Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Odds and ends 12/24/2014

This doesn’t sound real but I like it.

Dear Ms. Pretty,

I have read your post with great interest. Guess there are lots of girls out there who have similar questions like yours. Please allow me to analyse your situation as a professional investor.

My annual income is more than $500k, which meets your requirement, so I hope everyone believes that I’m not wasting time here.

From the standpoint of a business person, it is a bad decision to marry you. The answer is very simple, so let me explain.

Put the details aside, what you’re trying to do is an exchange of “beauty” and “money” : Person A provides beauty, and Person B pays for it, fair and square.

However, there’s a deadly problem here, your beauty will fade, but my money will not be gone without any good reason. The fact is, my income might increase from year to year, but you can’t be prettier year after year.

Hence from the viewpoint of economics, I am an appreciation asset, and you are a depreciation asset. It’s not just normal depreciation, but exponential depreciation. If that is your only asset, your value will be much worse 10 years later.

Lucky for us the Christian tradition teaches marriage is not merely a transaction of money for sex and vice versa.

That tradition is no longer operative, you say? Well, then, never mind.


Liberal Bob Somerby is unimpressed with his colleague Brittney Cooper.

Someone moved the professor’s bag so he could sit down on a crowded train. In this utterly trivial matter, Cooper is somehow able to see the breadth of that battle against racism.

...

It’s hard to capture the dumbness of this essay. It’s hard to capture the small-mindedness and the self-involvement of its overwrought author.


An anecdote about the quest for self-perfection, from The End Time.


You know thieves are targeting your house. You wait up for them and shoot them as they invade your home. A Montana jury calls this murder.

Kaarma could face between 10 years and 100 years in prison. His lawyers plan to appeal.

The Missoula man shot Diren Dede in the early hours of April 27 after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at the teen, who was unarmed.

...

Kaarma’s attorneys argued that he feared for his life, didn’t know if the intruder was armed and was on edge because his garage was burglarized at least once in the weeks before the shooting. They said Kaarma feared for his family’s safety.

It’s open season for thieves in Missoula.


Try to follow along. Feminist rag Jezebel reacted to anti-Christmas revelers with self-righteous scorn for not joining in a Michael Brown/Eric Garner protest. Given Jezebel’s own predilections towards intemperate exercise of freedom, this appears to be a classic case of Pharisaism.

Matthew Schmitz of First Things reflects:

I don’t mind the brief the new Puritans carry for good taste, much less their passion for justice. What’s lacking is a sense that righteousness might be the highest and most humanizing ideal. Perhaps, then, we should not decry the new Puritanism so much as demand that it become more truly Puritanical. Say what you will about the original Puritans, but they were nowhere near as narrow as the ones we’re stuck with today.

“Did Ted Cruz really bungle the lame-duck session for Republicans?” Byron York asks. No.

“The other dynamic at play is that now that Cruz has been firmly established as the goat of the lame duck session, Senate Republicans have cover to bail,” the aide wrote before the session ended. “They can give us consents more easily now because they know Cruz will be blamed. There is less pressure on them to hold out and actually force us to run clocks. So that's why I say it is certain that we will walk away with more nominees confirmed than if Cruz had not done what he did.”

That is why we saw Democrats extravagantly “thanking” Cruz for his action. They wanted to establish the storyline that Cruz had blundered into giving Democrats what they wanted, because that would give Republicans the opportunity to point fingers at Cruz — even as they gave Democrats what they wanted.


Abu Zubaydah thanked his interrogators for waterboarding him, Flopping Aces reminds us.


A social liberal is a liberal.

Reclusive billionaire David Koch, a powerful donor in American conservative politics, says he’s a “social liberal.”

“I’m basically a libertarian, and I’m a conservative on economic matters, and I’m a social liberal,” Koch told ABC News’ Barbara Walters during an interview for her special “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014” that airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.


Albert Mohler reviews Exodus.


People are fleeing San Antonio, and Bexar County judge Nelson Wolff wants to force them back in.

The city only can annex areas where it can afford to provide adequate services without cutting revenues to existing parts of the city.

Although Wolff called the city’s latest annexation plan a step forward, he challenged the city to do more and absorb larger swaths of the county; allow areas of the county more freedom to incorporate if they so choose; or else give the county more revenue sources to help provide better services in unincorporated Bexar County.

...

The city adopted an annexation policy last year that it will discourage the incorporation of “competing” cities around its edges. That, Wolff said, puts county residents between a rock and a hard place, leaving them in a virtual “no man’s zone.”

“They have no control over their destiny,” said Wolff, who directed assistant to the county manager Seth Mitchell to look at crafting legislation that might adjust the current state law that gives the city power over the ETJ.

They do have recourse: It’s the democratic process, which Wolff is trying to subvert by appealing to state authorities.


“Lebron James again demonstrates social conscience with ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirt” is the USA Today headline. What it “again” demonstrates is James’ attraction to racial fads, since that’s what this has in common with the Trayvon Martin’s death.

I didn’t jump on the Martin bandwagon because I was suspicious of the circumstances, and rightly so. Martin, who was high, and trying to get higher, attacked George Zimmerman and bashed his head in before Zimmerman shot him dead. Eric Garner was hurting no one when a cop choked him to death. Let’s not confuse compassion based on fact with compassion based on race.


In my opinion, we should leave public education to the dogs. Let the system sink into its moral waste as it wishes, then evangelize the victims. Fox News reports:

Acalanes Union School District officials told the institute the [sex education] class was not taught by teachers but rather the staff from a local Planned Parenthood in nearby Walnut Creek.

Included in the materials provided to students were documents and worksheets that included a checklist entitled, “Sex Check! Are You Ready For Sex?” in which the 13 and 14-year-old students are asked questions such as if they have water–based lubricants and condoms and if they could handle a possible infection or pregnancy. Another worksheet reads like a how-to on obtaining consent from a possible sexual partner and offers possible statements like “Do you want to go back to my place?” and “Is it OK if I take my pants off?”

Sounds like the new “yes means yes” consent requirements.

Students at Acalanes High School in Northern California were given this gender identity chart in a sex ed class conducted by the local Planned Parenthood chapter.

They were also taught about gender identity with the “Genderbread Person,” a play on the name of the holiday cookie, to teach them on how to identify themselves as either, “agender,” “bigender,” and “two spirit” to name a few.

There’ no end to this nonsense.

On Thursday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new interpretation of the Civil Rights Act meant to prevent employers from discriminating against people who claim the status of a transgendered person.

Holder announced in a memo that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to the transgendered.

“This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Holder said in the announcement. “This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants. And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

This is the same stupid 1964 law that precludes store owners from throwing customers out for acting out of order. If libertarian Senator Rand Paul were still talking about repealing it, I’d take him seriously as a presidential candidate. But he’s not, so I’m not.

I’ve documented gender confusion in California, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York. Now it’s on the move in the heartland. World Net Daily reports:

Come August of next year, high-school students in Minnesota will be permitted to play sports on teams with whatever gender they “identify” with, rather than what their biological gender would dictate, and a leading Christian family group believes this is a recipe for disaster.

On Thursday, the Minnesota State High School League, or MSHSL, officially adopted new policies that would require all public, private and even some religious high schools to accommodate transgender students, effective Aug. 1, 2015. The decision came in the face of fierce opposition that delayed the decision by months.

“They passed a policy that will allow students who identify as transgender to play on teams opposite their birth sex, which will almost certainly lead to them also accessing the locker rooms, bathrooms, even hotel rooms of the opposite biological sex. This is very problematic for many students, parents and even schools around the state,” said Autumn Leva, director of policy and communications at the Minnesota Family Council.

...

She said the clear public opinion on the matter didn’t sway the league, either.

“Even though we brought forward a petition with close to 7,000 Minnesotans who prefer our solution to what the league is doing. Even public and private schools have signed on, saying this is what they wanted and the league didn’t even give it any air time. So it’s really been a pretty one-sided discussion,” Leva said.

That’s because there’s a political “in” crowd and a political “out” crowd. Which crowd do you think those bigoted Christian parents belong to? Which crowd do you think the gay mafia belong to?


Pat Buchanan considers Jonathan Gruber and the seeming democratic irreversibility of the progressive/technocratic state:

What is it that pushes the nation leftward even when conservatives win at the ballot box? The permanent powers and the deep state. While there are conservative enclaves within the major media, they are few. Our mammoth bureaucracy—22 million municipal, county, state, and federal employees—has a vital interest in the preservation and growth of government.

Add up the beneficiaries of all social programs, and the number now approaches 100 million. They don’t tend to stay committed to folks who will take away what they have come to depend upon.

Higher education is dominated by tenured leftists and radicals. The Ivy League is “No Conservative Need Apply” country. Our popular culture, from movies to music to TV, is dominated by the left. Conservatives in Hollywood meet in catacombs.

There are conservative judges and justices on the courts, but few counter-revolutionaries. The decisions that come down either advance or confirm decisions handed down half a century ago by the Warren Court.

If it happened in America before 1960, it may as well have happened in another country. The conditions in that time are far removed from our cultural memory. We are like a trauma victim subconsciously blocking it from our collective conscious. That is the extent to which liberals have stigmatized the time before they rose to power.

If we’re going to make it, we’re going to have to rebuke most of the political, cultural developments since the ’60s.


It’s been a crazy year. I look forward to taking it easy in 2015. (Yeah, right.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Embracing the Fall

Let’s not pretend there’s no right or wrong here:

Christians and Satanists put up competing displays Sunday on the Michigan Capitol grounds as Christmas week got underway.

The Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple set up its “Snaketivity Scene” featuring a snake offering a book called “Revolt of the Angels” as a gift. The snake is wrapped around the Satanic cross on the 3-feet-by-3-feet display. Capitol rules require that displays have to be taken down each night.

In a videotaped interview with the Lansing State Journal, Satanic Temple spokeswoman Jex Blackmore said her group doesn’t worship Satan but does promote individuality, compassion and views that differ from Christian and conservative beliefs.

Blackmore said that the “holiday season is a time of year that is celebrated in many different ways.”

“Having our government endorse one singular viewpoint or method of celebrating the season is problematic when we have a diverse community of people in Michigan,” she said.

How about one truth, as opposed to a thousand falsehoods? Is that asking too much, to publicly recognize the means by which we are served by God’s forgiveness for our fallen nature, by which we’re empowered to serve our fellow man, by which we civilly coexist?

I can’t think of a better way to depict the alternative to God reconciling to Himself man created in His image. The Satanists’ display embraces the Fall in Genesis 3. “When you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent said. It convinced Adam and Eve to disobey God with the bait of knowledge, that through their own understanding they could make a better world than the garden God created for them.

“The greatest gift is knowledge”? The greatest gift is Jesus, Whom God gave to us to take away our sins, Who gave His life for each of our sakes. The greatest gift is giving.

Enjoy knowledge for what it’s worth. Read Ecclesiastes. Knowledge without faith is burdened with the meaninglessness of living and the certainty of death. Knowledge is not the bread of life. It must be paired with purpose to have meaning, and if that purpose is not honoring God, it’s something less honorable.

Further reading: “An un-Christian Christmas?”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Racial monad

An untrained ego perceives personal insult at the smallest slight. A strong dose of patience, peace, and understanding from the Holy Spirit is a reliable tonic. Or, if you’re Brittney Cooper, you can justify your irrational rage by imagining the insult is symptomatic of a unconscious, coordinated system of oppression.

On Friday, I was on the train to New York to do a teach-in on Ferguson at NYU. Beats headphones on, lost in thought, peering out the window, I suddenly saw a white hand shoving my work carry-on toward me. Startled, I looked up to see the hand belonged to a white guy, who was haphazardly handling my open bag, with my laptop perched just inside to make space for himself on the seat next to me.

That he wanted the seat on the now full train was not the problem. That he assumed the prerogative to place his hands on my bag, grab it, shove it at me, all while my computer was unsecured and peaking out, infuriated me. I said to him, “Never put your hands on my property.”

His reply: “Well, you should listen when I talk to you.” That line there, the command that when he, whoever he was, spoke, I should automatically listen encapsulates the breadth of the battle against racism we have to fight in this country.

Buoyed by his own entitlement, his own sense of white male somebodiness, this passenger never even considered that he might simply try harder to get my attention before putting his hands on my stuff. His own need to control space, his own sense of entitlement to move anything in his way even if it held something of value to another person, his belief that he had the right to do whatever he needed to do to make the environment conform to his will are all hallmarks of white privilege.

Poor little angel. Everyone’s out to get her!

If she were a feminist, it’d be his male privilege. If she were from Indiana, it’d be his Yankee privilege. The ideological model Cooper superimposes on her surroundings cares about skin pigment, so skin pigment is what she reduces this incident to.

I’d be embarrassed to reveal I’m so narcissistic and insecure that I want to attack anyone who doesn’t yield to my will. Cooper reinterprets these dark feelings to inflate her social justice credentials. This harmless subway encounter is her way of relating to the marchers in Selma and the Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro. She knows what the struggle is like. She’s experienced it first hand. So it goes.

If anything, the story explains why headphones should be banned in public. Cocooned with her private thoughts by her $180 headphones, she loses most ability to function socially. I get it. New York is a crowded, noisy, diverse city. New Yorkers suffer from social sensory overload. They can’t process it all, so they withdraw.

Taking minding your business to this level works so long as you don’t take up too much space or get in someone’s way, which Cooper did. If she could have heard her “oppressor” in the first place, she would have moved her bag herself so he could sit down. And then there’d be nothing to write about—except for hundreds of other meaningless encounters for the ego to smart at.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Those crazy Catholic college students

It turns out the Fort Sam lockdown on November 23 was caused by a Saudi national on a student visa speeding through the base gate after he said he had a bomb. That image is a far cry from the impression of a “college student”/“San Antonio-area man” driving onto the base “without proper credentials,” as if he’d made a wrong turn.

The San Antonio Express-News provides the details:

Mutasim Abdul-Aziz H. Alati, 24, a citizen of Saudi Arabia who was here on visas, was not charged until last week for the Nov. 23 incident.

Base guards said he was nervous when he pulled up to the Harry Wurzbach Road gate and asked to see the “big guy.” When asked if he had anything in the car he said he had a bomb and sped through, prompting a four-hour lockdown, authorities allege.

Base officials released few details of the incident at the time, stating only that a local college student had been detained and released after he “attempted to access the installation without appropriate credentials.”

How is being a college student a more relevant detail than hailing from the same country as the 9/11 hijackers? His Saudi nationality and the bomb threat were known fairly early on, but the Army downplayed them. So the exact nature of what happened were scrubbed and sanitized for public consumption.

Does one wonder why, since the initial report was correct, the Army un-clarified it for us. This is the same Army that worried its diversity might be a casualty, in addition to the 13 murdered soldiers, of Nidal Hassan’s jihadist killing spree at Fort Hood. This is the politically correct bureaucracy that pulled the shades down over its own peoples’ eyes in discerning friend from foe.

Intelligence agencies have learned nothing since 9/11 about the natural, organic arousal of holy war against infidels in the Muslim world.

FBI agents looked into his background to make sure there were no terrorism ties; none were apparent.

Swell. We can sleep soundly knowing ISIS isn’t his visa sponsor. The University of Incarnate Word has expelled Alati. It’s worth asking how he came to attend a small Catholic university in the first place.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Don’t mess with TXDOT

Eighty percent of Texas voters approved Prop 1 in November. The question is not whether they got screwed. It’s whether they care enough to do anything about it.

Barely a month after Texas voters overwhelmingly agreed to free up as much as $1.5 billion more a year for road construction, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization today is set to approve a new long-term transportation plan that doubles the number of roads which will involve “managed lanes,” which is government-speak for toll roads, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

So now tolled roads in San Antonio will include:

  • I-10 between I-410 and Seguin on the east side
  • I-35 between downtown and Selma on the northeast side
  • SH 1604 between Bandera Road and I-35 on the north side
  • US-281 from SH 1604 to Guadalupe County on the north side
  • I-10 between I-410 and Boerne on the northwest side
  • SH 151 between I-410 and SH 1604 on the west side
  • I-37 between I-410 and downtown on the southeast side

In short, all major routes southeast, east, northeast, north, and northwest in and out of and around the city will have toll lanes.

Since TXDOT was pursuing toll roads anyway, why include the anti-toll road language in Prop 1? To get the votes to pass the funding measure.

Ben Ross writes at Greater, Greater Washington of a similar venture on I-95 in Maryland:

Since the tolls won’t cover the extra construction costs that they require, tolls are clearly not a way to raise money. What toll lanes do accomplish is to push most drivers off the pay lanes and onto the crowded free lanes. That might be acceptable if the toll lanes paid for themselves, but in this case it’s the majority that’s getting stuck with the bill, subsidizing an affluent minority.

“Managed lanes” don’t pay for themselves. And the taxpayers who fund them don’t use them. “Why did Maryland ever undertake such a project?” Ben Ross asks. The answer is the same for TXDOT: Because they can.

The issue is how do you manage growth. Urban sprawl, or not living where you work, started this mess. It was a byproduct of two developments:

  1. Dislocated growth fed by economies of scale: Cities are the only place where relative family stability is possible in a mobile, global economy.

  2. Self-segregation by race and affluence.

Growth is not a given, nor is it desirable in all circumstances. Reckless pursuit of growth will burn us out.

Leroy Alloway, spokesman for [the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the long-range plan called “Mobility 2040” is also adding 34 non-toll roads and is necessary to relieve congestion as the population keeps growing.

He added that there is expected to be $1.6 billion in new projects to address the million new residents moving to our area in the next 25 years.

Alloway says if they don’t add this plan, the city would have unmanageable gridlock.

That is, we need less gridlock, so we can grow San Antonio, so we can have more gridlock.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Odds and ends 12/7/2014

Can you spot the heresy? This person was “technically” baptized, but he objectively misunderstands the scriptures.

So he pulls up his chair next to mine and goes through the list, and as I give my answers, he basically gives a biblical justification as to whether he thinks my answer was right or wrong. I would consider myself a Christian, technically, but I think that every soul will go to heaven, so I don’t know where I stand in with the Bible (and quite frankly don’t care, but I’m open minded).

He gets to the question that asks, if you were to get into a car accident and Jesus were standing in front of you, and said to tell him why you think you should go to heaven, what would you say? And I said, I would say because I’m a good person who loves people and are respectful and courteous towards them, and give them mercy (again, it’s my belief that every single soul will go to “heaven” eventually, and I was giving my positive qualities, which I believe everybody has). So then he goes on this thing about how salvation is a gift and is not earned, and draws a diagram about the three kinds of death and shows me which death I’m still experiencing, and that there are two kinds of water “professors” of Christianity drink—one with arsenic and one without.

He goes on to tell me that in his opinion I clearly have drunk out of the water with arsenic, because I have not read the Bible verse tat says salvation is a gift and not earned by “works.”

The writer presents his resumé to justify himself at the pearly gates. That’s Pharisaism, not the way of Jesus, the way of forgiveness.


A transgender milks its school district for $75,000.

Nicole Maines won her lawsuit against the Orono school district in January before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that the school district violated the Maine Human Rights Act. It was the first time a state high court in the U.S. concluded that a transgender person should use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Bathroom choice is a “human right.” That’s a federal court ruling. Who in their right mind wants to weigh down their political destiny to such nonsense?

Here are some more highlights on the comical will to gender:


A liberal activist greedy for victimhood cred lies about his Facebook account being hacked and misleads federal investigators, and his sordid movement emerges unscathed. The College Fix reports:

Campus leaders, even while acknowledging the hoax and the federal resources expended to investigate a fake threat, couldn’t bring themselves to call for any punishments against the students who cried wolf.

Instead, they endorsed the political agenda behind the hoax.

The university, which said Nov. 20 that the “hateful and anonymous Facebook posts” were part of a “larger pattern,” issued a weak retraction four days later.

“Based on our ongoing investigation we now are confident that the Facebook posting was not created by a hacker,” Karen Coleman, vice president for campus life and student services, told the community Nov. 24.

“That conclusion does not erase the seriousness of this episode, the harm it has caused to individuals and our broader community, or the consequences for those responsible,” Coleman said. “Whatever its purpose, the language used in this incident does not constitute discourse and will not be tolerated.”

Coleman said the school would host “special sessions” for students, faculty and staff who wanted to talk about the incidents and “get support.”

This is a classic Alinskyite tactic: stage a confrontation to polarize the public and gin up enthusiasm against the enemy. To continue to go along immolating itself, the University of Chicago is ignorant or already corrupted beyond repair.

I want to say radical egalitarians have no shame, but that would be inaccurate. They do feel shame when their fealty to their idol is lacking (e.g., Tobias Buckell).

In this war for the soul of America, whoever shows mercy first loses.


After President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, George Will criticized:

The emblematic sentence from the speech was this: “We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.” The president lives in a parallel universe where a dollar spent on A can also be spent on B. There’s no scarcity, no choices involved. And for all the solicitude he expresses about the rising and coming generations, we’re not investing in them. We’re borrowing from them, because conveniently they’re not here and can’t object.

A penny spent is a penny earned, according to liberal orthodoxy.


Mitt Romney, mulling an incomprehensible third run at the White House, gets no credit for his liberalism because he resides in a conservative party. Kathleen Dolan and Jennifer Lawless wrote at CNN 2 years ago:

Romney said he “recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible.” His example of flexibility, however, was allowing his chief of staff to “get home at 5” to make dinner for her family and be with her children. He stopped short of saying it directly, but Romney appears to hold a common belief that women can best be integrated into the workforce if they are still able to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers.

Or, in his experience, that’s the kind of flexibility you have to offer as a manager to retain women employees. The message from Dolan and Lawless is don’t let real-world experience tread on the doctrines of of sexual sameness.

If you’re not going to get credit for being a liberal Republican, then, tactically, why nominate a liberal Republican?


Blah, blah, blah, she said:

Today, we need a national commission on justice. One that is more than a fact-finding commission. One whose purpose is reconciliation. This one should be modeled after South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

There was an emphasis in that commission on reconciliation. There was a marked effort to forgive. Tutu wrote, “When I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side ... a better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.

“Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on.”

Bishop Tutu added a “but.”

“But the process of forgiveness also requires acknowledgment on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offense.”

The grand jury system, not just in Ferguson, but nationwide, needs a hard look. Millions feel that officers who are trigger-happy are handed a license to shoot—based not on facts, but on stereotypes the officers carry.

Michael Brown was high. He robbed a corner store. He lunged for a cop’s gun. He charged the cop like a linebacker. Save your grief for actual injustice.

Perception is not reality. Considering the disproportionate rate at which blacks commit crimes, I’m actually surprised there isn’t more parity in police killings by race.


At the American Conservative, Daniel L. Davis rebukes David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, the mythology around which his popularity is dubiously based. Excerpt:

In a study published earlier this year by the National Defense University, authors Sterling Jensen and former Iraqi general Najim al-Jabouri wrote this of the Americans’ effectiveness in Anbar province cities: “[t]he surge did not have a role in the Anbar Awakening. Surge troops that came to Anbar in 2007 were not seen as useful… In fact, U.S. troops in general were not seen as useful even before the surge…”

But the authors’ possibly most pointed finding was that the causal factor behind the eventual drop in violence had little to do with either the increase in U.S. troops or the new strategy: “If not for al-Qaeda’s murder and intimidation campaign on Sunnis, and its tactic of creating a sectarian war, the Anbar Awakening—a fundamental factor in the success of the 2007 surge—most probably would not have occurred, and it would have been difficult for the United States in 2006 to convince Sunnis to partner with them in a fight against al Qaeda...”

The Sunni-initiated Anbar Awakening, followed by the Petraeus-led “Sons of Iraq” program, resulted in a dramatic drop in violence. The breathing space purchased with considerable American blood was intended to facilitate the development of Iraqi democracy. Kelley Vlahos, contributing editor for The American Conservative, recently wrote, “in hindsight, the only meaningful space created was for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki” to use America to rid him of political enemies, not the least of which were many Iraqi Sunni leaders and groups.

Maliki’s oppressive rule, which alienated much of the Sunni population in the Western part of the country, was a key factor in the rise of ISIS; his penchant to dismiss Sunni officers and pack the senior ranks of the Iraqi Security Force (ISF) with inexperienced political patrons played a major role in the disintegration of the ISF when the Islamic State began its offensive.

I served in Iraq as a military trainer in 2009, and have twice deployed to Afghanistan (2005, 2010-11). Between my 2009 Iraq deployment and the last Afghanistan deployment—at the height of that surge—I traveled over 14,000 miles throughout both countries, going on mounted and dismounted patrols, with U.S., allied, Iraqi, and Afghan troops, and led a team to train an Iraqi border battalion. I can conclusively state that outside the wire, the counterinsurgency theories were an unqualified failure at the strategic level. The populations were never protected in either country. The insurgent forces were never fully defeated in either country—and are stronger now than they have been at any time since 9/11. The Afghan and Iraqi governments remain the third and seventh most corrupt governments in the world, and do not have the support of their people. The armed forces for both countries, despite the decade-long effort and tens of billions of dollars that the U.S. spent training them, are virtually incapable of conducting even basic security.

It is incomprehensible that with such an extensive, publicly available record of failure—which cost the United States $2 trillion in direct outlays, 6,842 U.S. troops killed and 52,281 wounded in action—that the designers of this failed concept are given any credibility. The conclusive evidence of the failure is on graphic display right now, in both countries: after six full years and tens of billions spent, the U.S.-trained Iraqi army melted away before a few thousand irregular fighters; after the U.S. pulled out of Helmand province in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Security Forces were incapable of preventing an immediate return of the Taliban.


Something secular aculturists need to understand:

“Religion is seldom a strictly spiritual matter; rather, it involves moral prescriptions as to how to act in everyday secular affairs. Although religious people may reasonably be expected to act with a degree of civility in the public domain, showing respect for others and their differing views, it is not reasonable or practical to expect them to act in the public realm without reference to their deeply held, religiously based moral convictions. So, even if privatization has proven valuable as a way of encouraging social harmony up to a point, it is a principle that cannot address the question of equity in the public sphere in dealing with inevitable differences based on religious conviction.” –George Marsden

Friday, December 5, 2014

Prodigal

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger brother squanders his inheritance on foolish pleasures. He returns to his father’s home and pleads with him to take him back. The father forgives him, enraging the older brother, who has kept to the straight and narrow path. He wants recognition from his father because, he thinks, he deserves it. The younger brother disobeyed his father. The older brother has obeyed his father all his life, but from expectation of his inheritance, not from love.

The lesson is that it’s not a person’s ability to avoid sin that saves him from sin. God’s grace is boundless, and we all need it. We should rejoice at the redemption of sinners from their sinful nature by their confession of faith in Jesus Christ, who redeemed us from the deathtrap of our flesh. He took the punishment for our sins and put it on Himself, on the cross. When you accept that, dead is the old self and the hunger of pride, envy, lust, etc. Jesus becomes your nourishment instead.

The Pharisees saw people as falling short of God’s grace if they were not good enough. In Jesus, there is no threat of falling short. Anything you could do on your own to “get right” with God, Jesus has already done, times a thousand.

How did the Pharisees respond to Jesus’ teaching? I paraphrase: “What do we need grace for? We keep the laws. We have so many chits to our names. We’re good enough. We’ll make it into heaven.” This is hope in an empty promise. It sounds closer to secular rationalization and resistance to the human condition than the testimony of believers.

Is forgiveness for all trespasses, past and future, license to go on sinning? Paul answers:

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? ... For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:2, 6-7)

Naturally, since people are imperfect, they set themselves up to be crushed by their shortcomings if they take the Pharisees’ view, that being good enough can get you into heaven. At the outset of my faith journey, I feared this. I was conscious of my sin, and I was scared I would fail and be naked and exposed before God. But I took a chance on a church and they taught me the truth.

To Jesus, your life comes first. It is the headwaters. Your behavior is downstream, an effect, not a cause.

To Pharisees, your behavior comes first. Salvation is downstream.

“Neither Jesus nor any author of the Bible ever implies that any human being is flawless without sin or fault, except Jesus Himself. Instead, the point is that it is a distraction to concentrate only on our specific behavioral shortcomings.” –Timothy Keller, Prodigal God

When a lost soul returns to the home of the Holy Father, those who are already saved should not be embittered because they reveled in sin for a time and are yet still forgiven. For no one is reconciled to God by his own rights. The sinner steeped in the “joy” of his sin is not in an enviable position, anyway.

Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:1-4)

Related: “Righteousness talking.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Exodus: The Director’s Cut

This is what happens when you let an atheist tell Bible stories on the big screen:

If there’s one Old Testament image everyone knows, it’s the parting of the Red Sea. And when shooting that scene in Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters Dec. 12), director Ridley Scott knew that he want to treat the incident as realistically as possible. “You can’t just do a a giant parting, with walls of water trembling while people ride between them,” says Scott, who remembers scoffing at biblical epics from his boyhood like 1956’s The Ten Commandments. “I didn’t believe it then, when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I’d better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation.”

He’s a talented filmmaker with some great movies to his credit, like Blade Runner and Gladiator, but people aren’t going to be fleeced to the tune of $10 a ticket to see Ridley Scott the atheist’s take on the Bible. They want to see the Bible.

What Scott has managed to do is strip the miraculous from the Torah’s central narrative: the enslavement of Israel in Egypt and their rescue by God.

When Moses learns his true identity, he is reluctant to play the role of savior, and he finds a comfortable home in a remote village, where he marries and has a son. But his destiny calls when he comes upon the famous burning bush and is approached by God to lead his people out of slavery. Here is the film’s most controversial choice, for God appears to Moses as a fierce child. Although this may offend some devout viewers, it’s actually far more interesting than the booming offscreen voice that DeMille used in his version of the story. This divine child seems angry and vengeful rather than a benign Buddha figure, but one could argue that this is in keeping with the Old Testament God of wrath.

“More interesting” and more confusing. As long as we’re making stuff up, why include the burning bush in the movie at all? If God speaks through a child, it renders the phenomenon of the bush irrelevant.

The film hits its peak in the sequence recounting the ten plagues. The savage crocodiles were not in the Old Testament, but as they attack humans as well as fish, they turn the Nile blood red, which is at least an ingenious explanation of how the river might have turned to blood. Frogs, boils and locusts are truer to the text and are rendered in luscious visual detail.

Sounds like a plague of crocodiles, which would be fine if the Bible said there was a lot of blood in the water because many fish and people bled out. But the text says the water turned to blood and then the fish died (Exodus 7:20-21). Even water in vessels turned to blood. There was no water for irrigation, nor water to drink for 7 days.

The Nile flows at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second, or 750,000 gallons per second. This means 600,000 people—and/or however many fish—would have had to be bled every second for the Nile to continue to flow. For 7 days. Crocodiles is a more “ingenious” explanation for the first plague than an act of God?

The climactic chase to the Red Sea is equally spectacular. Although The Ten Commandments won the Oscar for its visual effects, the parting of the Red Sea in DeMille’s film was laughably tacky. Scott comes up with a somewhat more credible portrayal of how the Israelites managed to cross the sea before a monumental storm drowned the Egyptians.

What’s tacky is relying heavily on computer-generated graphics to deliver the thrills, a tack that ruined Star Wars: Episodes 1, 2, and 3. If the parting of the sea is a purely natural coincidence, not divinely ordered, what investment does the viewer have in the fate of God’s chosen people, for whom said miracles were orchestrated to bring them out of Egypt? From a storytelling perspective, it diminishes the role of Moses, who was the mediator between God and Israel. Much of the criticism of Christian Bale’s performance in the lead role is his lack of conviction and motivation.

I’m not stepping out on a limb in saying Exodus will be forgotten in 10 years, and The Ten Commandments will still be playing on TV every year on Easter weekend. It is the more faithful adaptation in its reverence for God.