February 29, 2008

Dancing Before the Lord

At twenty I was awed by his intellect and sophistication; at 40 I was awed by his capacity for friendship.

I thought he would live till 90, or forever, whichever came last. Buckley was one of those people you can’t imagine dying even as he gave us contrary hints by how he slowly resigned from public life over the past decade. Yet you always take for granted the prodigious – humans value only scarcity - and WFB’s output and life was prodigious. There would always be more columns so I need not read the latest. (I felt the ghoulishness of the stock trader who sells the shares of an airliner after hearing of a crash when I ran to Abebooks yesterday to buy "The Unmaking of the Mayor" before similarly-minded hordes descended and snapped up all the good copies.)

Now my own long-time, adolescent dream will go unfulfilled – that of traveling to Stamford, CT and attempting to find his house and standing outside and imaging myself in his shoes and enjoying the proximity - my equivalent of the Hollywood star bus tour.

The tributes pouring in are surprising for how many people had seen Bill recently, e.g. how many different people’s lives he’d touched. Little anecdotes surprise, like the detail about his crying when Charlie Rose approached him at his wife’s funeral. His attentions were in one sense God-like, by which I mean it didn’t matter if one was young or old, conservative or liberal – over and over you hear that he gave his full attention to each in the moment of meeting. His social energies seemed prodigious, at least compared to mine, and as a result he seemed to know everybody. Just as we can scarcely imagine how God can know each of us personally, there’s a tiny echo of that in Buckley. His friend Bozell said that with Buckley everybody thought they had a special relationship with him and it was true Bozell said, every relationship was unique and real.

He wasn’t a saint of course, but I’d always assumed that his assessment of character was as shrewd as that of a Mother Teresa given how many people he’d met and the lives he’d lived. I wondered what my reaction would be to him, as I wonder what his would be of me. Do we show who we really think God is by how we act around those who show the most glint of Him, small glint that it might be? What percentage would be sycophancy, or simple humility, and what percentage would be unabashed Davidic “dancing before the Lord”? In other words, is God, for us, fear (given his power) or joy (given his charisma) and does the charisma overwhelm our fear? At base we all want, I think, to be “seen through” and still accepted, and there are precious few geniuses who have the vision and can also legitimately confer the acceptance.

* * *

The first time I’d ever heard the name Chesterton was through Buckley. I thought “who the heck is this GK Chesterton?” when Buckley wrote about how he’d urged his son to read him when Christopher was struggling with doubts. It’s funny how our personal imprimaturs change with age: WFB was trusted and Chesterton was not on matters of the faith for me twenty years ago and now it’s nearly the reverse, although primarily I trust the Magisterium, or at least I hope.

One of the things I liked most about Buckley was his love of life. He seemed to show that one could be smart and wealthy and famous and sane not lose one’s soul; in other words, you didn’t have to become a grind nor give up intellectual inquiry for fear of losing one’s faith. He seemed the embodying refutation of grim-faced saints. He lived bravely even in the knowledge that his purgation might be trying: “Despair is a mortal sin,” he told a friend according to Peggy Noonan.

He slowly lost his pleasures. “I’m tired of life,” he told interviewer Charlie Rose a year or two ago. One-by-one they fall off, as they will for all of us, though that hardly makes them worthless else God would not have created them. He quit skiing, and then sailing, and then there was the obviously painful blow of losing his wife. We can be happy for him that life – REAL life – now begins for him.

His signature book might well be Gratitude, for though its sales might not have been strong it was that quality he exhibited for his country and his friends and for God, an attribute surreally rare today.
Overheard at Work
Co-worker 1: “How do you do yoga without getting distracted by the women in tights?”
Co-worker 2: “Good question…I think a switch flipped…in my 40s….I’d already seen it all and it wasn’t something that…except in unsual cases of course – would distract me.”
Co-worker 1: “There’s a reason for the phrase ‘dirty old men’. It implies some old men aren’t. You’ve never heard the phrase ‘dirty young men’ because all young men are.”
Co-worker 2: “Yes, exactly…in young men all the hormones are flowing.”
A Fisk From My Bro-in-Law

I sent this, sent by a reader who knows I would enjoy it, where enjoy is "enjoy". One of the little tidbits is the publisher gave Obama a book on heart health because, you know, health is the new American god.

But my brother-in-law, who seems to take a keen interest in fuel alternatives for a conservative (God bless him, we need more like him) focused on the Obama's remarks (your mileage may vary; pun intended):
"For some, that could mean slightly higher taxes or a disincentive to drive a gas-guzzling vehicle. For everyone, it would mean higher electrical prices in the short run."

Apparently he's advocating reality? With higher oil prices come both a disincentive to drive any vehicle, and higher utility rates. Does he even write checks for his own bills -- DOUBT IT!

"... require sacrifice from those of us who are lucky in this society to pay a little more in taxes, ..."

Pretty much as we always have.

"If we went back to the obesity rates that existed in 1980 we would save the Medicare system a trillion dollars,"

This is a fantasy -- an outrageous claim created from thin air. How about if we just go back to the life expectancy for 1980? That shaves about 3 years off everyone's life, and saves Medicare some 6 trillion dollars.

"... put caps on the emission of greenhouse gases, "generating billions of dollars from polluters who are releasing carbons," and then investing that money in wind, solar, biodiesel, and other green energies. "

Those billions are gonna come from you and me, forcing us to invest for a 30 to 50 year ROI. That's not the way to do things, and getting the gov't involved is sure to make it a boon-doggle the size of the 'Big Dig' and make the ROI zero. And, Mr. Obama, biodiesel releases 'greenhouse gases'!

"He said wind and solar plants can provide jobs and advocated businesses retrofitting buildings to be energy-efficient."

Wind and Solor power plants do not provide jobs other than the initial construction. Where does he think the energy for conventional power plants comes from? His arse? Those are real jobs too!

"... his plan for international trade agreements would require "strong labor protections, strong environmental protections, and strong safety standards," a position virtually identical to that of Mrs. Clinton.

Uh Oh -- no more $20 shoes, $30 jeans, $99 bicycles and $15,000 autos. These items will not be available anymore because no one is going to pay $4,000 for a kid's bicycle made in the USA.

"How do you think I’m getting here, do you think I’m duping everybody?" he asked. "You think everybody just has a crush?

In a word, YES.
Various

Heard Tucker Carlson & Joe Scarborough weigh in on the phenomenon of "Obamaicans", that is Republicans who support Obama. Carlson said that it's because Obama is the rare liberal who doesn't start out from the assumption that he is right and that Republicans are evil. In other words, he doesn't hate us! We can feel like Sally Fields, "you like us! you really like us!". (Or at least "you tolerate us!"...)..

Scarborough made the point that conservatives begin from the premise that they could be wrong, while liberals start out from the premise that they could not be wrong. But that may give us conservatives too much credit. On the issue of pro-life, I start from the premise I am right and have no humility concerning my position.

Similarly Hillary on universal government-mandated health care. She said something telling when she was mocking Obama and the "celestial angels" and all that. She said, parphrased, "oh yeah, everybody will do the right thing..." In other words, for Hillary if you oppose her or Obama or liberalism you are defacto doing the wrong thing.

Economic conservatives should have an easier time loving liberals than vice-versa since liberals' hearts are in the right place - i.e. stop poverty, stop the death penalty, stop all human pain - even if we believe their plans will fail.

Liberals should have an easier time loving social conservatives than vice-versa since conservatives' hearts are in the right place in erroring on the side of life.

But that's pure theory and reality often says the opposite - liberals blast social conservatives because, deep down, they suspect we're right, while economic conservatives blast liberals because we worry about those who fall through the cracks of both small gov't and private charity.
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From our '80s Songs Misheard Lyrics File, Madonna's big hit:
"Papa don't reach, I'll pass the tomato sauce..."
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Jonah Goldberg & Mark Steyn comment about a montage of beautiful women of the last hundred or so years.
Catch-22

Interesting Disputations post in which he quoted the author of a spirtual guide:
Here's the tricky thing: true abandonment has to abandon even its abandonment. We have to give up our self-inflated sense of what a big sacrifice we are making. We need to give up on ourselves without even thinking much of it...Abandonment is peaceful. If we are anxious about whatever it is we have abandoned, then we can't really call it abandonment, can we?
That would be right in my wheelhouse lately as I wrote a couple weeks ago:
If you’re trying, are you trying too hard? It’s like the insomniac telling himself right before sleeping: “Go to sleep!” The last thing he'll do is sleep. In other words: Are you really trusting in God if you’re worried about whether you are trusting in God?
It's interesting that both Steven Riddle and Thomas K. put up cautionary flags around those type of statements. Tom writes, "I think this sounds true and wise. But I can also see all sorts of ways that acting upon this can lead a weak Christian into big trouble" and Steven cautions against a creeping into fatalism and quietism.

The whole spiritual direction thing is interesting in that it reminds me of Groucho Marx's line about "refusing to join any club that would have me as a member". The scarcity principle is at work since the guide's time is zero-sum. In other words, to paraphrase Elizabeth's line, "who am I that a competent spiritual guide should come to me?" It happens, but the infrequency of the Visitation is such that there shouldn't be an entitlement mentality.

February 28, 2008

Possibly True

NRO's Peter Robinson says on the Corner, mentions
"whereas a successful Obama administration might indeed improve race relations (as John O'Sullivan had suggested), the failure of an Obama presidency might instead make race relations quite a lot worse. That strikes me as an entirely valid concern—and worth bearing in mind whether Obama were to fail on the scale of Jimmy Carter or merely (as John O'Sullivan would have it) to prove as catastrophic as, say, Richard Nixon."
Indeed, I wonder how much interest there would be in the new atheism books if George W. Bush was never president. Illogically blaming Christianity for Bush's failures, I wouldn't be surprised if many liberals became enamoured with atheism reflexively out of spite for Bush.
Odd Graffitti Seen on Local Fuel Pump

Bingo: Sometimes Not So Sweet

I was driving home from Bingo (capitalized because it's not just an activity but a place, half-way between Hell & Purgatory), listening to 610AM radio and Brent Bozell is talking about how hard it is to talk about Bill Buckley, saying that everything public concerning him is relatively well-known, while everything private is, well, private.

I feel a tinge of that in trying to decide whether to tell the story of a guy in his late 50s who had before him not just a bingo sheet but a newspaper clipping protected by a plastic cover. A giant headline announced the tragic news of a 1966 fatal car crash.

Pat had showed it to me while the guy was out on a smoke break, and we were hovering over it when he came back. Caught. Red-handed.

Turns out his mother had died in that crash and he was 16-years old at the time. He and his brother were passengers and were unhurt. Someone had lost control of their car and crossed the median.

What can one say? Pat said maybe this was the anniversary of the date that his mother died and he brought that to remember her. I don't know, but it's one of the creepier things I've seen at bingo. The cops on COPS say that every night brings something new, and much the same happens at bingo. There must be a homogeneity in the middle class, a crushing conformity, that isn't present for those who frequent bingo halls.

One of our instant winner games tonight was called "Redneck", and after the large box of a brand is sold you can then pick names for additional prizes. But you can't do it until all are sold, so our head bingo guy got on the microphone and asked whether there were "any Rednecks out there". Well, natch that led to quite a few titters and wisecracks until he added, "not the two-legged kind."

Tonight was busier than a hooker at a Sex Addict convention and thus there was no time to dip into the Buckley tributes I'd printed off but not yet had time to read. In no time flat it's 9:30-ish and Kim and I were at the table selling instant games after bingo was officially over because, you know, selling tickets constantly for the past 3 1/2 hours just isn't enough for some people.

And do you know I sold a $599 winner to lady who was so excited she jumped up and down and called me "sweet ass" (to Kim's devilish delirium, who promptly spread the news like a meme to the other co-workers)? And do you know that the ironclad law that all winnings will be plowed into more tickets proved true, such that she bought another $50 or so from me, and don't you know I sold her yet another $599 winner two minutes later?

Every bingo you do see something new.
More on WFB

There's been far too much to keep up with, too many remembrances, which speaks to the fecundity of his life, but here are a piquant offerings.
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Buckley on Religious Belief
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Mark Steyn:
At that lunch, we were talking about one of the best novels, Stained Glass, in which Oakes finds himself pressed into the service of realpolitik even as he acknowledges that the young idealist is actually in the right.

I was trying to recall the precise wording of the marvelous characterization of the Cold War made by the German Count in that book and, of course, I didn't quite get it right and Bill had written another two or three dozen tomes since and so couldn't conjure it, either. But I looked it up after the lunch: The character speaks of the division of Germany by a consortium in which one side "had designs on human liberty everywhere" while the other was "fatigued by a war that had roused its people from a hemispheric torpor which they once thought of as a part of the American patrimony—an American right, so to speak". I thought there was more truth in that than in the entire Le Carre oeuvre, and we then got into a disagreement about whether those opposed to the Bush project in the Middle East were merely the latest subscribers to the "American right" to "hemispheric torpor". Not an unpleasant disagreement but a civilized one ending with Bill flashing his splendid joyous toothy grin.

He had a very good aside in one of those thrillers: "By the way, Sally, does anybody ever confess to just plain 'reading' Jane Austen? I know only people who 'reread' Jane Austen." The Oakes books are well worth rereading.
Charles Kesler on his last meeting with WFB:
When we had finished, he toddled happily off to lunch, where the four of us discussed the sorry state of politics and the progress he was making on his next book, his fifty-fifth I believe, that he had agreed to call, The Reagan I Knew. His wrist was broken, his emphysema bad, Pat’s death weighed heavily on him — but still visible was the Bill of old. He knew now the weariness that Whittaker Chambers had warned him of decades before. But he did not despair.

Buckley at his desk

John at the Inn has a fine post here.

Rick Brookhiser:
Yeats wrote a poem, “Beautiful Lofty Things,” about the people he had known in his youth. It is a bold and moving poem, because it is not about traditional subjects, such as love and death, or even traditional Yeatsian subjects, such as theosophy, but about particular people whose glory he asserts and praises. One of them was his father, a patron of the Irish theater. “My father on the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd./ ‘This land of saints’ — and as the applause died out, ‘Of plaster saints.’/ His beautiful, mischievous head thrown back...” No one, I added, was more respectful of saints, more mischievous towards plaster ones. How beautiful that was.
Beautiful lofty things; O'Leary's noble head;
My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd.
"This Land of Saints", and then as the applause died out,
"Of plaster Saints"; his beautiful mischievous head thrown back.
Standish O'Grady supporting himself between the tables
Speaking to a drunken audience high nonsensical words;
Augusta Gregory seated at her great ormolu table
Her eightieth winter approaching; "Yesterday he threatened my life,
I told him that nightly from six to seven I sat at this table
The blinds drawn up"; Maud Gonne at Howth station waiting a train,
Pallas Athena in that straight back and arrogant head;
All the Olympians; a thing never known again.


-- William Butler Yeats
Andrew Malcolm: "As Buckley talked that evening, the world silently knew that Humphrey was dying from cancer, slowly and surely. But the Minnesotan wouldn't let on.

Buckley had been on a recent flight from New York to Britain, he said. The in-flight movie projector had broken so he was reading, legs crossed, Santa Claus spectacles perched on his nose. When, abruptly, a noisy rukus erupted behind and above him.

Buckley wheeled and there, coat off, sleeves rolled up, he saw Hubert H. Humphrey mounting a ladder and inserting himself into the broken projector situation and the aircraft's ceiling, muttering constantly to himself while he tried to fix the balky machine, without success as it turned out. "That's Hubert," Buckley thought with affection.

A flight attendant approached. She said the captain was a fan and was inviting Buckley into the cockpit to watch the landing in the London night. Buckley recalled being awed by the scene approaching ahead, the horizon aglow from the ancient city, the modern airport closer with all the lights, some flashing, many colored as the giant plane slowly descended through the darkness toward the earth.

Suddenly, the cockpit door flew open. 'Bill!' shouted the senator. 'What are you doing in here? Why wasn't I invited? What's going on? Oh, my goodness! Bill, will you look at that sight? Isn't that beautiful? Oh, my. Look!'

And, Buckley recounted, instead of the outside scenery, he ended up that night in the dark cockpit watching instead his dying friend in admiration, still excited, still himself, exulting at the world's beauty as he came down slowly for a landing at the end of a long trip.

Then, Buckley looked at me and took a sip of his drink. 'I hope at the end,' he said, 'I come in for my last landing the same way.'

I think he did."
NYT Columnist Gail Collins

...is right:
If Hillary Clinton were a state, she’d be Ohio.

This is a no-frills kind of place, suspicious of glamour. Barack Obama’s promise to make politics cool again doesn’t necessarily resonate here. Eight presidents came from Ohio, and the coolest was William McKinley.

When I grew up in Cincinnati, we always rooted for the players who worked really, really hard, not the ones who were so talented they made everything look easy. If Hillary were a baseball player, she’d be Pete Rose. Minus, of course, the unfortunate gambling issues and the tendency to scratch inappropriate places while standing in the infield...

...here’s what I hope she understands. She’s done fine. And she’d probably have won the nomination walking away if Barack hadn’t picked this moment to mutate into BARACK!

You do your best, and if things don’t work out, it just wasn’t your time. Life isn’t always fair.

All of which Ohio understands very well.
As a youth, I recall there were Pete Rose fans and Johnny Bench fans, who were the Obama and Clinton of their time.

Pete crawled his way to the top on the fumes of pure ambition and work ethic.

Johnny Bench, on the other hand, was barely shaving when Ted Williams called him, "A Hall-of-Famer for sure."

Bench was the handsome bachelor about town, rumored to be dating Hollywood starlets, and having more than a touch of DiMaggio glamor. Rose was the gritty, butt-ugly spark plug with a crew cut who treated even an All-Star game with great passion.

If you were first and foremost a Bench fan, it implied that you had sold out in some way, revealed some weakness in character, because for Bench it all came so easy (see BARACK!).

I liked both, of course, seeing them as twin stars along with Morgan & Perez in the Big Red Machine constellation, if machines or teams had constellation of course. But I favored Rose even though it cost me. As a nine-year old I shipped my treasures, my favorite baseball cards to them, asking politely if they might autograph them. Bench sent his card back (albeit signed by an autopen) and Rose...(voice cracks with emotion at the bitter memory)...never sent my card back!

Perhaps those who have a hard climb - the Roses or Clintons of the world - can easily develop an unethical streak and cut corners or otherwise show character flaws - that those who had it easy never developed because there was no need.

February 27, 2008

Catholic Blogger Mentions of WFB
Bill Buckley, R.I.P.
How surprising, even given his age. He survived his wife by less than a year (she died in April of '07). He was a huge influence; I discovered National Review at our college library and was forever smitten. I also remember reading his Blackford Oakes novel Saving the Queen with delicious pleasure such that that pleasant time of my life and that book are inextricably linked.

In Atlantic High, William F. Buckley imagines Purgatory & Heaven, where "the cooler" is the time of purgation:
To be sure, it is axiomatic to this fantasy that I have been judged and, after sitting it out in the cooler for a few millennia, admitted. What then happens, surely, is that the people there, while not losing their flavor, manage somehow to lose that about them which once made them -- human. They are transfigured, by the central energy; and so you find sweetness that does not cloy, argument that does not vex, humor that does not lacerate, work that does not tire. The oxymoronization of life, the use of which word may jeopardize my chances of making it to Heaven.

...But it is part of the rules that you cannot succeed in describing that fantasy: For it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. I understand this to mean that a No Trespassing sign has gone up for the fantasist, and I for one intend to observe it.
From his collected speeches, Let Us Talk Of Many Things:

In respect of apologetics we are better off in the twentieth century than we were in the first. St. Peter would have had a more difficult time engaging a sophist than, say, John Courtney Murray would have today, replying to Bishop Pike. Even so, notwithstanding our intellectual resources, notwithstanding our moral and spiritual resources, we [Catholics] are on the defensive. And it is the excruciating irony that the more highly educated we are, the more keenly we tend to feel the pangs of exclusion from the dominant intellectual hustle and bustle of the age. Our faith is more severely buffeted, now that we move easily in the world of knowledge, than it was when we were illiterate.

One obvious cause is the interminable war between the self-justifying flesh and the forlorn spirit, a war in which all baptized human beings are eternally conscript as double agents. Another cause is the lure of rationalism: If we can perfectly understand how to split the atom, why can't we know how to fuse the Trinity? Surely another cause is the friction between fundamentalist and transcendent understandings of scripture....The appeal of literalism has done much to shake the faith of the literate.
From Nearer My God:
...the Christian needs to begin his adjudications by acknowledging an infinity of gratitude for being alive and a candidate for perpetual life. Ivan Denisovich in the cold horror of the Arctic labor camp felt a rush of gratitude on that day when fate conspired to give him an extra ounce of bread. People I saw on a visit to Lourdes were happy, and, in their perspective, grateful. Christianity asks that we cultivate the love of God.
An old Jonah Goldberg column on Buckley here. The Hoover Institute has old Firing Lines here.

The world feels a bit poorer today, but is far better for his having been in it.

February 26, 2008

         

I seem to recall that Sen. Kerry made the mistake of scheduling a Steubenville campaign stop four years ago. You'd think by now there'd be a big black mark on the DNC map marking Steubenville a no-go zone. It's not a terribly political campus (in our day the College Republicans could seldom get anyone to show up for meetings) but if a pro-choice presidential candidate makes a campaign stop in town, you can count on at least 100 student protesters showing up. - Darwin Catholic, on report of Bill Clinton blowing up at pro-life supporter

I think the continued fragmentation of modern life, in spite of a higher rate of connectivity, coupled with our general prosperity disinclines people to embrace classical liberalism even if they no longer feel as alienated as those who lived in the earlier part of the last century. Perhaps people still feel this deep alienation, but I think nihilism is more common, though it is a very middle class and private sort of nanny nihilism. Many of my friends, especially young men close to my age feel a sense of enslavement and disconnection in their daily lives. I find my religion answers these issues very nicely. My non-religious friends however feel all at sea - perhaps in that sense Eliot was right, you cannot take Western Civilisation away from Christianity and expect it to function. When the underlying myth of your culture (whether true or not) no longer underpins your culture people will fashion new gods as you so nicely demonstrate. It is also true that classical Liberalism is a rigorous philosophy and we live in an age of mothering. Your book hit the nail on the head here, and the ongoing Obama mania rather frightens me. - commenter on Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" blog

Workers however in this holy time ought to hear Mass and a sermon, if there is preaching in some place, the first thing in the morning and afterwards go about their business, so that they might provide for their children and household. - St. Vincent Ferrer sermon via Tom of Disputations

Somewhat delirious? Not only did I have very little idea what was going on around me, but I was convinced that yesterday was the North Carolina Democratic primary, that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards were all duking it out for the state's delegates, and that Abraham Lincoln had weighed in to support Edwards. - Robert of "Tribal Pundit", suffering from the flu

I do think it is pretty cool how far Christopher Blosser's Is Obama the Messiah? blog has taken off and how much traffic he is getting. One thing though - with Jesus we got The Beatitudes, with Obama we get The Platitudes. Besides doesn't the Bible have strong words about the Obamanation? - Jeff Miller of "Curt Jester"

The "shed your cynicism" bit sounds like a scene from one of those dystopian movies where you get slid into the Cynishedder as a bitterly sardonic old crank in a pork-pie hat and after 30 seconds bathed in the rays of the Obamatron you emerge in a turquoise 1970s catsuit with a glassy-eyed stare. - Mark Steyn on Ms. Obama's speech about shedding our cynicism

How would we feel if there was a Protestant network that spent a substantial amount of time talking with former Catholics as their new Reformation heroes. - Fr. Mack on Amy Welborn's blog concerning EWTN

Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, "the tinder for sin" (fomes peccati); since concupiscence "is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ." Indeed, "an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules." [2 Tim 2:5] - Catholic Catechism
Lawler's The Faithful Departed

Read “The Faithful Departed” about the destruction of Boston Catholic culture. This book certainly exercises your "forgiveness muscle" given outrages that make you want to scream -- all those children's lives who were so needless scarred. It is amazing that Cardinal Law could get the Vatican equivalent of a CEO’s golden parachute. It’s hard to watch the hierarchy function like a business, in which those at the top suffer little from their sins while those at the bottom, those who were victims of priest sex abuse, suffer disproportionately. But that is the way this world works. Justice doesn’t happen in this world, it happens in the next, even in ecclesiastical matters.

Reading this book I finally “get” the existence of the magazine New Oxford Review. It always seemed over-the-top in its meanspiritedness but then I was mostly unaware of the liturgical craziness that occurred in the late ‘70s and ‘80s both out of ignorance and not having a clear picture that there was anything but liturgical craziness. (i.e. “We didn’t know we were poor because it was all we knew…”) But for my elders it must’ve just drove them nearly mad and the New Oxford Review must’ve served as a place to vent, a sort of “parody is therapy” model.

Reading the book you also get a really good insight into how useless we are apart from Christ. There’s a tendency to imagine that the people of God complement each other, each of us having different strengths -- but that just as easily plays out like it did with the sex scandal – our differing weaknesses combining to bring disaster: the ruthless lust of a small percentage of pedophile priests combined with the timidity of the bishops bent on protecting the Church’s image. If there is an imminent chastisement it's hard to see it as not justified.

The irony is that even when we try to play the secular game we lose. If bishops, as a group, acted mostly as businessmen they missed the obvious fact that they were leaving themselves in an extremely vulnerable position given how we’ve became a society dominated by lawyers over the past four decades. A good businessman would’ve recognized his risk and acted accordingly. (They would seem to have had sufficient notice.) We live in a society now where sin and mistakes are punished severely by lawyers and courts, for we live in an "attorology", rule by lawyers.

Ultimately there's no greater "take away message" than we are helpless without Christ and that we can do nothing without Him.
Fiction for a Tuesday

It looked like an office for midgets, a sort of corporate "Safety Town". The cube walls were four feet high instead of seven, and the cubical areas were shrunk to the space a man might use while seated at a barstool.

"There's no water fountain on this floor so I think they're putting the water cooler here, so these two cubes will see a lot of traffic," our guide said grimly.

The four of us had the hang-dog faces of Confederates gathering before an unevenly matched battle.

"And there," he said, pointing to our east flank, "you have the conference room, so there will be a lot of noise and commotion coming and going. And of course up there," pointing north, "is the main aisleway."

I'd always felt above the corporate infighting over cubicals and windows, it all seemed as so much whining as of course it was. But then I'd never had to go down to a low-rent district either. A business never cuts pay, but they cut office space. This was like moving from Park Place to Baltic Avenue.

February 23, 2008

Quotes from "Fire of Mercy"

Interesting...from Foreword by Louis Bouyer (click to enlarge):


Terry Teachout on Hitler v. Stalin

...here:
Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University.

February 22, 2008

Update on Archbishop Sheen's Cause for Canonization

From our diocesan newspaper and also here at David Hartline's Catholic Report:
Dave Hartline: Father Apostoli can you give the readers an update on the progress of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s cause for sainthood?

Father Andrew Apostoli: The diocesan phase investigating Archbishop Sheen’s Cause for Sainthood began in 2002 and that was started by Bishop Daniel Jenky CSC of Peoria, the boyhood home of Archbishop Sheen. The diocesan phase of the cause is drawing to a close. Through our interviews with witnesses who knew the Archbishop, we are hopeful that we can present testimonies that demonstrate that the Archbishop lived a life of heroic Christian virtue, which is necessary for sainthood. We also believe we have two significant healings that can be attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen...

Dave Hartline: Father, please explain to the readers who are similar in age to myself (born in the 1960s) and have only seen Bishop Sheen on reruns on ETWN what it was like to see him on television in his heyday. What was the public’s reaction?

Father Apostoli: NBC purposely put him on TV opposite Milton Berle. The TV networks had an obligation to show one hour of religious programming each week. Since Milton Berle was so popular (he was actually called “Mr. Television,” at the time) no one expected Bishop Sheen’s program to do very well. However, after his first show he received some twenty-eight thousand letters. Within six months the number of Bishop Sheen’s viewers increased to the point that he beat Milton Berle in the first half hour of the time slot. It was amazing that percentage-wise more Jewish people watched the Bishop than Catholics or Protestants.

I believe this point helps to explain how Bishop Sheen was chiefly responsible for helping many Protestants and Jewish people to understand what the Catholic Church was really about. On a radio interview program a Protestant man shared with me that his family always watched Milton Berle and never Bishop Sheen. One evening, however, when the TV reception that showed Milton Berle was so bad his family looked purely out of curiosity to see what Bishop Sheen was like. He told me that from then on they only watched Bishop Sheen. Another person told me that whenever her grandmother, who was a Protestant, watched Bishop Sheen’s TV program, she always wore one of her best dresses. She felt like she was in church.
Catholic Conference of Ohio: Faith & Politics

From here:
The Catholic Conference of Ohio is the official representative of the Catholic Church in public matters affecting the Church and the general welfare of the citizens of Ohio...The Conference represents the Church's position before the Ohio General Assembly, various state departments, bureaus, agencies and other organizations.
They have a list of 2008 Voting Questions , which I will attempt to answer for the presidential candidates even though the questions are vague and am not well-versed on Catholic social teaching (that is, remember what you paid for this and so I would welcome someone like Jim Curley, who is more familiar with the social teaching, to weigh in):

REFLECTION QUESTIONS ON CHOOSING CANDIDATES

1. What is the candidate’s commitment to protect all human life, from conception to natural death?

[Me]:Sen. Obama has no serious commitment in this regard. While admirably hesitant about going to war and against the death penalty, he enthusiastically approves the use of violence with regard to babies in the womb. Sen. McCain has a significant, though imperfect commitment since he is anti-abortion except for research that involves the killing of embryos. Regarding Terri Schiavo, McCain unhelpfully said about Congress's intervention in the case, "Maybe we didn't use our brains as well as we should have."

2. What is the candidate’s commitment to those things that make life truly human – such as poverty reduction, faith and family, education and work, housing and health care, child protection, economic justice, freedom and peace?

Sen. Obama is sincerely committed to many of these issues; his commitment to strengthening faith and family, child protection, and freedom are more uncertain. Sen. McCain's commitment to many of these issues is less obvious than Sen. Obama's, although his governing philosophy might be that to use the government would make things worse. This question is mostly unhelpful since many of the commitments are mutually exclusive, such as poverty reduction and economic justice (failing to work will result in poverty but also economic justice); likewise freedom, as defined by modernity, can lead to greater breakdown of the family. Some poverty reduction efforts resut in greater poverty, which can make a commitment to poverty reduction an inadvertent commitment to poverty increase.

3. How does the candidate measure up in both words and actions with the totality of Catholic Social Teaching?

Neither Sen. Obama nor Sen. McCain has. Again, this question is mostly unhelpful since I don't know that we've ever had a candidate for any office who measures up to this standard.

4. What is my assessment of the candidate’s personal integrity and governing philosophy?

I think Sen. Obama has shown great integrity by giving up a lucrative law practice in order to help the poor before going into politics, but I believe his disregard of the sacredness of human life is, at least partially, willful. I have no idea of his governing philosophy given his lack of experience governing.

For Sen. McCain, his personal integrity seems greater than most politicians but it seems also to have become such a point of pride that it could lead to difficulties governing due to moral self-righteousness.

5. Has the candidate demonstrated sufficient competency to hold such an elected position?

Sen. Obama has not had enough experience and therefore has not demonstrated his competency to hold the office of the presidency. Sen. McCain has experience but has not shown exceptional competency except in the area of military affairs.

Elsewhere on the website a document says, "We believe everyone has the right to affordable and accessible health care." My eyes tend to see "health care" as the same as "health insurance", which obviously it is not the same.

February 21, 2008

McCain: Breaking Up (with the MSM) is Hard to Do

Watching CNN is a painful endeavor that I wouldn't recommend unless it's some sort of Lenten penance, but I did so yesterday because the gym doesn't offer FOX or MSNBC or any other news channel. (The elliptical training equipment has individual televisions, if'n you can believe it.)

So I'm watching the Teamsters' belated endorsement of Obama. Jimmy Hoffa Jr. explained the reason for the endorsement is that Obama has great momentum, which is high-laire if you think about it. First, it's sort of like if I'd suddenly declared my allegiance to the New York Giants with three minutes left in the Super Bowl. Guy makes a catch on his helmet and I tell everybody: "I'd like to announce that I'm no longer a Bengals fan. I'm now a Giants fan! My reason? They've got momentum...they're a team of destiny!"

Hoffa does this with a straight face, bringing bandwagonism to a whole new level. At what point does an endorsement reach incredulity? I thought the whole point of endorsements was to lead public opinion rather than to slavishly reflect it. I don't think you get alot of credit with Obama for joining the team this late. It's like these endorsements of John McCain now that he's the presumptive nominee. Not exactly profiles-in-courage are these folks?

I'll let you know which baseball team I'm rooting for this season -- in late October.

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The derailing of Team Billary leaves me a bit sad, leaves me with a rarely seen combination of schadenfreude and schaden, in part because Hillary did move to the right for me, and for you presumably, that is for anyone to the right of the Daily Kos. Sure she did it for base political reasons but hey if someone's doing me a favor I don't look a gift horse in the mouth. She showed us some love when she actually touched, albeit briefly like the way you might quickly swoosh your hand over a candle flame, the third rail of Democratic politics: she denied that the sacrament of Abortion was a sacrament, calling it a negative thing and saying:
"I, for one, respect those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available," she said in January.
She dared so far to call it a "sad, even tragic choice." The unborn will never get that smidgeon of love, even if the "love" be mere words, from Obama.

Then too her sudden interest in national security. Democrats have long been perceived as weak on defense and so she ran headlong into that wind and she signed up for the Armed Services committee before the ink was dry on her Senate certificate, and later she voted for the Iraq war. You can see that from the time she got her Senate seat she was looking past the Democratic primary to the general election. I don't think she had a clue that someone could occupy the ground to her left. Who could've? She had proven her credentials time and time again - wasn't she the most hated individual among the 'vast right conspiracy'? Didn't that, de facto, give her the credential to carry the Leftist flag forward? And yet an odd thing happened on the way to the coronation - George Bush became too unpopular. Yes maybe it was GWB who cost Hillary the election. Because if he would've just been a tad more popular the whole change mantra wouldn't have swept the country and swept her out of the Big Dance. Although it's not over yet. Never count a Clinton down.

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John McCain's been around too long to title these thoughts, 'The Education of John McCain'. He's wise to the ways of the world but maybe it'll take this for him to realize that the NY Times will, quite eagerly, bite the hand that feeds it. Mavericks are generally unloved by either party which means if they're going to find love and meaning in political life it'll have to be from the 4th estate. Maybe now he'll see how ridiculous that is. And here the Times hasn't had the decency to wait until the adjective "presumptive" has been dropped from "presumptive nominee" before the smearing begins. My only surprise is how seriously some people still take the NY Times. By now you'd think people would know the Grey Lady has no clothes. Or, to use a different example, did anyone really take seriously Soviet propaganda during the Cold War?

One of McCain's challenges is that he's gotten easy press for too long and it's left him flaccid and out-of-shape with the political equivalent of a beer belly. He needs to start waking pre-dawn and quaffing raw eggs, like Rocky. The latest New Yorker describes the love.

He doesn't have that eye of the tiger that you need since he's been playing footsies with the tiger. He is an underdog against those who influence the world. As Salman Rushdie recently wrote in a short story, "the best defenses of those who are less against those who are more: inwardness, forethought, cunning, humility, and good peripheral vision."

I'm not sure how many of those attributes can be attributed to McCain but he ought develop them if he wants to survive the brutal press he will get if he is pitted against the MSM's Obama.

________________


On a positive note, Recovering Owl and I were talking about good presidents character-wise.

I think George Washington is a no-brainer in terms of worthiness of admiration. I also admire John Adams fiercely after reading David McCullough's book.

What saved me from despair during the Clinton years was reading James Robertson's biography of Stonewall Jackson - who obviously wasn't a president but had a character that was just so beyond top-notch.

Gary Scott Smith's Faith and the Presidency talks about recent presidents and character; so far I've only read a couple of chapters (Kennedy & Eisenhower) so far. John Quincy Adams seemed devout.

I think McKinley is underrated. He was going to become a minister but that was interrupted by the Civil War, and he gave uncommon devotion and care to his wife, who was sick almost their whole marriage. She lost two children and her mother within the first three years of their marriage and was "never the same". She later had epilepsy.

February 20, 2008

The Little Target

The Little Mermaid, a statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, has sat forlornly in the harbor for almost a hundred years.

I was reading a BBC site and came across a picture of it and so googled for more info. Turns out she seems to function also as a target:

"Vandalism has been a constant problem for the statue, dating all the way back to the 1960s. The Little Mermaid Copenhagen is habitually decapitated, knocked from her resting place, covered in paint, or some combination of all three."

In 2004, someone put a burqa on the Little Mermaid, and more recently she was found draped in Muslim dress and a head scarf.

Isn't it typical that that which is sweet and gentle becomes a target of disproportionate violence? Isn't that what we learn from the lives of saints? In our power-worshipping culture would a sculpture of Grendel have been similarly treated? The Little Mermaid depicts nudity - that is, vulnerability - and a woman, again vulnerability. It's no wonder in apparitions Mary appears most often to children, and mostly females. Has devotion to Mary decreased because we would rather go directly to the power source, directly to God, accepting no intermediaries when the humble instead ask, with Elizabeth, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
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It felt odd that today's gospel reading decribed Jesus announcing He was going to Jerusalem because I had a dream last night, before I'd heard the gospel. We were visiting Palestine, there were six or seven of us including Bruce Springsteen and a couple of his band members, one of whom was a real ass and Springsteen and him ended up in fisticuffs. Two of us went missing from the group; Bruce and I set out to look for them. "I bet they went to Jerusalem!" shouted Bruce, mirroring my own thoughts, and we broke in a run towards a sign that said "Mt. Olivet, Jerusalem District". Then I woke up.
Inexperience is the "New Black"

George W. Bush's resume was thought to be a bit slim going into the 2000 race. Funny thing is that this year it wouldn't be slim enough.
  
Americans have grown hungrier for inexperience; we equate it with authenticity. "American Idol" is the way we pick our singing stars now. People off the street come in for an audition, we gussy them up and give them a recording contract. Within a decade or two we'll be getting our presidential candidates that way if we haven't already.

Mark Steyn mentioned that the Democratic candidates for president ended up finishing in reverse order in terms of their experience, with poor old Biden and Dodd ending up at the bottom. I wasn't even running for Democratic nomination but I finished within one percentage point of Dodd's results.

This thirst for inexperience, or the heady illusion of political innocence, famously began with JFK, who now looks like an insider compared to Jimmy Carter, who in 1976 looked like an old hand compared to GWB eight years ago, who looked like a wizened sage next to Obama.

Vin Weber said of Hillary on Bill Bennett's show, "I think I'd sleep better with her there." Kathryn Lopez avers: "Of the two Democrats running, I trust her more to maybe not get us killed."

Was it so long ago that we thought it a joke that a first lady could skip the lowly House of Representatives directly to the Senate?

Where does the cult of freshness end? If the Constitution didn't prevent it, would the Dems nominate an 18-year-old with excellent skateboarding skills? Or will they end up putting millions of names into a national presidential lottery, with the convention as the drawing?

Perhaps the skills necessary to be a decent president, like that of being a CEO in business, are overrated. Perhaps the skillset is minimal since a bureaucracy as large as the U.S. government runs itself and you have advisors in times of crisis.

Looks like we could find out. For good or for ill. William F. Buckley once said that he would rather be governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston phone directory than by the entire faculty of Harvard. With Obama we might get the obtuseness of the typical Ivy league professor without the leavening common sense of someone out of the Boston phone book.

February 19, 2008

Golden Books

"I never really understood the great debates of modern Catholic theology until I read Maurice Blondel’s History and Dogma," writes R. Reno, who speaks also of the classics:
Books are like minerals, buried and waiting to be found. They lie in dusty corners of used books shops or in the virtual nooks and crannies of online megastores or in remote library stacks—or in unread piles at home...The great books of the West are canonized because so many people find them golden.
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In recent years, I have found the books that matter a great deal to me are often at odds with my own beliefs. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of language, beauty, and incomparable style. I have no loyalty to the old Rome, nor do I admire duty-bound Aeneas. But even in translation Virgil’s Aeneid ravishes me. In a similar way, I worship Emerson, whose ideals repulse me, but whose prose I envy. I hold Milton in suspicion, but I am greedy for the epic lines of Paradise Lost. William Wordsworth is equally suspect. I remember reading The Prelude in order to mine it for good evidence against the smug self-congratulation of Romantic religion. The evidence was there, but so was an easy beauty of language, as well as the extraordinary literary presence of personality.

Error itself can bring insights. When I read Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker, I felt like a man compelled to lean over the railing of a high bridge. The fearful depths of Rousseau’s half-recognized self-deceptions chastened me just as a sudden swerve on the road causes a driver to slow down and steer more cautiously. The same holds for reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, a very different kind of book. It made me see the great danger of intellect without prayer, knowingness without piety, understanding without love. I count both books strangely golden.

Beware, then, reading solely for agreement. Few think their ideas to the end. Few write with the penetrating clarity necessary to see what is at stake in the beliefs we accept and reject. To see and know the full power and attraction of falsehood may be a necessary preparation for more fully accepting the truth. I do not deny that, in the end, beauty is one with truth and goodness. But in this life we are almost always a long way from the end.
Who Says You Can't Go Home Again?
Nice to see the ol' Capital Gang back in fine form on Meet the Press. Take that CNN. Video here.
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From Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism blog :
When Obama spoke at that rally at the University of Wisconsin after winning the MD, VA and DC primaries he proclaimed:
"And where better to affirm our ideals than here in Wisconsin, where a century ago the Progressive movement was born?"
Do you think he knows how many of those UW Progressives were eugenicists (among other things)?
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That old traditionalist Hillary Clinton seems to want to keep things the way they are - if they favor her. After the '00 election when Bush won the electoral vote but not the popular vote, she was a vocal proponent for eliminating the electoral college and allowing the popular vote to determine the president. In this Democratic primary she's for the independence of superdelegates rather than the more democratic method of counting delegates. "That's the way the system always worked," she tells the Columbus Dispatch.

Yes, Hillary, just like the electoral college.


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Google is none too fond of a website that criticizes the U.N.. I think Google trods the path of most media corporations - great initial freedom of expression as a start-up, until they get too big, too rich, at which point they start kneeling to elites. Sort of the way we operate as individuals.
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One of the things it seems like we're suffering from is historical amnesia. We only appreciate what happens to us, and what has just happened to us. The Jews celebrate the Passover and refer to it in the present: "this day of the Festival of Matzahs, the time of our liberation." Jews in Jesus' time would see all the gifts of God to their ancestors as the same as if it happened to them, just as we see the Eucharist as being present at the Last Supper.
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Much enjoyed this book: "Bringing Down the House : The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions" by Ben Mezrich. Mezrich can really tell a story; it's non-fiction that reads like fiction.

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The latest work craze is that we all develop a development plan, presumably to learn some new skill that will give us greater opportunities. I'm going to see if my boss will buy into my reading a classic work of fiction. It's developmental in the sense that I'm learning something and it is increasing my intelligence and broadening my world view. Call it the liberal arts approach to development. Can't hurt to ask.

"Metrics" is a new business buzzword that has rolled out, without any explanation as to its meaning. We're likely supposed to figure it out from context, which is easy enough to do. (It's not the British system of measurement by the way.) New buzzwords enter the language without explanation because if a speaker defines it he appears to be condescending to those already in the know.
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I was sorry to hear the conservatism lost Charles Barkley, partially due to conservatism's principled stands on moral issues. Jeff Miller opines here on Barkley, and on judging others who judge. All of this reminds of Cardinal Ratzinger's question:
"When it comes to the state, as soon as crimes begin to multiply and society feels its safety threatened, there is an immediate demand for tougher laws. In relation to the Church, whose laws are moral in nature, the exact opposite happens - there is a demand for further relaxation."

Forgiveness--we receive it as we give it, in the same measure, in the same way. And yet this is not the action of a tit-for-tat score-keeping God (note St. Paul's observation--"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entursting to us the message of reconciliation"), but rather the effect of a spiritual law that makes us disposed to receive forgiveness as we give it. That is, the offering of forgiveness opens us to the reception of forgiveness. For most of us in our individualistic American consciousness, it is far more difficult to receive a gift freely given than it is to give one. So it is true of the great spiritual gifts. As we give, we are disposed to receive the grace that strengthens the gift. As we give forgiveness, we come to understand what it is, what its nature is and how exactly we are to receive it. - Steven of Flos Carmeli

I've heard it said that the shortest verse in the Bible is John's: "Jesus wept." When Jesus wept, he was surrounded by many others who were weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus prayed and cried and brought Lazarus back to life. That was when the high priest decided Jesus had to die and proceeded down that path all the way to the Cross. There's another verse that can be made to rhyme with "Jesus wept," although I don't think it's worded exactly this way in Matthew: "Jesus slept." You might remember the story, Jesus and his Apostles were on a boat and a terrible storm came up... Jesus wept. Jesus slept. Sometimes there's just nothing else we can do. When life seems so unfair, when bad things happen to good people, when everyone around you is full of pain and suffering, when the storm seems ready to take you down forever... Join Him. Weep. Sleep. Both are healing. Cry for the injustice of it all, the same injustice that high priest and Rome brought down on Jesus. Sleep so your heart can rest and be restored to hope. Jesus wept. Jesus slept. He's here with us on these days, ready to cry with us, ready to calm the raging seas inside. - Rock of "Lofted Nest"

I suspect St. Thomas would have dealt briefly with Bernanos's "All is grace" as being true in a sense but not particularly helpful for theology. I remember being surprised when I read an interview with the Dominican Georges Cardinal Cottier, who said something like, "If all is grace, then the word 'grace' doesn't mean anything." He may have had in mind the thought that, if all is grace, then e.g. to say grace perfects nature is to say grace perfects grace, and it all collapses into a single conceptual blob that doesn't instruct or reveal. - Tom of Disputations

Hell is never far from my mind and for that I am truly grateful. It's one of the best things my parents ever did for me. They taught me that there is a Hell and that I'm as capable of ending up there as anyone else on the planet. It has always been a great motivating factor in my life. Which is not to say that I do what I do out of fear. I don't. But in a weird way, my belief in Hell was an anchor during my wilderness years, and really saved me from going completely off the deep end. Again, not because I was afraid of it at the time, but because I knew it existed. And if Hell existed, then so did God. - Karen Hall

I am not clear what it means to talk about a "right to healthcare". I've read it in a few Church documents... but in some ways I find the phrase regrettable because of its imprecision... it seems strange to me to talk about a "right" to modern medical care, when it has existed less than 200 years. Christ told us to care for the sick, and it does seem clear to me that we have the duty to care for the sick in whatever means we have available to us. I don't like phrasing that as a "right to healthcare" though. It seems to me too close to the thinking that leads people like Christopher Hitchens and Penn & Teller to condemn Mother Theresa for providing only basic care and not high tech hospitals and modern medicines. Had she gone to the world and demanded a billion dollars to build and supply modern hospitals in Calcutta, I'm sure she could have got it. Instead she chose to teach her sisters to provide human care, not medical care. And while I don't want to devalue the life-saving potential of medical care, it seems clear to me that it is not the only or the highest good in town. - Darwin Catholic

A man falls overboard. A Liberal throws a rope 6 feet past him and then lets go of the rope. A Conservative throws the rope 6 feet too short and demands that he swim part of the way. Jesus walks across the ocean, pulls the man up, and says "Try not to make a habit of this." - Karen of "Some Have Hats"

Last night my sister and I were sitting in the den and I said to her, "I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle to keep me alive. That would be no quality of life at all, If that ever happens, just pull the plug." So she got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine. - joke via email

Last night on Hannity & Colmes there was a focus group of undecided Democrats who were reacting to Obama the way my siblings and I reacted to the Beatles in the early 60's. And yet no one in the group was unable to name a single accomplishment. - Karen of "Some Have Hats"

One thing we’re learning from this election: These really are different parties. First, look at the Democrats. Listen to the discussion about their strategies. Hillary needs to win more blacks and men. Obama must capture more Hispanics and peel away more white women. Both need to fight for “the youth.” Now look at the Republicans and how we talk about them. Can John McCain win over conservatives? Should he apologize for his support of amnesty or his opposition to tax cuts? Will Mike Huckabee ever make inroads with economic conservatives? Could Mitt Romney have convinced pro-lifers? Were Rudy Giuliani’s positions on gays, guns and abortion too liberal? See what I’m getting at? If substance were water, the Democratic campaign would be a desert. Oh, I know, Hillary’s a wonk, and Obama’s got enough policy papers to fill the library at Alexandria. So what? Both Obama and Hillary insist there are no major policy differences between them, except for the war and health care. - Jonah Goldberg via Dom of "Bettnet"

Yesterday's hack, who squinted at a projection screen to determine how much of Doris Day's knickers might be safely displayed, and today's hack, who defends the Vagina Monologues as consciousness-raising, are psycho-spiritual clones. --Diogenes at Off the Record, via Terrence Berres

February 18, 2008

Victimology & the Presidency

In my quest to bring you the freshest and most creative political coverage possible, I've been working on a new theory: since we live in a victim culture, victims will fare far better as presidential candidates than non-victims. Let's look back at presidential contests of the past and see if we can discern a pattern:

2004: Bush v Kerry. No question that Bush wins the victim sweepstakes here. Although both sons of privilege, Bush escaped alcoholism and an inability to say "nuclear". Kerry married the heiress of a large fortune and often goes wind-surfing, the quintessential activity of a non-victim. Advantage: Bush.

2000: Bush v Gore. The battle of the blood bloods, only it turned out Gore's was just a tad bluer. Again, Bush overcame obstacles involving pronunciation while Gore invented the Internet. No one can truly claim victimhood and at the same time say they invented the Internet, even allowing for exaggeration. Advantage: Bush.

1996: Clinton v Dole. Clinton is to victimhood what Picasso was to painting. Poor Bob Dole would've had a better shot if he'd started doing those erectile dysfunction commercials around 1994 instead of after his loss.

1992: Clinton v. Bush. Bush the Elder never knew what hit him. Victims are too busy nourishing their victimhood to look at their watches during debates. Bush was also accused of not being aware grocery stores had scanners, an outright falsehood but it undermined his victim status because it suggested he didn't have to go grocery shopping very often. All grocery shopping victims (I'm one!) turned on him. Meanwhile Clinton was born a poor white child in some godforsaken part of Arksansas ironically named Hope. Bush didn't stand a chance.

1988: Bush v. Dukakis: Dukaksis was very competitive with Bush up until the point in a debate in which Dukakis was asked by CNN's Bernie Shaw whether the death penalty might be warranted if the victim was his wife, Kitty Dukakis. The governor of MA, fatally as it turned out, didn't show appropriate emotion at the possibility. He had the chance to emphathize and share in the real victimhood of those who have lost a spouse but passed it by.

1984: Reagan v. Mondale: Every theory has an exception that proves the rule. (How convenient for us theorists!) Because it's true that "famous Hollywood actor" is about as far from victimhood as you can get. Perhaps in '88 the victim culture had not yet progressed far enough, or maybe Reagan's status as having been the son of an alcoholic was enough to get him over the hump.

1980: Carter v. Reagan: With the country involved in a protracted hostage crisis involving a newly formed Islamic Republic in Iran and with inflation in double digits and unemployment likewise, the country was in no mood for victims because WE were the victim.

Today...

(The famous "snub" at the State of the Union where it looked like Obama failed to shake Hillary's hand, by the way, was an effort on the part of Clintonphiles to paint Obama as being ungentlemanly towards a woman and thus give Hillary back a share of victim status. It didn't work.)
For the Germ-Phobic at a Liberal Parish

February 17, 2008

Lecture Notes

From Fr. Corbett O.P. concerning the the Commandments and the Beatitudes at a retreat:
Aristotle said that a person's character doesn't change after about the age of 32. That can lead to despair. Which is harder to believe: that the bread and wine at Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ or that God can change us? Or maybe even harder to believe, that He can change our neighbor? And yet if God can breathe on dust and give it life then he can change us and our neighbor as well, in His time.

Commandments v. Beatitudes

Commandments are firewalls that attempt to prevent destroying God's portrait of Himself in us. It's a defense of the human. Murder, adultery, etc.. destroy the image of the human, for man is made in the image of God. Commandment describes what keeps us alive. Lies unmake creation.

The Beatitudes are about Christ. They are a portrait of Him and who we can become. They are the destiny to what we are called to, end points, not entry requirements to Heaven. Commandments are the entry points, not the Beatitudes.

In the gospel today [Matt 5:20-26] Jesus doesn't mean that if we call someone fool we are going to go to Hell. It's the end point, not an entrance requirement. Because God lacks nothing, he only acts in order to give. We act to get because we are needy. If we hunger, we act in our eating. God has no need to act at all. No need to create. We need to remember that when we come across a difficult command of Christ. It's not as if he's on a power trip or that we are slaves. God acts only in order to give us something.
The ability to know and love is what makes us like God. Knowledge and love. Mind and will. Nothing else on earth is made in that image of God. We resemble Him. The Holy Spirit completes the act of creation. Our only purpose is to look like Him, to give glory to Him by looking like him.

Commandments

After Moses came down from the mountain he was glowing. And rabbis have said he was glowing with the light that God had created on the second day of creation. In other words, moral truth - the Law - is in our DNA and wasn't meant to be something to be added to us later: "in the beginning, there was the Word."

Reason is universal - why not revelation? I don't know. This is called the "scandal of particularity". 2+3=5 is accessible to anyone anywhere in the world. We have real problems with God choosing people, in Him being especially active two-thousand years ago in the Middle East than in 21st century Manhattan. There is election, God's elect, but he always does that for the save of others. It's for others, through you. Both/and, special & universal.

The first commandment reads: "I am the Lord your God who brought you ought of the land of Egypt". Why? Did God need an introduction as if at a cocktail party? Blessing always precedes commandment. It is His signature. For the Hebrews, a name was what it signified. His name is that he makes slaves free. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" is the same as saying, "blessed is the Lord".

In the Genesis account of the Fall, the desire for knowledge of good and evil meant the desire for control over good and evil. To determine what was good and what evil. Eve already exaggerates morality by telling the serpent, "we can't even touch the tree," which was false. Isn't that exactly what we do today? We make God stricter, less reasonable than He really is? Eve begins to think God has an agenda, that He's keeping something from her and Adam.

The creation account was written during the Babylonian exile and is a refutation of the Babylonian creation myth. The latter sees the world has having been created out of an act of violence and that humans are intended to be slaves of the gods.

Genesis says that the world was created in bliss and peace - that is that reality is, at root, not conflictual - and that humans are to be friends of God.

Friends of God or slaves of God? Eve was asked to choose. At the moment of the Fall the human mind "froze" like a computer screen. Original sin gave us a fun-house mirror view of God, a great distorted view of God. It froze our minds into a hermeneutic of suspicion concerning Him. Jesus undoes that Original Sin by becoming a pure window of God. And if we don't know God we can't know ourselves because we are made in the Divine image.

Idolatry was the great sin of the OT. God allowed no to images of Himself because he knew they would be horrible caricatures. A sick person can't discern good food. A hater of opera can't discern good opera. "Walk in darkness lest you misrepresent Me. Let Me lead you by the hand to slowly undo this fun-house mirror."

The Book of Exodus says that you shall not make images of God from inhabitants of the sky, nor the earth, nor under the earth. What does this refer to? To making God look like something out of Jurassic Park, such as a buzzard of the sky.

You know the song that goes "Bear you up on Eagle's Wings?" I'm not going to mock those people who like it. Some people really like it and that's okay. But the actual Hebrew doesn't refer to "eagle" but "buzzard". A flying rodent. So imagine being covered by the wings of an animal with decaying meat on its talons! I just ruined the song for everybody.

Forms of Idolatry

The mind is what you take in, the world, and it changes you. The will is what you love, and you become it, you become what you love, which is why we must love God.

Even virtue can become an idol, as Thomas Aquinas wrote. So can wealth, reputation, honor, health and power.

Wealth: Money is a medium of exchange, an external, very surface thing. And if you idolize wealth you will become very surfacey, very superficial. You'll talk only of things, of the new leather interior of your new BMW. Your conversation will be very shallow. You will bore people.

Reputation or honor: You'll become jealous, petty if this is your main goal. "What did they mean by that!" you'll say after a party. All honor will be borrowed, you'll have none within. You'll become an empty vessel of other people's good opinions of you.

Power: You'll become monstrous, scary. Both political parties have their representatives: see Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton. Other people will know that you only want to use them as a means to an end, the end being their goal of gaining or keeping power.

Health: You'll become a hypochondriac. The anti-aging idol is a mask often for a great fear of death, for the lack of faith in an after-life, or a lack of trust in God with the sorry account you'll have to give.

Pleasure: Can be manifested by risk-taking, by jumping out of airplanes or by the adrenalin rush of new loves. Like a Jack Nicholson. Sad. There's a need to feel alive but only God gives life. [Me: I think the padre has seen or heard of 'The Bucket List'? Haven't seen it so I can't comment.]

Virtue - people who make their own virtue their project are tragic, and it is to miss the point entirely. They become prigs and impossible to live with. "You owe me God, I've been good. I'm bigger than God: "if You don't reward me then, that's okay because I'm more fair than You."

Beatitudes as Post-Resurrectional

Concerning today's gospel [Matt 5:43-48; 'be perfect as thy heavenly Father is perfect'], recall that the gospel writers were not stenographers. They weren't taking notes as Jesus said things but were recalling what he said and what He says, for the gospels are the words of a Risen Christ not a dead man. The verses in today's gospel are of the resurrected Jesus, in His perfected humanity. The actual word in the Book of Hebrews referring to Christ's resurrection means "perfection". Christ's perfection was his death on the cross and Resurrection.

Holiness is not piety but belonging, belonging to God. A chalice used at Mass is not used outside of Mass because it belongs to God, it is used for God's purposes, it's his. I don't use it at dinner.

Swearing a Very Minor Part of Using the Lord's Name in Vain

Concerning the commandment not to use the Lord's name in vain, back at the time it was written it probably meant not to use God's name in incantational spells, in using the power of God to serve you. Using God as a means. We may not use God to "get high on God". God is not a means to an end. We serve God, rather than God serving us. When I became a Christian, I thought God existed to solve my problems. The whole Easter people thing, living after the Resurrection, with the Cross behind us, in the past.

"Blessed are the poor" refers to three things: 1) something we have chosen - the right path 2) something God chooses to do for us 3) the present will be reversed by God who even now is in our midst.

The Beatitudes are Matthew's way of announcing the Kingdom. All of the powers of the future are present now, in Jesus, and Jesus knew this. Healings. Miracles. The promises God made to his people are being fulfilled, for the Beatitudes are about Jesus. Jesus was the poor one, the meek one, the one persecuted for righteousness' sake.

I have a theory on miracles. This is my idea, not church teaching, but I see miracles as a breach between the present and future time. The future breaks into the present, and this is possible because God is beyond time, all the future is as the present to Him.

The Beatitudes are not admonitions to be followed, as if we have to ask ourselves if we make too much money. Is $25,000 a year too much? Am I poor enough to enter the Kingdom of God? $15,000 a year? Jesus is not laying down a stricter law than Moses. They are a promise. Otherwise legalism will enter in, which allows us to control God. Security.

The poor know their need of God. They suffer the consequences of following God. Christ suffered on the cross by his fidelity and thus earned the name Son of God when he was nailed to the cross. The name of God is revealed as "suffering love", not "dominion" or "power".
"Vain" means empty, vapid, meaningless, pointlessness. Jesus became vain - emptied himself - for our sake. He embraced the pointlessness of life and thus made it meaningful. We can't avoid taking up our cross. Trying to get to Heaven without going through the cross is equivalent to taking the Lord's name in vain.
Saturday

The old man sat next to me at lunch Saturday. As is traditional at these retreats, the first question after introductions was not what one does for living or where one live but to which parish we belong. St. James the Less, he said. He asked my parish and mentioned he’d heard of our fish fries. Famous across the diocese we are for that. He seemed as plain and ordinary as any of us though his face and way of talking reminded me vaguely of my grandfather. He mentioned his grandchildren with a special gleam in his eye, ticking off their ages with delight. Awfully close to his family I remember thinking.

A few hours later, after lunch and the next lecture ended, he made his way to the microphone. Speaking articulately without notes, he told us that the he belonged to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and asked how many knew it wasn’t started by St.Vincent de Paul but by a man named Frederic Ozanam, who was recently beatified, made blessed, the last step in the process of becoming canonized. I thought this was a pitch to join St. Vincent de Paul.

What followed was as unexpected as it was moving as it is difficult to capture on paper. Frederic Ozanam needs a miracle, he said bluntly. There was something in his manner old-school, a deep faith, at once simultaneously aware of his need but also of the primacy of God's will. His voice cracking, “Ozanam needs a miracle and I have one! My daughter is forty-six years old and was diagnosed last year with pancreatic and colon cancer. I asked the doctor how long and he said, ‘two months, maybe three’. I have nine children, but I’m a selfish man and...she is special...pray to Frderic Ozanam...".

"I'm a selfish man," he said, meaning he wanted to outlive his child, and at that point was there a dry eye in the place? There is selfish and there is selfish, and this was farther down the scale of selfishness than I was used to. Pease pray to Frederic Ozanam for this man and his daughter.
Dead Person's Libraries

Seems I share 44 of Walker Percy's still-in-progress catalog of 800+ books. Seems Percy's library included Benedict Groeschel's "Stumbling Blocks & Stepping Stones". I also share 8 books with Tupac Shakur and 20 with Sylvia Plath.
Found via here.

February 15, 2008

O'Reilly Cracks Me Up

A first the other day: in the "Pinheads & Patriots" segment the Factor gave himself credit:
This is the sort of thing that we love O'Reilly for - his is such an amateur production. His show feels so "mom & pop", so warts and all, so fearlessly unafraid of looking like a fool, so heedless of what the elites will say about him. At what point does shamelessness inadvertently convey modesty?

His saving grace is that he's a more interested in reality than most of the television hacks out there. "Will it help?" he asks of a policy, rather than first checking to see whether Mike Wallace and the NY Times will approve.

He awarded himself the patriot award for - get this - correctly picking the last five Super Bowl champions. Which bends the whole category because being able to pick Super Bowl winners is completely irrelevant to being a patriot.

Sure, this is another example of lack of restraint that I was mentioning in a previous post. You're so proud of yourself for picking five straight winners that you want to bust and you want to get that in the show. But it's also harmless. We know the category isn't a serious award. We're not talking the Nobel Peace Prize, which takes itself seriously while simultaneously being as much of a joke as O'Reilly's self-prize.

No, he paradoxically furthers a sense of modesty by not taking the show so seriously that he can't boast about his Superbowl picks. That's what I mean by "mom & pop". There's not that oppressive sense of every minute of every show having to be so professional as to make the show, in total, seem somehow less human.

The rather surreal image at the top suggests O'Reilly imitating Colbert imitating O'Reilly!:

February 14, 2008

Good Month for Thomists

Edward Oakes, S.J. writes in a letter to First Things:
As to the specific issue of justification, I’ve always thought that topic should be the “easiest” to solve be cause of the common roots of Luther, Calvin, and Trent in St. Augustine’s theology of grace. Then again, if Cardinal Dulles is right in his convictions, maybe the problem won’t be as easy to solve as I had first thought. Perhaps the problem is not reconfessionalization but the Western churches’ shared starting point in Augustine. (Notice how little this debate animates the Eastern churches.) So maybe this issue needs to be rethought by the churches from the ground up. Or to put my point as a counterfactual: If Pelagius had never criticized Augustine’s Confessions, would the Reformation have happened at all?
Elsewhere in the same issue from Fr. Neuhaus:
A friend who is very supportive of efforts to advance a greater measure of Christian unity, especially between Catholics and Protestants, asks me to put in a plug for Ecumenism and Philosophy by Father Charles Morerod of the Angelicum in Rome (Sapientia Press), which I am glad to do. Father Morerod persuasively argues that longstanding disagreements about nature and grace, divine initiative and human cooperation, are rooted in philosophical errors. Moderns such as Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche saw themselves as completing the work of Luther and Calvin, who set up God and man as rivals, by eliminating God altogether. Morerod urges that ecumenical efforts would be enhanced if we could all agree with St. Thomas’ understanding that grace perfects nature rather than pitting grace and nature against one another. He is no doubt right about that. While Morerod helpfully illumines the ways in which theological disagreements frequently have philosophical sources, one hopes that Catholic theological dialogue does not depend on making Thomists of its Protestant interlocutors. Although it can be helpful to bring the philosophical dimension into play, theological dialogue must continue to be focused on the theological. That having been said, ­ Ecumenism and Philosophy highlights the ways in which theological disagreements can, at times, be as much philosophical as they are theological.