Monday, October 29, 2012

Best of the Best: Political Ads V

Another good one from the Whitest Kids U Know:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Best of the Best: Political Ads IV

[Disclaimer: Language and Crudity]
I'm pretty sure I would vote for this guy, but maybe not for school board.
"They wouldn't hire me as a teacher, so who better to shoot ya straight?"
"I'm just like you, I like

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The truth is out there, and now available on DVD

Every couple of weeks, the domestic harpy goes off to small group and leaves me with ample time to expand my horizons. For the past couple of months, I've been working my way through this masterpiece:

Okay, so it's actually not bad. Especially given the fact that it is a set of History/A&E shows from the 90s, and the CGI was still finding its feet. Cheesy graphics aside, this was a moderately interesting set (well worth the $4 at Costco I shelled out). If nothing else, it's worth remembering that there are large numbers of people out there who believe in aliens, despite never having seen one and there being exactly no evidence of any kind (physical or otherwise) that stands up to anyone's reasonable definition of evidence.
The most interesting episode was IM-not-so-HO the one on UFO Cults. The Heaven's Gate Cult had just done its thing, and they spent a good deal of time going over that. They even managed to interview both a member of the Cult (NOT a former member- he didn't kill himself, but only because the police managed to stop him in time) and this guy, who I don't know much about but who has filled the shoes of Walter Martin, for whom I do have a healthy dose of respect.

All in all, worthwhile if you've got any interest in fringe movements. Otherwise, I'm sure there's better stuff available on aliens (though I couldn't tell you what).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Best of the Best: Political Ads III

I know this isn't a real ad, but if you'll look back to the first post in this series you'll see that the criteria is that I like it. Not that it be meaningful or based in reality. Therefore:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Best of the Best: Political Ads II

I... still don't know what to think of this one. It was definitely a surprise when I first saw it in 2000. And I'm not entirely sure what I think about it. On the one hand, it's a bit politically incorrect. And as you all know, it is my goal to be as totally politically correct as possible. I wake up every morning and ask myself "how can I be a little more sensitive today?" Nonetheless, this ad made me chuckle. And immediately feel bad about myself for doing so.

(Sorry for the poor video quality- but that's what you get when you use Youtube...)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Best of the best: Political Ads I

In these political weeks leading up to the election, I thought it might be fun to take a bit of time and put up some of my favorite political campaign ads. Note that I do not claim that these are the best, the most relevant, the most meaningful, or most thoughtful. They are simply my favorite, no more and no less. Okay, so I know I claim they're the "best of the best" in the title of the post, but that's more to get your attention, and less of an ethical or social contract.
Nor do I promise to be consistent with posting these- it is a busy time of year for us academic types, especially us academic types involved in teaching politics. But I'll do what I can. Maybe.

Leading off the series is what is (to date) my favorite ad ever released by a politician upon the public:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review of "The New Left and Christian Radicalism" by Arthur G. Gish

I particularly like "Draft Beer/Not Boys"

The New Left and Christian Radicalism is a book that appears to have only gone through only one edition- and that originally published by Eerdman's in 1970. That being the case, how on earth did this obscure paperback fall into my hands? Simple: it was in a giveaway box on the sidewalk (free books are my kryptonite). It took me a while to get around to it, but man was it worth the wait...

Gish's project is to compare and contrast (but mostly compare) the Radical New Left movement of the late 1960s with the Radical Anabaptist Reformation of the 16th century. Both, he argues, are concerned with a total transformation of the culture and a lifestyle that involves total commitment to that end. Both are concerned with absolute purity and justice, and with never compromising with a fallen world or a fallen system in the name of the lesser evil. And both are utterly unwilling to compromise with sin and evil in the world, especially in their social incarnations.

The Pros:
Gish is a lucid writer who is clearly engaged with his subject matter and aware of the work being done by the New Left movement (or at least he was, he apparently passed away in 2010 in a farming accident). Even better, despite his enthusiasm for the New Left, he's not unaware of the drawbacks, failings, and blindspots of the movement.
The New Left is, according to Gish (and I think he's right), a movement concerned with the failure of the affluent American system to live up to its own stated ideals of liberty and justice. We promise freedom, and then drop napalm on children in Vietnam. We promise justice, but then refuse the vote to minorities. We promise rule by the people, but then have a government almost completely dominated by the rich and powerful elites. Worst of all, there is no means of change by working within the system (the Old Liberal ideal), since the system itself is corrupted by the same forces that keep obstructing freedom, justice, and the rule of the people. What we need is a total systemic overhaul. This overhaul should not come through violent revolution [this was in the days before the Weather Underground took over the New Left movement, and nonviolence was still the order of the day], but rather through peaceful protest and setting good personal examples of what life should be like.
In just the same way, the Anabaptists stood up to both the Protestants and the Catholics in the 16th century, arguing that what was needed was not simply to switch from a Catholic state church to a Lutheran, Zwinglian, Anglican, or Calvinist one, but a radically new idea of church and society altogether. Also working through peaceful methods (certain exceptions aside), the Anabaptists strive to set the example and to live up to the idea that being a Christian means a radical transformation of our lives in this world, and in turn working for a radical transformation of society.
What the Anabaptists have to offer the New Left is what the New Left cannot agree upon on its own: a vision of what society actually should look like. As with so many counter-cultural movements, the New Left is excellent at criticizing but poor and proposing solutions. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, have had four hundred years to think the issue through, and have several suggestions which Gish thinks line up quite nicely with New Left ideals (and have the added benefit of being Christian). This includes principles such as:

  1. Change must come from the bottom-up: a new social order requires the people to take matters into their own hands. Top-down change would require the government to be the agent of change, and the government itself is corrupt and so cannot fix the problems of the culture.
  2. We must have a solid understanding of both the old order we're trying to topple, and our own identities (something which the New Left is not so good at, given their low view of sin). 
  3. We must not compromise with the system- just as the Christian must never compromise with sin. 
  4. We must set the example by modelling the life we are calling others to live. This means living as if all the promises made in Christ have already been fulfilled. 
These are just a few of Gish's suggestions, but ones which capture the general thrust of his thought. 

Obviously, I am fairly sympathetic to this worldview. It's not so much that I'm a hippie or anything like that, it's just that I believe as a Christian and as a political philosopher that the New Left makes a lot of valid points about American society. We are too materialistic. We strut around the world like we own the place. We do thrust our nose into the business of other nations, despite our claims that people should be free to determine their own destinies. The war in Vietnam was unjust (and I have serious reservations about Afghanistan and Iraq, for that matter). And, well, I could go on. In fact, I'd take it even one step more than Gish, and agree with Augustine that the state (whether America or any other state) is a part of the city of man, and consequently necessarily defined by sin and headed for destruction. We should chalk it up to God's (common) grace that we have even the few blessings that we do- we certainly don't deserve them.

Gish also offers several excellent reminders that Christians are called to live all our lives in a radical and Christ-centered way. We are not allowed to compartmentalize, especially since doing so leads to the temptation to compromise. We say "I'm a Christian, but I live in a fallen world, so I guess in terms of politics I'll have to do what is expedient (or even easy), rather than what I know is right." Gish utterly rejects this worldview, and tells us that if we live in a world where we can't do what is right, as Christians it is our responsibility to try to change the world so we can. No free passes for us! Gish writes:

To be a Christian is to be an extremist. Moderation is a Greek ideal, not Christian. Christian faith is not a halfway measure; it talks about going two miles instead of one, of plucking out eyes that disturb, of dying on a cross. it is to risk death, to love enemies, and to pray without ceasing. As one biblical writer put it, "Would that you were hot or cold! So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16)... the Christian is not satisfied with maintaining a tension between the good and the possible. He does the good regardless of consequences or effectiveness. Faith involves intensity and commitment. We are called to love God with our whole being. (94-95)

The Christian life -including our involvement in politics- is to be one of total dedication to Christ and the life we are called to live in him. 

The Cons:
There are two major drawbacks to Gish's book, which may have been corrected had he spent another hundred pages or so working through his ideas. 
First, the book could have used a little more Gospel. Or at least, a little more exposition of the Gospel. The hints given here and there suggest that Gish sees Christ as an example and the cross a declaration of victory (akin to the New Perspective movement that would come later), rather than as an atoning sacrifice provided by God for his people. And while I suspect that Gish was a bit more theologically liberal than I am usually comfortable with (he cites Paul Tillich far more than anyone should who is not explicitly writing a critique of his thought), I can't quite say he believes a different Gospel. Reading more of his works may sort this out in the future. I don't think this negates his overall points, it just would give us a better foundation to stand upon as Christians as we criticize the culture. 

Second, much of what he looks for in society should be found in the church. (I had a similar objection to a more recent liberal book I reviewed.) It's unfortunate that he left out a discussion of the church, given that the ecclesiastical body really does have a role to play in the Christian's political thought. Ultimately, we should not look to the state as a fountain of justice, freedom, and democracy, but rather we should see those things on display in the church built upon the Gospel. The state will someday come to an end when its role of temporary stewardship is concluded, but the church of Christ will last for all eternity. To that end, we should work first in the local church to correct the wrongs we see, and only second in the state. 

Overall, this is an excellent and fascinating approach to Christian political thought. This should be read in conjunction with other works on the New Left, including The Times Were a Changin' and The Sixties.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review of "Tangled Ashes" by Michele Phoenix

Image source:

This book is a serviceable read... and not much more. Granted, Michele Phoenix can string together two words- and quite well at that (I read the book fairly quickly, and with far less wincing that I though there would be given that this book is basically Christian chick lit). What fell flat here was really the plot. There are two story lines, a major one set in the present focusing on Marshall Becker, the alcoholic architect charged with updating the local castle for a rich Englishman, and his growing/tense/banter-filled relationship with Jade, the rich Englishman's nanny. The minor story line is set in [sigh] Nazi-occupied France at the same castle and involves two French maids hired to work at the "secret" Nazi baby factory set up in the same castle. The two stories finally collide at the end of the book. (I won't give any spoilers, not that there are many to give.)

The chief strength of this book is that it is well written. I sailed through it easily and with some level of enjoyment. Even more, while her faith clearly comes through, she's not preachy (much) about it. While there are ways to work your beliefs into a story organically (cf. Stephen Lawhead), far too many Christian authors fling it in your face, often at the expense of artistic value. Phoenix does not commit this crime, and even has some talent as a storyteller, she just needs a good story to apply it to.

The biggest problem I had with the book is, as I've been hinting at, the lack of a worthwhile plot. Through the 350+ pages of the story, there's really not enough tension or action or, well, anything to set the pace. In the hands of a less competent writer, this book would have been awful. In Phoenix's hands, it's just kind of meh. Having said that, I'll give her a tiny bit of leeway since in the author's note she reveals that the setting and the Nazi baby factory were both real (and where she grew up, see picture above). And that shows in the book- easily the best parts of the story were her descriptions of the setting. And while you can do a lot with setting, you can't carry an entire novel with it. (Just ask Mervyn Peake.)

So would I recommend this book? Well... maybe if you're one of those people who have decided that you are only going to read "Christian" books (please don't be one of those people) then yes, this is better than most of the tripe out there. So if you've restricted yourself to Amish fiction and books that have covers that would be Harlequin Romances if two or three articles of clothing were removed, then this book will likely be a step up and I suggest that you take up and read. On the other hand, there are a lot of books out there that you really could be reading instead, why not pick up one of those?

I received this book free from the publisher (or at least from a proxy marketer). They did not pay me or in any way require me to write a positive review. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Strength and Weakness of the New Left

The legit criticism by the New Left of America is that it is overly materialistic: "[The New Left has] understood the growing totalitarianism of our technological, centralized society. Theirs is the existentialist revolt against the dehumanization of our modern world, the transformation of man into an object. It is the search for authenticity in the midst of depersonalization and objectification. They are asking whether technology and bureaucracy can be mastered and put to the use of man, or whether we are doomed to a technocratic totalitarianism." 
The legit criticism by Christians of the New Left is that it fails to understand sin: "[The New Left has] a profound understanding of how sin (alienation) is a product of our social structures. they fail to recognize, however, that sin also has personal roots." 

-Arthur Gish, "The New Left and Christian Radicalism", 22, 46

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On immigration in the early 19th century

Entering the United States, these immigrants were as free as air, free as the Indians in their forest heyday, for no papers were required of them, there were no regulations to bind them, there were no privileges of birth, no tithes, no guilds. No one asked them even to be naturalized and there was work and abundance for all, for the labour-shortage was acute, with turnpikes and canals a-building, and presently railroads. The nation was growing by leaps and bounds, and cities sprang up overnight, while the older towns could scarcely meet the demand for new streets, houses, docks and stores. For these were the days of Andrew Jackson, and a fury of energy drove the people, who felt that the nation belonged to them at last. Travellers observed that Americans lived twice as much as other folk and accomplished twice as much in the span of their lives, for they plunged into the stream of enterprise in their early teens; and David Crockett's "Go ahead" had become a national slogan that often omitted the words "Be sure you're right." 
-Van Wyck Brooks, The World of Washington Irving, 313-314

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Crockett's Canines

Davy Crockett was all man.

Want proof? Here's what he named his dogs:

And of course, his (probably mythological) pet bear:
Death Hug.

Source: The World of Washington Irving, Van Wyck Brooks, 298-299.