Wednesday, October 31, 2007
October 30th is the special night devoted to films credited to members of the Hollywood Ten by the Turner Classic Movies cable channel–-by my count, the fourth such program in the past five years or so. This is the sixtieth anniversary of the hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee on Communist influence in the motion picture industry-–in those pre-television days 80 million Americans, more than one-half the population, attended a movie every week. The witnesses refused on First Amendment grounds to answer questions about their alleged Communist affiliations, and the hearings became something of a circus, thanks to partisan committee members and some of the witnesses (whose leftist arrogance alienated many of their anti-Communist liberal supporters in Hollywood). Eight screenwriters, one director and one producer were held in contempt of Congress and imprisoned. The hearings led to a blacklist enforced by the studios, which started with the Ten (one of whom later cooperated and went back to work) and widened during the 1950’s.
The story given over and over again on Turner, and which is beloved of left-wing Hollywood (which also is commemorating the anniversary), is that the Ten were innocent progressives deprived of their constitutional rights at the behest of right-wingers, their careers and lives destroyed. But this is only part of the truth. Read More.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I got annoyed by a off-handed remark somebody made on the radio today--something about the simple, uncorrupted lives of the members of some Indonesian tribe. A little of that goes a long way with me.
It led me to do some casual research on Tacitus--perhaps the first European to indulge in the "noble savage" myth. (To my delight, the first entry to pop up on Google was something written by my friend John Ellis, professor emeritus of German literature at UC Santa Cruz. One of the consolations of middle age is that one has had the time to collect a large number of interesting friends. John is one of those in my collection.) In 1997, he wrote: Read More.
If President Bush really wants to understand today’s Russia, maybe he should spend less time looking Putin in the eye and peer into the eyes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, writes PJM’s Russia analyst Kim Zigfeld. The former tycoon sits in a Siberian prison convicted of committing corporate fraud. When his arrest and prosecution is scrutinized, Khodorkovsky looks more and more like an old-style Soviet dissident. Read More.
Monday, October 29, 2007
To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.
The British parliament’s first avowedly atheist member, Charles Bradlaugh, would stride into public meetings in the 1880s, take out his pocket watch, and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds. God bided his time, but got Bradlaugh in the end. A slightly later atheist, Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would do if it proved that he was mistaken and if he met his maker in the hereafter. He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable. And Jean-Paul Sartre came up with a memorable line: “God doesn’t exist—the bastard!”
Sartre’s wonderful outburst of disappointed rage suggests that it is not as easy as one might suppose to rid oneself of the notion of God. (Perhaps this is the time to declare that I am not myself a believer.) Read More.
Among pint-sized cheerleaders, itty-bitty beauty queens, and in the malls of America, the sassy-sexy look isn't just for teens anymore.
Some say younger girls are going shorter and barer -- taking their cues from characters like the Cheetah Girls, the Pussycat Dolls and the Bratz dolls -- and some observers are saying they've had enough.
Celia Rivenbark, a mom who hit her breaking point with the shrinking fashions, wrote a book called, "Stop Dressing Your Six Year Old Like a Skank."
"The moms are buying it, the dads are buying and maybe on some level the parents think, 'Oh that's cute, that's harmless, that's innocent' -- but I don't think it is," Rivenbank said. "The children are wearing them down."
And psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere warns that how a child dresses as young as age three can have serious consequences.
"You can be doing real damage to your child," Gardere said. "They are forming their taste at a very young age. They can hurt their futures. They can hurt their reputations, their chances for success."
Hollywood now proposes that in a new live-action movie based on the G.I. Joe toy line, Joe's -- well, "G.I." -- identity needs to be replaced by membership in an "international force based in Brussels." The IGN Entertainment news site reports Paramount is considering replacing our "real American hero" with "Action Man," member of an "international operations team."
Paramount will simply turn Joe's name into an acronym.
The show biz newspaper Variety reports: "G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer."
Well, thank goodness the villain -- no need to offend anyone by making our villains Arabs, Muslims, or foreign dictators of any stripe these days, though apparently Presbyterians who talk like Scottie on "Star Trek" are still OK -- is a double-crossing arms dealer. Otherwise one might be tempted to conclude the geniuses at Paramount believe arms dealing itself is evil. Read More.
They call it a documentary. Fred Wiseman it isn’t. Ken Burns it isn’t.
There, on HBO, between the animated "Happy Feet" (PG rated) about the penguin who can’t sing, and Inside the NFL, which I assume is about sports, is an advertisement for prostitution. Work for two years on your back, see a doctor once a week, retire forever.
Right. And I can sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.
I am in St. Louis with my friend Elizabeth, helping her strategize with her brilliant physician client, Dr. Padda, about his new process to help women and men look their best, using minimally invasive procedures. Which is a long way of saying that we’re no prudes, we’re all for sex appeal, but we also have five kids ages 12-17 between us (not to mention six dogs and three cats), and we’re doing something neither of us ever has time to do at home.
We’re watching television, just for fun, in our hotel suite. Maybe a trashy movie, she suggests. Our turkey club has just arrived.
We don’t have a clue. Read More.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The Tax Policy Center has run the numbers to show how different income groups would be affected by the Rangel tax reform proposal compared to the tax law currently on the books. Here is roughly what the numbers (in Table T07-0300) show:
Thus, as a first approximation, the plan increases the progressivity of the tax code by redistributing income from the very rich (e.g., CEOs, hedge fund managers, superstar athletes and actors) to the upper middle class (e.g., doctors, lawyers, congressmen). Link.
- The bottom three-fourths of households, those making less than $75,000 a year, are not much affected. They each would receive a tax cut of about $100 per year.
- The next 24 percent, those making between $75,000 and $500,000, would receive much more substantial tax cuts. Those in the $200,000 to $500,000 range, who are in the 96 to 99 percentile of the income distribution, would get a tax cut of about $3,600 per year.
- The top 1 percent, those making over $500,000, would pay substantially more in taxes. Those making more than $1 million would see their tax bill rise by an average of more than $100,000.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Democrats are losing the battle for voters’ hearts because the party’s message lacks emotional appeal, according to a widely circulated critique of House Democratic communications strategy.
“Our message sounds like an audit report on defense logistics,” wrote Dave Helfert, a former Appropriations spokesman who now works for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). “Why are we defending [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program] instead of advocating a ‘Healthy Kids’ plan?” Read More.
Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”? Read More.
We live in a day when many voices vie for the privilege of telling us about the world of Jesus and the New Testament—the more sensational, the better. From The Da Vinci Code to television docudramas asserting so-called expert opinion on technical biblical subjects, the field is open to anyone peddling a theory. A recent, egregious example was James Cameron's Discovery Channel program telling us that the tomb and burial box of Jesus had been found in Jerusalem. The conclusion of this slick production was that Jesus did not rise from the dead. But what the program lacked was the sort of careful, scholarly work found in James Charlesworth's splendidly edited 740-page volume, Jesus and Archaeology. Read More.
The story of General Petraeus getting accidentally shot in the chest is a case in point. One of his own soldiers had pulled the trigger. Normally, something very bad would have happened to that soldier and his commander. Instead Petraeus sent that soldier to Ranger School, and his Captain (Fred Johnson) was promoted early. In June, I witnessed LTC Fred Johnson helping to restore security and rebuild Baqubah. Fred Johnson is a believer in second chances. Read the rest.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
By now, almost everyone in America has heard of Jena, La., because they've all heard the story of the "Jena 6." White students hanging nooses barely punished, a schoolyard fight, excessive punishment for the six black attackers, racist local officials, public outrage and protests – the outside media made sure everyone knew the basics.
There's just one problem: The media got most of the basics wrong. In fact, I have never before witnessed such a disgrace in professional journalism. Myths replaced facts, and journalists abdicated their solemn duty to investigate every claim because they were seduced by a powerfully appealing but false narrative of racial injustice.
I should know. I live in Jena. My wife has taught at Jena High School for many years. And most important, I am probably the only reporter who has covered these events from the very beginning. Read More.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Baghdad — The Rashid district of Baghdad is one of the most dangerous areas of the country. Violence has plummeted in Rashid over the past months but the area remains dangerous. Meanwhile, reconciliation is occurring and I have been able to witness meetings and results first-hand. Certain areas of Rashid that were previously war-zones already are nearly free of violence. This is a direct result of American-led reconciliation and follow-on. There are immediate consequences for those areas that settle down; they begin receiving support in the form of micro-grants, civil projects, and easy dialogue with the government, and so these neighborhoods are getting a head start on those who lag. On a larger scale this has happened at provincial level: The examples of Kurds up north, and the citizens of Anbar more recently out West, are causing Iraqis to pay attention. Read More.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Christian Sahner, a 2007 graduate of Princeton University, recently took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to criticize his university’s handling of sex. The university administration, he pointed out, sponsors lectures with titles like “The Religious Right’s Obsession with Gay Sex” and has residential advising sessions of “Sex Jeopardy.” But what he found most appalling was “Sex on a Saturday Night,” a mandatory event for freshmen in their first week on campus. Since attendance is compulsory and only one point of view is expressed, some (including not only students, but also parents of new freshmen, and even several members of Princeton’s faculty) have described the program as “coercive,” “indoctrination,” “sensitivity training,” or worse. Read More.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
A burglar in Montgomery chose the wrong family to mess with, literally. Adrian and Tiffany McKinnon returned home on Tuesday after a week away to find that thieves had emptied almost everything the family of five owned, Tiffany McKinnon said through tears.
"Tears just rolled down my face as I walked in and saw everything gone and piles of trash all over my home," she said.
Adrian McKinnon sent his wife to see her sister while he inspected the piles left behind. As he walked back into the sunroom, a man walked through the back door straight into him, Tiffany McKinnon told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Thursday.
"My husband Adrian caught the thief red-handed in our home," she said. "And what is even crazier, the man even had my husband's hat sitting right on his head."
Adrian McKinnon held the suspect, 33-year-old Tajuan Bullock, at gunpoint and told him to sit on the floor until he decided what to do.
"We made this man clean up all the mess he made, piles of stuff, he had thrown out of my drawers and cabinets onto the floor," Tiffany McKinnon said.
When police arrived, Bullock complained about being forced to clean the home at gunpoint.
"This man had the nerve to raise sand about us making him clean up the mess he made in my house," she said. "The police officer laughed at him when he complained and said anybody else would have shot him dead."
Capt. Huey Thornton, a police spokesman, said police arrested Bullock at 2 p.m. Tuesday on burglary and theft charges. He was being held in the Montgomery County Detention Facility on a $30,000 bond.
"The victims were lucky in this case to be able to catch the suspect in the act and hold him until police arrived," Thornton said. Read More.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Rep. Pete Stark of Fremont might have crossed what some are calling "one of the last frontiers" in politics when he delighted atheists this week by acknowledging that he does not believe in a supreme being. Read more.
Anti-Americanism is on the wane at last. All over the world, Americans are being fêted once again as farsighted, liberating heroes.
Al Gore has won a Nobel Peace Prize, an Oscar and an Emmy, the triple crown of recognition from the self-adoring keepers of bien-pensant, elite liberal, global orthodoxy. Michael Moore is treated like a prophet in Cannes and Venice, as he peddles his tales of an America that poisons its poor, sends its blacks off to war and shoots itself. Whenever a loquacious Dixie Chick or a contumacious Sean Penn utters some excoriating remark about the depravity of his or her own country, audiences around the world nod their heads in sympathetic agreement. Bill Clinton, of course, is a god. Though protocol dictates that he may not say things that are too unkind about the country he once led, a nod and a wink will suffice.
It has always amused me that the same people who denounce America as a seething cesspit of blind obscurantist bigotry can’t see the irony that America itself produces its own best critics. When there’s a scab to be picked on the American body politic, no one does it with more loving attention, more rigorous focus on the detail, than Americans themselves. Read More.
Ellen DeGeneres' talk show was put on hold for a day because of her emotionally wrenching dog-adoption drama.
"It's been a long week and a tough week and we decided to take a long weekend and be back on Tuesday," said Laura Mandel, a spokeswoman for Telepictures Productions, which produces "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Read More.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Boom! And down goes the biggest newspaper name of all.
As you may have read, yesterday brokerage giant Morgan Stanley dumped its entire stake -- $183 million worth -- in the New York Times, in which it was the second largest shareholder. Not surprisingly, Times stock immediately slumped, bottoming at a nearly 3 percent drop to $18.28 -- the lowest it has been in a decade. Read the rest.
President Richard Roberts asked for and was granted a leave of absence Wednesday amid accusations of lavish spending at donors' expense and illegal involvement in a political campaign.
The 58-year-old son of the evangelist who founded the school said he would continue in his role as chairman and chief executive of Oral Roberts Ministries, and decried what he said were untrue allegations.
"I don't know how long this leave of absence will last, but I fully trust the members of the Board of Regents," Roberts said in a news release issued by the university. "I pray and believe that in God's timing, and when the Board feels that it is appropriate, I will be back at my post as president." Read More.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
As I thought about Joel Osteen’s new book, Become a Better You, I was reminded of that sad, pathetic little loaf of bread because this book, like that bread, is form without substance. This is Osteen’s second book, and the follow-up to his bestselling Your Best Life Now. Like the previous title, this one features a picture of the smiling pastor on the front cover and offers seven steps to a better life. Like Your Best Life Now much of the book follows this format: “The way to ______ is not to ______. Instead, you need to ______. You might say, ‘But Joel, I can’t do ______ and ______.’ I know it’s hard. Rise to the challenge. Don’t let yourself get beat up or knocked down. God has so much more for you.” And like his previous book, this one is maddeningly repetitive. It is a handful of his sermonettes for Christianettes expanded into 380 pages of mind-numbing repetition. Read More.
Former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D), who lost her congressional seat last year after her publicized scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officer, registered to vote in California -- and is being pushed by some to run for president as a Green Party candidate, the AP reports. Despite McKinney posting a letter on her Web site last month, saying she is not interested in the Green Party nomination, a group called "Run! Cynthia! Run!" is trying to draft her as a candidate in California. McKinney and six other Green Party candidates, including Ralph Nader were nominated by the Green Party Convention in September, and McKinney has yet to remove her name from the ballot.
"'She's got us all guessing, but she hasn't removed her name, and that's a good sign,' said John Morton, a California Green Party delegate, 'I talked to her last week and she said she's very interested but not ready to make an announcement.'" Link.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Gossip is more powerful than truth, a study showed on Monday, suggesting people believe what they hear through the grapevine even if they have evidence to the contrary. Read the rest.
ANXIOUS to create what they call "a global progressive front," Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela are sponsoring projects to underline "the ideological kinship of the left and revolutionary Islam." Read More.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
In a sense this is the beginning of "so much for social liberalism." Many Europeans are liberal long as it does not affect their own country!
North of Berne in an idyllic Alpine valley cowbells tinkle, a church steeple rises, and windowboxes tumble with geraniums. It has always been like this.
But down by the railway station the 21st century is rudely intruding and the villagers of Wangen are upset.
"It's the noise, and all the cars. You should see it on a Friday night," complains Roland Kissling, a perfume buyer for a local cosmetics company. "I've got nothing against mosques, or even against minarets. But in the city. Not in this village. It's just not right. There's going to be trouble." Read More.
Killer-turned-artist Manny Hernandez on the prison where he's finishing an eight-year term: "It's a blessing to be here."
Fellow murderer and inmate Raymond Hall likens it to heaven.
"I love this place," says their warden, Cynthia Tilley. "It's so calm."
They're praising the Carol Vance Unit, founded in 1997 on the outskirts of Houston. It's the oldest of a rapidly growing number of faith-based prison facilities across the nation.
Even as they proliferate, fueled by the fervor of devout volunteers, these programs are often criticized. Evidence that they reduce recidivism is inconclusive, and skeptics question whether the prevailing evangelical tone of the units discriminates against inmates who don't share their conservative Christian outlook.
However, evidence is strong that violence and trouble-making drop sharply in these programs, and they often are the only vibrant rehabilitation option at a time when taxpayer-funded alternatives have been cut back.
Inmates at Vance offer another compelling argument. Unlike many of America's 2 million prisoners, they feel they are treated with respect. They have hope. Read More.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The Vatican has published secret documents about the trial of the Knights Templar, including a parchment — long ignored because of a vague catalog entry in 1628 — showing that Pope Clement V initially absolved the medieval order of heresy. Read the rest.
Friday, October 12, 2007
The malnutrition that afflicts millions of Zimbabweans has reduced the country to a "laughing stock", President Robert Mugabe has admitted.
Distributing equipment to black farmers resettled on land seized from white owners, he said: "We have become the laughing stock because of hunger. We all need to eat, whether you are Zanu-PF or MDC. Let's unite."
Since Mr Mugabe began confiscating farms Zimbabwe has gone from being an agricultural exporter to a country where millions need food aid. He blames supposed Western sabotage for the situation, rather than his own actions. Read More.
A year ago, Muslim clerics wrote to the Pope, disagreeing with his characterization of Islam in a speech given at the University of Regensburg. Today, on that anniversary and coinciding with Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a larger group of Muslim scholars have written another letter to the Pope and "leaders of Christian churches everywhere."
It's a 29-page document this time, densely packed with quotes from the Quran and the Bible, but the simple thrust of it is a call for Muslims and Christians, on the theological basis of our common belief in love for one God and love for our neighbor, to work together for world peace. As the letter states in its opening paragraph:Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
Christian response, so far, has been largely positive. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the more than 70-milion-member Anglican Communion, said the letter's call for respect, fairness, justice, and kindness is "indicative of the kind of relationship for which we [Christians] yearn in all parts of the world."
"The call should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries," he continued, "and I shall endeavor in this country and internationally to do my part in working for the righteousness which this letter proclaims as our common goal."
The Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group for U.K. evangelicals, released a statement saying that "any approach that is seeking to draw different religions into dialogue for the purpose of peace must be encouraged." Still, the statement warned, "genuine and important differences between the two faiths remain."
But more interesting than Christian response, perhaps, will be Muslim response. Of the 138 scholars, some are known to be liberal, according to Dudley Woodberry, professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, but at least one has ties to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. It will be interesting to see what kind of commentary emerges from outlets like Al Jazeera (which hasn't covered the letter online yet at all).
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
After the turning of the tribes in Ramadi and the military defeat of the insurgents in Fallujah, coalition attention could be fully turned on al Qaeda with actionable intelligence. The tempo of intelligence-driven operations is steady and effective. Read the rest.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
A holidaymaker has been left in a coma after becoming the first suspected European victim of a deadly virus.
A holidaymaker has been left in a coma after becoming the first suspected European victim of a deadly virus.
Michael Nicholson, from Livingston, West Lothian, contracted the rare Triple E bug from a mosquito bite in the US, his family said.
It is thought the 35-year-old painter and decorator was bitten while fishing in New Hampshire this summer. Read More.
In my experiences within fundagelicalism, here's the way I've often heard this expressed: "A biblical doctrine of creation is essential to a Christian worldview," someone will say, or "A biblical doctrine of creation is crucial to a proper understanding of the gospel." So far so good. But then this is immediately followed up with something like, "So when people deny a literal, seven 24-hour day creation, they are undermining a Christian worldview (or undermining the gospel)."
But just hold on a minute. Read More.
Monday, October 08, 2007
If Burt Rutan ever read science fiction, he might recognize himself. A strong-willed, technically skilled, maverick spaceship builder with a healthy disdain for bureaucracy and a libertarian streak a mile wide, the 64-year-old Rutan could have stepped from the pages of a Robert Heinlein novel. Rutan first came to fame in 1986 as the revolutionary designer of Voyager, the first airplane to circle the globe nonstop without refueling. No fewer than six Rutan-designed craft are in the Smithsonian’s aerospace collection, including his most famous design to date: SpaceShipOne. In 2004, SpaceShipOne was the first—and so far only—private manned spacecraft to fly above Earth’s atmosphere in a suborbital arc. Read More.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Twenty years ago, televangelist Oral Roberts said he was reading a spy novel when God appeared to him and told him to raise $8 million for Roberts' university, or else he would be "called home."
Now, his son, Oral Roberts University President Richard Roberts, says God is speaking again, telling him to deny lurid allegations in a lawsuit that threatens to engulf this 44-year-old Bible Belt college in scandal.
Richard Roberts is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodeling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter's senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife, Lindsay.
She is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as "underage males." Read More.