George explains that the whole thing may well be over in both parties on February 5, when a whole lot of states will now have their primaries. But the result on that date could be determined by momentum quickly acquired through January victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. The influence of those two perennially annoying states might be more undue than ever. That means that an outsider in the mode of Carter or Clinton still has a chance to catch fire. Without the relatively slow "winnowing" that the older, slower process allowed, "buyer’s remorse" seems all but inevitable. No really new information, but George is eloquent, as always.
One of the nice things about attending a conference is that you get to visit with all sorts of people. The Albuquerque Hyatt, for example, is just lousy with smart Canadians living on both sides of the border. (There are of course smart Americans too.)
I had an interesting conversation, I can’t now remember with whom (though alcohol consumption had nothing to do with it), that prompted the following reflections growing out of a suggestion made by Jonah Goldberg in his review of the D’Souza book.
Goldberg noted D’Souza’s rhetorical play on the fairly predictable liberal query: why do they hate us? The normal answer is that we’re so crass, so vulgar, so militaristic, so imperialistic, so, so American. D’Souza of course says they hate us because we’re so decadent, so libertine, so, so European.
We have all of course noted that everyone is selective in their consultation of "global public opinion." John Kerry, for example, wanted us to consider what his friends in Davos thought about our foreign policy, but not what our friends in the Vatican thought about some of our domestic social policies (with the possible exception of the death penalty, where there’s less of a gap between Davos and the Vatican). We’re often urged to consider how folks in the Arab world thought about our support of Israel, but, until D’Souza came along, I don’t think that anyone considered urging us to think about Arab opinion about our "lifestyles." And of course very few American mainline Protestants argue that we should derive lessons about social policy from their brethren, say, in Africa.
None of this is, or ought to be, surprising. We are, for the most part, partial and strategic in putting our views to the so-called global test. When citing those views serves our purpose, we do. Otherwise, we can gaze at our collective navels with the best of them.
I want, however, to defend the practice of global testing, properly understood. It has a long and philosophically distinguished heritage, expressed in terms of the consensus gentium, which is supposed to offer us a clue to the content of the natural law. If what we’re trying to do, in other words, is engage in the process of natural law-informed discernment, consulting the consensus gentium is, shall we say, reasonable. By itself, global public opinion is, of course, not definitive; it has to show the way to a coherent and defensible argument. And we have to be able to untangle that argument from the partialities and the passions with which it is always connected on both sides of the border. The fact that people somewhere disapprove of, or even hate, us for something doesn’t mean, by itself, that we’re doing anything wrong. One or the other (or both) of us could be blinded by passions or interests. But it is, as we Southwestern (for about another 24 hours or so) Social Scientists say, a data point.
But beyond using the global test to gain insight into the consensus gentium and hence into the natural law, there’s also this: in the prudential pursuit of our policies, especially those that involve and affect others and might require their cooperation and/or acquiesence, it makes darn good sense at least to consider what they think, even if they’re (in our considered moral and prudential judgment) wrong.
In other words, the global test is not something either to be slavishly followed or to be callously dismissed. In pursuit both of the moral truth and the national interest (informed by that truth), it makes sense to have our finger on the pulse of our neighbors, near and far. But the bottom line is that what comes first is the principle, with national interest aligned with it so far as is possible, given our fallen, finite, and fallible status in a broken world.
I could say more, but this sermon’s already gone a little long, and it’s not even Sunday.
I enjoyed a lovely and lively dinner last night here in Albuquerque, hosted by frequent NLT commenter Gary Seaton. He’s a gracious and generous host, a first-class raconteur (at least Schramm class), and an incisive interlocutor. The other dinner companions were none too shabby either.
But having promised Gary that I wouldn’t pull an Irwin Stelzer on him, I’ll say no more.
The WSJ’s John Fund interviews Fred Thompson, who comes across a little like the GOP’s version of Barack Obama (by which I mean the anti-politician politician, the straight shooter who says he’s not afraid to speak the hard truth to the American people). Thompson has more of a record than Obama does and more liabilities, but he can sure deliver a line.
In an effort to add some diversity to NLT and to provide a context for the brouhaha over Dinesh D’Souza’s latest tome (see here, for example, as well as these posts from earlier this week), I’m offering, in its full visual glory, John Seery’s meditation on Las Vegas, which he visited solely in pursuit of higher learning. (For a less visually arresting version, go here.)
Yes, Bill is even harder on Newt and his "public confessor" than I was.
Prove you’re not stupid. That’s the label Peter Wood has come up with to describe the efforts of the Spellings DoE (much decried here at NLT) to get a handle on (put a leash on?) American higher education. Here’s my favorite chunk:
PYNS may sound like a healthy serving of common sense if you are thinking about colleges that soak up federal student loans and graduate marginally literate lunk-heads; and it may seem good medicine for universities with transvestite studies programs and the like that merely indoctrinate students in some version of victim idolatry. But PYNS comes at a considerable cost of intellectual freedom.
That’s because genuine liberal arts education cannot easily be fit to a regime of incessant outcomes assessment. Some things in education are easily measured; some can be measured only with difficulty; and some really defy reliable measurement. We can determine a student’s proficiency in reading or math; we can estimate a student’s comprehension of Plato or the Federalist Papers. But we face a daunting challenge to measure the depth of a student’s insight into a system of philosophy; the quality of a student’s grasp of Cymbeline or Beethoven’s violin sonata in F; how well a student holds in suspension the contradictions that lie between competing disciplines such as economics and political theory; and how fully a student synthesizes the disparities that lie between great theorists who disagree, or between the same though expressed in two languages.
He’s right, of course, but that won’t stop the DoE’s attempt to turn American higher education into a massive version of the typical K-12 public system.
For more evidence of tendencies in this direction, see
this piece about textbook buyback/rental mandates under consideration in North Carolina. The intent is to help students get a handle on soaring textbook costs. The effect might be to limit the autonomy of professors to exercise their professional judgment about what books to assign. You might say: so what, they’re all unreconstructed 60s radicals. Unfortunately, the professors and educrats who would end up making these decisions have more in common with that stereotype than you’d like. Under the circumstances, it might be difficult for anyone to do anything extraordinary (or even "traditional") in the state system. I repeat: people who care about genuine liberal education have to be friends of diversity, properly understood.
...has a classier look that’s more conservative than postmodern, along with some deep thoughts about some of my favorite topics: humiliation, contingency, and AMERICAN IDOL. They have caused me to distinguish between the earlier and later stages of the IDOL competition. I’ll admit that the pre-Hollywood road show is mostly the pointless humiliation of the clueless and fairly repulsive. That’s why I don’t watch it. The show only gets good when it’s clear that all the contestants are actually quite good at singing.
Thompson tells the truth (with pardonable manly exaggeration) about one of the most overrated men of the 20th century, who is apparently Speaker Pelosi’s patron saint.
...and make room for a real conservative candidate who can win--perhaps for another former client of his from Arkansas. If they don’t, it’ll be Giuliani by default.
John Kienker at the Remedy, points to a significant blunder in Dinesh D’Souza’s recent efforts at defending his book The Enemy at Home. The third part of a four part effort at National Review Online, includes a section where Dinesh questions whether the practice of polygamy gives testimony to the fact that certain elements of traditional Islam are not compatible with the principles of a free society. Not seeing the contradiction, he says: "I agree that polygamy runs entirely counter to the Western tradition, but since in its Islamic form it involves consenting adults, I’m not sure why it’s inherently illiberal."
Huh?! Consenting adults . . . certainly nothing that happens between consenting adults runs contrary to the principles of liberty! (Let me be clear: heavy sarcasm is intended here!) But isn’t that idea the same idea Dinesh argued made the Islamists mad at us in the first place? Here’s an different idea, why not point out how much these Islamists have in common with the radical American left instead of with American conservatives?
I’m late to all of this stuff, I know, but I’m sure there are many of you who read this blog who are even more hopeless than I when it comes to being up-to-date with technology. So this is for you folks: a great website can be found here for those of you just getting into "listening" to books. It’s a new thing for me and I’m having a wonderful time with it. But up till now, I’ve been borrowing my audiobooks from the local library. You can buy and download all kinds of audiobooks on-line, but they are normally newer books and it’s rather expensive. The link above, however, will take you to a site that allows you to download books that are in the public domain for free. People volunteer to read them and make them available to the public.
Now, I found the site. I haven’t actually used it yet because that would entail actually learning how to download the files onto my MP3 player. I’m still working on downloading those podcasts . . . one of these days!
My mother has been in Ashland since October. Since she had lived in Southern California for the last fifty years, she has found the weather here "fascinating." A bitter February--the ten inch snow fall was pretty to her; took photographs to send to her friends in the heat--was preceded by a milder than normal December and January. Yesterday it was fifty while today it is thirty. We had two inches of snow. All this is important to mention because I have been doing more driving than normal (never mind the cigar smoking) taking my mother here and there. I don’t want her driving in this muck. Sometimes there are bad consequences to good intentions: I have received two citations (both from Highway patrol guys, just on the outskirts of town) since she has been here. She was in the car both times: the first was for no seatbelt, the second was for doing thirty in a school zone (the limit is twenty). I’m not saying it’s my mother’s fault, all I’m saying is that I am paying attention to my mother even while I’m driving; more attention than I should, maybe. So stop calling me (and laughing!) every time my name appears in the the police blotter, please. I get it and my mother gets it. She paid for both tickets.
This fascinating article explains that scientists have discovered similarities between the way that a human voice operates and the way that a jet engine operates. This has to do with vortices (areas of rotational motion) and airflows and the structure above a person’s vocal cords. Apparently, all of this explains why (or should I say, how) it is that every person’s voice is different.
Of course, every little boy (and every former little boy) who has ever pretended to be a jet plane, will say that he’s suspected this connection all along. Perhaps, anyway, it explains the affinity between the two? Another fascinating fact is that the animal whose vocal structure is most similar to ours is the dog. The scientists are hoping to study more about how a dog’s "voice" works in order to discover ways to help people with vocal problems.
This is all very interesting and compelling. But, of course, understanding why (or, again, how) it is that we have voice will not answer the question of why we have speech. I will venture a guess that it will be a long time before a study can answer that one.
Here’s an (inevitably) uneven but still pretty funny account of the comments Prof. Socrates got on his student evaluations. The truth is that even if his evaluations were passable, he still wouldn’t get tenure. After all, he refused to publish, didn’t volunteer for committee service, and wasn’t particularly collegial. The modern university that was allegedly designed to give Socrates a safe, easy job actually has no place for him.
Here’sa very pompous article by someone who’s thought way too much about that question. My simple answer: People enjoy competition, can readily identify with (and wish they were) ordinary folks who can do one thing exceedingly well, like to see excellence rewarded, and are fascinated by the combination of wisdom and consent that comes when THEY get to vote after being instructed by Simon’s tough but fair judgments. It’s sort of like the jury system as described by Tocqueville, and a telling reminder that the jury system doesn’t always work.
All over corporate and academic America this week, copying machines and printers fired up. Your tax and business dollars were not hard at work, however. Ladies and gentlemen, start your brackets. The new national pastime and extravaganza known as March Madness has officially begun.
I can’t tell with any confidence you who will win. Sorry. Set aside the fact that the NCAA tournament is a single-elimination eventone slip-up and you go home. Officials make strange calls. Desperate half-court shots go in. More important, who can possibly know what goes on the mind of a 19-year old male, no matter how athletically gifted he is? He may have had a fight with his girlfriend over the weekend. His mother may be upset because he couldn’t get tickets for their third cousin. His posse may be arguing over how to spend the money he’ll be getting from his big shoe contact once he declares for the NBA draft a few weeks hence. Life can be very complicated for the student athlete. And not all of them are stars. The fourth man off the benchwho actually plans on becoming a doctormay be the one to shoot the critical free throw, in front of thousands of screaming fans and millions of TV viewers.
In short, your office pool will probably go to someone’s wife or daughter who filled out the bracket on the basis of team colors or mascots. So, fill out your sheets and then set them aside. Unless you have a major rooting interest, just enjoy the games. Or learn to tolerate them if you think colleges should be for education; but you just can’t escape the media saturation. The pre and post-game chatter has become as important to the fans as the games themselves.
You’ll have to get past the whining of coaches and fans of "bubble" teams who believe they were excluded unfairly by the dark wizards of the NCAA selection committee. Each year five to ten teams make such a case. Syracuse, Drexel, Florida State and Kansas State lead the current list. Syracuse’s exclusion caught almost everyone off guard as did the inclusion of Arkansas. The selection process indeed is more than a bit opaque and, dare one say, political? Standards applied one year seem to shift the next. My own view is: if you want in, Win. Win your conference tournament and receive the automatic bid. Or at least play such dominant basketball that Congress would order an investigation if you were sent packing to the NIT. Well, maybe that’s not the best means of enforcement but you get my meaning. I’m also an advocate for the "small" schoolsthe mid-majors, whose enrollment of real students may well surpass those of the "big" schools, like Duke. Here Drexel would have received my vote. The big schools dominate TV coverage and the revenue streams. I don’t see why they should be rewarded by allowing teams with mediocre seasons in the power conferences to move ahead of an outstanding mid-major that may have been tripped up in its conference tournament. I’m a Jacksonian democrat when it comes to college basketballalthough not so much as to favor a limited expansion of the size of the tournament, because I fear the extra slots would actually go to the big schools.
That’s my prejudice. It’s also true that at the end of day, aristocracy rules. Last year’s George Mason, a mid-major and an 11-seed, was a wonderful and partial exception to the rule. The eventual national champion will come from a power conference and it will probably feature a program that has been here, done that, before. We all leak a little oil, as Lee Trevino once said about playing under pressure. Blue bloods like North Carolina and Kansas leak it a little less not just because they have premium players but because they are less likely to be distracted by all the peripherals that go along with this traveling circus. Tradition and experiences are something like Jung’s collective unconscious. It travels with a program even if the players and coaches are new. There will probably be a Cinderella in the Final Fourbut it will most likely be a lower seed from a power conference than a working-class upstart like Nevada or a Winthrop.
For the most part, don’t worry about seeding and sites. For months we’ve watched the hand-wringing about who will be seeded Number 1 in each region. Once you get past the first round, however, it really doesn’t matter at the top end. Over the last five years, only six number one seeds have made the Final Four. In any case, seeding is insignificant much below the first couple of bracket lines. There will be at least one 5-12 upset, as there always is. It’s not so much a matter of the growing parity of talent; or of chance. Playing styles and difficult match-ups drive upsets. Here Ohio State may well struggle at times during the tournament. Having played for some months in the dreadfully-paced Big Ten, can they now readjust to up-tempo offensive basketball against a team whose "bigs" can draw Greg Oden away from the lane? I’m an Oden fan and Ohio State certainly can win it all. The more probable scenarios, however, are an early upset, or a loss in the championship game.
It has long been said that college basketball is the guards’ game. You can take a great post player out of the action through defensive structure and tempo, but not so with great guards. True, up to a point. Great guard play will get you through two rounds. Beyond that, you must have legitimate big men who are a threat to score as well as defend and rebound. This does not augur well for my University of Virginia Cavaliers, seeded #4, which has two excellent guards (one of whom is now playing despite an injury) but which has no real offensive post presence.
Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Well, yes. But you have to score to win. Many defense-oriented teams struggle offensively, despite having talented offensive players, because of the energy that defense requires. Defense-oriented teams play in many close games, even against inferior teams, which increase the odds that a bad bounce or whistle will decide the game. UCLA and Pittsburgh come to mind. A better criterion perhaps, is can you make key defensive stops at the end of games? Coach K’s great Duke teams did this consistently. This criterion is perhaps my one concern about North Carolina, as talented and deep as it. I’m not sure Coach Roy Williams has a defensive unit he can trust at the end of the game against top-flight offensive talent.
It is very difficult to pick against Florida, which returns all five starters from the national championship team and which is now playing well again after an understandable period of boredom late in the regular season. Florida is remarkably well balanced, with quality versatile players inside and outside. But recent history indicates that it is extremely difficult to repeat as champion. Other than Duke (1991-2), you have to go back to the days of John Wooden at UCLA. Florida plays with great emotion; they are a cocky, us-against-the world teama good thing when one is an underdog but perhaps not so much when one is the favorite and center of media attention. Picking Florida is like playing two aces in no-limit Texas Hold ’em. It is easily the best starting hand but will it hold up six times two years in a row? The odds say no.
Free throws. Don’t forget free throws, especially in critical, end of game situations. Syracuse might have won five national championships if it could shoot free throws. Memphis, a #2 seed that is almost off the national radar because it is in exile in Conference USA, is a poor free throw shooting team (61%). More than one legitimate national championship contender will play a great game in this tournament, only to lose because they went 10 for 23 at the stripe.
And there are injuries, lingering and new, some of which you will never hear about.
This leaves us several interesting teams to consider, which are not No. 1 seeds. Georgetown, above all. Texas A&M. Oregon, a team with a profile very similar to that of last year’s Florida. Texasalthough I don’t think they’ll win, you have to watch Kevin Durant play. I’m not buying into Maryland, a popular hot team, which assessment has nothing to do with the fact I’m at UVA.
None of this helps you create the winning bracket. For that, look to the mascots. Much wisdom, common or otherwise, applies only in the long run. But it’s always fun to try to beat the system.
...at least by showing that none of his "scandals" ought to disqualify him for the presidency. But he also manages to remind us that Clinton cleaned Newt’s clock during the government shutdown "scandal."
...and so much less likely to commit suicide. Eating may be a form of self-medication for depression, at least for men.
Thanks to the leader of NLT’s loyal opposition for this long review (AS can never say anything in 1,000 words when 3,000 or so will do). His basic argument is that D’Souza reveals that there’s ultimately no significant difference between the Islamist agenda and its "Christianist" counterpart. In other words, it is, for the most part, very sophisticated name-calling.
Sullivan doesn’t bother to investigate any of the possible distinctions (e.g., between traditional Christianity and Islam) that would make his insinuations implausible. And, self-professed good Catholic that he is, he doesn’t hurl the same imprecation at Benedict XVI that he hurls at American religious conservatives:
There is a difference only in degree, after all, between Islamism’s view of the role of women and that of James Dobson or Tim LaHaye. Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right. Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan. There is only a difference in degree between Islamism’s view of the relationship between mosque and state and Christianism’s view of the relationship between church and state. If law cannot be neutral between competing moral ideals, and if it must reflect God’s will regardless of the views of religious minorities, then you can see why D’Souza is so affronted by Turkey’s secularism, and why he sees the Declaration of Independence as an essentially religious document. Any space for non-believers is, in the Islamist and Christianist view, an assault on belief itself. The notion that blasphemy, pornography, or homosexuality should be protected, let alone celebrated, is anathema to Islamists and Christianists alike. D’Souza’s sole sin is to say so publicly in a way no one can misunderstand. He has blown the medievals’ cover.
Since it’s hard to believe that what he says about American religious conservatives wouldn’t apply equally well to traditional Catholics (he mentions Fr. Neuhaus as one of D’Souza’s mentors), including the Pope, it’s a wonder that AS doesn’t draw the logical conclusion. Ah, but there’s the rub: it turns out that Catholicism allows--at least in Sullivan’s mind--for a certain liberty of conscience, which distinguishes it--and the rest of Christianity--from Islam. Kind of a problem with Sullivan’s argument, no?
One last point and I’m done. Sullivan makes much of the fact that D’Souza doesn’t say anything about his own faith and regularly presents religion simply as a means of social control. I met D’Souza once and learned, in the course of a casual conversation, that he was educated by Jesuits in India. I’m betting he’s a Catholic. And I’m betting that Sullivan knows this very well. Let me add something to my characterization of his review: it is, for the most part, sophisticated and disingenuous name-calling. Of course, in describing something written by Andrew Sullivan in that way, I say absolutely nothing new.
Update #2: Ross D. weighs in.
Jonah Goldberg reviews Dinesh D’Souza’s new book in what "formerly" was "my favorite magazine I’d never written for." He’s just a little nicer to D’Souza than other conservative critics, appreciating, for example, D’Souza’s rhetorical twist in using the court of world public opinion. But he nevertheless notes this about that tactic:
For example, D’Souza’s claim that when it comes to "core beliefs" he has more in common with the Grand Mufti of Egypt than with Michael Moore, simply won’t hold. Which beliefs? Sure, Ali Gomaa is against gay marriage, but he also thinks sculpture should be banned and believes Jews are "bloodsuckers." D’Souza would have to keep the conversation pretty constrained for him to stay eye-to-eye with the Mufti.
And then there’s this, which is just about my favorite line in the review:
Ted Kennedy may or may not be a Caligulan carbuncle, but if the jihadists want to behead him for it, they’ll have to get through me first.
Read the argument around it for the serious context in which Goldberg makes this hilarious claim, which I think goes to the heart of his deep disagreement with D’Souza.
Indeed, read the whole thing.
I did a podcast with David Krugler on the failure of civil defense during the cold war. He teaches history at Wisconsin and is the author of This is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War.
Note: I talked to him on March 1.
E.J., contrary to his explicit intention, shows us why Chuck and Fred don’t really have a chance. His too-obvious real effort is directed toward dividing the Republicans into Bush 41 and Bush 43 factions and suggesting to Senator Hagel that his real goal should be starting a third party. Hagel’s position on the Republican side is as much of a non-starter as Liberman’s is on the Democratic one in terms of actually winning the nomination. But there’s no hiding from the fact that lots of Republicans now agree with him, and the MSM presents him favorably for their admiration. It remains to be seen how formidable a force he can become.
Don’t miss the usually sensible Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal: "A fairer assessment would be many degrees cooler [than Gore’s]. It would hold that climate change is real and deserves action, but that the problem is nowhere near as overwhelming as the rhetoric commonly suggests, and the solutions nowhere near as difficult. As problems go, in fact, climate change appears to be one of the most convenient that humankind has ever faced."
Meanwhile, a global warming expedition to the North Pole has been cancelled. One of th eparty got frostbite from the cold.
Today’s New York Times includes an article by one of their veteran science writers, William Broad, about the many scientists who are uncomfortable with the exaggerations and extremism of Gore’s gerbil worming horror flick, An Inconvenient Truth. Broad quotes scientist Kevin Vranes, who, I noted in my Weekly Standard article last month, had this to say about the pressure for scientific conformity on this subject: “What I am starting to hear is internal backlash. . . None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it’s not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we’ve created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say ‘climate change is right here!’” Vranes saids this after attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, at which Gore made his standard pitch.
An even more bracing comment came late last year from Mike Hulme, who is the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and one of Britain’s leading climate science figures:
“I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric,” Hulme told the BBC in November. “It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the [catastrophe] skeptics. How the wheel turns. Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science’s predictions? To state that climate change will be ‘catastrophic’ hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.”
The backlash may be just beginning.
Allegedly underrepresented in political office, with Pete Stark as their most prominent standard-bearer.
According to this dissident expert, that’s what our REPUBLICAN Secretary of Education is currently plotting. It’s time for us to do some real assessing of Margaret Spellings’ regulatory/assessment mania. Please take a look at the extremely meddlesome, schoolmarmish policies that she thinks she can impose on our college and universities pretty much on her own. But a real schoolmarm, of course, would know enough to leave those schools and professors alone.
Here we learn that Giuliani was once pro-life and seems to have changed his position out of political expediency. But once he changed he really changed, favoring federal funding for abortions and praising Margaret Sanger before the NARAL.
BU religion professor Stephen Prothero has a new book on religious (il)literacy, which is attracting a lot of attention--see here and here for examples. Of course, his personal site has links to much of the recent coverage.
I’ll probably eventually buy the book, though it smacks a little too much of E.D. Hirsch for my taste. Here’s his religious literacy quiz; take it, if you dare.
Update: Here, via Mere Comments, is a temporary link to Prothero’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the end, I think his project (at least as described in this piece) suffers from a kind of incoherence. On the one hand, he argues that our religious amnesia and ignorance are the products of our toleration. By privatizing religion and trivializing differences, we end up not having anything to take seriously. But we have to take it seriously, he says, for civic reasons:
But the costs of perpetuating religious ignorance are too high in a world in which faith moves, if not mountains, then elections and armies. It does nothing for the secular left to remain ignorant of the religious right, or vice versa. And it puts the United States at risk to remain ignorant as a society of the beliefs and practices of Confucians in North Korea, Hindus in India, and Muslims in Iran.
In debates about the fate of the Middle East, the propriety of gay marriage, and the politics of Islam, the stakes are too high to defer to politicians and pundits. Given the ubiquity of religious discourse in American public life, and the public power of religion at home and abroad, we Americans — whether liberals or conservatives, believers or unbelievers — need to learn about evangelicalism and Islam for ourselves, to see for ourselves what the Bible says about family values, homosexuality, war, and capital punishment, and to be aware of what Islam says about those things, too.
But if my motivation to learn about something is civic, then I’m likely to be tempted to make the innumerable and confusing complications go away, if I can, with the wish being the father of the "fact." An argument that you have "instrumentally" to know something is different from, and inferior to, an incitement to learn about something because it satisfies a deep longing. What will lead to more religious knowledge is more religious seriousness, of the sort that is described here (by Prothero):
In recent years, George M. Marsden, a historian at the University of Notre Dame, and Warren A. Nord, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have argued for the return of "normative religious teaching" to American colleges and universities. They want professors not only to describe religious traditions but also to weigh in on their vices and virtues. Each of these scholars has also argued that it is essential for students to learn "religious perspectives" in disciplines other than religious studies — to study theological critiques of classical economics and "religious interpretations of history." "There should be room," writes Nord, for both objective analysis of religion and "normative reflection on religion."
What Marsden and Nord seem to want is to make colleges and universities (or pockets of them) into religious places once again — to resurrect the big questions of God, creation, and sin not only in departments of religion but also in courses in philosophy and economics and history and political science.
All this brings back to mind, as I noted earlier, the pairing of Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch in the late 80s. Who’s going to write The Closing of the American Soul? Or might it already have been written--
here, here, or perhaps here.
John H. Armstrong makes the point that all too often political God-talk is just about baptizing, so to speak, particular political initiatives. I don’t object to God-talk per se, unless it’s invoked to rule out absolutely any role for prudence or political judgment. We rarely, if ever, get precise policy prescriptions from Scripture.
I can’t agree with all of the particular comparisons outlined in this compelling and interesting piece by Kurt Andersen in Time, but I defy you to read it and not find much of it on point. He writes that "history really does rhyme, if not repeat itself." And that may be true. But while Andersen seems to hint at some possible absolution in this (comparing the Bowery Boys of their day to today’s Hip Hop thugs--as if to say we’re none the worse for them), I wonder at how he seems to forget that the 1840s led to the 1850s. And we all know how the 1850s ended. I certainly hope that what we’re living through now won’t "rhyme" with those days--let alone repeat them.
Our friend Chuck Dunn has identified seven key parallels between the Romney and Kennedy campaigns. I’m inclined to add seven key differences. Here’s just one: Kennedy didn’t really overcome the evangelical/fundamentalist prejudice against him all that well, but he compensated with a huge prejudice in his own direction. He got an overwhelming majority of the Catholic vote. No doubt Romney will get an overwhelming majority of the Mormon vote. But that’s a lot smaller percentage of the electorate, even in the Republican primaries. And in November, it’s hard to see how the Mormons can become much more overwhelmingly Republican than they already are. I hope Chuck is right that Mitt is as charismatic as Jack.
I have long thought that no holds-barred criticism of President Bush at home licenses similar behavior abroad. As our friends at Power Line and South Dakota Politics note, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between anti-Bush protestors north and south of the border. Also worth noting is this bit of evidence about how folks from south of the border who live north of the border feel about U.S. policy in the Middle East, something that is mentioned, but barely, in this article.
Somebody might have some doubts about both his contrition and his Christianity. Giuliani, of course, has also done some very bad things when it comes to wives and other women, but I guarantee he won’t use this venue or this approach to show us that he’s sorry and is living more responsibly now. I’m all for confessing sins and seeking forgiveness (mainly from God and those you’ve hurt!), but not this way.
Here are some sober and responsible thoughts for Republicans by our friend George. Despite their flaws--especially from a socially conservative view, we should admit that McCain, Giuliani, and Romney are all pretty darn good candidates. And there are good reasons to believe that each would be a pretty darn good president. So maybe we should stop whining and wishing for something better, and maybe we shouldn’t criticize, at least too much, a "front-loaded" process that will very likely freeze out Brownback, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Hunter and so forth. We can add that, on the Democratic side, Obama and Sen. Clinton may well be the best they got (my own view is that Richardson deserves a serious look he probably won’t get), or at least they’re both quite impressive, from their perspective. Too bad, of course, for Biden and Gravel.
From Saturday’s Washington Post:
Nuclear Weapons Rarely Needed, General Says
Well, that’s a relief.
Just when I get done with a huge writing project, and over a nasty sinus infection, with lots of pent-up blogs in my head, the NLT site goes down! How did I pass the time? The new Victoria’s Secret catalogue came in the mail. It’s 172 pages. Woo-hoo!
Why is this news? Well, a few months ago the Victoria’s Secret people agreed, after pressure from environmentalists, to use more recycled paper for their catelogues, rather than trying the simple expedient of conserving paper by using thinner models. So, even with more recycled paper, the catalogue just gets longer. Hard to know whether any trees have been saved, let alone any. . . no, I won’t finish this sentence.
Of course, when the VC people get around to producing the inevitable pop-up catalogue, we’ll have a whole new resource use problem.
Sorry about the sites being down for a couple of days. We fixed it and it will not happen again. If anyone detects any glitches or problems, do let us know.
Although I have seen Isabella during the winter, we haven’t talked. I went over from time to time during the bitter cold just to make sure she was covered. And even though we haven’t talked in four months, yesterday we picked it right up as if time stood still. I uncovered her and fired her up. Her low growl was immediate and adversity’s sweet milk was ready to be ridden. I slipped on just enough warm to get me around the long block, and we did. I let her stretch her legs as she cheerfully murmured and grumbled through the neighborhood. The long winter is over and her deserved dignity is intact. We meet again later today.