Friday, May 09, 2003

Absence of Malice. I didn't like this when Elliot Rosen did this to Paul Newman. I don't like it that the fibbies are doing it now to Dr. Steven Hatfill. Sequels are almost never as good as the original.

Where's Wilford Brimley? ("You had a leak? You call what's goin' on around here a leak?! Boy, the last time there was a leak like this, Noah built hisself a boat.")

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Big Green. In case you missed it -- and it didn't seem to get a lot attention -- the WaPo had a very good series on the Nature Conservancy. Yes, it's pretty much what the Washington Times and other periodicals have done over the years, but it's nice to see the official newspaper of the conventional wisdom giving this story some attention.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Cinco de Bennett. We just had our little family dinner of tacos toasting Mexico's defeat of the French in the Battle of Puebla. [BTW, has France won any battles since before Waterloo? Or are they just the Devil Rays of the World? Oh, okay.]

Which brings me to Bill Bennett (Over/Under = $8 million), who has apparently replaced brother Bob as the black sheep of the Bennett family with disclosure (and admission) of his gambling problem.

I'm not going to throw stones -- I've gambled in the past -- I've bought a lotto ticket and have signed up for a square on a pool. Obviously, never anything big. But the point is that I guess I've never thought of gambling as a "per se," absolute sin, like lying or stealing or adultry. [You can see from my Inferno Test Score, below, that I have my areas of failings.] It falls into that grey zone of activities like drinking and smoking where context and amount (or situation and addiction, if you prefer) are factors as to whether it is "sinful."

Nevertheless, the sheer amount wagered -- an $8,000,000 net loss -- if reported correctly, over a 10 year period, would cross the threshold into sinful behavior, IMO.

William Bennett has acknowledge his addiction to tobacco in the past -- when he was Drug Czar Garry Trudeau took him to task on this (the moralist Trudeau being unable to distinguish between a legal and an illegal addiction, I guess). Therefore, the fact that the guy is a sinner is not surprising.

But it is disappointing. There have been admissions and disclosures over the past 20 years that have shaken people or disclosed persons to be liars, hypocrites, dupes, etc. Sometimes, I have been surprised -- while Jim Bakker didn't surprise me, Jimmy Swaggert did (although I never had any appreciation for either of them). The high profile "Reverends" have all had moral failings exposed: be it Pat Robertson and his ponies and the gambling, to Jesse Jackson and his mistress and payoffs. The list could be very long: Martin Luther King, Tony Campolo, John Howard Yoder, Mike Warnke, Jim and Tammy Faye, Swaggert, and on and on.

Yet, I don't know that Bennett's failings are significant enough to join this list -- I don't think he's been involved in fraud or adultry or the rest.

I'm not sure if this even approaches the Amy Grant line (high-profile Christian entertainer who divorces husband just because he doesn't turn her on for another guy who does). The Amy Grant line? Is that sort of like the Mendoza line?

Well, there has long been a perception of varying degrees of virtue and vice, just as there are levels of heaven and hell (again, see Dante). The Church of Rome distinguishes between mortal sins and venial sins. I disagree with this doctrine, slightly. I believe that all sin separates us from God -- even the most minor (yet, who is to say what's minor -- look at this list of what God hates). Nevertheless, there does seem to be Scriptural authority for degrees of sinfulness.

As an aside, are the critics of Bennett disclosing they believe that gambling is immoral, even though he apparently not ever labeled this activity a vice? I think there is an element of this, although I suspect the glee is merely a transference of claims of vice. By and large, in Protestant American culture, gambling has been viewed as sinful -- although I don't think you could project that sin on the American Catholic with respect to bingo and so on.

So is Bennett a hypocrite? ("One who plays a part; especially, one who, for the purpose of winning approbation of favor, puts on a fair outside seeming; one who feigns to be other and better than he is; a false pretender to virtue or piety; one who simulates virtue or piety.") I don't think so. As I note above, he comes out of a tradition (Roman Catholic) that doesn't treat gambling as sinful on its face. But maybe I'm splitting hairs. I think Hillary Clinton with her public pronouncements on the greedy capitalists, yet secretly made boo-coo bucks with her cattle trading is a hypocrite. Michael Moore = hypocrite. Jimmy Swaggert = hypocrite. Jim Bakker = hypocrite.

I think if we found out that Bennett were smoking pot, yes, you could call him a hypocrite (afterall, he has consistently opposed drug use). Yet, Bennett the tax-paying gambler -- engaging in a legal activity -- doesn't seem to be a hypocrite.

Now, were he doing this activity in violation of the law -- or were he lying about it in his IRS filings, then you would be correct in labelling him thusly.

Nevertheless, Bennett has fallen -- if not from grace, at least from public favor. Is it surprising? That Bennett did this -- yes -- he's sharp enough to have predicted this reaction. The reaction is not surprising -- nor that another person falls. This may be his own Waterloo. Or his Puebla.