Sunday, September 30, 2007

Freud and Lewis

Awhile back, I finished reading Armand Nicholi's book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. Dr. Nicholi is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard and has taught a seminar on Freud & Lewis at Harvard for the past 35 years. The course eventually led to this book and a PBS series by the same name.

The book is an interesting read for anyone modestly interested in one or both of the characters-- or anyone interested in the topics covered. The book is relatively easy to read with ample quotations from each author in addition to impressive biographical information. The book is divided into two sections: "What should we believe?" and "How should we live?" (with chapters in this latter section on Happiness, Sex, Love, Pain, and Death).

Why a study on Lewis and Freud? They were key players in their day-- and have even greater influence now. Their worldviews and prescriptions are markedly different. And Lewis shared much of Freud's worldview until his conversion to Christianity as an adult-- allowing for a set of interesting comparisons between the two.

Lewis embraced an atheistic worldview for the first half of his life and used Freud's reasoning to defend his atheism. Lewis then rejected his atheism and became a believer. In subsequent writings, he provides cogent responses to Freud's arguments against the spiritual worldview... Their writings possess a striking parallelism. If Freud still serves as a primary spokesman for materialism, Lewis serves as a primary spokesman for the spiritual view that Freud attacked. (p. 4)

If both Freud and Lewis thought the question of God's existence to be life's most important question, let's see how they arrived at their conflicting answers. And let's see if their biographies-- how they actually lived their lives-- strengthen or weaken their arguments and tell us more than their words convey.
(p. 9)

The early life experiences of Freud and Lewis show a striking parallelism. Both Freud and Lewis, as young boys, possessed intellectual gifts that foreshadowed the profound impact they would make as adults. Both suffered significant losses early in life. Both had difficult, conflict-ridden relationships with their fathers. Both received early instruction in the faith of their family and acknowledged a nominal acceptance of that faith. Both jettisoned their early belief system and became atheists when in their teens..."
(p. 34-35)

All that said, we learn especially from his letters that Freud flirted with theism off-and-on throughout his life. He frequently quoted the Old and New Testaments; he often used phrases such as "if God so wills" and "God's grace"; and his final book was entitled Moses and Monotheism (p. 50-51). He was a great admirer of the Apostle Paul-- quoting him frequently, considering him one of "the great thinkers", and remarking that he "stands alone in all history" (p. 78, 53).

Freud was also fascinated by the devil and referred to him often in his writings. He was strongly impacted by Flaubert's Temptation of Saint Anthony. The literary work he quoted most often was Goethe's Faust. And the book he wanted to read before being euthanized was Balzac's The Fatal Skin. Nicholi speculates that "Freud perhaps identified...with the devil himself-- not as the embodiment of evil but as the ultimate rebel, defiant and refusing to surrender to Authority." (p. 208)

Of course, there are many interesting points throughout the book. In concluding, let me share one that has been of use to me-- in talking with people about theology and faith.

Freud argued that religion was a form of wish fulfillment, "a projection of human needs and wishes" (p. 42). But Lewis countered this...

...with the assertion that the biblical worldview involves a great deal of despair and pain and is certainly not anything one would wish for. He argued that understanding this view begins with the realization that one is in deep trouble, that one has transgressed the moral law and needs forgiveness and reconciliation...Although this biblical faith is "a thing of unspeakable comfort", Lewis wrote, "it does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay"...

In addition, Lewis astutely notes that Freud's argument stems from his clinical observations that a young child's feelings toward the father are always characterized by a "particular ambivalence"-- i.e., strong positive and strong negative feelings. But if these observations hold true, these ambivalent wishes can work both ways. Would not the negative part of the ambivalence indicate the wish that God does not exist would be as strong as the wish for his existence?"

Like many other aspects of faith, one can find some comfort with (relatively lame) arguments like "wish fulfillment". Or one can follow the preponderance of the evidence. Beyond the facts and the logic, one must choose to believe-- or not.

the sarcasm of God

We served in the nursery this week and missed Bob Russell's return to the pulpit this weekend as a visitor. I'm sure it was good, but I'll try to catch it on the web later this week.

In Sunday School, I taught on the second half of the story in Numbers 11. Last week, we left off at verse 15, where Moses went to God but was a bit of a mess. This week, God responds with two answers: a.) choose 70 leaders whom I will empower through the Holy Spirit; and b.) I'll bring the meat.

There are a number of smaller tidbits (with obvious and powerful applications) in this passage. For example...
-God doesn't give Moses grief over his meltdown. Neither does he dignify his remarks nor answer his questions (directly). Likewise, sometimes are prayers are that far off.
-God doesn't take away Moses' difficult circumstances, but empowers him to be able to handle those circumstances.
-When Moses has difficulty believing that God will deliver the "meat", he puts God "in a box" by assuming that the meat will be in the form of fish or livestock. Because he has forgotten about air transport, he is unable to imagine how God could do "more than we could ever ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).
-Joshua is jealous for Moses, but Moses is pleased as punch to have more helpful people to administer this unruly group.

But the most amazing thing about this passage is God's use of sarcasm within His anger toward the people (11:18-23).

18 "Tell the people: 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, "If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!" Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?" ' "

Then, amazingly, Moses has the guts (or something!) to ask the following question:

21 But Moses said, "Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, 'I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!' 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?"

Moses has done the math and can't imagine how the Lord could possibly accomplish this. In a word, Moses' memory is as faulty, here, as the Israelites. God again drops a sarcastic bomb:

23 The LORD answered Moses, "Is the LORD's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you."


Sarcasm is often sinful. But C.S. Lewis notes that it's flippancy-- and the flippancy that is typically contained within sarcasm-- which is the problem. Here, God illustrates the principle positively: that sarcasm can be a "godly" response.

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said [e.g., 'I forgive your sins.'] would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic‑‑ on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg‑‑ or else he would be the devil of Hell...You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him...or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

-- Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3

I think it was Josh McDowell who phrased this as Lord, Liar, or Lunatic. In any case, if the Gospels are accurate on this matter, then Christ must be one of the three.

Dallas Willard relates a version of this sentiment-- the "liberal" view that Jesus was a great teacher, but we can't accept (all of) his teachings.

Or as Paul puts it: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God...Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles..." (I Corinthians 1:18,22-23)

Of course, Christ delivered both miraculous signs and wisdom-- and yet those were not (really) enough for those who wanted to believe otherwise. And thus it is today-- and always...

So, who is Jesus Christ to you: Lord, Liar or Lunatic?

Friday, September 28, 2007

new to SchansBlog?

Today, I celebrate two months of blogging on SchansBlog! This is my 300th entry, so I've been averaging about five per day.

I hope you've enjoyed my efforts so far. It is somewhat time-consuming, but not too painful. And it's a nice way to spread the fruit of my wide-ranging reading list.

--If you're a blogger, have you linked to me yet?
--If you're a blog visitor, send me an email at if you'd like to receive email notices of new entries.
--If you've enjoyed SchansBlog, wake your kids and phone your neighbors (as Letterman used to say)-- to spread the good word. Or selectively send blog entries that might interest people you know.

Since some of you have come to SchansBlog recently, I thought it might be useful to give you some highlights from the last two months. So, I've chosen my Top Ten and reproduced the links here.

1.) It's not surprising that politics would be a key component of my blogging. In particular, it's a no-brainer that I would criticize our sitting Congressman when he goes astray. So, here's one on Hill's support of subsidies for corporations and the wealthy.

2.) But I'm an equal-opportunity, bi-partisan kind of guy. So, here's a post on earmarks-- popular to almost everyone in Congress, regardless of whether they're Democrat or Republican.

3.) Among national policies, none is more important than the War on Iraq and the War on Terror. I've written a number of times on this topic, including summaries of resources I've read.

4.) Beyond national policy, I have an interest in state politics as well. Here's a post on the KY gubenatorial race-- along with general comments on ideal Christian political practice and my Ten Commandments Quiz to boot.

5.) The most exciting issue in Indiana politics has been the property tax fiasco. Not initially an area of expertise for me, I was asked to write an op-ed piece and it turned into this piece in the Wall Street Journal and a number of other great opportunities.

6.) Beyond all of the serious policy discussion, I've enjoyed the opportunity to share some humor-- whether cartoons or an "insert-your-own-joke" theme. Here is my favorite example of the latter.

7.) Moving to a combination of humor and cultural commentary, this tongue-in-cheek piece on American Girl dolls resulted in the most comments I've had so far.

8.) My review of Joel Osteen's best-seller also generated a lot of traffic and resulted in one of the more encouraging comments I have ever received.

9.) On Sundays, I stick to Christian themes-- a C.S. Lewis quote, highlights from that morning's sermon or my lesson, or general topics of interest. Here is my favorite from this set: a series of comments on Moses and anger.

10.) Finally, an excerpt from Tolstoy's testimony on his "faith" as a child (far more cultural and surface than personal and real)-- and the challenges of passing on a true faith to the next generation.

Grace and peace to you and yours...eric

catch and release...

One more annoying head-scratcher from Reason, written by Radley Balko...

DATELINE NBC'S hit spin-off To Catch a Predator may be the first TV show to become a hit by setting up real-life stings. Members of the vigilante group Perverted Justice pose as minors in Internet chat rooms and attempt to lure men into meeting them for sex. The result--part Candid Camera, part Cops--has made host Chris Hansen a pop culture celebrity, inspiring Saturday Night Live and the producers of countess YouTube videos to spoof his on-camera confrontations with suspected perverts....

In June prosecutors in Murphy, Texas, announced they had to drop charges against all 24 suspects arrested during To Catch a Predator's stings. The 25th suspect was Louis Conradt Jr., a prosecutor in a neighboring county. When Dateline's cameras came to his door to confront him, he shot himself fatally in the head. Conradt's boss, Rockwall County District Attorney Galen Ray Sumrow, told the Columbia Journalism Review that film clips show Dateline personnel instructing police on tactics. He believes police rushed Conradt's arrest instead of talking him out of his home to ensure the show got good footage before the crew was due to fly out that afternoon.

eminent domain does more harm to the poor (surprise!)

From Jacob Sullum with Reason (citing research on the 2000 census, "Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse," by Dick M. Carpenter II and John K. Ross, published by the Institute for Justice, 2007)...

Rich, white property owners are disproportionately hurt by eminent domain abuse.

Just kidding.

A new report from the Institute for Justice looked at 184 areas where the use of eminent domain was approved for private economic development projects. On average, the residents were poorer, less educated, less likely to own property, and more likely to be racial minorities.

Such differences are not only not surprising; they are pretty much inevitable if the criterion for condemning a property is whether it can be put to a "higher use"--i.e., one that generates more tax revenue or creates more jobs. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted in her dissent from the Supreme Court's endorsement of such takings in Kelo v. New London, "extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities."

Carpenter and Hall find that victims of eminent domain are 30% more likely to be minorities, 56% more likely to be under the poverty line, 42% to have less than a high school diploma, and 29% to be renters.

Eminent domain, then, is like so many other policies-- where government tries to help, but inadvertently causes harm to the poor. In redistributing wealth to farmers and protecting textile manufacturers from foreign competition, the government drives up the price of food and clothing. In helping various labor interest groups, the relatively unskilled are forcibly locked out of labor markets. And most important, in protecting the government schools from competition, the inner city poor are forced to attend school at the government-run monopoly in their neighborhood.

Too often, government causes damage to the most vulnerable in our society...

Will Ferrell, theologian?

Excerpts from "Theology Is Stranger Than Fiction: The best film you didn't see last year" by Sharon Baker and Crystal Downing in Books and Culture...

John Wilson, the editor of B&C has an intro worth repeating:

Who would have thought that Will Ferrell, master of fatuous farce and stupid stunts, could pull off a star turn in one of the most profoundly theological films of 2006? Judging from the tepid reviews of Stranger Than Fiction, not many. Theologian Sharon Baker and film critic Crystal Downing want to set things right.

Then, Baker and Downing get started in describing the theological links to an enjoyable and provocative movie. (Tonia and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. We didn't catch the "big picture" stuff outlined here. But we caught some of the general themes they underline: free will/predestination, the purpose of life, the value of sacrifice, etc.. In this sense, the movie is quite similar to another excellent but under-rated film, with a comedian as the star: The Truman Show.)

Stranger Than Fiction builds upon an experience reported by many novelists, in which fictional protagonists start taking on lives of their own, behaving in ways that their authors did not originally intend...

Stranger Than Fiction is also about an author with [homicidal] intentions. Kay Eiffel (played by a stupendous Emma Thompson) is a novelist who always kills off her protagonists. In her current project, Death and Taxes, she plans to do away with an IRS agent named Harold Crick. Problematically, this protagonist (played by Ferrell) overhears her plan.

Of course, we don't know this when the film begins with a voiceover: "This is a story about a man named Harold Crick … and his wristwatch." We soon discover that temporal and mathematical precision seem to control Harold's life—down to the way he counts brushstrokes while cleaning his teeth. In fact, all the characters and the streets in the film are named after famous mathematicians, as though to signal the predictable arithmetic that defines Harold's world.

Not too far into this provocative film, however, we begin to wonder who exactly controls Harold's life: Harold, who programs his watch and obsessively counts all his footsteps, or the narrator, who tells his story?...Seeking answers, Harold visits a literary critic, Professor Hilbert, who tells him, "You don't control your own fate." Is he right? Stranger Than Fiction arouses uncomfortable stirrings that accompany the asking of life's ultimate questions: Am I in control of my life? If not, who or what is? Or, as Harold asks, "Is my life going to be a comedy or a tragedy and who makes that decision?" Harold, in other words, becomes obsessed with understanding the mind of his maker.

Then, Baker and Downing refer back to the Sayers work that develops the over-arching theme of the film...

In 1941, Sayers published The Mind of the Maker, a work of literary theory which suggests that the relationship between an author and her creations parallels the relationship between God and human creation. Stranger Than Fiction adeptly illustrates her theory in the relationship between Harold and his maker, Kay. At first oblivious to his creator, Harold suddenly becomes aware of a guiding presence in his life. Nevertheless, after his moment of revelation, Harold sometimes hears Kay's narration and other times does not, just as we are sometimes intensely conscious of God's guiding presence in our lives and other times not.

Baker and Downing continue along these lines. But now I have to warn you that reading further will reveal some key parts of the climactic ending. If you don't want to spoil the surprise and the drama, go watch the movie and then return to the closing paragraphs. (That said, I should also tell you that there are potentially objectionable moments in this PG-13 movie. Although mild by many standards, if you avoid films that have any such things, this movie is not for you. The good news is that you can go ahead and finish reading this!)

In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers suggests that the relationship between the writer's idea and its fulfillment in the written word parallels the relationship between Creator God and the incarnated Christ. A quick read through the Stranger Than Fiction screenplay reveals that the writer, Zach Helm, may have intended just such a connection. Perturbed over being misunderstood, a flustered Harold says to a woman at a bus stop, "I … No. I'm … [Christ]" (the brackets indicate that the word is to be said under his breath). Reminiscent of Jesus' prayer of angst in the garden of Gethsemane, Harold pleads with Kay to spare his life. But Professor Hilbert, having read Kay's first draft, tells Harold that the story "is a masterpiece. You have to die." With agony, Harold responds, "You're asking me to knowingly face my death?" The answer, of course, is yes.

Upon reading his maker's book, Harold submits his life to his narrator's will, telling her, "I love [the story]. There is only one way it can end. I love your book." Therefore, just as Jesus "set his face toward Jerusalem" and his inevitable death, we watch with intrigue as Harold calmly, with resignation, prepares to die. He carefully chooses the apple he will take with him to the bus stop—the place of his death. Are we reminded here of the second Adam, a type of the first who brought sin into the world by eating a piece of fruit, commonly considered an apple? At the appointed place, Harold knowingly, willingly, steps in front of an oncoming bus to save a little boy from death. He dies—with a halo of blood framing his head—so that a child can live.

A heartbeat after this sober image, however, the screen is awash with a bright white light that resolves into a shot of Harold lying in bed—alive. Yes, he lives! Need we say more? Professor Hilbert is not so pleased that Harold lives. He questions Kay about her revision, to which she replies, "If a man does know he's going to die, and dies anyway … dies willingly, knowing he could stop it … you tell me … . Isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?" Because of the submission of Harold's heart, what we thought would be a funeral scene becomes a resurrection celebration.

If Harold dies and lives as a type of Jesus Christ—a representative of the divine life, so to speak—he also represents our humanity. The meaning of Harold's existence comes to fruition only in the fullness of time. Significantly, the watch mentioned in Kay's opening voiceover saved his life, as his doctor explains: "Amazingly a shard of metal from your watch became lodged in the artery, causing your heart rate to slow, keeping your loss of blood down enough to keep you alive." Harold was embedded in time, yet the fullness of time was also embedded in Harold.

So with us all: though we cannot know for certain how or when we will die, we can live our lives embedded in time, making the most out of the time embedded in us. As exhorted by the one who is himself the fulfillment of all time, we can love our neighbors as ourselves.

econ: is it a man thing?

In the last issue of The American, there was an interesting little blurb on Bryan Caplan's article, "The Gender Gap of Economics: Why Do Men Think More Like Economists?" (submitted to Social Science Quarterly).

On the website where Caplan talks about his article, he reproduces a figure that he dropped from the paper because of space constraints. The data depict a strong correlation between interest in and knowledge about economics. Moreover, men have more of both compared to women-- for both students in particular and adults in general. (The data come from the National Council on Economic Education's What American Teens & Adults Know About Economics survey.)

As Caplan puts it, the figure...
shows the relationship between how interesting people think economics is and how much they know about it. Notice that the rank order matches up neatly: Male adults know the most about economics and are the most interested in it, followed by female adults, male high school students, and female high school students.

From the conclusion of Caplan's paper...

Economists and the public have systematically different beliefs about how the economy works. But the public itself is divided, and gender is one of the main fault lines....

In place of Burgoon and Hiscox's hypothesis, I propose a simple alternative: The gender gap of economics grows with education because men are more interested in economics. They are therefore more likely to take advantage of their formal and informal opportunities to learn economics, leading the gender gap to grow with education. Even though few men actually major in economics, men are more likely to belong to social networks where knowledge of economics is relatively abundant. As a result, even a small initial difference in interests can lead to a large difference in knowledge.

What I have observed...First, females tend to do better in class-- at least in terms of playing the game, doing well on tests, etc. (But that could be a school thing, rather than an econ thing.) And second, our econ majors tend to be men or older ("non-traditional") women.

when October goes...

OK, a stream of consciousness blog entry...When I titled the last post, it brought to mind a lovely, sad little song by Barry Manilow-- from the post-pop, jazz-ish phase of his career.

A cheesy "video" accompanies the music at YouTube.

My memory was that the lyrics were (derived from) a T.S. Eliot poem. But apparently, that was another memorable melody, "Memory" (based on "Rhapsody on a Windy Night").

Even so, it turns out that the lyrics have a more interesting origin. According to Wikipedia...

"When October Goes" is a ballad based on a lyric Johnny Mercer had written but did not complete before his 1976 death. It was matched up to a melody by pop singer Barry Manilow and published in 1984 (on the album 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe), becoming one of the top Adult Contemporary hits of that year in the United States.

In his last year, as he was dying from brain cancer, Mercer became extremely fond of Manilow, in part because Manilow's first hit record was of a song titled "Mandy," which was also the name of Mercer's daughter. After Mercer's death, his widow, Ginger Mehan Mercer, arranged to give some unfinished lyrics he had written to Manilow to possibly develop into complete songs. Among these was "When October Goes," a melancholy remembrance of lost love. Manilow applied his own melody to the lyric and issued it as a single in 1984. The song has since become a jazz standard, with notable recordings by Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson and Megon McDonough, among other performers. Thomas Anders (of Modern Talking fame) recorded his version in 1997 on the album Live Concert. Recently, Lea Salonga performed the song on her album 'Inspired.'

when October comes...

This time of the year, most of the sports spotlight goes to college and pro football.

Football is the best sport for most Americans. Weekly games fit into our busy schedules. The fast pace and action fit into mindsets that value noise and activity over quiet (relatively speaking) and focus.

I certainly fit both molds, especially the former. I like noise and activity. And as I've grown older-- or more accurately, as I've grown busier with family-- it has become more and more difficult to follow a daily sport like baseball (especially with the changes wrought by free agency) and easier to slide toward a weekly sport like football.

That said, baseball is still an awesome sport-- and October is its time of the year. But before the playoffs begin and culminate in the World Series, we may have a final weekend of historic proportions. With three games to go, there's not much room to move, but the margins are so tight that things remain quite interesting.

The storied Yankees/Red Sox rivalry continues in a struggle for the division title, but the Red Sox's two game lead will probably hold up.

But there is far more drama in the National League-- where five teams are within two games of each other, fighting for three spots. (The fourth spot will go to Milwaukee or the Cubs-- where the Cubs only lead by two games.) In fact, it is possible that multiple teams could tie-- in itself, extraordinary, but also leading to a complex set of tie-breakers to determine who would go to the playoffs.

Here's the run-down of the possibilities from

Here's a scenario that could mess up baseball's postseason schedule: Imagine if Arizona, Colorado, the New York Mets, Philadelphia and San Diego finish with the same record. That would create ties in the NL East, NL West and wild-card race, necessitating four days of tiebreaker games to determine postseason berths.

The NL East is the easiest: The Mets would play Monday at Philadelphia.

In the West, the team with the best head-to-head record against the others (because Arizona plays Colorado this weekend, that's yet to be determined), gets to choose whether it prefers one tiebreaker road game or two home games. Presumably, the team with the choice would take one road game. Monday's winner would then host the club with the bye on Tuesday for the NL West title.

Starting Wednesday, the three teams that failed to win division titles would be involved in a two-day, two-game tiebreakers to determine the wild-card winner.

Actually, it's impossible for Arizona and Colorado to tie since they are two games apart and play each other for three games. But everything else is still (quite) possible! It should be a fun weekend-- flipping back and forth between the pennant races and the pigskin action.

the market is working on it... (revisited)

from Jere Downs in the Courier-Journal this morning..., another story about how producers are working diligently to develop the next best thing(s)-- to deal with higher energy prices.

The Smart fortwo was available for test drives yesterday.

From rural Indiana, Prospect, Newburg, St. Matthews and the Highlands they stood in line, ages 29 to 82. Some had seen the teeny, gas-sipping Mercedes-built Smart fortwo in Europe. Many plunked down $99 to reserve one of the two-seat, three-cylinder vehicles yesterday.

"We have orders from 20 different states," Sam Swope, 81, said as he watched the debut of the 8-foot-long minicars at his auto sales complex on Hurstbourne Parkway. "I don't know how we are going to fill them all."

The public can test-drive a Smart fortwo from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today and from noon to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hard Rock Cafe at Fourth Street Live.

The event yesterday was for customers who had reserved a fortwo online, or pulled into the dealership after seeing the strikingly small vehicles -- half the length of a typical sedan -- zipping along Hurstbourne at Interstate 64. In January, Swope will open a Smart dealership on nearby Blankenbaker Parkway.

Lyn Murphy-Carter drove 45 minutes from Henryville, Ind., to look. The insurance agent test-drove a blue Passion Cabrio model (starting at under $17,000).

"It rides like a small car. You feel the bumps," said Murphy-Carter, 45. "But it is a common-sense vehicle. It makes sense to have something economical that is going to be friendly to the environment."

Joel Eckert, 29, said he reserved a fortwo after a long and fruitless search for an electric car that served his needs. After comparing other small gasoline-powered cars on the market, the New Jersey native settled on the fortwo for his eight-mile commute.

"If you deck out a Chevy Aveo and deck out one of these," the computer animation programmer said, "you get the same price but there is no comparison on quality."

The cars have not been rated for fuel efficiency by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Estimates range from 40 to 70 miles per gallon.

Bob Buhts, 67, a retired Army officer, said he would buy the no-frills Pure model, which starts under $12,000, to keep in his Prospect driveway...

And it's not just a tin can! It's quite a bit safer than a bicycle built fortwo...

The Smart Web site touts the safety of the fortwo, predicting its cage construction will earn a four-star safety rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Yesterday's event included a flat-screen television showing crash videos of the fortwo sustaining front, side and rear impacts from a variety of larger vehicles...

And trunk room too?

Moore peered into the trunk, which at up to 12 cubic feet is spacious enough to hold a set of golf clubs or bags of groceries...

After driving the fortwo, Murphy-Carter said her family was going to purchase two and ditch the minivan and the Contour.

"I like Ford. It keeps our local people working," Murphy-Carter said. "But they are not cutting it with the cars they are making. The minute they do, I'll go right back to them."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

i'm lovin' it...not!

From World, Timothy Lamer on the impact of brands and advertising on children...

McDonald's reportedly spends more than $1 billion per year on advertising in the United States, and a new study suggests that the company is getting its money's worth.

The study, conducted by Stanford University researchers [and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine], found that when children between ages 3 and 5 were offered identical foods in a McDonald's wrapper and a plain wrapper, they consistently said that the food in the McDonald's wrapper tasted better.

Researchers offered the food to 63 children from six Head Start programs in San Mateo County, Calif., giving them chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and french fries from McDonald's and baby carrots and milk from a grocery store. On four of five items a large percentage of the children said the food items tasted better when they came in a McDonald's wrapper. On the fifth, children preferred the hamburger in a McDonald's wrapper but (oddly, for the fast-food chain's signature menu item) only by a plurality...

Children who went to McDonald's regularly and had numerous TV sets in their homes were most likely to prefer McDonald's-wrapped food...

Another reason to "kill your TV"

hitchcock (revisited): music and cranky catholicism

Mark Moring, editor of Christianity Today Movies and a letter-writer to the editor of Books and Culture in the most recent issue...He comments on the music in "The Trouble with Harry" (a movie Tonia and I saw during the summer at The Palace), asserting that arguably the best of the lot.

For the original article, by John McWhorter, click here.

Moring also recommended his magazine's portrait of Hitchcock, "A Cranky Catholic". Excerpts from that essay:

The Jesuits have a saying: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." That motto could almost be said to describe Alfred Hitchcock, the legendary film director and TV producer who made over 50 movies in a career that spanned half a century. Born to a Catholic family in London in 1899, Hitchcock didn't begin his studies at a Jesuit school until he was a year or two older than seven, but the influence of his religious upbringing can be seen throughout his work...

In later years, he tended to downplay the religious significance of his education. In an interview with film critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock credited the Jesuits with teaching him "organization, control, and to some degree analysis …. I don't think the religious side of the Jesuit education impressed itself so much upon me as the strict discipline one endured at the time." The religious influence at school consisted mainly of fear, he said, "but I've grown out of religious fear now."

Nevertheless, Hitchcock was a practicing Catholic for most of his life. His wife Alma, a film editor, converted to Catholicism before their marriage in 1926, and they worked and lived together until his death in 1980. They attended Mass weekly, and they quietly made several generous donations to Catholic churches and charities...

While he may have grown out of what he called "religious fear," Hitchcock's films became famous for their suspense, their psychological complexity, their focus on the nature of guilt, and their power to remind the viewer that good and evil reside in the hearts of everyone. What's more, he frequently depicted these themes in ways that rely on religious imagery—churches, icons, and men of the cloth.

A recurring theme in Hitchcock's films is that of the innocent man who is accused of a crime he did not commit—what the critics call "transference of guilt." On one level, this theme echoes the way that Jesus, as an innocent victim, was falsely accused and took on the sins of the world. But Hitchcock also uses this theme to explore how even seemingly innocent people have their own dark side...

Hitchcock was never exactly the most pious of Catholics. His films had their share of risque innuendo, and he sometimes depicted clergymen in mildly irreverent ways, from the minister who provides the punchline for Strangers on a Train to the priest who is abducted in the middle of a service in Family Plot (1976), his last film.

It is said that Hitchcock was once offered an audience with the Pope, during a trip to Rome during the latter part of his career, and he turned it down, lest he be given advice that he dare not refuse. "What would I do," he asked, "if the Holy Father said that in this world, where there is so much sex and violence, I ought to lay off?"

When asked about his beliefs, Hitchcock tended to downplay the significance of his Catholic faith—though he admitted the influence was there. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, he said, "I don't think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one's early upbringing influences a man's life and guides his instinct." And, in a 1973 interview with the student newspaper at St. Ignatius College, he said, "A Catholic attitude was indoctrinated into me. After all I was born a Catholic, I went to a Catholic school and I now have a conscience with lots of trials over belief."

Toward the end of his life, Hitchcock stopped going to church, and as his health declined, he resisted or even refused a priest's offer to come to his home for a private Mass or for the last rites. Even so, after his death, a memorial Mass was held for him at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. "He was a Catholic all his life," writes Blake, "a cranky one to be sure, but a Catholic nonetheless."

C-J editorialists disappointed in Hill

The C-J editorial board dropped a bomb on Baron Hill this morning, complaining that he voted against S-CHIP to support his tobacco constituents.

Only eight Democrats joined President Bush in opposing the humanitarian bill, which the President has threatened to veto. Sadly, Southern Indiana's Baron Hill was one of those.

Predictably, Mr. Hill was joined in opposing coverage for children who need it, under a reauthorized State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), by Kentucky Republicans Hal Rogers, Ron Lewis, Geoff Davis and Ed Whitfield...

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says "the President will find himself alone" if he vetoes this legislation. But apparently he will have Baron Hill, Geoff Davis, Ron Lewis, Hal Rogers and Ed Whitfield with him, on the dark side.

This outcome is interesting on many levels.

Hill cast the right vote but for two wrong reasons. First, he supports S-CHIP and "wants to vote for it". But aside from the dubious merits of government-provided health insurance/care, there is no reason for this to be a federal effort.

Second, he voted against S-CHIP because it would be financed solely on the backs of tobacco farmers. And a reasonable argument can be made-- that this is not appropriate. But Hill motivates this point by saying that tobacco farmers are his constituents-- rather than simply saying it's the right thing to do. Practically, this is not wise, since children are a larger and far more sympathetic "constituency" (although they make fewer campaign contributions and can't vote). And ethically, how can one defend this policy-- just to help a narrow constituency? (I blogged on this earlier.)

The other funny thing is that the C-J'ers are upset with their man! They thought so much of Hill that they supported him over Sodrel, an incumbent they respected somewhat. They thought so much of Hill-- and so little of me-- that they gave me one parenthetical sentence, while devoting an entire column of print to Hill. They were so enamored with Hill-- and thus listened so little to me-- that they, amazingly, printed a misconception I had just corrected about the supposedly regressive nature of a flat tax. They liked Hill because he was independent-- and now that he exhibits that independence, the C-J starts crying about it and saying he is "on the dark side".

the future of Islam in Europe

John Wilson in Books and Culture with a book review of sorts-- of Philip Jenkins' God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. Wilson describes the book as a... in epistemic humility informed by history. Two converging trends are at the heart of Jenkins' book. The first is the decline of Christianity in Europe, for many centuries the heartland of the faith. The second is the growth of Islam in the same region, fueled by immigration and higher birth rates. Again and again Jenkins shows how commentators on these trends are guilty of the bad habits that Taleb excoriates [in his book, The Black Swan]. Christianity is dying in Europe. It's inevitable. Europe will be dominated by Islam a century from now. It's inevitable. And so on...

Wilson connects Taleb to Jenkins' analysis by noting that the obvious is not the way things often play out-- especially when one is forecasting complex social phenomena. As for Jenkins' thoughts...

So, about Christianity in Europe he is judicious, neither downplaying the church's profound loss of cultural authority nor making too much of the modest counter-trends he singles out and yet suggesting that the death notices may be premature:

Viewed over the centuries, perhaps the best indicator that Christianity is about to expand or revive is the widespread conviction that the religion is doomed or in its closing days. Arguably the worst single moment in the history of west European Christianity occurred around 1798, with the Catholic Church under severe persecution in much of Europe, and skeptical, deist, and unitarian movements in the ascendant across the Atlantic world.

And yet, as Jenkins reminds us:

That particular trough in Christian affairs also turned into an excellent foundation, from which various groups built the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, the second evangelical revival, and the Catholic devotional revolution. Nothing drives activists and reformers more powerfully than the sense that their faith is about to perish in their homelands and that they urgently need to make up these losses further afield, whether overseas or among the previously neglected lost sheep at home.

In addition to the difficulty in forecasting such things, we tend to miss (in a Taleb-like sense) the undercurrents which turn out to be more powerful than the variables on which we have focused. To note, a smaller but more passionate band of disciples of Jesus will be more effective-- in any number of ways-- than a larger crowd of cultural Christians. Likewise, one can look back to America in the 1950s and wonder how Christian the culture really was. Was it "Christian" or more polite, middle-class, and suburban than Christian?

Some readers will complain that Jenkins is far too optimistic about the trajectory of Islam in Europe. That would be true if he were pretending to the kind of certainty the doomsayers radiate. As I read him, he is suggesting alternative possibilities. Yes, there is a real possibility that the "ultras," as he calls them, will flourish, with devastating consequences all around, but it's also possible—and, in Jenkins' view, more probable—that the "Christian-Muslim encounter" in 21st-century Europe will not be so apocalyptic.

A growing population of observant Muslims could reinforce the secularist prejudices already dominant among European elites. In turn, this might foster a degree of rapprochement between Christians and Muslims, who might form a united front in certain contexts. On the other hand, there is evidence of a marked asymmetry in the way European elites treat Islamic demands, Islamic controversies, and so on in comparison to their Christian counterparts, in part motivated by fear. (See Paul Berman's essay, "Who Is Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?", in the June 4 issue of The New Republic.)

Among the doomsayers one of the strongest arguments is demographic. If Europe's indigenous population, characterized by "subreplacement fertility," lacks even the will to reproduce itself, isn't the discussion pretty much over? (See for example Mark Steyn's essay, "It's the Demography, Stupid," in the January 2006 issue of The New Criterion.) Jenkins doesn't devote as much attention to this question as might be expected. He does point out that birth rates among Muslims are dropping steeply in many areas.

On the one hand … . On the other hand. Does this boil down to mere temporizing? No. There's no embarrassment in saying we don't know how the European secularist-Christian-Muslim tensions will play out. We have far too many people running around proclaiming with dogmatic certainty what will or will not happen—often with the implication that if you're not on board with the prediction, you are in denial, you're weak-minded, you just can't face facts.

All of this makes Jenkins seem like an economist-- benefit/cost, trade-offs, exercises in critical and creative thinking, trying to anticipate not just primary and obvious consequences but secondary and subtle implications. Likewise, this sort of even-handed analysis can be frustrating, especially for those who see the world (for better & for worse) as black and white.

the public has spoken

Marc Ecko, the fashion designer and "hip-hop mogul" who bought Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball for $752K, decided to let the public vote on what to do it. Ecko offered three options: shoot it into outer space, send it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, or send it to Cooperstown with a big asterick branded onto it (denoting the shadow under which Bonds broke Hank Aaron's record).

The results: 19% wanted it shot into space, 34% wanted it to sent to Cooperstown unblemished, and 47% wanted it branded.

Interestingly, the Hall of Fame has said that they will accept the altered ball into their collection.

on sex in the Bible...

A few of the more interesting excerpts from Sam Torode's review in Books and Culture of J. Harold Ellens' Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration

...For example, Ellens notes, polygamy is the most common model of marriage in the Bible, and one can still make a strong biblical argument for polygamy in societies where women greatly outnumber men (such as in areas ravaged by war).

Two nice points, the latter of which I used in discussing Olasky's recent essay on prohibiting polygamy...

Driving home this point, Ellens cites the Old Testament stories where women, most notably Ruth and Esther, employ their feminine charms to seduce men for the furtherance of God's aims (and their own). Far from being condemned, these women earn nothing but praise from the biblical authors. It's ironic that Ruth is upheld as a role model for conservative Christian girls today. Instead of "waiting on God" for a husband, she spotted a good man, followed him home from a party, and jumped into bed with him—violating three "Biblical Rules for Dating" at once...

OK, that's not the way I would put it, but the point is still valid-- and irony is still delicious.

Despite its weirdness and obscurity, the story of Onan has had a profound influence on church history. "First of all," Ellens writes, "for centuries Jews and Christians used this scripture as an argument to turn the very natural experience of masturbation into an evil behavior, even a terrifying sin against God." More than this, early Christian commentators like Augustine and Jerome used the Onan story to condemn coitus interruptus and, by extension, all other methods of birth control.

These early theologians believed that "semen is a sacred fluid" and that to deliberately waste or misuse it is a grave sin worthy of damnation. But, Ellens argues, they misread the text. Onan was not punished for separating sex from procreation or for spilling his sacred semen: "His error was that he refused to perpetuate the memory, name, and lineage of his brother."

Not that masturbation is not problematic for a variety of problems-- but Onan's antics are not a legitimate proof text on that point. This text refers to "levirate marriage" (as does the passage in Ruth), where Onan had a responsibility to his dead brother and his widow. Onan's failure is a combination of immediate self-gratification while ignoring God's command and the long-term consequences of failing his duty/opportunity here.

Jeff's mayoral debate

Republican Monty Snelling will debate Democrat Tom Galligan on October 23rd from 7:30-9:00 at the IUS Ogle Center. Snelling and Galligan are vying to replace Rob Waiz who was knocked out in the primary by the former mayor Galligan.

Snelling in particular-- and Republicans in general-- have been gaining popular support in Jeffersonville over the last few years. But the trend would not seem to be enough for Snelling to outdo Galligan. One interesting factor this time: Galligan's negatives are significant-- and voters may decide that Jeff would benefit from a fresher start.

what should Christians do politically (if anything) about polygamy?

From the first half of Marvin Olasky's most recent effort at
and related to a recent posting at Veritas Rex...

No one tolerates everything. Some who tolerate the murder of unborn children abhor the killing of some animals. One man's Mede is another man's Persian.

Should we tolerate the leader of a Utah polygamous sect convicted on Tuesday as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old follower to marry her 19-year-old cousin? The New York Times, under the headline "In Polygamy Country, Old Divisions Are Fading," recently reported that at the scene of the crime, "an intermingling of cultures has begun to bubble up opening hearts and minds in greater understanding."

One example: "Amber Clark, 28 said she thought polygamists should be left alone, so long as no one was under age or coerced into marriage. 'I'm liberal in that respect,' Ms. Clark said. 'If it's legal in some states for people of the same sex to get married, why is it not legal to marry more than one wife?'"

And why not? Two years ago, I spoke with a Princeton political philosopher who supported same-sex marriage but opposed polygamy on grounds of decorum. I kidded him about his being a two-ist: If any combination of two is fine "as long as they love each other," why not be a three-ist or a ten-ist?

Well, pragmatic reasons to oppose polygamy do exist. Utah has numerous "lost boys," who have been thrown out of polygamous communities. About a half dozen have sued the Mormon denomination that broke away from the main Mormon body because of polygamy. The plaintiffs allege that they were expelled so that older men wouldn't face competition in their drive to grab more wives.

A partial settlement of the suit earlier this year created a $250,000 fund that will help boys who leave the denomination to gain an education and have decent housing. But the real cost is far higher when selfish men take multiple wives. The civilizing force in the lives of many "naked nomads," to use George Gilder's term for rootless young men, disappears.

Olasky mentions "pragmatic reasons". But his concerns seem overstated. How are the older men "grabbing" wives (aside from the coercion used on those under 18)? And why are "the lost boys" unable to leave and find wives outside a community that seems to treat them so poorly?

Beyond that, in certain contexts, there can be good ethical and practical reasons for polygamy (e.g., when many of the men in a society have been lost to war). And from a Christian perspective, polygamy was actually a requirement under "levirate marriage"-- when a man was supposed to marry his dead brother's wife. Although these circumstances are not relevant to contemporary America, they would seem to caution us against a universal application of some political solution to this issue.

Olasky cites a Princeton philosopher who seems to have arbitrary standards on this (although the reasons for his conclusions are left unstated). And although Olasky is a Christian, he seems to be speaking as a secular conservative in this piece. To note, where is the biblical and practical case for Christians expending resources on the issue of adults consensually entering into a polygamous relationship. Assuming it's wrong, it does not follow that it should be made illegal-- any more than Christians should, presumably, seek laws against those who are Jehovah's Witnesses or eat too much pie.

Because Olasky leaves a portion of his worldview behind in this piece, he seems to be as arbitrary as his Princeton friend. Christians must do better-- to construct a coherent political philosophy and a set of consistent political practices...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

speech at UK

Sorry I didn't hit the blogosphere hard today. I spent the morning homeschooling my kids before heading to a meeting and then to UK to give a talk based on my book.

The occasion for the talk was the genesis of a new "independent" political group on campus. I was brought in to stir up interest and prospects to join the new group-- and a talk on religion and politics (Christianity and Libertarianism) tends to do that! We had a nice crowd-- about 180 people and standing-room only! And I was able to talk with some of the group's students beforehand and then afterwards at dinner.

A good time!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

would you like to fill out a survey?

In case you're interested, someone left this in the comment section to one of my entries.

Dear Friend,
A group of researchers at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are investigating effects of Weblogs on “Social Capital”. Therefore, they have designed an online survey. By participating in this survey you will help researches in “Management Information Systems” and “Sociology”. You must be at least 18 years old to participate in this survey. It will take 5 to 12 minutes of your time.Your participation is greatly appreciated.

You will find the survey at the following link:

This group has already done another study on Weblogs effects on “Social Interactions” and “Trust”. To obtain a copy of the previous study brief report of findings you can email Reza Vaezi at

the bogus bigotry of LL Bean

A hilarious spoof video from The Onion-- on racial discrimination, boycotts, and a variety of stereotypes...

more archaeological proof of the Bible's validity

From Nigel Reynolds of The Telegraph, an article (along with a cool picture) which depicts a finding that supports an obscure reference in Jeremiah 39...

The sound of unbridled joy seldom breaks the quiet of the British Museum's great Arched Room, which holds its collection of 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets, dating back 5,000 years. But Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, let out such a cry last Thursday. He had made what has been called the most important find in Biblical archaeology for 100 years...

Searching for Babylonian financial accounts among the tablets, Prof Jursa suddenly came across a name he half remembered - Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, described there in a hand 2,500 years old, as "the chief eunuch" of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

Prof Jursa, an Assyriologist, checked the Old Testament and there in chapter 39 of the Book of Jeremiah, he found, spelled differently, the same name - Nebo-Sarsekim. Nebo-Sarsekim, according to Jeremiah, was Nebuchadnezzar II's "chief officer" and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, when the Babylonians overran the city.

The small tablet, the size of "a packet of 10 cigarettes" according to Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, is a bill of receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin's payment of 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon. The tablet is dated to the 10th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 595BC, 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem. Evidence from non-Biblical sources of people named in the Bible is not unknown, but Nabu-sharrussu-ukin would have been a relatively insignificant figure.

"This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find," Dr Finkel said yesterday. "If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power."

aren't our troops fighting for things like "free speech"

From Radley Balko in the October issue of Reason...

The Flagstaff (AZ) activist Dan Frazier sells [a] shirt, which superimposes the phrases "Bush Lied" and "They Died" over the names of 3,000 U.S. troops killed in the war with Iraq. The clothes prompted the Arizona legislature to pass a law banning the use of the names or likenesses of dead soldiers to sell goods. Oklahoma and Louisiana have passed similar bills, and Texas is considering one as well. In July, U.S. Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Charles Boustany (R-La.), and Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) introduced legislation that would impose the prohibition on the entire country...

a better idea of economic justice

From Sarah Zylstra of Christianity Today...

A prominent Christian advocacy group has reversed its previous support for the farm bill and spent the last few months lobbying members of Congress for major reform. Bread for the World, along with more than 25 denominations, is now working to cap subsidies given to farmers at $250,000 and to channel more money into food-assistance programs. The anti-hunger organization traditionally supported the massive legislation due to certain provisions contained in the bill, such as funding for food stamps.

"After the last farm bill went into effect, we started hearing from church leaders in Africa," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. The 2002 bill tied federal subsidies to production, Beckmann said. The excess flooded world markets and undercut poor farmers in developing countries, he said...

Wow! Not nearly as far as I would go, but still a major step forward (and quite a turn-around in the group's thinking)...

The Acton Institute has worked on this issue for some time, including some provocative ads on the same principles applied to used clothes, protectionism and other unjust and inefficient government policies, entrepreneurship in less-developed countries, and so on.

Cutting back on subsidies to the wealthiest farmers may be a wise move economically, said Duane Bajema, professor of agriculture at Dordt College in Iowa. But it's not necessarily a Christian move, he said.

"We have an obligation to the poor," Bajema said, "but how we fulfill it is debatable." Some developing countries support U.S. subsidies, he said, because they can buy cheap grains imported from America.

Huh? It sounds like Bajema may have been smoking another crop! How is it biblical to advocate taking money from taxpayers, increasing prices for consumers, locking poor foreign farmers out of the wealthiest market in the world, and undercutting other foreign farmers with our subsidized products?

You might also want to check out the Environmental Working Group's amazing website and my earlier blog entry applying the data to famous people.

more doom-and-gloom on Social Security

AP's Martin Crutsinger on Bush's remarks yesterday on Social Security...

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration said Monday the only way to permanently fix Social Security is through some combination of benefit cuts and tax increases. That was one of the key findings in a new paper on Social Security released by the Treasury Department in an effort to achieve common ground on the politically explosive issue.

"Social Security can be made permanently solvent only by reducing the present value of scheduled benefits and/or increasing the present value of scheduled tax increases,'' the paper said. The Treasury paper said that while other changes to the giant benefit program might be desirable "only these changes can restore solvency permanently.''

According to the report, SS is facing a $13.6 billion "shortfall". And the benefits of SS are already pathetic-- a 1% rate-of-return on average. (I hope the lower economic classes enjoy the government mandating that they invest in their retirement this way.) And the taxes to support SS are already so painful-- 12.6% of every dollar earned up to about $100,000-- especially for the lower and middle classes. The funniest/saddest part of the whole thing is to see Democrats passionately defend this system-- out of ignorance or the most crass of political motives.

Bush put forward a Social Security reform plan in 2005 that focused on creation of private accounts for younger workers but that proposal never came up for a vote in Congress, with Democrats heavily opposed and few Republicans embracing the idea.

Thanks so much to the courageous Republicans in Congress. One of the few domestic/economic issues in which Bush has taken an interest and had an effective policy answer-- and most of the Republicans ignore it. (Aside from that, one could give Bush credit for one part of his two-part tax reduction.)

The Treasury paper said that there was a "significant cost of delay'' in making the necessary reforms to Social Security because it reduced the number of people who would be able to share in the burden of reform. "Not taking action is thus unfair to future generations...''.

Agreed. But putting a financial burden on future generations has not troubled Bush in general. So far, his preference has been to spend a whole lot of money and finance much of it with debt (i.e., higher future taxes).

tolerance and religious bias in academia

From Mark Bergin in World, an article on the views of college faculty toward those in various religions and denominations.

David French has known for years that college campuses are bastions of anti-evangelical bias. He knew it when he served on the admissions committee at Cornell Law School and watched his colleagues ridicule evangelical applicants as "Bible thumpers" or members of the "God squad." He knew it during his tenure with an education watchdog organization that routinely challenged university speech codes bent on silencing evangelical viewpoints. He knew it when he shifted into his current role as director of the Alliance Defense Fund's Center for Academic Freedom, a position from which he's filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of victimized evangelical students.

But only now can French declare with certainty that his anecdotal observations accurately represent a widespread statistical reality. In a recently released scientific survey of 1,269 faculty members across 712 different colleges and universities, 53 percent of respondents admitted to harboring unfavorable feelings toward evangelicals.

"...the academy has steadfastly refused to admit that the sky is blue—that it has an overwhelming ideological bias that manifests itself in concrete ways. This is another brick in the wall of proving that there's a real problem."

Unlike much of the previous foundation for that proof, this brick hails from a non-evangelical source. Gary A. Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, set out to gauge levels of academic anti-Semitism compared to hostility toward other religious groups. He found that only 3 percent of college faculty holds unfavorable views toward Jews. In fact, no religious group draws anywhere near the scorn of evangelicals, Mormons placing a distant second with a 33 percent unfavorable outcome.

Tobin was shocked. And his amazement only escalated upon hearing reaction to his results from the academy's top brass. Rather than deny the accuracy of Tobin's findings or question his methodology, academy leaders attempted to rationalize their bias. "The prejudice is so deep that faculty do not have any problem justifying it. They tried to dismiss it and said they had a good reason for it," Tobin told WORLD. "I don't think that if I'd uncovered bigotry or social dissonance about Latinos, women, blacks, or Jews, they would have had that same response."

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), told The Washington Post that the poll merely reflects "a political and cultural resistance, not a form of religious bias." In other words, the college faculty members dislike evangelicals not for their faith but the practical outworking of that faith, which makes it OK.

Other prominent voices from the academy have suggested that the anti-evangelical bias does not likely translate into acts of classroom discrimination. Tobin intends to test that claim with a subsequent survey of 3,500 students in the coming academic year. "My guess: You can't have this much smoke without some fire," he said.

And finally, from French's stint on a search committee:

"I actually had people, to their credit, come up and apologize to me afterwards for adopting an unthinking stance towards this student. Having a living, breathing, in-the-flesh Christian with ideas and thoughts and whom people could occasionally respect made a difference."

That's multiculturalism at its best.

So true...

Farm Bureau weighs in on property tax reform

From this morning's C-J, Lesley Stedman Weidenbener on the Farm Bureau's plan for property tax relief...

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Farm Bureau will ask lawmakers to increase individual income- and sales-tax rates by 1 percentage point each and use the revenue to cut property-tax bills for all payers by about 30 percent...

The Farm Bureau's plan calls for the state to increase the sales tax from the current 6 percent to 7 percent and the individual income tax from 3.4 percent to 4.4 percent. That would generate a combined $2.1 billion annually in revenue...

I'm not an expert on the numbers and haven't done the math, but I'd be surprised if these tax increases only cut property taxes by 30%.

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock announced the organization's property-tax recommendations at the Statehouse yesterday, saying they offer permanent, substantial and fair relief to all property owners.

The group, which represents 80,000 Hoosier farm families, stopped short, however, of advocating the elimination of property taxes now.

"We know that we cannot do away with property taxes altogether in the short term," Villwock said. "I think that it is still a noble long-term goal that we at Farm Bureau will still strive for, but we need immediate relief today and we need it now."

A significant short-term solution is more than Indiana's politicos have come up with so far...

The state would use that money to take over several costs from county government and schools.

Property taxes would no longer fund general school costs -- including those for salaries, utility and insurance expenses. Also, the state would take over the full costs of child welfare and courts from counties.

Some of the new tax revenue would be used to set up rainy day funds for schools. That money would be saved for years when sales and income-tax revenue dropped. Once the funds' balance grew, some of the money could then be used to reduce school debt....

Interesting-- and not the focus of any reform efforts so far (that I know of)...

Villwock said yesterday that the Farm Bureau's plan is meant to help all taxpayers, although the group acknowledged that farmers would likely pay less overall. But he said the plan would make the tax system fairer and easier to understand.

Of course, fairness is in the eyes of the beholder! And I don't see how this would make it any easier to understand. More likely, it would be equally incomprehensible. But people's tax bills would be smaller, so they'd be less likely to complain.

"Property taxes are unfair because they are not based on one's ability to pay," he said.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Isiah worse than Imus?

From Jemele Hill of (hat tip: Jim Rome who interviewed her on his radio show this afternoon)

...he gave a frighteningly sexist and racist answer during his videotaped deposition in the sexual harassment suit that's making the New York Knicks' frosty split with Larry Brown seem like a mere misunderstanding.

In short, Thomas is now battling Don Imus for who has said the most insulting thing about black women. Thomas was asked if it's true that a white male executive referred to Anucha Browne Sanders -- a black female executive suing the Knicks because she claims she was fired for complaining about Thomas' unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments toward her -- as a "bitch."

Thomas denied the incident, adding, "A white man calling a black woman a bitch … that is a problem for me."

As a follow-up, Thomas was asked if he would be bothered if a black man used the same derogatory term -- which is pertinent since Thomas and Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury both have been accused of calling Sanders the b-word. "Not as much," replied Thomas, who has denied Sanders' accusations. "I'm sorry to say. I do make a distinction."

Let's be clear: Scores of black men don't run around calling black women "bitches," and they find the idea just as distasteful as the rest of us. And every self-respecting black woman I know would go Jet Li on anyone who ever called her the b-word.

But you don't get that impression from listening to Thomas -- or, for that matter, from Marbury, who admitted under oath he may have called Browne Sanders a bitch, just not a "black bitch," like she accused.

Nevertheless, Thomas is now on record giving quasi-approval to calling black women "bitches," and that's just as reprehensible and damaging as Imus labeling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." At least the Rutgers women got only one dose of Imus. Thomas was Sanders' boss, so she was exposed to his ignorance every day.

Those who really believed Imus picked up his insult from listening to hours of 50 Cent must have gotten a good laugh from Thomas' testimony, because acquitting the aging shock jock now seems legitimate. If one of the NBA's 50 greatest players thinks there is nothing wrong with disrespecting black women, then why should people like Imus have any fear of doing the same?

Black folks should be just as upset with Thomas (and Marbury) as they were with Imus. African-Americans should be canceling season tickets to the Knicks, and if Sanders' case is proven, Thomas should join Imus in the unemployment line.

If we let Thomas off the hook, African-Americans will have fallen into the same old trap: castigating white people for their racist behavior, but then giving a free pass to influential black people who are just as demeaning.

Besides, what Thomas said is far more detrimental to the black community than what Imus said! Thomas, as a high-level executive in charge of one of the most storied franchise in sports, wields considerably more influence over African-Americans than Imus. Black kids aspire to be like Thomas, not Imus.

As it is, black women have a difficult enough time dealing with barriers created by race and gender and the less-than-flattering images of us that have become a fixture in pop culture. Lots of rap songs aren't deemed complete unless a black woman is called a bitch. Black comedians can't complete a routine unless they refer to black women as bitches and hos. Networks like VH1 and BET regularly present black women as being no better than your average, garden-variety chickenhead.

Entertainment certainly can't be blamed for society's ills, much less those in the black community. But we don't need someone like Thomas -- once named one of the 50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports -- co-signing stereotypes that Americans overdose on every day.
And in case you're wondering, Thomas has a daughter.

Thomas' words make for a much more difficult fight when someone like Imus comes along.
Do as I say, not as I do is a flawed philosophy that African-Americans have clung to for far too long. Instead, we should all embrace the profound words of Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

NY Times subsidizes (with $77K)

From the AP... Well, there's media bias (according to Media Matters) and then, there's this...

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Times' ombudsman says the newspaper violated its standards when it gave the liberal activist group a $77,508 price break on a full-page advertisement targeting Gen. David H. Petraeus.

The organization paid $64,575, instead of the standard $142,083 for the ad questioning the war in Iraq, the newspaper's public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote in a column published Sunday.

Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis told Hoyt that an advertising sales representative shouldn't have agreed to the discounted price. The ad seemed to disregard internal advertising standards that ban ads involving attacks of a personal nature, Hoyt wrote.

"We made a mistake," she told Hoyt....

Hoyt said he was asked to investigate the ad rate by, which advocates a strong national defense and a powerful fight against terrorism, because it said it wasn't offered a similar rate.

Jonah's (foreign policy) dilemma

An interesting article, entitled "Jonah's Dilemma"-- by Michael Oren and Mark Gerson from the WSJ on foreign policy through the lens of Yom Kippur... (hat tip: Rick Parker)

They open with the biblical and religious/cultural context...

This year, as on every Yom Kippur, Jews throughout the world will recite the Book of Jonah, one of the Hebrew Bible's shortest and most enigmatic texts. Jonah is the only Israelite prophet to preach to Gentiles, and the only prophet who clearly hates his job. And yet Jews read the book on their holiest day of the year because of its message of atonement and forgiveness. But Jonah also conveys crucial lessons for all Americans as they grapple with crises in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and yearn for far-sighted leadership.

"Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it," God commands Jonah, explaining that the Assyrians must repent for their sins or face divinely-unleashed destruction. The task seems straightforward, yet Jonah balks. He tries to flee, first to sea and later to the desert. If Nineveh heeds his warnings and is spared, its citizens will later question whether the city was really ever in danger and assail Jonah for forcing them to make needless sacrifices. But if Nineveh ignores his exhortations and is destroyed, then Jonah has failed as a prophet. Either way he loses -- that's the paradox of prophecy. And so he bolts, only to discover that God will not let him out of that bind. Jonah must be swallowed by a big fish before begrudgingly accepting his mission.

From there, they proceed to the foreign policy application. First, to World War II...

Jonah's quandary is routinely encountered by national leaders, especially during crises. Winston Churchill, for example, prophetically warned of the Nazi threat in the 1930s, but if he had convinced his countrymen to strike Germany pre-emptively, would he have been hailed for preventing World War II or condemned for initiating an unnecessary conflict? As president in 1945, Harry Truman predicted that Japan would never surrender and that a quarter of a million GIs would be killed invading it. And so he obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only to be vilified by many future historians. But what if the atomic bombs were never dropped and the Battle for Japan claimed countless casualties -- would history have judged Truman more leniently?

And then, to more recent applications...

Recent presidents, in particular, have struggled with such dilemmas while wrestling with the question of terror. Jimmy Carter failed to retaliate for the takeover the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Ronald Reagan pulled the U.S. Marines out of Beirut in 1983 after Islamist bombers destroyed their headquarters, and Bill Clinton remained passive in the face of successive al Qaeda attacks. And yet, had these presidents gone to war, would Americans today credit them with averting a 9/11-type attack or would they have been denounced for overreacting? If American leaders had stood firmly earlier in Iran, Lebanon or Afghanistan, would U.S. troops today be battling in Iraq?

But the analogy fails-- or at least, suffers tremendously-- here. In contrast to World War II, in each of these three cases, we had been intervening significantly in the foreign affairs of others-- for decades in Iran (what a sad story!), in Lebanon on behalf of Israel, and in the Persian Gulf (with troops levels moving from 100's pre-1990 to 1000's between 1992-1997 to 10,000's in 1998 and afterwards)-- before we were attacked (in response).

President Bush presents a striking example here. After 9/11, he cautioned that the United States would again be attacked unless it acted pre-emptively in Iraq. But while there is no way of knowing whether terrorists would have struck America if President Bush had refrained from invading Iraq, many Americans now denounce the president for initiating an avoidable, unwinnable war. This is the tragedy of leadership. Policy makers must decide between costly actions and inaction, the price of which, though potentially higher, will ultimately remain unknown -- a truly Jonah-like dilemma.

Oren and Gerson are correct as far as they go. But they don't wrestle with a third possibility: how Al Queda might have responded (and will respond) if we withdraw troops from the region. Is Al Queda more like Hitler and Japan in WWII (they're going to keep coming at us no matter what)-- or more like Iran or Lebanon (they're fighting what they perceive to be an imperialistic threat)?

I plan to blog at length on Robert Pape's book soon (Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism). But for now, it will have to suffice to say that the latter hypothesis is at least reasonable, if not compelling...

technological advance to help deal with a perpetual economic problem

From Larry Copeland at USA Today (with a hat tip to Linda Christiansen), the sort of article that gets an economist excited! ;-)

Roads are a modest example of what economists call a "public good"-- a good that is, to a significant degree, "non-rival" (your use doesn't affect my use) and "non-exclusive" (it is costly to prevent consumers from using your good or service without paying). The latter is especially important since it leads to the "free rider problem": people use it without paying-- a real problem if you're a producer! (For other examples, think about computer software, "services" provided by a church, contributing to an office gift, and national defense.)

As such, the market struggles to produce the optimal amount. And there are occasions when the government may struggle less than markets (ironically) to provide the good in question. (Along with public goods, markets "struggle" with externalities like pollution, macro instability, information problems, and monopoly power. Each of these are potential candidates for, ironically, efficiency-enhancing government intervention.)

Roads are only a modest example of a "public good" since they are somewhat rival (and quite rival during rush-hour traffic!) and somewhat exclusive (see: toll roads/bridges). Roads could become even less exclusive-- if low-cost technology were available to monitor road use (and to charge accordingly). Such technology has been used on a handful of highways over the last decade or so-- as people pay to use a private road with less traffic rather than using a public road for free.

The following article describes the continuing advance of the relevant technology-- and the expanding use of the technology. Although gas taxes are ok as a proxy for road use (and thus, as a user fee for roads), per-mile charges would be an improvement. (Beyond that, it would be even better to factor in weight [to deal with road damage] and pollution [damage to the environment]. Technology allows for both of these as well.)

Beginning early next year, drivers in six states will begin testing a new way to pay for roads and transit: Commuters will be charged for the miles they drive rather than paying taxes on gasoline purchased.

Researchers from the University of Iowa Public Policy Center will install computers and satellite equipment in the vehicles of 2,700 volunteers — 450 each from Austin, Baltimore, Boise, San Diego, eastern Iowa and the Research Triangle region of North Carolina.

Over the next two years, the drivers will get sample monthly bills for the number of miles they've driven. They can compare what they now pay in gasoline taxes with what they would have paid in per-mile fees.

"We want to assess the public's attitudes and acceptance toward a system like this," says Jon Kuhl, principal investigator on the $16.5 million Road User Charge Study and chairman of the University of Iowa Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The nation is reassessing the way it pays for roads and transit. Since 1956, the Highway Trust Fund, financed by the federal tax on gasoline, has been a primary source of money for highway projects. But the National Governors Association and other groups and planners involved in road building have concluded that this method, supplemented by state gasoline taxes, no longer is adequate.

Americans are driving cars that get better mileage, and more are driving vehicles that use fuels taxed at lower rates than gasoline, such as ethanol, or making their own fuel and not being taxed. That means gas tax revenue isn't growing nearly as fast as the number of miles driven.

In addition, the costs of road construction materials have skyrocketed because of heavy demand from India and China. Congress and many state legislatures are reluctant to increase gas taxes, especially at a time of high prices at the pump. The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon has not been increased since 1993; 24 states have not raised their gas taxes since 1997, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

That has made a mileage fee more attractive to some agencies. The University of Iowa study is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and 15 state departments of transportation.


Oregon this year finished a year-long experiment that tested a "virtual tollway" system that could eventually replace the state gas tax with a road-user fee. Volunteers drove vehicles equipped with state-installed Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and odometers that kept track of the miles they drove. When they gassed up, the drivers paid for their gas as well as 1.2 cents for each mile driven since their last fill-up; they did not pay the 24-cents-a-gallon state gas tax....

"It's not a question of if this is viable," says Iowa's Kuhl. "It's a question of when it becomes politically and socially viable to make such a large-scale shift."

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