He'd Better Bow to China

As usual, a big deal is made of this:

But this is simply the obeisance that any hopeless debtor would give its largest creditor.

It reminds me of a quip by a local county commissioner: if you walk into a bank as a large depositor, they tell you “yes, sir” or “yes, m’am,” but if you owe a good deal, it’s just “hey, you!”

The day we cease to be explorers and revert to armchairs and joysticks is the day we begin to dwell on past achievements rather than future adventures.

True words, spoken by Aerospace Industries Association CEO Marion Blakey at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches:

“Let’s face it, it will be a long time — if ever — before a robot could repair the Hubble telescope or make the many adjustments needed to add modules to the International Space Station,” Blakey said. “The day we cease to be explorers and revert to armchairs and joysticks is the day we begin to dwell on past achievements rather than future adventures. This must not happen on our watch…”

Blakey urged Obama to develop a long-term space strategy that will carry us through at least one generation. “What will happen if the United States lacks a strategy to explore the universe?” Blakey said. “Will Floridians be forced to change the motto above the soaring space shuttle on your state quarter from ‘Gateway to Discovery’ to ‘Museum of Discovery?’”

If the people I’ve referred to in the past as “anti-moon luddites” get their way, we will.

This also makes me think of something my grandfather Chet experienced in the middle of his own aeronautic adventure, the 1933 Langley Day at College Park, MD:

On 5 May 1933–two days before Langley Day–the N.A.A.’s board voted to sanction the entire event provided these two event were eliminated as “unnecessarily dangerous and contrary to the best interests of aviation.” Chet fired back that the NAA officials were “swivel-chair, broomstick pilots,” and went on as follows:

Members of the contest committee of the N.A.A. waited until yesterday to state their conditions on which their body would sanction our local meet. And as yet I have received no official word from them of what they feel we must do to comply with their rules…I have had no co-operation from the National Aeronautic Association and have had nothing but destructive criticism and meddling…no other course could be taken but to hold the program as planned.

I bitterly resent the treatment accorded by the National Aeronautic Association. Our program has been public knowledge for weeks and it is gross injustice for them to attempt to dictate policies at the eleventh hour.

Our program is safe and our rules have been examined and approved by officials of the aeronautics branch of the Department of Commerce, several of whom are serving as race officials tomorrow. I for one consider that the safety of the air is vested in the Department of Commerce and I am willing to abide by the decision of its officials. If the N.A.A. does not choose to sanction our air meet, the meet will go on without sanction, as it has been planned.

Chet even threatened to have N.A.A. officials who tried to stop the event removed from the field. Fortunately neither accident nor rowdy N.A.A. official marred the event.

Unfortunately, I get the impression that our “scientific” administration is being run by “swivel-chair, broomstick pilots” in more ways than just the space program.

My Tribute to the Poles

The terrible plane crash which has killed much of Poland’s leadership leaves one speechless.

The Poles have taken much: partition of their country at the end of the 18th Century (the “Enlightenment” no less!), a battlefield in World War I, re-emerging after that only to be dismembered (and much of the population, Jew and Gentile, killed) during World War II, and then forty years of Soviet occupation.  To have this happen–especially in connection with the Katyn massacre–is very painful.

But the Poles have come back with courage and endurance, and they will again.  One evidence of this–and this site’s “tribute” to their ongoing stamina–is Czerwono-Czarni: Msza Beatowa–Pan Przyjacielem Moim, a “rock Mass” from the Communist era that is one of the best of its kind in the “Jesus music” era.  You can click here to visit its page and download the album, in parts or in its entirety.

If they used this for the funeral of one or more of their fallen leaders, it would be a “New Orleans” style funeral: a solemn event celebrated in an upbeat way.

Book Review: History: Think for Yourself About What Shaped the Church

History is, for Americans especially, a problematic business.  There are those who want to transmit history, and others who want to redefine it.  But for most people history is something that gets ignored.  For Evangelicals, the common attitude that “between Apostles and us, people weren’t saved” only makes matters worse.

But the history of the church is profitable for everyone, and this is recognised in the book History: Think for Yourself About What Shaped the Church.  Written by Robert Don Hughes, Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, its a fast–very fast, indeed–overview of the history of the church.

Hughes begins by stating what’s obvious even without his saying so: the book is written from an Evangelical point of view.  That has its plusses and minuses, and the latter come out in monographs on history more than anywhere else.  The book’s structure is, unsurprisingly, divided up according to different eras.  But there are several topics (which he refers to as “Six Big Challenges”) which are discussed regarding each era, and they are as follows:

  1. People like us (how Christians of each era are like we are today, both strengths and weaknesses)
  2. The Body of Christ and the Human Institution (how the church is both)
  3. Church + State = Very Bad Things
  4. Faith Versus Reason (which has gone back and forth over the years)
  5. What About Missions?
  6. Ethics Optional?

Until the eighteenth century his history is broad based, covering all parts of Christianity.  After that he concentrates (not exclusively) on portions of interest to Evangelicals.  The temptation with that is to cover the latter at proportionately greater length, detail and sympathy, but Hughes avoids that.  It’s a fast ride from start to finish.

As far as the text itself is concerned, from the standpoint of historical content and the lens through which it’s viewed, the book is best described as “above average” without being outstanding.  There is the occasional factual lapse (such as Patrick being from Wales when he was from the North of England,) but the biggest failing in that respect is sheer brevity.  He cannot fathom the difference between subordinationism and denying the deity of Christ altogether, which means he misunderstands the Christology of Tertullian (who was a subordinationist, but Hughes misses that) Origen (also a subordinationist, but Hughes makes a big deal of that) and Arius (who denied Christ’s deity, but Hughes only calls him a subordinationist.)  His format on focusing on major figures in each era leads to distortions.  For example, his emphasis on Augustine’s obsession with the dirt of sex and the superiority of chastity makes him overlook the fact that Jerome was a more pugnacious (as as well known) presenter of both to the Western church.

Moving towards the Reformation and its aftermath, his juxtaposition of John Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola is interesting and thought-provoking.  So is his depiction of Thomas Cranmer; the English Reformation is always a complicated subject, one that still haunts Anglicanism (and the rest of us) today.  (His quotation from Cranmer’s BCP in the context of his life was, for me, the most amusing moment of the book.)  In the later years he emphasises the Cane Ridge revival and its Southern and Western progenies as the “Second Great Awakening” while ignoring the central importance of Charles Finney (who he only mentions in passing) and his revivals in the North.  That’s a typically Southern Baptist (and Southern in general) bias; Finney was a die-hard abolitionist, and the sons of the “Lost Cause” would rather forget it, even Finney was crucial in the development of revivalistic techniques and the shift in American Christianity from Calvinistic to Arminian theology (the latter he does mention, but ignores Finney’s contribution.)

For people who are totally, like, in the dark about the history of the church, History: Think for Yourself About What Shaped the Church is an easy to read introduction that can be gone through between refills at Starbucks (have a registered card though, it’s not that short.)  For newbies to the subject, a pictoral history would be better, but Hughes’ effort isn’t a bad one, especially if it inspires readers to dig deeper into the history of the church.

The Legacy of John Paul Stevens: Illinois, the Hardest Place to Run a Corporation

Towards the end of David Savage’s piece on John Paul Stevens, this:

Stevens’ early life had more than its share of grand moments and deep tragedies. He was born in 1920, the youngest of four boys in a wealthy family. When he was 7, his father opened the 28-story Stevens Hotel on Michigan Avenue (now the Hilton Chicago), overlooking the lake…

…his family’s prospects had darkened with the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed two years after the Stevens Hotel had opened, and the ensuing business collapse emptied most of its rooms. After the hotel was driven into bankruptcy, Stevens’ father, uncle and grandfather were accused of having embezzled more than $1 million from the family-run life insurance company to prop up the failing hotel.

His grandfather suffered a stroke, and his uncle committed suicide. Left to stand trial alone, Stevens’ father was convicted and faced a long prison term. A year later, however, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction and said that transferring money from one family business to another did not amount to embezzlement.

Stevens spoke little about his family’s ordeal, but it surely helped inspire a lifelong faith in the fairness of judges and the courts.

If that’s the lesson that Stevens learned from this ordeal–and, for those old line WASP types like Stevens, that lesson is a natural–it explains the divergence between his idea and that of a court grown more conservative.  Others who eschewed the left’s siren song of state ownership and care for everything came to the conclusion that a system which took as long as it did in Stevens’ father’s case to figure out that a family’s wealth is the family’s has serious problems.

Few places in the US have a schizoid attitude towards corporations and wealth so firmly entrenched in the legal system than Illinois.  On the one hand the state’s dominant city, Chicago, is the “city of big shoulders,” the place where capitalists (like my own ancestors) could do well and build a great city and state.  On the other same Chicago is the home of Saul Alinsky, the cosummate radical and community organiser who inspired two of the Democrat Party’s current top power holders: Hillary Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama.  The result locally is a state with high taxes, convoluted laws and corporate procedures which are an absolute mess to keep up with.  (I think I can speak with some authority on this: our own company was an Illinois corporation for 115 years.)  It’s also a system which can allow the perseverance of a political machine (the Daley one) for such an extended period.  Few people can remember the time when the Daley crew didn’t run Chicago in one form or another, the time between father and son is simply an “interregnum.”

The fact that it took so long for the Illinois judicial system to figure out that “…transferring money from one family business to another did not amount to embezzlement” should have been a lesson that something was deeply wrong with the system itself.  It’s probably one event that encouraged Stevens to exit the world of commerce for that of law, something that many scions of wealthy WASP families did.  He wanted to be on the winning side this time, and given that he spent 35 years on the Supreme Court, in that sense he certainly was.

For others of us, it took a while to figure things out, but eventually we left Chicago and Illinois for “greener” pastures.  (The legal system wasn’t a direct driving force, but the business environment was.)  Now we have a Chicago community organiser for a President (to say nothing of his eminence grise, Rahm Emmanuel) who intends to push the system firmly leftward, to the place where no one outside the system (read: government) can survive.  Under those circumstances, the only exit is emigration, and that may explain in part why our Congress is instituting what amount to capital controls via the tax system.

The Importance of One Vote in Palm Beach

It decided the Mayor’s race:

An appellate court has affirmed a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge’s decision upholding the result of the town’s February 2009 mayoral election.

Mayor Jack McDonald defeated challenger Gerry Goldsmith by a single vote in a Feb. 21 recount of a Feb. 17 runoff between the two.

In an opinion released Wednesday, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal found that Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher’s office correctly excluded from the recount 13 absentee ballots that weren’t picked up by her office until the morning after the election.

Stupak Calls It Quits

Not a moment too soon either:

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, targeted for defeat by Tea Party activists for his crucial role in securing House approval of the health care overhaul, said today he would retire from Congress this year.

The nine-term congressman told the Associated Press he could have won re-election and insisted he wasn’t being chased from the race by the Tea Party Express, which is holding rallies this week in his northern Michigan district calling for his ouster. Instead, Stupak said he was tired after 18 years in office and wanted to spend more time with his family.

Stupak’s caving on the anti-abortion status of Obama’s health care–and on the health care bill itself–is what secured its passage.  He should have known that abortion is too sacramental to the left to be held back by an executive order.  Federally funded abortions will take place and his meagre efforts at the end to prevent them will come to nothing.  And the health care bill, of course, is an unaffordable monstrosity that will put one more nail in the coffin of the fiscal integrity of the United States.

One person can sure do a lot of damage, even when he’s trying to do good.  Stuff like this is why I don’t believe in salvation by works: there are too many unforseeable consequences of the stuff we do.  (Well, he won’t forsee them, even if we can…)

It’s a strange district he’s got–all of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and some of the lower part too.  Largest town has only 20,000 people.  Even by Southern standards, that’s rural.  Hopefully they will choose to take another nibble out of Nancy Pelosi’s majority.

British democracy is no better than Uzbekistan's. Is the US's?

That’s the opinion of former British diplomat (to Uzbekistan) Craig Murray:

So, there we have British elections today: an unfair electoral system, censorship of candidates’ electoral addresses, little real political choice for voters, widespread postal ballot-rigging and elections administered by partisan council officials in a corrupt political climate.

Some of the “on the ground issues” in both the US and UK are different, some are the same.  For example, local authority control of elections is, if anything, stronger here (as is local control in general) than in the UK.  Most people will think of the fiasco in South Florida in 2000, but it’s wider than that.  Here in Tennessee, for example, all 95 election commissions are run by the party that controls the General Assembly.  That’s compounded by the fact that here, as Murray points out in the UK, “(t)here was a time when honesty in public life was such that the party allegiance of a local authority and its staff would not affect confidence in its ability to conduct a free and fair election.”  Where I live we recently buried an election official who was well known for his fairness even though he was a product of a partisan system.  I’m not sure that his successors can be counted on in the same way.

Turning to broader issues, it seems to me that US elections are hampered by three big factors:

  1. The long-term dominance of the two-party system severely restricts expressing the variety of popular opinion in the legislature.  Both Labour and the Tories cast the dread of a “hung parliament” over the electorate.  But the Germans–arguably the strongest economy in Europe right at the moment–have come up from the ashes of World War II with a series of Bundestags where the Free Democrats frequently hold the balance of power.  You have no majority–you make a coalition!  The Anglophone world cannot bring itself to this kind of governance.  In the US, with no prime minister, things are even worse.  (We come closest to coalition rule when we have split party control between the White House and Congress.)  What both countries need is what the French call scrutin de liste, but don’t hold your breath.
  2. The dependence by large swaths of the population on government largesse mitigates against meaningful changes in public policy.  This is especially important at a time when both countries are going broke.  The bureaucracy becomes the “shadow bloc” in the election, having infiltrated both parties (and even, via Medicare, the Tea Party.)
  3. The influence of what we call “special interest” money insures that both parties are bought and paid for even before primary season.  Given the dreadfully long and expensive American election process, a large wad of cash is indispensible.

Pseudodemocracy run by pseudosophisticates…

Brits Place Their Bets on a General Election

As we in the US slog through another tedious (but very important) election cycle, the British accelerate the process with Gordon Brown calling an election on 6 May 2010.

There’s a lot to say about this but let’s start with the fun observation.  The Times has a way cool interactive election chart which is a wonderful way to waste a lot of time with.  But, if you look carefully, there’s more to the fun.  In the US, when we want to get election predictions, we turn to these serious pollsters: Gallup, Rasmussen, Zogby, etc.  In the UK, who does the Times turn to?  Ladbrokes, the betting house, of course!  Not since Ron Faucheux, the “Political Oddsmaker,” have Americans seen it done this way, and Ladbrokes deals with real money.   (Appropriate: South Louisiana, Faucheux’s home, is a place where people have been living on the edge for 300 years.)

In spite of the Obama Administration’s attempt to ditch the “special relationship” between the UK and the US, the two countries are, in many ways, tied together in fate more now than ever.  Both have been on a quarter century run of prosperity that has only solidified the Anglophone world’s dominance of things.  Both are now in the aftermath of that run, deeply in debt and uncertain of the future.  In many ways, the sharks are circling both countries; both are headed for a major disaster at their current course.  (If my American readers want to get a feel for how many issues are shared, they should take the “Vote Match” survey from the Telegraph.)

The big difference is that the “left” party has been in the saddle in the UK since the last millennium, while in the US it’s only been two years, so they still think they can blame their opposition for the problems.

That being said, and given Gordon Brown’s lack of charisma, it’s amazing how close the UK election really is.  Cameron and the Tories should be having a romp, but they’re not.  This tells me that the UK electorate is realising that real electoral choice, in terms of the quality of the outcome, is very limited these days.  To some extent, the outcome of the 2010 contests in the US will gauge whether the American voters have come to this conclusion or not.

It’s one thing to have the form of representative government, but to lack its power and reality is a major delegitimisation for both countries.

Easter Greetings, Russian (and Technical) Style

Over the years, I’ve come to associate Easter with the Russians.  It’s an odd thing; it started with the discovery of the traditional Russian Easter greeting (which I duly exchanged with a Muscovite friend this weekend.)  That was accentuated by the discovery of Christianity’s comeback during the “Great Patriotic War” (Visit to Zagorsk) and the “resurrection” of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (Rising From the Pool) which Stalin had demolished in 1931.

Back in 1989 I even put it in Russian on a technical paper on vibratory pile driving equipment (which the Russians first developed in around the time of same Great Patriotic War.)  Note it in the upper left hand corner:

The Orthodox (and those who are influenced by them)  put a great deal of emphasis on the Resurrection, and justifiably so.  The Russians’ name for Sunday is “Resurrection Day,” which is far more than we can manage in English.

But to put it into English anyway: