Comment Here



Ronald Dart's

Opinion Archives

December 26, 2007

"The Coming Crisis in Citizenship," a study issued by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Wilmington, Delaware, appeared late last year. It seems the University of Connecticut has now done the largest study ever of what students learn about American history, government, and economics. "They randomly selected fourteen thousand freshmen and seniors at fifty colleges and universities and asked them sixty multiple-choice questions." The results were astonishing.

"More than half the seniors could not identify the century when the first American colony was established in Jamestown. Fewer than half could name the source of 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' More than 75 percent of seniors were not familiar with the Monroe Doctrine. And so forth. But here’s the interesting part: Across the board, seniors scored just 1.5 percent higher on average than freshmen, and at many colleges, including Brown, Georgetown, and Yale, seniors know less than freshmen about American history. In other words, they are not being educated; they are, if one may be permitted the term, being de-educated."---R. J. Neuhaus, "While we’re at it," First Things, January, 2007, 76.

One begins to wonder why parents are making such sacrifices to send children to colleges like these. A crisis in citizenship indeed. The educational system in this country is so badly broken it is hard to see how it can ever be redeemed.

December 1, 2007

How We Got to Where We Are

Richard John Neuhaus is the editor of First things, a journal of religion, culture and public life. Because these are a special interest of mine, I have a subscription to the journal, and often find information useful, challenging and sometimes surprising. I am not always able to keep up with all the material which accounts for the fact that I just now found an item in last January’s edition that everyone ought to read.

Neuhaus is Catholic (although the journal includes articles from a wide range of religious thinkers) and I had often wondered why so many Catholics were Democrats, especially in light of the church’s position on abortion. In the January editorial, "How We Got to Where We Are," Neuhaus explains it in surprising depth.

There was a time when the Democratic Party was called "the Catholic party" while the Republicans were called "the Protestant party." Ted Kennedy, back before Roe v. Wade, was opposed to abortion and felt society had a responsibility to children from the moment of conception. As late as three years after Roe, Kennedy wrote that "abortion is morally wrong. It is not a legitimate or acceptable response to any problem of society. And if our country wishes to remain true to its basic moral strength, then unwanted as well as wanted children must be unfailingly protected."

Back in pre-Roe days, many leading Republicans felt that government subsidized abortion was necessary and important. How on earth did the two parties shift sides on the argument for life? For that matter, how did abortion get on the front burner in the first place?

      The main players in changing all this were two men, Lawrence Lader and Bernard Nathanson. Nathanson would later be converted to the pro-life position and also to the Catholic Church. But in the 1960s, he and Lader were relentless propagandists who had access to the mainstream media in raising the alarm about the plight of thousands of desperate women who had to resort to, and frequently died in, dangerous "back alley" abortions. (Nathanson later admitted that he and Lader simply made up the statistics.)

Concern about back alley abortions still informs the pro-choice arguments to this day, and it is based on invented statistics. Read the entire article at the link below. It is one of the most informative things I have ever read about how political and moral alliances can be compromised.

How We Got to Where We Are


October 28, 2007

Is it life, or is it a movie?

I was startled by a recent Peggy Noonan column. Her take on some of the journalistic malpractice carried a remarkable insight. You will need to read the whole column, but take this short section:

I'll jump here, or lurch I suppose, to something I am concerned about that I think I am observing accurately. It has to do with what sometimes seems to me to be the limited lives that have been or are being lived by the rising generation of American professionals in the arts, journalism, academia and business. They have had good lives, happy lives, but there is a sense with some of them that they didn't so much live it as view it. That they learned too much from media and not enough from life's difficulties. That they saw much of what they know in a film or play and picked up all the memes and themes.

In terms of personal difficulties, they seem to have had less real-life experience, or rather different experiences, than their rougher predecessors. They grew up affluent in a city or suburb, cosseted in material terms, and generally directed toward academic and material success. Their lives seem to have been not crowded or fearful, but relatively peaceful, at least until September 2001, which was very hard.

She began to develop this observation while reading the infamous "Baghdad Diaries" which appeared in the New Republic. What she came to realize was that the author was picturing the Iraq war, not merely in terms of the Vietnam war, but in terms of the movies about the Vietnam War. She went on to observe:

I'm not sure it's always good to grow up surrounded by stability, immersed in affluence, and having had it drummed into you that you are entitled to be a member of the next leadership class. To have this background in the modern era is to come from a ghetto, the luckiest ghetto in the world, a golden ghetto beyond whose walls it can be hard to see. There's much to be said for suffering, for being on the outside or the bottom, for having to have fought yourself up and through. It can leave you grounded. It can give you real knowledge not only of the world and of other men but of yourself. In some ways it can leave you less cynical. (Not everything comes down to money.) And in some ways it leaves you just cynical enough.

Find a moment to read this. It is a remarkable insight into the difference between the journalism of today and that of an earlier generation. It appeared Friday, October 26, 2007

October 7,2007

The Value of Columnists

Commonly called pundits, there is no small value in the columns that regularly appear in newspapers, magazines and online. They are often rather more that mere opinions. They represent a collection of information that is often not available to the rest of us. William Safire, who used to write for the New York times was a fount of information because important people would talk to him. Add to that his native intelligence coupled with wisdom born of experience, and he is man who always had something worth saying.

The New York Times made a remarkably stupid move some time ago when they made the public pay to read their columnists online. It is doubtful if they can recoup what they have lost, even though they have now reversed course. I am glad to be able to read Tom Friedman again because, having read his book, The Lexus and the Oliver tree, I came to realize the man had a great deal of valuable insight to share.

To see what I mean about the value of Columnists, be sure and read Charles Krauthammer his week. The insights into the Middle East arising from this column are  invaluable. Ann Coulter and Maureen Dowd do not really qualify as pundits. They are satirists, and satire serves a very useful purpose in the political world. Sometimes you only begin to see through some arguments when they are taken to their absurd conclusion.

It doesn't take long to place columnists in the political spectrum. Safire is a libertarian conservative, as are George Will and Peggy Noonan. They aren't really Republicans, certainly not in the centrist part of the party.

It isn't necessary to agree with a columnist to benefit from their insight (or the lack thereof). And just because I recommend a column should never to be taken as a blanket endorsement. It is just that I think any reader would benefit from it.


September 23, 2007

You have to admire the Israeli’s

Their snatch and grab of North Korean nuclear material is the stuff of legends. Watch for an adventure movie based on this. Sarah Baxter, writing in the Sunday Times (UK) outlines what is known of the story and is well worth a read. I can hardly wait for the movie.

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Read it all, and more, at this link.


September 2, 2007

When Paul stood on his Roman citizenship to avoid a flogging, the Roman captain called the chief priests and their council down to explain their charges against him. Upon being placed before the council, Paul opened his mouth to speak: "Men and brethren," he began, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day."

Scarcely were the words out of his mouth before the High Priest instructed one of the men standing by to strike Paul on the mouth. This did not go down well, and Paul lashed out, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!" (Acts 23:3 NIV).

Immediately someone standing near him said, "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Paul was taken aback, because no one was wearing any insignia of rank: "Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest;" Paul said, "for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’"

The law Paul cited was plain and to the point: "Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people" (Exodus 22:28 NIV). It wasn’t that the High Priest was right, he was not. But that didn’t give Paul the right to call him names: "You whitewashed wall," was the equivalent of "Hypocrite!" The priest was wrong, but so was Paul.

What started me thinking about his was a statement by Ion Mihai Pacepa (about whom I know little) who said: "I spent decades scrutinizing the U.S. from Europe, and I learned that international respect for America is directly proportional to America’s own respect for its president." Without any knowledge of the man’s credentials, I can say that the statement rings true. And I can say further that I have made a serious mistake in days past in speaking disrespectfully of the man holding the office.

Where I think the right made its mistake with President Bill Clinton, and where the left is making its mistake with President George Bush is that they have failed to maintain at all times the respect due to the office of President of the United States. It is possible that we the people erred in electing a scoundrel as president. We should have been more careful. But until we have a chance to rectify that in the next election, he is our scoundrel, and we need to make the most of it while protecting the office.

That is what lay behind the ancient law cited by Paul. The High Priest may be a scoundrel (some were), but the office must be respected if society is to maintain any integrity at all. I think both right and left have done incalculable harm to the nation by trashing the president. That does not mean the president is above criticism. What it does mean is that the criticism must always be offered respectfully. It does not mean that high crimes and misdemeanors (the constitutional basis for impeachment) are to be ignored. But it does mean that low crimes and crass conduct are not to be exploited for political gain. I favored impeachment of President Clinton. I now think I was wrong. All it accomplished was to distract further from the nation’s business and to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States. And that lesson has not been learned by the political left, who are relishing the prospect of payback.

You may disagree with me on the particulars, but you can’t argue with the law: "Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people." If we do that, we give our country another self-inflicted wound. In a way, we are showing a lack of respect for one another, for if we vote for a scoundrel, who is to blame after all?

August 7, 2007

A report appeared in the Associated Press this week that gave a pretty fair summary of the situation in Iraq, but at the same time, it underlines a very common fault of modern journalism: It blurs the line between news and opinion.  Nevertheless, the author acknowledges what I have long suspected:

"The idea, after all, is not to kill or capture every terrorist and insurgent. That can't be done. The idea is to create a security environment more favorable to political action by the government, to provide breathing space for leaders of rival factions to work out a peaceful way to share power. The U.S. military, partnering in many instances with Iraqi forces, is now creating that security cushion—not everywhere, but in much of the north, the west and most importantly in key areas of Baghdad. "

This seems to be overlooked in a lot of commentary on the war. Complaining that the Iraqi government hasn't made any progress is the current tack of the anti-war left. But given enough time to improve security, the military may give the Iraqis breathing room to make the political compromises they are going to have to make.

July 30, 2007

The Tree in Winter

There are times in any man’s spiritual life when it seems he is working like a dog with little to show for it. I have written three books now. None of them have made anyone’s best seller list but I have had a little positive feedback on the books—mostly from friends and family. But I was meditating on the first Psalm this morning, and I found a nugget.

"Blessed is the man," David begins, "who rejects the counsel of the ungodly, does not stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful. But he delights in God’s law and meditates on it every day." It is a winner’s formula for life. But then there was something I hadn’t thought of before. The man who does these things shall be like a tree, supplied by a river of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season. It was those last three words that were my nugget. It dawned on me that the tree in winter is not dead. The root keeps water flowing, and the work of winter is done internally and underground as the roots continue to grow. In the spring, the leaves come forth, and in the summer the fruit begins to appear. The nugget was the realization that I don’t have to bear fruit all the time. In fact, you can’t force the fruit to appear. You can plant, you can water, but only God can give the increase.

This brought to mind a short, enigmatic passage in Ecclesiastes: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again." I have often pondered that verse, wondering what exactly it meant. Perhaps it is a warning against expecting too much, too soon. It also seems to speak to the importance of letting a thing go so you can receive it again later.

Putting these two ideas together, I can see that we have to soldier on, even when we don’t know where we are going or when we are going to get there. It also suggests that we have to pace ourselves. We may be in for a long haul. The tree in winter knows it has to work on the root system and wait until summer when the precious fruit appears. Only God knows his seasons.





Contact us              Copyright 2009 Ronald L Dart, all rights reserved.