Saturday, May 03, 2008

"I Love the World" - Great Gruntled Song

The Discovery Channel has a wonderful news song.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Rev. Wright Gets the Main Point Wrong

Rev. Jeremiah Wright continued to explain himself this week at the National Press Club. He gave a learned address on the prophetic ministry of the black church. He then answered questions about the controversial sound bites that have been looped in the press. His answers were, I think, plausible explanations of what he was and still is arguing.

When he quoted others saying that America's "chickens had come home to roost" on September 11, he meant that the U.S. government had committed terrorist acts around the world and on its citizens over its long history, and now terrorist acts were in turn committed on the United States.

When he said that the AIDS virus might be have been created by the U.S. government and might have been used on American citizens, he cited the Tuskegee syphilis experiments as precedent.

And when he said that God damns America, he meant that God condemns the government of the United States for its past unrepented-of bad actions, including slavery.

Each of these points one could hear from leftist pulpits, pundits, and press any week of the year. Jeremiah Wright is an old '60s university radical, and like many others of his generation he sees the current administration and today's political culture as not fundamentally different from what that generation railed against 40 years ago.

I don't agree with Rev. Wright. Senator Obama does not agree with Rev. Wright. Senator Obama has said so. That story should die now.

There is one important point that we should not let go. Rev. Wright's premise in his remarks to the National Press Club is that the criticism of his views was not an attack on Jeremiah Wright, nor was it an attack on Barack Obama. Wright maintains that the criticism of his views is really an attack on the black church.

That is just wrong. No one would be interested in the views of an old lefty if he were not pastor to a potential president. We can know this is true because we do not see obsessive coverage of all the other old lefties, even old prophetic black church radicals, who say the same sorts of things that Rev. Wright does.

The black church is not under attack. And the black church is not identical with leftist critiques of the U.S. government. By making this claim, Jeremiah Wright is claiming to be much bigger than he really is. He got his 15 minutes because he is pastor to a potential president. Wright could have poured oil on the waters. Instead, he made the controversy a fight about himself. As a result, Senator Obama had to denounce some of the more extreme views of his former pastor.

Let it go.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Do Women Who Baby Their Husbands Want Babies?

A light advice piece in's Living section shows women nurturing their husbands too much, to the point of treating them as babies. The experts they cite note that while this can work for some couples, it is generally a bad idea as it makes the men helpless and incompetent, or resentful. Or both.

What surprised me about this account is that they did not indicate whether these couples had children. A wife who babies her husband (or dog, or the neighbor's kid) would seem to me to be sending signals that she is very ready for children. If she continued to baby her husband while also babying her baby, then I would worry.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Polygamist Sect Knocks Up the Girls, Dumps the Boys

The Texas Child Protective Services Department, which has charge of the hundreds of children taken in a raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist sect, said that 60% of the girls under 18 were either pregnant or had already had children.

Even more ominously, CPS does not know what the sect did with most of the teenage boys. While there are equivalent numbers of boys and girls under 13 - 196 and 197, respectively - the ratio of teenagers is very skewed. There are 53 girls aged 14 to 17, but only 17 boys.

It is typical in polygamist sects that many young men are expelled, so the older men can marry all the girls.

The coming weeks will no doubt bring bad stories of teenage boys born at the Yearning for Zion ranch living on the streets in Fort Worth - or worse.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Television News is an Oxymoron

Elizabeth Edwards had a fine editorial in the New York Times, "Bowling 1, Health Care 0," about the paucity of substance in the television news coverage of the presidential campaign. I agree with her entirely. I think, though, that she is a little off the mark in blaming the television journalists for this. I blame television as a medium.

Television is a good medium for showing pictures. It is best at fires, explosions, earthquake damage, and shooting. Most news is not well conveyed in pictures. The news is best conveyed in words about non-visual events. The best news show on television is Jim Lehrer talking to a few informed reporters and news makers, slowly and carefully. It is very boring television -- unless you want to find out what is going on.

Cable television does a bit better than the networks, because they can talk a long time. Most of the time they just have reporters spouting their opinions. But Chris Matthews can have a broader range of reporters than a network show can, and can take more time with newsmakers. The cable shows also keep reporting numbers whenever they have them, which is useful.

Really, though, even for numbers we are better off with print sources. As for analysis of complex propositions -- such as the competing health care proposals that Elizabeth Edwards wrote about -- only text sources will do.

I will go a little further. I think that television as a medium can only reach up to the upper-middle brow. Usually, of course, it aims much lower, where it dominates. Even public television confines itself to the limits of middle-brow convention, lest it offending its funders.

For my money, the most intellectual television network is C-SPAN. They put on powerful people talking, or smart people talking, and very occasionally a smart powerful person, talking. Their book show is the best because their host is the best informed and least self-promoting. Their coverage of events is the best because they do not insert themselves at all, aside from selecting the event. I wish C-SPAN covered every real event that I want to see. Wouldn't it be great to have C-SPAN cover the Olympics? No nationalism, no chauvinism, no human interest fluff, and they would show all the events, not just the ones the U.S. can win.

The most important television news show is "The Daily Show," which says volumes about how much real news television can convey.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rev. Wright Defends Himself, Mostly Successfully

Rev. Jeremiah Wright was interviewed by Bill Moyers for the first time since the sound bites of his old sermons have been making news.

Wright noted, justly, that you can't understand any preacher's point from just a few seconds out of the middle of a sermon. The larger context of the "chickens coming home to roost" sermon after 9/11, for example, was not quoting Malcolm X, but rather a white ambassador who was quoting Malcolm X (and on Fox News, of all places, to Fox's discomfort). He was explaining that to the hijackers, the United States had engaged in a long string of violent acts against innocents -- a string that Wright enumerated. Some items on his list were more just than others. Wright got the biggest reaction from the congregation when he cited enslaving Africans, and the least when he named bombing Hiroshima. He did not say that the 9/11 attacks were just, but he did think that anyone who understood the dark side of American history could understand why our enemies might think they had a just cause.

As for the "God damn America" sermon, Moyers showed a longer clip leading up to the notorious soundbite. The theme of the sermon was that all governments lie, change, and fail. Wright gave examples from the Bible and the history of other nations, before listing the failings of America. He said these failings, which mostly concerned government violence against the innocent, could not be blessed by God, but condemned. Wright explicitly put himself in the tradition of the Biblical prophets who called God's condemnation down on Israel in order to get the nation to repent. In the interview, after seeing the clip, Moyers and Wright had this exchange:

BILL MOYERS: What did you mean when you said that?

REVEREND WRIGHT: When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government -a particular government and not to God, that you're in serious trouble because governments fail people.

So the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a fiery preacher who roots himself and his congregation in the black liberation theology tradition. In a Christian context his incendiary comments make more sense. This context was left out of the clips. The clips were made by the political opponents of Barack Obama, not by people who cared one way or the other about Jeremiah Wright and his large, active, and successful church.

In the end, though, I think Obama was just in his overall assessment. Wright, now several years retired, formed his views and his preaching style at a time when things were much worse in America for African Americans. Wright has missed the way in which many things have changed for the better. Obama does not share Wright's views about America, and neither do I. I don't regard Wright's views as centrist, and I am sure he would not thank me if I did. But I think Rev. Wright, like each of us, should be judged by his full sermons and his own expressions of his views, not the attack clips assembled by enemies.