January 31, 2008

For the Love of Scripture

Read Anthony Sacramone's moving First Things post and was struck by the ardor at which he, not a Catholic, longs for doctrinal unity and integrity. He is unwilling to settle for a watered-down, lowest-common-denominator doctrine.

Earlier this week I saw a page from Martin Luther's bible, and it made me think how odd it is that a love for, and deep familiarity with, Scripture is not enough to unify. I assume that's because Jesus is revealed in the Scriptures but He isn't Scripture itself.

Perhaps I emphasize too much the importance of doctrine compared to the practice of charity and the virtues, but it's still sad to see the marginal notes of Martin Luther - and all the meditation and sweat over Scriptures that that implied - on a page from the book of Ephesians (see below).

Proof again of our fallenness I suppose; he loved Scripture and yet he hated it didn't he? For he didn't love all of it. He famously wanted to exclude some books, like James and Revelation. But I think we have to love all of it, just as we have to love all of the doctrines of the Church, even the ones we don't like.

I've been lately interested in the early Church Father Origen. He was an interesting and deeply admirable fellow wasn't he? Origen had some heterdox notions (such as Universalism) and I suppose that's why he was never declared a saint but he sure loved and studied Scripture. Yet even to be called a Father of the church is sometimes disputed (from Aquilina's Fathers of the Church):
Not everyone agrees that Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius should be called Fathers... B. Schmid's Manual of Patrology denies them the title, as does Yves Congar's The Meaning of Tradition. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites Tertullian explicitly as a Father of the Church and nine times invokes Origen as an authority. Cayre says, "The valuable services that these men have rendered to the Church explain these exceptions."
I'd like to read more about Origen. This book by de Lubac looks interesting although likely challenging and not really a biography.

Origen by Joseph Trigg looks like a good biographical sketch.

My favorite Jesuit, Fr. Edward Oakes, says that "of all the Church Fathers none has been more misunderstood than Origen."

UPDATE: Bill Luse writes: "I believe Universalism remained speculative with Origen, and not something he would have wanted in any creed."
Knowledge, Faith & Seed Sowing

I'm still fascinated that, after all these years, the gospel passage in Mark 4 still applies, the verse concerning the parable of the sower when Jesus says: "do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parables?" We still do not understand.

The usual explanations are too Pelagian or predestinarian. Of the former, God is passive after the sowing - all depends on our effort to receive the word of God and protect it. Of the latter, all depends on the type of soil we are - sorry about your luck if the birds eat the seed on the way down before even getting to your soil!

N.T. Wright writes in Jesus and the Victory of God,
"Of all the oddities about the parable of the sower, perhaps the strangest is this: there is stil no agreement on what it was originally supposed to mean. [Bultmann: 'the original meaning of many similitudes has become irrecoverable' - citing this parable as an example.] Considering the important place it occupies in all three synoptic gospels, and by common consent in the teaching of Jesus himself, this should be regarded as an indication that historians have not yet caught up with something fairly central in Jesus' career. Leaving aside at this stage the vexed question of what the parable meant to each of the synoptic evangelists... I suggest that the context of the kingdom-announcement provides a way forward.

I propose that, in Jesus' use of it, the parable...tells the story of Israel, particularly the return from exile, with a paradoxical conclusion, and it tells the story of Jesus' ministry, as the fulfilment of that larger story, with a paradoxical outcome."
Now that's a mouthful, 'eh? Wright goes on to well defend his proposition at length. There's no way to sum up ten pages in a couple paragraphs but in part he says that the parable is retelling the story of Israel, with numerous sowings of varying success:
"Israel's god is acting, sowing his prophetic word with a view to restoring his people, but much of the seed will go to waste, will remain in 'exilic' condition, being eaten by birds (satanic forces, or perhaps predatory Gentiles), or lost among the rocks and thorns of the exilic wilderness. The eventual harvest, though, will be great...

The paradoxical prophetic 'sowings' of the 'word' were being recapitulated in Jesus' own ministry. The satan was at work to snatch away the seed. Many were called, but few chosen; many sown, few harvested - though the harvest itself would be abundant. The explanation functioned as a challenge to 'those inside', who had been grasped by Jesus' words. They must persevere, and become those who bear fruit. In them the destiny of Israel would be realized."
Later I happened to be reading a book by Erasmo Levia-Merikakis who writes of Jesus healing two blind men:
"We cannot doubt that, at bottom, it was the Spirit who had attracted the two men to Jesus as if by 'instinct', despite their blindness. This living contact comes first; then the healing; and last of all knowledge; and nothing can short-circuit this structure of the total act of faith. Gnosis is wholly at odds with pistis when divorced from it as an autonomous endeavor. Gnosticism can lead only to charlatanism, pseudoilluminism, or political upheaval, while faith leads to an interiorly transformed life."

January 30, 2008

Shelby Steele on Barack Obama

Interesting video interview of Shelby Steele on Obama and race in this country. In it he suggests Obama constantly betrays himself, who he really is, by doing such things as going to an Afrocentric church where his white mother wouldn't feel welcome and which is "beneath him intellectually". I'm skeptical about some of Steele's statements but I ought read his book. Part of it is that Steele thinks it's a betrayal that although Obama was formed by his mother and her middle-class values (his father left home when Obama was two) he appears to identify with and/or seek out his father's race and culture. But that would seem a natural reaction in someone who never knew his father's culture. Viva le difference?
Deja Vu All O'er Again

Ramesh Ponnuru has an interesting take:
It has seemed a bit like the 1996 race. McCain is Dole: the old war hero who has run before, who does not enthuse either economic or social conservatives but has a pretty conservative record. Giuliani is Forbes: the socially liberal, economically conservative New York candidate. Huckabee is Buchanan: the social conservative with rhetoric that scares economic conservatives. Romney is Gramm, the movement-oriented candidate with boatloads of money but difficulty connecting with grassroots conservative voters. (I'm not sure where Thompson fits in this scheme.) Romney has gotten further than Gramm, but much of the story is the same. The social-Right candidate takes out the movement candidate, the economic conservative ends up not playing a huge role, and the nomination goes to the old guy whom much of the Right distrusts.

I do wonder who would have won a set of primaries pitting McCain against Romney in a two-man race. (I wonder the same thing about Gramm and Dole.)

January 29, 2008

Thus Spake Florida
"The party's over, turn off the lights." - Don Meredith
"It isn't pretty [for Romney], but it is far, far from over. And if the Huckabee voters look at the reality and see they are voting for McCain when they vote for Huck, anything can happen."
- Romney supporter Hugh Hewitt, who is likely in denial

Wow. The presidential candidate field has narrowed remarkably even if some of the walking dead don't quite realize they're dead yet.

We'll start with the least dead: Obama. Even though none of the Dems campaigned there and Hillary received no delegates it was a very dominating show of strength. It's still her nomination to lose. Look at the wind she has at her back! Inertia heavily favors Hillary; it's only with great effort that Obama draws even and he doesn't have much time to exert great effort. I certainly don't think Teddy Kennedy's endorsement is going to swing many Hispanic votes, which is her edge.

Then we come to the dead, and so let's say a kind word for him. It's sad to see Mitt Romney go. I'm appreciating him a lot more now that he's gone. Even should Romney rise from the dead, it's hard to get too excited about a pyrrhic victory. But he has many admirable qualities and fought a helluva campaign; he's tenacious as a bulldog and can take a punch. But if Giuliani is leaving the race before Super Tuesday as everyone is saying (in order not to get embarrassed in his home state), then where are Rudy's votes going to go? Directly to McCain, do not pass go, do not collect $200!

Meanwhile Huckabee is addicted to presidential politics and has not the least thought of leaving the race, so he'll take votes from Romney, splitting the social conservative vote. Am I missing something? Because everyone else seems to think Romney still has a chance. I just don't see it. I hope I'm wrong, because I'd like to see him matched up against Hillary. (If Obama wins the Dem nomination I'd probably rather see McCain because I think Obama could do some real damage. I think McCain is far more electable than Romney (hell, Romney can't even win the REPUBLICAN primaries cleanly, how will he ever win in the general?) but I think - though I'm not sure about this - I may rather lose with Romney to Hillary than win with McCain since Romney is more conservative. At least then the fiscal and social conservatives in the Republican party still have to be respected, if Romney is nominated. Otherwise we'll be treated like blacks are in the Dem party. How much damage can Hillary do given that she's so polarizing and no Republican congressman or Senator will fear her popularity? With Obama we probably have to put our most electable candidate forward.)

I'm no fan of Obama's hard-left politics nor his cold-bloodedness concerning abortion; he doesn't even pay the lip service that vice pays to virtue (unlike Hillary in this case, who has at least said that abortion bothers her), but his disciplined, non-racially based and fair campaign is inspiring. The difference between the Clinton and Obama campaigns has been stark, and it's always hard to see those cheating, or infinitely close to it without quite reaching it, win. The Clintons are amazing about being able to walk up to the very edge of playing too unfairly to get elected (or re-elected) and yet not go over it. Bill, especially, has a sixth sense about how far he can go.

Peggy Noonan recently said that George Bush destroyed the Republican party but the party was running on fumes due to demographics anyway. I told Ham o' Bone that the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 were "pure gift", the largesse of terrible Democratic candidates, even though as it turned out the "gift" left a lot to be desired. (And 'gift' is almost the right word given how close that '00 election was.) There is simply no way you can give away black and Hispanic votes and expect to do anything. GWB was proud of getting like, what, 40% of the Hispanic vote? I mean that and a buck-fifty will get you a Starbuck's coffee given the size of that voting bloc. GWB's policies were ultimately a real politik nod in that direction - he knew he had to govern as a "compassionate conservative" (re: liberal) and open border guy since he knew he'd be the Last Republican President (LRP) for a long spell if not. (Of course, Iraq sealed the deal.)

Ultimately demographics is destiny - and, from a Catholic perspective rightfully so to the extent it's driven by legal immigration and babies - and so it's the Hispanic vote that has really, really comes into its own with this election. In a democracy he who has the most babies win, which is better than he who has the most money wins. Sounds fair.

And so Hispanics went for McCain over Romney in Florida by a 50% to 15%! Wowsa. (Giuliani got 25%.) Is it merely that the newer immigrant groups, like the Irish of the last century, tend to vote less conservatively because they are interested, naturally, in government handouts and patronage? Certainly the differences between McCain and Romney on illegal immigration are reasonably stark and, if you, as a party, want to commit suicide then you sound draconian on border issues. Isn't that what happened in California when Pete Wilson over night made the Republicans a minority party? Like it or not, the reality is that even Mexicans who came here honestly and waited in line seem to be okay with those who favor cutting in line. Perhaps it's ethnic loyalty. Call it what you will, but I don't see how anyone can honestly say - looking at voting patterns - that those who immigrated here legally want to close the borders. Perhaps it's a matter of Hispanics thinking that those who want to close the borders are prejudiced against them, which is unfair and untrue, but it is what it is. When it comes to voting - perceptions are reality, which is why innocent babies in the womb have to rely on things like ultrasound technology in order to get seen in order to sway perceptions. Arguments about life being sacred and slippery slopes and the inherent dignity of the human tend to fall on deaf ears.

I've never thought illegal immigration was an issue worth committing political hari-kari over. The pro-life issue, absolutely. When border control became a national security issue after 9/11 it certainly gave me pause, but the time to stop illegal immigration was before it would require the death of the Republican party, and that's long past and I think the Republican party has a lot to offer. Or will in the future when we get into big trouble again and there's a call to the bullpen, as Britain did with Churchill and as America did with Reagan.
Politics and Other Dirty Words

The following example of the politics of envy is the sort of thing that make me cringe and think that universal suffrage really isn't that great an idea. From WLW's Mike McConnell:
"I've cited this a half-dozen times but this was years ago - Americans were polled: would you rather see economic growth in the U.S. at 4% and Japan at 5% or both at 2%, and Americans said both 2%. They'd cut off their nose to spite their face as long as somebody else isn't doing better than them. They wanted their economy to grow half as fast, as long as the Japanese weren't moving even faster than we were."
The mind reels. Perhaps it's because the concept of economies as not being zero sum hasn't sunk in yet.

Concerning lying - et tu John McCain?

This year, more than any in memory, it behooves one not to read anything about a candidate if you want to support that candidate. For example, take Ron Paul. (I'll skip the Henny Youngman joke.) From NR:
Will Ron Paul be “read out” of the libertarian movement? James Kirchick of The New Republic performed a useful service by publicizing inflammatory passages from the Ron Paul Political Report and the Ron Paul Survival Report. The now-defunct newsletters featured familiar tropes from the fever swamps of conspiracy kookery, including speculation that Israeli agents were behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The newsletters also accused Martin Luther King Jr. of pedophilia and argued that police were able to quell the Rodney King riots only because blacks paused long enough to “pick up their welfare checks.” Ron Paul would like to put all that behind him, of course, but he cannot: Even now he is not so much a libertarian candidate as the candidate of the anti-war fringe (or at least those among them who cannot contemplate Mike Gravel without giggling) and of Israel-hating conspiracy-mongers. National Review expended much energy in the ’50s and ’60s evicting the John Birch Society and other insalubrious elements from the conservative movement. Seeing the anti-Semites, bigots, and general riffraff who have congealed upon the cause of Ron Paul, it appears that our libertarian cousins have a similar chore to perform.

Seems like Rod Dreher just had the "ah-ha" moment I had ten days ago. Rod's a little slow, but then so was I since I many of the Hollywood types all saw Obama as the "liberal Reagan" a long time ago and that's why they hitched their ride to him instead of Hillcat. Or maybe it was because they like a mandate and Hillary has 0% chance of a mandate (due to her high negatives) while Obama had a slightly higher chance and the only chance to really get things done is via a mandate. A Corner poster isn't worried and there's something to his argument. The liberal media tends to keep conservatives more grounded and thus more in touch with reality.

I can think of many books which suffer from being read at the wrong time. I was made to read Moby Dick when I was in junior high. Boooooring! The only bits that held my interest were the ones detailing how whales were cut up. I've never given it another chance, though I daresay I'd get more out of it now that I'm 55 than I did when I was 13. My husband used to say that there were some books that could not be fully appreciated until one had reached middle age. He identified Brideshead Revisited as one of these and warned all of our children against reading it until they were at least 40. (Naturally, this only incited them to read it as soon as possible.) Some books which I blithely enjoyed in my youth strike me with greater force now. A few months ago I reread "A Lantern in her Hand" by Bess Streeter Aldrich, a novel about a pioneer woman which I'd read countless times when I was a girl. But now I could not read it without weeping because I've actually experienced the same things which the protagonist did: motherhood, widowhood, the death of a child, etc...And though Dickens was one of my favorite authors when I was young, I couldn't bear to read him for many after I became mother. So many dreadful things seem to happen to the young, orphaned children in his novels, and my sympathies were too quick and too tender. - Catholic Bibliophagist

To paraphrase something I read last night on Sam's dance teacher's t-shirt, "When I read, I do not try to read better than anyone else, I only try to read better than myself." - Steven of Flos Carmeli

Capitalism is generally defined as that economic system in which "the means of production" are owned by individual (and corporations) rather than by the state or by society as a whole...So, what exactly are the excesses of capitalism? Well, they're cases when the people or corporations who own resources use that power to treat over people badly. Or where people who own resources ignore the plight of others who are suffering. In other words, the excesses of capitalism consist of people sinning. Lack of charity. In the end, it's not a defect of capitalism per se at all. It's a defect in people. Capitalism itself is not a moral system. I don't mean by that that it is immoral, but that it doesn't touch on morality at all. It simply consists of people owning things, which leaves them free to either sin or not sin. Capitalism doesn't make people neglect the poor any more than evolution makes people let the "unfit" die. - Darwin Catholic

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution. - Hannah Arendt

One of our favorite Bill Clinton anecdotes involves a confrontation he had with Bob Dole in the Oval Office after the 1996 election. Mr. Dole protested Mr. Clinton's attack ads claiming the Republican wanted to harm Medicare, but the President merely smiled that Bubba grin and said, "You gotta do what you gotta do." - Wall Street Journal

...the principle itself, the duty of using their civil rights in the service of religion, is clear; and since there is a popular misconception, that Christians, and especially the Clergy, as such, have no concern in temporal affairs, it is expedient to take every opportunity of formally denying the position, and demanding proof of it. In truth, the Church was framed for the express purpose of interfering, or (as irreligious men will say) meddling with the world. It is the plain duty of its members, not only to associate internally, but also to develope that internal union in an external warfare with the spirit of evil, whether in Kings' courts or among the mixed multitude; and, if they can do nothing else, at least they can suffer for the truth, and remind men of it, by inflicting on them the task of persecution. - John Henry Newman, via Bill of Apologia

I wrote [this poem]... after praying at the PP clinic in DC many times and becoming desensitized... it expresses the horror I feel about that.
Hell has a paved front walk
And a manicured lawn,
A shade tree that must rustle its leaves
In the hours before dawn,
And a street address.

Hell's clients hardly know
Where they should park -
It's modest as a storefront church.
Not a cry, not a mark
Escapes the white rooms of that sanitary place.

Hell's wedged between a preschool and an embassy.
The babbling children playing tag next door
Attract no baleful notice, it would seem;
Unless harm rains silent, as from a reactor core.
You probably expected to see more.

Even the truth-fast criers-out who come
Day after day to pray and plead in very life's defense
Find their minds grown distant and diffuse
When the honeyed light of Monday afternoons
Warms walls that ooze the blood of innocence.
- Meredith of "For Keats' Sake"

It seems to be part of the general Anglo-Saxon mindset, which is itself somewhat barbaric and less cultured than other systems. I suspect it could hardly be any other way. Take the descendants of loutish Vikings and Goths, give them a touch of Celtic and Roman culture and civilizing, and then introduce a religion originally started by the Jews (whose history is full of against-all-odds victories in the name of God and righteousness) and you'll wind up with a people who revere mottoes such as sic semper tyrannis, nemo me importune lacessit, and nolo me tangere. Other cultures, such as China, the rest of Europe, India, and others place a high value on survival rather than vindication. We believe that the squeaky wheel gets the grease; they think that it's the tallest blade of grass which is the first to get plucked. - Robert of "Tribal Pundit" on the popularity of Ron Paul

A Lutheran with no inclination to become Catholic, I remember I was stunned and even offended when I read that Martin Luther called Aquinas a “chatterbox.” I understood Luther’s dislike of philosophy, but an ad hominem directed at STA? From someone blessed with Luther’s ample intellectual gifts? It unsettled me. Whether it played a role in my eventual conversion, I’ll never know. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon"

Is "witness" synonymous with "outward presentation"?...Jesus said, "You shall be my witnesses," not "I instruct you to 'witness'." - Roz of Exultet

Here I am, Lord. This hymn depicts a human soul responding to the call of Christ--but the music is whiny and grim, evoking in most people's minds a can of rancid potted meat, being slowly spread by windshield wipers across a plate of dirty auto glass. You hear Christ calling all right--but you feel like He's some hobo who's tapping at your window at 4 a.m. to wake you from a sound sleep so He can ask you directions to Dunkin' Donuts. You don't so much want to answer Him as clock him with a slipper. Sung in a sleepwalking, zombie rhythm, its use at Communion time produces a strikingly cinematic effect, which film critics have dubbed "The Church of the Living Dead." Here again, we have a chance to bring good out of evil: In preliminary tests, use of this song by military interrogators has proved to be a successful, slightly more humane replacement for water-boarding. - - John Zmirnak, "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song", via "Ten Reasons"

I have just had an occasion to see the crux of my own selfishness: I desire to please and serve others SOLELY so that they can cherish my presence. If their welfare or God's is improved, so much the better--but my own esteem is number one. The most frightening thing in the world to me is not to MATTER. - Kathy the Carmelite from 2003

Jim at Bethune Catholic has a post up about litmus tests.

He brings up a good point about how the war in Iraq has somehow assumed some sort of symbolic importance it doesn't deserve.

I remember seeing that played out when Mark Shea and NRO's Mike Potemra got in a testy little cat fight that had nothing to do with Iraq, but Potemra brought up that Shea was against the war and Mark mentioned some sort of neocon canard. I hadn't seen so many non-sequitors since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Reasonable people disagreed at the time of the invasion whether it was legitimate. Unreasonable people have forgotten that, now that the war has proved to have been a tragic mistake.

January 28, 2008

Parody is Therapy updated with the case of Frankenberry v. Chocula and Kennedy's surprise endorsement.
Book Meme!

Tagged by Ellyn...Who doesn't enjoy a good book meme?
Book Meme Rules
1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people
The nearest book is actually Pfeiffer's The Sistine Chapel, but page 123 is all photograph.

Book found by running hand blindly among the stacks: Angels' Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and Rhetorics of the Everyday by Ralph Cintron:
From this perspective, Valerio's walls displayed not only an array of conventional hyperbolic desires but also an array of local iconographies that had become internationalized. Local iconographies, of course, have been circulating through global arenas for hundreds of years. But the proliferation of such iconographies has become so extensive during the twentieth century that the sites for producing them are not necessarily located within the cultures and geographies from which the iconographies emerged.
Book sighted when I opened my eyes: Graglia's Domestic Tranquility:
No more frivolous are a mother's efforts to create masterpieces of daily living for her family, although the market sets no price on them.

Feminist ideology proliferated through literature like The Future of the Family, edited by Louise Kapp Howe, a compilation of writings attacking the sex-role models of "male-breadwinner" and "female-homemaker." The husband's role as economic provider must be abolished, claims one sociologist in this collection, while another contributor, Olof Palme - the Swedish Prime Minister who wanted all women at work and all children in day care - proudly acknowledges his society's "ridicule" of traditional marriage.
I hereby tag Bone, Jeff, Jonah Goldberg, President Bush, Roz and Don.

I found this site addictive so I pass it on to you. (Doh!) You can see who gave how much to political candidates.

Once called "the most trusted man in America", it turns out he can't be trusted with babies:

6/23/2000; $1,000 to National Abortion Rights Action League

From the sad to the ridiculous: I've probably mentioned before my in-laws are great animal lovers and have a combined 21 dogs and cats (at last count; these things fluctuate). Each has at least one nickname, some two or three. This means there are some 40+ animal names floating around, and yet my wife, touchingly, assumes I'm hip to each and every fluctation. Thus instead of saying, "I loved on [i.e. petted] M's lab mix," she trusts my photographic memory [though I don't have one] such that she'll say, "I loved on Bridget (or Mama or...)".

Mr. Winter wrath'd this week, showing he can and is able to inflict pain, no less. “Painful” was the word used by a co-worker and it was the same word I had in mind, such an odd word to describe Ohio weather. The wind combined with the ten, twelve degree temps make even short trips outdoors memorable.

We’re 53% through winter and like Ali against Fraizer turns out Winter was playing rope-a-dope for a lot of that time hoping we’d wear ourselves out whining about the darkness and 30-40 degree temperatures, only to awaken with a fury ne’er been seen before…well, before this year anyway. When in the 40-degree range Ohio isn’t significantly different from the northern Florida (the difference between 40 degrees and, say, 53 is negligible once you’re in Florida or Ohio for awhile) but then you get those bone-crunching sub-20s, which the South hardly ever gets, and you realize there is a bennie to being south of the Carolinas.

Borrowed Henry Pfeiffer's "The Sistine Chapel". In it Pfeiffer looks at patristic and medieval sources in order to vocalize the mute of the Sistine. There are theological significances often missed. The book is chock-full of Sistine Chapel nudes but most of the women looked like chronic steroid users with breasts. They would seem to answer to the oft-asked question: “What if Ruebens’ nudes lifted weights?” The nude men mostly look underachieving, which is a good thing from the male perspective.

Was buoyed the other day by a delightful little imitation-in-the-form-of-flattery from Mrs. Darwin. She wrote a few paragraphs of fiction and titled it: “(Fiction for a Friday (or whatever day) borrowed shamelessly from Video Meliora, who does it so well.)” …proving in blog-land there’s always a first since I’d never been complimented before on my fiction. Reminds me how at bingo Kim was shocked by someone wanting $75 dollars worth of instant tickets and I chided her, “Act like you’ve sold $75 worth before!” Similarly, I could act like I’ve been complimented on my fiction before. Fiction is a relative term though; there's often some faction in it. But you gotta write what you know.

It's odd to see the MSM so anti-Hillary. Where have you been Joe Dimaggio? I especially thought it was funny to see Tim Russert assume the role of principal to errant student in asking Hillary to promise not to pardon everybody who contributes to your presidential library as happened last time. I thought he was going to make her write on the chalkboard 500 times: "I will not pardon criminals in exchange for contributions...I will not pardon criminals in exchange for contributions...". Hillary, for her part, was surprised that Russert would even have to ask her. Which was also very humorous.

January 27, 2008

The Path to Scientology

Why is Tom Cruise a Scientologist? For some reason the subject interests me, probably because he was a Catholic, is of Irish heritage, and is about my age, so I read about it in Andrew Morton's biography of the film star.

Any religion begun so recently as Scientology should reflect the current Zeitgeist if it's going to be successful at all. And Scientology would seem to have most of the elements. (An exception: besides its inherent irrationality*, one thing that holds it back is that it is very controlling.) If you were starting a religion, what elements would it have in order to appeal to people today?

  • Moral relativism (founder L.R. Hubbard said, "If it isn't true for you, it isn't true.")

  • Utopianism, since people want hope for this world's perfection (Hubbard said widespread use of Dianetics would lead to a "world without insanity, without criminals and without war.")

  • And since we live in a therapeutic age, it would have to cure ills ("Hubbard argued it could alleviate all manner of illnesses, including asthma, arthritis, alcoholism, ulcers... the common cold and heart disease.")

    So it's probably not surprising that Andrew Morton mentions Roman Catholics as particularly vulnerable. We don't believe an earthly utopia is something we can accomplish, we don't believe in moral relativism, and health is not seen as important as acting virtuously. A very tough sell, and made more so by the fact that Catholics are not as evangelistic as, say, Mormons or Evangelicals or Scientologists. Catholicism is, for good or ill, now more "pull" than "push"; you have to seek it rather than have it pushed (sold) to you**.

    But I think ultimately Cruise probably went the Scientology route not for utopia or therapy or moral relativism so much as the same reason so many are converted to Mormonism: a feeling of family. The feeling of being wanted. The "push" nature of Scientology & Mormonism makes you feel wanted. Dustin Hoffman reports that after making Rain Man with Cruise: "I think he desperately needed family, whether it was my family or the makeshift family of the crew." Morton writes that Scientology plays on this need: "Once inside the cult, celebrities discover the friendly embrace of instant family, nurtured by a sea of smiley, happy people."

    The genesis of Cruise's conversion was his first wife Mimi Rogers, whose father, an ex-Jew, gave up a civil engineering career to become a professional gambler and then a Scientologist. His daughter, an extremely intelligent "child prodigy", absorbed the teachings and became an expert at a very young age. Cruise was introduced to it when he was just 23 years old and, having been left somewhat defenseless by the poor state of Catholic catechesis in the '70s, seems in hindsight a sitting duck.

    * - the irrationality may not hold it back too much since we live in an age when reason has become devalued, which is why Pope John Paul II had to plead for a return to it in his encyclical on faith and reason.

    ** - as KTC once blogged, quoting someone else:
    "Another priest friend put it this way, after a year of research in Europe, dedicated to studying Martin Luther:
    'Lutheranism is like a pharmacy. On the neatly arranged shelves are handy the great medicines of justification, of Scripture, of grace and faith, etc. etc.

    Catholicism is like a huge junkyard! It may look messy. But search around a bit. Spend time. You'll find all the medicines there. And more. Much more.

  • January 26, 2008

    Go Warn the Children of God of the Terrible Speed of Mercy

    The title is from Flannery O'Connor's "The Violent Bear it Away" and I was reminded of it while reading one of the best posts I've seen in a while, Pontifications's pontification on the injustice of grace.

    Listen to a snippet of chant music from the Children of Mary here.


    Elsewhere -- vote for your favorite poem here. Personally, I like John's Humbug if only for the oh-so-true lyric: "The radio stations play 'seasonal' rock / With Frosty and Rudolph on loop" and which was cemented for me by: "The tree must have lights and not lean to the right."

    January 25, 2008

    Fiction for a Friday

    Any similarity to actual events purely accidental...
    I got to the meeting, uncharacteristically, a minute early in order to reserve the high ground, like the 20th Maine at Little Round Top.

    Not all spaces in Steve's office were equal after all but I knew the topography. A bigwig had been invited and I liked to have my comfort seat, which is like comfort food but with fewer calories. It's the spot where my concession to ease was least glaring, that is my Asics running shoes which I’d begun wearing after noting similar footwear on a co-worker (since fired). It unnerved me that he’d been fired but not quite enough to return to shoes requiring a shine. I was reasonably sure it was a coincidence.

    I courtesy-tapped the door upon entering and asked how his home improvements were going. Steve had the unusual but endearing tic of squinting and tilting his head as he talked. It put introverts at ease for the lack of real eye contact while pleasing extroverts for the animation and novelty.

    I let my weight fall heavily into the chair, the one next to the Las Vegas sign and collection of stuffed animals. My boss was that rare combination of heavy gambler and lover of pugs and wasn’t afraid to show it. In high school everyone was a stereotype, easily grouped and nicely categorized, and it was a celestial joke that I was to spend the rest of my life learning otherwise.

    I liked his office. There was a lot of stuff to look at and if you were still bored his windows overlooked a city street. My coffee cup was felt warm in my hand and I gripped it like the stick shift of a sports car. I liked that at any given moment during the meeting I could shift gears simply by taking a long swig. I brought a pen and paper ostensibly for note-taking purposes though primarily for doodling; I‘d alternate drawing trees and females because only God could make either and it was my rule to only draw what only God could make...

    January 24, 2008

    MSM: "Repeal the Business Cycle Now!" (While Republicans Are in Office)

    I'm hyp-mo-tized by the panicky moves by Congress, the President and the Fed Reserve regarding economic stimulus plan and the lowering of the fed rate.

    As Ham o' Bone said, there is a much quicker response this time to a perceived slowing of the economy now than there was the actual slowing of it post-9/11. That stimulous package didn't send out checks till mid-year 2002.

    Are things that bad? Money manager/talk show host Tracy Jones feels the fear: "We are in for some tough times. I am scared. I think we're heading for a Depression. The 1930s again...Caterpillar said they have never in their history seen an economy this bad."

    To me, the actions of the Fed and government make me think that either they have access to economic data they're not telling us about (quite possible), or it's an election year and politics are ruling the roost (even more possible) or that Americans, aided and abetted by the 24/7 Republican-hating mainstream media, are growing less tolerant of even the hint of an economic slowdown just as since Vietnam our tolerance with military casualities has shrunk astronomically.

    Could be all three.

    Ham o' Bone thinks we're going to willingly go the way of France, with bigger government, high unemployment rates and a sluggish economy and I think: how could that be? But then does anyone care about unemployment rates and inflation numbers really? Or is it that the true statistic of interest is that the middle class is not getting any slice of increased GNP; wages are stagnant after inflation. But most people seem to think GWB has had a weaker economy than Bill Clinton when actually GWB's unemployment and inflation numbers were mostly better than Clinton's despite the economic shock of 9/11.

    But - and here is where Ham makes much sense - the media creates the perception of a good or bad economy and they will ignore a bad economy during a Democratic administration while pounding an average economy in a Republican administration. All's fair in love and politics.

    Regarding this: That stimulous package didn't send out checks till mid-year 2002. Ham o' Bone checked and it turns out he (and all of us) received our rebate checks in July of 2001, not 2002. Still, this was after two quarters of no economic growth, as compared to today in which we do not show even one quarter of no economic growth.
    Bingo: It Is What It Is

    The urge to bingo (yes, it's a verb too) must be of the same intensity as the sex drive for women, because how else can you explain so many of them leaving perfectly comfortable homes and venturing out in weather beastly cold? I thought we'd have a quiet night, but then I don't know bingo players. If the world got propagated via bingo instead of sex, we'd likely have a lot more adorable crumb-snatchers around.

    The amazing thing is the sheer amount of money changing hands tonight. Fifties (pronounced 'fid-dies') were flying around like corks on New Year's Eve. I mean to tell ya it was a madhouse. News of a slowing Ohio economy has not reached our clientele yet. Kim says they're spending their stimulative tax rebates early.

    Watching these players, and how most seem far from independently wealthy, makes me wonder if we underestimate the sheer drive and pluckiness of the average American. People really find a way, don't they? They find a way to make ends meet -- with a couple hundred left over for bi-weekly bingo. Perhaps we underestimate the survival instinct of our countrymen.

    Today I had the pious -if painfully naive- thought before bingo that I might finish saying the rosary while doing the circuits if things got slow. There's even a crucifix in the hall as meditation aid. I must've been on crack, because spiritual thoughts were as rare as Kreitzberg posts.

    Speaking of crack (segue alert) - Kim's son went to the Columbus Art museum and after seeing too many cherubs said, "Mommy, I've seen enough butt crack for one day!"

    Indeed one could say the same tonight, where Pat helpfully (not!) pointed out an old guy with a half-moon. Then too there were at least three overly attractive females. Definitely not a meditation aid as one was falling out of her blouse and another out of her drawers. It's so ironic (and awfully banal) that when spiritual thoughts ought be close at hand they're the farthest thing from your mind.

    One might ask: "What would Geno do?" He's the multi-millionaire who came up with the idea to put signs on highways letting you know of food and lodging and he told me he's been volunteering for 46 years. To put it in perspective, that's 322 in dog years. He's been volunteering since before I was born.

    We had a new instant winner game called, "Kiss My Cash" tonite. Kim says she's going to draw the line at selling "Blue Balls", should they come up with that one. Can't say as I blame her, though I do have to wonder at her balls fixation. She once sold "Bank Busters" and slipped and said "Ball Busters". Our leader Doug tonight slipped up and over the microphone referred to the instant game as "Kiss My Cass" and immediately apologized for it.
    I'm Shocked, Shocked that there's Gambling Going on Here

    Sometimes I long for a return to the days of hypocrisy, those halcyon days when vice paid its pence to virtue. Now vice, in the form of the Clinton machine, pays no tribute at all:
    One of our favorite Bill Clinton anecdotes involves a confrontation he had with Bob Dole in the Oval Office after the 1996 election. Mr. Dole protested Mr. Clinton's attack ads claiming the Republican wanted to harm Medicare, but the President merely smiled that Bubba grin and said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."
    One could say that at least he's honest about his dishonesty and will to power and I guess that's something.

    As for Obama, I doubt he needs an education on the Clintons, at least if he was awake during the '90s, even if he does sometimes seem like a Maria amid the Jets (Hillary) and Sharks (Edwards).
    Let's Play...

    Why's My Bookbag So Heavy?

    Oh manishevitz but what a splendiferous quantity of reads these days! Deep winter encourages cave-like concentration and hive-like hibernation. (Oy, the things we do for alliteration.) The print lifts off the fine-margin'd pages with the symphonic scent of 'new book' smell, whose auto equivalent I've haven't smelled for lo these seven years. (Bring out the violins!)

    I go back and leaf through my old Firing Line volume, looking for any mention of that dismal WFB/Kerouac meeting and finding myself semi-relieved there wasn't. I wonder why there aren't DVDs of the old war horse. You can trace the descent of recent society through it's descent of talking head shows: Firing Line...McLaughlin Group...Early Crossfire...Late Crossfire...Bill Mahrer's HBO show... Acrophobics beware; one gets dizzy looking at the slope.

    The Military Channel sets off a blaze with a program asking why there weren't more causalities during Pickett's Charge. I'm led inexorably to the Civil War collection, long neglected, and try to fight through a thicket of minutiae in George Stewart's paperback on the subject. I'm looking for the impossible, an explanation of Lee's going through with it despite Longstreet's objection as well as the implicit objection proposed by the soldiers themselves as explained by the Military Channel: there weren't more casualties because experienced soldiers saw it as a hopeless cause and turned around and lived to fight another day.

    I find my way to the words of the sweet Southern sage, Shelby Foote, who quotes Faulkner about the reverberations of that July afternoon but also about that dreamy quality we all feel about savoring a particular moment in time when it hasn't happened yet, a moment in time before disaster falls:
    "For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time."  -- William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
    Reading Geoffrey Ward's The Civil War I notice the paper can't quite absorb Foote's sugar words and so crystals form and shine like maidens along the pages' thruways, a lifetime on the subject distilled:
    "Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having R.E. Lee. The first day's fighting was so encouraging, and on the second day's fighting he came within an inch of doing it. And by that time Longstreet said Lee's blood was up, and Longstreet said when Lee's blood was up there was no stopping him."
    Foote is asked about Stonewall Jackson and it's odd, it seemed to me, that a man so beloved by his troops - second only to R.E. Lee in the affections of Southerners but by the men under his command especially - could be so stoically indifferent to their death and suffering. Or is Foote reading Jackson by our lights, by our 'I-feel-your-pain' ethos? The soldiers loved ol' Jack and do I see perhaps, an echo of the Muslim love for Mohammad? I think much of Jackson, admire him fiercely, yet Foote writes:
    "He had this strange combination of religious fanaticism and a glory in battle. He loved battle...He had a strange quality of overlooking suffering. He had a young courier, and during one of the battles Jackson looked around for him and he wasn't there. And he said, 'Where is Lieutenant So-and-so?' And they said, 'He was killed, General.' Jackson said, 'Very commendable, very commendable,' and put him out of his mind. He would send men stumbling into battle where fury was and have no concern about casualties at the moment. He would march men until they were spitting cotton and white-faced and fell by the wayside. He wouldn't even stop to glance at one of them, but keep going."
    And so enough Civil War as that is only one book in the bookbag. There is Peter Quinn's Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America. There is Orwell's 1984, and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!. Caught a bit of a book of F. Scott Fitzgerald's quotations: he said writers should guard against acquiring a large vocabulary since they'll be inclined to use it, and that will rightly draw fire from the ignorant and the learned.

    Given our nation's current debt-load, I thought to pick up the humorously titled Isn't it Their Turn to Pick up the Check? by Jeanne Flemming about money problems between family & friends. I suppose the book could be short - one line? - if written from the gospel perspective. Still, it's a fascinating book full of little surveys and asides, like eight of ten believe that lending money to a friend is a good way to ruin a friendship. Forty-three percent of people report that money they lended to a friend or family member is never repaid (which is why it seems wise to consider loans as gifts). Fifty percent say you should never loan money to a relative and the other fifty percent disagree. There is far more income disparity between siblings within a family than between different families. Perhaps most surprising: fifty-five percent of the public say they have run into trouble as a result of having a lot more money than a friend or relative and fifty-seven percent say they have run into trouble as a result of having a lot less money than a friend or relative. The author's comment: "whichever side of the fence you're on, it isn't easy." and go on to quote an African proverb: "Brothers love each other when they are equally rich."


    Another tasty morsel is Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascist. A snippet or two:
    "In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville warned: 'It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones.' This country seems to have inverted Tocqueville's hierarchy. We must all lose our liberties on the little things so that a handful of people can enjoy their freedoms to the fullest."

    "And though it has been the subject of high school English essay questions for generations, we have not gotten much closer to answering the question, what exactly was so bad about the Brave New World?

    Simply this: it is fool's gold. The idea that we can create a heaven on earth through pharmacology and neuroscience is as utopian as the Marxist hope that we could create a perfect world by rearranging the means of production."

    January 23, 2008


    Inspirational Quotes o' the Day ...via my Google homepage:
    Be fun to see the Bard & Michael engage in a "wisdom duel"...

    It could well be that the party's over for Obama. The tell-tale sign is that he can't win Hispanic voters. Obama & Clinton split most other groups except blacks, which Obama might well win handily, but Hispanics give Hillary the edge. I thought Hillary would win the nomination but I thought she would do it by splitting the black vote. I had no idea about the following, from Clinton pollster Sergio Bendixen:
    “The Hispanic voter—and I want to say this very carefully—has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.”
    Of course, one takes anything coming from the Clinton camp with a huge grain of salt.

    More credibly, a NY Times article mentions that it's less due to racism than the fact Hillary is a mother and the Latino culture is very maternal:
    “The Hispanic community is very family oriented, and we respect our mothers,” said Ruben Kihuen, an influential Democratic assemblyman from Las Vegas who supported Mrs. Clinton. “A lot of middle-aged women see her as a mother, a head of the household, and they can identify with this. Especially when they see her daughter, Chelsea, with her.”

    I think Henry Dieterich really "gets", far better than I, that the purpose of a blog is to say what can't be said elsewhere. And so he says something you won't see anywhere else. I think what makes it interesting is he uses the example of grandmother/grandson and it's in the DNA of males to sacrifice themselves for women. It's easier to see the folly in a grandfather/grandson donation, which, as it turned out, was highlighted in a Simpsons episode. Homer gives Grandpa a kidney and that issue is explored.


    Concerning this, it's ironic to note that the most intolerant people in the world today fall into two groups: One is supposedly committed to thinking - i.e. university professors - and one less committed to thinking - i.e. Islamic fundamentalists.  Strange bedfellows 'eh? 
    2008 Winter Bookshop Tour

    One of my favorite bookstores is the Village Bookshop in tiny Linworth, Ohio.

    Acres of books reside within and most have pleasantly small prices (many $3 or $4 or $6).

    I found this book for only $3.95. This was tempting, tagged at $19.95.

    The bookshop was orginally a Methodist church, built in the late 1800s and used as such until the early 1960s.

    January 22, 2008


    People are not the problem; people are why God created this world. We affirm life! This week we keep a sad vigil. Tuesday is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Here’s another false choice. The Court took the view that the dignity of women depends on denying the dignity of unborn children. That not only pitted mothers against their own hearts, but it pitted men against women. It is men who often pressure the woman saying, “take care of that, or I’ll leave.” That decision injected poison into the relations of men, women and children, at the very core of our society...Our response is a message of healing and hope. We refuse to choose between women and children: we choose both! We reject the idea that you lift people up by pushing others down.
    - Fr. Fox of "Bonfire of the Vanities"

    My big ah-ha moment over the past couple of years has been the realization that most of us - myself included - have been formed to think of the Mass as a prayer meeting. A highly structured prayer meeting, but a prayer meeting nonetheless, one which emphasizes community and who we are in the here and now, a prayer meeting which should somehow be expressive of who we are as individuals and a community. Prayer meetings are good. But that’s not what the Mass is. - Amy Welborn

    Fr. Z. says "I contend that more damage was done by turning around the orientation of Mass than perhaps any single other change." - Jeff Miller of "Curt Jester"

    I am no fan of Hemingway, either prose nor narrative, and yet I recognize in his work a towering brilliance--the brilliance of radical simplicity, of tearing down the facades and saying things as simply as they might be said. And Fitzgerald--who can have much sympathy for his endless array of vacant, vapid, and self-involved caricatures, trotted across a glamorous stage to no effect--yet the prose is supply, strong--accepting the revisionism of Anderson and Hemingway, and yet altering it to be a kind of poetry in prose--capturing perfectly single moments, which unfortunately do not make a book. And then there is Faulkner whose theme is the weight of the living past which we all bear even if we never bother to acknowledge the bearing of--whose prose is anti-Hemingway--the logical extension of the experiments of Joyce, Lawrence, and Woolf--creating a thick atmosphere, full of the dense shadows of spanish-moss weighted trees and the odor of verbena or honeysuckle. And Steinbeck whose lithe and supple prose benefited from the reforms of the early century, but whose heart was always with the oppressed, even if his political solutions often left much to be desired. His stories are strong, sometimes almost mythically so... I see some of that power and much of that authority [from the giants of the literary past] that comes from moral certainty, in works by Toni Morrison, most particularly the horrendously difficult Beloved. - Steven of Flos Carmeli

    For as a Muslim colleague, Stephen Schwartz of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, recently suggested to me, what Islam really needs is a Leo XIII: a religious leader who, by retrieving and developing forgotten elements of an ancient faith, can bring that faith into a fruitful engagement with the modern world. - George Weigel via "Ten Reasons"

    Increasingly over the years anyone who does not agree that homosexuality is not perfectly normal are met with denouncements as a homophobe. Here is what you do. If accused of homophobia simply say that you were born with it and that you did not choose to be a homophobe and that you find the term itself to be hateful and judgmental...Tell them not be be a hater or a homophobepbobe. - Jeff Miller of "Curt Jester"

    I celebrate Dr. King because my home, the South, was desegregated in my lifetime without a second civil war. Despite some violence and casualties, my generation was not wiped out as was my great-great-grandfather's generation, the boys of 1861. The South today is prosperous beyond anyone's dreams two generations ago because we no longer dedicate extensive resources to keeping a quarter of our people poor. The rising tide raises all the ships. - blogger at "From Burke to Kirk"

    How we treat our animals IS a reflection of how we treat each other. If we treat our animals as persons, we will treat each other as animals. Consider two points: 1) As Walter E. Williams points out, California is preparing not only to monitor the electrical usage of every house in the state, it also plans to create a way for the government to override how the owner of the house uses electricity in his own house. The house, ahem, the kennel we live in will be controlled by our masters. 2) At the same time, Microsoft is planning on handing both government and corporations the keys to complete monitoring of its employees, right down to blood pressure, heart rate and facial expression. Thus, our masters will be able to watch over us and care for us as every good pet deserves. - Kellmeyer of "Fifth Column" via Sancta Sanctis

    I don't think The Great Gatsby should be read before you reach forty – it's one of those many books force-fed to high school and college students, most of whom simply don't have the life-experience or imagination to appreciate it...Most great books have their greatness amplified by a good reader, and the lean, lyrical writing of this Fitzgerald classic particularly comes alive when taken in by the ear rather than the eye. More and more people are discovering audio books -- thanks in part to the MP3 file -- and Tim Robbin's reading of Gatsby will not disappoint you. - Deal Hudson of "Inside Catholic"

    January 21, 2008

    Movie Review
    'It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out' (Prov 25:2)...The desire for knowledge is so great and it works in such a way that the human heart, despite its experience of insurmountable limitation, yearns for the infinite riches which lie beyond, knowing that there is to be found the satisfying answer to every question as yet unanswered.-- John Paul II, Fides et Ratio
    Just saw the extravaganza “National Treasure II”, a sort of Indiana Jones fantasy which, for all its flaws with clunky dialogue & incredulous plot, essentially reads the heart of modern man well enough: we crave access to the inacessible, we crave mystery, we crave clues along the way to the gold (i.e. God). What the National Treasure movies specialize in is gaining physical access to utterly inaccessible places, be they Buckingham Palace or the Oval Office. For me, that’s more pleasurable than, say, the Spiderman flicks, which give one the vicarious ability to leap tall buildings and swing from instantly-manufactured webs. I’d rather experience the vicarious thrill of being where I’m not allowed than possessing some some physical or intellectual genius.

    The movie is also cool for the behind-the-scenes looks at the Library of Congress. I didn't know the main desk concealed a staircase.
    Quick Hits

    In college I was shocked that learning wasn't a deity shared by most fellow collegians; the lack of learning in college seemed as nonsensical as Christianity without Christ.

    Being exempt from caring what others think gives you the courage to write what you otherwise wouldn’t write. It gives you the space to begin, and beginnings always means errors and stumbles.

    The true torture is not in being accepted or rejected - both have exquisite pleasures - but to be somewhere in between.

    Do we not know, deep down, that the only thing that could (or should!) move the sinner to repentance is the knowledge that God loves him? Did not Christ say that he would be glorified when he was lifted up (on the Cross, showing his love)? The only evangelistic impulse worthy of the name is carried by the he who is in love with being loved. What else motivates anybody? The whole reason for anything is the simple syllogism: God loved us first, and so we love Him.
    Will Says McCain Would Make Good Democrat

    George Will opines on the subject header. No surprise really, but my assumption is that a mild form of liberalism in the form of a McCain is better than the more virile kind such as would be practiced by Hillary or Obama... But is it really? While liberals obviously aren't viruses, I do wonder if presidential politics work like a sort of reverse vaccination: a vaccination gives you a mild form of the disease in order to build antibodies to prevent the full-blown disease. I wonder if McCain is the equivalent of a mild form of liberalism that instead of building antibodies simply delays the inevitable conclusion that liberalism doesn't work. It was Carter, after all, who brought us Reagan. Perhaps it's a Clinton or Obama presidency is necessary to cure the body politic of its addiction to government.

    January 20, 2008

    Primary Season

    I love primary season. Everyone's in a good mood, the candidates and the media. The candidates have to be semi-restrained because they can't afford to turn off their opponent's supporters - they'll need those supporters come general election time.

    The media is fun because they don't have their usual visceral antipathy towards Republicans. They are distracted by the Democrat race and save their passion for it. Chris Matthews, for example, saves all his hatred for Hillary such that he has little leftover for the Republicans. At this point the media is kind to even conservative Republicans, perhaps because they want the Republicans to nominate a "weaker" candidate in their eyes or because they're waiting for the general election.

    Sure there are exceptions that prove the rule. Bob Costas and Jeff Greenfield talk at length about the Democratic primary field before spending a couple minutes on the Republicans. Costas says, "Oh, yeah, there's another primary going on. The Republicans--" Greenfield interjects, "It's all old, white men, surprise, surprise." Apparently Elizabeth Dole doesn't ring a bell? And Lord have mercy but is there any doubt that if Condi Rice was a Democrat she'd be crowned Queen of All That is Good and Holy? Media bias is sort of amusing given its obviousness.
    Top Ten Favorite U.S. Cities
    1) Boston
    2) NYC
    3) Wash D.C.
    4) New Orleans
    5) Richmond, VA
    6) Savannah, GA
    7) Chicago
    8) San Francisco
    9) San Antonio
    10) Cincinnati

    There was, Thursday, a little constellation of God-incidences concerning worry. I worry about whether He’s trying to tell me something.

    I owe a lot to worry though I can’t quite say about worry what Churchill said of alcohol – that I’ve taken more out of worry than it’s taken out of me. I say that worry is useful because it is the primary motivator behind planning. It’s the thing that prevents me from procastinating at work, the thing that spurred me to keep my grades high in college so that I could get a good job, and the thing that forced me to relentlessly spend less than my income and fear debt. Worry has its uses, but at the same time I recognize that there are many advantages to a worry-free existence. Some people I know live that way. Sure they’re in debt up to their eyeballs, or are 30 years old and still live at home but…

    So Thursday I was checking out something in the mail, the offering of Lenten books from Pauline Press, and a smiling-faced sister says her favorite books are “Testimony of Hope” and “Fire and Mercy”. Natch, I check them out on Amazon.com.. “Fire and Mercy” is a meditation on the gospel of St. Matthew and the “Surprise me!” feature of the amazon.com reader led me to a page-long meditation on the passage about not worrying about tomorrow. Today has trouble enough.

    Later I was running an errand and surfed the radio, landing on Jimmy Akin’s apologetics show. “He shoots, he scored!” I think, when I hear the caller ask a question that had long been on my mind: how can you prepare for future troubles in the present. How do you prepare and emotionally and spiritually? There is a tendency to want to make things tough for yourself if only to train, to prepare, to exercise the “disaster response muscle” in the face of the cataclysm that all the poets feel in their bones is coming. I think of the case of the wise virgins, and want to have my lamp filled. But Akin said a surprising thing: “You don’t prepare. You can’t. God gives us what we need when we need it. You have to just trust God and recall the passage from 1 Peter: ‘cast all your cares upon God for he cares about you.’ Problems will come, after all death is a problem we’re all guaranteed to have.” Indeed; how can one not pity each and every person one meets knowing that each is an integration of body and soul that will so soon be sundered and dis-integrated?


    Read some of Mark Massa’s book about American Catholic culture, more of the “what went wrong” genre. I liked his thesis that Christian history is not tragedy or comedy but irony – irony in Christians not acting much like Christians precisely in thinking they (we) can do things on our own. And yet look at how Mother Teresa said she couldn’t do her ministry without the Tabernacle, a priest, and ‘twin sisters’, lay people who prayed and suffered for her from afar. Blessed Mother Teresa knew she wasn’t getting in over her head because God asked her to do the project, but she knew she had to max out on prayer.

    January 19, 2008

    Ronald Wilson Obama and Hillary Rodham Nixon?

    Obama's recent positive mention of Ronald Reagan induced an ah-ha moment for me. He (Obama) wants to be as sunny and optimistic as Reagan in order to go directly to the American people as president and go over the heads of Republican congressmen and women.

    Democratic congressmen feared Reagan in his first term because of his popularity with the American people so they gave him a blank check on everything but cutting domestic spending (showing that the third rail of American politics is touching our 'entitlements').

    Republican congressman would fear Obama in his first term because of his popularity, while no Republican congressman would have to fear Hillary going over their heads directly to the American people because Hillary, like Bill, will have trouble getting 50% of the vote.

    Hillary and McCain are both "realists" while Reagan and Obama were/are dreamers. Realists and dreamers both bring advantages and disadvantages. The singular magic of Ronald Reagan was that he was a dreamer who dreamt of reality! When he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" it seemed mere fancy until the wall fell.

    George W. Bush is a dreamer who successfully sought regime change in Iraq - but then lost touch with reality as Iraq failed. McCain, a realist, understood long before Bush that Rumsfeld had to go. McCain's early support of the surge is a credit to his willingness to deal with things as they are. Realists are great at discerning when something is broken, but often fail to fix the problem, or go on to break it worse. Hillary was a realist in '92 in seeing that health care as broken, but then tried to break it worse. McCain saw campaign finance as broken, but then broke it worse with McCain/Feingold.

    The parallels between Hillary and Richard Nixon are surprising: both willing to cut corners, both paranoid ('enemy's list'/ 'vast right wing conspiracy'), both possessing extra ambition to make up for their unlikability, and both political realists. She understands she has to tack right on foreign policy issues just as Nixon knew he would have to tack left on domestic issues. Nixon didn't care about domestic policy just as Hillary doesn't care about foreign policy; both were willing to sacrifice their party's pieties in order to get what they really wanted to get done: universal health care for Hillary, beating the Communists for Nixon (his reaching out to China was to keep the USSR on its toes and triangulate the two powers).

    Hillary isn't as corrupt or paranoid as Nixon was in the White House, but could well be as corrupt and paranoid as Nixon was before he entered the White House. She appears to have more Christian faith than Nixon so hopefully that will keep her from re-enacting Nixon's corrupt presidency.

    So of the big four who have a realistic chance to win the general election in '08 - Hillary, McCain, Giuliani and Obama - all are sizeable gambles from the conservative perspective. Hillary would make nice and horse-trade with Congress in order to take us down the road to universal health care and eventual financial ruin (while possibly screwing up foreign policy as badly as Nixon did domestic), Obama will try to do for liberalism what Reagan did with conservatism (i.e. make it popular again), and McCain is a wild-card who could fix things or break them much worse.

    But there's no more fundamental issue than the life issue; forty-three million dead children is a devastating critique of what we find important, or rather unimportant, in our society. Of the four who have a real chance to win the election, only one, McCain, has a smidgeon of recognition at what we are doing.

    January 18, 2008

    Various & Sundry

    From the "Can you even believe this?" Dep't: Overheard on radio:
    "You won't believe what happened at my wedding. My husband's soccer buddy shined a laser-pointer at us the whole time we were saying our vows... My mother was furious."
    That's got to be one of the most ridiculously thoughtless things I've heard of in awhile. She said that to this day, ten years later, he's never apologized.

    Jim at Bethune Catholic has a good post on movies and love stories.


    Jonah Goldberg on politics:
    "When Barack Obama is on the stump, his whole point is that if we can just be unified, public policy issues don't really matter, what really matters is unity — that sort of thing. There's also a sort of contempt for Democratic values that also comes out of this unity thing...People only say we need to move beyond ideology, we need to put partisanship aside, or the time for discussion is over, when they want to tell you to shut up and get with their program. That is a fundamentally undemocratic, quasi-fascistic way of talking about politics."

    Top 10 bookstores in the world


    Government bailout of the mortgage crisis?: "Recessions and depressions happen when spending gets way out ahead of income, and when people fail to recognize risk because of the seduction of greed."

    Funny, I hadn't even heard of him After seeing that Sancta Sanctis get (unsurprisingly) Tertullian, I got:

    You’re St. Melito of Sardis!

    You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.

    Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

    Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

    Ironic Catholic started it. Jeff Miller continued it. And now I'll have a go. It's irresistable really - you ask various and sundry figures why the chicken crossed the road:
    Post-modernist: Chicken? Road? We cannot even know whether chickens or roads really exist.

    Atheistic evolutionist: The chicken crossed the road for reasons arbitrary. The presence of food and water on the other side of the road was completely irrelevant.

    Liberal utopian: The chicken crossed the road in order to protest the Bush Administration, lack of affordable health care and the fact that chickens have nerve-endings which can result in feelings of pain.

    Ron Paul: The chicken crossed the road because he was irritating the neighborhood wolves and by crossing the road the wolves will leave him be now.

    GWB: The chicken crossed the road to bring democracy and freedom to the world whether the world wanted it or not.

    Independent voter: The chicken, lacking conviction, didn't actually cross the road but stood in the middle of it.

    Bill Clinton: The chicken crossed the road after polling all options.

    Hillary: The chicken, actually a hen, crossed the road in order to turn $1000 worth of cattle futures into $100,000.
    Evolving Words

    Little blog words and phrases seem to creep in the blogulatory system from time to time. I never know who started them, which seems a pity. For example, instead of saying "via" or "by way of" and then identifying your link source, "hat tip" or "HT" is often used.

    Another: if you have the same post at two blogs you don't say "also posted at" you say "cross-posted at". "Cross-posted" sounds more professional I suppose.

    It reminds me how in the business world there's a stink that unaccountably forms around certain words and phrases. "Problem" became a problem, so "opportunity" became the synomyn. "Opportunity" almost immediately began to sound trite, even condescending, so "challenge" became popular since it doesn't deny the effort involved while having a positive connotation.

    Sometimes business-speak goes through iterations before finding the right word. "Down-sizing", "right-sizing", "re-org" all became words to describe the process of basically laying people off. Each description has a short shelf-life due to how quickly the word becomes tainted with fear and loathing. Regular word changes are made for support of morale.

    The simple Anglo-Saxon "do" has no pizazz, no power to inspire. Executives are paid to differentiate themselves from others even in terms of word usage thus everything is "executed". All plans are modified by "stratetgic" as opposed to all those pesky non-strategic plans. "Buying" is gauche, too familiar, compared to "acquiring". The word "help" could use some help, perhaps because it is seen as too patronizing to the party being helped, too redolent of welfare. "Support" is preferred, or "assist" or "serve" or "facilitate".

    Integrate is a good word, so good that it should be thrown in whenever possible. I wish I could've better integrated it into this post.

    I tend to use the new words or phrases with reluctance since they sound too hip and there's nothing less hip than sounding too hip. Or I use them past their shelf-life. (It turns out phat is so '90s.)

    Using new words and phrases is the linguistic equivalent of the noveau riche practice of dressing ostentatiously. If the new words are extrinsically beautiful or colorful or have a sort of utility in the form of saving syllables, or if I created them, then I'm inclined to offer welcome.

    I like loyalty, including loyalty to words and phrases. I don't want to be always jumping on the bandwagon even though someone first had to come up with the phrase "jumping on the bandwagon" in order to make it the cliche it is today.

    ~ Graphic via http://marriedtothesea.com ~

    January 17, 2008

    Studying Political Book Buying Habits

    Interesting article on reader polarization:
    "Bush at War" and "Sleeping With the Devil" are just two of the political books that have dominated the best-seller list of The New York Times in recent months. But according to Valdis Krebs, a social-network analyst in Cleveland, these volumes — the first a blow-by-blow account of White House deliberations in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the second an exposé of corruption and hypocrisy in American-Saudi relations — share an unusual distinction. They occupy a sparsely populated middle ground, rare titles that have been bought by people who generally tend to shop for much more partisan polemics...

    Even with the bridging books, the average distance between the map's left and right clusters is still four links — or in network theory parlance, "four degrees" — Mr. Krebs said. Given that the clusters represent ideological extremes, he reasoned that if he expanded his book sample to include nonpolitical best sellers like "The Da Vinci Code" and "The South Beach Diet," the distance between left and right would be reduced. To his surprise, that turned out not to be the case, though what, if anything, this means he is not entirely sure.

    "It's possible there is some book or video or CD that everybody buys that would bring the two sides closer together," he said. "But when I did a search using the top five best sellers at the time, it didn't bring the sides closer together."
    No Theatre in Masterpiece but Plenty of Romance

    One of the things even the paragon of anti-statism, William F. Buckley, laments is the coarseness of a market-driven culture, specifically when it comes to music. In past columns he's mentioned a soft spot for government funding of classical music and I feel similarly about Masterpiece Theatre, now called simply Masterpiece.

    Apparently funding is down for the program and it's trying to gussy itself up by dropping the "Theatre" and kissing up to the public with a Jane Austen marathon; the latter certainly works for me.


    The first show was Persuasion, which brimmed with the usual suspects: the quiet, sensitive artistic girl (Jane?!) surrounded by vain Neanderthals in vintage clothing. The old English homes drip with ancestral oil paintings and are dotted with hedge-lined walkways leading to hidden fountains.

    The weakness of the message of Persuasion seems to me the weakness of all (modern?) love stories: that only the course to true love fails to run smooth. Our hero and heroine overcome tremendous odds to find their soulmate and afterwards all is tranquil. But love begins, not ends, with marriage (Austen never married). (Aside: is the romantic equivalent in theological terms the 'once saved, always saved' doctrine?)

    Last week I received an e-letter from the founder of Catholic Answers, Karl Keating, that ol' anti-romantic who wrote something that seems, in spirit at least, anti-Austen. He laments the "thirty-five year old waiting for the appearance of a Prince Charming such that she should let pass other prospects":
    Liking is something that "just happens." Loving is something we have control over. Liking is a spontaneous emotional reaction. Loving is an act of the will...

    When it comes to basically good people whom we meet, it is possible for us to love any of them. This even applies to prospective spouses, and here I come to the real point I wish to make.

    As you know, Catholic Answers hosts chastity talks by various speakers. Such talks are aimed at young audiences--high school and college students, chiefly--and, by necessity, the speakers themselves are young. At least they are still years away from middle age.

    Some speakers who have spoken for us, when first starting out, told their young audiences that somewhere out there was a Prince or Princess Charming, someone fated from all eternity to be a young person's perfect match. Listeners were told something like this: "Save yourself for that one person that God has set aside just for you."

    When I learned that this is what was being said, I told our speakers to cut it out--because it wasn't true. It sounded romantic, and it sounded pious, but it wasn't true. It left each young listener thinking that there was one and only one person whom he could love and have a happy marriage with and that, if he waited long enough, God would arrange for the couple to meet.

    That's not how real life works. When I have a chance to speak to young people, I shock them by saying, "Within easy driving distance, there are a hundred people whom you could marry and have an equally happy life with." Of course, there also are a hundred or a thousand with whom they might be miserable.

    My point was that a marriage is what you make of it, under grace. In the old, old days, marriages often were arranged--and often turned out very well, no worse than the average marriage entered into by people who imagined they were marrying a Prince or Princess Charming...

    "On a recent EWTN show on marriage one of the guests commented that in Herzagovie that the marriage custom is that the bride and groom both put their hands on a cross and kiss it instead of each other after saying their vows. The priest reminds them that they have not found the perfect partner but rather their cross. If they let go of each other, they let go of the cross. The divorce rate is among the lowest in the world."- commenter on Disputations

    January 16, 2008


    Why anti-Americanism?:
    As a young American living outside the US I often found myself exposed to the odd belief system that's often called "anti-Americanism." I had trouble understanding how or why anyone could think this way. Reality, which my father brought home every night in the slim and serious form of the Herald Trib, was one thing, and anti-Americanism quite another...
    (HT: Kevin Jones)

    News of Microsoft's entry into the Big Brother business should scare everyone who knows the quality of M$ products. I wrote a parody here...

    One could write a joke about this story, about how it takes balls to write legislation like that, but I'll forgo that in the interest of blog propriety.
    The Fall of the Conservative's Last, Best Hope

    Despite the win in Michigan, I think he's likely whistling past the graveyard. Back in October I attempted electability ratings for the Republican candidates from a Midwesterner's perspective. Since then much more information has come to light not the least of which has been the debate performances of the protagonists:

    Old Viability Ratings (scale 1-10, from least able to defeat Hillary Clinton to most able - '10' means a 50/50 chance in general election)

    Giuliani = 9
    McCain = 8
    Romney = 7.5
    Huckabee = 6.7876
    Thompson = 3
    Ron Paul = 2
    Everyone else = 0
    New Viability Ratings

    McCain = 9.5
    Giuliani = 8
    Huckabee = 8
    Romney = 5
    Thompson = 5
    Ron Paul = 2
    Everyone else = 0
    McCain's "9.5" doesn't imply in any way he's a slam dunk to beat the Democratic candidate, merely that he has the best chance. A "10" merely means a candidate has a 50-50 chance to beat his opponent.

    Giuliani went down a step because of the cell phone wackiness with his wife and for basically skipping Iowa & New Hampshire. Both things give the impression that he doesn't want the job as badly as Clinton and Obama do.

    You certainly can't say that about Romney though. But Romney, it turns out, just can't connect with voters. That he doesn't connect with voters on an emotional level doesn't bother me much - I don't look from inspiration from political leaders - but I recognize it will affect others and so I have to take that into consideration in order to put up the most conservative, viable candidate in '08 ("conservative, viable" is getting to be an oxymoron unfortunately).

    Rich Lowry wrote this in NR and I think he's dead right:
    Halfway through Mitt Romney’s town-hall meeting at a school gym here, a polite, sincere young girl near the front gets the mike. She says she’s been trying to ask her question at events for other candidates, but this is the first time she’s gotten a chance. Her 26-year-old cousin was hurt in a rugby accident and is paralyzed from the neck down. She wants to know the former Massachusetts governor’s position on stem-cell research.

    It wouldn’t take an act of Clintonesque empathy to express sympathy for this girl. To ask how her cousin is doing. To recognize the pain her family has gone through. Any minimally adept city-council candidate would do it. Indeed, pretty much any person — even without the incentive to try to win people over for an election — would do it. It takes a prodigious emotional reserve, or a monomaniacal focus on policy, or some other unfathomable quality, not to do it.

    But Mitt Romney doesn’t. “Great question,” he says. “Let me tell you where I would invest federal dollars.” He then launches into a detailed explanation of stem-cell research, describing a meeting he had a few years ago with a professor at Stanford University who told him about altered nuclear transfer, or “alternative methods of getting embryonic-like cells.” By the end of his brief discussion of “reprogramming” and “pluripotent cells,” there is no doubt that Mitt Romney knows stem-cell policy. All that he fails to address is the human element of the question.

    On paper Romney looked certain to appeal to mainstream Republicans, and had the potential to unite the Right in a very crowded field. But in practice he has fallen short, and the difference has been his inability to move people...He has competence, but that is only one quality people look for in a president, and it’s not necessarily the foremost one.
    2008 is definitely the year of lackluster Republican candidates.