A Real “Alhamdulillah” Moment: Bishop John Chane Retires

It’s the only word that really “captures the moment” about this event:

Washington Episcopal Bishop John B. Chane announced Saturday he will retire in the fall of 2011, saying it was “time to elect a younger person to lead what I consider to be the best and one of the most influential dioceses in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.”

Speaking to about 325 attendees at the annual diocesan convention at the Washington National Cathedral, Bishop Chane, 65, admitted he was stepping down during a time of flagging growth and stagnant giving in the 42,000-member diocese.

I wonder why the growth flags…

John Chane main claim to the “Inconsistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds Award” is this:

The Anglican/Episcopal world has been regaled with the strange relationship between Episcopal Bishop of Washington (DC) John Chane and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While promoting the complete acceptance of homosexuality in the life of the Episcopal Church, Chane has cultivated his friendship with a man whose regime hangs homosexuals from truck cranes.

If John Chane’s friends succeed, the only residue of the Diocese of Washington will be in Rock Creek Cemetery.

The Gospel for Septuagesima: Christians Need to Stop Pining for the Big Payoff

From the 1928 BCP, it’s the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard:

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like an employer who went out in the early morning to hire labourers for his vineyards. He agreed with the labourers to pay them two shillings a day, and sent them into his vineyard. On going out again, about nine o’clock, he saw some others standing in the market-place, doing nothing. ‘You also may go into my vineyard,’ he said, ‘and I will pay you what is fair.’ So the men went.

Going out again about mid-day and about three o’clock, he did as before. When he went out about five, he found some other men standing there, and said to them ‘Why have you been standing here all day long, doing nothing?’

‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

‘You also may go into my vineyard,’ he said.

In the evening the owner of the vineyard said to his steward ‘Call the labourers, and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, and ending with the first. Now when those who had been hired about five o’clock went up, they received two shillings each. So, when the first went up, they thought that they would receive more, but they also received two shillings each; On which they began to grumble at their employer.

‘These last,’ they said, ‘have done only one hour’s work, and yet you have put them on the same footing with us, who have borne the brunt of the day’s work, and the heat.’

‘My friend,’ was his reply to one of them, ‘I am not treating you unfairly. Did not you agree with me for two shillings? Take what belongs to you, and go. I choose to give to this last man the same as to you. Have not I the right to do as I choose with what is mine? Are you envious because I am liberal?’ So those who are last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, Positive Infinity New Testament.)

If there’s one thing that bothers me about Evangelical Christianity these days, it’s that people expect–and are promised–a big pay-off for what they do (and especially what they give) to the Lord.  There’s really nothing new about this–it’s an issue that comes up more than once in the Gospels and elsewhere–but these days it’s pursued with a singular lack of subtlety.

We know that our reward is eternity with God.  That is ultimately the “two shillings” (I love the old British currency in this translation) of the parable.  What else is better?

Is China Succeeding Because of Its Totalitarian Heritage, or in Spite of It?

That’s the question people in the West simply will not ask:

The second problem, and this is the most serious, is that Shirk fails to demonstrate that China has made such a great economic leap not only because it engaged in market reform – the former Soviet Union and East European countries did the same and with disastrous results for their economies – but because China has preserved the totalitarian skeleton of its past.

This is what has allowed China to produce real goods instead of resorting to the service bubbles of the US and those East European and post-Soviet countries which followed the advice of American experts. It is the totalitarian aspects of China that make it possible for the leaders to pursue policies that benefit the country in the long run; they do not think about quick profits that enrich the few – which is what has pushed the US into an economic abyss.

Thus, the author fails to understand that the totalitarian framework of China – as was the case with the Soviet Union – was both a dangerous poison and an elixir of life at the same time.

On one hand, totalitarianism makes the country and regime fragile; on the other hand the very same qualities could well propel the country to global dominance. The Soviet Union could have done the same if it had not been beset by what Russians called “katastroika” (a play on the word in which “perestroika” is blended with the word “catastrophe”) launched by Mikhail Gorbachev.

That the author did not elaborate on the positive implications of totalitarian rule in China (and elsewhere) is understandable. A person expressing this view would be unlikely to be employed by the US government, and major academic publishers would hardly accept such a manuscript.

It’s conventional wisdom in the West that a country, in order to make progress, must adopt democratic institutions.  It’s really more than conventional wisdom; it’s enforced groupthink.  It’s strange to realise that the superiority of democratic institutions is shoved down the throats of the “democratic” West in such an undemocratic way, but that’s life.

But China has bucked the trend, going its own way and making progress.  There’s no sign that democratisation in the Western sense is going to take place any time soon.

With experience in both China and the Soviet Union/Russia, let me observe first that it’s very difficult for a country with a long tradition of authoritarianism to suddenly turn and move forward under a “democratic” structure (or lack of it, in the case of the Russians.)  Both China and Russia tried this.  The Chinese did after the end of the Qing Dynasty, and the result was what one observer referred to as “democrazy.”  (The People’s Republic was the end result of this mess.)  The Russians endured the dismemberment of their country and a decade and more of corruption and rule by organised crime, and now Vladimir Putin, reviled by much of the West, is trying to pick up the pieces the old way and get things going again.

Let me put this bluntly: a people who are conditioned to do what they’re told (at least while someone’s looking) will either succeed in this way or they won’t succeed at all.  But history tells us that it’s certainly possible to succeed in this way.

Exceptions that are raised are France and Taiwan.  France’s transition took longer (and went through more forms of government in the process) than most people care to admit, least of all the French.  And their system is more heavy-handed than most of us in the Anglophone world would care to have.  With Taiwan, its run to greatness started when the Guomindang finally decided to stop being a gang and start being a government.  But until the 1980’s Taiwan was very much a one party show.

And what about us?  Our élites would very much like to have us believe that democracy is not only their creed but their practice.  But their contempt for the rest of American society belies their “party line.”  The current tug of war in our own society is between those who believe the people should rule themselves and those who don’t believe they’re capable of it.  We need to stop acting like this debate doesn’t exist and start telling each other the truth, both about the Chinese and about ourselves.

Challenges Infinity, and is Soon Gone: The Death of Tony Clarke

Back in November, I posted a brief narrative piece from the Moody Blues’ album Days of Future Passed, along with some thoughts on the album’s New Age underpinnings and its influence on me and on my novel The Ten Weeks.

A snatch of that narrative piece is a good way to note the sad passing of the album’s producer, Tony Clarke:

The record producer Tony Clarke was one of the architects of symphonic “prog rock” through his work with the Moody Blues. His production on the group’s album, Days of Future Passed (1967), and its hit single, Nights in White Satin, blended the sounds of an electric rock band with a symphony orchestra and came to be seen as a hugely influential landmark. He went on to work with the group on six more albums, helping them to become one of the most commercially successful bands of the era.

State of the Union Takeaway: We Need to Export More Goods. But How?

This, from Black Swan Capital:

There exists the potential that this tighter-money posturing, maneuvering, squirming or strategizing by the Fed will ultimately support the US dollar’s value. Well it can’t hurt, considering the overwhelming sentiment that the Fed will opt to inflate away the US dollar.

And that brings me to something President Obama mentioned last night in his little talk.

Littered with awkward contradictions, strong rhetoric pushing partisan ideals, and plenty of trademark off-the-cuff (and off-the-teleprompter) jokes … he mentioned something that jumped out at me.

The US needs to export more of its goods.

Yes, in an environment of deleveraging and belt-tightening and a perhaps permanent shift in consumer attitudes, we need to find something to compensate for that lost growth driver. And we should find something that can be considered positive, helpful economic activity. Emphasis on industry and exports is a good place to start.

No kidding.  But how?

Having been involved in a small business that routinely exported a third of its output, I think I can say something intelligent about this.

One of the big changes in international commerce that has eluded most Republicans is that most countries do things to help those who export.  Whether it be tax breaks or subsidies or what, in countries other than the U.S. (especially those that face us across both Atlantic and Pacific) government support for exports is a way of life.  Competing against this isn’t fun.  Our governments (the states are in this act too) have done some things to be helpful.  Part of that help is facilitating small businesses export, because small businesses find many routine business activities (such as getting paid) daunting overseas.  International commerce, especially for those too small to lobby for trade representatives to carve them out foreign markets, isn’t as level of a playing field as one would like it to be.

This should be right up the Obama Administration’s alley.  But it isn’t, for several reasons.  Most of these relate to the nature of the American left, and by now it should be obvious that our President is solidly in that idea.

  1. Barack Obama needs to basically break the back of small business to insure a permanent Democrat majority.  That’s because most small business people are Republicans; to pull the rug of funding out from under them would go a long way to ending effective opposition to his party.  It’s an interesting choice between the prosperity of the country and the perpetuation of your political power but, hey, look around and see how other places have made that choice.
  2. Doing (1) would centralise what economic activity is left with the government and large corporations.  That too would suit the current administration’s concept.  But how innovative of a system would we have?
  3. The American Left has a running aversion to industrial activity of any kind.  After all, industrial activity creates suburbs and bourgeois life and all that.  (I can hear the barf bags breaking out already…)  It’s been that way since the 1960’s, and the dream won’t die until they do.
  4. There’s also the issue of “maintaining traditional society and culture,” which I discussed during the campaign in my piece Message to Barack Obama: Why My Family Business Left Chicago. Obama gets this from his mother; it’s ironic that she campaigned for small enterprises to help preserve such societies, although my guess is that her idea is closer to Mao Zedong’s iron furnace in every yard (which he tried during the Great Leap Forward) than what we have here in the U.S..

I just don’t see an American leftist pursuing favourable industrial policies that would ameliorate this situation, even though their European counterparts have shown the way.

Checking for Nitrogen Dioxide in Traffic

The EPA is at it again:

The Obama administration set stricter limits on the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air for short periods of time along busy roads and is requiring states to install monitoring equipment in big urban areas in an effort to crack down on pollution during periods of high traffic.

Vehicles are a major source of nitrogen dioxide, which can cause respiratory problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued the new standard Monday, seven months after first proposing new short-term limits. Businesses said the new standard is too strict while environmentalists said it didn’t go far enough. The EPA set the acceptable amount of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere at 100 parts per billion over any hour-long period. The EPA last year proposed a limit of as little as 80 parts per billion.

It has been the long-term objective of the left to severely curtail the use of automobiles for commuting.  Unable to do the obvious (raise the petrol prices, as they do in Europe) they have resorted to other rather ham-handed and restrictive methods to achieve this: CAFE standards, emissions testing in “non-compliant” urban areas, and other things to make auto travel as much of an expensive pain as possible.

This simply adds to the roster.  Nitrogen dioxide emissions, as the article points out, have been regulated since the early 1970’s, and every auto sold in the U.S. has provisions to reduce these emissions.  To add this is simply a way to force cities to reduce commuting traffic during “rush hour.”  There are only two practical ways to make this stick: force people into hybrids (which cut the engine off when sitting) or make them stay at home.  (They could stagger people’s hours, but that’s an idea that hasn’t quite caught fire.)

It’s interesting to note that, when the EPA first started to regulate NOx emissions in the U.S., the first response of the auto makers was to cut down the compression ratio of car engines.  As anyone with a background in thermodynamics knows, doing that reduces the efficiency of the engine, which increases fuel consumption, which increases the emission of–you guessed it–carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas!

There’s no winning this game under the present rules of engagement.

Tim Tebow’s Pro-Life Super Bowl Ad: So How Will They Block the Beer Commercials?

This coup has the left in apoplexy:

Instead, when Tim Tebow and his mother agreed to tell their story (of how Tim was born even when his mother was advised to abort him) in an ad that’s a part of Focus on the Family’s “Celebrate Life, Celebrate Family” campaign, an ad that cost Focus on the Family about $3 million to have aired during the Super Bowl, the crap hit the fan.

To say that the abortion industry and their lobbying arm went crazy is an understatement.

“An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year – an event designed to bring Americans together,” said Jehmu Greene, president of the New York-based Women’s Media Center in a statement.

First: the event is designed to make money for the NFL, the teams, the network and the advertisers.  The Super Bowl is big, but to characterise it as a public civic event is a stretch.

Second: others (especially leftists at the University of Florida) object to Tebow “representing the University of Florida” with a message like this.  Well, unless he’s actually in an activity directly connected with the football team, he’s not representing UF any more than any other student.  He’s certainly not a paid representative (the NCAA sees to that) and this is supposed to be, for the moment at least, a free country.

Now there are two other questions that need to be answered here.

  1. Will Tebow be able to play in the NFL if he wants to?  The League has gotten awfully PC in its old age.
  2. Will Evangelical youth pastors, whose main preoccupation with the Super Bowl is to block the beer commercials, be able to do this and still show Tebow’s ad to their young people?

I hate to admit it, but with most Super Bowls, the commercials–beer and otherwise–are the best part.  (My wife certainly thinks so.)

We Already Have a Feminised Church

I see that The Times’ Ruth Gledhill is on the trail of this issue:

The charity is in the process of doing research into why men don’t come to church, and their questionnaire makes, for this woman anway, pretty reading. Read on for some of the reasons they suggest why real men might not like going to church.

Being involved with a denominational men’s ministry, I think I know a few things about this.  Most of what she brings up in the article were dealt with in (and the questionnaire may be inspired by) David Murrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church, which I reviewed here.  But I do have some additional thoughts on this subject.

  1. The difficulty of the “vicar wearing a dress” is hilarious if you understand the historical background behind it.  In spite of the “Bible teaches that men wear pants” mentality, in both Old and New Testament times everybody wore robes, or a “dress” if you please.  (The Chinese even reversed dresses and trousers until we came along and messed them up.)  Trousers were introduced into the Roman world by the barbarian tribes which invaded it; the vestments of Anglican and Catholic alike are descendants of the robes worn by Late Roman imperial officials.  But that leads to the next problem…
  2. Too much of the “re-masculinisation” of the church in the U.S. is made to depend upon the imposition of the rough, rural Scots-Irish culture as the “real man” culture.  That will not fly in this century.  There are other ways to express masculinity, but in the U.S. at least the structure of Evangelical churches mitigates against real alternatives, for the moment.
  3. It’s not really addressed in the articles linked to, but since I’m on the subject I’d like to address another issue: the idea that women ministers will feminise the church.  I hate to say the obvious, but in Evangelical churches we have an overwhelmingly male ministry and still have a feminised church.  As counterintuitive as Evangelical churches can be, perhaps the ascendancy of female ministers is a great opportunity for really meaningful men’s ministry!

Option for the Democrats: Nationalise Medicaid

Now that the necessary “supermajority” in the Senate (a tenuous concept at best) is gone, the Democrats, like Lenin a century ago, are wondering: what is to be done?

Here’s a suggestion: nationalise (or more accurately federalise) Medicaid.  Currently a joint venture of the states and the Feds, making it an entirely Federal program would have many possibilities:

  1. It would relieve the states of their largest running budget headache.  That would insure the support of all fifty governors, Republican and Democrat alike.
  2. It would enable the Feds to set a uniform standard for eligibility, etc.   That problem has bedevilled the current process, and led to the more egregious payoffs (LA, NE, etc.) we saw in the Senate process.
  3. It’s already a government program, so this (in principle) doesn’t “expand the role of government.”  That would put the small-government Republicans in a box.
  4. It addresses the medical insurance issues of the portion of the population least able to afford it.  Isn’t that what social welfare is all about?
  5. It would end the “health insurance shopping” that helped turn TennCare into the disaster it became before the state pared down the eligibility requirements.

I personally think that, although there would be opposition to this, it would be very difficult to sustain.

I know this is too simple either for our Ivy League trained elites or our “action oriented” political system (it is, in reality, an act of funding legerdemain.)   But if you left wingers are serious about your ultimate objectives, you’ll get behind this.

Canning Ben Bernanke: Hope You’ve Got a Good “Plan B”

The opposition to his renomination is, in some ways, simply amazing:

In a statement Friday morning, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, came out against Mr. Bernanke, who was named to his post during the Bush administration. She said she had “a lot of respect” for him and praised him for preventing the economic crisis from getting even worse. “However, it is time for a change,” she said. “It is time for Main Street to have a champion at the Fed.”

“Our next Federal Reserve chairman must represent a clean break from the failed policies of the past,” Ms. Boxer said.

Another Democratic senator, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, also announced Friday that he would vote against Mr. Bernanke.

And then there’s this:

Four senators have placed holds on Mr. Bernanke’s nomination: three Republicans, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and David Vitter of Louisiana, and an independent, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who describes himself as a socialist and who caucuses with the Democrats.

As a Fed Chairman, he’s not the best, and he’s not the worst.  Personally, I think what we’re looking at here is scapegoating, pure and simple.  His term has run out at a bad time and it’s convenient for senators, in an unstable political environment, to dump on him, a convenient target.

But here’s something for especially Republicans to think about: who do you think that state socialist Obama’s going to nominate in his place?

Overconfident Boomers, full of themselves, are notorious for not having viable “Plan B’s.”  But given the sensitivity of the position, we could do a lot worse than Ben Bernanke.