Blog author: mmiller
posted by on Thursday, November 8, 2007

Here is a fantastic quote about America that deserves a hearing:

From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who–with their hands, their intelligence and their heart–built the greatest nation in the world: “Come, and everything will be given to you.” She said: “Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.” America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.

Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That’s what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

America needs to remember the things that made us great. Liberty is the fruit of responsibility and virtue. Let us take heart.

The speaker was none other than French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his address to Congress earlier this week. You can find the entire text of his speech here

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 8, 2007

Today was a pretty full day that just wrapped up a few minutes ago. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, opened up the day with a keynote address, “Pioneering the New Media for Christ.”

Mohler emphasized the communicative mandate of the Christian faith: “To be a Christian is to bear the responsibility to communicate.” Setting this statement within the context of stewardship, Mohler emphasized the biblical foundations for a Christian view of communication. In creation God made human beings in his image, as communicative and rational beings. The account of the Fall in Genesis 3, however, provides us with the context of sin.

Although Mohler didn’t make the link explicit, the Fall’s effect on communication comes to expression in the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel. So language can be both used properly and misused (to lie, to slander, to gossip, and so on). But after Creation and Fall comes Redemption, which is expressed in terms of the divine communication, the revelation in Jesus Christ (the Logos of John 1).

Mohler engaged Francis of Assisi’s instructions to teach and preach “with words when necessary.” Admitting that actions must be consistent with our declarations, Mohler asserted that words are always necessary. “No one is going to intuit the Gospel,” he said. Citing Romans 10, Mohler noted that faith comes by hearing the Word.

With a brief theology of communication in view, Mohler examined the varieties of technological means that have been used to transmit the Gospel. Christians, he said, are a people of the Book, a “literary” people. Noting that Christians initially used radio to a greater extent than television, Mohler provided the basis for a comparison of various kinds of media.

In this way, the advent of the Internet is more like radio than TV, insofar as the ease of access, production, and broadcasting, in North America is far more extensive than was popular access to TV in that medium’s early days (78% of Americans have access to a computer, and that percentage is markedly higher the younger the target group).

Mohler’s address provided evidence for the claim that blogging, podcasting, and videocasting are legitimate and important media for Christians to responsibly and prudentially engage the culture and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The talk raised the following issues for me. Given that “Godblogging” as a phenomenon is “talk about God” in a particular form, the possibilities for identifying the parallels, relationships, and continuities between “Godblogging” and “theology” (God-words) are plentiful. I also considered Augustine’s treatise on Christian rhetoric, De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), especially Book IV, as a source of seminal relevance.

On a more minor point, Mohler attributed the lack of Christian engagement in film in the early days of Hollywood to economic and artistic deficits. It seems to me that there was just as much a cultural deficit, which is perhaps what he meant by an artistic deficit, in the sense of the inability to appreciate beauty wherever it exists. There was (and still is among some) a profound and deep distrust of the theater and film (and television by extension) as inherently deceitful and powerful tools of diabolical power, given the pagan backgrounds of the theater.

Here’s what the CRC’s 1928 Synodical Report on Worldly Amusements had to say about film in particular:

It is also common knowledge that the moving picture industry is to a large extent in the hands of unscrupulous men, whose only concern is large financial profits regardless of the moral influence of the presentations. A large number of these pictures are a shameful exploitation of the sex-instinct; and many other exert a baneful influence through the portrayal of crime, a flippant attitude toward parental authority, the dignity of hte govenrment and of the church. Because of these things the movie-theater is undeniably one of the most destructive forces in our country, morally pestilential.

Based on these and other observations, the committee recommended abstinence from theater attendance by Christians.

With that minor caveat, Mohler’s address was full of Christian wisdom about the technology of our culture and Christian engagement. More to follow in the morning.

Also: The folks at Stand to Reason are live-blogging the event. There are a number of posts on Mohler’s talk.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sophisticated followers of politics such as the readers of PowerBlog will not be surprised by this story, but I’ll bring it to your attention anyway. The US House recently passed a bill that includes a dramatic tax increase on mining businesses. Supporters argue that the tax helps reign in the environmentally abusive mining industry. Higher taxes. Environmental concern. Senate Democrats would be scrambling to get on that bus, right? One problem: Majority Leader Harry Reid is from Nevada, whose economy depends heavily on the extraction of minerals and metals.

It reminds me of one of Hillary Clinton’s recent controversies, the ethanol flip-flop. Her spokesman explained: “She has always been a supporter of ethanol except for a time when there was evidence that New York would be hurt economically.” No doubt. If only pro-tax, “pro-environment” politicians would be equally sensitive to the economic ramifications of their policies even when they’re not immediately obvious to their own constituents.

When you think about it, NBC’s little promotional stunt on Sunday Night Football for their “Green is Universal” week is a lot like a mini-Kyoto treaty: it was an empty gesture that had no long-term impact on the problem it was trying to address, while immediately making things worse on their broadcast, and in the end the only thing it accomplished was to make the participants feel a bit better about themselves. They probably shouldn’t though, considering that in order to send Matt Lauer to Illulissat, Greenland (4,200 miles roundtrip from 30 Rock), Al Roker to the Galapagos Islands (6,100 miles roundtrip), and Ann Curry to the South Pole (18,000 miles roundtrip) probably created many times the carbon emissions that were “offset” by Bob Costas’ romantic candlelight rendezvous with the American football-viewing public.

Or perhaps they shouldn’t feel so bad, considering that we’re just now learning that the southeastern United States is suffering through a dreadful drought (caused, of course, by Global Warmingtm) partly because of a lack of hurricaines (also brought to you by Global Warmingtm) over the last few years:

…journalists from The New York Times to the Augusta Chronicle have blamed the Southeast’s woes on man-made carbon dioxide.

Wrote the Chronicle: “Indeed, the drastic effects of global climate change intrude everywhere on our daily consciousness – from the serious drought that now threatens cities in the Southeast to. . . Category 5 hurricanes regularly battering coastlines.”

But, according to the AP stories that ran across the nation, the drought conditions are a result of “stifling summer heat and a drier-than-normal hurricane season.”

Complained a USA Today story: “With hurricane season nearing an end, no one expects relief before winter.”

Yes, both the presence and absence of hurricanes are simultaneously the fault of – you guessed it – climate change! If only we could figure out some way to distinguish between those carbon emissions that cause lingering drought and those that cause increased hurricanes and balance them somehow.

Perhaps the UN could add that to the agenda of their upcoming UN Climate Change Conference 2007 in fabulous, sunny Bali, Indonesia! Via The New Editor, Claudia Rosett gives insight into the sacrifice that our beloved international diplomats will be making to save us from ourselves:

UN policy allows even the lowlier UN staffers to travel business class on long-haul flights (your tax dollars at work), the better to arrive wined, dined and ready to hit the ground …and the beaches … and the golf courses … and the tennis courts — running. Apparently there is so much to discuss that the conference will run for a full fortnight, from Dec. 3-14, at Bali’s seaside luxury resort of Nusa Dua.

For all those taxpayer mugs out there who have not had the experience of flying business class to spend a fortnight at Nusa Dua, check out the spectacular seaside photos of the Bali International Convention Center, with its slogan: “The Place…Where Business is a Pleasure.” For more information, page through the Bali conference outline on the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, or UNFCC, web site. This includes a handy list of pre/post conference tours, and a list of hotels (Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa, and Melia Bali Villas and Spa Resort, already sold out) plus recreational facilities: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, ocean kayaking, and, of course, the shopping gallery.

I don’t know about you, but I shudder at the thought of a world so ravaged by the horrors of climate change that UN staffers would be forced to fly coach to a two week long conference at a fabulous seaside resort.

In the meantime, though, let’s just be thankful that the UN and NBC are willing to kick out so much carbon in order to help in creating the global warming-caused hurricanes that will offset the global warming-caused drought that afflicts the global warming-ravaged Southeast US. And let’s tip our cap to Glenn Beck, who is using his perch on CNN to help out as well:

GodblogCon 2007 hasn’t quite started yet, but one of the privileges of attendance at this year’s conference was an opportunity to see an early screening of “The Kite Runner,” (courtesy Grace Hill Media) directed by Marc Forster (who has also directed “Stranger than Fiction” and “Finding Neverland”). The film is based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini.

Michael Medved helped to host the event late last night, introducing the film and as a special treat leading a Q&A session with the movie’s lead actor Khalid Abdalla. There was a decent turnout, including Dr. Al Mohler, who is giving the first address at the conference this morning. The film’s story revolves around the lifelong friendship between Amir (played by Abdalla as an adult) and Hassan, and is set in Afghanistan in the late 1970s before the Communist invasion, later during the rule of the Taliban, and in America.

Considering the depiction of Amir and Hassan’s relationship in the film, I often considered their relationship to have a similar dynamic as that between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are a number of parallels, not least of which is the fact that in one way or another both Hassan and Sam are “servants” or employees of their master’s family. Tolkien is said to have modeled Sam on the British “batmen” of the first World War, soldiers who loyally and unswervingly served their officers.

The story is very compelling, and as Michael Medved observed more than once (and quite rightly so), the movie isn’t successful because it is primarily political, but is a success because it is so intimately personal and human. Khalid Abdalla emphasized that this was the first Hollywood movie to focus on this region of the world from a primarily personal and familial perspective, rather than one focused on governments, military aggressors, or tyrannic oppressors. Of course those elements are present, but they are depicted from a much more personal perspective that is more familiar to us than pedantic political narratives.

Amir and his father, Baba.

There are some great lines in the film, and there are likewise some great performances, not least of which is Abdalla himself as well as that of Homayon Ershadi, who plays Baba, Amir’s father. One of the more poignant and telling lines comes from Baba, who says of Afghanistan in the late 1970s that the mullahs want to “rule” our souls while the Communists “tell us we don’t have one.” I don’t want to give away too much of the plot if, like me, you haven’t yet read the book.

My wife Amy has recently read the book, however, finishing it last week, and here’s her reaction:

It isn’t very often that I would say I’m haunted by a book I have read, but that’s the only way to describe my feelings after turning the last pages of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The novel follows the life of Amir, a wealthy boy who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, but later emigrates to California with his father, Baba, following the Russian invasion.

Amir may physically leave his homeland behind, but he is unable to escape many of the things that happened there as a boy, including his friendship with and eventual betrayal of Hassan, the son of Baba’s Hazara servant. Hosseini eloquently illuminates Amir’s complicated relationship with his boyhood friend and servant.

From the very beginning, Amir is a gripping protagonist with whom you cannot help but sympathize. While his actions are polarizing and selfish, the complexity of his life against the background of ethnically-charged Afghanistan provides not only interesting character development but also rich insight into life in Kabul, including everything from competitive kite flying to racial tensions and Afghan traditions. It is hard to believe that this is the first novel from Hosseini, a former internist-turned-novelist. Tackling topics such as fear, regret, honor and loyalty, he poignantly touches on just about every raw aspect of human life, leaving no emotional stone unturned.

Most important, through the story’s many twists and turns, Hosseini’s vividly detailed writing will have you physically gripping the book with your hands as you anticipate what beautiful prose might lie at the next turn of the page. This is a book you will never forget.

You may have heard that the film’s release date was pushed back out of concern that some of the children who played parts in the film and who still live in Afghanistan might be in danger of reprisal over the film’s content. The film was scheduled to be released on November 2, and while none of the children have been removed from the country, plans have been set up to place them into safe houses during the initial stages of the film’s release in order to gauge the local reaction. The new release date is December 26, and I strongly urge you to see this film. Mark the release date on your calendar and be sure to support this film in its early theater release. You won’t regret it.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum takes a look at Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and his worshipful celebrity fans in the United States. Here’s the key paragraph from her column, The New Fellow Travelers:

In fact, for the malcontents of Hollywood, academia and the catwalks, Chávez is an ideal ally. Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called “useful idiots” once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration (John) Reed once felt — the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law. For all of his brilliance, Reed could not bring socialism to America. For all of his wealth, fame, media access and Hollywood power, (Sean) Penn cannot oust George W. Bush. But by showing up in the company of Chávez, he can at least get a lot more attention for his opinions.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, November 6, 2007
U.S.M.C. War Memorial

Last summer I visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. It is an impressive and moving tribute to the U.S. Marines, focusing especially on WWII to the present War on Terror. There was an even a section which chronicled the transformation of young recruits to Marines who embody the virtues of “honor, courage, and commitment.” David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times has written a piece titled, “From Boys to Marines.” The article is one in a series of articles about three teenagers and their wartime enlistment in the Marines.

In a culture which glorifies the adolescent, with media spots and television shows depicting men as simpletons and children, the Marines call attention to an entirely different value. In many cases, the War on Terror has been described as a war that is led by squad and platoon leaders. On the battlefield, Marines in their late teens and early twenties have to make life and death decisions, immediately affecting the future of the men and women around them.

The rigors of Marine boot camp, and The Crucible certainly transform the courage and character of an individual. My brother who is a Marine combat veteran of Iraq, emphasized the maturity and sacrifice of combat veterans with an analogy. In a recent conversation he said, “Somebody at work came up to me and said, son, you don’t know nothing about hard times.” Sometimes in the South, “son” can be used to talk down to somebody. My brother, who works in a lumberyard, responded to this customer’s remark with a miniature harangue.

One of the things I noticed about all Marines, is they all know the history of their fighting force. Marines easily rattle off names like Chesty Puller, Smedley Butler, Pappy Boyington, and Archibald Henderson. To many people the names ring hollow, but to Marines they are the very definition of icons. They are good heroes to emulate, especially when contrasted with many figures who are lifted up in today’s culture.

The new Marines chronicled in the Los Angeles Times article were described by their drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hibbs, who said, “I could tell right off they were good citizens, good people, good guys with good strong families, strong work ethics. Honor, courage, commitment – they already had it. It just has a new meaning to them now.”

Sunday is Veterans Day, a national holiday which honors the military veterans in our nation. My father was an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force. At his retirement ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, he paid tribute to the men of the Eighth Air Force, who won the air war over Europe in World War II. The Mighty Eighth suffered horrific casualties, and played a critical part in liberating the continent from fascism. It was a not so subtle reminder to remember those who have sacrificed so much, and also a subtle reminder that it’s very classy to put the focus on others on your own day of tribute.

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, one of the rewards of the job was helping veterans with military casework. I was also able to meet many of the Marine veterans from battles such as Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, the “frozen” Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn. They are the men who helped spread the light and flame of freedom across the world. Today, this elite class of warriors remain dedicated to the courage and principles that made our country free. All the Marines I know are familiar with Ronald Reagan’s words, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”

A new blog has been added to our blogroll sidebar (along with a much-needed round of housecleaning on old and out-of-date links). Announcement below:

The Social Science Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of The Immanent Frame, a new SSRC blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere.

The blog is opening with a series of posts on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, including recent contributions from Robert Bellah, Wendy Brown, Jose Casanova, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, and Colin Jager. Robert Bellah has called A Secular Age “one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime,” and there will be more to come on Taylor’s major work in the weeks ahead, with posts by Rajeev Bhargava, Akeel Bilgrami, Hent de Vries, Amy Hollywood, Tomoko Masuzawa, Joan Scott, and others. Meanwhile, Charles Taylor himself has just made his own contribution to the already ongoing conversations.

But The Immanent Frame won’t be limited to discussions of A Secular Age. Later this fall we’ll also host a series of posts responding to Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. And there will be posts on a variety of other topics too-from pluralism and the “post-secular” to international relations theory, religious freedom, and the future of shari’a.

This new SSRC blog will draw on, and is closely linked to, the Council’s expanding work on religion and the public sphere. We invite readers to email us with comments or questions at religion@ssrc.org.

The New York Times reports of a well-intentioned protest by a pastor to protest the ridiculous and dehumanizing lyrics of the type of hip hop shown on networks like BET and MTV.

Wearing white T-shirts with red stop signs and chanting “BET does not reflect me, MTV does not reflect me,” protesters have been gathering every Saturday outside the homes of Viacom executives in Washington and New York City. The orderly, mostly black crowds are protesting music videos that they say degrade women, and black and Latino men.

Among other things the protesters want media companies like Viacom to develop “universal creative standards” for video and music, including prohibitions on some language and images. Video vixens and foul-mouthed pimps and thugs are now so widespread, the protesters maintain, that they infect perceptions of ordinary nonwhite people.

“A lot of rap isn’t rap anymore, it’s just people selling their souls,” Marc Newman, a 28-year-old car salesman from New Rochelle, N.Y., said on Saturday. He was among about 20 men, women and children from area Baptist churches marching outside the Upper East Side residence of Philippe Dauman, the president and chief executive of Viacom Inc.

This is well intended but I doubt it will help much. Perhaps the Pastor should focus more on preaching about Jesus to fans of hip hop music as opposed to attacking the media corporations. Here’s why:

(1) As long as consumers want music that degrade women and celebrate stupidity someone is going to produce it and distribute it. No one forced to buy stupid music.

(2) The best way to protest is with your wallet. If people didn’t buy this music, or attend the concerts of the artists who produce the music, this type of hip hop would die.

(3) Viacom does not force artists to rap lyrics that degrade themselves and women. They freely choose to rap about those things on their own volition.

(4) If the public wants Viacom to act virtuously consumers are going to have change their preferences, artists are going to have to refuse to rap about ignorance, and, then, Viacom executives are left to make the risky decision to opt out of distributing filth. If Viacom could make money off of virtue it would.

Viacom does NOT need to create universal standards for content. Maybe morally debased consumers need to embrace virtuous preferences. If the culture is not morally formed citizens will not make moral decisions. Why isn’t this group protesting the malformed desires of hip hop’s consumers and artists as well?

In what might be the dumbest attempt yet by any large corporation to appear “green,” NBC decided to turn off the lights on their Sunday Night Football broadcast’s studio set last night. This was apparently an effort to offset the carbon footprint of Matt Lauer in Greenland, which – judging by the size of the huge area lit by the lights they hauled up there – must have been pretty huge.

It’s just too bad that NBC didn’t team up with the NFL to turn off the lights at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and let the Eagles take on the Cowboys under the cover of darkness. I’m inclined to believe that if you’re going to deliberately make your broadcast lousy to make a political point, you might as well go big or stay home. Darkening a studio? Small gesture. Darkening an entire stadium filled with some of the, uh, rowdiest fans in the NFL? Huge statement. And frankly, just imagine the entertainment value of Tony Romo desperately trying to find Terrell Owens in a darkened endzone – it calls to mind the image of a young Luke Skywalker learning to use the force while wearing a blast helmet.

Stretch out with your feelings, Tony…

Regardless, video of a badly-candlelit Bob Costas and icebound Matt Lauer follows:

Via Hot Air.