Culture


08 Nov 2011

This is one of those articles that makes you think.

19 Oct 2011

My wife and I enjoyed a fine anniversary weekend in New York City. Always interested in the reality of something versus how it’s reported in the media, I wandered down (wife in tow) to observe the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests.

The protesters weren’t at Wall St. Wall St. was partially closed off with steel barriers and a heavy dose of mounted police. The street is small and the buildings so large that they shield out the sun. There was a weird, sterile silence near the NYSE. It was like like being in a canyon. Perhaps it’s a metaphor.

Anyway, the protesters were actually occupying the smallish Zuccotti Park a few short blocks away from Wall St. What was Zuccotti Park like on Saturday? Zuccotti Park was a circus. There were steel barriers. And police. Lots of cops. The protesters looked like mostly college kids along with some more seasoned protesters. I walked through the middle of the park a few times. It didn’t smell at the park. It looked pretty clean overall, but in the middle of it where I wandered there was a lot of tarp and blankets and dirty-looking kids. Some looked like bums. I wouldn’t sleep there, we’ll put it that way. There were people holding signs of varying types in a phalanx next to the sidewalk on 6th Avenue. As the police fought to keep it clear, gawkers filed like sardines down it, snapping pictures, while protesters determinedly held their signs. Many of the signs were anti-war, many anti-Wall Street, some were calling for socialist revolution, and there were a few (not many) libertarian ones sprinkled in. The free market made an appearance in the form of opportunistic food trucks, an ever-present feature of New York street corners. Business seemed brisk.

I think there were more gawkers than protesters. This is life in the age of social media and iphones. Protesters snapping photos of themselves and gladly accepting the embrace of what Muggeridge called “that most ubiquitous of panders,” the camera lens. It struck me while watching all of this that many of these kids were pretty attention-starved. There was a guy doing a one-man play (there just cannot be a worse form of entertainment than the one-man play). There was a young girl in a garish outfit who seemed almost giddy at a gawker snapping her picture. My wife soon entered a store and went shopping while I wandered. She couldn’t take it any more. Her thought process: let’s not encourage them with more attention.

OWS struck me as silly. And shallow.

It makes you wonder a little about “history” itself. Fifty years from now, if the Lord hasn’t returned, perhaps we will look at OWS as a seminal moment for something or other and we will forget that a lot of it was people posing for pictures and satisfying their inner needs. It was people like me there to watch a reality show being filmed. “Are you not entertained?” There was a self-consciousness of “history” being made. We don’t like to think of history in this way, but maybe a lot of it is this way. I guess we can be happy that they didn’t have Droids in the Civil War, or tweets to commemorate the fall of Rome.

Later that day we saw a few hundred protesters marching up toward Times Square with their ever-present police escort. If you haven’t been to Times Square lately– I was at a trade show in NYC back in the mid 90s when it seemed like one big peep show– it’s now a series of huge electronic billboards. The ads light the night. There’s a lot of people, a lot of pricey delis, and a lot of places to shop. It’s touristy. The theaters overflow.

Well, the protesters decided that they were going to march in the middle of this zoo on its busiest night (the quest for attention again). We were in the area. One protester held a sign saying “Keep Shopping.” I don’t know if this was outrage or some type of Madame Defarge threat. Another held a sign saying to never, ever, ever vote for a Republican. The flip side said “Tax Hemp.” I wasn’t sure how to do the math on that one. So anyway, the police shut off part of Times Square for a time, and it turned the zoo into a mega-zoo of people being diverted from their theater or wherever they were going. It reminded me of an MTV-style, reality show re-enactment of that peaceful protest march scene from Dr. Zhivago, except less momentous. Instead of the cavalry leaving some dead bodies, there were some broken windows and arrests.

We didn’t see much of this action at Times Square, but you can’t win ‘em all when it comes to experiencing “history.” Maybe someone DVR’d it.

22 Aug 2011

Of all the themes espoused by conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh, perhaps the most damaging is this idea of American “exceptionalism.” How can it possibly be squared with the Scripture? It can’t. When the Bible says that all men have fallen short of God’s glory, that includes Americans. And it certainly includes the American government that has, incidentally, safeguarded tens of millions of abortions.

Laurence Vance unfortunately has been affiliated with the Grace Evangelical Society, but on the topic of war he publishes thoughtful articles. Why have Christians been seduced by the warfare state and this foreign policy of endless meddling in other lands? Vance attributes it partly to American exceptionalism.

Many Christians are guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. They have bought into a variety of American nationalism that has been called the myth of American exceptionalism. This is the idea that the government of the United States is morally and politically superior to all other governments, that American leaders are exempt from the bad characteristics of the leaders of other countries, that the U.S. government should be trusted even as the governments of other countries should be distrusted, that the United States is the indispensable nation responsible for the peace and prosperity of the world, that the motives of the United States are always benevolent and paternalistic, that foreign governments should conform to the policies of the U.S. government, that most other nations are potential enemies that threaten U.S. safety and security, and that the United States is morally justified in imposing sanctions or launching military attacks against any country that refuses to conform to our dictates. These are the tenets of American exceptionalism.

The result of this American exceptionalism is a foreign policy that is aggressive, reckless, belligerent, and meddling. This is why U.S. foreign policy results in discord, strife, hatred, and terrorism toward the United States. We would never tolerate another country engaging in an American-style foreign policy. How many countries are allowed to build military bases and station troops in the United States? It is the height of arrogance to insist that the United States alone has the right to garrison the planet with bases, station troops wherever it wants, intervene in the affairs of other countries, and be the world’s policeman, fireman, social worker, security guard, mediator, and babysitter.

Many Americans seem to think we can do no wrong when killing foreigners. It’s all in the name of protecting our freedom and the American way.

I think it’s time American Christians took off their blinders and repented for following bureaucrats and lawless politicians with their flag pins, and for cheering on mayhem. American exceptionalism is American arrogance. It’s deeply unbiblical.

06 Aug 2011

Does anyone else bristle at the idea of calling all PhD’s “doctors?” It reeks of pretentious puffery.

For me, a doctor is a medical doctor. I’ll call Ron Paul “Dr. Paul” because he is a an obstetrician. I can’t call RC Sproul “Dr. Sproul.” Plus, RC Sproul has a far more significant title than Doctor: Pastor.

03 May 2011

Last night was a festive atmosphere at the White House, as people celebrated Bin Laden’s death. I even saw girls standing on shoulders, falling into arms as a cheerleader would at a college football game. For some reason it reminded me not so much of the jingoism that accompanied the first gulf war on campuses, but instead those revelry scenes from Demille’s Ten Commandments. You know, the ones with bearded men swigging from huge goblets while women with splayed arms and heads to the heavens slink from one arm to another.

I don’t lament the passing of an evil man, but when George Tiller was murdered I didn’t think to dance in the streets. Today there were loads of “rot in hell” wishes for Bin Laden in newspaper headlines and Facebook posts.

It bears reminding that all men are image-bearers. We can thankful when others are spared by a wicked man’s passing, and yet remember Proverbs 24:17: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.”

I’ve been wondering lately how many innocent people the U.S. government has killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the past 10 years. No doubt many times more than those who died on 911. Some believe the deaths number well over 100,000. Who mourns these souls who are nameless to Americans? We rightly remember the dead of 911, but a more immediate question is this: what makes American lives more precious than others? Nothing, Biblically. Foreigners are image-bearers too.

Back in a 2008 debate, Ron Paul offended Republicans by stating something that is so obvious that it’s hard to believe anyone can deny it with a straight face. He said that our foreign policy– bombing, invading, meddling, aiding tyrants for our economic interests — creates blowback. It creates bitterness and hatred among the occupied. We wouldn’t like having Arabian troops in Indianapolis or Chinese troops in Georgia. Why would the Pakistanis want American troops in their country? Shelby Foote told an anecdote once of a confederate who was asked why he fought the North. His reply: “because you’re down here.”

Michael Scheuer long noted that Bin Laden didn’t “hate us for our freedoms.” Instead, he hated American interventionism and support for Arab police states. It doesn’t excuse the evildoer, but if you go down into the hood wearing a lot of bling, don’t be surprised if you’re mugged. Didn’t Jesus counsel his disciples to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves?

I’m surprised that more people, especially those given to “anti-government” views in economic matters, aren’t more skeptical of the military. It’s another government bureaucracy that wants to grow as bureaucracies do, and an especially dangerous one given that it’s armed to the teeth. The old conservatives were well aware of the danger to liberty posed by wars. Yet today the same conservatives who think of the post office, the EPA, and the IRS as hopelessly corrupt unflinchingly embrace the military and militarism. And few think of the innocent lives in foreign lands or the potential for blowback that Ron Paul has so wisely warned us about for many years.

07 Mar 2011

Some random thoughts as we watch the battles play out between public unions and government officials…

  • Why do so many people look upon policemen, firemen, and public school teachers as sacrosanct? To use the latter example, public schools are an incredibly inefficient use of resources. If someone says “we can’t put a price on a good eduction,” to that I say yes, we can. We have to. We do it with everything in our lives because scarcity is a fact of life.
  • Teachers sometimes tell us that they have a masters degree, as if that’s a reason why they should be paid at above-market rates. From an economic standpoint, you are worth what someone is willing to pay you. In a free market, most teachers would be making less money. Why? Because there is always the option to learn at home, to form cooperative education groups with other parents, to use digital learning methods, etc. Teachers would have to compete like everyone else. That’s a world teachers want to avoid, thus the desire to maintain coercive collective bargaining laws.
  • In the end, the unions are going to lose (and it can’t come soon enough). Maybe not this year, but the fact is that state deficits are out of control. The pensions that past politicians agreed to (because promises of future payouts were easy to make way back when) are unaffordable. Unions can recall hard-headed governors, but states are still going to default on much of these debts. That’s economic reality.
  • Does anyone else find it annoying that public workers think that private workers owe them an above-average living? Many of us in the private sector have seen declining living standards over the past 10 years.
06 Oct 2010

Few things are as demotivating as motivational speakers. Today in Columbus, we had this event. Among all the shining luminaries — Laura Bush! Terry Bradshaw! Lola Heatherton and Dr. Tongue! — guess who was the keynote speaker? Yes, the same former board member of Dallas Planned Parenthood who has so many companies sporting pink ribbons on their packaging.

01 Oct 2010

The great columnist, Joe Sobran, has died at the age of 64. Sobran wrote for the National Review back when it was interesting, largely because of him. He’s in that handful of my greatest influences. His syndicated column was popular in the 1980s, but that went away with some well-publicized (and very unfair, in my estimation as a 25+ year reader of his columns) judgments by William F. Buckley. Awful attacks followed by writers such as the insufferable David Frum.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Sobran wandered off the conservative plantation into anarcho-libertarianism about the time of Buckley’s attacks (politically, I’m moving in Joe Sobran’s footsteps, 20 years behind). He wrote plaintively of his alienation from the militaristic William F. Buckley school of conservatism that still informs Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity:

Surely we all wanted the same things! … [I]t was only toward the end of more than two happy decades there that I began to realize that we didn’t all want the same things after all. When it happened, it was like learning, after a long and placid marriage, that your spouse is in love with someone else, and has been all along.

Like Muggeridge, Sobran was a great observer of the modern landscape. He wrote hilariously of Clintonian rottenness and with fierce moral insight into topics like sodomy and abortion. Always an inspiringly gifted writer, his style evolved into the very definition of “pithy.” He was staunchly Catholic, especially in latter years (I hope that he found the Lord). He wrote a column once that spoke of how he came back to his faith because he pondered Jesus’s words. No one has ever spoken as Christ spoke. Next time you read Jesus’s words, step back and think about that. The depth, the authority, the insight… it’s amazing. Who but God speaks this way? Almost every line Jesus speaks is a memorable line that rings with power, even two thousand years later. You begin to understand why his hearers were so often amazed and silenced by his authority and wisdom.

For that insight alone I’ll always be grateful to Joe Sobran. May he rest in peace.

10/2 addendum: In reading some of the remembrances, it’s interesting that many fine writers had the same thought I always did after reading a Sobran column: “I wish I could write like that.” I also should underscore that it was Sobran who first caused me to question my views on war. He helped me realize that opposition to (most) war was not only the domain of unhinged left-wingers, but also serious men on the right who found both moral and political reasons to oppose it. As has been said many times, “war is the health of the state.”

13 Sep 2010

Of all the workouts I do, if I had to keep one it’d be the yoga. I’ve found nothing better to improve strength, flexibility, posture, and especially balance. It’s not fun to do, but you feel great afterward. It’s good for your back. It complements weight training and aerobics.

Until I did P90X, I thought that yoga was for Hindus and New Age goofballs. Indeed, if you look into yoga it won’t be long until you start hearing about organic yoga apparel, and, worse, “spirituality” (always a red-flag). However, yoga is slowly getting shorn of its pagan roots. Although P90X Yoga does have a little of secularized “ohm” stuff at the beginning and end (which I faithfully skip), the rest of it is simply a tough workout. I watch TV while I’m doing it, just as I do while lifting weights. Jillian Michaels, for one, has a power yoga DVD that has no “spiritual” component. Just the moves: stretching, postures, and using your own body weight. People tell me that fitness clubs now offer “just moves” yoga classes, too. Yoga moves are being used in physical therapy. Yoga stretches at the beginning of aerobic workouts.

Yoga is going mainstream. The deceivers and goofballs are still out there, though, so discernment is necessary. If you’re doing yoga to empty your mind and find inner tranquility, or if you’re after anything more than a good workout and stretch, then you’re on shaky ground at best. I’d avoid yoga that has any “spiritual” component whatsoever. Proceed with caution. Just the moves, ma’m.

One last concern: Do you lose your man card? Maybe, but I don’t find it particularly effeminate.

19 Jul 2010

For my entire lifetime, I have been hearing the word “racism.” For 25 years, phrases like “Dr. King’s dream” have been cues to either change the channel or prepare for a tiresome torrent of cliches.

There has always been something tedious and artificial about discussions of racism. The real problem is hatred and pride. People hate or look down on other people for a hundred reasons: they’re pretty, they’re ugly, they smoke, they’re red state, they’re blue state, they’re rich, they’re poor. And yet we single out one peculiar form– racism– above all the others. It’d be as if we all decided in concerted fashion to stamp out gluttons addicted to Moon Pies, or men who lust after green-eyed women. Not that these aren’t evils, but why these specific evils?

There’s little desire to combat sin, of course. The word “racism” has become just another club used by those with political agendas to pummel and marginalize others.

It’s gotten so silly that I’ve heard people say that the “worst thing” you accuse someone of is racism. Really? Worse than adulterer or blasphemer? Worse than sodomite or whore?

21 May 2010

Ronnie James Dio, the man on the silver mountain, died earlier this week. His lyrics were sometimes loathsome, but I always admired his incredible pipes.

One of rock’s oddities is the 1980 collaboration between Dio and Kerry Livgren, the blonde guy from Kansas who wrote Carry On and Dust in the Wind in the late 1970s. Livgren was a new Christian when he wrote and recorded a solo album called Seeds of Change (Livgren’s autobiography of the same title is worth a read if you can find it). On Seeds of Change are two songs with Dio on vocals: Mask of the Great Deceiver and To Live for the King. Look past the cheesy, early 80s orchestration and it’s interesting stuff.

24 Jan 2010

The Blind Side offers a kind of liberal Hollywood version of conservative values: all rock-solid valor, all the time. -Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly.

I haven’t seen the movie, but that’s a very perceptive comment.

We often see Hollywood portraying Christians as perverted hypocrites. When someone proclaims (i.e. repeats, based on the plain meaning of Scriptures) God’s judgment against sins like homosexuality, it’s all too easy to change the subject by highlighting the hypocrisies of the Christian. You don’t have to dig too far into anyone’s life to find hypocrisy and sin. We’re all a mess.

However, I never really thought before about how Hollywood creates the even more unreal “rock-solid” Christian who always acts with purpose and kind intentions. This creates a useful standard to judge Christians against, since no one is really this way (though some are closer than others).

I’ve been disappointed by other Christians at times, shocked to see someone I thought saintly to have some weird sinful tendency– egotism here, self-righteousness there. And yet, why should I be surprised that another man deals with envies, lusts, self-absorption, and anger just like I do?

You never see the real Christian life in movies. You never see characters who distrust their own motives. You don’t see those who recognize their ongoing need of a Savior, which only deepens as their sanctification proceeds. You don’t see people who know they need to be forgiven regularly. You don’t see folks warring against their own fallen hearts and minds. You don’t see an ebb and flow to their faithfulness. And you surely don’t see Christians whose proclamation of God’s forthcoming judgment comes from a sure understanding of their own horror of standing naked before a holy God, without the banner of Christ’s righteousness.

That describes the Christians I know. They are flawed, sometimes idiotically so, but they are forgiven. They know on what Rock they stand and and they evince wondrous evidences of God’s work in them all along the way. In the end, they are humbly relying on a righteousness not their own (Romans 3).

It’d be much harder for the heroic and perverted protagonist of countless films to be seen as prevailing against such an antagonist.

20 Jan 2010

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom. -Garet Garrett, 1954

I was at a children’s function a month or two ago at a Lutheran church (ELCA). During it, they did the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t join in.

Have you ever thought about the pledge? Joe Sobran once noted that the phrase many want to remove– “under God”– is the only good part of it. The Pledge was written by a 19th-century socialist. It speaks against secession (“indivisible”), which is something that the Founders saw as a necessary bulwark against Federal tyranny. Unlike the National Anthem, the pledge calls on us to… make a pledge. It’s not a binding oath in the sense that I will be prosecuted for disobeying it, but why would I want to say something I do not necessarily believe? Christians believe that kingdom of Christ supersedes the state. Why would a man leave a wayward denomination (where he may have once given membership vows) and yet pledge unqualified allegiance to his country?

I admire the soldiers who risk their lives overseas. However, the U.S. is broke. We need these kids here in America. We need them producing stuff instead of consuming resources. All government employees, soldiers included, are consuming resources. Peter Schiff once created an illustration to explain America’s interaction with foreigners since the end of World War II. Consider an island, he said, where a couple of foreigners and an American are stranded. One foreigner’s job is to gather the wood. Another creates the fire. Another obtains the food. They come to the American and ask what his job will be. His answer: He’ll eat the food.

Government employees are eating the food.

Military spending is a key contributor to what is likely to be more calamitous for this country: a currency crisis caused by overspending. Conservatives rail about government spending, and yet unflinchingly support massive military spending. This defeats the purpose. If even 20% of the populace denied legitimacy to 99% of federal spending (and that includes Medicare, social security, and war spending), I’m guessing that would be a huge problem for the legitimacy of the federal government. Things would change. Among those who should know better (including me a few years ago), the military is the best possible propaganda for federal legitimacy and overreach. People believe dubious claims that soldiers in, say, Iraq, are “fighting for our freedoms.” I don’t question our soldiers’ motives. I do question the government’s motives and the real effect of interventions like this.

The government isn’t “protecting our freedoms” overseas. They are ticking off people who do not want foreign troops in their country. Foreigners may strike back repulsively, but in the same way that you don’t flash jewels in a bad neighborhood and expect to come out unscathed, you shouldn’t blow things up in pagan lands.

Joe Sobran once quipped that the Constitution poses no threat to our current form of government. Other than setting terms of office, the Constitution has been a dead letter for generations. It isn’t even a small speed bump for Congress. The massive entitlements that are far and away the greatest financial threat to the country are all unconstitutional. Every war since World War II has been undeclared. The federal bureaucracy has over 14 million (the figure is probably much larger by now) employees and/or contractors. The Constitution hasn’t changed in the past 50 years, but federal spending has risen steeply. So much for “limited, constitutional government.” Were they still celebrating the republic in imperial Rome?

The older I get, the more I’m questioning “first things” when it comes to politics. Pundits debate who should run the Fed. Better to debate why the Fed should exist in the first place. People debate what the president is or is not doing. It’d be better if people were questioning whether the presidency itself is really a good idea.

The government wants us to believe that it protects our freedoms and rights. It’s easier to prove that government works to restrict our God-given rights. By spending our money and issuing regulations, they take our fields and redistribute them (c.f. 1 Sam 8:14). I think it was Milton Friedman who correctly noted that all government spending is taxation. Politicians are simply connected people who administer goodies to others for political and financial benefit. Congressmen parlay their connections into quite lucrative careers after leaving office, in areas like banking and lobbying that benefit lavishly from political connections.

One way to consider fighting back against the government is to stop, as much as legally possible, feeding it. Stop buying its bonds, use Fedex instead of the post office, don’t join the military, avoid funding public schools as much as possible, etc. Stop feeding into the legitimacy of the current American state as if it is run by anything other than corrupt power-mongers. Don’t buy the lie that a Republican takeover is the answer.

Yes, I know, we live in a fallen world. However, the Bible doesn’t get sentimental about Rome. Paul used his prerogatives as a Roman citizen, but his letters are bereft of state worship. Jesus steered clear of Judean politics. He and John the Baptist knew who Herod was.

Maybe Christians should take a hint from this.

09 Dec 2009

It’s pretty clear that Tiger Woods, like Bill Clinton, has a frightful habit. This man with a carefully cultivated image has been embarrassed nationally. Assuming he possesses more self-awareness and less shamelessness than Clinton (which describes 99% of the population), what is Tiger Woods going to do now? He knows that any more messing around is risky. He can’t trust his conquests any longer, and sponsorships will suffer. However, old habits are hard to break. Hopefully he comes clean and doesn’t try to mine new layers of secrecy and darkness, like a worm who reacts to his rock being uncovered by burrowing deeper.

Some women have this notion that men prefer to be alley-cats. This may describe younger men here and there, but look around you: most men get married sooner or later. There is a deep instinct at work. Men are tempted to be more like the mythological Zeus. They want their Hera, their wife who provides a public face, love, stability, support, and children. She’s the main course. Then they want their nymphs, but the nymphs are decidedly a side dish. Deep down, these mistresses probably realize that they are nothing more than fleeting pleasures.

Maybe a “cheap dessert” is a better way to put it. Tiger’s women are all from the service sector. The job of these hostesses, porn stars, and cocktail waitresses is to please men for money. It isn’t surprising to see them magnetically drawn to an iconic name who radiates money, power, and fame. There was probably much competition to bed him, particularly once it was known that he was all too willing.

Stable people are rarely attracted to fame, in the sense that they don’t become groupies or throw themselves at famous people. An autograph or picture is enough. Most people have desired fame at one point or another, but it is mostly unstable people who do what it takes to achieve celebrity. We can make exceptions for the rare man who achieved fame accidentally by excelling at his craft, but think Hollywood. Drugs, bed-hopping, failed marriages, vulgarity, attention-seeking.

This is nothing new. I watched an old movie from the early 1930s recently and looked up info on the main players. Every one of them had at least four spouses. If you read the biographies of the great old actors and actresses, you’ll learn that this is the rule, not the exception. Long before that, the theater was known as a domain of immorality. We don’t need to discuss the music business.

Tolkien once said that not one man in a million is fit to have power, much less those who seek it. I wonder if the same is not true about fame.

Tiger Woods was on the road a lot. An unrooted life on the road goes hand in hand with immorality, and things that wouldn’t come to mind at home come to mind on the road… especially when you have beautiful women actively enticing you. It cannot be easy to live with this day after day, even if you (unlike Tiger Woods) realize the greater joys of trust and fidelity, and even if you’re a Christian who trembles at the threatenings (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch 14).

It seems to me a curse to have the kind of fame that gains the world, especially at a young age. I would not seek it. One’s soul may be the price (Matt. 16:26).

28 Nov 2009

My wife tells me that most of the music played on the radio stations doing 24/7 Christmas music is pretty insufferable. Bad jazzy renditions. Edgy nonsense. Sheryl Crow.

There’s a reason for this.

Consider this list of of classics that I compiled as they came to mind. The year of the (arguably) definitive recording is in parentheses.

  • White Christmas: 1940 (Bing Crosby: 1947)
  • Christmas Song: 1944 (Nat King Cole: 1961)
  • Silver Bells: 1951 (Bing Crosby: 1951)
  • Jingle Bells: 1857 (Frank Sinatra: 1957. Notable: Elvis Presley)
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: 1944 (Judy Garland: 1944. Notable: Frank Sinatra 1957)
  • Let It Snow: 1945
  • Jingle Bell Rock: 1957 (Bobby Helms: 1957)
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 1949 (Gene Autry: 1949)
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas: 1962 (Burl Ives: 1965)
  • The Christmas Waltz: 1957 (Frank Sinatra: 1957, Gordon Jenkins version)
  • Blue Christmas: 1948 (Elvis Presley: 1957)
  • Christmas Time is Here: 1965 (Vince Guaraldi Trio: 1965)
  • Rockin Around the Christmas Tree: 1958 (Brenda Lee: 1958)
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town: 1934 (Gene Autry: 1950?. Notable: Fred Astaire)
  • Frosty the Snowman: 1950 (Gene Autry: 1950. Notable: Jimmy Durante)
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas: 1943 (Bing Crosby: 1943. Notable: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra)
  • It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: 1963 (Andy Williams: 1963)
  • Home for the Holidays: 1954. (Perry Como: 1954)
  • Happy Holidays: 1942. (Andy Williams: 1963)
  • Here Comes Santa Claus: 1947. (Elvis Presley: 1957)
  • Sleigh Ride: 1946. (Johnny Mathis: 1958)

Note that almost all of them were written between 1940 and 1965. This tells you a lot about the fall of popular music as a whole.

Oh yeah, you say? How about “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time” and Lennon’s “Happy Xmas?” To which I respond, hey, if those weak sisters are playing at your house, then there’s nothing I can do for you.

I kid… sort of. It’s no coincidence that the popular Christmas standards hit when popular music songwriting was at its finest. It was the era of the Great American Songbook. Even the early rock period drew on older musical forms.

Alas, “easy listening” big band swing was long ago replaced by the treacly “adult contemporary” music that now floods the airwaves. Mature sensibilities were long ago replaced by the 18-34 demographic.

This is why you hear an hour of junk on most stations before they play a good Christmas song. You have to wait for something from the old school.

19 Oct 2009

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. -1 Cor 10:25

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis talked of us peopling the earth with nymphs and elves to express a desire to be united with the beauty we see. Today, we people our animals. My generation watched Bambi and Bugs Bunny as kids, but really, animals were seen as animals.

How things have changed in 20 years.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is unaffiliated with local humane societies. Their agenda is to veganize America. They are supported by many of the usual celebrity suspects. Flush with success in other states like California and Michigan, HSUS began targeting Ohio for farming regulations. Farming groups responded by putting Issue 2 on the Ohio ballot.

Issue 2 is ugly: it seeks to amend the state constitution and it gets the politicians’ noses further under the tent when it comes to regulating farm policy. However, the alternative is very likely an HSUS-supported issue on a future ballot that’ll enshrine activist idiocy in the constitution. Thus you see “Yes on 2″ signs galore along rural roads. And it’s why you have groups like the Sierra Club — normally lovers of regulation and government control — opposing issue 2.

The animal rights argument really is theological. Almost everyone believes that animals should be stewarded humanely. However, animal rights activists deny the creation mandate, especially Genesis 1:30. They deny that farm animals are on earth to bless mankind with food. They deny that a man is more important than many sparrows. They seek, in the usual authoritarian fashion, to force others to abide by their bad morality (for now, this will come in the form of higher prices, which is exactly what isn’t needed during a severe recession).

Sadly, animal rights groups have bound the weak consciences of many young people, deceiving them into believing that meat and dairy are evil. There’s no Scriptural basis for this. This is why young Christians who become vegans or announce sympathy with veganism should be challenged.

14 Oct 2009

Two stories hit recently: the coming end of don’t ask, don’t tell and the extension of “hate crimes” protection to homosexuals. Expect the latter to be used eventually against a recalcitrant (i.e. faithful) church.

This came to mind again while reading a recent Baylyblog post on Derek Webb. I’ve never cared for Webb. He’s always supported the earnest and trendy leftist causes of the sort championed by Bono (Bono’s support for a cause should always ring alarm bells). I had my fill long ago of “mold-breaking” artists who are too self-consciously cool and precious. They’re the incarnations of an Ipod commercial.

Now Webb is angered about intolerance. Not surprisingly, this anger is accompanied by cussing. You know, the intentional cussing that is seen a mark of liberation and righteous anger, despite Ephesians 4:29. This is cool stuff in a certain subset of “evangelical” culture.

I used to blog occasionally about old-school legalism (don’t drink, smoke, or chew), but came to realize there aren’t many of these legalists left. Similarly, the “intolerant” (i.e. those who take Scripture seriously) are dwindling. The homosexual train rolls on, unimpeded. Remember the conservative firestorm when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was implemented just 15 short years ago? The new move will occur with nary a peep. The “climate of fear” that the other side tells us about is there, it’s just that the careers at stake are those who dare question sodomy.

And yet people like Derek Webb remain offended.

Too bad. The consciences of a remnant will always be pricked, and the seeds will grow. There’s no stopping it because there is no stopping the kingdom of God. People can be publicly silenced, but unnatural is unnatural, sin is sin, and God is the maker and changer of hearts.

One day the only opinion that will matter is the Lord’s opinion. Who is on the Lord’s side? That’s the question that really matters.

25 Sep 2009

This article hits it on the head. Hollywood always treats abortion with plenty of dishonesty and euphemism. Usually the woman is raped or abused, or at worst she’s a teen who commits a youthful “indiscretion.” She earnestly ponders her situation, glad she has a choice. In the end she heroically decides to keep the child. Thus “choice” is celebrated while all the grimy emotions, moral degradation, and selfishness of aborting are swept nicely under the rug. It’s all so antiseptic.

Imagine a movie where a college student gets pregnant. The girl isn’t “ready” for a child and doesn’t want to impede her future, so she goes down to a clinic and writes a check for a few hundred bucks. The woman is in tears while they show the clinic workers skillfully using their tools. There is blood. Not the blood that attends the joy of a new life, but the blood that accompanies the draining of life. The blood of murder and death. Then later they show some nameless functionary putting the bloody remains into a garbage bag and throwing it in the dumpster out back.

That’s the flip side of the “choice” coin. It’s the side we never see in the “respectable” media or Hollywood. And we all know why. In all things, do no harm to the movement!

15 Sep 2009

We’ve reached a cultural milestone in the past few weeks with the stories about Van Jones and ACORN. The government has made major decisions based on reporting done by enterprising, internet-based reporters. Mainstream media outlets have almost completely ignored these stories, with the exception of Fox News, which has discovered a bonanza by popularizing them.

This seems to me a marker showing the continued marginalization and irrelevance of the formerly “mainstream” media. For years, they have played the gatekeeper, the government’s lover who faithfully and often successfully kept a lid on things not in accord with their elitist liberal tendencies. Now, as Gary North recently noted, the gates are still up but the walls have come down.

The Drudge Report noted that Mark Levin, a conservative radio host, has sold a million copies of his latest book without it being reviewed in major papers such as the Washington Post. Are the papers biased? Of course. But here’s the point: the book sold a million copies without them. Newspapers all over the country are going bankrupt. Even the New York Times is in trouble.

I still occasionally pay a visit to Newsbusters for a laugh, but really, who cares what, for example, ABC News says any longer? Their evening news anchor claimed this week to no even know about the ACORN story. How many more years will the major networks even have national news divisions?

Don’t sweat the mainstream media. They may be house organs for everything you hate, but they are becoming less important by the day. They’ve lost control.

Influence is decentralizing. It is relentlessly moving to blogs and web sites and social networks like Facebook (where you can influence those who actually know you!). These are great places to influence others, both for good and ill. Christians should use these means, particularly Facebook. There is a lot of “ill” out there, and a need for good.

01 Sep 2009

You broke the bonds and You
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
-U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Twenty-plus years after its release, there still isn’t a song with a more propulsive verse that leads into a lousier chorus. Yeah, you bore the cross and freed me from darkness and all that, but that’s not quite what I was looking for. What more do you want… Eternal life? All things? Oh, wait, you get all that too (Rom 8:32).

Chesterton noted that the object of opening the mind, as with opening the mouth, is to shut it on something solid. It’s cool and easy to be one who seeks but never finds. The eternal searcher bypasses obligations. He offends no one.

Kerry Livgren (“Carry On My Wayward Son”) searched and found, and then proclaimed it. That offended people. It eventually fractured his band. He went from playing arenas to playing small churches. He discovered the pearl of great price.

20 Jul 2009

I caught about 5 minutes of a cable show about the 60s counterculture. In it, the actor Danny Glover informs us:

[Haight Ashbury of 1967] was about taking mescaline and [having sex]. It was about smoking weed and [having sex]. [I]t was almost like the revolution was now you can [have sex] every night whether it was having an orgy, whether it’s going to an encounter group. I remember going to the Grateful Dead’s ranch, where everyone would spend the whole weekend nude.

If that sounds like pure hedonism, it just shows how clueless you are. Glover continues:

But it’s hard to reduce it to that, because I don’t want to diminish any of my political commitment and what we were trying to do.

LOL! The documentary plays along with this pretentious conceit. These kids weren’t just there to get stoned and have sex. No sir, they had loftier goals. They were reevaluating societal mores and exploring their freedom.

Hopefully parents feed their kids heads with discernment to see through this wistful, juvenile nonsense. It’s amazing that anyone still sees the 1960s as meaningful, at least in a good way.

07 Jul 2009

We’ve all attended a nominal Christian funeral. The Michael Jackson memorial service gives us a glimpse of how it works for the non-Christian celebrity service. Some things are the same as the nominal Christian funeral: vague uplift, religious bits-and-pieces, Hallmark-card spirituality. But there are differences: Barbara Walters shows up. If the celebrity is black, Al Sharpton attends too. There are lots of people onstage in very expensive-looking clothing, wearing expensive-looking glasses and hairdos. These people walk in higher circles than the Starbucks crowd.

Instead of a focus on God’s goodness and His glorious promises, we see a focus on helping our fellow man. The vague uplift is all about feeding the starving and caring for others. It’s about creating good vibes. It’s about making ourselves feel better with no basis in anything other than our wishes. The vertical dimension — man before the living God — is absent.

I don’t wish to minimize the pain of a family in mourning, but it is sad to see people finding such pathetic and empty comforts. These are mud pies in a slum instead of a holiday at the sea. When we fall back on ourselves after something so momentous as a death, it’s even clearer that there’s nothing there.

10 Jun 2009

We often hear the wish expressed that we could just get by all this “divisiveness about “gay marriage.” I heard Peter Schiff say this basic thing recently since he is contemplating a Senate run.

Now, there is no such thing as gay “marriage.” God cannot bless a union He calls an abomination. However, there’s nothing to stop Adam and Steve from tying the knot down at the local Metropolitan Community Church. For that matter, there’s nothing stopping a guy from exchanging rings with his dog out in the back yard. This isn’t a debate about what people can freely do in civil society. People believe in all kinds of heresies and abominations that do not involve the civil authorities.

Some libertarians and “moderates” are offended by the Biblical view, or they wish it would go away, and so they make the leap to supporting the “live and let live” side. However, they’ve taken the wrong side if they believe this. While the popular wisdom is that supporting gay marriage is the freedom-loving side, the exact opposite is the case. Politically, the pro-gay marriage side is all about forcing people to recognize (and pay for) something they do not want to recognize. If an employer finds it repugnant to offer health benefits to a homosexual’s partner because such a “marriage” is illegitimate, well, tough luck for him. He has to pay for it anyway. Similarly, government benefits will be handed out to gay “spouses.” Granted, government benefits are unconstitutional, divisive by nature, and should be eliminated completely, but the point is that while they exist people are forced to support that which they don’t want to support.

This is tolerance? It won’t stop there. Once gay marriage is 100% legal, we can expect legal actions taken against faithful churches that refuse to perform these phony marriages. It will be yet another avenue for persecution.

Gay marriage supporters are the intolerant ones. Shouldn’t this be clear since most of the people who support it also support government meddling in all other areas of our lives?

09 Jun 2009

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street / Cause we like a livin’ right and bein’ free. -Merle Haggard

The late libertarian Harry Browne once called the Defense Department “the Post Office in battle fatigues.” I believe his point was that people often romanticize the military brass, but really these are just government bureaucrats.

After World War II, the Cold War arose, and conservative-minded folks became suspicious about opponents of war. Didn’t they want to fight communists? This divide deepened in the 1960s, when all the dopey hippies came along preaching free love and flying high. My late father, a WWII vet who fought under MacArthur, despised hippies. He rightly saw them as irresponsible cretins. When I was young in the 1970s, America was still fighting aggressive communism. Those who opposed the fight were distrusted, especially those who told us that if we were just nicer to dictator xyz, then they’d listen to reason and we’d all sing Kumbaya together (we see their descendants today who think Obama some sort of demigod). Middle American conservatives don’t like these people. They distrust those who oppose military involvement. They prefer Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

This was my own thinking on wars for a long time– I favored every war up until Iraq. It was then that my views started changing. I still can’t stand hippies, but I took a second look at the serious anti-war libertarians (as opposed to the liberal posers who’ve suddenly quieted down since their guy was elected). If we don’t trust the government in anything it does domestically, why should we trust its foreign policy wisdom? Perhaps the things they do there backfire. Perhaps they are motivated by non-altruistic concerns.

Consider these problems with wars:

  • People get killed. Our soldiers, their soldiers, and civilians. It sounds simple, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t instances where wars can save lives, but the fact that people are being killed should invite questions about the necessity of any war.
  • Wars waste a lot of money. The government spends huge amounts of money to create weapons. Then it uses those weapons to blow up bridges and buildings in other countries. Then it spends still more to rebuild all those homes and bridges. Where does this money come from? It is stolen from the private sector. Debt and inflation attack the savings that could have funded real investment. A labor force that could have produced useful items instead is diverted to produce things that will be blown up. (This gives lie to this idea that World War II “got us out of the Depression.” This conventional wisdom is a fallacy, as historians like Robert Higgs have pointed out.)
  • Wars divert resources from the private to the public sector. Any dollar moved from the private realm to the public realm enervates private society and strengthens the the public sector.
  • Government grows bigger and more powerful on the heels of popular support for wars. This leads to new laws that expand government and lessen social and economic freedom. The late conservative Paul Weyrich noted that one should never give to your friend power that your enemy might one day inherit. If Obama’s popularity persists, will anyone be surprised if its administration eventually use all the new security powers given it by the Bush Administration to persecute all you 2nd-Amendment “terrorists” out there with your guns, or you unpatriotic elements who won’t hire unrepentant homosexuals? It wouldn’t surprise me. As we continue toward a cashless society, it becomes easier to ensure that no transaction goes unnoticed. We usually are told it’s all about “national security.” I guess it’s all just a coincidence that it eases auditing and taxation, and eliminates privacy.
  • Randolph Bourne put it this way: “War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. … Minorities are rendered sullen, and some intellectual opinion bitter and satirical. Loyalty — or mystic devotion to the State — becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.”
  • Empires are brought down by expensive wars. The US is, conservatively, $65-100 trillion in the hole now depending on which estimates you believe. Debt and inflation always accompany wars. The U.S. simply does not have the money to be blowing stuff up in Iraq or to be occupying bases across the globe. Necessity will eventually force many of these troops home in lickety-split fashion. Empire is the last stage before collapse.

I am not anti-war in blanket fashion, but I hate big government. I do not trust the state. Why should I?

Why should you, my conservative friends? I am not saying that all wars are evil. But be very skeptical.

12 May 2009

Here’s a thoughtful article on McDonalds, one of my favorite dining establishments. The article makes keen points about elitist snobbery and the moral aspects of capitalism. A sample:

One of the reasons that the elites loathe places like McDonald’s, or Wal-Mart, or Target, or any of these places that cater to Everyman – and you might suppose that the champions of the workers and peasants would love these places – is precisely their capacity to rob the rich of their distinctive social markers. One day it was a sign of class and distinction to drink a latte; the next day, every construction worker is doing it.

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