Friday, January 30, 2004


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Martin Marty is a scholar whose writings I have often encountered and I encountered him today reading these remarks on evangelicals.


Some of his words are apt. The Religious Right has gotten together by creating a public, explicitly Christian, civil religion that cuts across denominational lines. He is also correct that Catholics and progressive Protestants were the dominant politico-religious culture of the first half of the 20th century.


Marty's thesis is that evangelicals and their ilk have thrived by adopting the vestments of mainstream culture through such tools as music and media outreach. This came about as the Catholics and progressive Protestants became too at-home in the culture realizing their goals, losing their "innovative spirit" and desire for change. In the end, Marty says that he will not predict the fate of evangelicals in America, but he hints that their dominant position will pass as they awkwardly deal with new situations.


It should be noted that his article is based on remarks at a National Association of Evangelicals convention, so his words will be spun favorably toward that group. Still, I don't buy the main thrust of his argument. Oh, I can understand the idea that progressive Christianity suffered from a realization of much of its social agenda and from assimilation into the mainstream. What I don't accept is the idea that evangelicals have reached a similar state, or are trending in that direction. While evangelicals now make up a significant part of what may be the controlling coalition in this country for some time, they still haven't realized much of their cultural politics, as Marty notes. And the national conservative coalition is held together in part by not pushing too hard on those issues dearest to evangelicals, such as school prayer and abortion.


Still, Marty's premise, borrowed from Thorstein Veblen by way of Robert Service, that those who are in the lead suffer from inefficiently trying out new things while laggers borrow successful strategies holds some merit. Last weekend, I visited a Catholic church that seemed almost indistinguishable from a Protestant mega-church, with a vibrant preacher and a rock band performing music that included things you hear on popular radio. And perhaps evangelicals will stumble trying to harness the internet or trying to adapt to scientific breakthroughs that contradict tenets of religion.


Only time will tell.


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Conservative Radio Talk Show Hosts Are Stupid -- Throw Rocks at Them.
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Thursday, January 29, 2004


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Here's a story on how the Republicans already have strategies to fight John Kerry. One of the points is that Kerry has the longest "paper trail" of past votes and positions. It became the fashion to appoint "stealth judges" like David Souter who lacked a harmful record. Have we reached the point in politics where we need that sort of quality in a presidential candidate?
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It is a dark, dark day for radio.


Some people may recognize 97X when it was name-dropped in Rain Man. I remember it as one of the radio stations I listened to in my youth. I listened to it before I even saw Rain Man (on TV).


My musical listening choices are debatable, according to some. My parents listened to Big Band and crooners like Frank Sinatra, so I got to know that music as a child. I went through phases where I listened primarily to soft rock, then oldies. The first album I ever bought was a cassette of Billy Joel's Piano Man. It wasn't until the beginning of the '90s that I really got into '80s music, probably because my family didn't have cable (and, therefore, MTV) before then. I tried classical music, but I didn't really have the desire or money to throw myself into amassing the standard works of the genre. There was one summer where I watched a lot of music videos on GAC. More recently, I've been interested in music that is fun to sing. And I still listen to radio.


I've pretty much bounced around the musical spectrum in terms of what I am willing to listen to and I will entertain a variety of moods. But I generally prefer music that has lyrics. I don't like excessively hard rock. And I think there's a place for songs that are angry, bitter, or depressed, but I don't want everything I hear to be a downer.


97X gave me a nice mix of interesting stuff, from guitar-driven alternative to alterna-pop. It and a modern rock station, 107.1 Channel Z (since changed to an urban format), were what I often listened to driving to and from school.


I'm on dial-up, so internet radio is not for me right now, but if I had broadband, I'd be listening to the 97X netcast right now for old time's same.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004


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With the Oscar nominations out, I have to wonder if the emphasis on small films was a big raspberry being blown in the direction of the major studios who wanted to get rid of screeners that supposedly help independent studios get attention.
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Saturday, January 24, 2004


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Here's a piece of the opinion: "It's Clear Vatican Gave Gibson Permission to Use Pope's Comment."
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Thursday, January 22, 2004


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Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger is not just the home of Savage Love.


Here's a ground's eye view of Dean supporters and the Iowa caucuses.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004


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For poker afficionados among my non-existent readership, here is a fascinating read, a World Series of Poker diary by Howard Lederer.
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The ban aimed mostly against Muslim headscarves seems to have led to harassment of cross-wearing schoolgirls and habit-wearing nuns.


Similar legislation is in the works in Germany.

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In the Philippines, where the death penalty is being reinstated, a bishop reiterated the Catholic stance against capital punishment, saying that love is more important than justice.
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From the Catholic Health Association:



Tonight in his State of the Union address, President Bush outlined his plan for expanding health coverage. While we appreciate this effort, it falls short of addressing the dire circumstances surrounding more than 43 million individuals who are uninsured and the millions more who are underinsured.

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Monday, January 19, 2004


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So Howard Dean finished third at the Iowa caucuses.


I wonder if anyone will spin it as parochial Iowans turned off by Dean dissing the caucuses in the past with comments on Canadian TV and in the present by not removing his name from the DC primary.

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Sunday, January 18, 2004


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Here's another bishop saying that some Catholic politicians should skip Communion. His full letter can be seen here.
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Here's a story on the Catholic Church and politics in Boston.


Important to note is this quote:

"He tried to use his position for political purposes whenever he felt moral issues were at stake," said Boston College university historian Thomas H. O'Connor. "But he was in a different climate. By the time Law came in, Catholics were more sophisticated, better educated, and of a higher socioeconomic bracket, and they were less inclined to take religious dictates at face value."


One might interpret this statement as "Catholics are less Catholic now." Instead, I'd say that this is a matter of Catholics choosing to remain Catholic despite differences because there's something they still like, whether it be social networks or ethical instincts.

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Here's an interesting tale of spin and the Vatican.
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I used to order this stuff for breakfast at my Cincinnati-area high school's cafeteria.
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Thursday, January 15, 2004


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Braun Quits Race and Endorses Dean for Presidential Nomination


I wonder what Cabinet post she was promised? Just so long as Donna Brazile isn't given a big role in the campaign.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004


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William Safire write on "The Kurdish Question" facing those who would re-build Iraq.


Right now, the Kurds hold all the cards. They don't have to agree to anything unless they absolutely want it, because the status quo is perfectly fine with them. Which means that the status quo has to change in order to establish an independent Iraqi government.


The Kurds primarily fear Turkey right now. If I wanted to pressure the Kurds, I would introduce Turkish peace-keepers into areas as close as possible to Kurdish areas. Then I would say that the troops leave when a constitution is established and a legitimate government is in place to order peace-keeping forces out of the country.

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Sunday, January 11, 2004


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Over on TAPPED, Matthew Iglesias writes, There's nothing remotely democratic about a constitutional amendment barring state legislatures from allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married..


I'm not going to touch the issue of whether or not gay marriage should be legal. but I do think Yglesias is being disingenuous to say that a constitutional amendment would be undemocratic because it would be hard to repeal then admit in the very next paragraph that constitutional amendments are hard to pass in the first place.


People should get it through their heads that democracy is not an algorithm for good government. Democracy is capable of creating horrible, horrible regimes. It is a flaw of maxi-social Darwinism to see democracy as the necessary end (or at least the highest current state) in the evolution of political systems, and following from there that democracy should produce the most just of possible rules.


Democracy is merely a majoritarian form of government, perhaps with some constraints. Its success relies on the how often the majority is correct, how appropriate the constraints are in cae the majority is not correct, and how strongly the constraints are enforced when they go against the will of the majority.

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Friday, January 09, 2004


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Bishop Joseph Gossman of Raleighfired the editor of his diocesan newspaper for printing an interview in which a retired sociologist and former priest claimed that the church was sick.


I feel as if some in the Church are unwilling to accept sound social-scientific fact because it does jibe with perceived reality. I am not saying that the author in question, William Powers, was right in his statements, but I'd at least like to take a gander at his data.

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The Bishop of La Crosse (Wisconsin) has banned his priests from giving communion to politicians who support abortion and euthanasia.


I doubt this will have any major effect, but it has symbolic significance for certain constituencies.

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Thursday, January 08, 2004


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The Sci Fi Channel will have a miniseries based on Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series. Le Guin is certainly a well-regarded author. One of her short stories, "Clones," was included in the American literature anthology used in my sophomore year of high school.


Still, I've noticed a tendency for many science fiction fans I know to have little love for her work. Myself, I admit to not being able to start The Left Hand of Darkness, but it may just be a matter of being in the right mood. I've had similar reactions to some magical realist works that I later enjoyed. I rather liked her Earthsea books.


I've always had an interest with Le Guin. As she is the daughter of noted anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, I'd like to think she has a certain sensitivity to the social sciences (even if anthro feels ickily removed more statistics-based disciplines). I've always had a fascination with the idea of "social science fiction" rather than just "science fiction." Sci fi seems to have characters who are overly individualistic.


Admittedly, literature with its very themes of man vs. self, man vs. man, and man vs. nature is biased towards individuals. If I were to try to write a sci fi novel, I would probably get bogged down with the details of creating social structures that I consider social-scientifically valid.


If anyone has suggested reading along this line, I would appreciate it.

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Howard Deans say that his faith affects how he approached the bill on gay civil unions.


Granted, this isn't going to sway any staunch anti-homosexuals, and will probably bother militant gay rights activists, but it's a reasonable nuanced position. I particularly like how he uses science in harmony with religion. He doesn't say that science has invalidated religious belief. Rather, he holds that religion must be updated to account for new data that science can give us.


Dean strikes me as someone who is not a natural speaker; he has to experiment on the campaign trail to determine how best to communicate what he believes. I think by the summer he'll be talking a lot more ably on religious points and (assuming he wins the nomination) he will be able to sincerely (if not smoothly) mix religion into his comments.


So I am not worried that religion and gay civil unions are potentially issues in 2004.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004


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Here is a comment I had to this post:


The descent of some portions of the left into shrill whininess is problem that Kushner diagnoses well. And it is for this reason that I support Howard Dean, solely on the issues even if every candidate in the field had exactly the same support and the nomination was completely up in the air.


I started exploring Howard Dean way back in November 2002. I'd be a bit hesitant to bring this up with the crowds that go to Dean Meetups, but I feel more comfortable here. The first inkling that I had that Dean was on to something was when I read his position on health care, a stance that he enunicated clearly in the televised Sunday debate. The plan of giving more people access to an admittedly flawed system before fixing the system stikes me as a wonderfully pragmatic step towards idealistic goals. It's not a starry-eyed approach similar to what the White House Bush League went for and is still going for in Iraq. It's not an ego-centric grasp for instant gratification. It's a long-term plan.


And this is what I like about Howard Dean and why I think he's better than any other Democrat running for president (though of course, any of those lesser Democrats are superior to Bush).

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Monday, January 05, 2004


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Here's a comment I posted to this Matthew Yglesias post.

The main thrust of the post deals with how coalitions are formed in the United States rather than in a European-style parliamentary democracy. In a parliamentary system, coalitions are formed after an election. In the U.S., however, coalitions of interests are formed before elections.

This does not bother me in the slightest. I would argue that this system actually decreases the influence of the Religious Right, compared to what we would have in a parliamentary system.

A tri-polar system is inherently unstable (and my main difficulty in suspension of disbelief when reading Orwell's 1984). Having more than three parties of significant strength in our system leads to situations like the election of 1860.

Given that I consider the libertarian credo to be a cancer on the soul of America, I am quite happy to see the movement marginalize itself by trying to found a third party which, at best can play spoiler a la Nader.
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This article pretty much sums up my feelings about the state of reporting on religion.
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This is stupid. Marriage should be more meaningful than this.
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Sunday, January 04, 2004


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There's a Washington Post article on the state of legalized euthanasia in the Netherlands.


I can't say that I would support the legalization of euthanasia in the U.S. I accept that it covertly happens and I don't believe in prying too closely into cases where a death that was plausibly natural may have actually been a closet case of euthanasia. But if it happens, it doesn't need the legitimization of law.


It is hard for some people to understand this part of my political philosophy, that sometimes possibly good things should remain illegal. I justify it thus: I don't personally believe in the "rule of law" as an unbending principle by which to organize society. Rather it is a heuristic for creating order. It would be otherwise nigh impossible to create and enforce laws that are perfectly just because justice demands perfect knowledge of the situation in which an act is performed. We need an arbitrary reference point.


Plato had his crappy unworkable utopia that he called The Republic. If I had my way, my ideal state would have law enforcement that understands the need to occasionally look the other way.


So, back to euthanasia. I'd keep it illegal. And I wouldn't press too closely if it looks like it may have occurred, so long as those involved pay lip service to the idea that euthanasia should remain illegal. I prefer a curtain of opacity around some decision-making processes. Is plausible deniability too much to ask for?


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Friday, January 02, 2004


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I cam across this old (1999) article giving one Vaticanista's list of the papabile, the possible candidates for pope. Here's another, more recent list. Some of the names I've actually heard of.


Pierre Eyt had a public disagreement with Cardinal Ratzinger over the Church in the modern world, which marks him as someone who interests me. Unfortunately, he died of cancer since the article came out.


Cardinal Ruini is a member of the current Pope's inner circle and was in attendance at the concert where Lauryn Hill criticized the Catholic Church. Angelo Sodano is another member of the inner circle as Vatican secretary of state.


Now, I don't know exactly how the conclave deliberates, although I recognize crap when I see it. My guess is that the final result will be a European who is at least somewhat acceptable as a compromise to partisans of Dionigi Tettamanzi.

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Eevn democracies want nuclear capability. I know that some in the Bush administration have labeled Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as part of a Latin American axis of evil. One can only wonder when the CIA-sponsored coup will occur.
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