Saturday, February 28, 2004

Economics of free trade: good or bad for America?


A common belief is that free trade is bad for America and the jobs situation. In boom times, most would say it was good or at least it isn't very bad. However, since the economy has been sluggish, everyone is piling on saying free trade is bad. Certainly, the two major Democratic candidates are making noises to that affect.

Postrel has another view in her latest NY Times economic scene piece where she says the United States has been a laboratory Free Trade Zone for decades and the results have been good. Excerpt:
Over the last century, a lot of that movement has occurred. Rich and poor regions have converged to about the same standard of living. But the results haven't been anything like the "race to the bottom" of protectionist imaginations.

Incomes still vary widely across regions. Income per capita in Connecticut, the richest state, was about $42,000 in 2002, compared with $24,000 in New Mexico, the poorest. (These figures aren't adjusted for price variations between regions.)

Today's differences are small, however, compared with the huge differences that used to exist. A century ago, the poor states were like third world countries compared with the richest states. They've caught up only since 1960.
Read the whole thing and see what you think.

How essential is the PHYSICAL suffering of Christ to salvation?


One aspect of the controversy around Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ is the degree of violence in the film.

There are certain things we know about Crucifixion from medical science. Given that Roman tyranny was well known, it is possible and perhaps probable that the Crucifixion of Jesus was worse than what is described in the Gospel accounts but that would be speculative.

Gibson has chosen to emphasize the suffering of Christ beyond what is described in the Gospel accounts; thus, I posed the question in the title of this post to some friends who have a great interest in theology.

Up to this point, I have received two responses. I've made some minor edits of their responses for clarity and brevity.

One said:
I do not think that the actual (amount of) physical suffering is essential. I think that the death is the important thing. Physical suffering plays a bigger role in Catholic doctrine compared to Protestant theology. This difference is why the Crucifix with Christ on it is standard in Catholic churches and the empty cross in the Protestant.
Another said:
Yes, it is important.

1. Prophecy indicated that he would suffer physically. Isaiah 53:5 says, but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Thus, for him to fulfill prophecy, he needed to suffer physically. Of course, this prophecy does not demand he endure the WORST type of suffering, but he certainly needed to suffer physically to some degree.
 
2. If he did not suffer physically, he could not fully relate (from a human perspective) to the physical/emotional sufferings we experience. Certainly, the mere fact that he limited himself to as a human and experienced physical death is enough, but it's a lot easier to pray to a God who physically suffered far more than what we will likely experience. He's "been there, done that," so he understands us.

3. Although this is not a theological point, his sufferings help us realize the "full extent of his love" for us. If he would suffer to *this* degree, surely he must really love us. And if he's willing to give up himself for us to this degree, surely he's worthy of my total devotion and commitment and love.

4. His sufferings also highlight the absolute injustice (from man's perspective) of his death. He is sinless and perfect, yet he dies the worst death possible. Christ suffered even though he didn't deserve it.

5. His suffering and death could be a picture of God pouring out His wrath on sin.
Andrew Sullivan isn't a theologian but agree or disagree, he almost always has something interesting to say.

Click here for his comments. Excerpt:
Would our sins have been expiated if Jesus had only been flogged twenty rather than forty times? (The Gospels do not tell us how brutal this process was. For some reason, the evangelists reduced the episode to a couple of sentences. Gibson makes the flogging the centerpiece of the whole film.) If Jesus had been roped to the cross and died of asphyxiation, rather than being nailed there, would we still not be saved? If the nails had been placed in his wrists rather than his palms, would we not have been redeemed? Of course some of these details are there in the Gospels; but Gibson's loving obsession with them, his creepy love of watching extreme violence, is nowhere found in the Gospels.

Let's take a few clear examples. The Gospels do not tell us that the jailers of the High Priests beat Jesus to a pulp before he was even delivered to the Romans, or that he was thrown in chains over a prison wall, almost garrotting him. That's Gibson's sadistic embellishment - so that Jesus already has one eye shut from bruises before he is even tried. The Gospels do not say that the flogging of Jesus was so extreme and out of control that a centurion had to stop it because it had gone beyond any of the usual bounds of Roman punishment. That again is Gibson's invention. In the crucifixion scene, the Gospels do not say that in hoisting the cross, it fell down by accident so that Jesus was pinned headfirst between the cross and the earth, his crown of thorns thrust even deeper into his skull. Again, that's Gibson's interpolation. It's as if Gibson's saying that being crucified isn't bad enough - you've got be crushed face down by timber first if you are going to save all mankind.

I repeat that there is something deeply disturbed about this film. Its extreme and un-Biblical fascination with human torture reflects, to my mind, not devotion to the message of the Cross but a kind of psycho-sexual obsession with extreme violence that Gibson has indulged in many of his other movies and is now trying to insinuate into Christianity itself.
Here is an email to Sullivan that he posted that disagreed with him. Excerpt:
I saw The Passion of The Christ last night. I am still processing through what I saw and how I feel about it. The only thing I can say for sure right now is that it was, without question, the single most disturbing thing I have ever seen.
.......
I have been a Christian for most of my life. I have done a lot of missions work and, I've felt, have served Jesus well. I have thought of myself as a pretty good person who never did anything terribly wrong. But I did do something terribly wrong. I am complicit in, and responsible for, the savage murder of an innocent man, of my Lord. My faith demands that I accept this truth. I am equally complicit with every other person who ever has, and ever will walk this earth.

This Passion brought that point home with me in a totally new way. I've always known Jesus'? death was terrible. Always knew he died for me. But never really thought through just how horrible and terrifying it must have been. Watching this movie was, to me, like being there as a witness to the act. As one complicit in His death, I might as well have been one of those shouting "Crucify!" I might as well have spat on Him, laughed at Him, placed the crown of thorns upon His head, and driven the nails into His hands. It was for my sins that He embraced the cross and willingly paid the terrible price. All my life I have taken Christ's sacrifice for granted without ever really considering the true cost of the cross in terms of the brutal and savage pain I inflicted upon the Savior. That is what I find most disturbing. It's also why I can never be the same after watching "The Passion of The Christ."
Be sure to check out this analysis of the film. Excerpt:
From mosaics and music to paintings and plays, the arts have proven to be a mighty vehicle for retelling the Bible and bringing its stories vividly before our senses. A special intensity marks the art created for the Lenten period. Allegri’s Miserere, the moving rendition of Psalm 51 sung on Good Friday, Niccolo dell'Arca’s Lamentation of the Dead Christ with its terra-cotta figures circling in wild grief over the dead Christ, and Dante’s Divine Comedy, the poetic journey lasting from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, are but a few of the great Lenten works that can move the imagination to consider different aspects of the passion. In The Passion of the Christ, scheduled to open in theatres on Ash Wednesday, Mel Gibson adds a work of cinematic art worthy to be mentioned with these classics of Christian culture.
.......
It is thus demonstrably difficult to satisfy the demands of cinematic art and canonical text. But Gibson’s Passion is a new kind of film which does just that. In the tradition of Lenten art, he focuses intensely on the climatic moment of the Christ saga, intensifying the power of its sacramental aspects. From the agony in the garden, where Gibson begins, to the pietà at the foot of the cross, Jesus does what he teaches. In the sacred text itself, the last twelve hours of his life contain only the tersest dialogue. The parables have all been spoken. The disciples have slunk away. From here, the question of the Christ is telescoped by Gibson into what we see—or, more accurately, what we are able to watch.
........
Ultimately, The Passion of the Christ is about witnessing and bearing witness. On one level, the film is calculated to make us want to turn away and go home. At the outset, Jesus tells his disciples in the garden that he doesn't want them to see him in such a condition. He worries about what they are soon to see: a suffering servant who looks like anything but a king, and whose tortured body will seem quite beyond repair.

Thankfully, as the scenes become harder and harder to watch, the viewer is offered an example, a guide as to how we are supposed to react to the increasingly disturbing images. This comes in the form of Jesus' mother, brilliantly played by the Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern. Though Mary is the person most affected by these shattering events, she also understands better than anyone the necessity of what her son must do, and she consents to his mission and her own role in it. She in turn shows the audience what they must do. During the scourging, we see Mary with her head lowered, barely able to support herself as she hears the incessant beating of her son. As we think to ourselves, "no mother should have to witness such a thing," she gathers her strength, lifts her head, and continues to look. If she can, we can. Then, in the harrowing pietà scene at the end of the film, Mary looks directly out at the viewer as she holds the body of Christ, reminding us with her glance that we, too, have been witnessing these events, and that it is now we who are called to bear witness to what we have seen. Like Caravaggio’s Deposition, Gibson’s film places the bulk of responsibility on the viewer.

This emphasis on the role of Mary far outstrips what Pasolini or Zeffirelli was able to imagine. Where Zeffirelli’s Mary, played by the hauntingly lovely Olivia Hussey, elicits compassion, Gibson’s Mary provides comfort. Like the Eve who accompanies Adam in every scene in the Sistine Chapel vault, Mary, it seems, is always present in Gibson’s Passion. Her face is the most reliable clue to the meaning of the unfolding events.

She is paralleled on screen by Satan, played by Rosalinda Celentano as a black-cowled, androgynous bystander. After the scourging, Satan holds a grotesque child in mockery of the old Adam, and also of Mary’s eventual pieta. Then there is the remarkable confrontation in the film between Satan and Mary. As Jesus climbs towards Calvary, Satan glides through the crowd, feeding on the tangible wickedness in the air; Mary is on the other side of the road, trying to reach her son. She locks eyes with Satan, as determined as Satan is smug. Gibson’s disturbing technique of filling the screen with Jesus’ body, almost allowing him to tumble into our laps, is contained visually only by the fact that Mary constantly touches, holds, and comforts the corpus. We find ourselves thinking, "thank God someone else will keep this mess from falling onto us."
Those comments made me think of the 15th century Polish Lamentation of the Holy Cross Monastery used by Gorecki in the haunting First Movement of his Symphony No. 3 (Op. 36) and a short text from the Bible.
My son, chosen and loved,
Let your mother share your wounds
And since, my dear son,
I have always kept you in my heart,
And loyally served you,
Speak to your mother,
make her happy,
Though, my dear hope,
you are now leaving me.
But there were standing by the cross of Jesus, His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household. -- Gospel According to St. John 19:25-27

Friday, February 27, 2004

Cal ballot measures


55 - No.
Normally vote yes on this kind of bond but with the Cal budget in a shambles I can't support it.

56 - No.
There are two ways to control the size of government: restrain spending and keep taxes under control. The state legislature needs a 2/3rd vote to raise taxes so there are controls on the tax side. And still the Calfornia budget is run into the ditch. And so now the legislature comes crying to the people, make it easier to raise taxes? Do they think we are steew-piid?

57 - Yes.
58 - Yes.
The Govenator needs help to get the car out of the ditch. Let's do it and see what happens. Can it get any worse?

Not much to cheer about for Bruin and Anteater fans


Well, UCLA lost yet again to USC in basketball on Wednesday. These are dark days for UCLA fans when both the basketball and football team are down in the dumps.

I had hoped my Anteaters would provide some excitment in the run-up to the NCAAs but they haven't show signs of life.

In today's USA Today the cover story was on D-I teams that have never made it to March Madness. UC Irvine Anteaters are one of 54 such teams.

Neither UCLA nor UCI are likely to run the table at their respective post-season tournaments. Both tournaments only take the top 8 in their conferences and both teams are at the bottom end of that list thus, they may fall out of contention entirely or wind up having to play the #1 or #2 seed in the first round.

Sigh.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Passion of the Christ


I haven't seen the film yet.

Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ is causing quite a stir. People haven't talked this openly about religion in a long time.

In this round-up of reviews, as of this writing, there were 67 positive reviews and 57 negative ones. Not surprising at all.

In my opinion, most reviews tend to fall into discussions of "it is too violent/not too violent as to obscure the message of Christianity" and "it is (or not) anti-Jewish." These two issues are valid concerns but after reading a half dozen or so reviews of that type, you pretty much have exhausted that line of analysis.

Here are three items on the internet that I thought gave some additional angles worth looking at.

For a perspective of the film in the context of other artistic efforts to portray the life of Christ, check this one out.

This item discusses why Jews and Christians react so differently to the film.

Finally, movies are afterall a business and here is one that takes look at the intersection of culture, religion and business.

I haven't seen the film yet. However, I will eventually see it and blog on it. But I thought I'd share some web links I've seen that might be of interest.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Play Ball!


As someone born and raised in Los Angeles, I'm a Dodger fan. I didn't go to that many games as a kid but I went often enough to love the feel of the ballpark. I mostly followed them by radio. Vin Scully and Jerry Dogett were the voices of the Dodgers in my youth.

They were usually competitive in the 1970s but they fell short until Fernadomania when the Dodgers won the World Series against the dreaded Yankees in the strike affected season of 1981. And then there was the amazing year Orel Hershiser had in 1988 and the memorable Kirk Gibson homer to win game one in the bottom of the ninth against the Oakland As. The Dodgers went on to take the World Series in five games against the big bats of the As.

The 1988 Dodgers won it all with pitching and timely but generally anemic hitting.

The Dodgers have relied on that formula for a long time and since 1988 have neither made it to the playoffs or win a game in them.

Last year was an amazing and frustrating year. The Dodgers had the best pitching staff overall in terms of solid one through five starters and the best relief corp anchored by Cy Young Winner Gagne. But hitting was awful. The team was 2nd to last only ahead of the worst team in the MLB, the Detroit Tigers.

Off season, Fox News Corp wanted out and the long delayed sale to McCourt finally occurred. However, with all the uncertainty, the Dodgers made no significant moves to improve the team. Some doubt McCourt really has the money or the will to do much. McCourt hired a relative unknown to be the GM. DePodesta is a student of Beane in Oakland, the GM who gets as much talent for as little dollars as anyone. DePodesta may turn out to be a good decision maker for talent but he seems to be the GM who can be hired at a bargain who works from a bargain philosophy.

Then recently there was the arbitration situation with Gagne. No doubt, Gagne is getting a lot of money at $5 million per year. But the way the management handled the situation by downplaying his accomplishments just doesn't inspire confidence.

So will I go to Dodger games?

I suppose I could boycott going to games and instead trek down to the Big Ed to see the Angels.

But in the end, what can a fan do?

You grow up with a team ... and even though they disappoint, you still hope for the best. Just ask Cub and Red Sox fans.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Hosea 4


Its been a while since I've been on the Hosea thread.

For those who may not be familiar, Hosea is a book in the Hebrew Bible. Hosea was a prophet. In simplest terms, a prophet is one who speaks for God. Yes, God could speak with a booming voice from the sky but God often spoke through a human agent, a prophet.

And so this is what God wanted to say through Hosea:

Hear the word of the LORD , you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
"There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea are dying.

What do people care about? How do we know what people care about?

One clue is what is on our calendars. Another clue is what is in our checkbooks and credit cards. A third clue would be what we get excited about. And finally, we can tell what is important by what makes us angry.

What is God angry about here?

Is God justified in being angry about such things? Is God unfair to be angry?

The way Hosea told it, even the very ground itself seemed to be in protest to the evil in the land.

"But let no man bring a charge,
let no man accuse another,
for your people are like those
who bring charges against a priest.
You stumble day and night,
and the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother-
my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.

"Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.
The more the priests increased,
the more they sinned against me;
they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.
They feed on the sins of my people
and relish their wickedness.
And it will be: Like people, like priests.
I will punish both of them for their ways
and repay them for their deeds.

People, priests and prophets... all were disobedient.

Often times we may feel the God of the Old Testament is mean and angry. But looking at the situation, is there reason for anger?

When I stood at the site where the World Trade Center once stood, I felt sadness and anger. Is that wrong? I think not.

When a parent sees their child going the wrong way, what is a parent to feel?

The prophets who were supposed to speak for God and the priests who were supposed to mediate the relationship between God and the people all failed.

They are supposed to know better yet they did the wrong things and led and allowed the people to go astray.

"They will eat but not have enough;
they will engage in prostitution but not increase,
because they have deserted the LORD
to give themselves to prostitution,
to old wine and new,
which take away the understanding of my people.
They consult a wooden idol
and are answered by a stick of wood.
A spirit of prostitution leads them astray;
they are unfaithful to their God.
They sacrifice on the mountaintops
and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar and terebinth,
where the shade is pleasant.
Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution
and your daughters-in-law to adultery.

If there really is a God, then would it be reasonable for that God to say, "Don't worship idols?"

The idol is a block of wood or some other thing with no substance behind it. People worshipping that are wasting their time. So if God cares about people, then wouldn't God want to tell them don't waste your time on idols?

I don't know how much of the reference to prostitution/adultery is literal. Some pagan rituals of that era had sexual dimensions so some of it may well be literal.

Nonetheless, there may well be a strong figurative component to the usage of that language. Since love and fidelity is the hallmark of marriage and since God uses marriage as the picture of our relationship to God then unfaithfulness by our part would be pictured as prostitution and adultery.

God continues to make that case in the following.

"I will not punish your daughters
when they turn to prostitution,
nor your daughters-in-law
when they commit adultery,
because the men themselves consort with harlots
and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes-
a people without understanding will come to ruin!

"Though you commit adultery, O Israel,
let not Judah become guilty.

"Do not go to Gilgal;
do not go up to Beth Aven.
And do not swear, 'As surely as the LORD lives!'
The Israelites are stubborn,
like a stubborn heifer.
How then can the LORD pasture them
like lambs in a meadow?
Ephraim is joined to idols;
leave him alone!
Even when their drinks are gone,
they continue their prostitution;
their rulers dearly love shameful ways.
A whirlwind will sweep them away,
and their sacrifices will bring them shame.

With the movie by Mel Gibson "The Passion of the Christ" coming out soon, I'm sure to be blogging religious themes.

If you are curious, take a look at the archives for posts on Sept 25 and 29, Oct 5, 8 and 17, and Nov 11 of 2003 where there are posts to earlier portions of Hosea.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Nader is in?


Reuters says he will announce his intentions on Meet the Press. Foxnews says he is in.

In 2000, it could be plausible argued that Nader may have tipped the balance to Bush in a few key states. It is unlikely he will be much of a factor this go around. Third party candidates usually only make a splash the first go around as Perot did in 1992. Perot was a non-factor in 1996.

UCLA wins!


Haven't had much to cheer for but last night the Bruin basketball team took it to the Cal Bears!

The team is back to .500 again (11-11, 7-7). Games remaining: Stanford (home), USC (road), Notre Dame (home), Oregon St. (road) and Oregon (road).

I had forecasted the team to finish 10-8 in conference. It is still possible but unlikely. Stanford has big guys and shooters while the Bruins have neither. A Bruin win on Saturday would lead ESPN Sports Center. USC is more athletic than UCLA but erractic and can be beaten if UCLA doesn't fall behind early like they did last time they met. Road games in Oregon are always tough. However, UCLA did beat the two Oregon schools earlier this year at home so they should have some confidence.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Walt Disney Concert Hall


Have had the pleasure of going there three times since it has opened.

The place is a treat for the eyes and ears.

For the eyes, the metal curves are quite something to see. But what I also enjoy is how that provides foreground for what is nearby. Walking along Grand Avenue and seeing the shape of Disney Hall with the more classic looking Dorothy Chandler behind is nice. Strolling in the park on the Garden level you see the shapes of the Hall and the city lights of Downtown skyscrapers.

The interior with the Douglas fir all around and the orchestra stage so close is a treat. You can see the musicians doing their work and how much fun Salonen is having while conducting.

And of course, there is the sound. It is a two-edged sword that the rooom is so "live." People rustling with their programs and coughing is very noticible. In the old Dorothy Chandler, there was always an ambient amount of coughing between movements that was like white noise. Now, it is quite noticible. In particular, in a December concert I attended during the cold and flu season, I almost burst out laughing at the amount of coughing going on.

But when everyone is quiet and one or two instrumentalists are carrying the notes of the program with their fingers or measured breaths, it is heavenly. Hearing the bassons do the opening to Rite of Spring, the oboes and other woodwinds in Beethoven's Symphony #5 and the harp in Symphonie Fantastique... wow!

The Hall is alive with the sound of music! I just had to write that!!

And it isn't just the quiet parts where it shines but also when the whole orchestra is involved as in some of the more volitile passages of Rite of Spring or Symphonie Fantastique or the triumphant finish to Beethoven's Symphony #5. The instruments remain distinct and it isn't just a noise piled on noise. You feel like you are swimming in it.

Finally, I have to say I have a new appreciation for the bass violin. They have been playing all along in the Dorothy Chandler but now in Disney Hall, I notice them and love that deep rich sound they make.

Getting LA Phil tickets is not easy. World music programing and Jazz is also selling out regularly. Call for last minute cancelations or check EBay. Limited number of seats are still to be had for the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

In addition to the grand opening of Disney Hall, the LA music lovers will celebrate the new shell at the Hollywood Bowl. Will blog about that this summer!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Breaking news: possible surprise in Wisconsin


Hadn't even bothered to blog the last few blowout primary results. Poll numbers showed Kerry blowing out the competition so I didn't give Wisconsin much thought.

However, as of 6:30 PM PST, the leaked exit poll numbers say it is much closer than expected between Kerry and Edwards. With Clark having dropped out, the anybody but Kerry voters had to choose between Edwards and Dean and it looks like they are going to Edwards.

The question for Dean and the Deaniacs is: does Dean endorse Edwards? Or do they continue the fight on their own? Or does Dean drop out but with a wink and a nod send his staffers and supporters to Edwards?

My feeling is that Dean has no interest at all in being VP and truly wants to shake up the party and the only way to do that is to stick it to the establishment i.e. Kerry and all the big wigs endorsing Kerry.

In 2000, the McCainiacs where the anti-establishment within the GOP. McCain was the only plausible alternative to Bush and so they fought it out for quite a while before McCain had to bow out.

Has buyer's remorse set in for the Democrats?

I don't believe the scandal rumors caused this. Post-Clinton, it just simply isn't a big deal anymore. And besides, by all accounts, nothing happened anyway.

Edwards will assess the situation. Does he believe the Wisconsin support is *for* him or merely *against* Kerry. If the latter, then Edwards will compete but nicely to keep his VP shot alive. But if he thinks he can win, then he will have to tell his staffers to look at the same materials the GOP is gathering up on Kerry. Since Kerry has a long Senate history, the voting record will be exhibit A for lawyer Edwards to use to show he is the more mainstream candidate near the center where elections are won.

If Edwards actually wins Wisconsin, I suspect he will go all out and burn the bridges to a VP spot on a Kerry ticket.

Will California democratic voters actually have a say this go around?

UPDATE: Final numbers show a 6% win for Kerry. Closer than expected but not as close as some of the early reports were making it out to be. I suppose the media wants to play up the two-man horse-race. Don't expect to see Edwards try to tear up Kerry in debates, speeches nor commercials. March 2 is the California primary as well as a bunch of other states. Should be interesting to see if the buyer's remorse picks up steam.

UPDATE: Chris Suellentrop at Slate thinks it was Drudge that made Wisconsin close. I still think it is buyer's remorse. The more Kerry has the stage to himself the less appealing he is becoming. Kerry hasn't so much towered above everyone else but rather everyone else around him fell down (Dean's self-inflicted problems, Clark's inconsistencies, Gephardt as old news and Edwards being seen as too young). So of the opponents, only Edwards is left standing now. The problem for Edwards is getting the people who are not wild about Kerry to be passionate about him.

I am really curious how the next debate will go.

9/11 Democrats


I've recently talked with a few democrats for Bush. They may not agree with him on social issues or economic issues but they agree on the national security issue.

This may be a tad over the top but I think it frames the issue for voters who have national security as their top priority.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Lyrics -- "Into the West" from Return of the King


I like to sit through the credits. I'm not in the industry hunting for a name that I know. Rather, I like to listen to the music.

In Return of the King, after 5 minutes of product ads, 15 minutes of movie trailers then you get 3+ hours of a great movie and then you get the credits.

The design is in the form of pencil sketches of the actors and some of the sets and locales and of course the sound and music is "Into the West" with the amazing voice of Annie Lennox.

You can find the lyrics here.

Here they are with a few comments from me:
Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
The night is falling
You have come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore
Theologically, what is heaven? How is it pictured?

One picture is: reunion.

I've only lived 40 years on this earth but I've been to more than a few funerals and when I think of those individuals, I think of seeing them again on the other side.

A few weeks ago, I went to a wake and there was sadness because loved ones are deprived of the presence of the departed. But there is the knowledge that his soul has now been released from his body broken by age and illness and that he is enjoying a new body in the presence of God. And we know one day, we will all meet again.
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping
Fear and doubt are a real and powerful part of our earthly life. In talking with other Christians, sometimes we feel guilty about the fears and doubts we have. But as I have grown older, I have come to recognize I notice I almost always have such feelings. Maybe some have such great faith that they don't have that experience. That simply hasn't been my experience.

Does that mean I do not have faith?

Faith isn't wishful thinking that I hope something that is NOT true will turn out to be true. Rather, faith is a certainty and assurance about things unseen and hoped for. And the truth of faith we experience will vary in its emotional constancy and completeness of knowledge.

However, finally, faith manifests itself how we choose to live life.

What we can't allow is for fear and doubt to lead to paralysis in living life to the fullest taking risks in loving without reservation and doing what is good, true and right no matter what the cost.

In the end, that in my mind is the most powerful aspect of the Lord of the Rings story. Yes, I enjoy the fanciful aspect, the great scenary and the action and adventure. But at its core, it is a deeply human story of love and friendship and doing what is good and right and how both go together.

It always boggles my mind when people talk about spirituality in terms of isolating oneself in the mountains. Yes, there is definitely a place for meditation and retreat but in the end, we also need each other. Thus, I defend the "institutional" church for all its flaws (being comprised of flawed humans it is inevitable) because if we are alone we are tempted by self-deception and have no support when our strength for life wanes.
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All Souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say
We have come now to the end
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West
What is heaven?

Aside from reunion, there is the picture of a peaceful place.

In the Return of the King, as the orcs were over-running the city, Gandalf talked with Pippen about how death is not the end.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. There's another path; one that we all must take. The gray rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and it will change to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: See what?
Gandalf: White shores; and beyond them, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

For more quotes like that, check out the IMDB.

Yes, I suppose some people are so virtueous that they will fight for what is right just because it is right even if there is no after-life. But, somehow, if this is all there is then self-pleasure and self-preservation would have no counter-weight. For me, there is comfort in knowing that there is something beyond this life.

What is heaven?

Reunion. Peace.

One more thing: celebration.

The Good Book says of a day in the future:

Behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.

It is just over the horizon, can't see it yet, I hear it faintly. Am taking little baby steps toward it with each day in life. While we are at it, we can sing some now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Kerry vs. Bush, 2004?


Sure looks that way doesn't it? Latest poll round up shows Kerry taking tonight on Clark's and Edwards' supposed turf. I would figure that Kerry's people might send out quiet feelers to the Edwards camp about being the possible VEEP. Don't see them trying to recruit Clark.

Meanwhile, in the Dean camp, just how angry are they? Kerry's people would love to get Dean off to the sidelines but the anger factor may keep Dean in.

Then there is the recent Gore outburst. Dean's Iowa speech could be explained by exuberance but Gore was really going way over the top! Don't know what that is all about? Seems to me that Gore's political judgement is nowhere near as sharp as Clinton's. Clinton won the nomination and the Presidency while Gore's run for the nomination faltered prior to 2000. Clinton ran on the centrist DLC platform while Gore ran to the left of that in 2000 and lost an election he should have won easily. Clinton didn't endorse anybody this year while Gore got onboard with Dean who imploded. And now Gore has gotten on the trash Bush bandwagon and sounded like some of those off the political spectrum people you hear on the left part of the FM dial. (UPDATE: I'm thinking of KPFK generally and Robert Scheer of KCRW's Left, Right and Center specifically.)

With the economy still struggling and the war in Iraq ongoing, Bush's re-election chances are not great, probably 51-49. But if the attack plan is to dwell on Iraq intelligence failure and National Guard service, Bush gets re-elected more easily.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Tenet speaks at Georgetown and Bush on Meet the Press


Aside from the Democratic Presidential Primaries, the big news was the Bush appearance on Meet the Press and CIA Director Tenet's speech on the intelligence estimates prior to the Iraq war and how that did and did not match up with what has been found thus far.

I caught most of the Bush interview on the rebroadcast on CNBC. It was okay. But nature, it was a defensive stance he had to take. They have essentially been a punching bag for the Democrats and the media is only too happy to report the sound bites that put the Bush Administration on the defensive. The interview was a chance to make the case unfiltered. But I have to wonder, how many Americans actually watch Meet the Press? What most people will get is the sound bites from the interview.

Bush's responses on the WMD issues were largely what I would have expected. Taken together with what I read in the full text of the Tenet speech it was a reasoned and reasonable defense.

I clipped the Tenet speech transcript and pasted it into MS Word and found the speech was 5358 words long. Suffice to say the news media and administration critics highlighted this passage:
Let me be clear: Analysts differed on several important aspects of these programs and those debates were spelled out in the estimate. They never said there was an imminent threat.
30 words.

If you have an interest in foreign affairs, definitely read the full transcript and you will find things are a bit more nuanced than the headlines which focus on those 30 words.

I've selected a few passages to whet your appetite. The boldface emphasis are my own.
To understand a difficult topic like Iraq takes patience and care. Unfortunately, you rarely hear a patient, careful or thoughtful discussion of intelligence these days. But these times demand it because the alternative -- politicized, haphazard evaluation, without the benefit of time and facts -- may well result in an intelligence community that is damaged and a country that is more at risk.

Before talking about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, I want to set the stage with a few words about intelligence collection and analysis, how they actually happen in a real world. This context is completely missing from the current debate.

By definition, intelligence deals with the unclear, the unknown, the deliberately hidden. What the enemies of the United States hope to deny we work to reveal.
The critics just say, "Bush lied" (some pundits say this) or "they misled the American people" (politicians running for office don't tend to say other politicians lied). In their minds, the discussion is over.

Tenet knows better. It must be frustrating to those in the business to see critics distill all their efforts into such simplistic evaluations. His speech is given a minute or two in the evening news and there is almost no discussion of the context of his remark within the speech and the nature of the task they have.

I think it is amazing we live in a country where the top intelligence official can publicly talk about his work. He can talk about how in some ways they got it right and in some ways they got it wrong.

He laid out how they approached the challenge of figuring out what is going on in Iraq.
How did we reach our conclusions? We had three streams of information; none perfect, but each important.

First, Iraq's history. Everyone knew that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons in the 1980s and 1990s.
.......
To conclude before the war that Saddam had no interest in rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction programs, we would have had to ignore his long and brutal history of using them.

Our second stream of information was that the United Nations could not and Saddam would not account for all the weapons the Iraqis had: tons of chemical weapons precursors, hundreds of artillery shells and bombs filled with chemical or biological agents.
........
To conclude before the war that Saddam had destroyed his existing weapons, we would have had to ignore what the United Nations and allied intelligence said they could not verify.

The third stream of information came after the U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998. We gathered intelligence through human agents, satellite photos and communications intercepts. Other foreign intelligence services were clearly focused on Iraq and assisted in the effort.

And to come to conclusions before the war other than those we reached, we would have had to ignore all the intelligence gathered from multiple sources after 1998.

Did these strands of information weave into a perfect picture? Could they answer every question? No, far from it. But taken together, this information provided a solid basis on which to estimate whether Iraq did or did not have weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

It is important to underline the word "estimate," because not everything we analyze can be known to a standard of absolute proof.
Too many think reality is like James Bond movies and television dramas where the information is so certain. It just isn't that way. Tenet explained what the intelligence community is working from: fragmentary data, historic trends and inside sources whose reliability and motives are sketchy. They can never be totally certain. But critics seem to think they have x-ray vision to see what is going on. It is rarely that simple.

Tenet then goes point-by-point on the major issues on the table.

Let's start with missile and other delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction.
........
My provisional bottom line on missiles: We were generally on target.

Let me turn to unmanned aerial vehicles. The estimate said that Iraq had been developing an unmanned aerial vehicle probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents.
.......
My provisional bottom line today: We detected the development of prohibited and undeclared unmanned aerial vehicles. But the jury is still out on whether Iraq intended to use its newer, smaller unmanned aerial vehicle to deliver biological weapons.

Let me turn to the nuclear issue.
.......
My provisional bottom line today: Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon, he still wanted one, and Iraq intended to reconstitute a nuclear program at some point.

We have not yet found clear evidence that the dual-use items Iraq sought were for nuclear reconstitution. We do not yet know if any reconstitution efforts had begun. But we may have overestimated the progress Saddam was making.

Let me turn to biological weapons.
.........
My provisional bottom line today: Iraq intended to develop biological weapons. Clearly, research and development work was under way that would have permitted a rapid shift to agent production if seed stocks were available. But we do not yet know if production took place. And just as clearly, we have not yet found biological weapons.

Before I leave the biological weapons story, an important fact that you must consider: For years the U.N. searched unsuccessfully for Saddam's biological weapons program. His son-in-law, Hussein Kamil, who controlled the hidden program, defected and only then was the world able to confirm that Iraq indeed had an active and dangerous biological weapons program.

Indeed, history matters when dealing with these complicated problems. While many of us want instant answers, the search for biological weapons in Iraq will take time and it will take patience.

Let me now turn to chemical weapons.
.........
My provisional bottom line today: Saddam had the intent and capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production. However, we have not yet found the weapons we expected.
Honest. Right down the line he tells it as they saw it. On some things they got it right. On others, they over-estimated. On some, they aren't sure.
Among the questions that we as a community must ask are: Did the history of our work, Saddam's deception and denial, his lack of compliance with the international community and all that we know about this regime cause us to minimize or ignore alternative scenarios?

Did the fact that we missed how close Saddam came to acquiring a nuclear weapon in the early 1990s cause us to overestimate his nuclear or other programs in 2002?

Did we carefully consider the absence of information flowing from a repressive and intimidating regime, and would it have made any difference in our bottom-line judgments?

Did we clearly tell policy makers what we knew, what we didn't know, what was not clear and identify the gaps in our knowledge?
In Tenet's words, I would say provisionally the answer to those questions he raised are: yes, and that is not unreasonable; yes, and to make matters worse now, we find out Libya was farther along than intelligence indicated; yes, when a government terrorizes its citizens, intelligence data is going to be sketchy out of fear; yes, the CIA gives their best data and the elected officials in the legislative branch and the President make the policy choices.

Imagine you are the President of the United States and you see these sketchy intelligence reports. Do you give Hussein the benefit of the doubt?

I don't know the answer to this question with absolute certainty but if you pulled out an atlas and started naming countries and asked the CIA director about whether they are developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, what would he say?

My guess his answer would mostly be no and he would elaborate with the following: (1) they would rather spend money developing the country for the benefit of its citizens (2) the government is corrupt and would rather use that kind of money to line their own pockets, buy fancy cars and furniture for their palaces (3) that nation is too poor to even think about getting NBCs.

Hussein and the Baathists were not like any other government who would wreck their own countries, they took their ambitions and evil ideas to a different level. Are administration critics saying, we should have trusted to hope that Hussein was going to play nice?

UPDATE: Noonan weighs in on the interview. Excerpt:
The Big Russ interview will not be a big political story in terms of Bush supporters suddenly turning away from their man. But it will be a big political story in terms of the punditocracy and of news producers, who in general don't like Mr. Bush anyway. Pundits will characterize this interview, and press their characterization on history. They will compare it to Teddy Kennedy floundering around with Roger Mudd in 1980 in the interview that helped do in his presidential campaign. News producers will pick Mr. Bush's sleepiest moments to repeat, and will feed their anchors questions for tomorrow morning: "Why did Bush do badly, do you think?"

So Mr. Bush will have a few bad days of bad reviews ahead of him.
..........
Democratic candidates tend to love the game of politics, and Republican candidates often don't. Democrats, because they admire government and seek to be part of it, are inclined to think the truth of life is in policy. How could they not then be engaged by policy talk, and its talking points?

Republicans think politics is something you have to do and that policy is something you have to have to move things forward in line with a philosophy. They like philosophy. But they are bored by policy and hate having to memorize talking points.

Speeches are the vehicle for philosophy. Interviews are the vehicle of policy. Mr. Kerry does talking points and can't give an interesting speech. Mr. Bush can't do talking points and gives speeches full of thought and assertion.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

I respect Islam but this aspect is troubling...


Saw this item over at the Daily Dish. Sullivan comments on the the 251 deaths in Saudi Arabia as a result of the pilgrimage.

Excerpt:
There is a huge difference between seeking holy death or being indifferent to death as a spiritual matter, and suicide bombing. Christ, after all, chose death when he could have stayed alive. Martyrdom is not a uniquely Muslim concept. But it is useful to remember that Western liberalism's attachment to life faces here an ancient and powerful enemy. If harnessed to a political movement, the indifference to death is the biggest and most potent weapon of mass destruction the world knows. Because it cannot be deterred.


Some people place human behavior exclusively on the doorstep of economics and dismiss the influence of ideology and theology. I wonder how they react to hearing about this kind of analysis?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Hanging Out With Junior High School Kids


Last Fall, I started to volunteer with the group that serves the Junior High schoolers at my church. I have never worked with that age group before. It has really been fascinating. In 7th/8th grade they are in that in between age. It seems to me that up to 6th grade, kids are still pretty much kids physically and mentally and they know it and really don't care. Also, in looking at the high schoolers, they are now definitely moving into adulthood at least physically and to varying degrees mentally and emotionally. Junior high... kind of in limbo in the middle of those two worlds?

When kids are young, they may ask a lot of why questions and lots of questions in general and I get the feeling they pretty much take the answers you give them. But by junior high, they sometimes now have the attention span to say, okay, but do I buy that answer? And so you have to be ready to give a follow up answer and to hear out what they may be thinking. And probably more of the latter than the former.

A couple of Fridays ago, our church's junior high group had an overnighter or "lock-in" as they are called. Definitely saw that dynamic taking place as I listened in on some conversations.

In addition to mostly fun and games and snacks, we also went to see the movie Cheaper by the Dozen the latest vehicle to showcase the comedic talents of Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. Several months earlier in another lock-in, we had seen Radio. As you might guess, we try to choose films that are somewhat positive in tone!

Anyway, in Cheaper by the Dozen, I have to say it was a somewhat formula film but the talent of Martin and Hunt keeps you interested. The onscreen chemistry worked for me and I think for most of our kids. And as for the dozen kids of the onscreen family, you have admittedly some cliche characters: the rebellious oldest daughter, the oldest son struggling with where he wants to be, the fashion conscious sister, the nerdish younger brother, the sister who instigates some of the pranks, etc. etc. etc.

Most of us these days either grew up or are growing up in much smaller families so the size of the family and ensuing chaos was at times more comical than something we can relate to. But the point of the film still comes across: how important is family life to you?

If you are a parent reading this blog: ask yourself that question... now... and everyday.

In the film, the happy ending is there. And I know some people like movies that are gritty and real and I do to. But I don't begrudge a happy ending now and then.

Our students live within the context of their own families and they are forming ideas of what their families will look like through their experience at home, at the movies and when they are with other adults.

I hope as volunteer staff, in some small way, we are helping them form positive images in their minds and giving them life examples of what it means to live life for God, for goodness, for truth and in beauty.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Whispered exit polling numbers


They have been wrong before but Drudge is citing NRO's inside sources.

AZ Kerry 46, Clark 24, Dean 13.
MO Kerry 52, Edwards 23, Dean 10
SC Edwards 44, Kerry 30, Sharpton 10
OK Edwards 31, Kerry 29, Clark 28
DE Kerry 47, Dean 14, Lieberman 11, Edwards 11

If Clark really does finish third in OK, then he is done. An Edwards win there will solidify him big time. What is shocking is how far and fast Dean has fallen off! We shall see if these numbers hold. The early wispered numbers in NH had the race much closer than it really turned out to be.

UPDATE: Kerry takes AZ with 43 to Clark's 27 and Dean's 14
Kerry takes MO with 51 to Edward's 25 and Dean's 9
Edwards takes SC with 45 to Kerry at 30 and Sharpton with 10
Clark has a very slim lead (a little over a thousand votes) in OK with 30 and Edwards at 30 and Kerry 27
DE was behind Kerry with 50 Edwards and Lieberman with 11 and Clark and Dean with 10
NM and ND went to Kerry easily with Clark/Dean/Edwards following.

Lieberman has announced he is out.

The Kerry camp is must be pretty happy with their wins and how Edwards and Clark are splitting the "anybody but Kerry" vote. In head-to-head, Clark beat Edwards in AZ, NM and ND. Edwards beat Clark in SC and MO. They were essentially tied in OK and DE. Both can point to enough success to keep going.

Dean is faced with elimination. I just wonder how much anger is there in the Dean camp? If they really feel they have been wrong by the media and the Democratic establishment, then they will stay in the ring and hope to inflict some damage on Kerry so Edwards can win in the South and Clark can win in areas where a military guy gets some respect. I'd expect Dean to go after Kerry like crazy for at least a week. At that point, he will either pull out or fight all the way to the convention carrying the flag of reforming the party.

Monday, February 02, 2004

More Primaries for the Democrats


The lastest poll summary has John Kerry doing very well. Looks like Edwards will hold his ground in South Carolina allowing him to fight another day. I'm surprised to see Clark still up in Oklahoma. I have to wonder what the dynamic is there? It is a three-way race. Is it that some Oklahomans don't want to vote for a North Easterner (Kerry) nor a Southerner (Edwards) and so Clark is kind of the "none of the above" candidate? I wouldn't be surprised if Kerry overcomes Clark's lead there as he is gaining the look of inevitability.

Forcast: Kerry takes everything pretty easily (10% or better margins) except for SC where Edwards will get a nice win of 7% and except for Oklahoma where Kerry will eek out a narrow win of less than 4%. Lieberman will finally drop out. There will be calls for Clark to drop out but he will want to fight on one more round. Kucinich and Sharpton will battle on as protest candidates. Edwards with one win will be able to fight on with an eye on the VP spot. There will be calls for Dean to drop out. However, he may stay in to say he is fighting for the soul of the party. I suspect he and his staff are very much true believers and will not bend to practical political reality and will have no interest in being nice for the VP spot.

Health Care: The view from Africa


Here in the USA, we often complain about our health care system: it costs too much, too many people don't have insurance, the wait it too long, getting a referral is such a hassel, fill in the blank with our latest "problem" with health care.

This morning I got an email from a friend who works in a hospital in Africa and it puts things in perspective.

Excerpt:
The occupancy rate at the hospital varied from 107 to 110 in the months of November to December. With the over abundance of rain this past season, the malaria season dragged on. Many young children required blood transfusions.

For those of you in the northern hemisphere, you should be enjoying the winter season with the snow and cool weather. The weather here is also cooler. The temperature can get below 20 degree C in the morning (that’s about 68 degree F)! It’s cold for people who are accustomed to temperatures in the low 90’s. To keep warm, many local people keep a fire in the house. Many burn victims arrive at the hospital, especially children who get too close to the fire.

The highway which runs in front of the hospital quickly deteriorated with the extra rains this season. Potholes dot the highway, which provide our slalom. Unfortunately, many poorly maintained cars have stumbled over them and flipped over, especially the overloaded taxis. Many of the injured wound up at our hospital needing blood and surgery. The end of the year marks the cotton harvest. Many more overloaded trucks will ply along the same road creating more hazards.

In the midst of this busy season, on a typical Monday, one of the doctors did the hospital rounds, examined patients in the outpatient clinic, did an emergency surgery and had a late lunch at 3 PM. She finished with the patients in the clinic, did more surgery, had supper at 10 PM then returned to do surgery on a woman with a retained placenta. Since the woman was bleeding too much, blood was ordered from the lab. There was none available! The doctor discovered that she had the same blood type so she gave a pint of her own blood and finished the operation. After this case, a man came in with a strangulated hernia and needed attention right away. The doctor thought she could finish the case quickly. The operation ran into a snag and it took longer than she thought and longer than her body could hold up. She fainted at the operating table due to the work and donating blood. She actually fainted a second time while calling another doctor to finish the work. Needless to say, she arrived home only at 5AM Tuesday morning.
After reading something like that, I can only be grateful for what we have here in the USA.

And reading the story of that lady doctor who gave her blood for a patient and worked until she could work no more showed the kind of love and sacrifice that made me think of what St. John wrote long ago: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Here are links to some internation aid agencies I have donated to in the past:
World Vision
Doctors Without Borders
Americares
Habitat for Humanity
Serving in Mission

How Conservative Can Bush Be?


Frum says that is the key question in today's political climate. Excerpts:
America in 2004 is a less ideologically conservative country than it was in 1984. The partisan map has been trending Democrat for a dozen years: Dick Morris points out that Minnesota is the only state in the Union that has grown more Republican since 1988. Conservatives sometimes forget that George Bush won 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000; the Bush political operation can never afford to let that fact slip out of mind.

What has changed since the 1980s? Many things, but here are the four most important:

1) The Democrats have moved rightward on economics. After the defeat of Hillarycare in 1994, Bill Clinton gave up the attempt to enact major new federal programs - and reaped an economic boom and re-election in 1996 as his reward. His example has been noted. Voters just aren't as scared of a Democratic presidency messing up the economy as they were when memories of Jimmy Carter were fresh. That leaves upper-income voters free to vote for the Democrats' lifestyle liberalism.

2) The American family has weakened. One of the most portentous facts in American politics is this: married women vote Republican, single women vote Democratic. And since 1990 the proportion of US women who are now married has dropped by more than two percentage points.

3) Hispanics are voting their interests rather than their values. Hispanics as a group are culturally conservative, but economically needy. Their values suggest that they ought to vote Republican - but their hopes for more government aid are pushing them toward the Democrats.

4) The growing African American middel class, meanwhile, is voting its values rather than their interests. African Americans did well in the 1990s: The median income of married black families is now reaching $50,000 - more than enough to make them net losers from government redistribution. Yet these voters have not rethought their traditional loyalty to the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

Bush has earned his political success by understanding these trends and adapting to them. Where he can hold onto traditional conservative principles, he does – as he did on taxes. But where he cannot safely uphold conservative principles, he is not prepared to suffer martyrdom for them. On domestic issues, Bush is not a conviction politician of the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher type. He is a managerial politician of the Eisenhower/Ford type – a dealmaker, a compromiser, coping with an adverse political climate. If he could be more conservative, he would. If he has to be less conservative, he will be that too. He’s not steering in some new direction. He’s steering to avoid hitting the guardrails on a suddenly very narrow stretch of road.

So let me suggest that Daniel is posing the wrong question. The question is not, "Is Bush a Conservative?" It is, "How conservative can Bush be?" An honest answer to that second question may be a good deal less reassuring than the answer to the first.
I think Frum may be onto something here. Some said that the 500,000 vote difference probably wouldn't have occured if the news media hadn't called Florida for Gore so quickly thus depressing Bush voters in the other time zones. If those voters went out and voted, Bush might have gained a plurality of the votes but still not a mandate by any measure.

The country is divided pretty evenly as seen in the popular vote for the Presidency in 2000 and in the outcomes of the Congressional races in 2000 and 2004.

I find some critics of the new prescription drug plan annoying in that they complain about the deficits yet complain that the Medicare prescription drug benefit isn't big enough? What's with that? At least some critics who don't like the deficits say the new benefit is a budget buster and should have not been passed. I suppose political consistency is a bit much to ask for in an election year... or any year for that matter?