#BlackLivesMatterToo

I may get “in trouble” for TABWW (i.e., talking about Blacks while White), but I’m gonna do it anyway.

Woman with Black Lives Matter placardIn the wake of the recent, highly-publicized incidents in which a white police officer killed an unarmed Black man (e.g., Michael Brown, Eric Garner) and the subsequent non-indictments of the officers involved, you may have noticed the phrase “Black Lives Matter” being used on everything from protest signs to social media hashtags. As I understand it, it is meant to be a combination reminder and protest that Blacks in America are marginalized and consistently being targeted for brutal (sometimes deadly) treatment by law enforcement and that the white perpetrators often seem to “get away with it.” Moreover, it is claimed that this is a “massive epidemic” and the result of systemic racism throughout the nation and, in particular, within the criminal justice system. If accurate, this is an incredibly serious matter that needs to be investigated and dealt with. If it is a largely inaccurate perception, then the real facts (from reliable sources) need to be communicated to the general populace (not just Blacks) and the reasons for the false perception need to be addressed with patience and sensitivity.

Before long, some people began using the more inclusive phrase “All Lives Matter”, in an effort to take race out of the equation and recognize that police brutality is not just a problem for Blacks. I certainly appreciate the motivation behind such an effort, but not everyone does. Kathleen McCartney, the (white) president of Smith College, did something she thought was compassionate but has earned her national notoriety. When she included the “All Lives Matter” sentiment in a campus-wide email regarding her college community’s “struggle” and “hurt” over the non-indictment of Officer Wilson in the Ferguson case, she was berated for being insensitive to the Black Community. A student at Smith tweeted,

“No, Kathy. Please do not send out an email saying ‘All lives matter.’ This isn’t about everyone, this is about black lives.”

Columnist Julia Craven at the Huffington Post concluded her rant against Ms. McCartney with,

“Police brutality is a BLACK issue…. Telling us that all lives matter is redundant. We know that already. But, just know, police violence and brutality disproportionately affects my people. Justice is not applied equally, laws are not applied equally and neither is our outrage.”

Not wanting to cause any dissension or add to the problem, McCartney promptly issued a public apology, stating she was “unaware the phrase/hashtag ‘all lives matter’ has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people.” According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, she later led a vigil in honor of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.

Honestly, I am of two minds as to whether McCartney really needed to apologize. I obviously disagree that police brutality should be treated solely as a Black issue, even if it is perceived by some as particularly affecting Blacks. But, I also understand that the phrase has been adopted in service of a cause focusing on a particular group, and efforts to adopt a similar but more inclusive phrase could indeed dilute that message. One doesn’t have to fully agree with the message to be sympathetic.

A suggestion, for what it’s worth: Modifying the phrase to “Black Lives Matter, Too” would keep the focus on the Black Community, but it would implicitly acknowledge that non-Black lives are valuable, as well.

However,… since the emphasis is on injustice against Black people and unnecessary deaths of Black people, and they are the ones putting the Black Community in the spotlight, I think it is fair to comment on other aspects of that community in context. Specifically, I would like to see more consistency in the activism on behalf of reducing — even eliminating — unnecessary deaths of Black people due to violence. So, yes, I am going to bring up two very touchy issues that nevertheless deserve attention.

black lives matter abortion cartoonFirst, there is the issue of black-on-black crime. Yes, I know. Many columnists and commentators have brought this up already. And, yes, many in the Black Community have acknowledged that it is a huge problem, though some will get rather indignant that non-Blacks dare to call attention to it. They also point out — and rightly so — that intraracial violence is not solely a Black problem. Of course, we are not ignoring or minimizing the reality of other intraracial and interracial crimes — white-on-white, white-on-black, black-on-brown, brown-on-white, etc. But, it is disproportionately high among Blacks, given that they make up ~13% of the national population, commit nearly 40% of all homicides (when race of offender is known), and comprise roughly 43.5% of homicide victims, with 90% of these Black homicides being committed by Black offenders. (Based on single victim/single offender homicide numbers provided by FBI for 2013.)

Now, my perception is probably influenced by a) my not being part of the communities in question and b) the recent national attention given to specific examples of white-on-black violence (particularly involving white cops) and the local riots and demonstrations that followed. But, it makes me wonder if the attention given to these types of crimes(?) is also unfairly disproportionate to that given to fighting black-on-black crime. After all, many more Black lives — civilians, cops, and criminals — are lost to other Blacks than are lost to (white) cops. I sincerely hope that those crying “Black Lives Matter” in memory of Michael Brown and others are also lending their voices & efforts to the many local rallies and programs sponsored/hosted by churches, community groups, and, yes, local law enforcement, trying to “clean up the streets” and keep kids in school and away from gangs, drugs, etc. In the end, it takes a dedicated community effort in cooperation with police to make a true and lasting difference. (And guys like Jackson and Sharpton don’t seem too interested in black-on-black crime, ‘cuz it doesn’t fit their agenda.) That phrase the activists are using is a pretty broad statement and can be used to cover a lot of problems & solutions.

And, yes, before you ask, I agree that the past and present policies — local, state, and federal — that have contributed to black-on-black crime and associated conditions must be recognized, discussed, and steps taken to help correct them. (Although, we may disagree on what those steps should be and/or who should take them.) At the same time, I hope that the Black Community will recognize and takes steps to counter the harmful contributions made by certain aspects of “urban culture”, as represented by the hip-hop/rap music glorifying all manner of violent, criminal, and immoral behavior.

The second issue, which I will try to sum up more succinctly, is that of abortion, particularly of Black babies. (Note: This is another reason why many on the socio-political left would be against the phrase “All Lives Matter”.) Other columnists and commentators have brought this up, too, and it is well worth addressing. Did you know that the abortion rate is 5 times higher in the Black Community than among whites? In fact, Ryan Bomberger (who is Black) over at Townhall.com points out, among other things,  that 363,705 Black lives are violently slaughtered every year in the name of “reproductive justice”. In comparison, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund touts a list of 76 unarmed, Black individuals who, between 1999 and 2014, have been shot by cops. This averages to roughly 5 per year — not exactly a “massive epidemic”. Each lost life is a tragedy, but clearly abortion is the #1 killer of Black lives, not police brutality. Why aren’t more people upset and marching about this?

With all of that in mind, and assuming the activists want to remain exclusively Afrocentric, what I would love to see is for the catchphrase to change to “ALL Black Lives Matter”, with appropriate national attention added to stopping intraracial violence AND abortion of innocent Black children.

Can I get an “Amen”?

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3D Atlas of the Universe

“My job is to translate the difficulty of science into understandable stories.”  — Carter Emmart, Director of Astrovisualization at the American Museum of Natural History

This is really fascinating!

Carter Emmart has spent the last several years “coordinat[ing] scientists, programmers and artists to produce scientifically accurate yet visually stunning and immersive space experiences in the AMNH’s Hayden Planetarium.” In essence, they have taken huge amounts of astronomical data (constantly being updated) to create a groundbreaking, 3D atlas called “The Digital Universe”. What’s more, it is interactive, and I understand that you can play around with it via the “Exoplanet” app for iPhone/iPad.

In this brief video, you’ll travel from the Himalayas, through our solar system, our galaxy, out to the limits of time and (visible) space, then back again, while stopping briefly to see where several exoplanets are in relation to Earth. This TED talk is nearly 5 years old, so who knows what else they have added since then….

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Aspartame: How Bad Is It, Really?

I make a habit of not drinking anything artificially sweetened with aspartame (aka aminosweet). (In fact, I tend to avoid “diet” drinks in general.)

I remember reading or hearing something many years ago that said studies showed aspartame causes serious health issues, when consumed regularly. In fact, if you follow the various “alternative health experts” (online and offline) and the medical-industry conspiracy theorists, the FDA and the relevant corporations are in collusion to keep the truth from the general public, even though the product is blamed for anything from migraine headaches and obesity to various cancers and neurological disorders. I never really bought into the conspiracy theory, but the supposed health dangers were enough of an excuse not to drink diet soda with aspartame in it. Besides, it tastes nasty!

(typical fearmongering)

(typical fearmongering)

I haven’t really thought much about this for awhile. But, then, a friend posted a link to an article (from 2010) that examined the issue, and it piqued my interest. The author is Steven Novella, who is a clinical neurologist and assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine. He is also a proponent of “scientific skepticism” and executive editor of the Science-Based Medicine blogsite where the article is posted. I point this out so that you know where he is coming from and to establish his “cred” on the topic. Sure, I would disagree with Novella on various other matters (e.g., philosophy and theology). But, when it comes to conspiracy theories and fearmongering about certain medicines and food additives, I identify with much of his skepticism and appreciate his efforts to disprove the conspiracies and allay people’s fears. In any case, I recommend you read the article, but if you haven’t the time, I’d like to highlight a few things from it.

First, a note about the likelihood of a huge conspiracy involving government and the “medical industrial complex”:

“I am not arguing that corporations are all good corporate citizens or wouldn’t dream of sweeping some inconvenient evidence under the carpet. But I am saying that a decades long conspiracy among industry, federal regulatory agencies, the medical community, and multiple research institutions and individual researchers – all under the nose of the press and lawyers looking for big class-action suits – is implausible in the extreme. I am also arguing that we should fairly assess all the evidence, not just cherry pick the evidence we like and dismiss the rest out of hand.”

Great advice.

Here’s a bit more on systematic review vs. cherry-picking of data:

“[Y]ou have to interpret a literature, not a single study. The results of one lab or one study can be erroneous. When decades have produced hundreds of studies on a question, the cherry pickers will always have a lot to choose from. That is why systematic reviews are necessary, and it is also necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of research.”

As it happens, just a few years ago, a study was published which reviewed all of the available evidence regarding aspartame. As with all previous studies going back to the additive’s commercial debut, the review concluded that no evidence supported the claims of serious health risks for humans. Subsequent studies confirmed this. As Novella summed it up,

There is no pattern of evidence to suggest that aspartame causes cancer, autoimmune disease, neurological disease, diabetes, or anything else its critics claim. What legitimate scientific controversy there is comes from the animal data, mostly in rats. Here the evidence for a carcinogenic or genotoxic (causing changes in the DNA) effect of aspartame is mixed and requires careful review. Some effects, such as a dose-dependent effect on renal tumors, are specific to rats and do not translate to humans. Other studies are plagued by significant flaws, such as properly calculating doses (a big issue when trying to extrapolate doses from rats to humans). And still others show flat effects without a dose response curve, suggesting that a confounding factor, and not aspartame, is responsible for any observed increase in tumors.”

So, what about migraines?

“[T]here are case reports of aspartame triggering migraines in susceptible people. Migraineurs frequently have multiple food triggers, and there is a long list of foods known to be potential migraine triggers. This is not evidence for toxicity. So, while evidence is lacking to demonstrate aspartame is a headache trigger, this is not implausible and not particularly worrisome. What I recommend to patients with frequent headaches is to keep a headache diary, rather than trusting to memory (and confirmation bias) to detect real associations. If there is a clear pattern between a potential trigger and headaches, then avoid that trigger.”

Alright. What about obesity? Some theorize that aspartame “dissociates the sensation of sweetness from caloric intake,” so the sweets aren’t as satisfying and people end up consuming more calories to make up for it. (This applies to other artificial sweeteners, too, of course.) According to Novella,

aspartame molecule“At present the question is very much unsettled. It seems that there is no significant metabolic and no demonstrated neuronal effect from artificial sweeteners. However, people who knowingly consume diet drinks do tend to overcompensate by consuming greater calories overall. While studies of substituting aspartame for sugar in a blinded fashion show that calories are reduced, contributing to weight loss.

By my reading, the current summary of available research is that consuming calories in drinks contributes to weight gain and obesity, substituting calorie-free drinks (whether water or diet drinks containing artificial sweeteners) does help reduce caloric intake and aid in weight control, but there is a tendency to overcompensate by increasing other caloric intake. Therefore it seems reasonable to use artificial sweeteners to reduce caloric intake from drinks, but to be careful to control overall caloric intake (so no, putting aspartame in your coffee does not mean you can eat the cheesecake).”

Bottom line, then, is that the oft-proposed conspiracy to hide supposedly dangerous effects of aspartame is highly improbable; and the body of literature about relevant scientific studies, reviewed by many independent agencies and expert panels, reveals decades of support for aspartame being “safe [for humans] at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.”

But, I’m still going to avoid aspartame, ‘cuz it just tastes nasty….

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As Dr. King Spins in His Grave

Joe R. Hicks

Joe R. Hicks

I recently heard a radio interview with a guy named Joe R. Hicks. I really appreciated what he had to say regarding the situation in Ferguson, MO, and the problems within the Black Community that are denied or left unaddressed in such controversial situations. Hicks is an African-American commentator & activist, former Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (founded by Martin Luther King, Jr.), former Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, and current vice president of the L.A.-based political think-tank, Community Advocates Inc. A self-described political conservative with libertarian leanings, he is also a member of the Project 21 black leadership network, which can be found at the website for The National Center for Public Policy Research (nationalcenter.org).

Why haven’t I heard of the National Center or Project 21 before? Why haven’t I heard of Hicks before?!

Anyway, here’s an excerpt of what Hicks said on “The Kelly File” on Fox the other night:

“You heard somebody behind the camera saying, ‘this is justice.’ Somewhere Dr. King is probably… spinning in his grave, if that’s what ‘justice’ looks like. That tramples on the graves of all the old martyrs of the civil rights movement that really did struggle for real things, [against] real racism, real issues they were trying to overcome. And you’ve got thugs, and punks, and hoodlums in the street, and you’ve got somebody saying, ‘this is justice.’”  [Full transcript here.]

Hicks is right! “Justice for who? How?” Since when does committing crimes — vandalism, theft, arson, etc. — constitute “justice” for anyone?

But, this post isn’t just about Hicks or his particular comments. I just wanted to highlight him for a minute to bring him and Project 21 to your attention. There are many other members of Project 21 that are speaking out on the issues of the day, too, which I found on Amy Ridenour’s National Center Blog at Conservative Blog. One particular post by David W. Almasi has several quotes on Ferguson (after the grand jury decision) that I’d like to reproduce for you:

Christopher Arps, local businessman and co-founder of Move-On-Up.org: “You had two types of protestors in Ferguson last night, and neither were peaceful. You had those hell-bent on destruction, looting and rioting.  And you had those out there who were not doing those activities but who were encouraging the looters and urging them on. I was there. To me, they are both guilty of the lawlessness we witnessed last night.”

Dr. Day Gardner

Dr. Day Gardner

Dr. Day Gardner, media host, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union, executive member of the D.C.-based National Clergy Council: “Those rioters in Ferguson really don’t seem to care about Michael Brown’s death.  They refuse to hear all the facts. They appear to just consider this a license to steal and act out. They have burned a Public Storage, Little Caesars, liquor store and more. They are laughing while they destroy their own community -– burning businesses and stealing liquor and cell phones. It’s ridiculous and so sad! All the stores and businesses that have been looted and burned to the ground mean that, as we enter the Christmas season, families are forced out of work. How many residents will be out of work because of the destruction? They will be unable to pay bills or provide for their families. Al Sharpton incited tensions in Ferguson before all the facts were known. He should have waited for the grand jury documents. He is such an embarrassment to the black community.”

Demetrius Minor, motivational speaker and pastoral assistant, former White House intern in the Bush administration, former conservative talk show host: “There was no indictment in. Ferguson for Officer Wilson, but there was an indictment of the conscience of many. Riots and violence proves our nation still needs healing. It’s shameful that the same people who are inciting –- directly or indirectly -– the protests and mob violence in. Ferguson will be quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and praising his message just two months from now. Something needs to be done. Dear 21st century churches: This is your moment. Stand up for morality, but also advocate peace. Speak healing, but also be sensitive. Ferguson needs you. The world needs you.”

Wayne Dupree, internet talk radio host (aka the “News Ninja”), speaker, U.S. Air Force veteran: “Words have meaning. It seems people are too willing to fall into the media’s portrayal of the victim and the media’s own version of the truth. Allowing the media to use words that indicate one’s innocence or guilt is a very slippery slope. There is no innocence or guilt unless proven by law. And Officer Wilson has the law on his side. His life is now destroyed at the hands of a thug who died. Wilson didn’t force the fight. Wilson did what he needed to do to save his own life, but he will never seem to have the same sympathy that have been afforded to the deceased by the media and the mob. Many people saluted Obama for stepping in and asking for peace, but that executive action should have been done earlier. He was too late -– the looting was just beginning. The mob looted a beauty store, burned down a bakery and destroyed Advanced Auto Parts among other businesses. What the Hell! Agitators were angry and they wanted “justice” for Mike Brown, but instead they destroyed innocent business owners’ livelihoods. Where is the justice in that?”

Where, indeed?

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Replacing Boehner and McConnell

“[I]f the Republican Party does not start positively responding to grassroots conservatives, these key activists may bolt the GOP…. If the GOP in Congress will not stand up to Obama, what good is having the leadership positions?”  — Jeff Crouere, media host and columnist at Townhall.com

Boehner and McConnell at podium - flags behindThe recent midterm elections and discussions of “lame duck” bills and executive actions, etc., got me thinking again of who might be good replacements for Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House and for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as Senate Majority Leader. Don’t get me wrong; I like them OK. Sometimes, I like what they say and do, but all too often I find them rather aggravating. Both of them are entrenched, “establishment” Republicans with an apparent disdain for — or, at least, distrust of — Tea Party types, whether over policy (e.g., immigration, taxes, agricultural programs) or strategy/tactics (e.g., whether or not “government shutdown” should even be on the table during budget negotiations) or both. Since I lean toward Tea Party thinking on many things, this attitude by Boehner and McConnell and other GOP leaders troubles me. Plus, as Crouere intimated above, they have not been very effective — cowardly, in some cases — when it comes to countering the administration’s “progressive” agenda.

Unfortunately, Republican majorities in both chambers just recently (re-)elected both gentlemen to their respective positions for the 114th Congress (beginning Jan. 3, 2015) with little-to-no opposition. But, if either should die or resign for some reason, his leadership position would (obviously) become open and a new election scheduled. So, who would be good candidates, if the need arises? (Of course, in 2016 normal elections will force the issue, anyway.) When considering who might fit the bill (pun intended) for these offices, I looked at:

1) Length of time in House and/or Senate. Seniority is a measure of automatic (though limited) respect, but it is also a factor in determining who knows whom and “how things work” in Congress and in Washington, for good or for bad. Plus, it is only natural and fair to not give top leadership positions to relative newbies but to preserve them as “rewards of service” to more senior members. For these reasons, I lean towards those with more years and experience.

2) Memberships (and especially chairmanships) of important committees and subcommittees in their respective chambers. These positions are given out by party leaders, often as rewards (or punishments, depending on the committee) and/or as shows of trust that an individual will represent the party’s interests well. If they stay there awhile, it (hopefully) means they are doing a decent job. (Unfortunately, it can also mean that the person is simply “towing the party line” and doing what they are told, when the party line may have strayed in some areas from what is truly best for the American people.) More to the point, such appointments are a major method by which U.S. Representatives and Senators gain influence and respect among peers and non-peers alike.

3) Lifetime scores on most recent Congressional Scorecards put out by Heritage Action, Club for Growth, and American Conservative Union. These are excellent barometers for the relative “conservativeness” of politicians, since these three groups are known for supporting and promoting consistent conservatism and challenging GOP “establishment” leadership. (Club for Growth focuses on key economic legislation, whereas the other two cover a broader range of issues and may be better overall guides.) Although I would prefer a House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader who rank near the top on all of these lists, I tried not to let that be the driving force in my selection.

4) General sense of how they might do as a leader (e.g., fairness, respect, courage in fighting liberal “progressive” agenda, etc.) and being in the spotlight. This may be the most important criterion. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to go on, other than what I can glean from seeing/hearing each via articles, interviews, press conferences, and the like.

So, after looking at several Representatives and Senators in light of the above criteria, trying to find those with a good balance, who do I suggest? I have three potential candidates for each position:

Speaker of the House first…

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): Franks is my first choice. He has 12 solid years in the House and is considered one of the “most conservative” members of the House by The National Journal. He is a member of several caucuses, including Tea Party Caucus, Liberty Caucus, and International Religious Freedom Caucus. He serves on two subcommittees within the House Armed Services Committee, as well as on two subcommittees within the House Judiciary Committee, chairing one of them. His lifetime scores are: Heritage – 97%; Club for Growth – 98%; ACU – 98.91%.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX): Gohmert is another strong conservative, with 10 years in the House, who is sometimes seen as a thorn in Boehner’s side. He is a member of three caucuses, including the Tea Party Caucus, as well as the Republican Study Committee. He is a member of two subcommittees and a task force within the House Judiciary Committee. Gohmert also serves on two subcommittees within the House Committee on Natural Resources. His lifetime scores are: Heritage – 92%; Club for Growth – 89%; ACU – 96.44%.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): Jordan is another solid conservative and an excellent choice. He has 8 years of service in the House so far, and he chaired the Republican Study Committee during the 112th Congress. He is a member of the House Budget Committee; serves on two subcommittees within the House Judiciary Committee; serves on two subcommittees within the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; reportedly turned down a position on the powerful House Appropriations Committee; and is a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi (chaired by Trey Gowdy). Jordan’s lifetime scores are: Heritage – 93%; Club for Growth – 98%; ACU – 100%.

What do you think? Tom McClintock is a “runner up”, I suppose. He has very good lifetime scores (Heritage – 90%; Club for Growth – 98%; ACU – 98.4%.), but he only has 6 years in, so Gohmert stays. I also really like “young guns” Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Justin Amash (R-MI), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Steve Stockman (R-TX), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), and Trey Gowdy (R-SC), all of whom have very solidly conservative ratings and are gaining “notoriety” as pains in the collective butts of Democrats and establishment GOP alike. However, none of them has more than 4 years’ congressional service, yet. I look forward to seeing them all do a lot of good for the conservative cause and, by extension, for America in the years to come. Eventually, maybe one or more will become Speaker of the House — or, even POTUS.

Of course, the House rules do not demand that the Speaker be an actual member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, not long ago former Speaker Newt Gingrich was nominated for the position. (I wonder if he knew?) Also, although he had just lost his Nov. 2012 bid for re-election, outspoken Rep. Allen West (R-FL) was nominated for Speaker for the 113th Congress by Rep. Gohmert, thereby breaking ranks with GOP leadership (who put/kept Boehner in).

capitol-building-washington-dc - bigAs for Senate Majority Leader, if Jim DeMint (R-SC) hadn’t already taken over as head of the Heritage Foundation, he would probably be at the top of my list. He retired from the Senate after 6 years in the House and 8 years in the Senate with the following lifetime scores: Heritage – 99%; Club for Growth – 100%; ACU – 97+%. He is articulate and comfortable in front of the camera and known for playing fair and by the rules. Normally, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) would be at or near the top of the list, too, given his years in Congress (16 in the House, 18 in the Senate) and experience on various (sub)committees. But, his lifetime scores of 79% and 74% from Heritage Action and Club for Growth, respectively, disappoint me and knock him down a few notches. I didn’t have time to investigate, but if Roberts started out a moderate and became increasingly conservative over the years, then that would be a legitimate reason and enough to put him back in the running. A third Senator I wanted to put on the list was Tom Coburn (R-OK), who currently scores Heritage – 87%; Club for Growth – 96%; ACU – 98%. He spent 6 years in the House and is finishing his 10th year in the Senate. Unfortunately, he is taking early retirement at the end of the 113th Congress, to be succeeded by Rep. James Lankford (R).

There are not many really strong conservatives in the U.S. Senate, right now. Most of those who are are relative newcomers and, therefore, not on the most powerful and prestigious committees (e.g., Appropriations or Finance). Without DeMint, Roberts, or Coburn, options are limited, but here are my three top recommendations (in no particular order):

Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID): Risch is perhaps not that familiar a name, but he has been a U.S. Senator for 6 years, following stints as Lieut. Governor (twice) and Governor of Idaho. He is a member of three subcommittees within the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; serves on four subcommittees within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship; member of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics; and, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. His lifetime scores are: Heritage – 87%; Club for Growth – 90%; ACU – 95.8%.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): Sessions should be a familiar name to those who keep up with the U.S. national political news. He has been climbing the Capitol Building steps for 18 years and is a member of the International Narcotics Control Caucus. He is the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee; member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; serves on three subcommittees within the Senate Armed Services Committee; and, serves on four subcommittees within the Senate Judiciary Committee. His lifetime scores are: Heritage – 81%; Club for Growth – 86%; ACU – 92.24%.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK): Inhofe is another familiar name among the politically informed. He has been a fixture in Congress for 28 years (8 in the House, 20 in the Senate)! He is a member of several caucuses and, though he has dealt with his share of personal & professional controversies over the years, he is the first recipient of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Character and Leadership Award for his character and leadership in public service. Inhofe currently serves on three subcommittees within the Senate Armed Services Committee and is the ranking minority member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. His lifetime scores are: Heritage – 84%; Club for Growth – 93%; ACU – 96.82%.

You might notice the conspicuous absence of Tea Party favorites Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. I like them a lot, and they are all solid conservatives who are making names for themselves as gadflies to the Obama administration and the “progressive” agenda. But, they are also junior Senators with no more than 4 years apiece in Congress. I would not object very strongly if any of them were elected Senate Majority Leader, but, as I said, I generally prefer to see a respected senior member get the honor. On the other hand, someone like Richard Shelby (R-AL) has an impressive record of service (8 years in the House, 28 years in the Senate), serving on several (sub)committees — including chairing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1997-2001); chairing the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (2003-2007); and now a member of six subcommittees within the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee –, but he is way too moderate (Heritage – 73%; Club for Growth – 77%; ACU – 76.46%) for my comfort level. (Compare to McConnell below.)

The downside, then, is that all of these “more senior” Senators are probably considered members of the GOP “Establishment”. I can only hope that, if one was made Senate Majority Leader, he would be fair, strong in the face of adversity from the Left, ready to work more closely with grass roots conservatives, and, most of all, an effective and honorable leader.

P.S.  Just for comparison, here are a few more notables and their lifetime scores:

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): Heritage – N/A; Club for Growth – 83%; ACU – 86.99%. (Note: The Speaker of the House doesn’t normally vote, so his lifetime scores for CfG and ACU are as of 2010. Heritage doesn’t provide one, but it couldn’t have been too high, since he has voted contrary to the Heritage position on almost all of the major bills since.)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT): Heritage – 81%; Club for Growth – 93%; ACU – 94.4%.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI): Heritage – 67%; Club for Growth – 85%; ACU – 90.67%.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): Heritage – 63%; Club for Growth – 81%; ACU – 89.77%.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): Heritage – 49%; Club for Growth – 78%; ACU – 90.43%.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY): Heritage – 72%; Club for Growth – 85%; ACU – 90.16%.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): Heritage – 76%; Club for Growth – 78%; ACU – 83.6%.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA): Heritage – 76%; Club for Growth – 83%; ACU – 92.4%.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ): Heritage – 80%; Club for Growth – 98%; ACU – 95%.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD): Heritage – 67%; Club for Growth – 80%; ACU – 87.18%.

Also, re the Heritage Action scores, average for House Republicans is 62% and average for Senate Republicans is 64%. Pitiful.

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Three Legislative Acts Ripe for Bipartisan Passage

“[W]e can surely find ways to work together on issues where there’s broad agreement among the American people.”  — President Barack Obama, post-midterms news conference (11/5/2014)

A lot of the news these days is filled with talk about Obamacare (Grubercare?), immigration/amnesty, net neutrality, and climate change. But, I don’t feel like wading into those messes. There’s no way any of them will be “resolved” by the end of the year, so I’m not even going to suggest it. Instead, I wanted to focus on three other areas of public interest that I think can be productively addressed during the Lame Duck Session by passing bipartisan bills.

Of course, President Obama would still need to sign them into law. Neither Party has enough votes in the Senate to override his veto on their own, but they could if they worked together. If Obama was “smart” — pragmatically, strategically –, though, he would get behind them. Well, imho, that is. Not that I want to see him (or any Democrats) get credit for doing anything actually good for the republic, thereby distracting from the mountain of negatives he/they have done. But, on the other hand, the benefits of passing the below bills would, I think, outweigh the downside of the Left getting some positive press. (Heck, the MSM praises them no matter what, anyway.)

So, here are my suggestions:

Keystone XL pipeline expansion1) Approve Keystone XL Pipeline

Now, this one has gotten a lot of press over the past week or so, since it figures into the runoff election coming to Louisiana early next month. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) really needs a push to help keep her seat against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), so she’s revived her promotion of the pipeline. Landrieu isn’t the only Democrat who realizes what a boon this would be for her state and every state involved and the nation as a whole. (Or, at least, they realize their constituents are for it.) In fact, in the ninth & latest vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill (252 to 161) approving the federal government to proceed with Keystone expansion plans. Now, Landrieu has convince Harry Reid to have an up-or-down vote in the Senate this week on the Hoeven-Landrieu bill, which would green-light the Keystone project. There are at least 11 Dem supporters in the Senate, so it just may go through.

As Christine Rousselle of Townhall.com reminded us a few days ago,

“The Keystone XL pipeline is widely approved by members of both parties, as well as the general public. The Senate has already voted in several non-binding measures to approve the pipeline, but President Obama has final say about the project’s approval.”

The White House has implied continued reluctance on the part of the President, primarily tied to environmental concerns. But, multiple studies/reviews have determined that the pipeline poses minimal environmental risk to soil, water, wildlife, etc., and negligible climate impact. So, Mr. President, what’s the problem?

2) Fix Dodd-Frank

We are all familiar with the “too big to fail” doctrine. This is the idea that certain banks and other firms are too big and important to the economy to let fall into bankruptcy, so they are bailed out (with taxpayer money) by the government. This encourages risky behavior and gives government officials authority to choose who to help, thereby typically saving the least efficient and most troubled firms. (Does that make sense?) In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act was the primary piece of regulatory legislation that was supposed to end this practice. Unfortunately, the extensive Dodd-Frank regulation appears to have made matters worse.

In a recent piece for The Heritage Foundation, Norbert Michel explains why and offers a few suggestions to Congress (as summarized by the NCPA):

  • Repeal Dodd-Frank entirely. The law “expanded the federal safety net for financial firms,” says Michel, only making future crises — and subsequent bailouts — more likely.
  • Use bankruptcy law for large institutional failures, not Title II, and allow them to wind down their affairs like any other company through the typical bankruptcy process.
  • Don’t allow the Fed to make emergency loans to private firms.
  • Permanently shut down Fannie and Freddie.
  • Eliminate the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which Michel calls “wholly incompatible with the functioning of a dynamic private capital market.”

If wholesale repeal of the act is deemed impossible, Paul Kupiec suggests three steps to at least improve it:

  • Raise the threshold for oversight.
  • Eliminate the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to designate nonbank firms as “systemically important financial institutions” (SIFIs), which leads to greater supervision from the Federal Reserve.
  • Reform the “living will” requirement.

For a fuller explanation, see Kupiec’s article at the Wall Street Journal, “Three Easy Fixes to Dodd-Frank”.  (Or, if you don’t have access, check out the NCPA summary here.) I’d like to think we could get bipartisan congressional buy-in for some or all of these changes, and it would be a feather in the cap of all involved. Chances would be stronger once the new Congress is sworn in, of course, but doing it this Nov./Dec. would give another win to the outgoing legislators. I wonder what the President would think….

3) Repeal/Neuter ‘Common Core’

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It was supposed to ensure consistent standards across the states and prepare students for college or, at least, basic employment. It had bipartisan support both in Washington, D.C., and among the public, though much of the push seemed to be from the Left (e.g., President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Forty-four states plus the District of Columbia adopted the Common Core standards & materials.

As time has passed, though, its “shortcomings” in content, structure, and administration have become glaringly obvious to more and more people. Criticism of the initiative, in part or as a whole, have come from politicians, policy analysts and think-tanks, teachers’ unions and educators, civil rights groups, etc., as well as thousands of parents, and it crosses party lines. Several states have since voted to repeal or replace Common Core, while others are moving to at least review and possibly revise. (Keep the good and throw out the bad, right? Are states actually smart enough to do that?!) Even the phrase “Common Core” has become divisive in some places.

protestors against Common Core“[I]t’s not surprising that we find, as people get more aware of the details and as implementation begins, that there are problems that arise and that give people a chance to think about whether they are as supportive as they were when this first started.”  — Michael Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University

“[S]upport will continue to drop as people no longer see the standards or standardized tests as helping children. They, like many teachers, see them instead as setting up public education for failure.”  — Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

OK, so this one may not seem like a matter for the U.S. Congress and the President to address. Indeed, most of the decisions regarding adoption, repeal, or replacement of Common Core standards are in the hands of state board members, legislators, and governors. However, I see at least one way Congress could discourage participation. (There may be others.) Participation is incentivized by the Race to the Top contest, in which states vie for financial funding from the federal government (via the ED Recovery Act), based on how many children each state has and the degree to which the states adopt the common standards. If the U.S. Congress were to change the rules and/or defund these awards/grants, the states would have to decide whether sticking with the controversial Common Core program was still worth it.

Perhaps they should start over with a “clean slate”, come up with an agreed upon minimum set of standards, so that they have some common ground and can do comparisons, and leave the rest up to the individual states to decide for themselves? (Of course, I also think that educational institutions of all levels should not be reliant on — and, therefore, beholden to — the federal government.)

“The failed promises of No Child Left Behind account for Americans’ skepticism about the federal government’s role in public education, and Common Core is viewed through that lens.”  — Bill Bushaw, chief executive officer of polling firm PDK International

I honestly think the above three measures could be win-wins for both parties, including the President, even if somewhat reluctantly approved by some. It would show the American public that our leaders in Washington can actually come together, set aside ideological bickering, and pass bipartisan solutions for the benefit of the nation, her citizens, and their children. I think it rather unlikely this will happen, but a boy can dream….

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Don’t Screw It Up!

Though some of you may have already read your fill, I feel obliged to write some commentary on last week’s elections in the U.S. So, I’ll begin with the obligatory summary of election results:

Party of Old White Meno  Not only did Republicans maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, but they gained at least an additional 10 seats. As of this writing, the overall count is 182 Dem, 244 Rep, with 9 still undecided (6 leaning Dem, 3 leaning Rep). This will be the largest majority in the House since 1928.

o  So far, the GOP picked up 7 seats in the Senate, giving them the majority. Current overall count is 44 Dem, 52 Rep. Two more seats are still in play, with Dem leading in one, and the other (Louisiana) poised for a December runoff. The final two are held by 3rd parties. As Newt Gingrich pointed out,

“In two midterms, the President may have cost the Democrats more seats in the U.S. Senate than any president since Harry Truman.”

o  At the state level, gubernatorial elections handed two more governorships to the GOP’s existing majority. Current overall count is 17 Dem, 31 Rep, with the Democrat leading in one outstanding race and a 3rd-party candidate leading in the other.

o  Republicans made significant gains in other state seats, as well. In fact, come January they will have more state legislators than ever in the 160-year history of the Party. As per Guy Benson at townhall.com,

“GOP will field majorities in 69 out of 98 partisan legislatures (Nebraska’s state legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan). For those keeping score at home, that’s 70 percent of all legislatures. And that’s with Republican governors presiding over nearly two-thirds of all states.”

o  Some supposedly “safe” seats were flipped from Blue to Red. There were also several close races (including in my home state of Florida), and the Republicans pulled off some amazing, even surprising wins in Purple-to-Blue states like Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

o  Though many Democrats deny it, this was indeed a “shellacking” — or a “red tsunami”, if you prefer. But,… as others have pointed out, this was NOT so much a pro-Republican “message” from the people as it was a rejection of President Obama’s policies and of Democrats who have supported (and mimicked?) them. People are waking up to the fact that progressive liberal policies are failing the country, failing them. Many simply voted for “the other guy”, in hopes that s/he would do better. Or, as John Hawkins titled a recent column, “GOP Leaders Shouldn’t Forget That They Won Because Obama Sucks, Not Because They’re Great”.

Originally, I was going to call this article/post “Surprised, Very Happy, Not Ecstatic”, because… that’s how I felt about election night. Still do. I was going to take Speaker Boehner to task for saying this is “not a time for celebration.” (Of course, it is!) Then, I was going to agree with him that:

“It’s time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy.”

I was going to acknowledge that the GOP Senate still doesn’t have a two-thirds majority, which it would need (without Dem or Ind assistance) to convict on impeachment, change Senate rules, or override presidential veto. It doesn’t even have the 60 votes it will need to end Democrat filibusters. But, it does now have the simple majority necessary for just about everything else. Plus, with Harry “Gridlock” Reid out of the way, the new Republican Senate Majority Leader, as chief strategist (and spokesperson) for the majority party, will be able to make committee appointments, help establish a legislative timetable, and direct debate. In short, s/he can begin by bringing those 350+ House-passed bills out of limbo (i.e., Reid’s desk) and get the Senate working again as a deliberative body — and that’s precisely what Mitch McConnell has promised to do.

Unfortunately, as I was also going to point out, McConnell — who will presumably be re-elected by his peers as majority leader — is a solid member of the Republican establishment. He has historically not been favorable to Tea Party members or their more conservative (and constitutionally principled) ideas. Nor is House Speaker Boehner. At times, they have been downright antagonistic. In my opinion, they really do need to listen to the more conservative members of Congress, if we are going to have a real chance at stopping and reversing the damage done by the progressive liberals. The President talks about “working together”, but we all know that he has no such intentions of doing anything other than continuing to push his radical, “progressive” agenda.

Republicans of all stripes must come together with a workable, sensible platform of solutions to address the topmost concerns of the American people: the economy (e.g., jobs, taxes, regulation, energy), national security (e.g., immigration, military preparedness, foreign policy, anti-terrorism measures, ebola), and government (e.g., size, overreach, spending, corruption).

In the more immediate timeframe, there are, of course, the next two months of “Lame Duck Session”. Until the new Representatives- and Senators-elect take office in January, the current lineup remains, and Obama can likely count on Sen. Reid to back up his power-plays and stonewall any Republican legislation. Based on what Reid and the President himself have said, Democrats are expected to try to slip a lot of stuff in under the wire — everything from government funding (to avoid shutdown) to “executive amnesty” for millions of illegal aliens to measures on defense/military, internet taxes, and renewal of the terrorism risk insurance program.

zombiesOn top of this, I was going to bring up the potential “zombie” threat. No, not those sort of zombies. This refers to House and Senate members who were defeated in Tuesday’s elections or are retiring from office and how they might vote on critical budgetary and national security matters during the LDS. (Thanks to political commentator/columnist George Will for the term.) As per the McClatchy-Tribune, former Senator Jim DeMint and other conservatives worry that these “politically walking dead with nothing to lose… could go rogue and actually vote their conscience.” Said DeMint,

“With no electorate to appease, the newly politically ‘deceased’ members have no incentive to restrain their baser urges to feast upon the hard-earned tax dollars of the living.”

A recent Mercatus Center study found that lawmakers do indeed behave and vote differently in lame-duck sessions. According to Matthew Mitchell and Emily Washington, two of the study’s three co-authors,

“For legislators who are retiring or have been voted out of office, a lame-duck session is a unique opportunity to ignore the wishes of special interests, campaign donors, other legislators and party bosses. Only as lame ducks can they freely vote as they wish.”

I should point out that this works both ways, since a Democrat may want to vote more moderately but normally feels pressured to vote hard-Left. On the other hand, these “zombies” were only found to be 3-4% less likely to vote along party lines. And this assumes they even show up, since members of Congress in general are more likely to be absent for votes during lame-duck sessions — Representatives by 50%, Senators by 30%. Other than to pass a (hopefully reasonable) resolution for funding the government after Dec. 11, I’d be happy if they just stayed home for the rest of the session.

On the other other hand, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, isn’t too worried.

“I think there are a few things you can do that the next Congress won’t do dramatically differently,” Blunt told reporters this week. “As long as you have a Republican House, I don’t think senators need to be overly worried about what a lame-duck Senate is going to do.”

But, I’m not gonna talk about all that. ;)

Oh, wait… Looks like I already did. Alright, I’ll wrap it up with a plea to our GOP leaders in Washington and throughout the nation:

“The Party won big this time, and you are to be congratulated. But, don’t rest on your laurels. Now, the real work starts, and there’s a lot to do. The majority of the American people are incredibly frustrated with the way this country is headed, and the President isn’t the only problem. YOU guys & gals in Congress are! One of your job priorities needs to be (re)building trust among your constituents on all levels. You can do that with wise and honorable leadership.

To the old guard, I say ‘This is your opportunity to show that you can take the bull by the horns and do what must be done. Use your power of the purse to put a halt to the ‘progressive’ agenda, for cryin’ out loud, including what has already been passed (e.g., Obamacare) and what is sure to come up (e.g., “executive amnesty”). Don’t be afraid to play hardball, as long as you don’t play dirty, and stick to the principles and direction of the Constitution. And, definitely, do not let the Executive Branch get away with usurping anymore of your authority! In fact, you should look into getting back what has already been taken.’

To the new guys/gals coming in, ‘Your victories are commendable, but, as Han Solo once told Luke Skywalker, “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.” Remember, you ran on conservative issues like Obamacare repeal, balancing the budget, stopping amnesty, and challenging the Washington establishment. Don’t forget, don’t get complacent, and don’t allow yourselves to be bullied. Those of us who put you in office expect you to do what you promised, defend the Constitution, and champion its principles. Do that, and you will have our gratitude and our support.’

Compromise on some details is sometimes acceptable; compromise on principles is not. Now, all of ya… go do some good, and don’t screw it up!”

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An Introduction to Atheist Delusions (Part 2 of 2)

“With impressive erudition and polemical panache, David Hart smites hip and thigh the peddlers of a ‘new atheism’ that recycles hoary arguments from the past. His grim assessment of our cultural moment challenges the hope that ‘the Christian revolution’ could happen again.”  — Richard John Newhaus, former EIC at First Things

Continuing from last week, I am citing selections from the “Introduction” to David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (2009, Yale University Press), winner of the Michael Ramsey Prize in Theology. Here, Hart gets to the, er, heart of why he wrote the book….

The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne - by Carracci (1597)

The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne – by Carracci (1597)

“My chief ambition in writing [this book] is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in [its original] setting: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred upon the human person; its subversion of the cruelest aspects of pagan society; its (alas, only partial) demystification of political power; its ability to create moral community where none had existed before; and its elevation of active charity above all other virtues.

Stated in its most elementary and most buoyantly positive form, my argument is, first of all, that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilization, whether convulsive or gradual, political or philosophical, social or scientific, material or spiritual, there has been only one — the triumph of Christianity — that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution”: a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good. To my mind, I should add, it was an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, aspiration, or accomplishment in the history of the West. And I am convinced that, given how radically at variance Christianity was with the culture it slowly and relentlessly displaced, its eventual victory was an event of such improbability as to strain the very limits of our understanding of historical causality.”

Wow!

“There is also, however, a negative side to my argument. It is what I suppose I should call my rejection of modernity — or, rather, my rejection of the ideology of “the modern” and my rejection, especially, of the myth of “the Enlightenment.” By modernity, I should explain, I certainly do not mean modern medicine or air travel or space exploration or any of the genuinely useful or estimable aspects of life today; I do not even mean modern philosophical method or social ideology or political thought. Rather, I mean the modern age’s grand narrative of itself: its story of the triumph of critical reason over “irrational” faith, of the progress of social morality toward greater justice and freedom, of the “tolerance” of the secular state, and of the unquestioned ethical primacy of either individualism or collectivism (as the case may be).

I want in part to argue that what many of us are still in the habit of calling the “Age of Reason” was in many significant ways the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value; that the modern age is notable in large measure for the triumph of inflexible and unthinking dogmatism in every sphere of human endeavor (including the sciences) and for a flight from rationality to any number of soothing fundamentalisms, religious and secular; that the Enlightenment ideology of modernity as such does not even deserve any particular credit for the advance of modern science; that the modern secular state’s capacity for barbarism exceeds any of the evils for which Christendom might justly be indicted, not solely by virtue of the superior technology at its disposal, but by its very nature; that among the chief accomplishments of modern culture have been a massive retreat to superstition and the gestation of especially pitiless forms of nihilism; and that, by comparison to the Christian revolution it succeeded, modernity is little more than an aftereffect, or even a counterrevolution — a reactionary flight back toward a comfortable, but dehumanizing, mental and moral servitude to elemental nature…. The central concern of what follows is the early centuries of the church, but I approach those centuries very much from the perspective of the present, and I return from them only to consider what the true nature of a post-Christian culture must be. Needless to say, perhaps, my prognostications tend toward the bleak….”

Ouch! Tell us what you really think, Dr. Hart!

The Seven Acts of Charity - by Caravaggio (1607)

The Seven Acts of Charity – by Caravaggio (1607)

“What, however, animates this project is a powerful sense of how great a distance of historical forgetfulness and cultural alienation separates us from the early centuries of the Christian era, and how often our familiarity with the Christianity we know today can render us insensible to the novelty and uncanniness of the gospel as it was first proclaimed — or even as it was received by succeeding generations of ancient and medieval Christians. And this is more than merely unfortunate. Our normal sense of the continuity of history, though it can accommodate ruptures and upheavals of a certain magnitude, still makes it difficult for us to comprehend the sheer immensity of what I want to call the Western tradition’s “Christian interruption.” But it is something we must comprehend if we are properly to understand who we have been and what we have become, or to understand both the happy fortuity and poignant fragility of many of those moral “truths” upon which our sense of our humanity rests, or even to understand what defenses we possess against the eventual cultural demise of those truths. And, after all, given how enormous the force of the Christian interruption was in shaping the reality all of us inhabit, it is nothing less than our obligation to our own past to attempt to grasp its true nature….

At a particular moment in history, I believe, something happened to Western humanity that changed it at the deepest levels of consciousness and at the highest levels of culture. It was something of such strange and radiant vastness that it is almost inexplicable that the memory of it should have so largely faded from our minds, to be reduced to a few old habits of thought and desire whose origins we no longer know, or to be displaced altogether by a few recent habits of thought and desire that render us oblivious to what we have forsaken. But, perhaps the veil that time draws between us and the distant past in some sense protects us from the burden of too much memory. It often proves debilitating to dwell too entirely in the shadows of vanished epochs, and our capacity to forget is (as Friedrich Nietzsche noted) very much a part of our capacity to live in the present.

That said, every natural strength can become also an innate weakness; to live entirely in the present, without any of the wisdom that a broad perspective upon the past provides, is to live a life of idiocy and vapid distraction and ingratitude. Over time, our capacity to forget can make everything come to seem unexceptional and predictable, even things that are actually quite remarkable and implausible. The most important function of historical reflection is to wake us from too complacent a forgetfulness and to recall us to a knowledge of things that should never be lost to memory. And the most important function of Christian history is to remind us not only of how we came to be modern men and women, or of how Western civilization was shaped, but also of something of incalculable wonder and inexpressible beauty, the knowledge of which can still haunt, delight, torment, and transfigure us.”

And that was just the opening salvo, if you will. Intrigued? Challenged? Annoyed? I was (though, mostly the first). I can hardly wait to delve deeper, as Hart lays waste to the typical “new atheist” assaults on Christianity with an informed, thoughtful, and articulate gentility, while also reminding believer and non-believer alike of the importance of studying history and learning from the lessons of the past.

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An Introduction to Atheist Delusions (Part 1 of 2)

“Few things are so delightful as watching someone who has taken the time to acquire a lot of learning casually, even effortlessly, dismantle the claims of lazy grandstanders.”  — Stefan Beck, New Criterion

If you thought from this post’s title that I was going to enumerate several “delusions” of the “new atheists”, then I am afraid you were mistaken. However,… what I am going to do here is cite the bulk of Dr. David Bentley Hart’s “Introduction” to his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. (So, you see, my title, while slightly open to misinterpretation, was quite literal.) In the book, Hart does indeed expose and correct such delusions. But, this post is meant merely to spark your interest.

Cover to *Atheist Delusions* bookI found Hart to be quite eloquent and honest in his self-examination and exposition. In introducing his work and explaining his method and purpose in writing, Hart touches on several things that I could identify with and echo (in my small way) as a blogger and apologist-in-training who sometimes addresses the same or similar issues. From receiving unreasonable demands for “proof” to being accused of supporting historical atrocities (however they may be misunderstood or misrepresented) to simply being called an anti-science dolt, Christian theists can get pretty frustrated trying to carefully articulate their case before individuals who often don’t take the time or have the patience to listen and give fair consideration. (This, despite their supposed dedication to truth and/or reason.) Hart’s focus is on defending historical Christianity against… well, I’ll let him explain it.

The citation might seem a bit lengthy (and part 2 is even longer), but I couldn’t bring myself to cut anymore out than I already did. I hope you find it illuminating, challenging, something you too might be able to appreciate, or perhaps only “interesting”, but hopefully more than merely entertaining.

“Perfect detachment is impossible for even the soberest of historians, since the writing of history necessarily demands some sort of narrative of causes and effects, and is thus necessarily an act of interpretation, which by its nature can never be wholly free of prejudice. But, I am not really a historian, in any event, and I do not even aspire to detachment. In what follows, my prejudices are transparent and unreserved, and my argument is in some respects willfully extreme (or so it might seem). I think it prudent to admit this from the outset, if only to avoid being accused later of having made some pretense of perfect objectivity or neutrality so as to lull the reader into a state of pliant credulity….

This is not to say, I hasten to add, that I am in any way forswearing claims of objective truth: to acknowledge that one’s historical judgments can never be absolutely pure of preconceptions or personal convictions is scarcely to surrender to a thoroughgoing relativism. It may be impossible to provide perfectly irrefutable evidence for one’s conclusions, but it is certainly possible to amass evidence sufficient to confirm them beyond plausible doubt, just as it is possible to discern when a particular line of interpretation has exceeded or contradicted the evidence altogether and become little better than a vehicle for the writer’s own predilections, interests, or allegiances….

Such honesty costs me little, as it happens. Since the case I wish to make is not that the Christian gospel can magically transform whole societies in an instant, or summon the charity it enjoins out of the depths of every soul, or entirely extirpate cruelty and violence from human nature, or miraculously lift men and women out of their historical contexts, I feel no need to evade or excuse the innumerable failures of many Christians through the ages to live lives of charity or peace. Where I come to the defense of historical Christianity, it is only in order to raise objections to certain popular calumnies of the church, or to demur from what I take to be disingenuous or inane arraignments of Christian belief or history, or to call attention to achievements and virtues that writers of a devoutly anti-Christian bent tend to ignore, dissemble, or dismiss….”

anti-theist quotes by "new atheists"“Some of the early parts of this book concern the Roman Catholic Church; but whatever I say in its defense ought not to be construed as advocacy for the institution itself (to which I do not belong), but only for historical accuracy. To be honest, my affection for institutional Christianity as a whole is rarely more than tepid; and there are numerous forms of Christian belief and practice for which I would be hard pressed to muster a kind word from the depths of my heart, and the rejection of which by the atheist or skeptic strikes me as perfectly laudable. In a larger sense, nothing I argue below — even if all of it is granted — implies that the Christian vision of reality is true. And, yet, the case I wish to make is intended to be provocative, and its more apologetic moments are meant to clear the way for a number of much stronger, and even perhaps somewhat immoderate, assertions….”

Yeah! What HE said!

Stay tuned for part 2, when Hart discusses the true impact of the “Christian Revolution”. He also lays a smackdown on “the ideology of ‘the modern’” and “the myth of ‘the Enlightenment’.” Good stuff!

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Celebrating 5 Years of AVftR (plus a Top 10)!

This month marks the 5th anniversary of the maiden post for “A View from the Right”. I can hardly believe it has been that long! That first post was the beginning of a 9-part series called “What’s So Bad (or Great) about Obamacare?”, and it was my first attempt at writing anything of the sort. Sure, I had done a bit of creative writing in school, status reports and system documentation in the workplace, etc. But, up to that point, I had never tried to write any sort of “article” for an online (or offline) publication. Not even a guest post.

Calvin and Hobbes - concise writerIt took a little while, but I eventually found my “voice” — a tone and style that I was comfortable writing in. I might vary in the degree of levity, and some posts are slightly more didactic or authoritative in tone, I suppose. But, overall, I try to remain fairly informal, writing as a “fellow traveler”, sharing knowledge and encouraging thought on various important topics involving science, politics, and religion. I have even received a few compliments on my writing from regular readers, and I very much appreciate the encouragement!

Sometimes, milestones like this are a time to shake things up. But, while I will be looking at a few minor things I might do over the next couple months or so (e.g., maybe a new plug-in or something behind the scenes; possibly new links in the blogroll), I probably won’t be changing much. (However, if you think the blog could benefit from some functionality that it doesn’t have, let me know via the About page, and I’ll consider it.) I’m very happy with the blog theme, so no changes there, unless the creators update it for more color/design variations. The themes and schedule for my posts will remain as is, too. After all, it seems to work for my readers and me — which reminds me…

BIG SHOUT OUT TO MY READERS, ESPECIALLY THE REGULARS! Your taking the time to read my compositions — and, hopefully, leave a thoughtful comment — helps make the agony of the writing process more tolerable! Muchas gracias!

I’m not a political analyst, historian, theologian, scientist, or journalist, and I’ll never have the skills, insights, or depth of knowledge that (usually) come with those professions. But, I’ll do my best to continue providing valuable information and my (semi-)informed, mostly rational “view from the right”, as well as a fair dose of humor, on important matters of the day. (And, maybe a few not-that-important.) I hope you’ll
join me! Bring a few friends with you, okay?

Now, if you will allow me, I would like to suggest some posts that you may not have read, yet. Those of you who have been following the blog for a few years will probably recognize most of the titles. But, whether you never got around to reading them or you are relatively new and never saw them, I have selected a “Top 10″ list (unranked) for you to check out. (I confess, though, I cheated a little by linking to the first parts of multi-part posts, with hopes that you’ll continue reading the rest of the series.) It’s hard to pick one’s favorite “children”, but these are definitely among those that I am most pleased with. I hope you enjoy them, too!

“Top 10 Things Liberals Have Taught Me about Myself” (4 parts, written tongue-in-cheek)

“You know, sometimes you just need someone else’s perspective. Another viewpoint to explain reality to you and show you things about yourself that you never knew. Things that even your friends won’t tell you, or don’t know. Heck, they’re probably guilty of it, too, and don’t even realize it. Let me give a few examples of how my eyes have been opened….”

“The Right to Judge Others” (2 parts)

““Don’t judge me!” How many times have you heard that? When said seriously, the person’s tone is usually quite defensive. They don’t want someone else telling them that they are behaving in a bad, foolish, or ethically questionable way…. Should we never be allowed to form an opinion about other people and things, let alone pronounce them to be in some sense “bad” or “wrong”?”

“Rants and Reflections on the Election(s)” (2 parts)

““AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!” That was my response (posted on Facebook), give or take an “R” or two, to the 2012 Election results. Actually, that was my second FB post. My first was, “Crap on a stick! I’m so depressed.” But, that’s not quite right. I’m very disappointed, obviously. And a bit morose. But, really, I’m angry. So, here goes the rant…”

“Christian Mass Murder Through the Ages” (2 parts)

“Sometimes, I can’t help myself. I mean, people make spurious claims and ridiculous accusations against God, Christians, “the Church”, etc., all the time. Usually, I let it go. Can’t be constantly getting into long, drawn-out internet debates ALL the time, after all. But, sometimes, I just have to say something. And, so it went the other day, when a FB friend of a FB friend, amidst generally mocking comments, claimed that Christians were responsible for “lots of mass murders.””

Bible and DNA helix“Can You Accept “Revealed Wisdom” and Still Be “Scientific”?”

“Once upon a time, I had a brief but interesting discussion with a religiously-agnostic relative.  “Huh! You consider yourself ‘scientific’?”, he asked. I could hear the condescension in his tone. Suspecting where this was going, I asked, “Why don’t you think I am (or can be) ‘scientific’?” His response was very telling: “Because you believe in ‘revealed wisdom’.””

“Exposing the NAKED Truth”

“Earlier this week (er, I guess it was last week, now), a FB friend shared the following post: “Good morning american FB family, here’s something you should know about. You may be familiar with the Smoothy drinks from a company called NAKED that’s owned by Pepsi. Well, it seems that the contents of these drinks aren’t as all-natural or non-gmo after all. Naked has just agreed to settle a 9 million dollar class action lawsuit for false labeling….””

“No “Real” Christians?”

“A non-believer offered the following comment: “There’s no such thing as a real Christian these days. Christians I’ve come to find are the MOST judgemental and hypocritical people on the planet.. Hearing Christians talk has literally made me look into Muslim faith…. [T]he bible says you should act a certain way. 99.9% of Christians completely ignore what their holy book tells them. That book you’re supposed to live by, right?” This was sad, because far too many Christians are judgemental and/or hypocritical. It was also frustrating, because not all “Christians” are true followers of Jesus and because what constitutes “judgemental” and “hypocritical” is, you might say, up for debate. Also, skeptics often speak from (partial) ignorance….”

“The Pro-Life Position: Just One Question” (not numbered, but technically Part 1 of a series of 4 posts (as of this writing) beginning with “The Pro-Life Position”)

“The abortion controversy is not a debate between those who are pro-choice and those who are anti-choice. It’s not about privacy. It’s not about trusting women to decide. It’s not about forcing one’s morality. It’s about one question that trumps all others.”  — Scott Klusendorf, Life Training Institute

“The Matter of American Exceptionalism”

““American exceptionalism” is the notion that says the United States of America, as a nation, is “exceptional” both in the sense of being very unusual and in the sense of being special and, yes, better at some things or in some areas. I suppose one might say that it is the collective “Spirit of America” that makes it superior. Grounded in its founding ideals, this spirit has led to America’s economic success and ability to be a huge force for good in the world…. This exceptionalism is not dependent upon what others, here and abroad, think or feel about America, its history, or current events. It is not based upon popularity. It simply… is.”

“Living on a Razor’s Edge” (3 parts, despite the first one saying ‘(Part 1 of 2)’)

“Scientific discoveries over the past couple decades have been revealing just how amazingly, finely tuned the universe is; and, if things were just a minute bit different in any one of a multitude of conditions, we wouldn’t be here. Nor would any other living creature. The degree of precision needed for this balance is incredible! And this fine-tuning begins with the very fundamental forces and physical constants of the universe. For instance, …”

Honorable mention: The “Informal Logic 101″ series, which has a page of its own linked at the top of this one (and every other page).

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