are funny people. I heard Shelby Foote once say that he "found Texans much more likeable in Texas than out of it. When they are away from home, they brag about Texas. When you come visit them in Texas, they assume you can see for yourself." There is a Texas nationalism and pride unlike any other state in the Union. A Texan out of Texas truly is a Texas expatriate.

If you are in California, a good place to meet Texans (or Okies or Arkansans et al) is in a Southern Baptist Church, which are much more abundant than you might think. The great "Okie" migration of the middle twentieth century transported all kinds of cultural institutions westward; they were blown out there with the wind.

My friend John Powell is an evangelical, which means he believes in the centrality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the importance of living out your faith, a high regard for the Bible as the inspired word of God and the necessity of conversion.

The historical John Calvin, however, exerts much more influence over Southern Baptists than they generally care to admit. Pastor John often discussed theology with another bright Texan on his staff (who considered himself a Calvinist); they would bat back and forth the ideas of unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace.

Powell often ended the argument with this jewel: I will continue to preach the Gospel to as many people as I can, and I will trust that God will forgive me for saving the souls that I was not supposed to.

It is a good line and a good philosophy, which transcends theology.

You can find information on Calvary here, but don't look for any information on the site about John Powell; it just isn't there. Pastor John never went Hollywood.
The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, is splitting over the issue of same-sex sex. Now, it appears that the world-wide Anglican Communion may itself be split by the U.S. and Canadian liberal positions. Story here.
From time to time we need to remind ourselves that we have allies fighting with us against radical Islam. Recently in Afghanistan

Australia is sending more troops.

Canada recently suffered its heaviest losses in a single day since Korea.

The Dutch Army is trying its own approach.

Germany is sending more planes.

British Marines on the offensive.
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Today Good Morning America weatherman, Sam Champion, is on the road with Sheryl Crow's “Stop Global Warming College Tour.”

The tour is currently in Dallas set to play at SMU (hosting the event to do penance for winning the Bush library perhaps).

The big weather story this morning was the spring freeze throughout the South over the weekend. In fact, Dallas was the scene of snow flurries on Saturday.

No matter, in the first hour (that is all I saw), not once did Sam feel compelled to make any reference to the incongruity.

So what?

This is not one of those pieces that lampoons the concern over global warming by pointing out the latest conference cancelled due to a blizzard (although those stories always give me a chuckle).

For the record: I don't discount the myriad scientists who tell us to be concerned with the verifiable changes in climate on our planet. I too worry about finding water and other resources for a world population at 6-billion-plus and rising.

My beef is with the mainstream media: Can you imagine the hoots those overlapping events might have elicited on the GMA set, if they were not so heavily invested in this cause.

That is, it is frightening the discipline MSM actors have mustered in support of this movement?
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The good news: Joe Klein, who spent a career posing as an "objective" journalist and Washington inside-the-Beltway wise man, is finally unmasked . Fortunately, Joe Klein's by-line now appears under the label of "commentary." He is off the streets and safely contained on the op-ed pages of TIME magazine.

The bad news: There are still a host of reporters out there covering national government who are not out of the closet.

From the most recent issue of TIME, Joe Klein's assault on the President:

The Headline: "An Administration's Epic Collapse: In the face of three scandals. Bush offers only more relentless partisanship" (full article here).

Klein: A Pew poll had it about right: a substantial majority of the public remains happy the Democrats won in 2006, but neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid has dominated the public consciousness as Newt Gingrich did when the Republicans came to power in 1995.

That is probably because Nancy Pelosi is so humble and retiring and does not go looking for ways to place her name on the top of the page--unlike that dastardly megalomaniac, Newt Gingrich. No way is it because the media treatment of Pelosi and Gingrich are as different as lightning and a lightning bug. Hold on, Joe Klein has a better answer:

Klein: There is a reason for that. A much bigger story is unfolding: the epic collapse of the Bush Administration.

Please. Go on.

Klein: The three big Bush stories of 2007...precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).

One of the worst in American history? That is a big claim. Thanks, though, for a recap of the DNC talking points. Anything else?

Klein: Iraq comes first, as always. From the start, it has been obvious that personal motives have skewed the President's judgment about the war. Saddam tried to kill his dad...

Is there anything more hackneyed and more facile than this line of argument? Perhaps next week Klein and Rosie O'Donnell can explain the real story behind the 9-11 attacks.

» Read More

08/04: Easter

He lives! From Death's long uncontested place
The Son of God comes forth in regal grace.
G.E. Hoffman

Near the dawn Mary went,
Grief-led, to serve the Dead;
Though the Miracle seemed spent,
Ye stricken know why Mary went.

Through the dawn Simon came,
For him, the mock of a distant cock
Coiled anew a lash of flame;
Ye faithless know why Simon came.

Down the dawn angels sped,
Radiant flight out-winging light.
"Christ lives!" they sang. "He that was dead!"
Ye deathless know why angels sped.

Miriam LeFevre Crouse
Category: Films & Ideas
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The 1986 film, Hoosiers, opens on a dark and lonely road on the verge of dawn. Off in the distance, two headlights drive toward us in the night. Black is giving way to gray and soon the sun rises over a two-lane highway. As rays of sunlight break through the clouds, we watch a series of shots from various angles tracking the mid-century American sedan cruising purposefully by cornfields, barns, silos, country stores, gas pumps, and boys playing basketball.

Driving down country roads lined with crossed-top telephone poles and decorated with bright-colored fall leaves, the car stops at a crossroads with a church prominent in the background. After a momentary pause, the driver proceeds. Has he found the right path?


Norman Dale has driven through the night to get to the one-blinking-stop-light town of Hickory, Indiana, where he has anxiously agreed to coach a basketball team at a high school with an enrollment of 64 students. Standing in the tradition of a thousand small-town schools built all over the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, the campus fits perfectly within the period of the film; but to our modern eyes, the old school is an anachronism.

"You're not the new coach?" asks Myra Fleener. She is strikingly pretty in a mature teacherly way--but she is all business. "I was expecting someone younger." Her glance is all-knowing and unapproving.

Later, she observes accusingly: "A man your age comes to a place like this, either he's running away from something or he has nowhere else to go." She is spot-on.

She watches him warily as he moves on up the stairs to find his old friend, Cletus, the principal who has sent for him.

"Norman Dale? I hardly recognized you," Cletus says.

It's been a long time since their days at the teacher's college. "I appreciate the opportunity," Norman says. "You've got a clean slate here," Cletus assures him.

Early on, Norman Dale remains a mystery. Mostly, we know that he is here and eager for "one last chance." Eventually, we discover that Dale had led a college team to a national championship twelve years earlier before the NCAA barred him for life for misconduct.

His rival for the Hickory coaching job wonders: "I don't know why Cletus drug your tired old bones in here."

Why? This is a story about regeneration and forgiveness. The tag line for the film: They needed a second chance to finish first. Dale is merely the first in a series of characters who are in need of redemption.

Dale enlists the help of the town drunk, Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, who lives in a cabin in the woods and is something of a basketball oracle. Shooter is also the father of one of Dale's players, who sees his dad as a hopeless embarrassment. "When is the last time someone gave him a chance?" Dale asks. Pushed to get clean and sober, Shooter mounts an unsteady journey back to respectability; like most of us in the real world, he remains a work in progress throughout the film.

Dale soon finds that the entire town (less Myra Fleener) believes that the key to the season will be enticing Jimmy Chitwood to play with the team. By most accounts, Chitwood is the best school-boy basketball player any of these rabid fans have ever seen. But in the aftermath of a series of personal tragedies, Jimmy has withdrawn from the community and has lost his love for game.

Dale does not push Jimmy, and he encourages the fans to be patient and appreciate the current team "for who they are--not who they are not."

But basketball is the civic religion in Hickory, and they are hungry to break out of their long history of mediocrity. Ironically, the community seems determined to resist any changes to its basketball orthodoxy. They are devout believers in the zone defense and shooting the basketball at every opportunity. They are skeptical and hostile to Dale, a peculiar and perplexing prophet of a new system.

Even his old friend Cletus has his doubts: "I'm trying hard to believe you know what you're doing."

After the rocky start on the court, and increasing consternation from the townspeople, the citizens call a town meeting to decide the fate of the embattled coach. The situation looks dire for Dale. Cletus has taken ill and can no longer offer him protection. Myra Fleener, now acting principal and starting to warm to Dale, calls for the crowd to give him another chance. But the throng clamors for his dismissal.

We are told that twelve legions of angels stood at the ready to rescue the Savior during his time of misery. In keeping with the divine plan, the suffering Christ never issued a call for celestial assistance. In the case of Norman Dale, Jimmy Chitwood intercedes of his own accord. Jimmy has had a change of heart. Dale has won him over with his style and sincerity. Jimmy will rejoin the team, if the town agrees to keep the coach; they are only too pleased to make Jimmy happy.

From there on, it is nothing but net. Success. Enthusiastic cheering crowds. Even the coach’s former tormentors come around.

Myra Fleener and Norman Dale, at a stage in life where they have reason to believe passion has passed them by, find one another and experience personal regeneration.

The team reaches its potential and makes a brilliant run into the playoffs, culminating with a come-from-behind win in the state championship game against a big-city powerhouse.

Most importantly, Coach Dale connects with his humanity, happily coming to understand that his love for his players is much greater than his prodigious desire to win.

More than anything else, Hoosiers is a story of hope and possibility. In the midst of our failure, there is hope for redemption, growth, love, and meaning. No matter where we are in life, we are people with potential. We should take great comfort from the knowledge that we are people perpetually in the process of becoming.

07/04: Holy Week

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
From Mileto of Sardis (2nd century)

"For as a sheep he was led to the slaughter" but a sheep he was not; and "as a mute lamb," but a lamb he was not. For the figure is past the the truth has been revealed: in place of a lamb it is God who has come, and in place of a sheep, a man. And in this man, Christ, who contains all. Thus the immolation of the sheep, and the rite of Pascha, and the letter of the Law are accomplished in Christ Jesus. For the Law has become Logos, and the old has become new, coming from Zion and Jerusalem. The commandment has become grace, and type has become reality, and the lamb the Son, and the sheep, a man, and the man, God.

From The St. John Passion by J. S. Bach.

No. 11 Aria
From the bondage of transgression to give me freedom is my holy Saviour bound;
From all taint of deadly sickness fully to heal me, doth he bear this grievous wound.

06/04: Holy Week

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
From the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the questions covering that part of the Apostles' Creed "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried

Q.37 What do you understand by the word "suffered"?
A. That throughout his life on earth, but especially at the end of it, he bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, so that by his suffering, as the only expiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and might obtain for us God's grace, righteousness, and eternal life.

Q38 Why did he suffer "under Pontius Pilate" as his judge?
A. That he, being innocent, might be condemned by an earthly judge, and thereby set us free from the judgment of God which, in all its severity, ought to fall upon us.

Q39 I there something more in his having been crucified than if he had died some other death?
A. Yes, for by this I am assured that he took upon himself the curse which lay upon me, because the death of the cross was cursed by God.

Q40 Why did Christ have to suffer "death"?
A. Because the righteousness and truth of God are such that nothing else could make reparation for our sins except the death of the Son of God.

Q41 Why was he "buried"?
A. To confirm the fact that he was really dead.

Q42 Since, then Christ died for us, why must we also die?
A. Our death is not a reparation for our sins, but only a dying to sin and an entering into eternal life.

Q43 What further benefit do we receive from the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross?
A. That by his power our old self is crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil passions of our mortal bodies may reign in us no more, but that we may offer ourselves to him as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Love him or hate him, George Bush is the most evangelical president of our age. During his run for the nomination, he famously offered Jesus Christ as his favorite political philosopher.

At the convention in 2000, he explained further:

"I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith, but because of it.

"I believe in a God who calls us, not to judge our neighbors, but to love them. I believe in grace, because I have seen it ... In peace, because I have felt it ... In forgiveness, because I have needed it.

"I believe true leadership is a process of addition, not an act of division. I will not attack a part of this country, because I want to lead the whole of it."

May the peace of Christ be with him.

06/04: Holy Week

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Invisible in his own nature he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death. Leo the Great

Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder. Bonaventure

Out of love the Lord took us to himself; because he loved us and it was God's will, our Lord Jesus Christ gave his life's blood for us--he gave his body for our body, his soul for our soul. Clement of Rome

As through a tree we were made debtors to God, so through a tree we receive cancellation of our debt. Irenaeus
From Dean Barnett this morning:

"Fighting Back Was Not An Option"

"That’s what the released English marines said. They were outnumbered and outgunned. The Iranians had them surrounded. They don’t regret a thing. They couldn’t have won.

"'Fighting back was not an option' - Will those words someday be the epitaph of the Western World?"

Wow! Unlikely that poems will be written about this incident. I doubt that Tennyson could have done much with that brand of fighting spirit.

Just for old times sake:

"The Charge of the Light Brigade"
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

» Read More

05/04: Holy Week

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
From the French existentialist philospher, social activist, and mystic Simone Weil who died in London while working for the Free French during World War Two. These quotes are from her notebooks, a collection of thoughts (pensees) collected in the volume Gravity and Grace.

Christ healing the sick, raising the dead, etc., that is the humble, human, almost low part of his mission. The supernatural part is the sweat of blood, the unsatisfied longing for human consolation, the supplication that he might be spared, the sense of being abandoned by God.

The abandonment at the supreme moment of the crucifixion, what an abyss of love on both sides!

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine.

Adam and Eve sought for divinity in vital energy. A tree, fruit. But it is prepared for us on dead wood, geometrically squared, where a corpse is hanging. We must look for the secret of our kinship with God in our mortality.

God crosses through the thickness of the world to come to us.

The cross as a balance and as a lever. A going down, the condition of a rising up. Heaven coming down to earth raises earth to heaven.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In response to my post, "The Essence of the Same-Sex Marriage Debate: Valid Exception?" (review my post here), Tocqueville invited me to read and respond to Anthony Esolen's "Ten Arguments for Sanity" as posted on Mere Comments last summer. I promised that I would, and I will. In the mean time, while I am thinking and reading, here is a more accessible version of Esolen's self-described "non religious arguments based on commonsense, history and logic":

Anthony Esolen: Ten Arguments for Sanity

1. The legalization of homosexual “marriages” would enshrine the sexual revolution in law.

2. It would, in particular, enshrine in law the principle that sexual intercourse is a matter of personal fulfillment, with which the society has nothing to do.

Extended explanations of 1-2 here.

3. It will drive a deeper wedge between man and woman.

4. It makes a mockery of chastity.

Extended explanations of 3-4 here.

5. It will curtail opportunities for deep and emotionally fulfilling friendships between members of the same sex, opportunities that are already few and strained. This is particularly true of men.

6. It leaves us with no logical grounds for opposing any form of consensual intercourse among adults.

Extended explanations of 5-6 here.

7. It seals us in a culture of divorce.

8. It normalizes an abnormal behavior.

Extended explanations of 7-8 here.

9. In one crucial respect the social acceptance of homosexuality makes matters worse, not better, for the homosexual himself.

10. It spells disaster for children.

Extended explanations of 9-10 here.

05/04: Holy Week

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
From the 16th-century Spanish mystic, poet, monk, and reformer, St. John of the Cross.

The Young Shepherd (El Pastorcico)

A young shepherd is alone and grave,
alien to joy and happiness,
and thinking of his shepherdess
his heart is sorely hurt by love.
He doesn't weep at being lost
in love or wakening to pain,
although his heart is sorely maimed;
he weeps thinking he is forgot.

Merely the thought that his sweet friend
forgot him is a painful sword;
letting himself be hurt abroad
his wounds of love can never end.
The shepherd cries: O misery of
her distance from my love, and she
no longer cares to be near me!
My heart is sorely hurt by love!

A long time passed: he climbed the branches of
a tree and spread his lovely arms,
and dead lay hanging from his arms;
his heart was sorely hurt by love.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The blog is lazily celebrating its first full year of existence as a full-time political blog. Our official first post was on March 9, 2006. As a belated commemorative note, I am reissuing some of my favorites.

Something from last July:

"Cynicism About Democracy"

It strikes me that many of my recent comments in re "democracy" and American foreign policy carried a certain scornful dismissiveness. While I stand by my substantive analysis, I probably offered them in a misleading tone. Perhaps a few caveats and some nuance would be helpful.

What of democracy?

One problem: we are generally imprecise in our language. What we enjoy today in the United States (and often call "democracy") is a hybrid of republicanism (self determination through representative government) and democracy (popular sovereignty, rule by the people). In our system, power is invested in all the citizens--but generally exercised by a professional and learned political class. More importantly, for us, "democracy" has also become shorthand for a national culture of market-oriented economics, individual rights and equality of opportunity.

An aside: James Madison et al viewed raw democracy as "mob rule" and a recipe for disorder. While the framers of our constitution adamantly believed in government of the people and for the people, they were quite cautious concerning government by the people. The founders would not be surprised by the current tumult in the Middle East. They would have seen clearly the potential calamitous problem with democracy in that region: radical elements might use elections to take control of government and install themselves as dangerous but "legitimate" states.

For Americans, the Age of Jackson brought the beginning of a change in attitude, and within a generation, all elements of the American political system embraced the rhetoric of "democratic" government. Republican virtue, which idealized an elite class of statesman divested of their own self interest (disinterested), gave way to the "Democracy," which seized on an increasingly broadly distributed franchise and advocated, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, "self interest rightly understood."

In the decades that followed the War of 1812, the American democracy became inextricably coupled with the Market Revolution and forever linked with self improvement and free labor as a means of social mobility. In essence, the American Dream became not just political freedom, as defined in the Declaration of Independence or Bill or Rights, but economic opportunity as well.

Our calls for "democracy" in the Middle East are not necessarily demanding one-person-one-vote government. We are actually endorsing a broader, loosely defined idea of self-determination, which includes individual empowerment and a personal investment in stability among the people of the region. In our shorthand, democracy means a modern, educated, connected society in which the citizenry rightly understand their self interest--and act accordingly.

I have indicated that the subtext of this plan for "democracy" in the Middle East includes introducing Muslims to the pleasures of consumerism. Economic self interest, "rightly understood," is a key component within peaceful societies based on government by the people in the modern world.

This is not a new idea. In the midst of WWII, the Allies (USA, Great Britain & USSR) all agreed on "pastoralization" for post-war Germany. That is, the German nation was to be dismantled and de-industrialized and remade into an agrarian state, deprived of its status as a world power and forever defanged as a war-making threat.

But by the end of the war, the United States backed out of the gentleman's agreement. The United States opted for rebuilding and re-industrializing the defeated German nation in order to create a powerful democratic partner and strategic ally in a crucial part of the world. A few years later, after the "loss of China," the United States pursued the same policy in re Japan. As we know, these gambits paid handsome dividends.

Were these initiatives altruistic (giving the gift of freedom to our vanquished foes)? Or opportunistic (creating a lucrative economic partnership)? Or strategic? The answer is most likely "Yes." None of those explanations are mutually exclusive.

When we speak of "spreading democracy," generally, we are not cynically covering our ugly American imperial bent. Most of us genuinely believe in the superiority of our system of government and our way of life. We sincerely believe in the "greatness" of our system, and we want to share it with the "less fortunate." Would we like to make a buck and achieve our own security in the process? Absolutely.

Nevertheless, the initiative to remake the Middle East, however wrong-headed it may prove to be, is based on good intentions, national pride and a specific set of successes in our not-too-distant past.

For the record, I am not completely cynical about the power of democracy.
Congress is now considering new legislation to give employees more latitude in expressing religious beliefs in the workplace. Story here. Link from The Layman Online.

Here is a link to the text of the bill. HR 1431 IH

Summary: H.R.1431
Title: To amend title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish provisions with respect to religious accommodation in employment, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] (introduced 3/9/2007) Cosponsors (14)
Latest Major Action: 3/9/2007 Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

COSPONSORS(14), ALPHABETICAL [followed by Cosponsors withdrawn]: (Sort: by date)
Rep Bartlett, Roscoe G. [MD-6] - 3/9/2007 Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7] - 3/9/2007
Rep Cantor, Eric [VA-7] - 3/9/2007 Rep Davis, David [TN-1] - 3/20/2007
Rep Edwards, Chet [TX-17] - 3/9/2007 Rep Franks, Trent [AZ-2] - 3/9/2007
Rep Jackson-Lee, Sheila [TX-18] - 3/9/2007 Rep Jindal, Bobby [LA-1] - 3/9/2007
Rep Price, David E. [NC-4] - 3/9/2007 Rep Souder, Mark E. [IN-3] - 3/9/2007
Rep Van Hollen, Chris [MD-8] - 3/9/2007 Rep Wamp, Zach [TN-3] - 3/9/2007
Rep Weiner, Anthony D. [NY-9] - 3/9/2007 Rep Wexler, Robert [FL-19] - 3/9/2007

04/04: Comin' Home

Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A good friend of mine is in the Middle East this week on business (unconnected to matters of state). His remarks are worth sharing with our blogging community. Although I do not have his permission to pass them along (not quite possible at this moment), I am confident that he will extend some mercy for my presumptuousness. Enjoy.

Guest Blogger: Linguist

Doha, Qatar, less than two hours to boarding.

Yo, good people of Seventh!

It hasn't been easy, all this food and fancy hotel and so on, but I felt it had to be done to make the way smooth for '09 (our motto: "It'll be fine in '09!"), checking out the scene around London, etc. And tonight, a farewell dinner that included Scots, so I can claim I was researching that part of the proposed trip as well.

Explanation: along with another couple from church, we are planning a European trip in two years.

The whole thing has been nutty, and I must say I'm glad to hear that the Brit sailors have been wisely released by the poker-playing Iranians, since my host here printed out a couple of articles today predicting missile strikes against Iran on Good Friday, just when I was hoping for some quiet meditation, call me selfish!

Seriously, though, there's nothing to be gained by violence, and my encounters with Iranians in the souk (market) today reinforced that impression: they were effusing about renewed friendship between the US and Iran. Heck, all they want to do is sell souvenirs, after all, and I obliged them.

Likewise talking to a Lebanese Christian (Francophone) perfume-selling lady last night at one of the malls: all optimistic about her country's future despite last summer's devastation which we were indirectly responsible for - people still want to love us, warts and all. If they're willing to forgive us Abu Ghraib, that's all very well, but we shouldn't be quick to forgive ourselves. She waxed lyrical about God's providing for them, and I seconded the motion. I wished her and all the other good Christians I met here, Filipinos, Indians (Goans, Keralites), Lebanese Maronites, Egyptian Copts (I learned that the very word Egypt comes from the old word for those early Christians: Gpt=Cpt) a Happy Easter.

In the spirit of ecumenism, in fact, I just wished an Israeli fellow-passenger a happy belated Passover, pointing out that I live near Crawford and that no American candidate for the presidency can proceed without the AIPAC's blessing. He loved it. I wished him mazel tov as well: it's the closest I could get to 'bon voyage.

I just want you to know I've been sacrificing, and it'll take another glass of that Chassagne-Montrachet (or maybe I'll switch to white...) and some of the baklava on offer here (maybe the cute little ones with pistachio filling) at the fancy lounge to get me though to boarding time and my flat-reclining seat. Whew! The things I won't do to be able to report to the team on what current conditions in Europe are like for a preview of the Big Trip! Well, someone's gotta do it!

Well, Lord willing and Andy Jackson's treaties with the Indigenous Peoples working out, I'll be back among you this weekend. Till then, keep the faith!

Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Important Admission: I am a big fan and supporter of NPR. I enjoy their artistry. I acknowledge their left-leaning bias, and that often colors their coverage of Republicans and conservatives in unflattering and unfriendly ways. Nevertheless, I appreciate the skill and erudition that permeates every aspect of their operation.

Today, however, Morning Edition's David Greene orchestrated a gratuitously misleading characterization of the President's press conference yesterday that deserves notice.

In the introduction to the story, NPR anchor Renee Montagne set-up Greene calling the session "a little unusual." It was a Rose Garden press conference, which is not commonplace, but that is not what she meant. Greene quickly asserted that yesterday there were "no chairs or mikes" at the press conference. Perhaps the "President wasn't in the mood for something so formal," Greene wondered. Reporters "stood and tried to make themselves heard," he reported and then implied that no one (not even the President) could hear the questions. Listening to Greene, I could not help but think of the old Reagan sound bites with the helicopter roaring and Reagan cupping his ear and looking befuddled and Nancy whispering: "just tell them we are working on it."

But that was all wrong. I happened to catch a replay of the conference early this morning on C-SPAN, and it was nothing like that. My one observation about the atmospherics was that the President must have been facing the sun, for he seemed to be squinting a lot. But the audio was fine. I did not miss any questions. Maybe C-SPAN has a better audio set-up than NPR--but David Greene said there were no "mikes," which, of course, was a ridiculous statement.

Later in his report, Greene featured a sound bite (which was exquisitely audible) of the question that queried the President about the "morality of homosexuality." Green added that the reporter "was lucky enough to be near a microphone" (which supposedly were nonexistent).

Listen to the full story here.

Am I being too fastidious? Maybe. Of course, people in the news business who make a living pointing out errors ought to get their facts right. Why emphasize this erroneous angle (no microphones) or comment on reporters standing in the Rose Garden, if not to create an impression that implicitly reinforces a storyline.

Anyhow, here is the C-SPAN archive (decide for yourself): Bush Administration Page here.

And the transcript from the White House here.

Also, I witnessed a remarkable edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning, which featured Ronald Griffin, a private citizen and father of a fallen American soldier. Griffen recently returned from a personal trip to Iraq. Much more on this in the hours or days to come. I encourage you to view it now for yourself here.
Category: Frivolity
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This is making the rounds on email and the blogs. After just a touch of superficial checking, it looks like it might even be true.

House 1:

The four-bedroom home was planned so that "every room has a relationship with something in the landscape that's different from the room next door. Each of the rooms feels like a slightly different place. The resulting single-story house is a paragon of environmental planning.

The passive-solar house is built of honey-colored native limestone and positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls of the 4,000-square-foot residence. Geothermal heat pumps circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground. These waters pass through a heat exchange system that keeps the home warm in winter and cool in summer.

A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof urns; Wastewater from sinks, toilets, and showers cascades into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is then used to irrigate the landscaping around the four-bedroom home, (which) uses indigenous grasses, shrubs, and flowers to complete the exterior treatment of the home. In addition to its minimal environmental impact, the look and layout of the house reflect one of the paramount priorities: relaxation.

A spacious 10-foot porch wraps completely around the residence and beckons the family outdoors. With few hallways to speak of, family and guests make their way from room to room either directly or by way of the porch. "The house doesn't hold you in. Where the porch ends there is grass. There is no step-up at all." This house consumes 25% of the energy of an average American home.

(Source: Cowboys and Indians Magazine, Oct. 2002 and Chicago Tribune April 2001. Here)

House 2:

This 20-room, 8-bathroom house consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year. The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, this house devours nearly 221,000 kWh, more than 20 times the national average. Last August alone, the house burned through 22,619 kWh, guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of this energy consumption, the average monthly electric bill topped $1,359. Also, natural gas bills for this house and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year. In total, this house had nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for 2006.

(Source: just about anywhere in the news last month online and on talk radio, but barely on TV.)

How about the Tennessee Center for Policy Research? I have never heard of them--but it is a start--here.

The PayOff? You guessed it: House 1 belongs to George and Laura Bush, and is in Crawford, Texas. House 2 belongs to Al and Tipper Gore, and is in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thanks to MB from Westlake Village, CA.
This past weekend I was invited to attend the prayer meeting of one of the local chapters of the Native American Church.

The Native American Church arose as a movement among Apache, then spread to many tribes in the late nineteenth century. Traditions from various tribes come together in ritual form centered around the religious use of peyote, a hallucinogen. Prayer meetings typically begin on Saturday evening and conclude Sunday morning. The ritual is done by men.

This local chapter is mostly made up of "Jesus Men," that is, Native American Church practitioners who confess Jesus as Lord, and recognize God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So I said yes. The man who invited me told me that he knew I could not stay up all night and preach the next day, so asked me to come to the teepee at sunrise. (more below)

» Read More

Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Last week we were thick with mainstream media reportage detailing the dire warnings emanating from straight-shooting, Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who had just returned from a week in Iraq and Kuwait. On a mission to conduct a "strategic and operational assessment of security operations," by his own account, McCaffrey visited "combat units in the field as well as senior U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials."

Remember this
Washington Post headline:

"McCaffrey Paints Gloomy Picture of Iraq: In Contrast to His Previous Views, Retired General Writes of Strategic Peril .

"An influential retired Army general released a dire assessment of the situation in Iraq, based on a recent round of meetings there with Gen. David H. Petraeus...."

(Read the entire Post article here)

Today, the retired general speaks for himself in an op-ed piece for the
LA Times (full article here).

The highlights:

"[W]e have little choice as Americans except to give our new military commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and our new ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, the political and military support they need during the next 12 months. Failure in Iraq at this point could generate a regional war among Iraq's neighbors that would imperil U.S. interests for a decade or more."

"I know that the problems we face are grim indeed, but Petraeus' strategy is sound, and the situation is not hopeless."

"The threat we face is huge."

By the way, there is still plenty of gloom in his assessment:

"100,000 armed militia," some "foreign fighters," "a couple of thousand Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq extremists [intent on provoking] sectarian violence through murderous attacks on the innocent civilian Shiite population and their mosques."

[Many of] "Iraq's neighbors...have intensified the civil war as an extension of their own larger [regional goals]."

"Iran has provided the Shiites with leadership from the elite Quds Force of its Revolutionary Guard and with highly lethal EFP (explosively formed projectile) bombs, which are a major cause of U.S. casualties.

"The Syrians have provided sanctuary to Saddam Hussein Baathists.

"The Syrians also have ignored or aided the passage of 40 to 70 jihadists a month into Iraq. (Most of them are suicide bombers who are dead within two weeks.)

"The Turks also have made threatening military and political moves to confront the prosperous Iraqi Kurdish regions at their border.

"This is a dangerous neighborhood.

In McCaffrey's words: "What is the basis for hope?

"U.S. troops continue to show determination, discipline and courage."

Iraqi police and army are coming on line in large numbers.

"The Maliki government has finally gotten its nerve and allowed joint operations by its police and U.S. special operations forces to arrest Sadr militia members in Baghdad.

"Petraeus has placed more than 50 Iraqi/U.S. police and army strong points throughout the city. The murder rate has plummeted in response. The Sunni tribes in Anbar province have turned on the foreign fighters.

"We will know by the end of the summer if Petraeus' strategy is going to prompt an adequate political response from the Iraqis."

On the other hand?

"We are running out of time.

"The American people have walked away from support of this war. The Army is beginning to show signs of great strain."

"By the beginning of the coming year, we will be forced to downsize our deployment to Iraq or the Army will begin to unravel."

"The United States is now at a crossroads. We are in a position of strategic peril. We need to support the U.S. leadership team in Iraq for this one last effort to succeed."

Thank you, General. Well said. Now, let's see how much press this statement gets in the mainstream media.
Category: Texas 17
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Waco Tribune-Herald, my home-town newspaper, has called Chet Edwards "one of Texas' most resilient Democrats." Edwards was the only one of six targeted Democratic incumbents in Texas to survive the much celebrated Tom Delay-orchestrated redistricting of 2003. He held off his Republican challenger in the tight race that followed in 2004, while the district went for President Bush with 69 percent of the vote. In 2006, Edwards whipped the GOP candidate by 18 points.

FYI: Edwards represents Texas 17, which includes the President's ranch in Crawford. This is Bush country (even now); and Representative Edwards is literally the President's congressman. He is also my congressman and the first Democrat for whom I can remember voting. And, like many of my fellow Republicans in Central Texas, I have voted for him consistently over the years.

How has a Democrat succeeded consistently in an increasingly, overwhelmingly Republican district?

1. He has a good (and justly earned) reputation in the community for working hard to service constituents, and he has skillfully distanced himself from the mainstream of his party on the issues that alienate many Central Texans. Back during the last campaign, when a Democratic House looked likely, Congressman Edwards wouldn't even admit that he was going to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.

2. More importantly, Edwards has stayed on top of the tiger with conservative votes. Up until a few months ago, the President could hardly have asked for a more loyal congressman.

But that has changed. In January, he voted for the non-binding resolution "disapproving of the decision of the President announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq." And, recently, he cast his vote to support the Democratic timetable to withdraw American troops by August of 2008.

Change of heart? If so, it has been a swift one. He gave no indication that he would break with his history of voting in support of the President on the war during the last election. These two votes are not at all in keeping with how I understood his position last November.

Change of heart? If so, it has been a peculiar one. Representative Edwards has not issued a full-throated explanation. His March 23 public statement emphasized his vote for "full funding" for the troops, the added "flexibility for the Commander-in-Chief," and his support for the plan put forward by "former President Bush’s Secretary of State Jim Baker." His statement did not mention the current President Bush by name, and it criticized Speaker Pelosi and anti-war hero John Murtha.

From the statement his office released on March 23 (in full here):

In February, Edwards spoke out publicly and led the opposition to proposals put forward by Congressman John Murtha and Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would have limited the president’s constitutional role as Commander-in-Chief. As a result of Edwards’ efforts, a waiver was included in the bill to allow the president the flexibility to manage the war and troop rotations.

“I was one of the first to speak out publicly on proposals I thought would overly restrict the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to manage troop rotations. The bill now fully funds the president’s troop surge in Iraq while refocusing our mission there to fighting terrorists, training Iraqi security forces and increasing efforts to fight the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

This is confusing at best. Maybe even outright disingenuous.

What happened?

I doubt Congressman Edwards is jumping off this cliff willingly. I would like to know how much pressure the Speaker and Democratic Leadership exerted on these votes.

The Congressman's rhetoric (which obfuscates the meaning of his vote) leads me to believe that he sees himself on very shaky ground with the Texas 17 voters.

It is possible that he was ill-served by his big margin of victory in the last election. He won by nearly 20 points in the last election. I can imagine that he is hard-pressed to make the case with Speaker Pelosi that he must buck leadership out of self-preservation.

My guess is that the next election in this district will be much more partisan than the last few. Edwards will not be able to run away from mainstream Democrats next time, as he is currently towing the party line in a big way.

Legendary UT football coach, Darrell Royal, famously advised: "You've got to dance with who brung you." I regret that Congressman Edwards is changing partners at this crucial juncture.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The blog is lazily celebrating its first full year of existence as a full-time political blog. Our official first post was on March 9, 2006. As a belated commemorative note, I am reissuing some of my favorites. By the way, my favorites are usually the ones in which I proved most prescient.

Something from last summer that still plays pretty well:

What Happens "When our Patience Wears Thin"?

Last Thursday (July 20, 2006), Real Clear Politics ran a Victor Davis Hanson essay entitled, "Patience is Wearing Thin," in which VDH argued that the West was running out of civilized choices in the Middle East and hinted that we might soon resort to massive retaliation against terrorists and their benefactors.

VDH reasons that despite the "conventional wisdom" against an additional American military mission aimed at Iran or Syria, the United States (and the West) may come to realize that "diplomacy, aid, support for democracy, multiculturalism, and [partial] withdrawal" does not satisfy the troublesome Islamists. At which point, once our patience is exhausted, we will "opt for hard and quick retaliation" and eschew our historic concerns for humanity, local sensibilities and world opinion.

I could not disagree more.

An aside: This VDH essay reflects the rapidly accumulating frustration and mounting dejection even among stout-hearted, intelligent, patriotic Americans.

The ugly truth: the conventional wisdom that our hands are tied, unfortunately, is absolutely right. If you are Iran (or North Korea), there is very little peril in disdaining the United States right now. Syria is a bit more vulnerable, because of internal uncertainty and weakness, but they might ask as well: what is the United States going to do?

There is no military option.

There is one insurmountable obstacle to another military expedition in the region: American public opinion.

Presently, the American people are in no mood to support any unprovoked aggressive military action anywhere in the world. Americans are no longer convinced that our invasion of Iraq was necessary. Much worse, they are thoroughly unimpressed with our government's administration of Iraq and increasingly pessimistic about our ability to remake the Middle East.

Because the President has lost the American people, he has lost the "loyal" opposition in Congress and is beginning to lose politicians on the periphery of his own party. In addition, the President's inner circle of advisors is in the midst of extended acrimonious hostilities with large parts of the executive bureaucracy. And the media and academia, also at odds with this President from the outset, now emboldened by his weakness, bombards him with derision and destabilizing accusations continuously. The President cannot go on the offensive in the Middle East because he cannot get off the defensive at home. This president does not have the time or the standing to prepare the nation for a greater war in the Middle East. We are stuck.

In the end, I agree with VDH's concluding statement, if not with his reasoning that undergirds the sentiment:

"So in the meantime, let us hope that democracy prevails in Iraq, that our massive aid is actually appreciated by the Middle East, that diplomacy ultimately works with Iran, that Syria quits supporting terrorists, and that Hamas and Hezbollah cease their rocket attacks against Israel -- more for all their sakes than ours."

What happens when our patience wears thin? We go home. We leave rather meekly (see Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia), and we are unlikely to blow up the place on the way out.
On Saturday (March 31), C-SPAN2 (Book TV) presented a Gay Marriage Debate with David Blankenhorn, author of The Future of Marriage and Evan Wolfson, author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry. Pace Law School, in White Plains, NY, hosted the event.

Note: Currently C-SPAN does not have the program archive linked on its website; if that changes, I will add the link.

After watching a large portion of the exchange, here are a few observations about the larger ongoing debate concerning same-sex marriage:

Although Evan Wolfson would not agree with this, let us stipulate that procreation is at the center of marriage. Over time, the institution of marriage has consistently centered on creating strong families and facilitating the survival of the species. Specifically, marriage has proven an undeniable asset in producing, protecting, nurturing, and training the next generation of humanity. For this reason, communities have consistently promoted and protected marriage.

Two important caveats:

1. In addition to procreation, there are many other positive properties inherent in marriage. Procreation may be the most important positive element within the institution, but procreation is not the only attribute of marriage that makes a positive impact on society.

2. Because marriage benefits our community in myriad ways, we have extended the right to marry to non-procreators. We encourage men and women to marry and enjoy the advantages of marriage regardless of their capacity for reproduction. We allow infertile couples and couples past child-bearing years full rights of marriage, although we know they will not produce children.

Therefore, once we acknowledge that we regularly allow marriage outside of procreation, the key question becomes: should same-sex marriage be one of those non-procreation exceptions?

That is, the procreation test alone cannot determine the status of same-sex marriage; rather, the question of gay marriage is actually a question of equality, fairness, consistency, and the interest of the community.

On the other hand, proponents of same-sex marriage argue that prohibitions against same-sex marriage are discriminatory. In the C-SPAN debate, Mr. Wolfson advanced (again and again) a parallel between past American laws and traditions that discriminated against interracial marriage and the current proscriptions against same-sex unions.

Mr. Wolfson is right; barring same-sex couples from wedding is discrimination.

However, that is rhetorical legerdemain. Proponents are playing on our cultural tendency to "hear" all forms of discrimination as contemptible (making the facile analogy to our humiliating racial history further clouds and prejudices the discussion).

In truth, we discriminate all the time. Suspected terrorists are not allowed to board commercial jetliners. Extraordinarily tall people are not allowed to be Navy pilots. Students with certain SAT scores are not allowed admission to Harvard.

Certainly, in marriage, we discriminate as to who gets to marry. In many states, members of the same family cannot marry. States may establish an age of consent. We do not allow polygamy.

Are there compelling social reasons to discriminate against same-sex couples in granting marriage? If traditionalists are to prevail, they must bring more than procreation and/or biblical exegeses.

We have had a rich debate on this blog here (scroll down). Also, a recent reflection on marriage here.

The conversation is not merely worth having; the reality is that the debate over marriage looms large in our future as a national trial that we must confront.