Monday, May 30, 2005


As Halberstam discusses the major historical figures of the 1950s in his recent book, one wonders if anyone came from a reasonably functional family. Not being a psychologist I am not sure how far one should go in rating dysfunctionality, but the following people were reared in families that faced some serious pressures: Whittaker Chambers, Robert Oppenheimer, Douglas MacArthur, Eugene Verkauf, Lucy and Desi Arnaz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Tennesse Williams, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, Elia Kazan, Jack Kerouac, Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Emmett Till, Elvis Presley, Ozzie Nelson family, "Daddy" King, Marilyn Monroe, . . .[I am not yet finished].

I wonder how the list would have grown if Halbertam had made this the goal of his book. Some people were made stronger by difficulties while others, and they appear to be in the majority, seem like lost souls looking for meaning and purpose.

Friday, May 27, 2005


The nation's dumbest drivers are in the East. And all these complaints I hear about drivers in Longview--Texas isn't even in the bottom ten! . . .I know, it is #33, but it could be worse--it could be Rhode Island or Massachusetts. Maybe it is a red state, blue state thing.


This is not a post attempting to resolve the stem cell battle. However, I was troubled by a statement made on the American Family Association web page :
Senator Specter apparently wants a place on your wall. Here's why he shouldn't get the chance.

Pick your poster child: Arlen Specter, bald from chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's disease, saying that he is Exhibit A for embryonic stem-cell research ... or those cute little kids in the AP photo with this caption: "President Bush appeared at the White House with babies and toddlers born of test-tube embryos, some wearing shirts that read 'former embryo.'"

I don't know how many of you have seen Senator Specter in the recent senate debates on judicial appointments, but he is bald as a result of his battle with cancer. My heart goes out to him irrespective of his political positions. Senator Specter is not well-liked by conservatives and the religious right because of his many disagreements with them. However, I hate to think that "older" suffering people are to be intentionally brushed aside by images of vibrant, healthy children, especially by a Christian pro-family lobby. An older person's plight should be as great a concern to Christians as an embryo or "cute little kid." Picking a poster child--it smacks too much of eugenics and Social Darwinism.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"The Rage and the Pride"

I just saw that an Italian judge is taking Orianna Fallaci to court for presumably anti-Islamic statements made in her book The Rage and the Pride published in 2002 (a French judge had done this a year or so ago). I think Rod Dreher in an NRO comment summarizes her attitude and role best in a 2002 assessment: Fallaci, a lifelong Leftist, lacerates Europeans for cheap anti-Americanism, and holds up the confident and decent patriotism of American citizens as something that shames the faux-sophisticates of the continent, whose ancestors used to know what love of country was. Fallaci is at her best tearing into the "masochists" of Europe, whose sentimental and self-hating worldview "reveres the invaders and slanders the defenders, absolves the delinquents and condemns the victims, weeps for the Taliban and curses the Americans, forgives the Palestinians for every wrong and the Israelis for nothing." Fallaci accuses them of having lost the confidence in the superiority of Western ideals, art, laws,
and customs over Islamic counterparts, and of not wanting to face the reality of jihad, for fear of having to do something about it.
What has struck me most in the debate over Bush's middle east policy is the number of left-wing, liberal, and even socialist critics like Fallaci who sound more critical of what some have called the Old Europe than many American conservatives. While their numbers are still small, these left secularists see serious problems in contemporary Islam and their views are seldom reflected in the American media.

Muslims have been critical of Fallaci's ilk because what they say or write is, in Muslim opinion, not reflective of Islam. However, people of any religious faith need to be able to accept criticism from secularists or people of other faiths. Closed totalitarian religious systems are as evil as manipulative totalitarian political systems. The criticism may be entirely wrong and even based on cynical or perjorative motives, but any criticism can give us insight into what we believe and why we believe and allows us to ourselves as others do. In the words of that great Scottish poet, Robert Burns: O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as others see us. It wad frae monie a blunder free us, An' foolish notion, What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, An' ev'n Devotion.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Who is an Evangelical?

On the news this weekend I heard Father Richard John Neuhaus referred to as an "evangelical" by a news correspondent commenting on contemporary American politics. Well. . .Father Neuhaus is obviously a Roman Catholic, although at one time he was a Lutheran. Have Roman Catholics suddenly become Evangelicals? Will I be hearing references to Father Jerry Falwell? I will admit terms like evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, and pentecostal are somewhat slippery, but I assumed an evangelical would not emphasize the importance of church tradition vis-a-vis Holy Scripture and of course most evangelicals, at least those I know and have read, are not ready to accept the Immanculate Conception or the doctrine of papal infallibility. And I assume most Roman Catholics are not ready to accept sola scriptura, sola fide, or sola gratia. Well, who is an evangelical? Is it any Christian who voted for or supports George W. Bush and his programs? However, I know a number evangelicals who did not vote for Dubya or have ever even supported most of his programs (most polls put the figure in the 20% range). Maybe Religio-Con would be a better way to lump those Christians from a variety of denominations or religious belief systems who appear to vote along more conservative, Republican lines.

However, I am not even sure self-identified evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, and pentecostal Christians always understand their own distinctives, since many of the past battles between these groups no longer seem to be part of contemporary religious life or as strident as they used to be. Few contemporary evangelicals are going to make as big an issue of glossolalia as they might have 30 years ago and pentecostals seem to have made peace with their more free-living, pink-shirt wearing, hair-dyeing charismatic brothers and sisters. Maybe there is a place for a broader term that shows the unity among more conservative Christians irrespective of church and belief system identification, but I am not sure it should be the word evangelical. After all if I call myself an evangelische Christian in Germany, I am just seen as a generic Protestant which does nothing to clarify the distinctives of those Protestant Christians in Germany who would hold a more literal view of Scripture.

I still like some of those old definitions when life was simpler--such as an evangelical is a fundamentalist with a christian college education or that a charismatic is a pentecostal who has joined the country club. I am not sure the media would understand these nuances. . .

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Vision Thing

I am finally reading David Halberstam's The Fifties. In discussing Bill Levitt and his post-World War II mass housing construction projects for GIs, Halberstam compares Bill Levitt with his brother Alfred: "Alfred looked at the Hempstead land and saw a lot of potato farms being cleared for a few houses; Bill Levitt looked at it and saw a gargantuan, virtually self-contained suburban community."

Two men look at the same thing and one sees an ordinary potato field with a couple of houses while another sees mass housing that leads to the suburban lifestyle so common in America after the 1950s. One has a limited, narrow vision of what can be and one has a vision that stretches beyond the imagination of the times. I like this vision thing--I don't just want to see the ordinary in the ordinary. Yet. . . while providing much need post-war housing, this vision has led to suburban sprawl and unforgetable strip malls.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

David McCullough & "Knowing History"

Somehow I ended up on the mailing list, along with 1,200,000 other people, for Imprimis. Normally I am so busy the issues end up in the recycle bin, but this past issue had an abridged speech by David McCullough. I have read his biography of Truman and more recently his work on John Adams. I highly recommend both. In his biography of Adams, I suppose some would criticize his extensive use of quotes, but I appreciated getting the sense of who Adams was [as well as some of his correspondents] in his own words.

In the pamphlet McCullough is quoted as saying: “Nor is there any such creature as a self-made man or woman. We love that expression, we Americans. But every one who’s ever lived has been affected, changed, shaped, helped, hindered by other people.” How true this is—none of us is “self-made,” yet it is so easy in success to take no notice of those who have gone before us. While McCullough does not deal with the spiritual dimension of how Jesus Christ can renew and reshape those who follow him, I believe the truth he speaks of points to the importance of Christianity community and fellowship. We exist, worship, and serve in communities.

McCullough also pointed out that “those who wrote the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776 were not superhuman by any means. Every single one had his flaws, his failings, his weakness. Some of them ardently disliked others of them. Every one of them did things in his life he regretted. But the fact that they could rise to the occasion as they did, these imperfect human beings, and do what they did is also, of course a testimony to their humanity. We are not just known by our failings, by our weaknesses, by our sins. We are known by being capable of rising to the occasion and exhibiting not just a sense of direction, but strength.” While there is the tendency to deify our Founding Fathers in some circles today, both critics and supporters of these men need to see them as “fallen” creatures, seeking for different reasons to invoke their vision of America. Are we too often today demanding perfection in our leaders, co-workers, family members, ourselves? Will we be known by how we have risen to t

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Haiti and UN Troops

Haiti has lost America's attention again. Since we don't hear much about conditions there, it is easy to assume all is proceeding well with a UN police force installed in the country. Unfortunately the UN police force seems to be as ineffective as it has been in Bosnia and other crisis situations. Recently a middle class Haitian I know emailed me that he had been shot at by "bandits." He immediately called the UN police force who according to him did nothing. They just continued to sit in their beach front rooms like tourists waiting for the time to pass, drinking and looking for entertainment. Peter Sellers, where are you when we need you?--send in the troops from Grand Fenwick immediately.

Russian Humor

Russian humor, including that of the Soviet period, is so distinctive and subtle and has a "bite" to it that I often don't find in American political humor. Recently a web page of jokes about Vladimir Putin has surfaced (