Saturday, April 30, 2005

It's easy to miss
little stories like this, but CNN.com points out the end of an era.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Round-Up
There are several articles that I wanted to recommend today, so I thought I'd put them all in one post. I might try to add more later in the day, but we all know I rarely get around to such things. In the meantime, enjoy.

As the old saying goes, if they're shooting at you, you must be doing something right.

Is Bush actually an egghead? I think there's some sense to this, because, as E.J. Dionne points out:

One of the central characteristics of the Bush presidency is a profound commitment to theoretical notions, nurtured in think tanks and ideological magazines, and a relentless -- yes, even principled -- commitment to pushing them regardless of the facts or the consequences.
If that isn't evidence of eggheadism, I'm not sure what is.

James Barnes thoroughly considers the prospective 2008 presidential candidates.

Daniel Henninger addresses the links between the death of the Fairness Doctrine (thank you Ronald Reagan) and the rise of conservative thought. In retrospect, the Fairness Doctrine probably would have died with the rise of the internet anyway—after all, would you expect me to create a Running for the Left segment for this blog? Still, Reagan certainly accelerated the process by at least 15 years, and there are compelling reasons to believe that conservative thought has seized the public because of its ability to spread without limitations. One could claim that the Fairness Doctrine favored liberals because their arguments are better, but I think there currently exist more conservatives with the ability to express their politics in a compelling (and profit-winning) way. When not forced to find a liberal who can be just as interesting, conservatives have more ability to spread their ideas.

Better late than never
I read this good, little piece earlier in the week and don't know why I never linked to it then. It tells a story from Pope Benedict XVI's past that, I think, reveals one of the best sides of the Catholic Church. Take a look.

Boola Boola
In a piece about why Harvard continues to get regular news coverage, despite the fact that no on one really cares, Michael Steinberger offers this taste of reality:

Take politics. Harvard has long prided itself on being an incubator of political talent, and for good reason: It has educated seven U.S. presidents, more than any other university. But only two Harvard graduates have been elected president in the past 45 years, and one of them, the current occupant of the Oval Office, holds a Harvard MBA. By contrast, four of the six most recent presidents earned degrees from Yale, and two Yalies squared off in the past election. Moreover, for Democratic office-seekers at least, a Harvard education, with its suggestion of Eastern privilege and liberal elitism, is probably more a liability than an asset nowadays.
Reminds me of a BC cartoon I had a while back. It shows a character looking at "Wiley's Dictionary," discovering that the definition of "Yale" is "the Ivy League school with a lock on the presidency."

Harvard sucks, Princeton doesn't matter.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

So why bother asking them?
Ready for a healthy dose of elitism? Well, ready or not, here it comes.
James Taranto points to an article in the New York Times under the headline 'Survey Finds Many Have Poor Grasp of Basic Economics,' because it begins:

With Washington considering whether to strengthen Social Security by giving Americans more responsibility for their own retirements, a survey released yesterday suggested that the typical American does not know enough about economics to prosper in such a system.
Taranto comments:
To see why this argument is faulty, consider an analogous one: Most Americans don't know much about medicine, therefore the government should control health care. Or: Most Americans don't know much about journalism, therefore the government should control the press.

Americans who don't understand economics don't need the government to make their decisions for them. There are people in the private sector with the expertise to help them make their decisions. But apparently Mary Williams Walsh has never heard of accountants or financial planners.
I think he's absolutely right, but I think there's another important issue at play, and with it comes the elitism I mentioned above. Many on the left continue to point to the poor polling numbers that Bush's social security plan continues to receive as a reason why said plan should be defeated. But, if this survey shows that the public isn't qualified to make that judgment, maybe we should do the opposite for their own good? At the very least, such surveys of public opinion shouldn't determine the way political leaders vote on the issue.

Also, I'd have to say that this survey is born out pretty solidly by another recent NYT piece. I'm referring here to (alleged) economist Paul Krugman's monday column, in which he says:
According to John Snow, the Treasury secretary, the global economy is in a 'sweet spot.' Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a 'Bush boom.'

Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is 'only fair' or 'poor.' And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.
First off, a survey of public opinion cannot be used to establish economic facts—well, unless we're talking about consumer confidence or something similar. Krugman is effectively claiming that the economy cannot be in good shape because American people do not believe it to be so. Setting aside that we now know the American people most likely lack the qualifications to make such determinations, it seems that Krugman fits among that survey population, since he seems to think that the opinion of the economy inherently represents the true nature of that economy, which it really, really doesn't.

Heh.
A little joke at the expense of Chris Matthews.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Heh.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Punctuation Notes
This is good to know. I've been wondering about it for a while, though I had previously failed to find a source. If you read back through RFTR archives, you'll see that I have regularly reworded sentences into severely awkward structures to avoid having an interrogative sentence end with a declarative quotation. Additionally, when I'm IMing people, I tend to use the quote, send the message, and then add the punctuation in another message—thereby making it look like a typo instead of uncertainty. Vain, eh?

Now I know, however, that my instinct was right, and I will adjust my behavior accordingly.

They may not all be
but this is one dumb Canadian:

Despite two tries, she forgot the words to the U.S. anthem and then left to get the lyrics. When she returned to the rink, she slipped on the carpet covering the ice and plopped on her back before a Quebec Coliseum crowd of 7,166.
After lying motionless for a few seconds, the 24-year-old Canadian left on her own and the game began without either [the Canadian or US] anthem sung.
Yikes.

Personal Reactions
Here's a neat little story I came across, outlining the way the members of the Vatican press corps are reacting to John Paul II's death. It's touching in a strange way. Check it out.

In God We Trust
Michael Barone takes on the "America is becoming a theocracy" meme in a great US News & World Report piece, reprinted by RCP. He explains:

But whether the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy is actually a silly question. No religion is going to impose laws on an unwilling Congress or the people of this country. And we have long lived comfortably with a few trappings of religion in the public space, such as "In God We Trust" or "God save this honorable court."
and goes on to state: "The real question is whether strong religious belief is on the rise in America and the world."

In answering that question, he explains:
In the 2004 presidential exit poll, 74 percent of voters described themselves as churchgoers, 23 percent as said they were evangelical or born-again Protestants and 10 percent said they had no religion.

This is in line with longer trends [...] the religions and sects that have grown are those that make serious demands on members. Those that accommodate to secular critics and make few demands decline in numbers. The Roman Catholic Church continues to grow in America; the Assemblies of God and the Mormon Church grow even faster. But mainline Protestant denominations, which spend much effort ordaining gay bishops or urging disinvestment in Israel, lose members.
I don't know if this analysis is accurate or not—I don't have access to the polling data that he uses. More than that, I'm biased because my own faith pulls me in this direction. Still, you can sense this inclination to a more strict faith in the words Peggy Noonan wrote in her 1994 book Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness:
The central problem for Catholics who have returned to the Church in the past decade or so is the continuing surprise that the Church they left has disappeared. The Church of the fifties and sixties, the Church of certitude and confidence, is gone. In its place is a more open and less stern thing, a less mysterious thing, too. I miss the mystery; you could almost see it in the old days in the dark, shadowed corners and the candles flickering below saints with imploring hands. Now we have big airy suburban churches that look like Dulles Airport, bright, clean and arid, no shadows, few saints, little battery-operated candles in case some grandma needs to light one. (If only priests new that one of the ways parents get little kids to come to church is by promising them they can light a candle at the end.)

And still Catholics come. What a testimony to the power of faith.
I'll admit, I'm biased to this sort of thinking. I'm an Episcopalian, and have been my whole life. When my faith began to mean something to me—Palm Sunday of my senior year in high school, if you want specifics—I was actually sitting in a Catholic Church in Florida. I had been wrapped in a profound struggle with the tenets of Christianity for about a year. Effectively, I'd been looking at the Gospels and thinking "yeah, right." The whole thing seemed like science fiction to me. How could anyone actually believe that this guy was beaten and executed, and then rose up three days later after conquering death for all people of faith (or faith and works if you believe the Catholics)? It seemed quite clear to me that the whole thing had been made up by men who wanted to control the behavior of other people. Sure, there was probably an historic figure named Jesus who inspired a lot of people to follow his message, but his story had been coopted at some point by men seeking power. Makes sense, right?

So, I kept going to church, singing in the choir, and taking part in my church youth group, but I was mostly just going through the motions. It's hard for me to remember now when exactly this started, but I think it lasted about a year and a half. I believed in God the whole time, I just couldn't accept Christianity as I saw it.

Then, four years ago, as I said, I was in Florida. I was there with my swim team for the YMCA National Swimming Championships, and it just happened that the event caused us to be there over Palm Sunday (we actually flew home and got in at around 3 AM on Easter). There were a few religious people in our group, and it was Palm Sunday, so we made sure to go to a service. Most of the religious in the group were Catholic, and the rest of us were something relatively close to Catholic, so we went to one of those "big airy suburban churches." I was amazed at this place. They ran four or five services, back-to-back every Sunday morning, so you could show up at just about any time you wanted, stay for an hour, and get in a full service. It was ridiculous to me. People came in and out constantly, staying their hour, doing the service out of order, and then left. Meanwhile, the collection plates were passed approximately every 20 minutes. It all seemed so silly and superficial—people going through the motions, not really contemplating what was going on or why they were there.

And I began to pray. I still don't know why. I got on my knees and I began to pray. I asked God to open my heart, to help me consider the whole thing one more time. Basically, I made Him a deal: either show me why I should be a Christian, or I'm ditching the whole thing. After growing up an unquestioning Christian, when I finally questioned my faith, I had some serious doubts. I'd spent the past year trying to resolve those questions without any success. So, in that Catholic Church in Florida, I asked God to show me the truth.

I'd like to tell you that I had a vision, or heard a voice from heaven. I'd really like to tell you that God showed me the meaning of life. In all honesty, nothing spectacular happened. I sat back and listened to the Gospel and the following sermon, took communion, and left with my group. But in between that prayer and getting into the van to return to our motel, despite its invisible nature, a small miracle occured. I began to believe for the first time in my life. And it felt good.

It didn't really change my life much at first. I finished out my senior year without any real difference in behavior. I worked Sundays that summer, and though I remember getting up early to go to church first a few times, it was hardly every week. I went to Yale, and again, I went to church every few weeks. Despite this renewed belief, religion didn't really seem to be appealing to me. Then I went to Christ Church.

Christ is a very high Episcopal Church. The building itself is neo-Gothic. The nave and chancel are separated by a traditional Catholic lattice, adorned with ornate carvings and a huge cross at the top. The service is all smells and bells, Rite One, in the best traditions of Anglo-Catholicism. Finally, I found a church where I feel at home, where I feel God.

All of this is a long way around saying: maybe there's a reason why "the religions and sects that have grown are those that make serious demands on members."

Like I said, I'm biased in that direction. My own faith followed this path. I also surround myself with people who adhere to the strict traditions of faith. I read Cacciaguida and Peggy Noonan—both traditionalist Catholics—for precisely this reason. My close friends are, by in large, either Catholic or high Episcopalian like I am. My girlfriend is Anglo-Catholic as well. But I feel a strong pull in that direction. When my faith awakened, it was in a Catholic church—even if it was one of the more modern variety. I finally feel comfortable in a church that holds to strict tradition. Maybe the reason behind this is that God doesn't expect us to lead simple lives. We aren't supposed to be hedonistic and overly inclusive, taking the Unitarian approach and saying "if you think it's right, it must be ok." Grace is available to everyone, but that doesn't mean it comes easily. I believe very strongly that man is justified through faith alone, and that faith is granted by God, but also that faith manifests itself through behavior. We are supposed to show God the same respect and love that he shows us, and be grateful for the help and support granted to us by his saints and angels. We are supposed to restrict our own behavior in life accordingly, and ask His forgiveness when we screw up. And yes, that might even involve going to Church every once in a while. And yes, that might involve upholding the traditions of one's own church instead of choosing a leadership who's willing to compromise with modernity.

I recognize that I'm beginning to ramble, so I'm going to cut myself off now. My basic point, though is pretty simple. Barone looks at the politics and the polling data, and sees that religions with more strict adherence to traditional restrictions on its membership have broader appeal than those that do not. I think he's probably right, but I think it's important to consider the possibility that this isn't just about aesthetics and politics, but perhaps it has more to do with the nature of faith itself. Maybe we aren't just talking about political preferences here, but a less-tangible effect: the will of God as expressed by His communication with His followers the world over. Maybe we are drawn to stricter Churches because He wants us there. Maybe, just maybe, Ratzinger was the choice of the Holy Spirit.

After all, maybe Benedict XVI has it just right in this sentence from CNN.com: "Pope Benedict XVI has revealed he prayed to God during the conclave not to be elected pope but that 'evidently this time He didn't listen to me.'"

The Democratic machine, alive and well in New Haven
Take a look at this piece from Friday's Yale Herald, profiling the way Dan Weeks was driven down by machine politics in the elm city. Despite it's at times terrifying prose, the article does a fairly decent job of outlining how Weeks got screwed by a machine that has dominated New Haven for decades. It's important to keep this in mind as Mayor DeStefano runs for government—he has lived his entire life under this system, and would likely have no qualms about trying to bring it to the state level.

Full disclosure: Weeks is a close friend of mine, and though we disagree on just about every issue of public policy, I respect him a great deal and really regret that he was so mistreated in his recent bid for office.

More evidence
that anything less than total gun confiscation is pretty much ineffective, from the New York Times, via InstaPundit. The NYT says:

Despite dire predictions that the streets would be awash in military-style guns, the expiration of the decade-long assault weapons ban last September has not set off a sustained surge in the weapons' sales, gun makers and sellers say. It also has not caused any noticeable increase in gun crime in the past seven months, according to several metropolitan police departments.
Glenn adds:
The ban was symbolic legislation, designed to bolster the media profiles and direct-mail efforts of gun control lobby groups, while building momentun for eventual complete gun confiscation (something that some gun-control enthusiasts admitted, and others unconvincingly denied). It failed at that, and in fact succeeded mostly in costing the Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches.
The NRA has been extremely damaging to its opponents in a lot of districts throughout the country. How many times have you watched a Democrat make sure to get television coverage of his hunting trips to keep the NRA happy? How many other issues have presidential candidates condemning the incumbent for allowing the law in question to lapse but making sure to avoid voting himself?

As far as the complete gun confiscation plans go, the people supporting that idea were never realistic. There are a lot of gun owners in this country who would never have approved of that idea. Furthermore, there are many out there like me: people who don't own any guns but will never allow the gun control lobby to so blithely disregard the intention of the Founders of this nation.

UPDATE [4/25/2005 - 6:43]: More from JustOneMinute.

We're Back
Senior thesis was in on time on Friday. Celebration was appropriate Friday night. Sleeping almost the entire weekend (literally) was amazing. And now, we can resume our regurlar blogging schedule.

Sorry I stayed away so long. I'll try to make up for it this week.