Palin Overload

Following up my first reaction to the Palin pick... does it seem odd to anyone else that some of the very same conservatives who have been so amused by the religious fervor surrounding Obama, are greeting Sarah Palin with Hosannas and Alleluias?

Be that as it may, we are starting to get some more sober-minded analysis of the Palin pick. Much of it focuses less on Palin than on what this decision tells us about McCain. Here are some links for you.

Politico has The Story Behind the Palin Surprise as well as Six Things the Palin pick says about McCain. I like #2: He is willing to gamble, big-time.

Let’s face it: This is not the pick of a self-confident candidate. It is the political equivalent of a trick play or, as some Democrats called it, a Hail Mary pass in football. McCain talks incessantly about experience, and then goes and selects a woman he hardly knows, who hardly knows foreign policy and who can hardly be seen as instantly ready for the presidency.

Joe Klein at Time says this illustrates McCain's gunslinger decision-making style - which may not be what we need right now.

Michael Dougherty at American Conservative likes Palin but thinks she is being thrown in over her head.

Like Bobby Jindal or Mark Sanford, I considered Sarah Palin a promisingly conservative, likable, and reform-minded governor. I wished desperately to spare her (and them) from association with the bellicose and ideological foreign policy of Bush-McCain. These three governors excite various parts of the conservative base but need time to prove themselves.

Ramesh Ponnoru at NRO questions Palin's experience and asks the obvious question: Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?

No idea who this is, but somebody named Gatemouth has compiled a list of Republican women more qualified to be president than Sarah Palin.

Jim Lobe recalls that McCain has called the fight against radical Islam the "transcendent issue of our time." If that's true, why did he choose as his back-up and heir apparent a person with no experience in foreign policy, military affairs, or counter-terrorism?

Again, let me stress I like Palin. But I don't see a lot of upside to this pick because a) she does nothing to help McCain out of the hole he is in and may even dig it deeper; and 2) in the unlikely event she gets to be vice-president, there is little chance she will be able to influence the McCain Administration on the issues that matter most.

VP Sarah

I'm feeling a little left out today. Pretty much all my favorite bloggers are positively bubbling over with enthusiasm for Sarah Palin. A few examples: Caveman, CK, Rod, Gazizza, Texas Fred, Feddie, Red Cardigan, Darwin, Steve, Chelsea, and Pauli.

Unfortunately I have a hard time being so excited. Nothing against Sarah Palin; she is clearly a strong, talented woman with an impressive life story. She appears to be solidly pro-life. Furthermore, we should all be grateful McCain didn't go with one of his anti-life pals like Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman. It could have been a lot worse.

Nonetheless, I do not see how having Sarah Palin on the ticket really changes anything of consequence on the issues I care about. The fact of the matter is that John McCain is not really pro-life. He says the right things sometimes, but it is not important to him. The fact that he would even consider putting Lieberman or Ridge a heartbeat away from the Oval Office tells you everything you need to know about McCain's priorities.

Having Sarah Palin as VP will accomplish one thing: we'll have a firmly pro-life president if McCain happens to die in office. Short of that, we (social conservatives) are no better off than we would be with Hillary Clinton.

Ah, some will say, having Palin by his side will give us a voice! She'll make sure he toes the line! Please. John McCain has been in Congress since Sarah Palin was in high school. He has a Washington power base that is both deep and wide. What reason is there to think he will place Palin - whom he met for the first time only six months ago - on top of the list of people who have his ear?

Yes, Palin is a strong woman. She took on the Alaska GOP establishment and is winning so far. Alaska has all of 600,000 people. There is simply no comparison to Washington, where Palin has no power base of her own. Her main influence will come from the fact that she will be in position to run for president herself someday. But unless McCain gives her significant responsibilities and a high public profile, she won't have any more luck than Dan Quayle did in that endeavor.

The reality is that Sarah Palin is on the ticket for one reason: to get John McCain elected. If he wins she will sent to the back burner, having served her primary purpose. She will make speeches to pro-life groups and sit in on Cabinet meetings. I just can't see her becoming especially powerful otherwise. Yes, she's a renegade like McCain. But if she renegades against McCain, she'll be sent to Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location" so fast it will make your head spin.

As a purely political matter, does Palin give McCain better odds? Again, I'm not so sure. She is obviously helping to excite the Republican base. But the fact that we're two months from Election Day and the base needs to be excited is not a good sign. The Democratic base is excited, too. Obama's convention speech got Super-Bowl type TV ratings.

Does Palin help with women? She alluded to this in her speech yesterday, repeating Hillary Clinton's words about cracks in the glass ceiling. The McCain people obviously hope to attract some of the disappointed Hillary supporters. I think they are smoking crack. The kind of women who wanted Hillary to be president or VP will vote for a Republican only on the day hell freezes over. They may stay home and not vote; but they're not going to push the button for John McCain or put a pro-life woman that close to power. Not.Gonna.Happen.

Palin brings one big downside: lack of experience. Yes, yes, she's at least as qualified as Obama. That's not the point. After they re-think their strategy, the Democrats will be smart enough not to bring up the experience issue. And with Palin on the ticket, McCain can't bring it up, either. He has just given up one of his primary offensive weapons. Moving the experience question off the table helps Obama much more than it helps McCain.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I suspect the social conservatives who are now gushing about Palin will start showing some buyer's remorse fairly soon. Let me repeat that I have nothing against Palin. I think she's a fine person with a promising future. She ought to complete her term as governor and run for president herself someday... and that's probably what will happen.

2008 is not a Republican year, and McCain's chances are not good no matter who he had picked. This election is all about a few swing voters in a few swing states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, and maybe a few more. If the Democrats are able to frame the campaign around economic issues - and they're off to a good start so far - Obama will win. I saw nothing this week to change that calculus.

Using The Moment

Wisdom from Mark Shea:

Paul didn’t simply use Caesar for protection. He also sought to teach Caesar about Christ. Paul did not hesitate to speak to the civil authority about Christ and call him, like everybody else, to faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul looked at arrest and imprisonment as just another opportunity to spread the Gospel to whatever corner he found himself in. From Philippian jailers to Roman governors to the court of Caesar himself, Paul repeatedly grabbed hold of whatever life tossed his way and turned it to the spread of the Gospel. When he found himself on a storm-tossed ship driven toward destruction, he used the moment to bear witness to Christ — which astonished his guards. Washed ashore on Malta, his first impulse was to evangelize.

Immersed in a pagan culture that did nothing but talk about the latest ideas and, to hedge its bets, worship the unknown god, Paul took that as his cue to testify to Christ.

VP Joe

Okay, so I was wrong. Obama picked Joe Biden.

I actually kind of like Biden. Aside from his support for little things like, say, the legalized mass slaughter of unborn babies, Biden seems to be a nice guy. He's been around Washington a long time and will be able to provide some adult guidance in an Obama White House. Whether Obama will really listen to Biden is another question. I think probably not.

Religiously speaking, Biden is a contradiction in terms: pro-choice Catholic. The U.S. bishops have made crystal-clear that it is not possible to be both of these things. Having Biden on the ticket will re-ignite the whole politicians and communion issue for the rest of the campaign. Look for media stories about those bad old bishops who won't let good Catholics like Biden follow their conscience.

On a lighter note, it is Hollywood tradition for celebrity SuperCouples to merge their two names into one: Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat, etc. What shall we call Barack Obama and Joe Biden? Here are a few ideas:

  • Jobama
  • Barjoe
  • Jarack
  • Babiden
  • Obiden
  • Bibama
  • Birack
  • Bamaden
  • Bidenack
Any others?

VP Hillary

It appears that Barack Obama will announce his choice for vice-president in the next day or two. I will go out on a limb and say that the three finalists being discussed in the media - Bayh, Biden and Kaine - are all a smokescreen. I think it will be Hillary Clinton.

Not that I care one way or the other, of course. Obama will never got my vote for dogcatcher, much less president, unless he has a truly remarkable conversion. His VP pick is irrelevant in that regard.

Dick Morris thinks that the Clintons have hijacked the Democratic Convention from Obama. But whatever else Obama is, he's not stupid. He is giving plum speaking spots to both Bill and Hillary for a reason. What better reason than the fact she is on the ticket? The plan was probably hatched months ago. It will be unveiled with great drama, and the media adulation will be amazing to behold.

If I am proven wrong on this, I'll gladly eat my words. But if I'm right, I expect lots of incoming links. :)

Saddleback Follies

I watched Rick Warren's back-to-back interviews with Obama and McCain at his Saddleback Church Saturday night. Three reactions:

First, it would have been nice to see some follow-up when the candidates dodged questions or gave nonsensical answers. The format had its advantages in asking the same questions of both Obama and McCain, but they were still able to wiggle out of some tough spots. For instance, McCain was quick to say that life begins at conception, but then admitted to support of embryonic stem-cell research. These things don't fit. If, by McCain's own definition, every fetus is human, why is it all right to kill some of them but not others?

Second, while McCain had the better night, I don't think it was quite the massive victory some commentators think it is. Republicans are supposed to do well in front of an Evangelical audience. Obama - repugnant though his positions are - at least showed up, talked about his faith, and got applause a few times. That's really all he needed.

Recall that in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush had overwhelming support from Evangelicals and still barely won both times. In 2004 he was helped mightily by the presence of gay-marriage initiatives on the ballot in several states. Even so, John Kerry would be president today if a hundred thousand votes had gone the other way in a few key states.

Barack Obama doesn't need to get all the Evangelicals on his side. All he needs to do is peel off 5% or 10% of those who supported Bush four years ago. If those people vote for Obama, vote for a third party candidate, or don't vote at all, it is very bad news for McCain. Obama appears to be well on his way to achieving this goal. In that sense, the appearance at Saddleback was a big step in the right direction for him.

Third, McCain's answer that the United States must "defeat" evil makes me nervous. We must resist evil, of course, and sometimes fight it. But evil will not be defeated until Christ returns at the end of time. If defeating evil becomes our national policy, we will defeat only ourselves.

Nothing I heard at Saddleback makes me change my mind. I cannot vote for either Obama or McCain. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

The Greater Love of Maximilian Kolbe

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

When we think about the Holocaust, the first victims that come to mind are Jews. Yet the Nazis also killed many thousands of people from other undesirable groups: disabled people, mentally ill, Gypsies, homosexuals, uncooperative Christians, and others. Maximilian Kolbe was one of them.

Kolbe was born in Russia in 1894 to German and Polish parents. In 1907, he and his brother became illegal immigrants when they crossed into Poland and joined a Franciscan junior seminary. He was later sent to study in Rome and ordained a priest in 1918. While in Rome he founded an evangelistic group called the Militia Immaculata which still exists today. Fr. Kolbe returned to Poland and busied himself launching a new monastery, a seminary, a radio station and several religious publications.

In the 1930s Fr. Kolbe made several mission trips to Japan. While there he founded a monastery on the outskirts of Nagasaki. Against the wishes of the local Shinto people, he insisted it be built on the side of a mountain facing away from the city. This enabled the monastery to survive when most of Nagasaki was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945.

During the Second World War, Fr. Kolbe provided shelter to several thousand Polish Jews in his monastery and used his radio skills to broadcast secret messages about German military activities. In 1941, he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

In July 1941, a man from Kolbe's barracks disappeared and was presumed to have escaped. Nazi practice in such cases was to execute ten prisoners for every escapee. Ten were chosen; one cried out in despair that his family needed him. Father Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man's place. His offer was accepted.

The ten were executed in a particularly cruel manner: they were placed in a bunker with no food and water and simply allowed to starve to death. Another prisoner who was forced to help with the execution later described what happened.

The ten condemned to death went through terrible days. From the underground cell in which they were shut up there continually arose the echo of prayers and canticles. The man in-charge of emptying the buckets of urine found them always empty. Thirst drove the prisoners to drink the contents. Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Father Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.

Father Kolbe never asked for anything and did not complain, rather he encouraged the others, saying that the fugitive might be found and then they would all be freed. One of the SS guards remarked: this priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him ..

Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only Father Kolbe was left. This the authorities felt was too long. The cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sick-quarters, a German named Bock, who gave Father Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Father Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men had left I returned to the cell, where I found Father Kolbe leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head drooping sideways. His face was calm and radiant ..

The date was August 14, 1941. A few months later, another young Polish man entered an underground seminary to study for the priesthood. Like Father Kolbe, he was sent to study in Rome and later returned to Poland to serve the church. His name was Karol Wojtyla, and he went on to become Pope John Paul II. In 1981, the Polish Pope canonized Father Maximilian Kolbe as a martyr and saint.

Among those present at the ceremony was Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man for whom Father Kolbe died. Gajowniczek survived the war and returned to his family. He lived another 53 years before passing away in 1995. Every August 14, he returned to Auschwitz to honor the man who saved his life.

What about the man who escaped, causing the executions? His body was later found in the camp latrine at Auschwitz. He did not escape at all; he simply drowned and disappeared. Did Father Kolbe die for nothing? Certainly not. It is unlikely any of these men would have left Auschwitz alive in any case. They were, at least, allowed to die with Father Kolbe praying by their side.

People sometimes wonder why Catholic priests are celibate. There are many reasons, but one of them is so the priest can offer himself fully as a servant of God's people. Father Kolbe gave himself in the fullest possible sense. In so doing, he preached a message that will survive far longer than anything else he did in his life on Earth.

For further reading:
Catholic Online
Saint of the Day

Consummation Confusion

Last week I listened to the podcast of attorney Charles LiMandri being interviewed on the Catholic Answers Live radio program for July 28. (Listen or download here). LiMandri is heavily involved in the campaign to amend California's state constitution to prevent gay marriages. He brought up an interesting point to this debate that I have not heard anywhere else.

Historically, both civil government and most religions have said that a marriage is not valid unless it has been consummated. The meaning of this is clear when the two parties to the marriage are a man and a woman. There is no doubt about the particular responsibilities of husband and wife.

In a gay "marriage," on the other hand, consummation in the traditional manner is impossible. There are, instead, several possible acts that the putative spouses can engage in, based upon their own desires and preferences. More permutations are added by the particular role each putative spouse takes during these acts. The possibilities are also different for men and women. The requirement that a marriage be "consummated" becomes very complicated once same-sex unions are legalized.

LiMandri said that courts or legislators will inevitably have to step in and clarify this ambiguity. For instance, sooner or later there will be a gay version of Anna Nicole Smith who "marries" an elderly male and inherits a fortune - drawing protests from blood relatives. A court will then have to rule whether the marriage was "consummated." At that point a major goal of the homosexual activists will be accomplished: legal recognition that their sexual acts are equivalent to those of male-female couples. If you think this isn't one of their goals, you are sadly mistaken.

On a related note, recently I was in a situation where I had no choice but to listen to a radio station that I would normally avoid. I was trying to think of other things but one song had a particularly catchy tune. I was starting to actually enjoy it when the words of the female vocalist hit me: "I kissed a girl and I liked it..."

Whoa, I thought to myself. This can't be. Later a Google search revealed the complete lyrics. There is no profanity per se - which is why they can play it on the radio - but the message is clear: it's just a kiss. Your boyfriend won't mind. Try it. People seem to like it because the song is topping the charts.

Now I do not believe that listening to a song will make someone who is otherwise straight turn gay or lesbian. It will, however, start to infuse the idea that there is really no difference between the sexes and that experimentation is fine. This may not be what the artist, a Ms. Katy Perry, intends; in fact it appears she is probably just trying to create publicity for herself. Some gay people aren't happy with her, either. It is the result, though.

The bigger point is that our popular culture is slowly but surely coming to accept all varieties of sexual behavior as normal. If you're not shocked yet, just wait a few years.

How Not To Cut HIV Rates

From Bloomberg News:

Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- On a typical day, Robert Bailey has 20 to 30 men waiting to be circumcised at his clinic in Kisumu, Kenya. The men are enduring the pain because they don't want to get AIDS.

Since a study by Bailey in 2006 found the operation drops the HIV infection rate in men by 60 percent, the procedure most often performed at birth has become a popular elective surgery among grown men in southern Africa. The push has been fueled by $16 million from the U.S. for clinics, personnel and procedures, funding expected to double this year, and $10.8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The operation, in which skin covering the end of the penis is removed, may help lower infections among men of the traditionally uncircumcised Luo tribe by more than two-thirds, to 5 percent, said Bailey in a telephone interview July 14 from the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society Clinic he runs. Widespread use could prevent 5.7 million African infections and 3 million deaths over 20 years, according to the United Nations. [more]

While I appreciate what Dr. Bailey is trying to accomplish, I doubt it will work. In fact, I predict it will actually increase HIV rates among these men. Why? Because they will view it as permission to continue and accelerate their promiscuous behavior.

It's the same principle as low-fat food. If you want to lose weight, low-fat drinks, snacks and sweets are rarely much help. The reason for this is that we see "low-fat" and give ourselves permission to eat twice as much. It's an unconscious process most of the time, but real nonetheless.

We should also note that the men showing up to be circumcised are probably not living in faithful, monogamous relationships. If they were, there would be no need to go through this pain because their chances of getting HIV (and a variety of other diseases) would be minuscule. Promotion of such behavior helped Uganda drop its HIV rates by 70% in recent years.

Despite the proven success, few other nations are interesting in copying Uganda's methods. Why? In their view, anything that stands in the way of maximum sexual pleasure is unacceptable. They seek the post-modern Holy Grail: complete sexual freedom without negative consequences.

As with those who sought the real Holy Grail for the wrong reasons, they will likely find only pain, suffering, and eventually death.