Monday, May 20, 2002

ON THE BRINK OF THE SLOPE: (Sorry! Sorry!)
Brink Lindsey sends a helpful and sensible reply to my item in the blogwatch below.
"Two quick comments. First, I said that the 'life begins at conception' position is justified in part by slippery-slope arguments – I certainly recognize that there are other reasons as well. Also, note that the pro-choicers have their own slippery-slope problem – which drives them to defend atrocities like partial-birth abortion. Which produces a convoluted and tragic dynamic: pro-choice slippery-slope misconceptions drive pro-life slippery-slope misconceptions, and vice versa, the end result of which is to make both sides' slippery-slope prophecies have some self-fulfilling validity and thus to inhibit the achievement of a sensible if arbitrary resolution of the matter."
It's good to watch your blog, you know it's been so long
If I don't watch your blog then everything goes wrong...


The Edge of England's Sword: Worrying round-up of bad news from Italy.

Amy Langfield: Why do people think they're entitled to have sex on my stoop? Via Matt Welch.

Brink Lindsey: Interesting posts on slippery-slope arguments; a tragic and terrible euthanasia case; and more on the slippery slope. In general I agree with Lindsey's position on the use and abuse of slippery-slope arguments (summary: the slope only works if there are good "analytical and empirical," i.e. what I'd call philosophical and historical, reasons to think we'll slide). I think he's misconstruing the pro-life position, though. The claim is not "it's OK to destroy a very young embryo, but if you let people destroy that embryo they'll eventually be sucking babies' brains out." As it turns out, that prediction would have been vindicated (and so it seems like an example of a good slippery-slope argument by Lindsey's own criteria, no?--at least as far as "empirical" evidence goes...), but it's not, in fact, the sole source of the pro-life position. The claim is that there's no valid distinction between destroying an embryo and performing a partial-birth abortion. ("It doesn't look like a baby" or "I don't feel bad about it" aren't good enough, for reasons that I hope are obvious--one being that so many of our moral advances as a civilization have involved extending our empathy to humans we once despised or neglected.) I also wonder whether Lindsey considers the slippery-slope claims made in Humanae Vitae to have been vindicated. ...As for euthanasia, I wrote a Register article on a related case, but it doesn't seem to be online; sorry.

Sursum Corda: Recent martyrs; lady priests (and responses); and being sent out into the world. My only comment on the lady priest thing is that if you reject Church teachings you don't fully understand (and I know "reject" is much too strong a word for what Nixon's doing; sorry; not sure what the right word would be), how can you ask others to adhere to teachings they don't fully understand? If someone just doesn't buy the arguments for the Church's position on, say, the death penalty, or papal infallibility, or the Real Presence, or extramarital sex--can Nixon ask that person to accept the Church's teaching because Church authority backs it?

Volokh-Mania: Interesting debate about an environmentalist campaign against ExxonMobil. Here's the pro-Green (sorta) side; here's the anti-Green (sorta) side. And eminent domain, the boring face of socialism; and an Israeli peace proposal that is getting no press attention.

Amy Welborn: A nifty list of pro-life orgs; and "Six Feet Under"'s post-abortion storyline.

And the obligatory (almost typed "oblogatory") new Catholic blogs: Heart, Mind and Strength, a group blog featuring scads of Papist worthies; and In Formation, a blog by a seminarian. The latter looks esp. cool.

And much of the awesome Eutopia issue on contraception is online now. Yay! This magazine, combined with Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility, helped convince me that the Church's position was rational. Despite some patches of philosophy-major prose, the articles are richly rewarding.
"When I have nothing to do at night and can't think, I always iron my money."
"What do you press when you're broke?"
"When I'm broke, I press my pants."

--Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, "His Kind of Woman"

Friday, May 17, 2002

NEW CONTEST!!! Actually, it's two, two, two contests in one. Send me entries for either of the contests; best ones will be published in approximately two weeks. (Note how cagey I've become about making promises....) Send all entries to eve_tushnet@yahoo.com .

1) When capitalism gives you lemons... This was inspired by this post over at The Volokh Conspiracy. You know those lists of different political systems and what they'd do with two cows? I want similar ideas--but fresh, funny, tart 'n' tangy, like a splash of lemon juice in the face...--that take off on the old adage, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." When Communism gives you lemons, what happens? When anarcho-syndicalism gives you lemons? When George W. Bush gives you lemons? Etc.

2) I joked about making the next contest, "Write a post about the farm bill as if you were Ivan Karamazov." Then I thought, It's so crazy, it just might work! So yeah. Write a post about the farm bill as if you were any major literary character--Winnie the Pooh, Raskolnikov, Madame Bovary, Molly Bloom, Romeo, Napoleon and/or Snowball, Scarlett O'Hara... the possibilities are endless. Go to town. No spoilers!

I am afroth with anticipation. Send me entries!!!
With a clockwork jerk
pluck cogs from blogwatches
for dinner on Friday
then recoiling say excuse me...


This post from The American Prospect's blog, about the "what did Bush know?" questions, gets most things right. I have a few nits to pick but I won't bother. Link via Barlow. The Professor has also been keeping an eagle eye on this stuff, of course.

Michael Dubruiel: Lousy scandal-news about Archbishop Elden Curtiss; and how to meet God.

Mickey Kaus, Enemy of the Good (=Permalinks): Segregation forever--in Chicago construction. This is really gross; scroll down to the first post from Wednesday.

Brink Lindsey (a fellow Kirk-and-crew fan!!): Good summary of trade policy/why we won't enter a major trade war.

Charles Murtaugh: The Incredible Expanding Lifespan (important post); "In Pakistan, Rape Victims Are the Criminals" (oh, shock, surprise); and a typically excellent post on sci-fi and bioethics (although Brave New World does not deserve the dissin' it's getting).

The Old Oligarch: I'm wrong about "Braveheart." All I can say is, I never disputed (most of) the movie's message, just its artistic quality; and I still think Edward II was a nasty frat-party caricature. But the O.O. makes a good case.

Amy Welborn: Depressing scandal-news about Cardinal Mahony--but then, how is this day different from other days? She's also got a very few good-bishop nominations (and scroll down from here).

Speaking of feminism, go check out Frederica Mathewes-Green's excellent site. Her pro-life essays are fantastic; the essays on Disney's women and her trip to a used-book barn are hilarious; and "My Cab Ride with Gloria" tells the story of how she left feminism.

And the dude who does "A Catholic Page for Lovers" now has a blog, too. Making the word "heart" appear in red is a bit cutesy for my taste, but the Page for Lovers is a great clearinghouse for Catholic/saint-related stuff, and the blog's already got some good prayers from John XXIII on it. I look forward to more from this guy.
CAN THERE BE A DECENT FEMINISM?: (Inspired, of course, by Michael Walzer's "Can There Be a Decent Left?") This was initially going to be installment #2 of The Politics of Dancing--my ramblings about rock lyrics--but it outgrew its limitations.

Over the weekend, a friend of mine mentioned the idea that feminism is primarily "an unsuccessful attempt to tame male lust." That rings really true to me, and I'm going to blog a bit about what feminism has accomplished and why it ultimately fails.

First, the accomplishments. There are some obvious good works of feminism, mostly to do with rape and battering: Rape crisis centers, marital rape laws, police rape training, battered women's shelters, and so on.

Feminism has also taught many women to a) reject some of the truly poisonous self-hate they grew up with, and b) forgive. It's especially helped many women forgive their mothers. Our ties to our mothers are so close, so intimate--for women the mother is often like another self--and so betrayal, abuse, abandonment by one's mother causes some of the greatest damage to the psyche. Forgiving a mother who has betrayed you takes immense strength and mortification of the desires for revenge, separation, or hate. Feminists are often allergic to the word forgiveness, because so often women have been told to forgive their abusers while the abusers were not challenged to stop the abuse--for example, women were told that God loves the abuser but not that He hates the abuse. (This doesn't just happen to women, of course--I don't suppose I really need to cite the priesthood scandals as an example.) This allergy to the word "forgiveness" has some good consequences and some awful ones. The good part is that "forgiveness" has become something of a cheap-grace word anyway; the image has been rubbed off the coin, the edges have been sanded down. "Forgiveness" has been used too often as an easy out. Avoiding the word "forgiveness" can actually prepare the way for the act of forgiveness. The problem is that we must forgive; to obscure or deny that is misleading. And avoiding the word simply surrenders it to the Hallmark-writers of the world. We should demand a more challenging, rough-edged, compassionate ("suffering with" the one who forgives), hardcore forgiveness. (This does not mean that it's always best to continue attempting a relationship with a deeply abusive mother. Sometimes--very rarely, but sometimes--the shock of separation is best for mother and child alike. Sorry for digression but I didn't want to give the impression that abusers who refuse to change should be rewarded.)

So yeah, feminism (by which I mean 1970s-and-later feminism, not Susan B. Anthony) has done some important good in the world. I don't want to reel off the list of awfulnesses it's promoted or made easier--abortion, the divorce rate, add your own suggestions--but I do want to point out a few reasons feminism has not succeeded at taming men or truly empowering women.

Probably the most important, underlying problem is the fact that the main disjunction in feminism is between those who value sexual equality most and those who value sexual liberty most. The problem is not solely that one of these schools of thought is wrong--the problem is that neither can really address the causes of the harm done to women.

By "equality feminists" I mean women who believe that the power relationships between men and women should be as equal as possible, and that this is best done by focusing on "equality of outcome" rather than formal equity. I know this may be confusing, since there's a group of people (think Wendy McElroy) who refer to themselves as "equity feminists"--but what they actually mean is formal equity, equality before the law, not actual equal outcomes. The equality feminists I'll be talking about, in general, recognize that both biology and culture mean that formal equity will not lead to equal outcomes for men and women. Andrea Dworkin would be a good example of an equality feminist. Sexual-liberation feminism is, frankly, easier to dismiss--it's the sunny Susie Bright stuff, the "erotica" brigade.

Here are some reasons that neither faction effectively tames male lust. First, both kinds of feminism deal with some of the most personal relationships there are. And people don't want freedom or equality in their personal relationships. Someone in love is subordinate; someone in love is not free. (For defenses of that position, click here and here.)

And biology keeps getting in the way. Only women get pregnant; only women can be absolutely certain that their children are their own; only women miscarry; only women need to recuperate from pregnancy; only women suffer postpartum depression. Those facts shape all heterosexual relationships. They cannot be gotten around. (Even women who learn that they are infertile have grown up without that knowledge. Their stories are different, for sure, but the more commonplace stories of womanhood still affected them.) No matter how much latex you use, no matter how many hormones you jerk your body around with, still these facts remain. Anatomy isn't destiny, but it ain't chopped liver either. Even Dworkin, who is often eloquent in her furious recognition of women's difference from men, has found it virtually impossible to articulate what a truly equal sexuality would look like. She has resorted to metaphors of fluidity, for example; but in the end neither Swedish social-welfare programs nor consciousness-raising can actually make heterosexual relationships equal. Women just risk more. Sex-lib feminists deny this fact, and thereby encourage naivete and terribly wrong choices in young women; equality feminists resort to utopian scenarios of the World Without Patriarchy, or else they become solely negative in their approach, knowing only what they're fighting against and not what they're fighting for.

And an emphasis on liberation and equality often leads us to devalue, or simply ignore, those who are dependent and unequal. Awe, which is an experience of submission, can barely be discussed in this framework. Love, as I said earlier, becomes equally hard to talk about; or else it is redefined as a negotiation between competing egos. And childhood--the time when all of us are dependent and unequal--becomes especially hard to value. (Both Martha Nussbaum and Alisdair MacIntyre have apparently done interesting philosophical work about humans as "dependent rational animals"--I'd tell you more about that, but I've just told you all I know....) This is not a rational consequence of feminism, but it is, I think, a temptation due to both feminist factions' inability to value dependence or submission.

Finally, feminism--especially, but not only, equality feminism--has major problems with men. ("Well, duh...") There's a strong and theoretically-justified (that is, justified by theory) overlay of "us vs. them." Within feminism, women's narratives are privileged and men's discounted. (And if anything is judged too "male," like logic, science, or analysis, it too is discarded.) Feminism aims at "patriarchy" but it hits men. And often the men it hits are its closest allies--precisely because they're closest, expectations are higher for them, and they actually care what feminists think. (The "learned weakness" I mentioned in the DC punk post comes into play here, too, sometimes.)

Feminists might reply, "Why should we care what men think? They caused the problem!" But the solution can't be found without them. You can't just ask men to "shut up for a few centuries" to make up for all the women who were silenced in the past--you can't practice affirmative action in whom you believe, whom you listen to, and whom you love--without hurting your friends and family (either men or those who love them) and warping your own analytical and empathetic abilities.

The concept of "patriarchy" causes a score of problems. First, it encourages the retreat into utopianism and rage: Since there's never been a society that equality feminists would consider non-patriarchal, there's not a lot of hope there, except in those pockets of Dianic moon-crap where people claim that the "matriarchy" was displaced in some far-off prehistoric time. (As far as I know, all of these theories are utter bull.)

And finally, patriarchy theory tempts feminists to deny women's responsibility for our actions. Feminism can often help women take responsibility for their lives; it can free them from the fatalistic sense that their abuse is inevitable and deserved. It can shatter conformity and force profound self-examination. But it also gives the Patriarchy total power. If a woman screws up, Blame Patriarchy. If a woman disagrees with you, Blame Patriarchy. Your abusive mother: Victim of Patriarchy. Your alcoholic best friend: VOP. There's often a shard of truth here (people's problems don't often spring out of nowhere...), but much more falsehood and danger--the danger of emphasizing conditioning to the point that both free will and grace disappear.

So that's my take. I doubt that many feminists read my site, but I imagine I have some readers who at least sympathize with some aspects of feminism (as do I, it should be clear). And if this is helpful in discussions with feminist friends, I'll consider my time well spent.

So can there be a decent feminism? Not really, in my opinion--the word "feminism" has been taken by the two factions described above. A feminist friend (who accepted elements of both equality and sex-lib feminism) read my copy of Maggie Gallagher's Enemies of Eros, and returned it with the comment, "Wow--she's a true feminist." I think enough feminists would choke at that statement that it's not worth trying to reclaim the word; but if there were a decent feminism, yeah, Maggie would be it.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

WE'LL NAME HER MINNIE PEARL, JUST YOU AND ME...: I finally sat down last night and pulled together some random thoughts about the DC punk scene when I was in it--about 1993-1996. This particular part of the scene was bounded on one side by Positive Force/Fugazi (whose music I never liked), on the other by Riot Grrrl/Bikini Kill/Bratmobile/etc. I haven't tried to organize these thoughts because, well, I didn't have time; but I thought someone out there might want to know what it was like. So here's what I noticed. I still like this a lot.

The good stuff about that slice of the DC punk scene: DIY. There is no better preparation for life than the knowledge that you can Do It Yourself. Zines, records, t-shirts, clothes, music, instruments (anybody got a length of plastic tubing?), news, food, charities (not that that word was ever used), festivals, posters--you could make 'most anything. The DIY attitude fosters a sense of responsibility--instead of carping about the people who make things in the world, you become the people who make things. You have to take the criticism for what you make; you do the work; your reward is that there's something out there that looks the way you made it look. Robert Bork's phrase (which you'd never hear in this scene!) for this was, "Wreak yourself upon the world."

Riot Grrrl did an incredible service by helping young women talk about and heal after sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I learned a lot about the horrible things people do to one another. RG helped a lot of people take back their lives. "Break the silence" is not a cliche--it's what happened. On a related note, I met some incredibly strong people through the punk scene--people who had come through terrible experiences with toughness and grace. (I later met some similar people in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy... things change.)

There was a lot of openness to non-punk kids, music, etc. There wasn't (much of) the cliqueishness and self-righteous superior attitude a lot of people associate with punk. Not that it was never there, just that it was really not a big part of my experience.

Now, the other stuff...: Asceticism. The whole "straight edge" thing (no sex no drugs no alcohol; usually no meat) gave me an allergy to the word "purity" that it took me a while to shake. sXe (=straight edge) was good insofar as it helped kids (mostly but by no means exclusively boys) reject the sex-and-consumption mentality fed to them by TV and mainstream society--especially the hothouse society of high school. The downsides included: an inaccurate understanding of why sexual purity was despised and selfishness exalted in our society--everything was blamed on Capitalism, the personification of evil; and a lack of any sense of moderation--you were impure if you drank a beer for crying out loud. Pleasures weren't really given up for anything; sXe was primarily against things rather than in favor of things. (You could see this super-clearly in the anarchowhateverist politics of sXe.)

Riot Grrrl: sex-abuse survivors + sexual tension + sexual "liberation" = sometimes a really bad scene.

"Look at me, don't look at me--look at me, how dare you look at me?!--look at me..." Punks would dress in really out-there ways (and chicks, especially outside the sXe scene, would dress in really provocative ways--I had this tiger-print skirt that was more safety-pins and hope than fabric...) but would get indignant if anyone reacted to their clothes. I mean, what? If you wear a cheerleading skirt and a baby-doll tee, I don't care what it says on it--"MAN-HATER" or "STOP LOOKING AT MY CHEST" are exactly as provocative as "BABY" or "PRINCESS." There was a lot of naivete, especially among the women, about how people would react to us. Women played up our vulnerability in order to make a feminist point; we assumed other people correctly interpreted our deliberately ambiguous gestures--and then flipped out if people misread our signals. This happened in more areas than just clothing.

An attempt to acknowledge the harm done to people because of their race, ethnicity, class, etc. became an exercise in learned weakness. Instead of taking the attitude that, look, there's racism/sexism/whatever out there and it sucks, so you'd better be ready to deal with it, punk-types instead obsessively cultivated their oppressions. Every insensitive remark was an indication of the huge crushing heteropatriarchy, and so, I think, small annoyances became much more hurtful than they needed to be. Cultivating one's sensitivity to being dissed (as opposed to cultivating a sensitivity about when you might be dissing others) makes it almost impossible to function in the workaday world. You can't get much done if you thin your own skin.

Oh, and the political and religious views were the essence of conformity.

So you can see how all this was great preparation for college--much better than my guidance counselor....
ST. BLOG'S PARISH: Apparently I'm the "parish philosopher to defend us from the Randians when they come a-callin'." Heh! I'm reminded of that scene from "History of the World Part I," with the philosophers in the unemployment line... "Did you bull$#@! last week?" "...No." "Did you try to bull$#@!?"

So anyway, just wanted to get that off my chest. Here, have some random links. I've got a lot more stuff for you in a bit.

It's Zorak's birthday!

If life gives you lemons... make capitalism. (More on this soon!)

There's a multi-blog discussion of salvation and reprobation (are some born to endless night?) going on. Good stuff, very meaty. I recommend starting here and working back and forward as desired.

Here's a "Catholic Page for Lovers" that's just bursting at the seams with good stuff.

On a different note, here are some good, reader-friendly thoughts about the wishful-thinking proposal to make DC a federal tax-free zone. (Link via Tepper.)
CONTEST WINNERS!!!: So you all rock. The fake blogs were fantastic. I can only hope that the next contest (which is really weird) will fire you up half as much. Creators' names/blogs are in parentheses. I should note, too, that I was surprised that pretty much everyone actually set up new blogs on Blogspot--I only got two submissions (see below) in email form.

Now the winners. THIRD PLACE: William Hague. (Peter Briffa)

SECOND PLACE: P. Parker. (Jim Treacher)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: PoohPundit. (A. Beam) I'm sorry, this was the coolest thing I've seen in a long time.

HON. MENTIONS (in more-or-less alphabetical order--"less" because it made copying and pasting easier...):
Yasser Arafat. (Michael Levy)

William F. Buckley, Jr. (D. Connaughton, one of only two contestants not to set up a Blogspot site!): From William F. Buckley's blog:

Professor Galbraith upbraided me yesterday for my suggestion that our sojourns to Geneva be shortened to six weeks. He chided thusly: 'Oh it's to be Denmark on Tuesday, Belgium on Wednesday, eh?'"
Posted by WFB 2:35pm May 6, 2002

Survived 'Frontier House' on PBS, the premise of which was to see how three modern families might fare in the Montana wilds, circa 1880. A thought: Mrs. Glenn could travel the summer Shakespeare circuit as the Bard's 'Katherina' and be eminently believeable...
Posted by WFB 10:48pm May 5, 2002

Rich and the kids seem to be doing well at NRO. Rich informs me that he Mr. Dreher have to shave now and no longer get carded regularly when purchasing alcohol. Jonah, like the Beatles, appears to be in his 'dark phase', probably due to his recent marriage to Yoko. I've been told that even 'serious' adults are compulsively reading 'The Corner'. Would it be uncharitable to suggest that they could find a better use for their time?
Posted by WFB 6:28pm May 5, 2002

Many of the weblogs that have come to my attention display a disdain for civil discourse and, to the extent they say anything at all, say it rather coarsely. This ensilage of words in great quantities suggests a 'quantity over quality' milieu which lends itself to imprecisions such as the use of the word 'blue' when 'cerulean' is obviously meant. I intend to ensile my thoughts here as the spirit moves...
Posted by WFB 10:32am May 4, 2002

John Kerry. (A friend who wishes to remain anonymous)

Margaret Thatcher. (Emily Jones)

Bill O'Reilly:
Oh, wait, his whole TV show is a blog. Nevermind.

Sandra Day O'Connor:
To retire or not to retire, that is the question. Being the swing vote on the Court is not all it's cracked up to be. I could be riding horses and playing golf and shopping in Scottsdale. But there is that power thing. Anyone who thinks Karen Hughes was the most powerful woman in America needs to have their blog examined. Or Condi Rice for that matter. I determine what is lawful or not, and a girl can change her mind. It's a woman's prerogative.

(Both from Ralph Johnson.)
"Joe couldn't find a prayer in the Bible."
--Kirk Douglas, "Out of the Past"

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

WHOA. Ted Barlow links to this Scottish news story that details Pim Fortuyn's advocacy of pedophilia. What???
TOTAL DEPRAVITY: WOOHOO! More reader emails, very informative, from Lauren Coats. Email #1: "The doctrine of total depravity was badly named - it doesn't state that we are as bad as we could possibly be.

"The so-called "5 points of Calvinism" were formulated as answers to Jacobus Arminius, Dutch theologian. To my mind, they suffer accordingly. Designed to answer specific things, they are rather fragmentary in nature. Arminius argued that not all of our faculties were affected by the Fall. Specifically, he exempted Reason and Will. Total Depravity stated that all parts of our being were influenced by the Fall and consequently, none were completely trustworthy.

"Indeed, the Dutch Calvinists regarded themselves as defending Augustinianism from Pelagianism. Rightly or wrongly, they considered Arminius to be the spiritual descendant of Pelagius. Broadly speaking, that disagreement, in one form or another, has continued in both Catholic and Protestant churches right up to the present day. At best, there has been an uneasy truce.

"My own feelings are mixed. Both sides have Scriptural arguments in their favor."

Later Coats added, "The Calvinist positions were further revised and extended of course, most famously by the Dutch theologian Ursinus(No, I don't know how he got the nickname 'Bear,' but he's rarely called anything else.) in the Heidelburg Catechism, and by the Scots Presbyterians in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. If you got your data from U.S. Presbyterians, they were probably thinking of the Westminster Standards, which are much more detailed(and harsher), as they attempt a systematic exposition where the Five Points did not."
SMACKDOWN BY THE LORD MAGE OF GOOD: Christopher Badeaux gets on my case (he's in bold, I'm in plain text): You're sorta wrong. I mean that with all due respect.

Specifically, you're wrong about Star Wars, although I have to admit, the "prequels" are killing me. You've had a university education, so I don't need to throw all of the Joseph Campbell stuff at you, and anyway, I've always found that the weakest reason to enjoy the
Star Wars films.

First, they're some of the most Christian/conservative pop culture out there - there is an absolute Good, there is an absolute Evil, they're in conflict, Evil isn't misunderstood, it just bombs at midnight, and, most importantly, there's always the potential for
redemption. Redemption only comes with a massive sacrifice; it doesn't appear just because Vader feels like it. Obi-Wan's obfuscation ("everything is true, from a certain point of view") brings the hero to the edge of disaster. The moral certitudes are worth
fighting for. And so on, without dangling prepositions.

Second, the acting may bite sometimes, the script could use the odd chainsaw, and so on, but even so, people watched those movies, and still watch them. There's a primal attraction (I know, Campbell territory here, bear with me) in identifying with the
Everyman who becomes the Superman - and those films catalyze it, and make you feel for the characters, to the point where you feel like you know them personally. A more visceral reason than the first, I grant you, but still worth thinking about.

Next: You're really, really wrong about Braveheart.

If the point of art is to inspire - and Auden's depression and postmodernism notwithstanding, I say it is - Braveheart is art, and powerful art at that. It has the power to make Marines cry (yes, I've seen it happen) in the scene where Wallace's wife is murdered at the stake. It has the sheer force to grab an audience and make them want revenge, and to revel in justice done.

Yes, the film's Wallace was hardly perfect, and it kinda irked me that he played around with Sophie Marceau (mostly because it wasn't I who was playing with Ms. Marceau). But, first, for pathos, full-throated adrenaline, antique honor, truth, bravery, and all around throat-choking passion (of every sort), that movie can't be beat (and if it can, it's only by Excalibur or maybe Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Second, the "silly, nasty screaming-queen caricature of the prince" has, in fact, some basis in history. Eddie II and his
absolutely flaming displays were tolerated by the nobles until they, and his policies, became an excess. It's not that he wasn't, in fact, a member of the Mustache Parade; that's not historically really up for grabs. Let's be honest: It was pretty well understood,
especially in light of how much of a dropoff from his father he was (the scene where Longshanks berates his son for letting things fall apart while he, Ed I, is off securing French holdings, has a lot of historical foreshadowing going for it), that he was the drum major for the Parade, and he was letting it affect his rule. And his wife made no bones about why she ran off to France with their (and the paternity is up for debate here) son, Eddie Trois. So the film played it up a bit; the historical nuggets at work are more historical boulders, really. (Most of the foregoing remains open to a mea culpa if my English history isn't as good as I think it is.) If your problem is the Eddie II was portrayed as a stereotype, I'd argue, at least from what I remember, that his reign was the realization of that stereotype.


My reply: Thanks--here's my take. First, I'll partly concede the Edward II stuff (I need to re-watch Derek Jarman's weird take on the Marlowe play about him--I recall DJ's movie as being startlingly good), but it was presented in such a frat-boy manner that it just
seemed like an opportunity to laugh at the silly faggot. But you're right, it is based on history. And I also defer to your judgment on the moral character of Star Wars--I've got no beef with its "message," just w/presentation.

In general, I think our disagreements may boil down to one word: sentiment. I find both Star Wars and Braveheart sentimental to the point of nausea--emotionally manipulative, brutal (Braveheart, not SW--there's an excellent George Orwell essay, maybe "England Your England," that links sentimentality and brutality in a way that I think is 100% appropriate for modern-day America), and cheap.

It's totally possible, of course, that millions of Americans are right and I'm wrong, for the reasons you state. For the moment though, all I can say is that 20 years is not long enough for me to take the "its popularity shows that it appeals to something vital in our natures!" line.

His reply: Two small points:
First, in all honesty (and some humility) Edward II's presentation never struck me as "laugh at the silly faggot," because, well, geek that I am, I never liked him in the first place (as a king, he was a heck of a letdown from ol' Da'; more importantly, the girl I'd been seeing for a little while, a while before the movie came out, once said something nice about him - nuff said). As a rule of thumb, if he's an English King named Edward, I didn't like him. Same goes for half of the Henrys. (Interesting side note: Is it ok to laugh at Nathan Lane's presentation in The Bird Cage, but not this?) I, um, didn't laugh at him, until the very end, and that was because he was having
comeuppance. Now that you mention it, though, I'm a little ashamed, for not seeing it at the very least (and for laughing, a little).

Second, I never bought into Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, for a whole host of, well, reasons, so take this with a grain of salt: I don't see what's so terribly wrong with sentiment. Should art - high or low - only inspire the animus, not the anima? Should you never have your feelings brutally attacked by film or literature, but instead live in a comfortable insulation of pure reason? If I'm going overboard -
and I may very well be - let me tone it back a bit and ask: How much is too much sentiment? How much is enough? Does it depend on the situation? Does art lose its value once it invokes too much sentiment?


(To that, all I can say is that I was using a more rough-and-ready definition of sentiment--less Kant, more Hallmark--which may clear things up. Or not....)
ROCKET TO PLANET SHANK. THE INFLIGHT MOVIE IS...: There's a (strong) possibility that I won't post all the stuff I promised. Stuff over here is crazy. So instead here's my 10 Favorite Movies list, as promised; plus I'll post some reader email on "Braveheart," "Star Wars," and Calvinism (separate emails, sorry). Click here for Ben Domenech's list. Note that this is a "favorites" list, not a "best movies ever" list. I excluded guilty pleasures ("Lair of the White Worm" and "Labyrinth"...), but basically this is a list of the movies I like best. Because 10 is too few, I did give some movies points for diversity--there would be too many screwball comedies otherwise, so I tried to pick films that were in some way representative of my tastes. I know ties are cheating; I cheated. Twice.

10. "Grosse Pointe Blank." I love this movie. So many great lines ("I sell couch insurance"); man's search for meaning; '80s music. Poignant, fresh, and very funny. I especially appreciate the way this movie respects its audience: It doesn't explain every nuance, every aspect of Martin Blank's crisis, every joke. "You're a handsome devil--what's your name?"

9. Tie: "Sabrina," original Audrey Hepburn version/"Night of the Hunter." "Sabrina" is a sweet, funny, big-hearted movie that manages to work in both a stirring defense of capitalism and a reactionary with a slew of great lines. ("The 20th century? I could pick a better century out of a hat!") There's a recurring theme of maturity and the need to take responsibility, but it's all presented in a light souffle. Oh, and Bogart plays a Yale man; that had to affect my reaction!

"Night of the Hunter" is a dark fable of a murderous preacher (played by the inevitable, terrific Robert Mitchum). It gets on my list for the stunning sequence showing two children's trip down a river (fleeing the preacher), for the beautiful use of the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," for the sheer horror of Mitchum's character, and for the tough woman who takes the children in.

8. Tie: "Farewell My Concubine"/"Memento" The first is an epic take on the Cultural Revolution, following two Chinese opera performers and their love/hate interest, Gong Li. A very, very difficult movie to watch, with many scenes of brutality both physical and psychological, but the acting is great and the twists of political and romantic betrayal are ferocious.

"Memento" you've probably read about already. Suffice it to say that if Richard Rorty stopped being such a sunshine boy and started writing jagged, experimental film noir, this is what would happen. The woman's character is not at all well developed, but leave that aside; "Memento" is an extraordinary movie.

7. "Sweet Smell of Success." A rancid noir. The script is overripe, but give it time--I disliked this movie right after I turned off the TV, but since then I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Tony Curtis is fantastic.

6. "The Philadelphia Story." The dream cast: Cary Grant, K. Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. Great script. A paean to drinking, vulnerability, promises, and honor. And it is beyond funny. Oh, and it's got tabloid reporters. And did I mention that Jimmy Stewart is really funny when he's sloshed?

5. "Gone With the Wind." I know. I know. It's racist (and strongly influenced white American attitudes about race and slavery). It's not as good as the book (some of Scarlett's edges have been sanded down). But it's still a hell of a show--a true epic. Scarlett's character also changes more (and more believably) than almost any other character in movies.

4. "The Lion in Winter." Another dream cast: K. Hepburn, Timothy Dalton, Anthony Hopkins, Peter O'Toole (playing Henry II for the second time). Brilliant script, soundtrack, photography. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine spend Christmas feasting on one another's vitals as they scheme for the throne of England. A family that has long ago lost the ability to drag itself away from disaster--yet still keeps rolling on. Only sour note: The anti-war speech, which is cliched and too easy (and perhaps influenced by Vietnam). Anyway, this movie is so good it hurts.

3. "The Godfather, Part I": I don't really think I need to justify this choice....

2. "The Last Unicorn": This has been my favorite movie since as far back as I can remember. It's based on a fantastic novel by Peter S. Beagle. The animation is much more fluid and more distinctive than Disney's; the drawings express and provoke fear and empathy really well. The story is very dark, and even the ending is not unmitigated happiness--it's about love, and it's honest about what that requires. This is a movie for children, but it doesn't pull any punches or talk down to its audience. Any movie that includes the lines, "Men don't always know when they're happy," and, "Of all unicorns, she is the only one who knows what regret is--and love," is not a children's movie to be taken lightly. It's also got a lot of very funny lines ("I am Schmendrick, the Last of the Red-Hot Swamis!"). Go rent it.

1. "Vertigo." This is the best movie ever made. It's too painful to watch repeatedly, so it's a little strange to call it a "favorite"; but click here for an excellent summary of why this movie is #1.

Let the carping begin! (I guess it would be even more controversial if I explained why certain movies aren't on this list--like "Casablanca" or "Star Wars." Of which more presently....)
"Hey, I like this. Early nothing."
--Gloria Grahame, "The Big Heat"

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

OK, that vast blogwatch took a lot out of me. (From the peanut gallery: "Hope they don't put it back in!") Tomorrow, I promise to provide DC punk reminiscing, and The Politics of Dancing II!!! Wednesday, the winners of the Fake Blog contest!!! and a new contest accessible even to the Aquinas-impaired. And, as always, whatever other stuff crosses my plate. Oh, and I just finished And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, which is a quick read and well worth your time. Watch pretty much all of the Seven Deadly get their kicks as people die. Thanks to Russo for the recommendation.
"HO HO, HEY HEY, ENTE DEI EST ESSE!" A slogan for Aquinas, via Disputations.
BEN DOMENECH has a good post on home-schooling and education in general. (He was home-schooled.) He doesn't mention one other reason home-schooling is on the rise and causing conniption fits throughout the land: Home-schooling assumes that the family and the civic community are not at odds most of the time. Obviously this won't always be true--the family might be teaching an ideology that would undermine the community; the parents might be abusing the kids. But the civic community can be wrong as well. The public-schooling ideology (by which I mean the belief that public schooling is best for everyone, and that home-schooling is dangerous) pits family against community. If you don't send your kids to public school you're betraying your city. Home-schooling rests on the premise that "The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925.) Family loyalties, family loves, should be nurtured by the community because they will nurture it in turn. Yes, again, there are exceptions. But public-schooling ideologues have turned the exception into their rule.

Kevin Holtsberry asked what can be done to promote smaller government despite the President's best efforts to expand it. One of the biggest things we must emphasize is simply this belief in the ability of the "intermediaries," the institutions that stand between individual and state (like family, church, mutual-aid organization, charity, parenting group, ad virtually infinitum), to strengthen civic ties rather than weaken them. We've relied on Leviathan to cement our loyalties to one another, and in fact to replace the organizations that once bound us. That didn't work (and wasn't a good idea in the first place). So now we need the little loyalties back.
OH, AND JOE DE FEO has a contest: Slogans for Aquinas. Here're my (lame) contributions: "More of Me to Love."
"I have seen that which makes all my writings like straw. And that's one heck of a haystack."
"Girth, Mirth, and the Virgin Birth."
"The Ox Rocks."
"A Fantastic Scholastic."
"Funnier than you think."

Now go finish your paper, Joe.
Did you watch too many blogs?
I watched too many blogs.
Did you watch too many blogs too, baby?...


Michael Dubruiel: Some pungent examples of the rot and bad conscience that was spreading in the Church long before the horrendous sexual-abuse scandals went public.

From the Middle of the Storm: The blog of Fr. Bob Carr, Parochial Vicar, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross... in Boston. Apt title. Go check it out.

Mike Hardy: Sensible post on homosexuality and scandals and stuff. I will say that I don't really get his beef with the term "objective moral disorder." Given that he's not going to argue against the Church's teaching that homosexual activity is wrong (at least, he doesn't find a blog the best forum for that argument), I'm not sure why he objects to this particular term for it. Think of it this way: Is Humbert Humbert's attraction to "nymphets" an "objective moral disorder"? Is foot fetishism? Is there a point in differentiating some sexual attractions from others in this way? If so, why not homosexuality? (He may well have a very good answer to this--I'm just throwing it out because I don't understand his militancy about this term, when he's not militant about the underlying judgment of homosexual acts as immoral.)

InstaPundit: I don't know if there's much point in blogwatching the Big Enchilada, but if you like my site and don't read his you must check out this post: an anti-farm subsidies country song.

Charles Murtaugh: Very interesting post critiquing a NYT Mag article on scientists who want proof (based on probability theory) of Christ's Resurrection. Result: "'Given e and k, h is true if and only if c is true,' he said. 'The probability of h given e and k is .97.' In plain English, this means that, by Mr. Swinburne's calculations, the probability of the Resurrection comes out to be a whopping 97 percent."

Look, what I know about probability theory could fit comfortably between four angels on a pinhead, but this sets off every bull-detector I've got. And the clash of theologies on display is disheartening. I'm going on third-hand information here (what Murtaugh said about what the NYTM said about what these dudes said), but the big fight seems to be between "evidentialists," who "accept the Enlightenment doctrine that a belief is justified only when evidence can be found for it outside the believer's own mind," and the "reformed epistemologists," who mistrust our ability to reason and fall back on, essentially, "I just believe in God, so there."

Argh. Both of these beliefs strike me as wildly wrong, and destined to produce only head-on collisions rather than philosophical exchange. First the evidentialists: There are "easy" questions like what constitutes relevant or sufficient evidence, which I imagine these guys have already hammered out (at least I hope so!). There are tougher questions like, Should a methodology that was designed for experimental science actually be applied to historical questions like the Resurrection (or, for that matter, the reign of Charlemagne, say, or the Battle of Actium)? Then we get into really choppy philosophical waters if these guys are actually making their claims not about experimental science but about all truth-claims, since I'm very confused as to where we'd get "evidence outside the believer's mind" that we should only accept beliefs based on evidence outside the believer's mind. Basically this strikes me as descending into meshuginer territory at lightspeed.

Now the reformed epistemologists. It surprises me not at all to learn that these guys are Calvinists, since I've always wondered about the Calvinist doctrine of "total depravity." This doctrine basically states that the Fall left humans so completely smashed up that we lack any connection to our pre-Fallen nature (I think--please correct me if I'm wrong about this). Thus we can't trust our reason, not one little bit, since it's been unsalvageably corrupted. Add to this the doctrine that not everyone is given grace sufficient for salvation. That leaves some folks, the elect, walking around with an OK rational function, and others, the damned, walking around without one. How do they communicate? (Cf., again, Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.") If we can't trust our reason, first, how on earth do we construct arguments? Second, why can we trust our feelings? Aren't those fairly obviously corrupt also? A lot of people think God speaks to them. A lot of people take their religion, or lack thereof, as a "basic belief" that needs no justification or explanation. What differentiates "reformed epistemology" from sheer hardheadedness?

My own position is, perhaps, similar to Murtaugh's. I think he may be selling himself short, making his own acceptance of Christianity appear more irrational than it is. (Uh, I could be wrong, of course.) He writes, "If pressed, the best I can fall back on right now is this quote from G.K. Chesterton, on how to recognize the rightness of Christian faith: 'If the key fits the lock, you know it is the right key.'" That "lock," I think, is our entire experience of the world--including both our rationality and our understanding of which conditions must be met in order for there to be an objective standard of "rational." (For so much more on that, as always, click here.) The "lock" includes our everyday experience of beauty; it includes our knowledge of the tragedies and intense suffering that fill the world; it includes our attempts to make sense of all these things. Chesterton also compared the Catholic Church to an encyclopedia: People come to her with all kinds of widely divergent questions and concerns, but she can address each person starting from what he already knows. She leads from what each of us knows, to what each of us does not know. For some people, like me, that journey will be a very philosophical one, heavy on the reason. For others not. But the basic question is, What makes the most sense of my life? It's only once that question has been answered, I think, that investigations of contested, outlandish (by which I mean "radically strange," by the way, not "false") historical events like the Resurrection can really get started. In other words, possibly you can disprove the Resurrection (not sure how, but maybe...), but you definitely can't prove it starting from scratch--a lot of very very weird things have happened in history, and even if you accept that other explanations for the historical record are strained or unusual, until you've accepted the philosophical position that the Resurrection could really have happened, it simply can't be the most "likely" explanation.

Amy Welborn: "Imagine there's no heaven..." and other stuff sung at Mass. A vast and infuriating post.

YalePundits: Good post on French anti-Israel/anti-Jew rallies and their (lack of) connection to the French past.

The Chinatown Controversy continues to rage. Unqualified Offerings calls my attention to this essay by a lefty law prof. The LLP argues that "Chinatown" is exactly as Marxist as I'd initially believed. Let me clarify my position (she hedged): The movie is definitely and unavoidably lefty. The question is whether that's all it is--whether all human relationships in the movie are simply subordinated to, or "parables of" as the LLP would have it, economics. I probably shouldn't take a stand on that until I've seen the thing again, since this judgment can only be made on the basis of whether the other elements of the story "feel" shallow or allegorical. (Those aren't synonyms.) I note that the LLP confirms my distaste for the evil capitalist character: "a rich, powerful incarnation of the ruthlessness of capitalism, crazy in his determination to control the future for no better reason than to show he can do it." Profound analysis of human character that ain't. Anyway, go read the essay, decide for yourself, etc. And if you want a noir that really gets at tough questions about law and order--without the easy cynicism that reduces all human motivation to either economic necessity or greed--try the original, Robert Mitchum "Cape Fear."

And here's a link to the Same-Sex Attraction Morality League, via Emily Stimpson. Note: I have only glanced at this site.

And finally, this Roger Kimball article is silly. Beyond his snide tone, the big problem is his refusal to acknowledge that there's a viewpoint inherent in every class at a university. That viewpoint is expressed in the texts chosen, the presentation of the material, the questions the professor considers most relevant, and so forth. Moreover, there are good reasons to restrict the degree of dissent in any class. If you're trying to work on advanced concepts, but you have a kid in the class who's constantly forcing debate on more basic issues, no progress can be made. The class becomes stuck. In college, I took a course on the history of Christian doctrine that illustrated this point pretty well. I think I was the only non-Christian in my section. (That was then.) One of the invigorating things about the class was the sense of a common project--we all knew that the topics we were discussing mattered. We all believed (including me) that this work was crucial to our lives after college. If there had been a student who insisted on bringing up arguments against, say, the existence of God, or the Resurrection, we would never have gotten around to the explorations of repentance, the Eucharist, and so forth. Now, this pro-Palestinian prof tried to limit participation in his class only to people who agreed with him, whereas my professor never said her class was only for Christians, or only for Anglicans (which I think is what she was), or whatever. Your assumptions should be that people who sharply disagree with your position will respect the work you want the class to do, and that if they disrupt class you'll be able to deal with them on an individual basis. We can also talk about which beliefs the university should consider open to debate and which it needn't. (How upset would we be if a professor of 20th-century history said he wouldn't accept any students who denied the Holocaust?) But Kimball's approach skips all the hard questions, and ends up in a nuance-free call for education without "politicization." Look, every viewpoint has political implications. Philosophical inquiry should be directed toward the truth, but it shouldn't be "disinterested" in the sense Kimball seems to mean. I understand that conservatives are rightly wary of attempts to suppress opinions that are controversial but worthy of debate. I think this pro-Palestinian prof's decision totally sucked. But I don't think it sucked because every class must be open to every opinion, or because education can and should be utterly divorced from politics. Ideas have consequences, dude, thus philosophy implies politics. That means that arguments against the prof's decision will have to rest on more subjective claims--for example, I get a strong whiff of "You can't think that thought--it would Hurt the Cause!" (Philosophy implies politics; political partisanship shouldn't close off philosophy.) Or, "Do you really think you can't deal with disruptive students on an individual basis?" These are not as sexy, I guess, but ultimately more honest arguments.
"Did you ever want to kill a man?"
"My son, there's murder in every intelligent man's heart."

--John McGuire and extra, "Stranger on the Third Floor"

Monday, May 13, 2002

I WAS WRONG (MAYBE): Reader emails have convinced me that my "it's all economics" take on "Chinatown" (below) is probably wrong. I won't back down for good until I've seen the movie again, but I'll provisionally retract my criticism. Still think the kitten-kicking cartoonishness of the villain was over the top. But yes, the ending is great.
To the blogwatch down at Mory's
(Wherever that may be),
Let us drink a toast to all we love the best.
We will sleep through all the lectures,
And cheat on the exams,
And we'll pass, and be forgotten with the rest...


All About George: This looks interesting. Via Matt Welch.

Ben Domenech: Explanations of his Top 10 Favorite Movies list. I'll probably do something similar soon; for the moment, my carping commentary on his list will have to suffice. He's right about "The Godfather" (and he should check out Paul Rahe's essay, which I think is called "Don Corleone and Multiculturalism"?? and which is a philosophical romp). Also right about "Citizen Kane," though I never really liked the movie. Yes, "Empire" is the best of the "Star Wars" films, but, uh, that's like being the tallest Smurf. I hated almost everything about "Braveheart," from the fact that the hero promises to be eternally faithful to his dead wife but then shtups the Queen just 'cause to the silly, nasty screaming-queen caricature of the prince. Fight scenes were cool though, and death scene ("Freeeeedddoooommm!!!!!") genuinely moving. "Chinatown"... hmm... I have mixed feelings about this movie. Its evil characters are cartoons (I bet the Huston character kicks kittens), and its heart is Marxist (everything is always motivated by economics). I either haven't seen or don't remember ("Ferris Bueller") the other movies, but it was fun to read Ben's explanations. More on this presently.

Unqualified Offerings: Lots of jottings on Spiderman (movie, character, and comic) that kept me interested even though I have virtually no knowledge of any spidey-stuff. Accurate take on the uses and disadvantages of "continuity" in comics. (Los Bros. Hernandez partially avoid continuity problems by giving us frequent "flashback" stories, but they've mostly chosen the development-of-character route over the (more fan-satisfying but less open to artistic greatness) "maintain the archetype" route. (Uh, if that made no sense, go read UO.)

Crop of Christian blogs I hadn't seen before--all of these look fun, though in different ways: Barlow Farms, Howler's Update (dude who wanders the world evangelizing), A Kingdom Space (group blog of "emerging churches"), and Lollardy (who also has good taste in music). Browsing via Martin Roth's very useful list of Christian blogs.

And today's must-read: "DEATH TO THE WORLD: PUNKS TURNED MONKS." Frederica Mathewes-Green rocks. Later (like tomorrow), I'll post my own memories of the DC punk scene.

...Hearts full of youth,
Hearts full of truth,
Six parts gin to one part vermouth.
"How many times do I have to tell you, we're not crooks!"
--Richard Kiley to Jean Peters, "Pickup on South Street"

Saturday, May 11, 2002

AND IF FOR SOME REASON YOU HAVEN'T READ this Mark Steyn column--do it now.
POETRY WEDNESDAY (if by "Wednesday" you mean Saturday): From Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art":
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
One Saturday I took a walk to Zipperhead
I met a girl there and she almost knocked me dead,
Blogwatch girl please look at me
Blogwatch girl, what do you see?
We'll travel 'round the world, just you and me blogwatch girl...


Michael Dubruiel: Abortion apologist won't get a Spirit of St. Francis Award after all.

Onealism: Responses to his chick-priest-challenge.

Mark Shea: Link to a very good article on witch persecution; Aquinas meets Worf; re Cardinal Law, what is the Pope thinking? (parts one and two); more Catholics going to church?; I think we're alone in the universe now--there doesn't seem to be anyone around... (if you haven't read Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book yet, you should...)

Volokh Around the Clock: Unfair but not illegal; money ain't speech; Why are there so many streets named after Euclid?; footnotes on the Second Amendment; the Sunset Amendment

And: The Worst Cars of the Millennium (so funny!)--link via the very interesting blog of Jim Hart.

Schmuck pays homeless men to fight one another; link via The Cranky Professor, who compares it to gladiatorial combat.

Sad-but-true cartoon on Cardinal Law's testimony. Via this nifty new blog.

And a moving story of an RCIA class--link via Sursum Corda.
THIS IS REALLY FUNNY (if you're a philosophy major or similar).

Friday, May 10, 2002

SPEAKING OF METAPHORS: Yes, I know I promised a post on "language as poetry." But I don't have much to say really--just a quick observation. I think Nietzsche called all language "dead metaphor" (somebody drop me an email if you know), but in fact, the metaphorical aspects of language seem to me to be rich and alive. There are some areas of life that are jammed with metaphors that don't necessarily do a ton of allusive work--like blogging and BBS's, which is what made me think of this. Look at all the metaphors: Web; site; post; thread; boards; etc. Even in this fairly drab area of language, metaphors flourish. We rely on them. We need the connections formed by allusion; we understand the new in light of the old, and so our language links us to older traditions. We're connection-seeing animals, and therefore poetic animals. If those perceived connections are false or random, we're trapped in our worldviews, bounded by the iron bars of our language (/culture/tradition) from finding truth. (Or even engaging in philosophy or persuading one another--cf. Richard Rorty's use of the "paradigm shift" metaphor, and Donald Davidson's chastising of those who lean too heavily on that metaphor--for Rorty try Philosophy and Social Hope; for Davidson, "On the Very Notion of a Conceptual Scheme.")

OK, gotta run, but there's a little bit of randomness to end your day.
BRIDEGROOMS, CHICK PRIESTS, METAPHORS... AND ISTANBUL!: First, go read Emily Stimpson on why chicks can't be priests--here and then (in response to me) here and here.

(She's also got yet more on priestly celibacy, here .)

Then, check out these interesting emails from reader John W. Brewer: "Dear Eve, Don't get yourself hung up by trying to play out all possible implications of the bridegroom/bride image. Scripture and tradition have lots of metaphors which are all true (or convey truth) in the way that metaphors are (or do), and maybe even a bit more than an ordinary human poetic metaphor would. It is easy, however, to purport to demonstrate contradictions or problems if you jam them all together. Let's see: the Church is our Mother; Christ is our Brother; so our brother is our mother's husband . . . hey, wait! (Making Christ our stepbrother, which is probably a more precise way of capturing a lot of the relevant NT passages from Paul, simply makes the Christian family seem kind of like Woody
and Soon-Yi, which is not really much of an improvement.) Here's another one: take one of those Homeric catalogs of epithets applied by certain pious traditions to Mary and try to combine them. What would it look like for a Throne of Wisdom to imultaneously be a Star of the Sea and a Mirror of Charity? Something Ezekiel would see on a bad trip, I think. All this shows is that these images/metaphors are not intended to be propositions that can be assembled into a single coherent system of formal logic and manipulated as such, which just shows that formal logical system-building is not the only useful way to convey truth."


[Right; I only find that the metaphors clash and tangle when people try to build arguments off of them when there are conflicting arguments to be built off of other metaphors.]

"By the way, I've never found the image-of-Christ line of argument for a male presbyterate particularly compelling myself, but I think that's in part because it seems (tho I could be wrong because I haven't read the stuff thoroughly or closely) that it's part of a larger argument that assumes as a starting point a very specific and detailed understanding of the presbyterate which is distinctively Roman Catholic and which I do not entirely share. I'm therefore not all that interested in whether the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises since I'm not sure I've accepted the premises. (There's also a broader problem. One often wants to come up with an after-the-fact logical rationale for tradition, since blind obedience to tradition seems so unsatisfying. However, particular rationales advanced very often seem less than compelling, and unable to account persuasively for the implicit wisdom contained in the tradition. See Hayek blah blah blah. I think Roman Catholic theology sometimes risks binding the validity of a very robust tradition to a fairly brittle post hoc philosophical defense of it, with the result that the vitality of the tradition may be undermined.)"

[I agree with this assessment of the danger of post-hoc philosophizing, but I find that if you give the think-folk enough time, they eventually come up with a startling, very cool, allusive, and helpful understanding of the tradition at issue, after a few centuries of dead ends....]

"The other contextual/historical point about women priests is that the ancient Mediterranean was packed with pagan cults with female clergy serving in societies that did not, to put it mildly, have a particularly modern feminist or egalitarian view of the role of women generally, which makes attributing the omission to background cultural patriarchal bias unconvincing. (I guess there may be some people who think classical Athens was more chick-friendly than Second Temple Israel, but I think they're just provably empirically wrong.)"

And if you want more Brewerly goodness, check out this email he sent Unqualified Offerings on the history of Istanbul (and Constantinople).
THE OLD OLIGARCH ON METALLICA: Go read this. It's awesome.
HE'S NOT HEAVY, HE'S MY BLOGWATCH: No time for real blogwatch, but here're some random links. More posting presently. (And this time I mean it...)

Brink Lindsey: Death in Africa.

This site is interesting--esp. if you read Tunku Varadarajan a lot, which I do--but Virginia Postrel makes some good points about its omissions (and those of the New York Times). And speaking of media bias/labeling, here's a monster post from Zonitics on the subject. I will repeat my incessant claim: Labeling various people "conservative" or "liberal" isn't a big deal. Any claims of media bias are more firmly based on far more subjective criteria. I know that's also less convincing to people than the kind of analysis you can do with charts and graphs, but bias reveals itself in a newspaper's approach to an issue, not in its labeling. For two reasons: 1) Labeling discrepancies are easy to catch, and newspapers want to look unbiased; and 2) Right-wing folk have been complaining about labeling discrepancies for two decades now. I can't think of a similar left-wing complaint about the major media that would be as easy to fix as labeling. (If someone can, feel free to email me.) Possible counterargument: The Washington Post ranks as least-biased about labeling, according to Zonitics, and also feels more balanced than the WSJ or NYT. (Note that "balanced" does not mean "accurate"! It just means that opposing stances on controversial issues are given more or less equal play.) Oh, and I don't mean this to detract from the value of the time and effort Zonitics and Geoffrey Nunberg spent on this stuff--I need people who do real research, off of which I can bounce my ideas.

And here are some YalePundits.

Oh, and this is the funniest thing I've seen in a while. Via Shamed.
IVY-COVERED PROFESSORS IN IVY-COVERED HELLS?: A reader asks "if you've ever publicly reflected on The Situation in the Ivy League. Would you send your kids to Yale? Would you recommend that others do so? What sorts of kids is it good for?"

Well, there are two very different questions here: 1) Would you want your kid to go to Yale? and 2) What's the Ivy League like these days? And I can't answer either--but I'm gonna take a crack at it anyway, because hey, that's what blogging is all about. (Warning: uber-long post impending!)

1) It would depend on the kid. Not every kid is best served by a college education (I'm with the Cranky Prof on this), let alone one very specific college. Obviously, if you forego a college degree, you'll have a harder time changing plans later on; but it's not impossible. Our society is set up to foster the acquisition of unnecessary degrees. That's a fact of life, but it's not a reason to harangue a kid who's made a (mature, thoughtful) decision to skip college. There are very few schools that I genuinely wouldn't want to send my kid to: of the Ivies, only Brown and Harvard. (That's not just the usual Yale inferiority complex/college rivalry; I think those two schools don't do a good enough job at providing a liberal education. They promote relativism, in Brown's case, and hyper-intellectualism in both cases.) Anyway, I'd be very happy if my kid wanted to go to Yale, assuming it was a good fit for him.

2) I don't know much about the Ivies in general. (Despite the disparaging comments about Brown & Harvard.) One thing I learned at Yale is how different the Ivies are. So instead of trying to answer this question, I'll just offer a list of facts that might be relevant to someone trying to figure out What's Up With The Ivy League. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly; not in that order.

THE UGLY: Drinking, including heavy drinking, can build camaraderie and trust. It can break down some of the defenses people construct to avoid confronting their fears, hopes, etc. But that only works in small groups where people know each other, care for each other, and are savvy about alcohol. Without those prerequisites, you end up with budding alcoholics, girls staggering through the streets alone at 4 a.m., drunken sexual encounters, and much much more. Yale offers both approaches to
drinking, and it's often just luck which kind of parties you end up at.

Yale is sexually insane. There's a reason Planned Parenthood set up shop right outside campus. The Yale Daily News and the campus feminist magazine are full of women bragging about how much sex they have, how they hired a male stripper, and, in general, how "liberated" they are. They're desperate to prove
that they're not prudes. The lucky ones never face the consequences of their conformity. ...Yale also sponsors one annual dance, the Exotic Erotic (oy gevalt), where you pay less to get in if you show more flesh. Cute, no?

The sign the Yale Pro-Life League posts at the beginning of the year reads, "Your tuition stops a beating heart." Yale covers abortions (however many you need...) under a health plan that students can't opt out of.

THE BAD: Yale's administration does not really have a sense of Yale's uniqueness. That means the college's traditions are diluted, and it churns out managers and social engineers rather than leaders.

I don't know much about the college chapel, but they perpetrated the South African hymn described href="http://eve-tushnet.blogspot.com/2002_05_05_eve-tushnet_archive.html#76273132">here. Apparently their nun who wanted to be a priest got disciplined (she'd been meddling in the Mass), and the two homilies I've heard from the chaplain were quite good. But the chapel still struck me as a bit fluffy.

Don't expect any guidance in picking courses. The academic advising is basically a rubber stamp for students' every whim. The Course Critique (a guide published by... I forget who--anyway, it grades lots of popular courses) is useless unless you already want what a majority of Yalies want (since the course descriptions and grades are basically majority-rule)--if you're looking for a liberal
education, you need a better guide. I suggest the Yale Free Press "Coarse Critique."

This girl is, sadly, probably right about most people's experience.

Yale grants tenure at random, as far as I can tell. If your prof doesn't have tenure, don't get too attached.

There isn't really a vibrant intellectual Left. The Left on campus seems to believe that time spent refining their ideas could be better spent at a soup kitchen or a rally. There's no sense on the Left, as far as I can tell, that college is a four-year opportunity to pursue truth that you'll never have again. There are many scattered lefty students who do have this understanding, and it's always great to run across them, but they're isolated. And isolation is a lousy way to develop one's ideas. (They should all start blogs!)

Yale is on a mission to ruin the campus area by forcing out beloved local retailers and replacing them with--I grimace as I write this--Urban Outfitters. Sheesh, at least they could let the free market ruin small businesses! Oh, and businesses with Yale leases can't sell cigarettes. Thanks for nothing, jerks. (And I don't smoke.)

There's a lot of renovation going on right now. Most dormitories get vastly uglier when they're renovated. Beautiful wood-paneled common rooms have become wannabe bus stations. The Athenaeum Room, which used to have Athenian-themed carvings showing nude men, uh, wrestling, is now bowdlerized and carving-free. Gah.

THE GOOD: Yale students are obsessed with extracurricular activities. If they do want to engage in deep,
life-changing discussions, they've got the friendships, the trust, and the willingness to put coursework last that they'll need. Plus, extracurrics often offer opportunities for leadership, and they force you to deal with people you'd rather avoid. They teach you to make tough choices and take responsibility for those choices. Students at more study-obsessed schools gain expertise, but they don't have as much opportunity to learn leadership.

The professors. Marilyn Adams; Harold Bloom; Mary Habeck; Karsten Harries; Donald Kagan; Traugott Lawler; Ivan Marcus; so many more.

A vibrant, intellectual right-wing minority (both trad and libertarian). Many in that minority welcome criticism from the Left. They've got a good sense of fun--they throw parties, hold protests, and do a lot of intense intellectual work.

Yale was the first place where I really experienced a living tradition. It's hard to explain, but the Yale tradition is real. The architecture helps--the acid-aged pseudo-Gothic buildings explicitly recall the medieval university, and their carvings provide sly, fun, irreverent commentary on college life and New England Puritanism. (I really like the carvings of the Puritans gambling, but my favorite has got to be the relief of the man bent over a tablet, with the inscrutable heading, "DROOL.")

New Haven is beautiful, not as crime-ridden as you've heard (its reputation is stuck in the '80s and early '90s), and packed with fantastic restaurants.

And there's St. Mary's.

Well. That's my take on "the place where I made my best mistakes." There's a lot of good at Yale. It has not capitulated to the "long march through the institutions." Boola.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Sorry about yesterday. Blogger wigged; I had to run out of the office to go try to find some monks; I have no idea what "BigBody" means... but it looks like we're back now.
"Bourbon, straight! With a bourbon chaser!"
--William Bendix, "The Blue Dahlia"
When I met you in the restaurant
You could tell I was no debutante
You asked me what's my pleasure; "A movie or a measure"?
I'll have a cup of tea and tell you of blogwatching
Blogwatching's free...


Mike Hardy: Another gay Catholic of the Blogosphere. If you're looking for a, uh, different perspective from mine.

Pigs and Fishes: Valid criticism of that violence-by-abortion-proponents article I linked yesterday. My basic reason for linking the article was that it was what had prompted me to dig up all those other links, which are basically archives of the lousy record of legal, but not safe, abortion. What P&F says about the original article is largely accurate. Nonetheless, go read those other links. If you've got a strong stomach. (Scroll down to "MINIBLOGWATCH.")

Mark Shea: Wickedness in the Church. A very good post.

Emily Stimpson: Good news on the bishops' child abuse task force; more on priestesses and the Church's lack of same (although I don't get the "only a man can be the image of Christ as Bridegroom"--when a male communicant receives the Eucharist, isn't he acting as the image of the Church, the Bride? Am I totally off base here? [Probably.] I find the "Christ was a man for a reason" argument more persuasive, but this whole Bridegroom/Bride thing throws me off a bit); yet more on priestesses, from a different and interesting angle; a really good post, still about priestesses; and a final post on the history of celibacy. Plus other good stuff.

Do I get to be the first Catholic blogger to point out that Touchstone Magazine has a blog?

Amy Welborn: Awesome, awesome reader email summing up why wack liturgy is so very wrong.
I'm glad my boss isn't in the office today. No one saw my reaction to this. More details are here. Pray to St. Michael.
"Listen, I known you since you was a little kid. You was always a regular kind of crook, I never figured you for a louse. Even doing our kind of business you gotta draw the line somewheres."
--Thelma Ritter to Richard Widmark, "Pickup on South Street"

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

EVEN TINIER BLOGWATCH: I think Brink Lindsey and I are talking past one another on this whole "meanings of life" thing. I wanna know what love is; I don't want to decorate my House of Being. I don't want to be noticed (which is what the cow in his first example gets)--I don't want meaning conferred upon my life by my society (or by people who want to turn me into delicious steaks). I want to be right. This is crucial because I want to do right by those I love. It's also crucial because of the existence of the terrible and the sublime: experiences, whether horrific or awe-inspiring, that reveal to us the insufficiency of our lives, plans, and photographs. Anyway, suffice it to say that I don't think the essay Lindsey cites is much of a reply to Ivan Karamazov. (And sorry for the curtness--I appreciate Lindsey's challenge, and think it's very cool that he's posting about this stuff, but I'm trying to be really brief and I apologize if that comes off wrong.)

On the other hand, his (Lindsey's, not Ivan's) farm-bill-and-trade post is a must-read. Fax it to your Congressbeasts. (I would, but I don't have any--sorry, Eleanor Holmes Norton doesn't count.) Fax it to Dubya.

I think my next contest will be, "Write a blog post about the farm bill as if you were Ivan Karamazov."
MINIBLOGWATCH: Can't post now--got much else to do today--but I'm worried that my computer will crash if I don't close some of these windows. Later today you'll get a) What's Up With the Ivy League? Are They Just Nuts?; b) language as poetry; a bigger blogwatch, including a very brief reply to Brink Lindsey; and whatever else crosses my mind. For now, check out these folks, why don't you.

Don't Be A Shamed: Gallows humor--nicknames for the pipe-bomber.

Another One Rides The Bus: De Feo has a blog. I fear where this will lead us.

Anecdotes of violence by abortionists and abortion proponents. If you want to cry at work, go here, here, here, here, here, or here. (The first link via E-Pression.)

And two basic, quick articles from NRO on how the right helps the poor/how the left hurts them: Globalization and Peter Bauer.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

BLOGWATCH POSTSCRIPT: Progressive Catholic has a bunch of good posts: It doesn't start in the seminaries; teens need the sounds of silence; and memories of those "carry a baby doll around to learn why you shouldn't get somebody pregnant" high school exercises. I disagree with him on priestly celibacy--I just don't think the celibate priesthood is the reason Catholics have devalued marriage, and as for problems in the priesthood, there's so much else to fix that I'm not sure why I should bother worrying about celibacy (which, as he points out eloquently, has served the Church very well in the past) when I could be worrying about, like, mortal sin. I'd also ask whether the complaints he raises could not all be brought by Catholics during the earlier periods he describes, when by his own account celibacy was one means of witness against the prevailing evils of the day. But his site is well worth a read.

And then there's Christians for Cannabis. Legalization si, ridiculous theology no.
SPEAKING OF GOD'S EYEBALL: I really, really like this quote, from Fr. Richard Neuhaus: "Also enigmatic but suggestive of something genuinely interesting in Derrida’s thought is what might be viewed as a theological turn. Asked about his role as the world’s most famous philosopher (a description he does not dispute), Derrida opined: 'I have been given this image, and I have to face some responsibility, political and ethical. It is as if I am indebted to—I don’t know to whom—to thinking rigorously, to thinking responsibly. I am in a situation of trying to learn to whom, finally, I am responsible. To discover . . . who is hidden, who gives me orders. It is as if I have a destiny which I have to interpret and decipher.' It does sound as though Mr. Derrida is taking the long way around to the Big Question. Perhaps, he seems to be saying, the decipherer is himself a 'text' being deciphered."
THE POLITICS OF DANCING: There's one song that conjures up for me the relentless creepiness of God's presence. In C.S. Lewis's Perelandra (best book in overrated space trilogy... let the flaming commence...), Dr. Ransom the Earth man wonders what unnerves him so much about the un-Fallen planet where he's landed. He has this feeling, all the time--suddenly he recognizes it. It's the feeling he used to have at parties, the feeling that would prompt him to go out and have a smoke. The desire for a self-contained, private world, where even your friends and your spouse can't enter.

And on perfect Perelandra, he's forced to recognize that he had never been really private. He had never been able to hide his thoughts behind smoke. He had never really lived in a self-contained world. Because God had always been there, watching. That's a thought that should bring you to a swift consciousness of personal sin! Someone was watching everything. All the things you wouldn't tell your best friend, all the episodes and thoughts that you'd falsify in your own diary, all the things your memory edits so they won't keep you awake at 3 A.M.--Someone saw it all, and still remembers.

I guess some people might find "Somebody's Watching Me" the song that sums up that realization. But there's a song that gets the atmosphere much better, and sets it in scenarios that are especially appropriate for contemporary America: The Cramps, "Eyeball in My Martini."

I couldn't find the lyrics to this song on the Web, so I had to listen to it last night (oh the pain I suffer for my public!!!) and copy out the words as best I could. And by the way, this song rocks out. The Cramps are to fun what a Cherry Slurpee is to Red Dye #2: There's almost too much.

Went out to eat the other night
Picked up my girl at 8
In my soup I found a fly, but there behind my plate--
An eyeball in my martini!
A highball with a twist!
One in my linguini, too, I said "There's something wrong with this!"

Oh, eyeballs (x4) everywhere, eyeballs (x4) floating through the air!

Then we went to the amusement park
To ride the Tunnel of Love
When I went to hold her hand, there was an eyeball in her glove!
We went to Lovers' Lane
To scan for UFOs
Imagine what I saw when I pulled down her pantyhose...

eyeballs etc.

I took my baby home
For a juicy goodnight kiss
But there was an eyeball staring at me between her parted lips...

eyeballs etc.

I went to the Institute
And asked the doctor there
In the Department of Eyeballs
"What's the meaning of this [unintelligible]?!"
He said, "You aren't crazy.
You ain't insane,
It's just you've got an eyeball in the center of your brain!"
eyeballs... etc., wig-out finish.

Yes folks, this song has everything. A genuinely creepy image; all the sexual tension you could want; the end of the song, where we learn that the poor guy has a conscience (the eyeball in the center of his brain!); and even the shock that comes when we suddenly bump into God where He's not wanted or expected. Ever since I converted, I can't hear this song without thinking about this (admittedly weird) interpretation. "The Politics of Dancing" is the feature where I project my own beliefs/neuroses/whatever onto rock songs, then share the results with you!

And is this what Lux Interior, Poison Ivy et al. were thinking when they recorded "Eyeball"? Uh, that'd be a "no." But I still think it works. ...More next Tuesday!