Tuesday, August 03, 2010

For Whom The Ball Bounces

Just when you think it can't be done any more perfectly, just when you go and name your list of people who are improbably still alive "Fess Parker Memorial" list (after he who, after dying a few months ago, left the entire world asking the question, "Wait. Fess Parker was still alive?"), just when you make the assumption that nobody could possibly better embody the ethos of that list, something like this happens:
Mitch Miller, record executive and 'Sing Along' host, dies at 99
I'm 41, and I (to the extent I ever thought about him) assumed that Mitch Miller had probably died sometime right around when I was born. Instead, he kicked it yesterday at 99.

I hate to be so fickle, but there's no way I can stand by my previous decision in light of this. Therefore, the I Can't Believe They're Still Alive list shall henceforth be known as the Mitch Miller Memorial "I Can't Believe They're Still Alive List." Unless I find out next week that Sergeant Schultz has just died or something.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Admit It: You Thought Of Me

More and more, when some old famous person that nobody realized was still alive dies, I get people saying to me, "I thought of you when I heard."

So, c'mon, 'fess up. When you heard that Art Linkletter died yesterday, did you think of me? You know you did.

The updated Fess Parker Memorial "I Can't Believe They're Still Alive" list:
  • Doris Day
  • Harry Morgan
  • James Arness
  • Conrad Bain
  • Jack LaLanne
  • Rose Marie
  • Al Molinaro
  • Barbara Billingsley
  • Larry Storch
  • Jane Russell
  • Art Linkletter
  • Don Pardo (still working at Saturday Night Live, no less!)
  • Sid Caesar
  • Jayne Meadows
  • Charlotte Rae
  • Kirk Douglas

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Requiescat In Pace

I see that Paul Gray, bassist for the death metal band Slipknot has died.

That's too bad. He looked like a nice guy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Odds And Ends

  • Now a good couple of years into my 40's, I do not find evidence for my rapidly advancing age wanting. As I often tell people, it's as if around the age of 33 someone hit "fast-forward" on the tape player of my life. If asked when something occurred, I've now learned to fully double every time estimate that pops into my head. If I would guess something happened a year ago, it was two years ago. If I'd guess two, it was four.

    More evidence of age accrued over the weekend. I finally got around to showing my teenage kids the movie Back to the Future. I remember greatly enjoying it when it came out, but I avoided showing it to my kids when they were younger because I recalled a fair degree of profanity and a bit of suggestiveness. Anyway, early in the film, Doc Brown, as he explains to Marty that he's built a working time machine, announces that he's planning to travel 25 years into the future. And a horrific thought occurred to me: that's now. The film takes place (and was released) in 1985. That far-away, unimaginable future is now here. And Crispin Glover's still weird.
  • Something rather unusual happened to my friend and co-worker Jerry Newcombe this week. About four years ago, Jerry co-wrote a humongous, 1200-page book with Peter Lillback of Westminster Seminary called George Washington's Sacred Fire. It's a comprehensive examination of Washington's religious beliefs. Yesterday morning, that book stood at number 479,955 on Amazon’s book sales rankings. Then Glenn Beck mentioned it on his radio and TV programs and urged everyone to buy it.

    Today at Amazon, Jerry's book (as of this hour) sits at number 2.

    Of every book on Amazon.

    Apparently, that's the power of Glenn Beck. I can see now why leftists of every stripe soil their drawers over him.
  • I'm playing fantasy baseball again this year. Today, Andre Eithier, my best player, joined Asdrubal Cabrerra (broke his arm last night), Curtis Granderson (the always entertaining "groin injury"), and Jorge De La Rosa on the disabled list. Instead of dragging it out over a period of days, maybe it would be quicker and less painful if my entire team just ran out in front of a bus.

    Oh yeah, and I also have Jonathan Papelbon, who was on the mound during last night's already-legendary collapse against the Yankees. Thanks for the 54.00 ERA, big J.
UPDATE: Beck had Pete Lillback, Sacred Fire's co-author, on his TV show last night. This morning (as of 10:24am Wednesday morning) it's number one at Amazon.

UPDATE #2: The book is still Number 1 today at Amazon. But they're out of them. The books are in stock here, however, and ready for order.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sorry, Charlie

Since I know you've been dying for me to acknowledge it (get it? Dying for me to acknowledge it? I kill me.), despite being caught up in Butler's NCAA title bid, it did cross my radar that John Forsythe passed on the other day, and thus passed off of my rapidly dwindling Fess Parker Memorial "I Can't Believe They're Still Alive" list.

The updated list:
  • Doris Day
  • Harry Morgan
  • James Arness
  • Conrad Bain
  • Jack LaLanne
  • John Forsythe
  • Rose Marie
  • Al Molinaro
  • Barbara Billingsley
  • Larry Storch
Because the list is getting so small, I feel it's time to add some new names, since there are still lots of people that you'd never guess are still alive. So, please also welcome:
  • Jane Russell
  • Art Linkletter
  • Don Pardo (still working at Saturday Night Live, no less!)
  • Sid Caesar
  • Jayne Meadows
  • Charlotte Rae
  • Kirk Douglas
  • Michael Douglas (Okay, I'm kidding about this one. But have you looked at him lately?)

Monday, April 05, 2010

One Shining Moment

In light of Butler's appearance in tonight's NCAA Championship game (a sentence I cannot believe even as I write it), I thought it would be appropriate to adapt and revise some thoughts I posted here two years ago when the Bulldogs were on a Sweet 16 run and my former Butler classmate Thad Matta was about to coach Ohio State to the Final Four.

In 1987, I left home for Butler University in Indianapolis for my freshman year of college. They had an excellent broadcasting program (which was my interest), and a beautiful, semi-urban campus. It was not, however, a pleasant year. Living in the Ross Hall dormitory, I did my best to dive in and become a Hoosier. The soundtrack for that year was Seymour, Indiana native John Couger Mellencamp's new album The Lonesome Jubilee. I read Season on the Brink and began watching Bobby Knight on television wherever I could find him (since, in addition to Butler, which was small potatoes, you had to pick one of the state's real teams to root for: either IU, Purdue, or perhaps Notre Dame). I took visiting friends and family to the Indianapolis Speedway. The memories now are mostly fond, but for some reason at the time, it didn't take. I liked city, I liked the school, I liked the people, and I've maintained the Mellencamp and Knight devotion up to the present, but...I think I just wasn't ready to be out on my own yet. I was homesick and lonely, and wound up transferring as a sophomore to the University of Missouri-Columbia where I already had lots of old friends from high school (thus beginning my attendance at what became a truly breathtaking succession of colleges and universities).

During that difficult 87-88 school year, one of my lifelines was Butler Bulldog basketball. My roommate and I, and the two guys across the hall [I wish I'd kept up with all of them; they were good guys, and impossible to find now except one who I recently located on Facebook. My roommate's name then was Pete Smith. That should narrow it down to a few million...] had season tickets and went to every game, where we were part of an average crowd of about 500. It was so sparse at the games that we broadcasting majors could just stroll in and plop down courtside and "broadcast" the games into a tape recorder for practice if we wanted--no press pass or clearance necessary.

The Bulldogs played (and still play) in this incredible old-time field house where the championship scene of the movie "Hoosiers" was shot the year before I got there. To this day, it's the greatest place I've ever watched a basketball game. When the team wasn't using it for a game or practice, we'd sometimes play late-afternoon pickup games right on that court; it was open to everybody.

The season I was there, I think Butler finished something like 14-14 playing teams like Wabash, Valparaiso, and Indiana State. I remember one night watching ESPN with my friends (our dorm had just been wired for cable) and getting really excited that they actually mentioned the score for the game we'd just attended. It kind of felt like it might feel if you played ping pong in your basement one evening and later saw Dan Patrick give the score on the air.

Which is why I keep using the word "inconceivable" about this game, even cognizant of that term's potential misuse [thanks to The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."] The Butler Bulldogs are playing Duke for the national championship tonight. Of course, it's unlikely that they will win. Duke is a number one seed and a perennial powerhouse. 4,200-student Butler is the smallest school to reach the NCAA finals in 40 years. But stranger things have happened. Butler's already knocked one top seed out of the tourney, and you don't get to the NCAA finals by merely being lucky. This is a legitimate championship contender. Just the notion of Butler playing in the biggest game of the Big Dance is beyond anything I would have ever let myself imagine.

As recently as a few months ago, whenever my time at Butler would come up in conversation, the usual response was, "Butler? Where's that at?" Whatever happens tonight, Butler will hereafter be a school that's been in the NCAA Final. Now, everybody knows where it's at.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Scroogy Christianity

In our pampered, Western, American lives, rich with comfort and luxury, there is no question that Christians can (and often do) become lazy and complacent. Our concern for the lost and zeal for the glory of God can easily be eclipsed by a passion for keeping the car looking nice, staying up to date with the stuff recorded on the DVR, and planning the next vacation. Our hearts are, in the words of the great Reformer John Calvin, idol factories, producing God substitutes at an alarming rate. There is a fearful danger in this, and the sobering words of Jesus in the Bible should brace us: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21, ESV).

That said, there is an expanding species of glum Christian speaker/teacher/preacher/writer that has risen to prominence in the evangelical world mainly by scolding the faithful. These guys (and I won't name any of them for the moment, though I'm sure you know a few of whom I speak) are reputed to deliver "convicting," "challenging," and even "shocking" messages that specialize in taking the Christian conscience, smelting it into a makeshift pickax, and burying it in your forehead. Such messages ostensibly call Christians to put aside their complacency and be more devoted to Christ. In reality, they merely shoot fish in a barrel.

The kind of scold I have in mind can most easily be identified by his use of guilt. If he tweets, he'll tend to write things like, "1000 people died of starvation today. Hope you enjoyed 'American Idol' on TV." His Facebook statuses usually say things like, "Are you as upset about your neighbor going to Hell as about your NCAA tournament bracket?" If he has a bumper sticker, it's likely to say something like, "So much need, so few care."

If he preaches, he'll tend to load up his messages with ample illustrations of how you just don't care enough. One of this ilk, for instance, recently chastised his hearers for driving expensive cars while so many in the world are in need. It's an easy shot, and most likely amps up the requisite guilt in the hearers, but it's also may be facile nonsense, based on a whole host of unchallenged assumptions. Consider, for instance:

1). The preacher has no idea how much his hearers have also given to missions and charity. [In fact, studies show that the people in his usual evangelical audience are far more likely to have donated--and donated more--than any other group of people.]

2). He's assuming a Marxist, materialist view of the world--that somehow you having an expensive car here is causing something to be taken away from someone else in Guatemala.

3). He's misunderstanding the nature of the wealth to begin with--and coming close to spitting on God's blessing. The Bible assures us that there are dangers associated with wealth, to be sure. But we must also recognize that the material prosperity of the Western world is a direct result of Reformation Christianity, with it's traditional emphases on creativity, free exchange, hard work, and innovation. Are we supposed to apologize for living in a civilization that has reaped God's blessing for operating for much of its history in the way that He designed? Are we to feel guilty that God, who has appointed the time and place of our dwelling, put is in a culture that has benefited from centuries of (admittedly now-waning) Christian influence? Is a preacher who tries to "convict" you about having air conditioning spurring you to godliness, or just scoring a few cheap rhetorical points so you'll feel like something happened?

4). Furthermore, such preachers often fail to answer certain key questions all this should raise, such as, how much affluence is too much? Could you give me a dollar figure? And what about your car, Mr. Preacher? You live here too. You've declared a $100,000 Mercedes to be sinfully extravagant, but what about your $16,000 Ford Focus? How many people worldwide could be fed on $16,000? How much missions work could be done with the money you spent on that suit? In these situations, it's usually your life that's sinfully extravagant, while his just happens to be right at the God-approved level of frugality. The bottom line is that in America, you could always have given more than you did.

While many of the charges of the glum Christian guiltists are based on faulty, unexamined views of economics and motivation, there is also often a cracked theological foundation underlying the whole enterprise.

First, I suspect that the main driver behind such guilt-inducing appeals is a concern about nominal Christianity. And there, at least, the sourpuss killjoy has properly diagnosed a real problem. Our churches are filled with people who don't seem to behave any differently than the world. But while he gets the diagnosis right, the cause seems to elude him, and thus, so does the cure. Much of the nominal "easy-believism" filling churches today is the result of revivalistic evangelism, imported from the 19th century, which equates emotional, one-time professions of faith with actual conversion. Having been presented with a sub-gospel of "Jesus loves you and wants to live in you," it appears that many "Christians" produced by such appeals really do care more about their flat screen TVs and stock portfolios than they do about Jesus. But the answer to that problem isn't "do more!"--it's to repent and believe the gospel.

Another problem lurking a little further beneath the surface is an incipient dualism, also a product of the revivalism. As the downgrade in theology made its way through American evangelicalism during the 18th and 19th centuries (speeded along by many of the unbiblical and pragmatic practices we adopted), the Reformation emphasis on the cultural mandate was almost completely lost. In a robust, biblical, Reformed worldview, the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. All things done to the glory of God in fulfillment of our God-given vocations ("callings") are spiritual, which is why Martin Luther once said that changing a diaper is as spiritual as preaching a sermon. Asked what he would do if he knew Jesus were returning tomorrow, Luther is said to have responded "I'd plant a tree." As revivalistic Christianity came to be more and more about "saving souls," and less about what Luther and the Reformers saw as the Kingdom of God, that which was non-material and churchy came to be seen as truly "spiritual." Evangelism, missions, and church activities came to be seen as "Kingdom work" while the mundane activities of life (i.e. the stuff we necessarily spend most of our days on, like our jobs, our families, our daily chores) came to be seen as worldly (if necessary) distractions. In this way of thinking, which absolutely saturates evangelicalism, only that which directly benefits missions and evangelism is of value. Thus, the "worldly person" is the one who goes to his plumbing job each day in order to feed his family and pay his mortgage. The best value he can hope his work will have is that he might get to share the gospel with someone while on the job, or make some money that can be contributed to missions and evangelism. Meanwhile, the truly "spiritual person" is the one floating above the ether, conveying concepts to minds, preferably working in full-time ministry, and making the plumbers feel guilty about spending 40 hours of their week at work. As a result, evangelical Christianity is a fruitful pasture for the work of the scolds. Most Christians already feel guilty about not doing enough "Kingdom" (i.e. church) work, and this kind of message punches them right in the solar plexus.

Now, to be clear, being more devoted to Christ is a good thing. It's a necessary thing. But that's precisely where my problem with these preachers gets its traction. We could always be more devoted to Christ. There are undoubtedly Christians who need to be shaken out of apathy. But guilt trips like this are too easy because of the basic fact of sin: all fall short of the glory of God. The bottom line in the message of the furrowed scolds is that you're not faithful enough.

Well guess what? You're right. I'm not faithful enough. I fall short of loving Jesus enough. Too often, I'm concerned about my own comfort. And you know something? All that is true of you too, Mr. Evangelist. It's called sin, and you're stuck with it just like I am. Every single one of us falls short in all of those areas. There has never been a single nanosecond where either of us has loved God with our whole heart, mind, and strength.

So now what? Rather than offering the cool refreshment promised by the Gospel, such preachers instead lay guilt upon guilt, chain upon chain, all the while drawing praise for their fearless, "convicting" message of condemnation. But guilt is easy, especially when dealing with a roomful of Christians. [Puffing yourself and some of your hearers us with notions of how much more you care than everyone else is a real danger here as well. You can often spot an immature Christian who has just sat through such a message by his insufferable sanctimony.] A Christian with a properly working conscience will always feel the weight of her own failures in such a message.

Of course, there is a place for a strong message of conviction and repentance, and many of the people who dabble in this kind of guilt-tripping generally have good ministries otherwise. There are those who occasionally take an easy shot at Christians without being characterized by it. But getting Christians to figuratively tear their robes in anguish is just an easy stage trick, like getting the audience to gasp while you appear to be sawing the lady in half. Preaching the gospel is hard. God justifies lazy people? God justifies those who don't love their neighbor as themselves? God justifies people who are sinfully preoccupied with their own comfort? God justifies people who bought iPads with money that could have been given to Haitian missions? That's a message the self-righteous human spirit rebels at. That's scandalous.

Monday, March 22, 2010

And So It Is Done

Not surprisingly, the craven Congress has passed the health care bill, meaning that in just a few short years, your health care will be in the safe hands of the people who revolutionized airport security in the wake of 9/11.

Much has already been said, but a few comments stand out. Perhaps most astute are those of the always-reliable Mark Steyn of National Review Online. The ramifications of this bill are hard to overstate:
If Barack Obama does nothing else in his term in office, this will make him one of the most consequential presidents in history. It's a huge transformative event in Americans' view of themselves and of the role of government. You can say, oh, well, the polls show most people opposed to it, but, if that mattered, the Dems wouldn't be doing what they're doing. Their bet is that it can't be undone, and that over time, as I've been saying for years now, governmentalized health care not only changes the relationship of the citizen to the state but the very character of the people. As I wrote in NR recently, there's plenty of evidence to support that from Britain, Canada, and elsewhere.

More prosaically, it's also unaffordable. That's why one of the first things that middle-rank powers abandon once they go down this road is a global military capability. If you take the view that the U.S. is an imperialist aggressor, congratulations: You can cease worrying. But, if you think that America has been the ultimate guarantor of the post-war global order, it's less cheery. Five years from now, just as in Canada and Europe two generations ago, we'll be getting used to announcements of defense cuts to prop up the unsustainable costs of big government at home. And, as the superpower retrenches, America's enemies will be quick to scent opportunity.
One does not have to be a fan of America's recent military adventurism to recognize that Canada, England, and most of the western European welfare states have been depending on a strong America for their own defense for decades. (Anyone seen a French fighter jet buzzing around lately?) I don't regret the end of the free ride for America's ostensible allies, but I do regret that America will soon be among the simpering, helpless giants depending on some other nation to defend us. (And who will that be? China?)

It has also become clear that, incredibly enough, we have an entire political party in America--indeed, one currently holding the majority--that is almost completely devoted to the killing of unborn children. Lest anyone think this is a partisan statement, let me be quick to add that Republicans, on the main, have been mediocre at best in defending human life. But as the Stupak debacle shows us, the "pro-life Democrat" is now a purely mythical creature. The fact is, as a national entity, the Democratic Party loves it some baby-killin'. Infanticide has become the party's sine qua non. And so we should not be entirely surprised to find God's judgment falling upon us.

Other civilizations have similarly been toppled at comparable points in their histories, and a nation whose sexual proclivities have driven us to require a blood sacrifice to the tune of 50 million human lives can only ask what took so long. Repentance is the only way out, and it takes a mighty strong faith to imagine such a thing having gone this far down the road.

Such repentance will need to begin with the Christians, who frequently look just like the world when it comes to such matters as sexuality and being the recipients of stolen goods via government redistribution programs. The LORD was willing to spare Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found there. Only when Christians, who ought to know better, stop bowing the knee to Baal will the Lord relent from treating us like Baal-worshipers. What we're seeing is Romans 1 in action, and it was promised long ago.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Who Knew?

Fess Parker from "Daniel Boone" has died. To which I say, "Fess Parker was still alive?!?" No way anyone knew Fess Parker was still living.

Parker is so emblematic of the phenomenon captured in my oft-heralded "I Can't Believe They're Still Alive List" that I'm actually going to start calling it the Fess Parker Memorial "I Can't Believe They're Still Alive" list.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sick About Health Care "Reform"

As the health care summit/charade opens today in Washington, a few thoughts come to mind. First is the recognition of what's really happening here when you boil it all down. Undoubtedly, all the incredible minutia is confusing (a fact that the statists use to their advantage), but when all is said and done, it still funnels out to a few basic principles. What kind of country are we going to be?

For much of America's history, liberty was its primary value. Our Constitution set out a cherished set of negative rights: things the government could not do to us. Now, those rights are being stripped away one by one in favor of the newer, progressive notion of "positive rights"--those things that the government must do for me (which, as it turns out, is pretty much everything). Barack Obama has been unvarnished in his view on this. He (now famously) said in a 2001 radio interview:
The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society...[T]he Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf....I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way.
Well, he's found another way. In all the health care debate, know this: whatever else health care reform movement is about, it's about dramatically curtailing liberty.

The other day driving home from work, I was listening to a program on NPR ("where thousands work so that hundreds may listen"). I used to think the reason I arrived home cranky every day from my commute was because of the traffic and horrible South Florida drivers. Now I'm realizing it might be because of my "entertainment" choices. Anyway, this particular program (On Point with Tom Ashwood) was discussing health care, and as expected, they had a balanced panel: one proponent for universal health care from Princeton University, and one proponent for universal health care from the leftist Center for Media and Democracy.

Discussions like this happen all over the place every day, so it's not as if this were a sudden, isolated bolt of insight. I was just impressed by how clearly the matter was stated. It's bald Marxism ("From each according to his ability, to each according to his need")--and predictably on NPR, nobody flinched.

The guest was Uwe Reinhardt, who is a professor at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The snippet begins at 15:25 of the program:
REINHARDT: The problem is that health care in America is very expensive. It's twice as much as it costs in Canada, per capita.

HOST: Mmm hmm.

REINHARDT: And some people, this lady who just called, are simply too poor to be able to afford health care for their families out of their own income, and they need help from their fellow citizens who have more money or who are healthier. And that's really the debate. To what extent do I have to...or should I be...my brother's and sister's keeper with health care in America? All other nations have solved this. They have said, "If I'm healthy, I should subsidize the sick. If I'm rich, I should subsizize the poor." Americans have not agreed. When Senator McConnell says the American people don't want this bill, I am not so sure. Because that lady who just called definitely wants this bill. [Chuckles]

HOST: Yeah.

REINHARDT: There are richer people who need to be asked to the cashier's window, uh, myself included, by the way. Uh, some rich people may not want this bill because they don't want to pay any more.

HOST: But do you think that the plan that went so far in the Senate and then ground to a halt, and now is kind of back, and that's the president's plan...would that control the costs that you're talking about, enough that even if we're sharing...uh...the burden, it would work out?

REINHARDT: Not in the short run. I have said...I've put it in writing...in the short run, say in the next five years, even the Pope couldn't do it. It is very difficult to control costs, because...I always joke and say there's Alfred E. Newmann's equation: every dollar health spending is someone's health care income, including fraud, waste, and abuse. So when you're talking in the business community, when they're talking cost control, they're really talking about controlling the income of doctors and hospitals and pharma and device manufacturers, so you have tremendously powerful lobbyists protecting the income of these providers. It'll take at least a ten year wrestling match between Congress and these, uh, interest groups before you can ever have costs under control...
Read that last section again. In order to get "health care reform," you'll have to get costs "under control." And in order to do that, the federal government will have to begin controlling personal incomes of people in 1/6th of the American economy. Reinhardt later enthusiastically affirmed that the current health care bill is a good first step toward putting us on this road.

And they will get us down that road. Looking over the landscape in the last few days has brought to mind just how pitifully ineffectual the Republican Party has been in opposing the statist, socialistic agenda over the past, oh, 50 years. With Obama's health care reform plan seemingly going down in flames at the time of Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, Republican after Republican could be heard pathetically squeaking about how this was really about "getting a seat at the table" and "having our voices heard." They actually seem to consider it a victory when they can kick a field goal in the other guy's stadium, on the other guy's field, playing by the other guy's rules. By sitting down to "negotiate" the nuts and bolts of the health care bill, they've once again adopted the premise and are now simply sorting out the details.

In 1993 when Bill Clinton came to office, he floated a universal health care plan (Hillarycare) which got eaten alive. But liberals spent the next 16 years pushing the concept anyway. Now, Republicans are willing to have some give and take on it. In another 16 years, complete, universal, socialized health care in this country will be a fait accompli. The shills of the GOP long ago swallowed the statist hook. They've long since conceded the notion that government should be involved in most areas of American life. As a result, all that's left to argue about is how much it's going to cost.

The Democrats want massive government programs and entitlements to bankrupt us to the 13th generation; the Republican "opposition" only wants them to bankrupt us to the 10th. As always, we must reject the idolaters wherever we find them. Statists are idolaters, believing that the government is God and can provide for our every need. And that's true whether they have a D- or an R- next to their name.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Chris Hitchens does today to Al Haig what he usually does to high profile dead folks. While there's much truth in Hitchens' gleeful torching of the corpse--Haig was a notorious schemer and maneuverer even by Washington's standards--it seems to me that Haig ends up yet again wrongly pilloried for his most celebrated incident.

Everyone remembers (or has heard about) the sweaty, bug-eyed, out-of-breath Haig taking to the White House podium in the wake of the shooting of Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, and uttering those now-infamous words:
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him.
The first problem with this, of course, is that it was factually incorrect. Haig, as Secretary of State, was actually fifth in line, constitutionally. After Vice President George H.W. Bush, constitutionally, there was the Speaker of the House (Tip O'Neill), President Pro Tempore of the Senate (Strom Thurmond), and then Haig.

Hitchens sums up the popular sentiment, hardened into history, about the episode:
...[T]his neurotic narcissist seized the microphone and made a clumsy attempt to seize power....nothing could equal that day's performance, which evinced all the sweaty, pasty-faced, trembling symptoms of a weak king or of a slobbering dauphin who could not wait to try on the crown.
Haig, without doubt, had his flaws, and power-hunger was among them. Still, I've always felt that he got a bad rap on this, and that--in context--he actually did the right thing.

What is almost always forgotten about the incident is what directly preceded it. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there was a great deal of confusion. It was not even known that Reagan had been hit for at least half an hour. White House press secretary James Brady had been gravely wounded. That left assistant press secretary Larry Speakes, who was back at the White House, to address reporters in the White House press room.

Vice President Bush was aboard Air Force Two, which was en route back to Washington from Texas. Understandably, with Reagan wounded and the VP in the air, the press asked who was in charge of the country. Speakes, giving one of the most disastrous press briefings in history, answered "I cannot answer that question at this time."

According to the reports of those who were there, Secretary of State Al Haig, the man in the administration charged with keeping the closest eye on the Soviet Union at one the highest-tension periods in the Cold War, watching the disaster unfold on television as Speakes essentially tells the world that nobody seems to be in charge for the moment, shoots out of his chair and bolts down to the press room. I've asked myself, "What would I have done if I were in Al Haig's shoes that day, as the highest ranking person in the White House?" The answer I always come back to is: I would've run downstairs and assured the world that the United States was not rudderless and asleep at the switch. I would've wanted to send the message that someone is in charge here.

Did he argue incorrectly from the Constitution? Yes. Would it have been better if he hadn't? Of course. But if Haig's concern at that moment was that the world see there was someone at the helm (as he maintained ever-after), then he did about the only responsible thing one could do. Read it again, with the context in mind. This is not someone trying to pull off a coup d'etat:
As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course. [Emphasis added]
Haig's press conference can be viewed in the last few minutes of this and continues into the first few minutes of this. (The second bit is interesting in that it is followed immediately by a discussion between Bernard Shaw and Daniel Schorr on the nascent Cable News Network. Schorr, who was about 85 even then, has always been a left wing kook even among journalists. He immediately goes after Haig on the constitutional misunderstanding, saying that "the alacrity with which he fills vacuums has been well-noted." One wonders if this is where the harshly negative casting of the incident in the "conventional wisdom" began?)

Much of the criticism of Haig's life and legacy is deserved. But in his most infamous moment, he was actually doing the right thing where history has immortalized him as doing the wrong thing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Organic Moralism

From Doug Wilson:
When it comes to food choices, I think catholic and eclectic is good -- live and let live, eat and let eat. What I can't abide is moralism about food. In the absence of any word from God on it, it would be wisdom on our part to keep quiet about what we see on the other fellow's fork. But we don't. We legislate for others, and make censorious faces at them. We launch crusades.

In short, a sexually guilty people have accepted as "normal" the most unnatural practices imaginable, and they have then demanded that their food be "all natural." Wisdom is vindicated by her children. This guilt-driven desire has resulted in an entire industry springing up that caters to the deep desire that a morally inferior people have to feel morally superior. That's hard to do, and so there's money to be made there if you pull it off. You have to pick something out at random, and then make people bad for deviating from the new arbitrary norm.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The "Told You So" Edition

A couple of events that transpired this week demonstrated the profound, prescient, and...I don't know--I'm looking for one more "p" word here...pusillanimous?--former nature of this blog, back when I actually used to write it.

First, baby-faced congenital liar John Edwards finally admitted this week to being the father of his former mistress's baby. That should have come as a surprise to absolutely no sentient human being (except perhaps Mrs. Edwards), and should particularly not have been a surprise to any regular Rabe Rambling's visitors. On the day Edwards finally admitted the affair in 2008 (after the National Enquirer got the goods on him while the mainstream media determinedly looked the other way), he was quick to assure us that the baby was not--could not have been--his. I helped you understand that of course it was his baby, and that he was a huge liar:
Elizabeth Edwards' cancer reoccurred in March 2007. Assuming normal gestation, this child would have been conceived in May 2007. If that child belongs to John Edwards, he's the world's biggest cad, and as a politician he knows this. It's over for him. So he claims that the affair ended in 2006....But does that claim withstand even a moment's scrutiny? If the affair ended in 2006 as he claims...[w]hy was he photographed in his former mistress's hotel room holding some other guy's baby?
I also noticed this week that the liberal radio network Air America finally gave up the ghost--just as I said it would, and for the reasons I said it would--on the very day of its launch back in 2004:
The spectacular flop that will be "the liberal talk network" (known officially as Air America Radio) launched moments ago, in case you hadn't heard....you'll want to tune in quickly (if, that is, you happen to live near one of the five enlightened radio stations carrying this insightful commentary). Something tells me it might not be around for long.
Frankly, it's amazing that it was able to limp along for nearly six years. It was non-entertaining, unfunny, and just bad radio. It started bouncing checks only weeks after its debut, and seemed to be in near-constant bankruptcy proceedings. Don't worry, though--it's only a matter of time before media chuckleheads begin claiming that AA failed not because it was terrible radio run by business incompetents, but rather because its target audience was just too darned smart to listen to talk radio anyway.

I also obliquely predicted the death of Artie Lange last year, and while he is still alive, he did try to kill himself a few weeks ago. So I get at least partial credit for that.

Let the lesson be learned: I know stuff. If you wish to know what future months and years hold, just go back and read the archives. And Harry Morgan--I've got quite a track record, so you'd better be looking over your shoulder.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year!

A few notes to start 2010 off on the right foot.
  • It shall henceforth be pronounced "twenty-ten," NOT "two-thousand ten." We had a bit of confusion during the first decade of the new millennium because of those double-zeros. It would have sounded strange to say, for instance, "it's twenty-oh-seven." So we got a bye for the first decade. But that's it. Nobody walks around saying, "I was born in one thousand, nine-hundred and sixty-eight." If we continued along our current pronunciation path, we'd be encumbering future generations with an awful burden. So, henceforth, we are adopting "twenty." Hey, that's the way it was in all the futuristic predictions anyway (e.g. "Why, by the year twenty-thirty seven, people will no longer have saliva but will instead have their food digested for them by specially built androids!") So twenty-ten it is. Your immediate assent and cooperation is appreciated.
  • Please, someone needs to stop Dick Clark. I liked the guy as much as anybody, but it has to stop. It's not getting better--it's getting worse. Retirement's not bad; he can spend the time counting his piles of money. I as much as anyone appreciate his apparent desire to refrain from inflicting the full measure of Ryan Seacrest on us for as long as possible, but things are getting embarrassing. Perhaps the only thing more embarrassing is that I was in front of the TV watching "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve" at midnight on December 31.
  • Since we were in front of the tube, though, I do appreciate ABC's consideration, as my kids got to see Jennifer Lopez in a see-through unitard (though I don't think that's actually why Dick Clark was drooling) and to hear the Black Eyed Peas tell us how bad they want us (ooh, ooh, ooh). Keep it classy, ABC.
  • For Christmas, I received a DVD copy of Collision, the documentary film chronicling series of debates and discussions between vehement atheist Christopher Hitchens and devout Christian Doug Wilson. I highly recommend it. It's thought-provoking and instructive as two of the best champions for their viewpoint slug it out. As in the Christianity Today exchanges that launched the film project, Hitchens repeatedly (and necessarily) avoids answering the question of where he finds the stringent moral standard he urges upon all of us in his writing. As Wilson points out, in the atheistic worldview, there is (as John Lennon famously sang) "above us only sky." Which means, above Auschwitz, only sky. Above Buchenwald, only sky. The bare universe doesn't care whether you help old ladies across the street or run over them, but Hitchens cannot bring himself to write as if this were really true. I recommend the film, and as far as I can tell, Hitchens is pleased with it too (having appeared on numerous programs to promote it after it was completed). It's something most modern "debates" are not: thoughtful.