In August, an event of true significance passed without the notice it deserved: Michigan’s Supreme Court unanimously reversed the infamous Poletown decision, invalidating as erroneous the reasoning in that case that “a private entity’s pursuit of profit was a ‘public use’ for constitutional takings purposes simply because one entity’s profit maximization contributed to the health of the general economy”, in this case the bulldozing of an entire neighborhood to make room for a General Motors plant. The Court wrote, “We overrule Poletown in order to vindicate our constitution, protect the people’s property rights and preserve the legitimacy of the judicial branch as the expositor, not creator, of fundamental law.” This is huge, and has far-reaching national implications. Next, look for the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not to hear an appeal of the similar Fort Trumbull case from Connecticut, in which it will have an opportunity to sustain the reasoning of the Michigan decision for the entire nation. Hopefully, it will do so, and thereby restore the sanctity of private property rights as embodied in the Fifth Amendment, to wit—“….nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”, and in most state constitutions, in which the clear intent was to confine “public use” to condemnations under eminent domain for necessary and publicly owned infrastructure, not “economic development” or “urban renewal”.
David Broder said it well: “Once upon a time, the media knew better. The first sign of wavering confidence came when news organizations began offering their most prestigious and visible jobs not to people deeply imbued with the culture and values of newsrooms, but to stars imported from the political world.”
In the wake of the Dan Rather/CBS/National Guard memo scandal, one wonders with Broder, in effect, how CBS would have conducted their due diligence on the story or responded to the egregious error in judgment in the age of Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle, et al? We can speculate, but unfortunately there are fewer and fewer of us around who remember when the major news organizations were staffed by people who had been tested on city hall and local police beats under severe scrutiny from experienced and skeptical editors. More importantly, these were people who primarily came from the American experience themselves, before the proliferation of schools of journalism and public affairs where they are more likely to be advised that their mission is to change the world, not report it, and, in too many instances, that loyalty to their profession and to “history” trump loyalty to their country.
More than anything else, the CBS story is one of the terminal arrogance of the old 20th century institution of mass communication that is in steep decline and of the liberal/left dominance of that institution. And as Bernard Goldberg has so well described in his two recent books on the subject, big media leadership is completely oblivious to its own bias and arrogance. I believe this blindness lies in a condition deeply embedded in the pathology of the left that allows and condones a duplicity and double standard in the processing of reporting and the shaping of messages in the public square that they don’t even recognize because they are so seldom exposed to voices of introspection from their peers. This is, I think, primarily based on the presumed sanctity of their good intentions and is manifest in any number of examples wherein the service of well-intentioned ends justifies almost any means (think of the Al Sharpton/Tawana Brawley case, Clinton’s lies about “personal matters”, Michael Moore’s “documentary” film, and the characterization of George Bush as a “divider” on “wedge issues”, among many others).
The triumph of the underground media, the bloggers, the talk shows, the small opinion journals, and, generally, the “counter-establishment” media in this instance has been heralded as a watershed, a revolution in news, a “big cultural moment”, as the Wall Street Journal described it. But Alvin Toffler predicted it over twenty years ago in his book, The Third Wave, wherein he describes for us the inevitable loss of influence of mass media in what he called the “de-massification” of information, beginning with the decline of the major newspapers, mass market magazines, and even the major television networks in favor of niche publications and other delivery systems aimed at special interest, regional, and local markets. And this was before CNN, the explosion of cable TV, talk radio, and certainly the Internet! Most importantly, what all this means for the big media elites is that they can no longer manage images, shape content and presentation, and control opinion with impunity, which is a refreshing and long overdue development. 4
Coincidentally, much of my summer reading happened to revolve around religion, its history and development in the West and America, and its centuries-old war with science, as follows:
The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, by Frank Lambert, surveys the development of religion in America by attempting to answer the question, “How did the Puritan Fathers transform into the Founding Fathers?” He does a good job in tracing the origins of our religious heritage and its different manifestations on a regional basis from the early 17th through the late 19th century. Of particular interest are the debates among the Founders on the questions of establishment, free exercise, and religious accommodation, the influence of the Deists, and the origin of the doctrine of “separation of church and state”, which is much misunderstood by contemporary Americans. I have points of disagreement with Lambert on the degree to which several of the Founders rejected their Puritan heritage for deism, but this didn’t detract from my high regard for his book.
Science vs. Religion: The 500-Year War, by David J. Turell, M. D., is one of the better surveys of the various arguments, pro and con, of evolution, scientism, and naturalism in their long battle with supernaturalism, creationism, and intelligent design. Basically, Turell, who, incidentally, is a new friend who lives in the Houston area, attempts with a high degree of success to show that a belief in a purposeful theistic creation and in the process of evolution can be combined and are not mutually exclusive. He makes frequent use of a favorite source of mine, Mortimer Adler’s How to Think About God, and an approach that allows atheists and agnostics to comfortably rethink their positions. Finally, Dr. Turell adds an attractive personal touch in the last chapter by providing insight into his personal search for meaning in the universe. A very good read.
The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, in all of its 683 pages of narrative and sixty pages of footnotes, consumed a large part of my reading time last summer, but it was well worth the effort. The book is a sweeping history of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation from about 1490 through the late 17th century, wherein the author traces the origins of the reformation impulse and the evolution of the transformation of religious thought and institutional change as they worked themselves out in various ways throughout Europe. All the historical players are here—Luther, of course, and Calvin, Zwingli, the Popes, the secular heads of state and wannabes, but also the lesser lights and fringe players, many of whose ideas helped shape the outcome and are being debated still. Of particular interest to me was the explanation of the various fine points of theological disagreement that spawned and sustained the conflict and over which much blood was spilled. A great book, the major significance of which was to remind me of how fortunate we are in having benefited from the evolution of the idea of religious tolerance that was ultimately forged out of the crucible of this period.
“World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win”, Commentary, September 2004, by Norman Podhoretz, is not a book and only marginally about religion, but it is a 54-page article that is a must read for all who want a deeper understanding, beyond the political spin from both sides, of the current war on Islamofascism. With historical analysis and by connecting the dots of events and trends, Podhoretz very convincingly shows that we are only in the very early stages of what promises to be a very long war, and that Iraq is only the second front, the second scene, so to speak, of the first act of a five-act play. Much of the history, in hindsight, reads like the odyssey of a ship of fools, until the pronouncement of the Bush Doctrine and its four pillars that he describes in detail. Then he comments on the history of the forces of anti-war and anti-American appeasement in their various forms both at home and abroad and how imperative it is to defeat them in order to have any chance for the ultimate victory that is necessary for the survival of the West as we know it. (Hint: as he suggests, only one outcome of the election in November will suffice, because these forces have irreparably damaged one major political party. For details, see Zell Miller.)