DeDe Scozzafava Quits: Next Time, Run a Primary

The electrifying news that the “handpicked” Republican candidate for New York’s 23rd Congressional District is throwing in the towel is good news for conservatives who were supporting the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman.

But it’s also a good lesson in why party regulars are better off more often than not letting the rank and file make up their own mind on a candidate, rather than trying to be clever.

Back in 1988, Pat Robertson’s run for the presidency proved very divisive because the way many of his delegates were elected, i.e., his supporters packed party caucuses.  (Barack Obama won many of his states in 2008 the same way during the nominating process.)  This rankled much of the rest of the Republican Party, and the division that resulted is one reason why this current race ended up the way it did.

Here in Tennessee, Republicans have the rather unusual practice of making all of the delegates run in a primary, both at the congressional district level and statewide.  Thus, when the Robertson delegates (and I was one of them) went down in flames in the primary, everyone knew the process was fair.  But that facilitated the integration of new “religious right” people into the state party, avoiding the divisive conflicts elsewhere, so much so the Christian Coalition never really got off of the ground in Tennessee.

If the Republican Party plans to stay in the game, it’s going to have to find a better way to resolve its internal conflicts.  Since this is supposed to be an elective process, one way is to involve as much of the party as possible.  It’s messy sometimes, but then again politics in general is messy.

P.S. to my friends in TN-3: this is one reason why I’m supporting Art Rhodes for Congress.  Robin Smith is just too divisive, and not always for the best reasons.

Happy Halloween from Positive Infinity

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere we see these Halloween decorations with all of these fake black cats and pumpkins. So we wanted to show you a real black cat and a real pumpkin together, and we think they’re a big improvement over the fake stuff.

Fact and fantasy have a strange way of running together at this time of year. Our fantasy work The Island Chronicles reminds us that Halloween is one of the eight Wiccan holidays. Is Halloween a religious holiday? Of course! Should Christians be celebrating a pagan holiday? We don’t think so.

On 1 November, our Anglican Calendar will announce All Saints’ Day. Cats such as the one pictured above will be happy too; many of them are confined to quarters by their owners so they won’t end up on some ritual altar (or in the hands of the neighbourhood’s foremost morons.) Satan’s minions have no problem torturing and sacrificing their “mascot” on their holiday, a sad reminder that all of God’s creatures need protection from him who “comes only to steal, to kill, and to destroy,” but Jesus came “that they may have Life, and may have it in greater fullness.” (John 10:10)

The Moonies are Still On the March

And they are looking ahead to a generational leadership transition, complete with Ivy Leaguers:

This month, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon went to Washington to introduce As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, his autobiography that, according to the Moon-owned Washington Times, “recounts the joys and challenges, the teachable moments and the monumental experiences of his life – much of it spent as a spiritual leader”.

The newspaper reported that Moon received “congratulatory greetings” from Senator Joe Lieberman, former secretary of state Alexander Haig and former president George H W Bush, “hand-delivered by his son Neil Bush”.

The younger Bush, who has a long track record of working with Moon-sponsored organizations, told the audience of 1,300 that “Reverend Moon is presenting a very simple concept. We are all children of God.”

In January, Moon will turn 90, and while he’s alive and apparently well, he is deeply involved in charting his group’s future.

Last year, Moon named his Harvard-educated youngest son, the 30-year-old Hyung Jin Moon, as the president of the World Unification Church. Another son, Hyun Jin Moon, Moon’s oldest, is also in the mix. Whenever he dies, Moon’s death will nevertheless usher in a major period of adjustment.

It’s interesting to note that Neil Bush was the one that, during the 1988 presidential primary campaign, referred to Evangelical Christians as “cockroaches,” doubtless because they had the bad taste to support Pat Robertson against his father.  It’s one thing to attack evangelicals from the left; it’s quite another to do so as a supporter of Sun Myung Moon.

Old time soulwinners will remember going up against the Moonies.  Today they’re mostly forgotten in the church world.  But they are still out there, and still on the march.

The Will of God and the Green Bananas

“American as Mother, apple pie and the flag” used to be an expression of things that united us in this country.  Maybe that’s why life in these United States has been a little too interesting for me: my mother and I didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and when we were in the family business together it could get intense.

That state of affairs spilled over into personal matters, too.  One evening my mother, wife and I were out and about and stopped at the grocery store.  I was gathering a quick list of things to buy for her while she sat in the car.  Her confidence in me was at a nadir at that moment, and she was belligerently insistent: “I want the greenest bananas in the place!”

I was dutiful: I went into the store (she had, after all, taught me how to shop) and found some very green bananas.  I bought them, checked out, and she took them home, satisfied.

Satisfied, that is, until she realised they wouldn’t ripen.  They just sat in the bowl, green as when I had bought them.  Her hope for ripe but unrotten bananas vanished, and she was eventually forced to pitch them out as green as when they came home.

Today we live in a Christian world where “God on demand” is the norm.  We’re supposed to pray “the prayer of faith” (note the definite article) and get the result we ask for.  When it doesn’t go our way, the blame game begins: on God, on our alleged lack of faith, on an incorrect form of prayer, on whatever.  It never occurs to us that God is sovereign, that he has the power to say no, and that our first task isn’t to just get what we want but for our will to be synchronised with his.

Sometimes the way he reminds us of this is when he allows us to have our way, only for us to wish we hadn’t.  We end up with a result like the green bananas: it’s what we wanted, but not what was best for our life.

The Lord’s Prayer puts it this way: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done–on earth, as in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, TCNT.)  Ultimately it’s his will that counts.  He’s not only mindful of our needs, but knows them in advance: “When praying, do not repeat the same words over and over again, as is done by the Gentiles, who think that by using many words they will obtain a hearing. Do not imitate them; for God, your Father, knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7, 8, TCNT.)

When his desires are ours, we can experience this:

Here, therefore, is the greatest miracle of Jesus Christ. Not only is he all-powerful, but here he renders them all-powerful and, if possible, more power than he himself is, constantly performing greater miracles, and all through faith and through prayer: “and all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” Faith, therefore, and prayer are all-powerful, and they clothe man with the omnipotence of God. “If you can believe,” said the Saviour, “all is possible to him who believes” .

The performance of miracles, therefore, is not the difficulty. Rather, the difficulty is to believe. “If you can believe.” That is the miracle of miracles; to believe absolutely and without hesitation. “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief”…

Thus the great miracle of Jesus Christ is not to make us all-powerful men. Rather, it is to make us courageous and faithful believers who dare to hope all from God, when it is a question of his glory…

Let us dare all things, and no matter how slight our faith may be, let us fear nothing. A small grain of faith, the size of a mustard seed, enables us to undertake anything. Grandeur has not part in it, said the Saviour. I ask only for truth and sincerity; if it becomes necessary that this small grain grow, God who has given it, will make it grow. Act then with the little you possess, and much will be given to you: “And this grain of mustard seed” and this budding faith “will become a great tree, and the birds of the air will dwell in the branches thereof.” The most sublime virtues will not only come there, but will make their abode therein. (Jaques Bénigue Bossuet, Meditations on the Gospel.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

The trip through the music alluded to in the novel The Ten Weeks will take a mellow turn this week with Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”  Lightfoot is the only Canadian represented in this list.

This is a relatively new performance, but this is still a very smooth and beguiling song and performer.

One general observation I’d like to make is that you hear the music from this era piped into malls and shopping centres and reperformed.  The first time I noticed this, I was in Boynton Beach, back in the 1990’s.  I thought, “has WQAM‘s signal bounced back from some far planet?”  But the reality is that this was a very creative era, and not just by really well-known groups such as the Beatles.

Our Government Targets Wealth Accumulation, Not Just Income

Most discussions on taxation and wealth transfer focus on income, but the IRS has its sights on those who have the bad taste not to merely live on credit but to accumulate wealth, as Charles Rubin notes here:

Basking in the glow of the recently completed offshore voluntary compliance program, IRS Commissioner Shulman in a recent speech revealed a new direction for IRS enforcement – high net worth individuals. The Commissioner noted the recent formation of a Global High Wealth Industry group housed in its Large and Mid-Size Business operating division. The IRS is concerned that the complicated legal structures of high net worth individuals often mask aggressive tax strategies.

Areas of possible abuse cover a large gamut of legal and tax structures, including trusts, real estate investments, royalty and licensing agreements, revenue-based or equity-sharing arrangements, private foundations, privately-held companies, and partnerships and other flow-through entities. For these purposes, the IRS may use taxpayers with a net worth in excess of $30 million as the target demographic of its scrutiny.

Given the enormity of our government’s unfunded obligations, this is unsurprising.  But attacking the accumulation of wealth will only lead people not to do it, or to leave the country before they become successful.  The result of this will be poverty.

When the Vulcan Man Travelled…

From time to time, I mention the family business I used to be involved in: Vulcan Iron Works Inc., which was in my family (with one break) for 144 years.  We did a great deal of business outside of the U.S., especially for the offshore oil industry.  From about 1960 until the early 1980’s, offshore was booming and not just in the Gulf of Mexico.

Until Delta started its foray into international travel in the late 1970’s, and for some time afterwards, the airline of choice for “the Vulcan man” was Pan Am.  My three trips to China to do business there in 1981-3 were largely on Pan Am.  Our senior field service man, Jess Perry, just about wouldn’t fly anyone else overseas.

So it was with some fascination that I saw the Wall Street Journal’s piece on Anthony Toth’s replica of Pan Am’s first class cabin on the 747.If you want to see what overseas flying was like in the 1970’s and 1980’s on this airline, this is a unique opportunity to do so, and for me it brought back many memories.

Matthew Hoh’s Resignation: Losing Our Focus in Afghanistan

I can’t much blame this ex-Marine (if such exists) for throwing in the towel:

When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan.

A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.

But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.

“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department’s head of personnel. “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.

Back in 2006 I wrote the following, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11:

As Americans, we live in a country with two distinct ideas on how to deal with problems such as radical Islamicism.

The first is that we must understand our enemy if we are to engage him, and engaging him means that, if we “understand” him, we will be nice to each other and everything will be better. This is the approach of the left. With most enemies, this leads to defeat, because they interpret your actions (rightfully) as a sign of weakness and will move against you accordingly.

The second is that, if we understand our enemy, we will become sympathetic to him and it will weaken us, so we must always do it “our way” and defeat him. This is the approach of the right. This can lead to victory but it will be costly.

In those days, we had the former idea.  Now we have the latter.  It’s hard to implement effective foreign policy when you’re careening from one extreme to the other.

Barack Obama is pretty skilled politically, but he’s painted himself into a corner on this one.  He defined the Afghan war as the “necessary war.”  But now he’s stuck.  He doesn’t want to really ramp up our efforts, and he really can’t bring himself to bail out.  Sooner or later, his dithering and taking his half out of the middle is going to get him (and us) run over.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of motivation.  Americans like to think that, if and when they fight wars, they’re for a moral cause.  But there are two reasons why we’re operating there that belie that idea.

The first is the war on drugs, a point driven home by the death this week of DEA agents.  We’ve made the world miserable by our inability to deal with our insatiable demand for hallucinogenic drugs, an endemic problem since the 1960’s.  Since we can’t (or won’t) come up with a way to deal with the demand, we go around the world and camp out in drug-producing countries (like Colombia) and try to solve the problem by eliminating the supply.  But this is, if we think about it long enough, ridiculous.

The second is our desire to establish a secure foothold in Central Asia so as to insure an oil supply from that part of the world.   This is of a piece with our endless involvement in the Middle East: instead of developing our own resources, we’ve spent the last forty years importing the oil of others, and having to insure those places stay friendly and productive.  But our left reels at the horror of domestic oil development, so we’re stuck there.  Insisting on a strong presence in Central Asia also guarantees conflict with Russia and China.

There’s no good way out of this, and Obama knows it, which is why he’s taking so much time making a “decision.”

Underestimating Obama’s Personality Cult is Dangerous

But former McCain-Palin staffer Robert Heiler does it just the same:

In many countries – as the history of Latin America alone illustrates – the institutions and the culture offer a weak defense against personality cult movements. In America, the defense is strong, buttressed by the First, Second, Fifth, Eighth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution. The “bipartisanship” that Obama envisioned was really “monopartisanship” – a form of one-party rule erected on the foundation of his personal popularity. This vision has been realized periodically throughout history, most recently by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But achieving it in America is far more difficult, because the Founding Fathers consciously and specifically erected bulwarks against it. Those bulwarks are the source of institutions that resist populist, personality-based, and momentary passions. (The Amendments I named are but a few of the most important ones, but there are others, including the bicameral legislature, and even, originally, the non-direct election of Senators.)

His appeal, like most conservatives, falls back on the Constitution.  But, as Anita Dunn’s hero Chairman Mao used to say, people and people alone are the motive force behind human history.  The basic problem in blindly appealing to our constitution is that the American people are a) on the whole ignorant of the real workings of our system and b) desperate enough to try anything.

To use a Chinese analogy again, Obama’s key problem is that the American left is a mandarinate left rather than a “peasant” one.  The fact that Obama connected with the American people as well as he did is a testament to himself and his campaign staff’s brilliance.  To sustain it in a governing coalition with other elitist snobs is another business altogether.

Barack Obama’s greatest competitor for dominance isn’t either the Republicans or the Constitution but hard economic reality.  It’s been that way from the start.  The more his programme advances the worse that problem will become for him, at which point he’d better watch his backside for either a) foreign domination or b) a “peasant” revolutionary.  Or maybe a little of both.

It’s a new ball game in the U.S., get used to it.

The Strange and Wonderful Story of Sister Germaine

It’s not very often that I do what I would call “heartwarming” stories on this blog.  Perhaps I should do more; in the world we live in, we could use a few every now and then.  But so many of them are, to put it bluntly, “hokey” or trite.

This one is an exception.

One my “blog partners” is The Ancient Star-Song, AFAIK the most visited ongoing music blog for “Jesus Music” of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Its webmaster, “Diakoneo,” has built a real ministry around bringing back to life the music of an era of Christian witness that’s too often (and sadly) forgotten.  He’s done this through many personal struggles and the endless issue of the copyright.  (Personally, I hope that what I do in ministry is remembered in any way thirty or forty years out, but I digress…)

In addition to music from Evangelical sources, he posts music from Roman Catholic ones as well.  In the wake of Vatican II and the wide-reaching changes in Roman Catholicism that took place in those years, some very creative music came out.  Evangelicals are generally ignorant of it, and Catholic traditionalists (including the current Holy Father) would rather see it forgotten, but for those of us who were Roman Catholic in those days, the impact cannot be swept under the rug.

One very early album of this kind is Sister Germaine’s Songs of Salvation.  Released in 1966, it was a pioneering work at the dawn of contemporary Roman Catholic music.  Some of that music, such as the late Peter Scholtes’ They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love is better known, but this one is a gem.  Alternating between narrative and song, it makes for good listening.

Diakoneo posted this in May 2007, one of his first postings.  Five months later he got a posting from “Lisa” which speaks for itself:

Thank you so very much for making this album available to me.

It is a very special memory/heirloom for me, as “Sister Germaine” is my mother!

Most of her convent disbanded due to problems involving the bishop. He thought the Glenmary Nuns were too progressive.

Sister Germaine and many of her convent sisters left Glenmary to search out God in the real world.

Later, she ran into my future father in university, fell in love, married, and had two daughters. (I am the first.)

Many of her memorabilia items from “back in the day” were destroyed in an accident (including her guitar.) Even though we were able to retrieve her album, it was not in the best condition for copying to play on modern sound systems.

Now I am to be married, and because of your website, I will be able to play her music at the ceremony.

My mother, formerly known as “Sister Germaine …America’s singing nun”; is a wonderful, kind and loving woman. The harshness of the world has never embittered her, and she continues to bring joy to those around her.

What a sweet gift it will be, when she hears her voice singing the melodies she created, during the wedding!

Thanks again.

God bless,

When you cast seed out, you never know what will come back.  May we all continue to do what God has called us to do, even if the fruit is not immediately evident.