Archive | Culture

L.B.J. and Senator Russell Long after Hurricane Betsy

Lyndon Johnson and Senator Russell Long of Louisiana peer out of Air Force One in 1965 to survey the damage done by Hurricane Betsy. – Yoichi R. Okamoto / Lyndon Baines Johnson Library

NBC News Anchorman Brian Williams provides a glimpse into how Lyndon Johnson used a trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy in 1965 for political advantage. This is a gem of an Op-Ed. Go check it out. It’s titled “L.B.J.’s Political Hurricane.”

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Disappointed with Russert, et al.

It’s not just the partisans who are rushing to judgment about who to blame for the catastrophic aftermath of Katrina. The clear thrust of mainstream media reporting has been to lay the blame for the crisis in New Orleans at the feet of the Bush administration.

The default assumption in the media appears to be that if there was a failure of rescue operations, then the failure was a federal one. No reporter that I have seen has come up with a line of questioning that would insinuate a failure on the part of the Louisiana governor or the New Orleans mayor (I’ve mainly been watching CNN, NBC, and MSNBC’s coverage). The questions seem to be pushing toward an indictment of President Bush.

This situation is rather remarkable given that we know so little about the big picture at this point. We do know that an evacuation of the city of New Orleans before a storm was the job of state and local officials. How is it that the mainstream media see the failure to evacuate as a failure at the federal level?

We may find out at some point that something went awry with the federal response, but why do reporters just assume that to be the case when it seems like the default position would be to see this as a shortcoming of the state and local governments? It appears that the media intends to treat the Bush administration as guilty until proven innocent.

Today’s episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press” is emblematic of what’s been happening in most of the coverage that I’ve seen up to this point. Tim Russert grilled the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, while a Louisiana state officials got off fairly easily.

Tim Russert:

“Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation? . . .

“Well, many Americans believe now is the time for accountability. The Republican governor of Massachusetts said, ‘We are an embarrassment to the world.’ The Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, said that you deserve a grade of F, flunk. How would you grade yourself? . . .

“People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.’ How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed? . . .

“Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm? . . .” (source)

The secretary tries to explain to Tim Russert how disaster relief works under the law.

Secretary Chertoff:

“Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials” (source).

But Tim does not even acknowledge the secretary’s answer or that responsibility for any failures could be distributed outside the federal government.

Tim goes on to allow Mike Tidwell (a global warming activist and campaigner for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, which is not disclosed by Russert) to grandstand about how George Bush is responsible not only for the aftermath of Katrina, but also for similar environmental hazards in all U.S. coastal cities.

“But the really final big story here is that the Bush administration is failing on another level to hear warning signs and take credible evidence that there’s dire problems. The Bush administration itself–its own studies say that we will in this century turn every coastal city in America into a New Orleans. Why? Because we got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration’s own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.

“The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem. We have got to address this energy problem that David mentioned. We have an irrational energy problem” (source).

Tim offers no challenge whatsoever to Tidwell, even though Tidwell admits that opportunities to address dangers in New Orleans go back to 1995 when Bill Clinton was president. That Tidwell lays the blame solely at the feet of the Bush administration and not to the previous Democrat administration shows his partisan bent.

That political opportunists have politicized this calamity is unconscionable. That the mainstream media facilitates this politicization is even worse because they have such an impact on shaping public opinion.

I am hoping that a clear picture will emerge in the coming days. Until then, I remain disappointed with Tim Russert and others like him who are jumping on the blame-Bush bandwagon. I think the wiser course would be to reserve judgment until we understand what really has happened. There will be plenty of time to analyze the failures that may have occurred at all levels of government—local, state, and federal.

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Kanye West’s Race-Baiting Tirade

Hip-hop star Kanye West went on a tirade during NBC’s disaster relief fundraiser tonight. West and Michael Myers were paired together during a segment so that they could appeal to a nationwide TV audience to donate money to the Red Cross. After Michael Myers opened with a few remarks, Kanye West began a meandering monologue that was clearly not written on his cue card and was very difficult to understand. However, a few things came through loud and clear.

First, West made the outlandish claim that the government had given the troops in New Orleans permission to shoot black people. Second, he accused the media of racist coverage, alleging that reporters are saying that black families are looting while white families are just looking for food. Third, West punctuated his screed with an low-blow against the President: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (the Washington Post has the entire exchange here).

I fear that West has been drinking deeply from the propaganda of the race-baiters who have been trying to exploit this tragedy for their own ends. For instance, consider Al Sharpton’s accusation on Keith Olbermann’s program just last night: “And the real question is not only those that didn‘t get out. The question is why has it taken the government so long to get in. I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner” (source).

Consider also how Jesse Jackson criticized the federal response to the disaster: “How can blacks be locked out of the leadership, and trapped in the suffering? It is that lack of sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of incompetence. . . There’s a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and black people . . . [the new media has] criminalized the people of New Orleans” by focusing on violence in the city (source).

So you see, Kanye West didn’t say anything that these race-baiters haven’t been saying all week. But West’s remarks do reveal just how reckless the rhetoric of the Jacksons and the Sharptons can be. What should have been a non-partisan appeal to the better angels of American nature turned into a counter-productive blame game.

Nevermind the fifty-percent of Americans who would take great offense at West’s parroted accusations. Nevermind the fact that such remarks might disincline some from contributing to the Red Cross disaster-relief fund. Just blame Bush and exploit the tragedy for partisan advantage. That does not sound very compassionate to me.

NBC tried to recover the good will of its viewers with the following statement that was released after the concert:

“Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion” (source).

I am not saying that the south doesn’t have serious racial issues to confront. Believe me, we do. And I am certain I will have more to write on that topic later. But tonight, I am just troubled by the irresponsible, inflammatory statements made by West.

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New Orleans: Then and Now

I was struck this morning when NBC’s Today Show offered glowing and nostalgic remembrances of how great New Orleans was before the hurricane. The parties, the good times, the food, and the music. According to the Today Show’s reporting, New Orleans was a virtual heaven on earth—a true American original.

I have to say, however, that as a native Louisianan, I don’t think that description of pre-hurricane New Orleans really rings true. Yes, it is true that the city had its charms, but it also had its challenges, the kinds of challenges that are routinely overlooked by reveling tourists.

I could relate story after story about how difficult the city really was before Katrina. I could tell you about how my friend Dr. Charlie Draper’s wife got caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out while pumping gas into her car across the street from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I could tell you about my former associate pastor who barely escaped being accosted by a group of homosexual men. Or I could tell you about my wife’s cousin who was shot to death by hoodlums who wanted to steal his walkman.

But these anecdotes do not comprise the sole reason for my impression of the city. It is a matter of public record that the city had a crime rate that was ten-times the national average. All of this is just an indicator of underlying problems that the outsider usually doesn’t notice.

Nicole Gelinas summed it up today in a penetrating essay titled “Will New Orleans Recover? Weak and struggling before Katrina, the good-time city now teeters on the brink.” She writes,

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed? . . .

The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption. Just weeks before Katrina, federal officials indicted associates of the former mayor, Marc Morial, for alleged kickbacks and contract fraud. Morial did nothing to attract diversified private investment to his impoverished city during the greatest economic boom of the modern era. . .

New Orleans teems with crime, and the NOPD can’t keep order on a good day. Former commissioner Richard Pennington brought New Orleans’ crime rate down from its peak during the mid-1990s. But since Pennington’s departure, crime rates have soared, to ten times the national average. The NOPD might have hundreds of decent officers, but it has a well-deserved institutional image as corrupt, brutal, and incompetent.

How will New Orleans’ economy recover from Katrina? Apart from some pass-through oil infrastructure, the city’s economy is utterly dependent on tourism. After the city’s mainstay oil industry decamped to Texas nearly a generation ago, New Orleans didn’t do the difficult work of cutting crime, educating illiterate citizens, and attracting new industries to the city. New Orleans became merely a convention and tourism economy, selling itself to visitors to survive, and over time it has only increased its economic dependence on outsiders. The fateful error of that strategy will become clearer in the next few months. . .

New Orleans has experienced a steady brain drain and fiscal drain for decades, as affluent corporations and individuals have fled, leaving behind a large population of people dependent on the government. Socially, New Orleans is one of America’s last helpless cities—just at the moment when it must do all it can to help itself survive.

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Military Chaplains Pressured Not to Pray in the Name of Jesus


Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a chaplain and a priest with the Evangelical Episcopal Church, has accused the Navy of religious discrimination.

The Washington Post reports today on an little known controversy among the ranks of chaplains in the U.S. military:

“Evangelical Protestant chaplains are fighting what they say is a legacy of discrimination in hiring and promotions, and they are bridling at suggestions they not pray publicly ‘in the name of Jesus.’”

You can read the full story here.

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What do college students do when they aren’t studying?


My Greek teacher Rev. James Lipscomb and I during one of our tutoring sessions at his home in Ruston, LA (circa 1994).

“What do college students do when they aren’t studying?” According to the Wall Street Journal’s Naomi Riley’s review of two books about college life, college students are primarily engaged in idleness.

No, they are not studying and going to class forty hours a week. They certainly are not becoming avid readers. Rather, they are in pursuit of the ideal represented in their ubiquitous watchword: “fun.” “Fun” includes among other things a great deal of binge drinking (often beginning on Thursday night and going through the weekend) and frequent casual sexual encounters.

This sad state of affairs comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the decline of university life over the last thirty years or so. We are no longer shocked by Jay Leno’s undergraduate “Jay Walking All-Stars” who don’t even know who the vice-president of the United States is. We simply assume that a significant number of undergraduates will be idle dead-heads who really don’t learn that much by the end of their seven years of college.

There was a time in the history of higher education in America when going to college meant going to get an education. To be an undergraduate student was more than merely hanging around old buildings with books in them.

My own undergraduate experience began with the same shiftlessness portrayed in Ms. Riley’s article (minus the partying and dissipation). Academically speaking, I was just there to get a piece of paper. Somebody told me I needed that paper, so I was there to get it. I had no clue about how an education could enrich one’s life and faith. But that all changed during my sophomore year.

During my second year in college, I entered into a profound crisis of faith. As a result of one professor in particular and a few other key influences, I came to doubt the reliability of the sourcebook of my faith: the Bible. It was as if someone had yanked the rug out from under me and I had no where else to stand.

But God used this spiritual and emotional crisis to drive me to a whole new perspective on Him and my education. In addition to being driven back to the Bible, I became blood-earnest about understanding history, philosophy, theology and all the other big worldview disciplines that have impacted Christianity over the centuries.

For me, it wasn’t an academic exercise, it was a matter of spiritual life and death to understand the Bible and where it came from, to understand the history of theology, and to think God’s thoughts after others who have gone before.

My love of the Greek Bible began in earnest during this period because I knew that I had to read this book for myself. I could no longer allow the secularists to tell me what the Bible is, what it is saying, and where it came from. I had to know God’s revelation for myself or I felt as if I would drown in the morass of conflicting opinions about it.

I’m not saying that everyone’s experience should be like mine or that everyone should go to college so that they can become a New Testament professor. What I am saying is that an education is not coextensive with a piece of paper. Many people with the piece of paper don’t have an education.

An education relates to how we view the mind that God has given us. Are we going to be passive receptacles for the world’s tripe, or will we discipline ourselves for the glory of God to learn about Him and the world in which He’s put us? An education is not just about knowledge (though it certainly includes that!), but it is also the formation of our character under God and the shaping of our minds according to a biblical worldview.

I fear that the majority of what passes for undergraduate education today is very far from such an ideal. May God allow us to see this tide turned in our generation for the glory of God.

(For more on philosophical and theological roots of the current crisis, see my review of George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.)

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Pro-Life and Hip-Hop: Nick Cannon’s Amazing Video

Nick Cannon and His Mother

It’s not often that a rap video brings a tear to your eye. But my wife and I watched one tonight that did.

Some of you may know Nick Cannon from the hit movie “Drumline” or perhaps from his new show on MTV, “Nick Cannon Presents Wild ‘N Out.” What you may not know is that he released a music video this summer that is powerfully pro-life.

The lyrics to the song tell the true story of Nick Cannon’s mother. When she became pregnant with Nick, she was an unwed teenager. She made it all the way to the operating table of the abortion clinic when she realized that she was about to do something awful. So she got up and walked away from the clinic and away from the abortion. The rest of the song is a “thank you” to his mother for letting him live. The video closes with Nick embracing and thanking his real-life mother.

The music video to the song “Can I Live” is one of the most poignant pro-life messages that I have ever witnessed. Reading the lyrics alone won’t really convey the emotional wallop that you get from watching the video. So I highly recommend clicking here or here to see it for yourself.

Kathryn Jean Lopez from National Review Online writes:

“Cannon’s new music video ‘Can I Live?’ tells a tale that’s very different from a gangsta’s paradise of dirty dancing and booty calls that Cannon may be sandwiched in between on MTV or BET. In the song, the hip-hop pop star tells his life story — or at least the beginning of it and his mom’s close call with abortion.

“Cannon, 24, appears in the video as a ghost (or an angel, if you prefer) and sings, ‘Mommy, I don’t like this clinic. Hopefully you’ll make the right decision, and don’t go through with the knife decision.’

“A scared teen, his mother was on a gurney — that’s how close the call was — but got up, and, at least in the video version, ran.

“He points out to his mother something she got on some level, or she wouldn’t have gotten up: ‘That’s a life inside you, look at your tummy. What is becoming Ma, I am Oprah bound. You can tell he’s a star from the Ultrasound.’

“The video images tell a stirring, gripping story regardless of where you fall in the abortion debate.”

Go watch the video and buy the single. We should support something that is bound to save many lives that might otherwise have been snuffed out.

(R. Albert Mohler talked about the video on his radio show. You can download the mp3 of Mohler’s program here.)

(HT to Justin Taylor whose blog first brought this video to my attention.)

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“No Miracles Allowed”

Today’s Washington Post runs a story on the Intelligent Design (ID) debate titled “In Explaining Life’s Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash.” One opponent of Intelligent Design explains why he thinks ID is unscientific: “One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed. That’s a fundamental presumption of what we do.”

Isn’t it telling that the proponents of Darwinism reject ID based solely on the presumption that ID can’t be right. There’s no serious engagement of the arguments and data cited by ID proponents, just an a priori dismissal.

This just goes to show the atheistic naturalism that is at the heart of much of modern science. This God-less presumption concerning human origins is no less a faith commitment than those who would argue otherwise.

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“Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive”

Even the title of the story reveals that the New York Times is on the war-path against intelligent design: “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive”. This article reads like an opinion piece, but it’s not. It’s reported as straight news. There is no serious engagement of arguments in this article, just the usual ad-hominem accusation that Intelligent Design scientists are politically motivated culture warriors.

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