Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book Review: Day of Reckoning by Patrick J. Buchanan.

Patrick J. Buchanan sounds the alarm in Day of Reckoning. A sample: "The fuse is lit and is burning towards the dynamite." (p. 240).

He has been sounding the alarm for at least his last four books with St. Martin's Press.

In fact, these books sound remarkably similar, and I think passages have been repurposed from his earlier writings. For example, Buchanan's line about the 9/11 attack occurring "over here because we were over there" I'm sure I've read before. (p. 250.)

Sounding the alarm can be useful and sometimes salvific. See Paul Revere.

Sounding the alarm repeatedly can become, well, alarmist.

Categorization here will ultimately depend on how history unfolds.

In Day of Reckoning, Buchanan returns to familiar themes. He (again) warns about immigration, "free trade," interventionist foreign policy, entangling alliances, and rampant pluralism. He argues these singularly and collectively are "deconstructing America." He suggests a national suicide. (p. 235.)

George W. Bush receives much of Buchanan's blame: "George Bush seems fated to go down in history like Wilson, a failed and tragic figure. After the 9-11 attack, he tried to do the right thing for the right reason. But between September 11 and his axis-of-evil speech in 2002, he embraced an ideology based on a misreading of reality and an ignorance of history. It drove him into the greatest blunder of presidency--and denied him the sight to see his way back home." (p. 99-100.) Buchanan isn't Monday-morning-quarterbacking. From the right, he has been ardently criticizing Bush's Iraq policy for many years.

In this sense, Buchahan is more aligned with Sen. Obama than almost all Washington politicians in the Republican party. This fact brings to mind Secretary Robert Reich's humorous comment to Patrick Buchanan when they were both on a cable talk show: "Pat, you're so right, you're left."

I suspect Buchanan is writing another book as I write this. Perhaps a slip, Buchanan dated his acknowledgments as "October, 2008." (p. 266.) Since Day of Reckoning was published in late 2007, and I read those words long before October, 2008, either he meant 2007, or he provided the acknowledgments section for his next book.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Institutional Modesty.

At 6-45 over the past six seasons, Duke's football program is about as bad as its basketball team is good.

Duke recently won a lawsuit by losing.

The background: Duke and Louisville entered into a contract for the two schools to meet in four football contests. After a 40-3 blowout loss in 2002, Duke canceled the series, and Louisville sued.

The ruling: Franklin Circuit Court Phillip J. Shepherd agreed with Duke that any Division I opponent would be an improvement over the woebegone Blue Devils. “At oral argument, Duke (with a candor perhaps more attributable to good legal strategy than to institutional modesty) persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower," the judge ruled. "Duke’s argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville." Case dismissed.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movie/DVD Review: The Great Debaters. came up with a list of what they call the "Most Powerful Christians in Hollywood."

Right behind Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington graced the litany. Mr. Washington has been developing an impressive body of work, which he has characterized as his "ministry."

Some might be surprised by Mr. Washington's inclusion in this list given the raw nature of some of his filmic work. Taking a closer look, however, his movies often point to basic morality at the very least, and sometimes, to religiously sophisticated, if not overly Christian themes, such as atonement, propitiation and salvation.

For example, my bro Jonathan Acuff at the oft-hilarious site,, has unpacked the deeply religious or Christian themes lurking in Mr. Washington's Man on Fire. Find his insightful analysis here:

In this review, Mr. Acuff intriguingly and perhaps counter-intuitively posits that Man on Fire exceeds even The Passion of the Christ in evangelistic potential.

This lengthy introduction sets the table for The Great Debaters. This film carries strong moral principles centered around basically standing up for what is right--even at great personal cost.

As the title suggests, it presents a true story about an African-American debate team that went into Harvard to compete... and, well, you figure out the rest. I find fault with this movie, however, because it was not necessary to demonize (just about) every white person in the film.

Moreover, the film suggests, erroneously, that speaking more loudly somehow translates into speaking more eloquently. In one particularly disturbing scene, one contestant essentially screamed her speech--on the verge of tears. Despite this bellicose delivery, one significant line--that has been echoed in the current Presidential campaign--resonates well: "The time for justice is always right now." Indeed.

Despite its flaws, it's worth a viewing on cable or DVD.

The Great Debaters garners a "B."

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Randy Pausch: The Lecture After The Last Lecture.

For those who enjoyed my review of Dr. Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture (see May 5, 2008, post), here is a short video of his commencement address to the May, 2008, graduates of Carnegie Mellon:

As Shakepeare wrote in Hamlet, "Brevity is the soul of wit," Dr. Pauch wittily emphasizes only a few points:

1. Express gratitude;
2. Find and follow passion;
3. Live well, without regret;
4. Elevate relationships over things; and
5. Love, defined by putting another's happiness over your own.

UPDATE: Here is my post about Randy Pausch's religion:

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Book Review: Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

A nagging question occupied my reading of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama.

Did he or didn't he?

Did Barack Obama know he later would run for President when he wrote this book (originally published in 1995)?

On the one hand, candidate books penned while running for President tend to be far more obtuse or opaque. Nothing salient is revealed, and accordingly, essentially no one reads them. Lending credence to this view that he was not contemplating running for the nation's highest office when he wrote Dreams, Mr. Obama allows in the preface to the 2004 edition:

"For the first time in many years, I've pulled out a copy and read a few chapters to see how much my voice may have changed over time. I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity." (p. ix; emphasis supplied.)

On the other hand, this book holds back from directly exposing the world to Mr. Obama's thought-processes, especially in a political realm. He repeatedly places the most controversial statements in the dialogue of another, so often that it can't be accidental. Additionally, he stops short from admitting his thoughts. For example, when asked why he did community organizing, he simply alluded to having his reasons. (e.g., p. 179.)

As a result, I'm sure this book was written with high political aspirations in mind. Nevertheless, it makes for an intriguing read especially in light of the unusual route Mr. Obama has taken to the precipice of the Presidency. For example, he talks about growing up in Hawaii, living in Indonesia, working in Chicago and visiting Kenya. He doesn't speak much about his law studies or practice, but I found the following excerpt illuminating about his legal philosophy:

"The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that served to regulate the affairs of those who have power--and that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power--and all that too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition." (p. 437.)

I've been surprised that his political opponents have not delved into this book more. I predict that these "fifty pages or so" that Mr. Obama wants to excise will receive even greater attention in the general election. In fact, watch Republicans strip-mine this text and perhaps even more so the sound recording, where one can hear the potential President tossing off expletives. Too, there are portions related to Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ, which indicate that Mr. Obama was aware of his race-baiting ways as far back as at least the book's 1995 publication.

For example, Mr. Obama writes that upon meeting Rev. Wright, he told Mr. Obama: "'We don't buy into these false divisions here. It's not about income, Barack. Cops don't check my bank account when they pull me over and make me spread-eagle against the car. These miseducated brothers, like that sociologist at the University of Chicago, talking about "the declining significance of race." Now, what country is he living in?'" (p. 283.)

Rev. Wright continued: "Life's not safe for a black man in this country, Barack. Never has been. Probably never will be." (p. 284.)

In Dreams, Mr. Obama endorses the Church's "Black Value System," which included a "commitment to God, who will give us the strength to give up prayerful passivism and become Black Christian activists, soldiers for Black Freedom and the dignity of all humankind." Mr. Obama describes the list as "sensible." (p. 284.)

This is the rare exception to candidate books. Written over a decade before running for President, it's interesting, well-written and unconventional. Anyone with a passing interest in this election should add this book to his or her reading list immediately.

UPDATE: Here is my review of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope:

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Three Ss of Jury Persuasion.

In Change the Way You See Yourself (2008), Kathryn D. Cramer and Hank Wasiak posit three basic assets of communication:

1. Substance - WHAT you say (i.e. content);

2. Sizzle - HOW you engage people (e.g., tone, volume, pacing, etc.) and HOW your craft it (e.g., stories, metaphors, analogies);

3. Soul - WHO you are (e.g., passions, aspirations, and values) and WHY your message is important to you.

They argue that "Sizzle" and "Soul" account for 93% of why an audience remembers and believes what has been said.

I couldn't help but think this observation has direct relevance to a trial attorney addressing a jury. I think one of the most important factors for trial attorneys is developing credibility with the decision-makers. I suspect credibility would probably fall largely, if not exclusively, under "Soul."

In witnessing many trial attorneys over the years, I think the predilection is to emphasize "Substance," by dryly working through the law (or arcane rules) and the evidence, with heavy doses of legalese and tedium. However, according to the authors, this factor carries the least weight. Probably true.

via Pastor Scott Hodge: