Daily Report, September 18th: Old Testament Wisdom, Run for the Border, Machiavelli in Massachusetts, Worst Dad of the Year Award, Thanking Mahmoud, and Spying on the Spies
1. THE FIRST TESTAMENT. If you’re interested in better understanding the Old Testament, that strange collection of books and poems and prophecies, filled with stories of wily characters like Jacob, swift-running old men like Elijah and whip-smart women like Esther, then you should be interested in John Goldingay’s three-volume series, a “truly magnum magnum opus.” The final volume is soon to be released; you can find excerpts here (some good stuff there), and a collection of the rave reviews. I particularly like the latter link; editors and publishers send books out to be reviewed by famous people, and those famous people supply “blurbs” with words of praise. But only very small snippets of the reviews can be included in the blurbs, so in this case (the second link above) the editor shares at greater length the glowing reviews for this extraordinary work. Here is one selection:
In the First Testament and in twenty-first century Western spirituality, the image of life as a journey is prominent, but the image has quite different significance in the two contexts. Western spirituality emphasizes that each of us is on our individual journey. Further, the journey is largely one we are undertaking inside our heads (our hearts or spirits, we may prefer to say). The emphasis of First Testament spirituality (taken up by the New Testament) is that Yhwh has laid out a moral path or track before Israel within whose parameters we are all to walk. This walk does involve the mind or heart or spirit, but it more obviously involves the feet (and hands and mouth), because a walk is something visible and outward. Letting our thinking develop in ways that are authentic to us is not enough, though it is also not enough to be outwardly walking Yhwh’s way but inwardly or privately worshiping other gods or plotting trouble for people. The question is whether we are letting our lives develop in ways that correspond to where Yhwh points. What counts is not the distinctive journey that I make as an individual, finding out who I am and making my distinctive personal contribution to the achievement of Yhwh’s purpose; indeed, looking for my own way is likely to mean finding it is the way to death rather than the way to life (Prov 14:12; 16:2, 9, 25; 21:2; Is 66:3; Jer 21:8). What counts is whether I am walking in Yhwh’s way with other people who are also committed to that way. We walk after or follow Yhwh like an army following its king as it advances to battle and/or follows the standards with the divine symbols that symbolize the divine presence.
2. RUN FOR THE BORDER. While President Obama says that the reformed health care insurance should not cover those who are here illegally, he also told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute that this is all the more reason to legalize them (video here). Also, the new health insurance regime will cover all of those who are here legally, whether or not they are citizens. I agree with the first point; we do need to find some way to bring those who are here illegally into the system so that they can both contribute to and receive from our social programs. As mentioned in earlier posts, the flow of illegal immigration has slowed recently, but I suspect that a large portion of the population is not going to be happy to give legal status or social services until they are confident that we have got control over our borders. A not-insignificant amount of people are understandably upset about the effects of illegal immigration on their local labor markets, about the added strain on our social safety nets and state budgets, and about the perception that politicians on both sides of the aisle are more than happy to turn a blind eye to illegal immigration as long as it helps them politically. We can allow many, many people from Mexico and South America to enter America legally and become citizens in full even as we strive to control our border. These are not mutually exclusive.
3. WHITHER PRINCIPLES? The Massachusetts House of Representatives gave preliminary approval (one more vote is required) to a bill that would allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a successor to the senatorial seat of Ted Kennedy. After it has passed the House, it will head to the Senate. In the one-party-rule of Massachusetts, there is really no question whether this power will be granted. There is only a question of what they will get in return from national figures, like President Obama himself, who are counting on them to do it. I’m guessing Obama and other national Democratic celebrities will be spending a little more time in Massachusetts next year campaigning for candidates for the midterms.
What’s more entertaining still is hearing the Massachusetts politicians trying to portray their action as something principled. After all, it was only five years ago that Democrats passed a bill taking this exact same power away from the Governor because they were afraid Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican to Senator Kerry’s seat if the latter were elected President. There is no principle here, but a very specific purpose: putting a 60th Democrat in the Senate in order to be able to overcome a Republican filibuster on health care. They can’t wait the five months until the special election is held, because they can’t let the health care issue (even though the non-tax aspects of the bill would not take effect until 2013) languish and continue to suffer attack after attack.
We all know this is simply an act of political opportunism. I just wish they would admit it. The tactic so far (Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the House, employs this tactic in the article cited) has been to say: We just want to make sure that Massachusetts has a voice on health care and other issues. Yeah. This has nothing to do with the fact that they’re Democrats, by the way; the Republicans would do the same thing in the analogous situation. It just speaks to the absence of principle in our political sphere.
4. LEFT/RIGHT, OR BLACK/WHITE? The debate continues over whether the fierce opposition we have seen at tea party protests and health-care town halls is racially motivated. Of course there are racists and morons on both sides of the aisle. But I don’t see racism at the heart of this opposition. The anger toward Reid, Pelosi and people like Barney Frank and Chris Dodd is just as intense, if not more intense, than the anger toward President Obama. Obama still has a higher support rating amongst whites than John Kerry did in the 2004 election.
I will have a column on this shortly.
5. WORST DAD OF THE YEAR AWARD goes to Jose Alfredo Ajpacaja-Ajiatraz, who punished his daughter (for stealing, though it doesn’t matter) first by beating her and then by shaving her hair off. At least, the daughter says that he beat her. He denies it. But the fact that he shaved her head…well, let’s just say it lends credence to the claim that he’s enough of a jerk to beat his daughter.
6. GREEN CONDOMS. According to the medical journal called The Lancet, there are 200 million women around the world who want contraceptives but do not have access to them — and this results in 75 million unintended pregnancies per year. There are two separate issues when it comes to contraceptives: promoting contraceptives for children and young adults who are having sex, and promoting contraceptives for married couples who cannot afford them. I understand why most Christians have mixed feelings about the first: on the one hand you hope that a child will use a condom if he/she does have sex, but on the other hand you worry about promoting a culture of promiscuity. However, even those who object to giving condoms to children — unless they are persuaded by the Catholic argument against contraception — should be all in favor of promoting condoms for married women who cannot afford contraception — and should expect that this will result in fewer abortions, and will slow out-of-control population growth in developing countries.
7. PARANOIA TIME. A watch that used GPS technology to show you where your child is, within 10 feet. Wise security in an unsafe time? Or the paranoia of helicopter parents? You decide. As one commenter notes, however, this could be great for those who have parents with Alzheimer’s. What other uses might there be? The watch can be programmed to send you a message if your child strays out of a particular area, and it tells you if it’s been taken off. A way to make sure your kid goesn’t go to Makeout Point?
8. JEDI FRIGHT. Morda Helol, known to non-Jedi as Daniel Jones, was recently expelled from a Tesco store in Wales when he would not remove his Jedi hood.
“I told them it was a requirement of my religion but they just sniggered and ordered me to leave,” he said. “I walked past a Muslim lady in a veil. Surely the same rules should apply to everyone.” The handbook of the UK Jedi Church, founded by film nut Daniel last year, states: “Jedis must wear a hood up in any public place of a large audience.” But a Tesco spokesman countered that Obi-Wan, Luke and Yoda all went about hoodless “without going to the Dark Side.”
Daniel added: “I’ll advise worshippers to boycott Tesco if it happens again. They will feel the Force.”
Religious persecution. Pure and simple.
9. BIPOLAR POLICY. The Poles and Czechs feel betrayed, as though they’ve been sold out in order to appease Russia. Suddenly they’re not sure whether we will protect them from Russian domination. I don’t blame them. We’ve done a great deal to draw the former Soviet States into the twenty-first century as capitalist democracies, and they’ve done reasonably well. Given what I know right now, I’m not in favor of the deal/plan Obama has made. It’s never a good sign when Vladimir Putin is leading the applause. But I’m holding out hope that we will indeed form another strategic partnership with them, and will indeed strengthen our missile defenses. That requires me to trust Obama, which I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do. But I’m trying. As Politico reports, even Democrats are asking: what exactly are we getting in return from Russia? Obama better have an answer — and a good one.
10. IS THE ONE’S FOREIGN POLICY WORKING? Iran promises that Israel will not last much longer. Blazing words for a country that’s under extreme pressure for developing nuclear weaponry. I don’t so much mind when he dismisses the Holocaust as a lie. Anyone who has not been raised under the mental domination of a psycho-theocratic regime knows that is false, and anyone who is in such a regime will believe it anyway. I mind that Ahmadinejad continues to provoke us, throw out deals back in our faces and tell us that he intends to destroy Israel — and we refuse to believe him and continue to think that he’ll be reasonable and friendly if we’re just nice enough to him. I don’t think it works that way. Obama needs something to show for his foreign policy changes, and he needs it soon. He’s quickly losing credibility and quickly coming to look like a weak-willed appeaser. He needs to show me that this can work, because so far I’m not seeing it.
Oddly, Joe Klein thanks Ahmadinejad for having enlightened ancestors such as Cyrus, king of Persia who allowed the Israelites to return home (mentioned in Isaiah among other places. I see no connection between Cyrus and Ahmadinejad.
11. JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY. Time has done something of a hit job on Glenn Beck, using for its cover a year-old picture from Jill Greenberg, who admits that she intentionally made him look back. Greenberg is the one who intentionally made John McCain look bad for The Atlantic (so much that they refused to pay her once they learned the truth). She is spiteful and childish. I’m not a Glenn Beck fan, but he makes a good point that it’s rather hypocritical to criticize Beck for trading on people’s fears when that’s precisely what magazines like Time do with all their stories of impending disasters. The Right cultivates and trades on fears of the Left, and the Left does the same of the right. It’s a rotten game.
12. BIG GOVERNMENT: BIG MISTAKE? A cogent explanation of the argument against big government.
13. PRIVATE EYES. The ACLU defends its decision to follow CIA agents to their homes, take photos of them, and share them with alleged terrorists in Gitmo. I guess they only believe in privacy in certain situations.
14. FIGURE OF SPEECH. The Big Speech doesn’t seem to have turned the tide. Disapproval of Obama’s reform has not reached it’s highest point, at 56 to 43 percent. Obama will appear in five televised interviews this Sunday. Will All Obama, All the Time get the bill passed? Branding opponents as racist nuts doesn’t seem likely to work, either. Where is the elevated, deliberate discourse we need? Can the church provide it? More information that is missing or twisted in the debate.
15. TODAY’S TWO-SIDES. A twofer.
First, from the Left, Kai Wright claims that Jimmy Carter was correct that race underlies the Obama opposition. Eugene Robinson concurs. From the Right, David Brooks says no, it’s not about race. And Jonah Goldberg condemns the use of this “tackle box full of race bait.” This is an important issue. Read them all.
16. Finally, COLUMN(S) OF THE DAY. Since today’s Friday, I’ll give one for the Righties and one for the Lefties. For the Righties, Charles Krauthammer on the question of whether Obama lies. For the Lefties, David Gibson arguing that the Left has closed the ‘God God.’
I will not be posting a Report tomorrow. Have a good weekend!