Tuesday, June 04, 2002

OK, THIS LETTER to Pete Vere says what I was thinking (but hadn't put into words): Most bad marriages are marriages--no annulment for you. I entirely agree with Amy Welborn's and Vere's thoughts on the ways in which our attitudes toward marriage, big costly weddings, and premarital sex have made good marriages more difficult, and that's why I linked to their posts on the subject, but I really agree that you can't have a definition of marriage in which you're not married unless your choice was made in the best possible fashion. Here are the key passages: "Amy mentions that people get married who shouldn't. I agree. However, making a bad choice, even an idiotic choice, is not the same thing as having an inability to choose.

"...What does this mean? Jerks can marry. Head-in-the-clouds 19 year-old couples can marry. Almost anyone can marry."

Civil divorce is a separate issue, though it has its own problems. Obviously I'm not making any judgments about particular annulments--I'd never pretend to know "which ones were real." And I know it can come off as arrogant talking about this subject at all, since I'm not married; I really hope I don't sound like a jerk. But I don't know what else to say--telling people, "You were never really married," when they were, is not kosher at all. I know a bad marriage is a terrible thing to go through--one of the worst--and again, separation or civil divorce are very different from annulment. And I agree with pretty much everyone that the best way to help Catholics make better marriages is to focus on marriage preparation, resisting the contraceptive culture, and in general helping people understand what they're supposed to be doing. But yeah, as far as I can tell from very limited knowledge, there are also too many annulments in this country; some marriages are being called invalid for insufficient reasons; and I do worry about what happens to the people who want to argue that their marriage was real.
THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE to win my contest(s)!!! Winners will be announced TOMORROW. You will also get a juicy new contest then; I think you will enjoy it. Here's this week's contests again:

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!

Send 'em in!
CATHOLIC STUFF: Tim Drake has a whole passel of interesting stuff over at his blog--responses to the questions he asked various Catholic bloggers. I have to say that I really don't notice the "narcissism" of blogs--if somebody bores me, I skip him--but the points about time-management are well taken. Perhaps that issue explains the departure of Mike Hardy from the blogosphere. Come back little Sheba! Personally, I doubt he will be able to resist at least firing off the occasional email or turning up in a comments box. I hope so anyway. And John Da Fiesole is right in his reasoning about the use of the atomic bomb--we can't make the utilitarian calculus of sacrificing some innocents for others. We can pursue justice--including killing the wrongdoers--but we can't target those who have not done the wrong.

Here's Dave Kopel's Marylinks page--scads and scads and scads of links about the Mother of God. Lots of art, prayers, books, apparitions, scholarship, rosaries and "alternative rosaries" (like the Chaplet of the Five Wounds of God, or the Rosary of St. Joseph), doctrine (what's up with the Immaculate Conception? why do Catholics believe Mary remained a virgin?), and much much more. (Mary in the Koran... Martin Luther's devotion to Mary... what's a scapular?...) Very very cool.
I know you're antiseptic
your deodorant smells nice
I'd like to know you but you're deep frozen like ice
he's a blogwatch adolescent...

Note: There will be very light blogging today, as I have to, like, work and stuff. But you should read the novella "Sweet Smell of Success" by Ernest Lehman. Basis of awesome movie. Very very good stuff.

Don't Be A Shamed: Great moments in Google searches. All I can say is, To the person who came here looking for "gay Straussian"--welcome! You've come to the right place, sort of! Kind of. Not really. No.

Charles Murtaugh: Two good posts about eugenics, experimental ethics, and cloning; and sad news. I'm sure there will be prayers in the blogosphere for Professor Murtaugh's family.

Matt Welch: Bush, basketball, blunders; and another good post on Afghan civilian casualties.

A NRO article says slave redeemers in Sudan aren't being scammed. Read it; click here and poke around; then read my take on it; and decide for yourself.

Notes from a Hillside Farm: Very nifty blog from an Orthodox Christian who likes both me and Wendell Berry.

And last, Engrish.com. The name is not for the ubersensitive. But the site is SO FUNNY. Like tears coming down the face funny. Click and see the wonder of one Japanese quirk: the passion for putting English words on everything. Hilarious. And I've drunk Pocari Sweat, by the way--nice, but salty.
"We go together, Laurie. I don't know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together."
--John Dall to Peggy Cummins, "Gun Crazy"

Monday, June 03, 2002

D.C. BLOGFEST THIS THURSDAY! Rendezvous Lounge (18th and Kalorama), 7 p.m. Me, Brink Lindsey, Radley Balko, Julian Sanchez, et fascinating alia. Will probably start upstairs. To quote the email: "Bloggers, fans and friends of bloggers, and anyone generally interested (or not interested) in blogging are invited, welcome and encouraged to attend."
"I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE LAST YEAR AND CONDEMNING THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT FOR, UH, CONDEMNING ME.": So I went to Saturday's candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy. Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Executive summary of the vigil: Small but hopeful. Here are some scattered thoughts and observations.

I didn't know that in 1989, protesting students built a Statue of Liberty in Shanghai.

I had never seen the poster at Tiananmen Square, hung during the demonstrations, that read (in English), "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Photo captions detailed the ways in which the Communist government turned protesters' deaths into propaganda: Goons hung signs around the protesters' necks listing their "crimes." The protesters were forced to kneel, then shot in the head. The government recorded it all for the official files, and for public consumption--the latter is known as "killing the chicken to scare the monkey."

The gathering itself was very small, very amateurish (lots of people had trouble with the microphones), and almost entirely Asian. There was a lovely reporter with Radio Free Asia; I didn't notice any other press. Guess it's passe to have luminaries like Wei Jingsheng in town.

Wei looks like somebody's dad. He was dressed in a t-shirt and khaki shorts. (Did I mention that this was not a super-big event?) He spoke in Chinese with a translator, and displayed his well-known sense of humor by joshing the translator a bit.

Wei, like some of the other speakers, discussed the divisions that have plagued the Chinese freedom movement. He said, "The apathy and lack of support for our movement from overseas Chinese [4 1/2 years ago, when Wei was released from prison] is perhaps understandable, due to the behavior of the people within our movement, which was less than commendable." But, like the other speakers, he asserted that over the past few years the dissident community basically got its act together and stopped fighting so much. I suspect this is probably true; if it weren't true, I doubt any of the speakers would have mentioned the infighting. If it is true, this is a terrific thing.

John Kusumi, founder of the China Support Network, probably had the most detailed policy prescriptions. These were a bit sketchy. He called for the 2008 Olympics to be taken from Beijing, on the grounds that there was evidence (he said) of an "Olympic crackdown," as the Communists try to sweep all opposition under the rug as fast as possible. (I don't know if it's started yet, but I fully expect such a crackdown--other major conferences in China have provoked crackdowns in the past.) Kusumi also called for China to be treated like Cuba by the U.S. (He didn't give details, just said that Cuba policy was a model for China policy.) I don't think either of these ideas (revoking the Olympics decision and starting a China embargo) are good places to put one's energy, so Kusumi's speech was disappointing. I'd love for the Olympics to go somewhere else, but it won't happen; and a China embargo is not even a good idea, let alone a politically feasible one.

Two men who led the 1989 student demonstrations also spoke--Wang Dan, who was in Tiananmen Square, and Liu Junguo of Canton. Neither said anything particularly unusual, but it was still wonderful to see such brave people. Both now live in the U.S. (as does Wei).

Gao Zhan also spoke; she's the one I quoted in the title of this post. Here's a synopsis of what happened to her. Her most memorable quote: "I feel a sense of guilt because over the 13 years [between Tiananmen and her own arrest] I allowed my anger to die down, my conscience to die down, and my memory to die down."

If you want to help Chinese people struggling against their dictators, check out these websites: Chinese gulag; underground Catholic priests; free church for China. If anyone knows of groups who circulate samizdata (underground, suppressed literature) in China, please let me know--I know there are societies that produce tiny Bibles that are smuggled into China, but are there any groups that do the same with other books? eve_tushnet@yahoo.com

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free....
BECAUSE I KNOW YOU NEEDED MORE POSTS ABOUT CREEPY DOLLS: Avram Grumer of Pigs&Fishes writes: "Eve, I think you're wrong about why dolls are creepy. While it is true that modern society doesn't quite know what to do with children, that's got nothing to do with dolls. Dolls are creepy because they are designed to appeal to some very basic human instincts -- the desire to cherish and protect infants, and this is an impulse non-human primates also display, meaning that it's almost certainly an instinct that's older than humanity itself -- but they're also these inanimate lumps of plastic, dead things.

"I don't know where the children chanting in horror movies comes from."

I basically agree with this--I wasn't trying to list every single reason dolls are creepy--but I think the other factors I detail here also play a role. And I think they help explain the creepy chanting children, too.
I am a blogger and I don't care,
I like to make people stare!...

Joe De Feo: Blogger britcom wig-out.

E-Pression: Zorak seeks "defenses for U.S. support for Israel. E-mail them to me and I'll link them (with helpful glosses, natch)."

OxBlog: Moving story from Kenya; is Africa becoming freer but poorer?

The Poor Man: A really funny parody of The Corner. Link via Electrolite via Unqualified Offerings... I think.

Unqualified Offerings: David Broder gets spidey-smacked; if you don't trust the FBI, why do you trust HHS? I need to add my own rant to the Broder-bashing, because this passage promotes an idea that seriously gets (and annoys) my goat: David Broder writes, "In 1962, when the first Spider-Man comic appeared, the notion of making his alter ego a New York City kid was unobjectionable. We were an innocent country then, not yet familiar with assassinations, urban riots and terrorist attacks." I HATE this cliche. I hate how America didn't lose its innocence with slavery--or the removal of the Cherokee--or the Civil War--or the World Wars--or Hiroshima and Nagasaki--but a pretty president pulls a Lincoln and suddenly America's lost her virginity? What kind of blinkered, privileged, everything-everyone-hates-about-the-Boomers perspective is this? C'mon.

Matt Welch: More on Afghan civilian casualties. Comments also worth reading.

There's a lot of good stuff here--a blog by a Catholic canon lawyer. Lots of stuff about annulments; the effect of premarital sex on marriages; liturgy; and other canony stuff. And here's Yet Another Overeducated Catholic Blog--but in a good way... All But Dissertation.
"You're gonna have a hard time holding me."
"Be fun trying."

--Myrna Dell and Walter Sande, "Nocturne"

Saturday, June 01, 2002

MOREWELL!!!: (sorry) From "The Art of Donald McGill": "When one examines McGill's [comic postcards] more closely, one notices that his brand of humour only has meaning in relation to a fairly strict moral code. Whereas in papers like Esquire, for instance, or La Vie Parisienne, the imaginary background of the jokes is always promiscuity, or the utter breakdown of all standards, the background of the McGill postcard is marriage. The four leading jokes are nakedness, illegitimate babies, old maids and newly married couples, none of which would seem funny in a really dissolute or even 'sophisticated' society. The postcards dealing with honeymoon couples always have the enthusiastic indecency of those village weddings where it is still considered screamingly funny to sew bells to the bridal bed. In one, for example, a young bridegroom is shown getting out of bed the morning after his wedding night. 'The first morning in our own little home, darling!' he is saying; 'I'll go and get the milk and paper and bring you a cup of tea.' Inset is a picture of the front doorstep; on it are four newspapers and four bottles of milk. This is obscene, if you like, but it is not immoral. Its implication--and this is just the implication that Esquire or the New Yorker would avoid at all costs--is that marriage is something profoundly exciting and important, the biggest event in the average human being's life. So also with the jokes about nagging wives and tyrannous mothers-in-law. They do at least imply a stable society in which marriage is indissoluble and family loyalty taken for granted."

(Horizon, September 1941)

Points of note: 1) This is pretty much the exact stripe of humor found in "Malcolm in the Middle," much of "The Simpsons," and to a lesser extent (because it's not as joke-laden) "King of the Hill." All hail Fox!

2) The Abolition of Marriage, a book I can't recommend enough, has an excellent chapter on the idea of "romantic divorce." One facet of our society's view of divorce (a view that has been changing, for the better, for about five years now) is the idea that marriage is so serious, so enormous, that a) whenever the emotions of love fade, the marriage has become "false," "not really a marriage at all," and so divorce merely makes official what had already happened--just as marriage does not "really" change anything for the couple, but merely publicly affirms their pre-existing emotions; and b) the couple has to be everything to one another--best friend, constant companion, etc. That turns out not to work too well (ever tried to live with your best friend? I've been very lucky with roommates, but I've heard some major horror stories); a marriage is not supposed to become ingrown, turning constantly in on itself because "you're the only person who understands me!" And too many people think a marriage is all about the couple in isolation from their society. All of these viewpoints are completely alien to the comic, McGill/"Malcolm" view of marriage; and I'd rather have a view of marriage that can maintain its heroic and romantic aspects, without losing a sense of humor. Abolition is by far the best book on marriage I know of--it's inspiring, sensible, romantic, and non-self-righteous.
HORROR CHILDREN UPDATE: A friend reminded me of this quotation from Hannah Arendt (from memory and possibly misquoted): "Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians; we call them 'children.'"
Blogwatcher, blogwatcher, he rides a pitch-black steed,
Blogwatcher, blogwatcher, he's very bad indeed...

Sursum Corda: Good posts on sin and the Visitation.

Unqualified Offerings: Wolfowitz vs. Taiwan (ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!); random mutterings about the NBA, salaries, whatnot that sports-y people might enjoy/understand; and a Netscape-hate-fest contest.

Amy Welborn: Ex-Archbishop Weakland's apology; a priest, a volcano, and much much more; why contemporary art sucks; pro-life investigations slammed by Associated Press (my take on this is in the comments). Plus lots of other good stuff.
"I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up."
--Cornel Wilde, "The Big Combo"

Friday, May 31, 2002

IF YOU ARE IN DC TOMORROW, please try to attend this:
Tiananmen Square Anniversary

6:30 pm - 9:00 pm, Saturday June 1, 2002
Location Facing Chinese embassy, 2300 Connecticut Ave.
Speaker Leading Chinese dissidents
Phone Contact 202-347-0017

The Chinese democracy movement will hold the 13th Annual Candlelight Vigil and demonstration, featuring Tiananmen Square dissidents and others opposed to U.S. China policy, to mark the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre of Tiananmen Square.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, June 1 at 6:30 PM facing the Chinese Embassy at 2300 Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC.

Hear speeches from the top Chinese dissidents, a veritable reunion of Tiananmen Square leadership.

Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi - Both became famous as leaders of students in Tiananmen Square. Wang Dan was captured and spent years as a political prisoner. Wuer Kaixi was famed for impassioned speeches in Tiananmen Square, and was the chief among student leaders prior to the ascension of Chai Ling.

Li Lu -- one of the leaders of the Chinese student democracy movement which culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre. His parents were victims of the Cultural Revolution. When he was a baby they were sent to labor camps and he was fostered by a succession of families for a few years, until he ended up in a state orphanage. He was then adopted, but in 1976 his adoptive family
was wiped out in an earthquake. He was homeless for a year. During the democracy demonstrations he was married in Tiananmen Square. After the massacre he escaped first to France and then to the U.S. where he was a student at Columbia University, receiving his bachelor's, master's and doctor's degrees on the same day. Li Lu's life, based on his autobiography, was made into a film, Moving the Mountain.

Additional 1989 student leaders from the Tiananmen Generation Association will also appear.

Other special guests in addition to representatives from local Chinese communities include:
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi - represents California from her district of San Francisco. Her area includes a large population of Chinese extraction. San Francisco has been an active hub of activism for Chinese democracy. Rep. Polosi has made tireless efforts in Congress to represent this issue. She could be termed an "honorary Chinese dissident." Rep. Pelosi recently became the House Democratic Whip, a top tier leadership position among House Democrats.

Wei Jingsheng - the famed author of China's "Fifth Modernization" -- democratic political reform. In 1978, this tract was posted on
Beijing's "Democracy Wall." For his activism, Wei Jingsheng spent 1979 - 1997 in Chinese prisons. Wei Jingsheng is sometimes referred to as "the father of Chinese democracy."

Harry Wu - a famed human rights activist, Chinese dissident, and head of the Laogai Research Foundation. The Laogai are China's system of forced labor camps, a form of administrative detention without due process of law. The Laogai camps are the site of many beatings, torture, forced feedings, etc. The Laogai produce products for Western consumers, essentially with slave labor.

The Chinese democracy movement has had joint candlelight vigils every year since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.

Yi, Danxuan ("Dan Yi"), president of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, is the contact person for the event. He can be reached at 202-347-0017.

--China Support Network
CREEPY HORROR CHILDREN OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT: Last week, the City Paper ran a little blurb on an art show that involved creepy dolls. I forget what the deal was--why dolls? why not?--but CP's reviewer noted that dolls are inherently eerie. The reviewer added that horror movies often include a clip of children's voices singing or chanting in haunting unison. Why?

There are a lot of different elements mixing together here, a lot of different sources of creepiness. First, dolls and children's voices remind us of childhood and the passing of time. (Another article in the same CP reviewed a book about crying in front of paintings, and one of the main reasons people teared up was because the painting reminded them of the passing of time.)

Childhood was also the time when our understanding of the world began to form--and so the patterns we learned then persist. Again, it's unsettling to be reminded of that.

Movies that use the symbols of childhood also cause us to fleetingly identify with children, and to remember what childhood was like: The world was uncanny to us then. There are so many gaps in children's understanding. The use of children's voices or toys--especially when those symbols are removed from images of actual children, so they can't be fit into any narrative--recalls us to the child's perspective, which is often a very lost perspective.

And finally, children have a different form of consciousness from adults. This obviously isn't a rigid distinction; it's a blurry line. But children don't yet have the rationality that almost all adults develop. Their mindset is strange, allusive, secretive yet often lacking in self-consciousness (or what Harold Bloom calls "self-overhearing"). Children are very resonant--they pick up on unspoken messages, and they make unusual, imaginative connections between objects and emotions. They'll say things that seem irrelevant or disjointed, but that "make sense" from their perspective.

I think we're somewhat tripped out, unnerved, caught off guard, by the idea of sharing "our world" with these other consciousnesses who can seem so alien. Childhood has been around a good while (just read two reviews of Medieval Children, a very nifty-sounding book that attacks the belief that childhood as a separate stage of life was invented by moderns--and one review mentioned the awesome books of Iona and Peter Opie, which you should check out), but there are reasons contemporary society might find kids especially uncanny.

Modern, liberal society structured itself to value and accommodate rational, self-interested adults. It built itself on metaphors of the marketplace; it most often justified its freedoms by pointing out the wise use that rational self-interested adults would make of liberty. Much of that philosophy--especially as you move farther from metaphysics and closer to prudential policy judgments--does make sense. But our society has emphasized rationality to the point that we find it hard to even accept that not-yet-rational or less-rational humans are worthy of equal protection. (I should acknowledge that in one area--treatment of mental illness--contemporary society is much better than pretty much all of its predecessors.) I blogged a bit about this here: Children don't exhibit the qualities that we associate with citizens in liberal societies. They're not equal, they're not rational. And when there is no alternative reason to value someone except his rationality, his equality, or his efficiency, children will confuse us. We know we're supposed to value them, so we retreat into sugary sentimentality ("it's for the children!"), but in fact we find them uncanny and not-quite-right.
THERE IS NO FUTURE IN EINSTEIN'S DREAMING: Sorry, just wanted to sneak in a Rotten reference there. Actually, Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams is a fun little book--takes about an evening to read if you curl up in a chair with some food and go all the way through--it's got approximately the same relationship to philosophy that a bag of trail mix has to a steak dinner, but that's kind of the point. Sometimes you want a diversion, not a brain-batterer. The book offers a series of three-page meditations on the nature of time; the narrative skeleton is that Albert Einstein, while working on one of his theories of relativity (I can't be bothered to find out which), has recurring dreams of worlds in which the nature of time differs from time in our own world. For example, in one world time moves more slowly at higher elevations. Most people cluster on the peaks of mountains and build their houses on stilts, hoping to keep their youth as long as possible. In another world, everyone knows that they have only a short time left before some unexplained apocalypse destroys all life.

Two thoughts prompted by this confection:
1) The book sheds some light on the nature of promises. Promises have interested me since I read Maggie Gallagher's Abolition of Marriage (an excellent book), and they figure prominently in this thing I wrote about Nietzsche and eros. Obviously, promising requires a future, and knowledge of that future's existence. (Thus the dream in which there is a future, but no one can comprehend the concept of "future," is a dream of a world without promises.) But promising is not about stasis. It's not an attempt to pin down time like a butterfly. In one of Lightman's worlds, there's a location at which time stops. Some mothers take their children there, and essentially freeze themselves in a loving embrace of their darlings--who will never grow up, never scream, "I hate you!", never marry, never move away. Some lovers freeze themselves locked in a motionless kiss. And this too is a world without promises. Promise-making is about an ongoing and active commitment. The people who travel to the time-freezing location fear promise-making and try to substitute a kind of death for the difficult, sometimes heroic life that promises require.

2) In many of Lightman's dreams, people are sharply divided by personality: If you have personality type X, you will respond to bizarre distortion of time Y in way Z; if you have personality type Q, you will respond in way R. This is obviously how much of the world works much of the time. Lightman is generalizing and striving for a fable-like voice, and so he sounds a bit mechanistic about this--as if the world could be neatly divided into personality packages--but the basic outline is true. People with sunny personalities do make different choices, believe different things, respond startlingly differently to crises or everyday situations, from people with melancholic dispositions. But ever since I read James Joyce's comment on the Catholic Church--"Here comes everybody!"--I've been struck by the way in which Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular really does accommodate, attract, and inspire every personality type on earth. The saints are great examples of this--I find it hard to imagine St. Jerome and St. Francis even talking to one another; I can picture Mother Theresa having sharp words for St. Thomas More; there are joyful saints, sorrowful saints, weird saints, city saints, country saints, witty saints, dull saints, cautious saints and saints who careened wildly from one project to the next. Some find their natural optimism about human nature corrected by the doctrine of the Fall; some find their natural misanthropy corrected by the commandments to love our neighbor and our enemy. (Uh, I fall more in the latter camp, in case you wondered.) Some must be reminded that there is, after all, value in intellectual study; others are tempted to disregard contemplation; still others are tempted to retreat and disparage all contact with the world; and the Church rebukes and guides each one, and connects their pursuits. There is simply no personality type that is unrepresented among the converts to the Church. (So this doesn't just happen because so many people are raised Christian.) This is one reason that simplistic anti-Christian explanations of "why people become Christian" tend to fail--such explanations typically work for only a few personality types, if any.

It also highlights the way in which recognition of particular people as canonized saints helps knit the Christian community together. Some Protestants criticize canonization, saying, "Everyone who believes in Christ is a saint!" Well, all those in Heaven are considered saints by Catholics, including the innumerable unknowns who will never be canonized. But the fact that we have some canonized saints helps us to focus on the diversity of the men and women who have exemplified love of God throughout the centuries. Is my neighbor a jerk? I can wonder what it might have been like to live near Jerome, and I remember that the "jerk" may spend eternity in Heaven, a more glorious being than any I can imagine. Is my neighbor a thief, or a killer, or a prostitute, or a social climber? Dismas, Bernard of Corleone, Afra and Theodota and Mary of Egypt (not to mention Rahab...), Augustine--before their conversions. People I would not ordinarily notice, people I might dislike, people I might want to avoid--saints. People who might not like me much!--saints. Personality, in the Church, is never the point.

Random thoughts, occasioned by a light and savory book.
Don't turn around, oh-oh,
Oh, Der Blogwatcher's in town, oh-ho!

Mickey Kaus, The Hateful One (=no permalinks): Did you know that despite recession, welfare caseloads fell slightly in the last quarter of 2001? Neither did I. Click here and scroll, scroll, scroll like the wind! until you hit the last post from Thursday.

Brink Lindsey: Really good, basic post on (classical) liberalism and prudential judgment.

Charles Murtaugh: A basic point about reproductive cloning. Why does this point elude some people?

The Old Oligarch: Following up on his vast and awesome chick-priest post, the Oligarch gives us a big ol' scoop of blog about confession and Communion.

TAPPED has obviously never seen "Labyrinth." Or read T.S. Eliot. (Can't help 'em on "prospicience" or the others though... maybe if David Bowie'd ever done a song about it...)

Excellent article by Tim Carney (member of a freakishly smart family), shredding the Export-Import Bank.

And this site should be lots and lots of Viking fun when it gets revved up. A classicist heading into law school (I knew the haircut was a bad sign...). I know this guy. He rocks.
"How big a chump can you get to be? I was going to find out."
--Robert Mitchum, voice-over, "Out of the Past"

Thursday, May 30, 2002

SHANKFEST 2002: It is so gorgeous out that I am absolutely refusing to blog about the Horror Children of the Enlightenment. Manana, manana. So I'm going to sit in the sunshine and pretend to read Deconstruction in a Nutshell (the Oligarch lent me this book; I am intimidated but will soldier on). Meanwhile, here is a link to this week's Bleats. Thanks, Josh!

Meanwhile, why not check out this excellent, quick post on Fides et Ratio--kind of a shorter Catholic version of Ayn Rand's Philosophy: Who Needs It? Kind of.

And here are the results of Emily Stimpson's Catholic Pickup Lines contest. Don't say I didn't warn ya.
"THE WOUND HAS A TENDENCY TO GO SEPTIC": Last night I re-read an incredible essay by George Orwell. Not one of his better-known ones. It's "Notes on the Way," in My Country Right or Left, the second volume of the indispensable "Essays, Journalism and Letters" compilations. I'm going to mostly just quote at you, with minimal commentary at the end. Orwell in bold, me in plain text.

Reading Mr Malcolm Muggeridge's brilliant and depressing book, The Thirties, I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed oesophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period--twenty years, perhaps--during which he did not notice it.

It was absolutely necessary that the soul should be cut away. Religious belief, in the form in which we had known it, had to be abandoned. By the nineteenth century it was already in essence a lie, a semi-conscious device for keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. The poor were to be contented with their poverty, because it would all be made up to them in the world beyond the grave, usually pictured as something mid-way between Kew Gardens and a jeweller's shop. Ten thousand a year for me, two pounds a week for you, but we are all the children of God. And through the whole fabric of capitalist society there ran a similar lie, which it was absolutely necessary to rip out.

Consequently there was a long period during which nearly every thinking man was in some sense a rebel, and usually a quite irresponsible rebel. Literature was largely the literature of revolt or of disintegration. Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Shelley, Byron, Dickens, Stendhal, Samuel Butler, Ibsen, Zola, Flaubert, Shaw, Joyce--in one way or another they are all of them destroyers, wreckers, saboteurs. For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.

It is as though in the space of ten years we had slid back into the Stone Age. Human types supposedly extinct for centuries, the dancing dervish, the robber chieftain, the Grand Inquisitor, have suddenly reappeared, not as inmates of lunatic asylums, but as the masters of the world. Mechanisation and a collective economy seemingly aren't enough. By themselves they lead merely to the nightmare we are now enduring: endless war and endless underfeeding for the sake of war, slave populations toiling behind barbed wire, women dragged shrieking to the block, cork-lined cellars where the executioner blows your brains out from behind. So it appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.

The gist of Mr Muggeridge's book is contained in two texts from Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity" and "Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man". It is a viewpoint that has gained a lot of ground lately, among people who would have laughed at it only a few years ago. We are living in a nightmare precisely because we have tried to set up an earthly paradise. We have believed in "progress", trusted to human leadership, rendered unto Caesar the things that are God's--that approximately is the line of thought.

Unfortunately Mr Muggeridge shows no sign of believing in God himself. Or at least he seems to take it for granted that this belief is vanishing from the human mind. There is not much doubt that he is right there, and if one assumes that no sanction can ever be effective except the supernatural one, it is clear what follows. There is no wisdom except in the fear of God; but nobody fears God; therefore there is no wisdom. ...

...There is [little] question now of averting a collectivist society. The only question is whether it is to be founded on willing co-operation or on the machine-gun. ...Seemingly there is no alternative except the thing that Mr Muggeridge, and Mr F.A. Voigt, and the others who think like them, so earnestly warn us against: the much-derided "Kingdom of Earth", the concept of a society in which men know that they are mortal and are nevertheless willing to act as brothers.

Brotherhood implies a common father. Therefore it is often argued that men can never develop the sense of a community unless they believe in God. The answer is that in a half-conscious way most of them have developed it already. Man is not an individual, he is only a cell in an everlasting body, and he is dimly aware of it. There is no other way of explaining why it is that men will die in battle. It is nonsense to say that they ohnly do it because they are driven. If whole armies had to be coerced, no war could ever be fought. Men die in battle--not gladly, of course, but at any rate voluntarily--because of abstractions called "honour", "duty", "patriotism" and so forth.

All that this really means is that they are aware of some organism greater than themselves, stretching into the future and the past, within which they feel themselves to be immortal. "Who dies if England live?" sounds like a piece of bombast, but if you alter "England" to whatever you prefer, you can see that it expresses one of the main motives of human conduct. People sacrifice themselves for the sake of fragmentary communities--nation, race, creed, class--and only become aware that they are not individuals in the very moment when they are facing bullets. A very slight increase of consciousness, and their sense of loyalty could be transferred to humanity itself, which is not an abstraction.

...We have got to be the children of God, even though the God of the Prayer Book no longer exists.

The very people who have dynamited our civilisation have sometimes been aware of this. Marx's famous saying that "religion is the opium of the people" is habitually wrenched out of its context and given a meaning subtly but appreciably different from the one he gave it. Marx did not say, at any rate in that place, that religion is merely a dope handed out from above; he said that it is something the people create for themselves to supply a need that he recognised to be a real one. "Religion is the sigh of the soul in a soulless world. Religion is the opium of the people." What is he saying except that man does not live by bread alone, that hatred is not enough, that a world worth living in cannot be founded on "realism" and machine-guns? If he had foreseen how great his intellectual influence would be, perhaps he would have said it more often and more loudly.

("Time and Tide", 6 April 1940)

The essay mostly speaks for itself--it's distilled Orwell, the essence of the most pessimistic optimist ever to walk the earth. I do find it startling that he ignores the most obvious consequence of his struggle to ground the brotherhood of man without the Fatherhood of God: When you sacrifice your own life for the collective because there are no individuals, you have no reason not to sacrifice others' lives also. I've discussed some of the epistemological problems of trying to link morality to abstractions elsewhere (and Orwell is simply wrong that "humanity" is not an abstraction--who counts as human? How do we know what would be "best" for them?). But this essay has amazingly stark, succinct clarity reminiscent of Samuel Beckett. You should read the whole thing--it's not much longer than what I typed out. (I couldn't find it online.) Recquiescat in pace.
MORE ON CHARITY-WATCHING: Brian of Kairos fame writes: "Send people here to do their own sleuthing. You can actually look up IRS 990 (nonprofit equivalent of a 1040) for organizations, and even see the top 5 salaries. It's fascinating to learn how much your university president makes--or the dean of students for that matter.

"It's not very well known, but a 501(c)(3) is required by law to show you its 5 most recent documents filed with the IRS within 24 hours of a request. They can require you to come inspect it at their office, but they must share it. If an org. has five amended documents, that probably means they are hiding something by filing enough extra paperwork to conceal something on the original filing."
CHARITY RATING SITES: Just read an article about three sites that monitor charities' financial practices. The sites--Give.org, CharityWatch, and Charity Navigator--use different criteria. This is an interesting idea, so I'll quote the relevant bits of the article (Boston Globe, Tuesday, p. C1), but the main thing to keep in mind is that financial info doesn't tell you the most important facts about an organization: What are its goals? How many lives has it changed? I know it isn't always possible, but you should try to be personally involved in charities you give to, so that sites like these are simply irrelevant to you--you know enough about the charity's mission and accomplishments that you don't need to check up on it online. However, these sites provide useful info for when that kind of personal closeness isn't possible.

Now, the article: "Using information gleaned from federal tax forms, Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) lays out how a charity spends its money, how stable it is financially, and how it compares with similar groups.

"...In some cases, a rating seemed to raise a red flag. The Firefighters Charitable Foundation of Westerly, R.I., for example, raised nearly $5 million last year. But Charity Navigator's analysis indicates very little of that money went for the charity's stated purpose of aiding victims of fires and disasters. According to the Web site, nearly 87 percent of the $5 million went for fund-raising expenses. Only $555,000, or 11 percent, went for the foundation's actual programs. The foundation received zero stars, a rating of 'exceptionally poor, from Charity Navigator.

"...Charity Navigator analyzes two to three times as many charities as Give.org and Charity Watch and covers more local ones. It differs from its rivals in that it relies exclusively on charity tax filings to generate its ratings, whereas the others also review audited financial statements as well as a charity's policies and procedures.

"Not everyone agrees with Charity Navigator's approach. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, said its reliance on tax filings misses a lot of the nuances of charity finances. He said audited financial statements should be a must-read for any charity evaluator.

"Borochoff was also critical of Charity Navigator for placing so much emphasis on a charity's revenue growth and reserves. 'They're trying to change the way people give to charities,' he said. 'They're treating charitable giving like the stock market.'

"Stamp of Charity Navigator said his organization decided to rely on tax filings because they are the only documents the government requires all charities to file. He said the filings give charities a lot less latitude in reporting information than audited financial statements.

"Stamp also defended Charity Navigator's emphasis on a charity's long-term sustainability. He said growth and reserves are important to donors who want to make sure the organizations they are backing will be around in the future. He said the long-term emphasis was warranted in the wake of the downturn in giving to charities with no connection to the Sept. 11 tragedy.

"...Kyle Waide, deputy director of Charity Navigator, emphasized that the ratings provide only a financial assessment of a charity and don't address the importance of its objectives. He urged consumers to use Charity Navigator's reports as part of an overall assessment of a charity.

"'Even a poor rating doesn't mean you shouldn't give to a charity,' he said. 'It just means you should know this before giving to them, so you have all the facts.'"
OH, AND THE VOLOKHS OWN the "Jews in Spaaaaaaaace!!!" sabbath story. Click here and scroll as desired.
I've had enough of scheming and messing around with jerks
My blog is watched outside, I'm afraid it doesn't work
I'm looking for a partner, someone who gets things fixed
Ask yourself this question: Do you want to be rich?...

John Derbyshire, in a deliberately bloglike column, says many interesting things but also falls prey to a false dichotomy. He basically says, Life in Victorian England was truly lousy, therefore the sexual revolution was good. Eh? Can't we affirm the first clause, but say that the sexual revolution was exactly the wrong solution to the problems of the past? Similarly, I can spend hours beating up on the corrupt clergy and popes of the immediately pre-Reformation era, without ever thinking that the Reformation itself was a good idea. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. ...On a completely different note, Derbyshire mentions New York's "sunset days," and says that any city laid out on a grid should have them. Well, if anyone has the requisite time and know-how to calculate D.C.'s sunset or sunrise days, please email me. Thanks.

Lileks of the Infuriating Links: Nifty, nifty Bleat, with true mini-screed postscript. Click now, because I don't know where that link will be tomorrow.

The Old Oligarch: A fantastic, awesome, must-read post on women's ordination. It's long, but it's worth the time.

Travelling Shoes has a lot of good stuff up there. And a link to this interesting WSJ article on mobile homes.

Jonathan Adler, free-market environmental don, has a website.

It's kind of like a blogosphere magazine. (Link via InstaPundit I think.)

And a site for teens who think they may be gay. I got the link from E-Pression, and you should read the comments at her site from Mike Hardy--I agree with his criticisms of the site. However, this kind of site is desperately needed, and there's a lot of courage, common sense, and Christian truth there--perhaps it's best thought of as a starting point for future attempts.
MUSICAL FINGERPAINTING: Do other people do this? A very strange thing started after I first began listening to (slightly) more classical/orchestral/I don't really know the right term but you probably know the kind of thing I mean, the line of musical tradition that goes through the baroques and the romantics and whatnot, then gets all weird with Stravinsky, Messaien, Mussorgsky and other non-rock-like music--ANYWAY, so I started listening to more of that. And then the strange thing started happening: Before I fell asleep, as I was sinking into sleep, I'd "hear" music. And I'd get to play around with it, influencing it, shaping the sounds. Note that this is weird because I have exactly no musical talent, can't carry a tune in a bucket, etc. But as I was falling asleep I'd get to "compose." Mostly this music is instrumental, orchestra-like, which is also odd since I have a much harder time understanding and enjoying music without a human voice. (Which is why I didn't listen to Beethoven and the rest for such a long time.) Last night, it was a neat-o saxophone line--no other instruments, no voices, just this sax that I could "play." Kind of Lora Logic-y. And Tuesday night it was definitely the oddest so far: 80s pop. Not New Wave, which I love, but straight-up "Q107 Washington's Top 40, with Kasey Kasem!" stuff, "Careless Whispers"-type stuff.* Synth-o-rama. It was so much fun. I find it odd that I have basically no control over whether this cool mental trick occurs, and what kind of music I'll get to play with; but hey, the brain is a bizarre thing. So I'm basically wondering if other people--especially other non-musical people--have similar experiences.

*The place I found that link: The NIH. Yes. The National Institutes of Health. Their "kids' pages." What'n, Ah say what'n???
POETRY WEDNESDAY: It's Wednesday if I say it is, folks. Here, have some Philip Larkin:

Party Politics

I never remember holding a full drink.
My first look shows the level half-way down.
What next? Ration the rest, and try to think
Of higher things, until mine host comes round?

Some people say, best show an empty glass:
Someone will fill it. Well, I've tried that too.
You may get drunk, or dry half-hours may pass.
It seems to turn on where you are. Or who.
"In Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else. That's the theory anyway. But what I know about is Texas and down here you're on your own."
--M. Emmet Walsh, "Blood Simple"

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

AXIS OF EXCESS: Totally random thought sparked by Wendell Berry's essays (scroll down...)--excess is the mother of invention at least as often as necessity is. That is, inventors, scientists, and assorted pokers-at-things futz around, not really knowing where their futzing might lead them, and we end up with antibiotics, halogen lamps, and Cheetos. Obviously this isn't the only way technology develops, but it is one way. And note that this kind of excess is productive--we're not talking about covering your floor with leather and your ceiling with silk. (Not sure where the link is from, but the article posted there is from the Wall Street Journal some time in 2000 or 2001.) So this is not really a complaint about Berry's writing (it's more-or-less clear that he means the leather-'n'-silk excess, not the experimental excess--at least I think it is); it's just a thought spurred by him. Polemics against "excess" should probably distinguish between productive and luxuriant excess.

And speaking of excess, I know posting has been sparse today, and it's almost 6 p.m. here so I want to leave the office. But I have not forgotten my promise to post about Einstein's Dreams and Creepy Horror Children of the Enlightenment. You should get those tomorrow. I will also add a best-of list along the left-hand side, fairly soon. (Maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday.)
Soy una mujer sincera
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morir, yo quiero
Cantar mi blogwatch del alma...

Cacciaguida: A (probably unintentionally) pro-life GE commercial; and legal stuff about what the right to counsel does and doesn't mean.

The Cranky Professor: Quickie on millenarial/apocalyptic movements.

James Lileks (I can't figure out how to make links work!!!): Excellent summary of why some horror movies/bks are scarier than others: "Pinhead had rules; Pinhead lived by a code. In his own way Pinhead was fair, which made things worse." There's other good horrorshow thoughts as well, but click fast--the link won't work tomorrow....

Onealism: Fr. O'Neal's last posts--sorta. He'll still be posting his homilies at Nota Bene, and I personally will be conveying some Shawnly goodness to you next week, since he entered my contest. (Why haven't YOU?) Anyway, sad to see the lights go out at Onealism, but hey, our loss is Salisbury, NC's gain.

Right-Wing News: An interview with Walter Olson of Overlawyered fame. Sample: "John Hawkins: Are we really the 'world's most litigious people?' How do the number of lawsuits here compare to the number in Europe or Japan for example?

"Walter Olson: The most meaningful figures for international comparisons are the ones on the size of a country's liability insurance sector as a share of its GNP. They basically confirm the common wisdom, showing that the U.S. spends several times as much per capita as do other advanced industrial countries. Australia is usually viewed as our nearest rival in this respect, but we still were managing as of some years back to spend something like twice as much per capita as they, while farther back in the pack come
countries like Canada, the U.K., Spain and Greece..."

Also, the Institute for Justice has a new website focused on abuses of the eminent-domain power. (You know, the deal where the government grabs your land, house, etc., and you get no say-so.) The site is called The Castle Coalition--as in, your home is your ____________. IJ is a very cool outfit and this new site looks just awesome, so stop on by.

And there's At the Center, a magazine for pro-life pregnancy center staffers. Looks intriguing, though most of the articles I've read so far were too short to do much. But there's information on resources for preg. ctrs. also. (Link via E-Pression.)
"Your head says one thing, your whole life says another. Your head always loses."
--Humphrey Bogart, "Key Largo"

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

I am the blogwatcher
I stay under glass
I look through my window so bright
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky...

I haven't forgotten about the Creepy Horror Children of the Enlightenment. That post will be headed your way all too soon, along with posts on excess, Einstein's Dreams, and the HBO 9/11 documentary. For now, check out...

E-Pression: A potential down side to that "Welfare Reform Reforms Teens" article I linked below: Did birth rates fall because abortion rates rose? I don't know, though in general abortion rates have been dropping slowly for several years. But the Mantis has a point.

OxBlog: Good discussion of racial profiling. (Not linking individual posts because there are several of them.) I'm with Chafetz.

Pompous Ponderings: Ignore the name. This is a good, basic, helpful post on sacred silence at Mass, and how often contemporary liturgy ruins it.

Julian Sanchez: Interesting site of a guy who's way too anarchist. You should check out his blog anyway. And I liked his rebuttal to a non-libertarian (although you can't rely on the "harm principle" until you explain what constitutes a harm! Sheesh.) and his essay on why he's not a utilitarian. Although I obviously don't agree with everything he posts, his site looks very cool, and my more libertarian/anarchist readers will get an even bigger kick out of him.

Eugene Volokh wonders whether he'd still think Neal Horsley shouldn't run his "abortioncam" website if he (Volokh) considered abortion "tantamount to murder." Well, I think the abortioncam thing (take pictures of women entering abortion businesses and post them on the Internet) is a really bad idea for about fifty-two different reasons, and I'm (duh) firmly opposed to abortion. So no, I don't think Volokh is only taking the anti-Horsley position because he supports legal abortion. (Volokh, like me, thinks what Horsley is doing is and should remain legal--we just think it's wrong.)
YET MORE ON GIRLS' VS. BOYS' NAMES: For those who can't get enough of that wonderful Duff.

"Girls' names phase in and out of popularity according to the age of the people holding the names.

"In essence, nobody wants to give their baby daughter an old lady's name.' I am in my 30s, to my parents' generation, names like Molly and Claire and Hannah were old lady names, so they turned away from them. To me, names like Barbara and Linda are 'old lady
names,' and have less appeal on a visceral level.

"Why doesn't the same apply to boys' names? I think society does not attach a stigma of unattractiveness to older men. I saw a television commercial the other day where they showed an older man, with grey hair and all, swimming at the pool, being ogled by young women, while the music played 'I Only Have Eyes For You.'"


And a good point about unusual, traditionally black American names like Latanya and Sharnell: "When you haven't got much to give your kid, a distinctive name will do, like the good fairy's blessing at the christening."
SON-IN-LAW OF D.C. BLOGFEST. Not "son," you see, because it's being organized by different people, but the idea is the same: Let's hang out with bloggers. All are welcome. It's being hosted by Gene Healy, Radley Balko, and Brink Lindsey. It's June 6, at the Rendezvous Lounge (18th and Kalorama), and should kick off at 7 or so. The last one was much fun and I hope many of the same people will make it.
CONTEST REMINDER. Enter my contest! Click here for details. Win no prizes. See your name in lights, sort of. Enjoy fifteen seconds of fame. Everybody's doin' it. Even Winnie-the-Pooh.
HEY LOOK! It's an excuse to plug one of my old Free Press articles! Nat'l Review Online has a quickie on the literary canon and its defenders, which makes a useful segue into my vast article on "Democracy and Poetry." I know it's too long and it has way too many semi-colons--but give it a chance, won't you?
"WELFARE REFORM REFORMS TEENS": From the Washington Post. Excellent news.
BERRY, THE FREE MARKET, AND WHAT I BELIEVE: Welcome to all who came here looking for my frustrated assault on two Wendell Berry essays. I suggest you start here and continue on to the next post, which is the big one. I decided to write a postscript, since it's always easier to tear down someone else's position than to state your own, and I may have given the impression that Berry and I disagree (even) more than we do. So here's a partial list of what I do and don't believe about the free market, globalization, trade, and economics. It's framed as a reply to Berry, which explains the emphasis placed on points I would usually just assume.

Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
Are the dreams made solid--are the dreams made real.
All of the buildings and all of the cars
Were once just a dream in somebody's head.
She pictures the broken glass, pictures the steam,
Pictures a soul with no leak at the seam....

I believe that the rich have obligations to the poor. I believe that fulfilling those obligations is a lot harder than paying taxes to support a welfare state.

I believe that everyone should read this, take it to heart, and try to live up to its severe challenge: "Wealth should be seen less for its own qualities than for the human misery it stands for. The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold parties, and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. The poor man cries before your house, and you pay no attention. There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there in a dilemma over a choice of carpets." (St Ambrose of Milan.) I don't believe that making money is evil, that rich people are necessarily greedy, or that confiscatory taxation helps the poor.

I believe that corporations--especially when allied with repressive governments--can cause terrible suffering. Many corporations have profited and continue to profit from human misery. I do not take these facts to be an indictment of all corporations, or all governments. The best way to remedy these abuses will depend on the situation--which is why the specifics Berry shuns are so crucial. Journalists, watchdog groups, and free-traders must constantly be vigilant, hunting out abuses and exposing the abusers to legal penalties, boycotts, trade penalties (in rare cases), international condemnation, or whatever strategy is most likely to be successful. (We shouldn't, however, assume that corporations are abusive just because someone says so.)

I believe that the US should more vigorously enforce its existing laws against the importation of goods made with slave labor. I would especially call customs agents' attention to goods from Communist China, many of which are made in the laogai or Chinese gulag.

I believe that those who control technology and the means of production, in general, control the flow of information and opinion. That's why those means should be widely distributed throughout a society, as generally happens in a free-market economy. "Economic democracy," without very strong liberal protections for the minority, is just another name for tyranny, because the person who controls who rents what, who buys what, and who sells what can also control who meets where, who publishes what, and who reads what. The existence of Mother Jones, The Nation, Wendell Berry's publishers, the many websites that post his essays, and the countless bookstores that stock his titles are benefits of the free market.

I believe that voluntary poverty is a great good. Pursuing trade policies that keep other people poor is not.

I believe that subsidies to or supports for corporations are violations of the free market, not expressions of it.

My default positions: Free trade and technological innovation are good. Like most people who hold those default positions, I believe that there can be exceptions. (Let's start with selling oneself into slavery--bad--and work forward from there.) Support for a free market does not require the ideology that everything is for sale, that the only valid motive is the profit motive, and that efficiency should rule all--or even most--human affairs.

I believe that this country has lost a degree of necessary confidence in the afterlife, the judgment of God, and absolute universal moral standards. This loss of confidence has warped our politics--we find it hard to protect non-material goods at the expense of material goods. We are too ready to sacrifice liberty, loyalty, responsibility, and life for comfort, health, wealth, or security. However, this loss of confidence is not irreversible--and in fact, although there have been both good and bad developments recently, in general Americans have been slowly regaining this confidence for at least a decade. As the Magic 8-Ball says, "Signs point to yes!"

Whatever the benefits of an agrarian life, I have never yet seen a defense of agrarianism that did not require socialism in order to sustain itself. And socialism spells the end of the very independence and loyalties that agrarians so eloquently praise.

I believe that cities are among the most beautiful things on earth. I love New York more than ever.
"Money isn't dirty, just people."
--Kim Novak, "Pushover"

Monday, May 27, 2002

HAVE I NOT YET LINKED to Kairos? I should have. Start here with a Memorial Day thought, and scroll down. Lots and lots and lots of good stuff. (Yet Another Catholic Blogger.)
BERRY VS. AFRICA: Here are two links that may make my stance in the post below clearer.

U.S. Exports Misery to Africa With Farm Bill (Link via Peter Maass.) This is a fantastic article with a good, quick summary of the subsidies --> overproduction problem.

Seeking Trade, Africans Find Western Barriers

Both links require (free) registration; sorry.

Anyway, so, if Wendell Berry has addressed this stuff, let me know. Because I read these articles and get sad, furious, and in no mood to hear about how we should subsidize local farmers and stop importing goods. If you want more info on this sort of story, trawl through Brink Lindsey's site for a while.
HAYSEEDS AND STRAW MEN: I just finished reading two articles by Wendell Berry. Someone I respect a lot finds Berry wise and compelling. I have only read one slim book of his essays, and was not convinced; but realized that I didn't have much to go on. These two essays, though, really got to me, and made me wonder, What is up with this guy? So I will take you on a tour of the essays. They are about globalization, food, 9/11, and localism. I welcome emails about these subjects--eve_tushnet@yahoo.com. I finished the essays with much less respect for Berry; I'll try to explain why. (You can find two earlier posts about Berry here and here.) I apologize for what will surely be a long and scattershot post.

The first essay is a response to the attacks on our country. I found it via Matt Welch. Here it is. As is traditional, my quotations from Berry are in bold and my replies are in plain text.

"I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day."
I wonder why this is the first sentence of Berry's essay.

I'm serious. There was nothing more important to say than this?

I don't know when Berry wrote this essay. Perhaps he had written about 9/11 in other contexts. But you know, I don't see why Berry starts off by focusing on a perceived defeat of American optimism. ("Unquestioning" optimism.) That just seems so... inadequate. I trust his intentions and his Christian convictions enough to feel sure that he is not gloating; but there's such a strong air here of "September 11 proves my politics were right!!!"--which is a tune that's played countless times in the past months, but it always sounds tinny and detached from the reality of what happened.

Berry's analysis is also not true. Neither half of it. Economic and technological optimism had been questioned every minute of every day before 9/11, sometimes rightly; sometimes wrongly. And I also don't notice a lessening of such optimism. Maybe that will come later. Maybe it's too soon to tell. But for the moment, I think most people have the mindset of a terrific T-shirt I saw: "I LOVE NEW YORK MORE THAN EVER." So no, I can't agree with this.

"IV. The 'developed' nations had given to the 'free market' the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business."
I'll leave most of this to Jonathan Adler. But a couple questions: Is the air better in the USA or the former USSR? Would you rather drink the tap water in DC or Haiti? Is pollution in Los Angeles better or worse than it was in 1982? (And let's not even start on Victorian London.) Which methods have preserved the environment better--free-market ones or state-controlled ones? Oh, and don't get me started on whether or not American farmers operate in a "free market." If only.

"VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. ...This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free."
"Of course"? A standard rhetorical move in these essays: Assert that something is obvious, but actually give no reason for us to believe you. Why should a desire for economic innovation imply a hatred of the past? Does the invention of eyeglasses, or moo shoo pork, or ballpoint pens, imply a hatred of the past? How? Was it OK when people invented eyeglasses, but somewhere in the rush to invent bifocals and contact lenses and thinner lenses (so I no longer deal with coke-bottle glasses) and soft contacts and cat's-eye frames (why can't you just be content with poindexter glasses? Why do you have to look different?) and purple frames and purple-blue marbled frames and Lasik surgery our innovations became immoral? When Chinese immigrants invented moo shoo pork, did that mean that they hated traditional dumplings or soups or pot-stickers?

"IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homelands and our lives."
So we were attacked because somehow nobody ever thought that hey, wait, sometimes people use technology to do bad things? How dumb does Berry think we are? I mean seriously, even for a straw man this is pretty shabby.

"XI. ...We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited 'free trade' among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.

"XII. Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met."

More on this later, but for the moment: Don't build a World Trade Center! Somebody might smash planes into it! Don't build cities--somebody might blow them up! Don't produce anything that somebody might want--and then you'll be safe.


"XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. ...Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine."
I'm sure it will come as a shock to every American that the US government has done Bad Things. Again, why on earth is Berry talking down to us like this?

Also, I have to admit that I assumed that the Army would blaze into Afghanistan and wantonly destroy with little regard for civilian life. I don't trust the government and expected the worst. It didn't happen. I was wrong. The Army has been extraordinarily careful to avoid civilians wherever possible. Afghanistan could not be further from the March to the Sea.

"XVI. It is a mistake also -- as events since September 11 have shown -- to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues."
I wonder what this cryptic item means. We should sign Kyoto? We should stop fighting against the UN crusade to make abortions available to every woman on earth? No, probably not. So what then?

"XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money."
I am intrigued, and would learn more about this. What response would Gandhi, King, or a peace academy graduate propose? What response would they propose for England in World War II? For us, in the same war? Why does Berry reject the comparison of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor (as he does in an item above)? Why do I suspect that Berry's answers to these questions would be, "Do nothing"? Suicide is painless....

"XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us."
I'm all for teaching about Islam. But I have a handle, I think, on why they hate us. Part of it has to do with the fact that I walked to work today in pants and a blouse, with my long hair and my dark devilish eyes exposed for all to see--no? Part of it has to do with the fact that the Middle East is a disaster area (partly our fault for supporting some of its florid tyrannies) and it's easier to attack us than to actually set up a working government. So?

The rest of the essay deals with matters that are dealt with in more depth here: "On the Idea of a Local Economy." So let's look there.

"Our methodologies of land use have strayed from our old sympathetic attempts to imitate natural processes, and have come more and more to resemble the methodology of mining, even as mining itself has become more technologically powerful and more brutal."
This is over-broad at best. Slash-and-burn agriculture mimics natural processes far more than orderly tilling of the soil does; would Berry praise it? Or are some natural processes not, actually, so great? And is mining today actually more brutal than in the days when half-naked women spent their days dragging wheelbarrows of coal through tunnels in which they could not stand up?

"What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the 'developed' world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly giving proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of 'service' that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities."
Two different types of question leap to mind: First, why is it wrong that I live in an apartment (within five minutes' walk from several of my friends, by the way), wear polyester clothes I bought at a thrift store and occasionally splurge on Italian boots, and grow no food? Second, if I do all those things, why may I not continue to sing, play an instrument badly, home-school my (hypothetical) children (and would it be wrong of me to send them to public school/local private school/boarding school? If I homeschool, should I eschew online curriculum providers like K12--and why? Can I buy textbooks?), and care for my folks? What's the connection here? Berry constantly assumes that if you think some things should be determined by the market most of the time (like whether Sally should go into candymaking or cabinetmaking, say), you must think all things should be determined by the market all of the time. What? Why? How many free-market advocates has he actually met who believe that? (This is actually one of my biggest problems with Berry: He almost never uses proper nouns. It's a lot easier to construct free-marketeering straw men when you don't have to quote anyone or cite their works by name.)

"Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the 'free market' and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security and happiness to 'the many' -- in, of course, the future."
Proper nouns please. Who thinks this??? And I don't mean, Who has explicitly stated these goals and beliefs? I just mean, Who is Berry talking about? Who is he psychoanalyzing? If he is right, what should we look at to see that he is right?

Small: The Burger King owned by someone who would not have been able to open a successful business without the assistance and support given by a corporation.
Local: The Tastee Diner. Ben's Chili Bowl. The tiny deli across the street from the Burger King.
Private: All of the above.
Personal: All of the above.
Beautiful: The smile on the BK owner's face. The cleanliness that shows that the BK is important to the owner. The prints that he chose for the walls. His daughter, who's going to private school on the BK profits and works at the BK after school. Not beautiful, by the way: The ideology that a BK is a "dead-end job" worthy of scorn, that the owner is an oppressor and his daughter is a dupe.

"But one knows, in the first place, that 'efficiency' in manufacture always means reducing labor costs by replacing workers with cheaper workers or with machines."
Which then makes it possible for the manufacturer to make more stuff, then open more factories, then hire more workers (who often are doing less mechanical tasks, since the more mechanical ones are--hey, what a coincidence--mechanized). Henry Hazlitt has a great example in Economics in One Lesson--I think it's the English silk industry, but I don't have the book with me. Basically, weaving machines displaced workers. That sucks. But the weaving machines also allowed such a great expansion of the silk (?) manufacturing that within a short time (maybe two decades, maybe less) there were far more workers employed in the industry than there had been before.

"The law of competition is a simple paradox: Competition destroys competition. The law of competition implies that many competitors, competing on the 'free market' will ultimately and inevitably reduce the number of competitors to one. The law of competition, in short, is the law of war."
Huh? Where's he getting this? Burger King does not cause McDonalds to close. BK does not cause Tastee to close. Thai Chef does not cause Thai Phoon to close. (In fact, the first Thai restaurant often piques the local appetite, making it easier for later Thai places to open up.) Berry is competing with other authors to sell his books, yet when his sales go up theirs do not go down. In fact, theirs usually go up, since he draws readers' attention to other authors. Similarly, Ann Taylor (shudder) does not cause the Discount Dress Shack to go out of business; CVS does not destroy Target; Barnes and Noble does not cause Book Haven or Atticus or BookTraders to close. (Obviously that does happen sometimes, but it is not the rule.)

I'm not going to deal with Berry's list of the "principles" of free-marketeers, since it doesn't even bother to come close to any free-market claims that might challenge Berry's position. It's basically a list meant to show how everyone who disagrees with Berry about economics is greedy.

"AWARE OF INDUSTRIALISM'S potential for destruction, as well as the considerable political danger of great concentrations of wealth and power in industrial corporations, American leaders developed, and for a while used, the means of limiting and restraining such concentrations, and of somewhat equitably distributing wealth and property. The means were: laws against trusts and monopolies, the principle of collective bargaining, the concept of one-hundred-percent parity between the land-using and the manufacturing economies, and the progressive income tax. And to protect domestic producers and production capacities it is possible for governments to impose tariffs on cheap imported goods. These means are justified by the government's obligation to protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its citizens."
AKA the right of the government to pick winners and losers, to aid some businesses and some workers at the expense of others, and to protect existing jobs in its country while destroying livelihoods in other countries and barring the creation of new jobs in its own country. No thanks. For so much more on this, click here.

"I assume that the first thought may be a recognition of one's ignorance and vulnerability as a consumer in the total economy. As such a consumer, one does not know the history of the products that one uses. Where, exactly, did they come from? Who produced them? What toxins were used in their production? What were the human and ecological costs of producing them and then of disposing of them? One sees that such questions cannot be answered easily, and perhaps not at all. Though one is shopping amid an astonishing variety of products, one is denied certain significant choices."
First of all, there are organizations that certify that goods were made under "worker-friendly" (as defined by the organization) conditions. Similarly, it should surprise no one that I support journalism that seeks to expose abuses of workers. Second, why note only that we do not know the costs? We rarely know the benefits of our consumer choices, but those benefits are equally real--and probably harder to discover, actually. And finally, what about when people in other countries want me to buy their products? Why should I assume that my trade hurts them?

"Perhaps one also begins to see the difference between a small local business that must share the fate of the local community and a large absentee corporation that is set up to escape the fate of the local community by ruining the local community."
I also see the difference between a small local business or farm that is unable to withstand weather, temporary economic crises, big losses at the beginning of an enterprise that promises to show profit later, etc., and a corporation that can make up for temporary downturns and fluctuations. Are farming economies actually stable? Are "self-sufficient" economies stable? Well, not if there's a blight. Not if there's a famine--try early modern England for a few examples. There are reasons people want to trade, to tie their fortunes to an outside corporation, and these reasons cannot be gotten around simply by labeling them "greed."

"A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met."
...Why not? Why is it acceptable (if it is acceptable) to import arithromycin and ibuprofen and hypodermic needles, books and records and record players, computers? electric appliances? toasters?--but not food? Why is it wrong to get food from other people? Because you might starve if someone cuts off your food supply? It's very hard to stop people from trading--as we've learned with Cuba and Iraq--and it's not like self-sufficiency will prevent natural disasters or other forms of devastation of the food supply. Moreover, if that's the justification, it's a polemic against all risk--What if someone attacks you? If the justification is that food is symbolic, and we need some kind of symbolic independence... well, I need more than that before I'm willing to accept the reduction in our ability to feed people, the rise in the cost of food, and the attendant suffering that a switch to a "self-sufficient" local economy would produce. It's harder to feed the world's population now than it was four centuries ago. Methods of production that were appropriate to an earlier time may be inadequate now, and we'd need a good argument to convince us to go back. I don't think Berry has come close to providing that argument in anything I've read by him so far--I've found him dismissive, unwilling to address the claims made against his position.
THIS ROCKS. I'm a big, big fan of the relevant Borges quote. (Link via Pigs and Fishes.)
THE NAME OF THE ROSAMOND: Interesting mailbag in response to my post about trends in girls' names vs. boys' names. Here are some samples:

"There's a marketing-packaging aspect to many of the non-traditional names -- the image of the sun-tanned popular pretty sexily dressed teenage girl needs a name like Alexis or Britney or Samantha to go with it. Girls in soft drink commercials aren't named Mary.

"My wife and I compromised our Jewish and Catholic traditions by going strictly OT -- Aaron, Leah, Sam, Hannah. I bet that other people compromise by going with madeup names -- then you don't have to workout with your spouse which relatives will be remembered in your children's names."

"Maybe boys are given more conservative names because they will keep the family last name. That is, people often call boys by their family names. This seems to be especially true when boys have common first names...like Michael. So it's less of an issue to give a boy a common name.

"Girls, on the other hand, give up their last names and are generally known by their first names, so its important to have the first name be distinctive."

And: "My daughters are named Mary Katherine and Sarah Elizabeth. They reflected friends' and relatives' names; they would not look ridiculous on letterheads or on the fantails of warships; and they included the names of the Tudor queens, in roughly the right order.

"Unfortunately, true to form, the elder got into a fight with the younger, and excommunicated her."
Why are there so many blogs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions--but only illusions--
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
I've watched it too many times to ignore it--
It's something that I'm s'posed to blog...

(I seriously hate that song--and I don't care for the relativist, hippie movie it's stuck in either--but it's in my head and won't come out, so I'm inflicting it on all of you. Grrr!!! --If you want a Muppet movie, rent the fantastic "Great Muppet Caper." "Pig. Climbing up the outside of the house.")

Tim Blair: A must-read post on euthanasia. (Link via Amy Welborn.)

Mark Byron: By far the most sensible post about teen sex.

Cacciaguida: New blog on the block. "Catholicism. Conservatism. Law. The Middle Ages. Opera." Current posts talk sense about Philip Jenkins and judicial confirmations (uh, those are different posts, thank goodness).

Dappled Things: If I haven't mentioned this site before, I apologize. Very very cool stuff from a priest. Here, have an excellent quotation from Richard Rodriguez's autobiography; there's another one right above it. And his homily-summaries are just awesome.

Don't Be A Shamed: Why Denzel doesn't kiss white chicks; When Property Valuation Administrators Attack!!! (this is a must-read if you want to see politics at its worst--what a freakshow...).

The Edge of England's Sword: There is no future in England's dreaming--not if they keep on like this, at any rate. Anything that can drive Iain Murray to caps-lock and ?!?! is probably no good.

The Marriage Movement has a blog! This really rocks. Stats, news, and views on one of the most important domestic issues facing us today: the meaning of marriage.

Steve Mattson: There's so much really good stuff at this blog (the junior seminarian of St. Blog's Parish) that I'm not going to bother linking individual posts. Basically, if you want an inside-the-seminary view of the Crisis, click here.

Josh Mercer, of Register fame, has a blog!

Emmanuelle Richard: The porn business is not as big as they tell you--gullible journalists get snookered by lying porn kings. Very good article.

Sursum Corda: Lady priests mailbag; and an excellent post on marriage. Re lady priests, let me post a chunk of an email I sent Nixon in response to a very thoughtful one he sent me: "I think I prob. came across as more 'hard-charging orthodoxy police' than I intended in that post--I really did mean, Here are some questions, and I wonder what you think about them. With several of them (like the boundary-setting q.) I posed the question b/c I wasn't sure how I would answer, and figured, who better to push me than you? I see now that I sounded like I had a ready-made answer in mind, which actually wasn't true at all. Pretty much everything in your email I agreed with. I do think that you will likely eventually find the Church's stance on lady priests more of a fruitful challenge than a stark weird refusal; but that's b/c I do think I've learned about gender and metaphor because the Church made me learn. (And believe you me, I don't think the Church's position leaves me inferior or disempowered!)" Orthodoxy is sweet and necessary--but I do think my tone was off, and made my questions to Nixon sound self-righteous rather than sincere. That wasn't my intention.

Matthew Yglesias: Yet more on "American Jihad." Just click here and scroll down.

Zorak (of E-Pression) tells us a little about our favorite embittered mantis. Nifty. I may be adding some of those books to the reading list.