For The Beauty Of The Earth

On November 26, 2009, in General, by marc

Will wishes everyone a fine and happy thanksgiving!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bonus Audio!

I’m a very fine Turkey:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Turkey is a Funny Bird:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

And a Christmas Preview:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Tagged with:  

Exciting news: a friend and former (well, I suppose still current) colleague of mine, Anthony Bradley, has written a book examining the spiritual and social impact of Black Liberation Theology. Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America is set to be released in February, and it promises to be a worthwhile read for anyone who took an interest in the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the 2008 presidential campaign.  Below are some reviews posted on Amazon.com:

Liberating Black Theology by Anthony B. Bradley

Liberating Black Theology by Anthony B. Bradley

“Anthony Bradley’s analysis of black liberation theology is by far the best thing that I have read on the subject. Anthony’s book is comprehensive and in-depth. He covers all of the bases, and thereby provides the reader with all of the information that he needs to understand the critical issues involved with black liberation theology. By covering such figures as James Cone, Cornell West, and Jeremiah Wright, we see all of the nuances involved with their approaches to the subject. His explanation of victimology, Marxism, and aberrant Christian doctrine make a noxious mix of ideas that would make any true Christian wary of anything even approaching black liberation theology. His keen insight into these ideas and his clarity of writing make this book a jewel. Anthony has done the Christian community a great service by writing this book. There was a significant need for a work of this type and its arrival is long overdue.”
Craig Vincent Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“I have read a number of books which purport to explain, define, or critique black liberation theology, but Liberating Black Theology is the easiest to understand. This is because Dr. Bradley unapologetically maintains a biblical, orthodox perspective while being sympathetic to the issues and concerns of black liberation theologians. The book should be required reading for any seminary class on biblical interpretation and for seminary students and pastors interested in understanding the history and struggles of the black church in America.”
Wy Plummer, African American Ministries Coordinator, Mission to North America, Presbyterian Church in America

“With irenic tone Bradley reveals the theological justification of racial separation inherent within the victimization philosophy of both first generation and second generation black theology. His analysis demonstrates how the vision of Cone and his intellectual offspring contributes to rather than resolves DuBois’ problem of the twentieth (now twenty-first!) century.”
Eric C. Redmond, Author, Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions about the Church

Another one for the books I’d like page…

Witness

On November 23, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc
Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Digging through the library here at work, I happened to stumble across a 1952 first edition of Whittaker ChambersWitness.

Two faiths were on trial.  Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies.  At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it.  At issue was the question whether this man’s faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick  beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another.  At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts…

…On a scale personal enough to be felt by all, but big enough to be symbolic, the two irreconcilable faiths of our time – Communism and Freedom – came to grips in the persons of two conscious and resolute men.

This is a real gem; I wish there was a way for me to take ownership of this particular book, but that’s unlikely.  I’m looking forward to reading it, though; that much is sure.

More:

The deeper meaning of the Soviet underground apparatus, and all the apparatuses that clustered hidden beside it, was not so much their espionage activity.  It was the fact that they were a true Fifth Column, the living evidence that henceforth in the 20th century, all wars are revolutionary wars, and are fought not only between nations, but within them.

Tagged with:  

Unwinnable?

On November 20, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

Peter Braestrup’s Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington has been an interesting read so far.  The first chapter is a detailed description of exactly how many people were staffing press offices in Vietnam prior to 1968, and what their resources were.  In chapter two, we go from facts and figures into the story of Tet itself, and Braestrup makes this preliminary observation about reactions to the crisis:

Big Story by Peter Breastrup

Big Story by Peter Breastrup

…as it turned out, very few of the claims bade by “optimists” or “pessimists” concerning “progress” in Vietnam had much immediate relevance to the radically changed situation that followed the January 30-31 Tet attacks.  Perhaps out of shock, the Johnson Administration was to respond with caution and relative candor to the new situation; however, the press and TV, especially in commentary at home, were to hark back immediately to Johnson’s autumn progress campaign and cry, in effect, “Tet proved that you were all wrong and, thus, that the critics were right.”

This reaction lacked discernment.  The onset of the Tet offensive, per se, did not show that the war was winnable or unwinnable, worthwhile or not, moral or immoral.  By February 1968, one did not need Tet to make a judgement on these issues.  Tet showed that the enemy had scored a major surprise, and its ultimate effect was initially obscure.  It did not prove that either optimists or pessimists were right or wrong on the much-debated 1967 “facts,” except on two points.  First, Westmoreland was wrong in publicly underestimating (in November) the enemy.  Second, the media pessimists were wrong to write off South Vietnamese ability to fight and “muddle through with U.S. help.”  Americans did not know enough about Vietnam, North or South.

In a more fundamental, even ethical, sense, of course, the President was wrong both to launch the rose-colored progress campaign and to persist in it without warning the U.S. public of what he knew; that possible heavy fighting lay ahead… Journalists’ memories skipped back to Westmoreland’s star role in the progress campaign, to his promise that “success” was discernible on the horizon.

Tagged with:  

Books I’d Like, Vol. IV

On November 20, 2009, in Books I'd Like, Culture, General, War, by marc

I’m currently reading Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1966 in Vietnam and Washington.  It’s an interesting read, but I’m finding that I’m pretty uninformed about the ins and outs of Vietnam in general.  The thesis of Big Story is that press portrayals of the Tet offensive by the communists portrayed the battle as a disaster for the Americans, and the negative image portrayed by the press led to massive political repercussions in the US, and ultimately, probably the eventual collapse of the war effort in Vietnam.  In reading, I’m finding that I really know very little about the history and geography of the war, so I set about looking for a decent account of the conflict with some current perspective.

Here’s what I found: A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. A review:

A Better War by Lewis Sorley

A Better War by Lewis Sorley

There was a moment when the United States had the Vietnam War wrapped up, writes military historian Lewis Sorley (biographer of two Vietnam-era U.S. Army generals, Creighton Abrams and Harold Johnson). “The fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won,” he says in this convention-shaking book. “This achievement can probably best be dated in late 1970.” South Vietnam was ready to carry on the battle without American ground troops and only logistical and financial support. Sorley says that replacing General Westmoreland with Abrams in 1968 was the key. “The tactics changed within fifteen minutes of Abrams’s taking command,” remarked one officer. Abrams switched the war aims from destruction to control; he was less interested in counting enemy body bags than in securing South Vietnam’s villages.A Better War is unique among histories of the Vietnam War in that it focuses on the second half of the conflict, roughly from Abrams’s arrival to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Other volumes, such as Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie, tend to give short shrift to this period. Sorley shows how the often-overlooked Abrams strategy nearly succeeded–indeed, Sorley says it did succeed, at least until political leadership in the United States let victory slip away. Sorley cites other problems, too, such as low morale among troops in the field, plus the harmful effects of drug abuse, racial disharmony, and poor discipline. In the end, the mighty willpower of Abrams and diplomatic allies Ellsworth Bunker and William Colby was not enough. But, with its strong case that they came pretty close to winning, A Better War is sure to spark controversy. –John J. Miller

Tagged with:  

Books I’d Like…

On November 20, 2009, in Books I'd Like, General, by marc

…has been updated.  I mean, just in case you’ve been thinking that you’d like to pick something up for me.

Tagged with:  

“Liberal Fascist Economics”

On November 18, 2009, in Culture, Economics, Politics, by marc

One of the best – and creepiest – books I’ve read in the last year and a half was Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. I recall being very unnerved, perhaps surprisingly, by the chapter on economics.  A taste:

In Nazi Germany, businesses proved their loyalty to the state by being good “corporate citizens,” just as they do today.  the means of demonstrating this loyalty differed significantly, and the moral content of the different agendas was categorical.  Indeed, for the sake of argument, let us concede that what the Nazi regime expected of “good German businesses” and what America expects of its corporate leaders differed enormously.  That doesn’t change some important fundamental similarities.

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

Consider, for example, the largely bipartisan and entirely well-intentioned Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, celebrated everywhere as a triumph of “nice” government.  The law mandated that businesses take a number of measures, large and small, to accommodate customers and employees with various handicaps.  Offices had to be retrofitted to be wheelchair compliant.  Various public signs had to be written in Braille.  Devices to aid the hearing impaired had to be made available.  And so on.

Now imagine you are the CEO of Coca-Cola.  Your chief objection to this law is that it will cost you a lot of money, right?  Well, not really.  If you know that the CEO of Pepsi is going to have to make the same adjustments, there’s really no problem for you.  All you have to do is add a penny – or really a fraction of a penny – to the cost of a can of Coke.  Your customers will carry the freight, just as Pepsi’s customers will.  The increase won’t cost you market share, because your price compared with your competitor’s has stayed pretty much the same.  Your customers probably won’t even notice the price hike.

Now imagine that you own a small, regional soft drink company.  You’ve worked tirelessly toward your dream of one day going eyeball-to-eyeball with Coke or Pepsi.  Proportionally speaking, making your factories and offices handicapped-friendly will cost you vastly more money, not just in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of the bureaucratic legal compliance costs (Coke and Pepsi have enormous legal departments; you don’t).  Plans to expand or innovate will have to be delayed because there’s no way you can pass on the costs to your customers.  Or imagine you’re the owner of an even smaller firm hoping to make a play at your regional competitors.  But you have 499 employees, and for the sake of argument, the ADA fully kicks in at 500 employees.  If you hire just one more, you will fall under the ADA.  In other words, hiring just one thirty-thousand-dollar-a-year employee will cost you millions.

The ADA surely has admirable intent and legitimate merits.  But the very nature of such do-gooding legislation empowers large firms, entwines them with political elites, and serves as a barrier to entry for smaller firms.  Indeed, the penalties and bureaucracy involved in even trying to fire someone can amount to guaranteed lifetime employment.  Smaller firms can’t take the risk of being forced to provide a salary in perpetuity, while big companies understand that they’ve in effect become “too big to fail” because they are de facto arms of the state itself.

Remember, this was all written well before stimulus- and bailout-mania, or the effective nationalization of GM and Chrysler.  There are certainly lessons in this passage for those on the right and the left – Republicans have a nasty habit of using the state to advance their interests, too.  But examining the current political philosophies popular across the spectrum, one has to note that when those on the right try to utilize the government to advance their agenda, they are usually acting hypocritically, because at least in theory, they believe in limited government and checks and balances.  In contrast, when leftists use the power of the state to push their agenda, they are actually following their principles. And that’s really what we’re seeing right now – the left has control of the levers of power in Washington DC, and is using the mechanisms of government to entrench and empower themselves, often at the expense of our individual liberty and well-being (as in the health care debate).

Lord Acton reminded us that power tends to corrupt; as responsible citizens, we need to remember that axiom when we vote, and must guard against the tendency to leave things we could – or should – do ourselves to people in Washington, or the state capitol, or anywhere else.

This reminds me – I need to dig back into Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and pull some quotes from him about the dangers of economic planning…

Herman Bavinck, from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena. The following passage is from Chapter 2 – The Method and Organization of Dogmatic Theology:

Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck

The assertion that the religious and moral human being is autonomous is always linked with either deism or pantheism. Deism makes human beings independent of God and the world, teaches the all-sufficiency of reason, and leads to rationalism. Pantheism, on the other hand, teaches that God discloses himself and comes to self-consciousness in human beings and fosters mysticism. both destroy objective truth, leave reason and feeling, the intellect and the heart, to themselves, and end up in unbelief or superstition. Reason criticizes all revelation to death, and feeling gives the Roman Catholic as much right to picture Mary as the sinless Queen of Heaven as the Protestant to oppose that belief. It is therefore noteworthy that Holy Scripture never refers human beings to themselves and the epistemic source and standard of religious truth. How, indeed, could it, since it describes the “natural” man as totally darkened and corrupted by sin in his intellect (Ps. 14:3; Rom.1:21-23; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 4:23; Gal. 1:6, 7; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 3:8), in his heart (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Ezek. 36:26; Mark 7:21), in his will (John 8:34; Rom. 7:14; 8:7; Eph. 2:3), as well as in his conscience (Jer. 17:9; 1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12; 10:28; 1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15)? For the knowledge of truth Scripture always refers us to objective revelation, to the word and instruction that proceeded from God (Deut. 4:1; Isa. 8:20; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Pet. 1:19; etc.). And where the objective truth is personally appropriated by us by faith, that faith still is never like a fountain that from itself brings forth the living water but like a channel that conducts the water to us from another source.

Pope Leo XIII (Papacy 1878-1903)

Pope Leo XIII (Papacy 1878-1903)

Rome, understanding perfectly well this impossibility of religious and moral autonomy, bound human beings to the infallible church on pain of losing the salvation of their souls. For Roman Catholic Christians the infallible church, and so in the final analysis the infallible pope, is the foundation of their faith. The words Papa dixit (the Pope has spoken) is the end of all back talk. History teaches, however, that this theoretical and practical infallibility of the church has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition, not only in the churches of the Reformation but inside the Roman Catholic Church as well. It is not unbelievers primarily but the devout who have always experienced this power of the hierarchy as a galling bond to their conscience. Throughout the centuries there has not only been scientific, social and political resistance but also deeply religious and moral opposition to the hierarchical power of the church. It simply will not do to explain this opposition in terms of unbelief and disobedience and intentionally to misconstrue the religious motives underlying the opposition of various sects and movements. No one has been bold enough to damn all these sects because they were moved to resist the church and its tradition. Even Rome shrinks from this conclusion. The extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the church) is a confession that is too harsh for even the most robust believer. Accordingly, the “law” we see at work in every area of life is operative also in religion and morality. On the one hand, there is a revolutionary spirit that seeks to level all that has taken shape historically in order to start rebuilding things from the ground up. There is, however, also a false conservatism that takes pleasure in leaving the existing situation untouched simply because it exists and – in accordance with Calvin’s familiar saying – not to attempt to change a well-positioned evil (malum bene positum non movere). At the proper time everywhere and in every sphere of life, a certain radicalism is needed to restore balance, to make further development possible, and not let the stream of ongoing life bog down. In art and science, state and society, similarly in religion and morality, there gradually develops and mindless routine that oppresses and does violence to the rights of personality, genius, invention, inspiration, freedom, and conscience. But in due time there always arises a man or woman who cannot bear that pressure, casts off the yoke of bondage and again takes up the cause of human freedom and that of Christian liberty. These are the turning points of history. Thus Christ himself rose up against the tradition of the elders and returned to the law and the prophets. Thus one day the Reformation had the courage, not in the interest of some scientific, social, or political goal, but in the name of Christian humanity, to protest against Rome’s hierarchy. Frequently, even in the case of the sects and movements that later arose in the Protestant churches, that religious and ethical motive is undeniably present. So-called biblical theology also defends an important part of religious truth. When a church and theology prefer peace and quiet over struggle, they they themselves trigger the opposition that reminds them of their Christian calling and task. Rome, in the name of the case, can never approve of such opposition and has to condemn it in advance. The Reformation is itself the product of such opposition and cannot withhold from others what it assumed for itself. And Holy Scripture, thought far removed in spirit from all revolutionary resistance, nevertheless, in Peter’s regal statement “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), legitimates the right to oppose every human decree that is contrary to the Word of God.

This passage especially caught my attention as I read today, most likely because on Saturday I attended my first Roman Catholic mass, which was part of a wedding ceremony for a family friend.  I have been struck for some time by the thought that Roman Catholicism is significantly different from the Reformed Protestant tradition in which I have been raised, so much so that I believe more and more that it is legitimate to refer to two entirely different religions – Christianity, which has Christ at the center and relies strictly on God’s word as the source of revelation, and Catholicism, which is much more oriented toward having the church itself as the object of religious devotion, or – in the best case scenario – some combination of Christ and the church, the Word and tradition.  From the Protestant perspective – at least of this protestant - the two systems are distinctly different, and not just over minor issues, but over the central issue of the Faith: and as such, it doesn’t make much sense to pretend that Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity are simply different flavors of the same faith.  I’m glad to see that my thinking is at least in the same ballpark as such an eminent scholar as Herman Bavinck.

William F. Buckley goes to Turtle Bay

On November 16, 2009, in Culture, Politics, by marc

I picked up a copy of William F. Buckley’s United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey on a whim.  Buckley had recently passed away, and a number of books that he had in his personal stash were being sold on The Corner, and this one sounded interesting enough to take a chance on.  Buckley?  At the United Nations? The same Bill Buckley who founded National Review? His journal of the time he spent as a delegate to the UN in 1974 would have to be a riot to read.

So I ordered a copy, and within a few days I was curling up with my own sort of dog-eared copy of the book from Buckley’s personal stash, and it was a rip-roaring good read.  A short excerpt recounting Buckley’s first time speaking during the official proceedings of the UN:

I occupied the United States desk for the first time when the Third Committee’s session had already got under way.  The chairman had proposed that all seventeen items referred to the Third Committee by the General Assembly should occupy equally the attention of the committee, and the English representative now suggested that they be taken up exactly in the same order in which they fell in the General Assembly’s agenda.  But everyone knows that items taken up for consideration early in the session are given more time than those left for the end: indeed, it is a preliminary parliamentary maneuver to push off toward the end those one wants least to discuss.

Buckley's Rollicking UN Journal

Buckley's Rollicking UN Journal

Inasmuch as the chairman had made it clear, and the sense of the entire proceeding made it equally clear, that the question now to be debated was the order in which the proposals were to be discussed, not their relative merits, I found myself getting restless at the quite extraordinary lengths to which a wizened delegate sitting thirty yards across from me in the circular committee room was going on and on in expressing his opposition to giving any attention at all to item 57, which called for the creation of the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It happened that the United States position was in favor of a High Commissioner, which was one reason for resenting the speaker’s attack upon it before the subject was up for substantive debate; another reason, it seemed to me, was that so obvious an ignorance of parliamentary punctilio should be exposed very early in the adventures of the Third Committee, before people got into bad habits.  I leaned back to Guy Wiggins and asked him whether he agreed that the speaker was behaving improperly, and he said, yes, indeed he was behaving improperly, though as I thought back on it later, he seemed less surprised than I that people should behave improperly at United Nations committee meetings.  Well, I whispered, why don’t I interrupt, and ask the chairman to direct him to confine his remarks to the chronological question?  Well, he said, sure, why not?  Well — I continued in a whisper — what are the mechanics of an interruption?  he told me that I should tap my pencil on the water glass in front of me: so I did.  The chamber was visibly startled.  A Point of Order, Mr. Chairman . . . and I made it, and managed to use twice the indispensable word in the United Nations — “distinguished.”  by the time I was through, three months later, I found myself referring, at a dinner party unrelated to the United Nations, to my distinguished cocker spaniel.  The object of my pretty little demurral turned to me like the porridge-dispenser to Oliver Twist: a look of curiosity, graduating to indignation, and disdain, followed by a most copious reply, the point being that it is not possible to discuss the chronological priority without discussing the substantive priority — all of it said with relish, leavened with paternalism, and with abundant references to the length and experience of the speaker.  I had, quite by chance, in my first encounter at the UN, run into: His Excellency Jamil Baroody, the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia.

The man was a genius with the English language.  RIP.

Trying to add to the Christmas list.  Thinking these might be cool:

Tagged with: