Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday miscellaneous (1/27)

Credit: AP
Jeremiah (this blog’s co-author) on last night’s GOP debate: “Santorum rock solid, knowledgeable, and spoke from his heart. Mitt was on fire like he has never been before and was at his best defending capitalism. Newt was off his game and did too much pandering. Paul told jokes and made me laugh.” I didn’t watch the whole thing, but that seemed to sum it up. Did anyone else see momentum shift last night?

A former professor of mine (actually, of all three authors of this blog) analyzes the GOP field and likes Santorum:

I’ve traveled a circuitous route to get to the place where I am today in deciding whom to support in the Republican primary. I began with an interest in Bachmann, but soon concluded she didn’t have the experience for the job. I then turned to Perry for a brief while, hoping he would be the political “savior,” but that soured for me pretty quickly, particularly after a few debates. Herman Cain came on my personal radar after I was his table companion at a Republican event. I liked his attempt to get us to a fair tax. When he imploded over what I still think may have been false accusations, I toyed for a while with the idea that Gingrich could be the man. But then I took a fresh look at Santorum and came away impressed with his foundational understanding of principles of government and society based on a Christian worldview. That’s where I am today, and next Tuesday, I will cast my vote for him in Florida’s Republican primary.

That said, Jeremiah and I discovered during last night's debate that while neither of us have made up our minds yet, he’s leaning toward Santorum and I’m leaning towards Romney. This could get interesting...

On Romney, Dennis Prager asks that his Mormonism not be the reason he doesn’t get the nomination. Is that a valid request?

Two recent articles have addressed the issue of US businesses outsourcing. The first, is about how Apple will never bring jobs back (
and with stories like this, it's not surprising that using Chinese workers is cheaper
).The second is how Master Lock is moving back to Milwaukee because it’s cheaper than China.

My wife found this fascinating immigration story about a guy being deported after being granted US citizenship because of prior human rights violations. Update: he was deported and is now serving a life sentence in Ethiopia.

And finally, on a more local note, the management of Detroit risks being taken over by the State of Michigan. My questions: should the state/local relationship mirror the federal/state relationship?

And finally finally, because you all needed a laugh:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Abortion is a Human Rights Issue

Yesterday a sea of people braved the rain and mud and showed up in Washington D.C. to stand for the rights of the unborn. Among them were two GenJ clubs as well as GenJ students from Pennsylvania.

We stood out in the rain and cold hearing Speaker of the House John Boehner who said, “So I’ve never considered ‘pro-life’ to be a label or a position. It’s just who I am.”

Several congressmen including Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sean Duffy of Wisconsin talked about how the pro-life movement is a human rights movement and 39 years under Roe v. Wade has been 39 years when equal protection for unborn citizens has been ignored.

As I stood on Constitution Avenue and looked behind me, I saw a crowd of people stretching as far as I could see, and it gave me hope. The majority of people marching were young people. They cried out on behalf of their missing classmates. They are the ones passionate enough to come in the bad weather. They are the ones who are driven to see the end of abortion in America. They are the ones who will lead on this issue. It is inspiring.

A few GenJ stalwarts made this video about the vision of Generation Joshua and the need to pass the torch to the next generation. Like the sea of young faces, this video shows the future of America. The duty is yours; the results are God’s. 

-Post by Jeremiah Lorrig

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday miscellaneous (1/20)

Perry is out, and has endorsed Gingrich. Where will Perry supporters go?

In a recount, Santorum actually won Iowa, which means Romney cannot claim to be the only non-incumbent to have won both Iowa and New Hampshire.

I don’t want to keep returning to Ron Paul, but here is a history lesson for him on the Taliban. And did anyone else see his interview regarding his twitter account? It’s the newsletter explanation all over again.
 Front Porch Republic recently had an article on an alternate history of money.
The First Amendment right to free exercise of religion got a significant boost last week in a unanamous Supreme Court opinion.
John Hinderaker at PowerLine has endorsed Romney. Here's his post on Romney's conservative record while governor of Massachusetts. Along the same lines, does anyone remember May Ann Glendon, the former US Ambassador to the Vatican who declined a to speak at Notre Dame's commencement because they had awarded an honorary degree to Obama in violation of their pro-life Catholic principles? She has joined with other pro-family leaders in supporting Romney.

Evangelical leaders are lining up behind Santorum.

The three deadliest words in the world: It's a girl

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the national holiday in celebration of Martin Luther King. In case any reminders are needed, below is his I Have A Dream Speech.

But what I like even more than that speech is King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Therein King defends his peaceful civil disobedience from his detractors in the church, who claim to be with him in spirit yet who disagree with his actions. Echoing the epistles of the apostle Paul, which were also written from prisoner, King explores the meaning of justice, and how a law can be unjust.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
King also reproaches the church for its complacency. Go read the whole thing. And watch the speech. Remembering this injustice, and honoring King's tireless effort to end segregation and racism, is the purpose of this holiday.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Half the Sky: a review

Note: this was originally published on my personal blog two years ago. However, it is being reposted here in light of this month being National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. As President Obama noted in his announcement, "Trafficking networks operate both domestically and transnationally, and although abuses disproportionally affect women and girls, the victims of this ongoing global tragedy are men, women, and children of all ages."

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” If that is true, than journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (a husband and wife team whose liberal politics occasionally peek through), have written a truly conservative book in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide; for they insist that culture, more than politics, is the answer to gender discrimination around the world. In this way, it fits very well with the body of work begun by Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress.

The main theme of the book is that the liberation and education of women and girls around the world, especially in the third world, is both economically profitable and morally right. They even go so far, at times, as to insist that when it may not be economically profitable, it is still morally right. Their numbers are staggering:
Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. “More than 100 million women are missing,” Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in The New York Review of Books, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances, women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), and India has 108. The implication of the sex ratios, Sen later found, is that about 107 million females are missing from the globe today. Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for “missing women” of between 60 million and 107 million.

It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
For those women who live, mistreatment is sometimes shockingly brutal. If you’re reading this article, the phrase “gender discrimination” might conjure thoughts of unequal pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In the developing world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved. … In Asia alone about one million children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from slavery, according to a U.N. report. Girls and women are locked in brothels and beaten if they resist, fed just enough to be kept alive and often sedated with drugs — to pacify them and often to cultivate addiction. India probably has more modern slaves than any other country.
Kristof and WuDunn track down these girls, interview them, and tell their painful stories. They also examine various types of assistance that these nations receive, and impressively, are very intellectually honest about what works and what doesn’t. They are also very careful to take into account unforeseen consequences of well-intended efforts, be they “liberal” or “conservative.” Their conclusion is that efforts that target and attempt to change cultural norms are most effective, especially through education.

While they frequently remind the reader that education is no panacea, it, more than other efforts, seems to be producing some of the best results. They frequently note that in many cultures, the women and girls who are mistreated have been conditioned into accepting that husbands beat wives, men rape women, and boys are more important than girls. Thus, changing their circumstances, their legal/political structure, or their economic status doesn’t really help—in one instance, the authors personally bought and freed a young woman, only to see her return “voluntarily” (due in part to drug addiction) to the very same brothel. The way to prevent mistreatment is therefore to teach women (and men) that such treatment is unacceptable.

Interestingly, they note that there is some recent evidence that the introduction of television, and the portrayal of independent women that comes with it, has led to a reduction in abuse. They point to Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery, as well ending foot binding in China, as two successful culture shifts that benefited human rights.

Disappointingly, while they focus to a large extent on the importance of culture in both economic stability and the protection of human rights, a hole in their analysis appears the further one goes through the book—namely, the absence of Christianity. They differentiate between the successes of the western world and the rest of the world, and lay the credit of the west’s success at the feet of their culture: one that respects human rights (including the rights of women). However, they never take the final step and admit that this culture of freedom is based upon Christianity.

This omission is much more noticeable because the authors devote an entire chapter to the question “Is Islam Misogynistic?” Their answer, rather surprisingly, is no. Yet a closer reading reveals how they can hold to that position, while implicitly arguing that Christianity, in contrast, is misogynistic. Islam, in their view, properly understood and applied, is not misogynistic, but liberating. Christianity, they imply without saying, properly understood and applied, is misogynistic. It just so happens that neither culture has correctly understood or applied its religion, which is why the Christian nations are free while the Islamic nations, by and large, are still oppressive. (They never state this conclusively, but it is the implication—at least the implication that I received—throughout the chapter.)

Also disappointing is Kristof and WoDunn’s tacit praise for China. Indeed, the title of the book is drawn from Mao Tse Tung, who said that “Women hold up half the sky.” China, they point out, has liberated its women, who are now active and productive members in its economy. This in turn has stimulated their economy, since they are now taking advantage of their entire workforce, rather than merely half. While they have a point economically, what they miss is that this “liberation” was motivated by the communist animus toward the family. Here, unlike in the rest of the book, they seem to presume that economic development trumps morality.

I have focused on some of the weaker elements, but the work as a whole is actually quite compelling; especially the first two-thirds. It is at times hard to read, and occasionally comes close to presuming all men are villains. (Although the authors try hard to avoid this, it is a side effect of the subject matter. Their website banner reads: “Women aren’t’ the problem, they’re the solution along with men.”) All in all, though, it is a very revealing, interesting, and educational read—which is likely why, although it was only published in 2009r, it is already in its twenty-fourth printing. This is a book that will both raise awareness and motivate action for oppressed women around the world.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beyond economics

This semester I am taking a class on “Law and Economics,” which promises to explain the various economic theories and how they impact the field of law. Although I’m afraid that it will remind me that I like economics from a distance, but easily become somewhat repulsed when I get too close to it. Economics too often reduces everything, especially people, to material things, and those things to artificial currency. There is something dehumanizing about that. As Goethe noted:

When scholars study a thing, they strive,
To kill it first, if it’s alive;
Then they have the parts and they’ve lost the whole,
For the link that’s missing was the living soul.

-Faust, Part one (David Luke trans.)

My first reading assignment started no different. It was full of the stereotypical economic terms like desire, goods, wants, demand, force, resources, happiness, relationship, scarcity, human experience, want, methods -- in short, words that economics stole from physics or metaphysics.

But then the author included some caveats, two of which inspired this post.

In discussing the transition from natural resources to capital (or created) resources, the author stated that “one is almost tempted to carry this reasoning a step further” and apply it to people; specifically, to an educated labor force. “Nevertheless” the author continues, “economists do not classify people as capital resources.” They are something different.

Now, hold that thought while I go into the other point.

In the very next paragraph, the author states that “capital resources, as the term is used in this book, do not include financial capital, such as money, stocks, deeds, or bonds. . . [T]hey are not directly productive. They are merely claims against real resources.”

With those two warnings in mind, that people and financial capital are not (and should not be considered) resources, consider our current economy.

Our recent economic crisis shows just how strongly our economy is based on the financial services sector, which are not true resources. And our workforce and educational emphasis can easily begin to treat people as resources. But if neither of these are truly resources, what is our economy founded on?

In short, I propose the question. Have we forgotten those two basic points of economics? And what would an economy look like that valued real resources over artificial resources and valued people over resources?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Evangelical Political Tradition, part III

This is part three of a three part series on Evangelical Christianity and politics prompted by Alisa Haris’ recent article. (See Part I and Part II.)

I’ve been putting off writing this third installment for some time now--and not just because I’ve been busy finishing my third semester in law school (although that makes a good excuse). I fear that my post may cause offense to some of my readers, which I am loathe to do. However, my response to Ms. Harris is incomplete without admitting that she has correctly identified something very wrong with evangelical politics.

In her piece, Harris tells her story of growing up in conservative evangelical culture-- complete with abortion protests, political camps, Confederate constitutionalism, dress codes, capitalism, and the worldview chart. She was part of this generation that is supposed to save the nation.

I know, because I was too. And my pedigree is just as evangelically conservative as Harris’. Homeschooled. Worked on Republican political campaigns. Attended Christian political camps and a conservative Christian political college. Seen the videos. Read the books. Written the papers. Heard the celebrities. I remember reading a friend’s blog shortly after her graduation from my alma mater wherein she wrote about how good it was to not be told daily that she is responsible for the future of the nation. Ushering in the future evangelical utopia is a large burden to bear.

Harris writes of her political transformation: “I have abandoned neither politics nor my Christian faith but the idea of a ‘worldview’ where all spiritual questions have political answers, and all political problems have spiritual solutions.”

That sentence is a gem. Harris is absolutely correct in abandoning the idea “that we could find in the Bible the final answers to our questions about the minutiae of 21st century tax policy and the path to economic growth.” It’s not there. You have to admit that there certainly are political questions that Christians can disagree on. (And they’re much bigger than whether Perry or Bachmann is the better candidate.) As CS Lewis warned in his Reflections on the Third Commandment, the danger with identifying Christianity with a political party is that if it is based on Christianity, it will include divergent political views; while if it is based on politics, it will exclude people who are orthodox Christians and include some who aren’t.

Underneath Harris’ article lurks her rejection of a “worldview.” This term has become a catchphrase in the evangelical political dictionary. However, as Harris is correct to identify, it has its shortcomings. Whether intentional or not, the outcome of worldview training is a tendency to put people into columns. There’s the one “good” column (us), and all the other “bad” columns (them). Then, the chart can be used as a weapon to verify the bona fides of others. Someone symphonic to socialism must inherently be an atheist. Someone who believes in evolution is a communist secretly plotting the overthrow of the nation. Someone who laments about lax child abuse laws must be secretly trying to destroy the family and church. Legitimate political discussion is reduced to name calling--and the philosophical sophistication of the terms does not change the ad hominem. When you blur the concepts together in this way, the actual meanings of the words are also lost. As Harris experienced in her discovery of the civil rights movement, this is an inaccurate way to approach both politics and history.

This is not to say that worldview instruction is useless. Categorizing, classifying, and connecting ideas is not only a valid way to study a topic, but a very beneficial one as well. Thus, for example, I could connect a strain of thinking from Plato to Paine, or from Machiavelli to Marx. Or, to cross disciplines, I could analyze how an approach to economics has influenced an understanding of ethics. Academically, this is extraordinarily helpful.

But while two ideas may be historically connected, that does not mean that someone holding one necessarily holds the other. And it certainly doesn’t mean that someone who studied under the advocate of one necessarily holds both. (Otherwise, there would be a lot more reconstructionists.) People don’t fit into logical boxes well. We’re a mix of ideas and positions, rational and irrational. In short, the worldview approach can be used with great effectiveness to discuss ideas, but is a poor tool in judging people. People are much more complex than a chart would indicate--and may be perfectly orthodox religiously while completely wrong politically, or vice versa.

And while Harris identifies something wrong with this, I worry that she has still not overcome the shortcomings of this way of thinking. She has merely switched from one worldview to another. She commits this very same error by mischaracterizing Francis Schaeffer based on his associates, rather than his own teachings & beliefs. And she may be committing this same error with Bachmann. For example, if I determined Harris’ moral positions the same way she determines Bachmann’s politics--based on the complete teachings of those who “influence” her--I would have to conclude that her admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. translated into an endorsement of adultery. The ease of this slippery slope approach is indicative of its weaknesses.

Harris ends with a reference to the rage of the Old Testament prophets. However, if that is her conclusion, than, her theological transformation is still incomplete; for the story continues, and is bigger than even the prophets knew. Christ came to show us that the Gospel transcends everything we know, even politics. We are called to love not just our neighbors, but also our enemies. Christ did not come to establish a political order, either left or right. Nor is this the calling of the church. Those things are too trivial. Christ came to redeem mankind and He will return to establish his kingdom. And because of that, we don’t have to.

This leaves us free to love, care for, reason with, grieve with, rejoice with, and show the love of Christ to, our neighbors. Our disagreements over the best way to do that are true Christian politics. But our church is bigger than our political affiliations.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocal Review

The year was 1996, I was 10 years old, and my dad took me to see "Mission: Impossible," staring Tom Cruise. As far as I can remember, this was the first Tom Cruise movie I had ever seen, and at the time I didn't really have a good idea of who he was or that he was in any way important. I only knew that he was young, did his own stunts, and was playing a character, Ethan Hunt, that had never appeared on the original "Mission: Impossible" tv series (1966-1972, 1988-1990). You see, I had discovered the series on FX the year before (at the time, FX was a start up cable channel that aired mostly old programming, not the premium original series programmer that it is today), and I developed a quick attachment to it. "Mission: Impossible" rarely bothered with things like character development, instead focusing on episodic plots of the week where we knew by the end of the hour our heroic IMF team would work together to defeat evil. 

So imagine my surprise in 1996, when, Jim Phelps, the heroic leader of the television IMF team and the only character to appear in the film from the series, turns out to be (*15 year old spoiler alert*) the villain! My shock and surprise did not keep "Mission: Impossible" from being my favorite film of the year, beating out even "Independence Day," much to the chagrin of my other 10 year old friends. 

But my joy was short lived. Even though "Mission: Impossible" grossed $188 million dollars, it faced critical attacks that said it was "too confusing" or, worse, too "cerebral" for modern audiences. Director Brian DePalma had crafted a smart thriller that was apparently too smart for the older generation. My generation got it, though, and I challenge you to find anyone my age who didn't enjoy the first "Mission: Impossible" or who was confused by it.

Finally, in 2000, they made a sequel; and it was horrible. After an intriguing opening featuring the film's villain in a Tom Cruise disguise, our heroic Ethan Hunt, who struggled to clear his name and resist his attraction to his mentor's wife in the first film, goes to bed with a jewel thief in the first 20 minutes of the movie without even knowing what his mission is (neither do we, the audience, and we are bored). The film's script, written in a hurry to fit established action sequences, was a poor man's copy of the Hitchcock film "Notorious," but with modern innovations, like casual sex, that managed to remove all the charm from the plot of that classic film.

Ironically, this film made more money than the first, but the franchise was in a sorry state, and languished for 6 years. Then, first time film director J.J. Abrams, having just started "Lost," directed "M:I-III," in an attempt to redeem the franchise and reassert its place as the only real American spy franchise. For the most part, he succeeded. "M:I-III" is very much a film of its time, featuring a "gritty," and "realistic" style that seemed to dominate all action films released right before the recession. Abrams attempted to bring character development to Ethan Hunt by giving him a wife to protect in the final act of the film. Unfortunately, a bit of bad publicity featuring Cruise's personal life derailed the performance of the film, and it became the lowest (domestic) grossing film in the franchise; prompting paramount to sever their corporate ties with Tom Cruise's production company and leaving the star "homeless" for a time. There was some talk of continuing the franchise with another actor, such as Brad Pitt, but the rumors came to naught and the franchise languished again.

However, nothing in Hollywood is certain. In the five years since 2006, J.J. Abrams became one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood, producing and directing several hit films. Together, he and Cruise decided to make a 4th Mission: Impossible. They would have a third less of the budget from M:I-III, forcing them to make budget cuts in nearly every area of production. They took a gamble; and they won big time.

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," is the first "Mission" sequel without a number in the title, and potentially the best film in the entire franchise. The film features a entirely new cast (with the exception of Cruise) and a first time live action director, Academy Award Winner Brad Bird ("The Incredibles"). His hand is seen very early on as the film features an ingenious "Mission: Impossible" title sequence that could only have been imagined by an animation director.

The amazing thing about "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is that it "just works." Like many good thrillers, the film starts with the adventure already in progress, and we the audience are left to figure out things as we go along. The filmmakers never truly give us enough information to know what's going on; and keep us wondering just why Tom Cruise's character starts the film off in prison, and what happened to his wife with whom at the end of the third film he walked away with presumably to live happily ever after. Ironically, even though this film does not set out to have deliberate "character development," as many films do, I think Ethan's character is developed more in this film than in any other, as we see him have to constantly adapt to his circumstances and rely on agents he did not choose and does not know.

The film moves along at an extremely quick pace, never really slowing down for anything but a tiny bit of hasty exposition here and there. At many times, you believe the characters are in real peril, and sometimes they are, as the film features a sequence, shot in IMAX format, where Tom Cruise is truly hanging of the side of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It also features some breath taking action sequences, such as the "sandstorm" sequence, which easily rivals any action sequence in any of the big action films of the last 30 years (director Bird claims the scene was inspired by "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). The film's locations are beautifully photographed, from Budapest, Hungary, to Moscow, to Dubai, and finally Mumbai, India. Each "mini-mission" is thoughtfully worked out and strongly resembles the types of missions featured in the original series; unlike the violent gun battles of M:I-2 and 3. Humor is present throughout, and the film never fails to entertain. Worthy of mention on this account is actor Simon Pegg ("Star Trek," "Hot Fuzz"), who played a small role in M:I-III and reprises the role of computer tech Benji Dunn, now a field agent assigned to aid Ethan Hunt. Keep your eyes (and ears) open for a scene where Pegg elaborates how working with Ethan in the field is "something of a dream" and only regrets not wearing "masks, you know, full masks."

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" does not aspire to be gritty nor realistic. Instead, it attempts to harken back to the classic days of the spy genre, featuring cold war style hijinks in a world without a cold war. It is immensely entertaining, channeling the spirit of the original series better than any of the films before it; and the most fun film of the season. If you want to have a good, old fashioned fun time at the movies, go see "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." This internet capable device will self-destruct in five seconds, good luck.

Written by Daniel Noa
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