Monday, July 01, 2002

VERY COOL POST FROM ONO EKEH on Mary and the Eucharist.
TELFORD WORK RESPONDS. I will mull and post more tomorrow or Wednesday.
GOOD ARTICLE ON THE DEATH PENALTY here. Diligently sorts theological from prudential claims, and gets into the gritty facts in order to give us some information about those prudential claims. A few scattered thoughts:

Harrington writes, "Prudentially, the evidence is far from convincing that American prisons are up to the task of protecting the safety of persons." He doesn't go on to say (though I have no reason to believe he disagrees with this) that if he is correct in his prudential judgment, Catholics should be working to change that situation. In other words, if, prudentially, the death penalty can and should be applied in contemporary America because our prisons suck so much, Catholics should be working to make the sucking stop, and then, once that task is accomplished, we should turn to working against the death penalty. We should not accept the death penalty as status quo even if we agree that today it is needed.

Christian opponents of the death penalty are often accused, by other Christians, of fetishizing life in a way that is more humanist than Christian. The accusation is that death penalty opponents believe (or have embraced a worldview that springs from the belief) that death is the end--that it is the worst thing that can ever happen--that there is no Hell, no Heaven, no judgment--and that therefore life must be preserved at all cost. I find this accusation unconvincing, largely because it can be so easily applied to most supporters of the death penalty. Most contemporary supporters of the death penalty support it only in cases of murder. Murder is different. Murder is distinct. Why? Because killing, although perhaps not the worst thing you can do to someone (and how are we to even begin judging whether it is worse to be killed or tortured, killed or raped, killed or pressured into denying your faith--how can that calculus ever be made?!), is different. It is the end of the life we know, even if it is also rebirth into a new life. Unless supporters of the death penalty are willing to call for its application in cases of (say) rape, child abuse, grand theft auto, or killing the king's deer--then I don't see how they can responsibly claim that the view that "death is different" is an anti-Christian view.

And if death penalty supporters are willing to extend the penalty so far--or even just to cover all murders--then you can kiss goodbye the standard pro-death penalty argument that the USA doesn't execute the innocent. If that claim is true (and I really don't know, though there are serious horror stories about the quality of the legal counsel given to men who were executed), it is true because there are so many barriers to execution in this country now, and because, relative to the number of murders, we don't execute that many people. Ease the standards for execution and you will see innocent men sent to the chair.

And if you don't extend the death penalty to all murders, if you keep it, as it is today, dependent on a number of shifting factors that deem some murders more deserving of death than others, how is that to be justified? What is there to say to the anguished mother who asks why her child's death wasn't important enough to warrant the supreme penalty? In practice, distinguishing between death-penalty and jail-time cases is messy, an ugly wrangling of lawyers, grief, and sympathy. If we kill murderers to send a message, are we actually clear on what message we're sending?

Finally--too many arguments for the death penalty (not all, of course, but too many) are also arguments for torture. For example, the notion that the criminal must receive punishment that is somehow proportionate to his crime. Well, the death penalty is not always proportionate to the crime. How is lethal injection "enough" when compared to the rape and murder of 14 women? How is that "proportionate"? If we really wanted proportionate justice, we would kill painfully and slowly. (And I think some equivalent of this mindset is behind the view that prison rape isn't a big deal because, after all, they're just prisoners.) Proportionate justice, an eye for an eye, is neither attainable nor desirable. So put that argument aside and move on.

Anyway, Harrington makes a good distinction between what the Church can and does say, and what she can't and doesn't. Clear, readable, journalistic. Good stuff.
AND READ THIS EXCELLENT POST FROM THE RAT on men, women, marriage, and the $#@! that gets in the way.
PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE AMMUNITION?: The House of David and Telford Work are having a terrific running debate in the Stanley Hauerwas/Christian pacifism thread. Although I am not a pacifist, I must say that Work is making the better arguments here, though HOD is battling valiantly (so to speak).

My problems with both parties' positions are really problems with a certain style of Protestant exegesis. Zorak once noted that "What Would Jesus Do?" isn't really the greatest slogan for a Christian; "What Does The Church Teach?", while not as sexy, more accurately reflects how we should align our actions and loyalties. WWJD? theology tends to run into three dead ends: a) rank speculation about what Jesus might have done, if only He had known all the circumstances, and if He were a lot like us, etc. etc.;

b) an overly literal interpretation of imitatio Christi. The editors of First Things have a good take on this: "Some ask, What would Jesus do? Can you imagine, it is asked, Jesus flying a stealth bomber or joining in a commando raid? One might as well ask if you can imagine Jesus driving a bus, editing a magazine, or being a tenured professor in a religious studies department. The question is not what Jesus would do but what he would have us do. Real pacifists answer that question one way. Other faithful disciples answer that, in obedience to the command to love the neighbor, it is their duty to defend the innocent by engaging in a just war against a murderous aggressor." The editors do not add that Jesus, in fact, did many things that it might not be best for you or me to do--oh, click here, or here, but you can no doubt add your own examples. Some see a switch from WWJD to What Does The Church Teach? as a dilution of Jesus's stern message; I see WWJD? as a rejection of the idea of vocation and a potentially prideful attempt to act as if one were, oneself, God.

c) weird archeological rummagings-around trying to find out "what Jesus really said," since, of course, we can't trust the Gospels, which were vetted and handed down to us by the untrustworthy Church. The "search for the historical Jesus" rapidly dissipates into either despair of ever finding the "real Jesus" or the discovery that Jesus "really" said exactly what I wanted Him to say.

I think HOD is taking option c) while Work is taking b). Work's asking all the right questions to illuminate the flaws in HOD's claims, so I'll just ask a couple questions of Work: First, is pacifism analogous to celibacy? If not, why not? In my opinion, they actually hold strikingly similar positions in the New Testament. (I can elaborate on this if he doesn't take my point, but I think it's kind of obvious.)

Second, I know this isn't decisive for Work's claims, but he's leaning very heavily on the example of the British in India to show how a) political entanglement/use of force by Christians always gets in the way of mission work; and b) nonviolent resistance works. I submit, as a counterexample on both points, the experience of black slaves in America. Slaves used all kinds of nonviolent means to resist authority; yet what actually freed them was not work slowdowns, or attempts to evangelize their masters, or abolitionist rhetoric, but a drop of blood from the sword for every drop from the lash. And nobody had better reasons to distrust the motives of Christian evangelizers than the slaves; and yet the black community is well known for its passionate Christianity. Again, not dispositive, but this really doesn't fit the model of how things work in the world that Work has presented.

Third, I assume I just missed this since it's such a key question, but I don't recall where Work has addressed the distinction between martyrdom--in which I die--and pacifism--in which, if it is widely accepted, I die, and you die, and Glenn Reynolds dies, etc. This is roughly analogous to the "What if you came across a woman being raped in a park?" question. Pacifism isn't about martyrdom, or it isn't only about that; it's also about what happens to those who don't choose pacifism but who can't defeat an enemy without help.

Again, in my view, the crucial questions are, What does the Church teach, and why?

Anyway, Work is making by far the best Christian pacifist argument I've ever read, so go over there. I am impressed though not convinced.
A ROCK'N'ROLL CONSERVATIVE BOOK LIST: Not the book list, since I'm no Harold Bloom. Just a book list. I know it's a bit weird to post a reading list, but I think if I were reading this site I might want one. (I loved it when Brink Lindsey would post on what he's been reading, and it would be very cool if other bloggers would post lists of books that had influenced them, as Zorak did.) And hey, every movement, no matter how weird or embryonic, needs books. Sorry for lack of Amazon links--it would take way too long.

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions. A classic of self-examination, and discovering one's truest self through submission to God, that feels startlingly contemporary. Augustine's view of childhood is also a great antidote to both the sickly-sweet Precious Moments stuff and the amoral, feral, jaded adolescents of "YA fiction." Peter Brown's biography is also fantastic.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. I think this is still the only book I've read three times since freshman year. Passionate, if metaphysically unstable. Bloom offers a (light-speed, but still insightful) intellectual history of the West, in which the Left assimilates its old enemy, Friedrich Nietzsche. He also gives a furious personal history of Cornell in the sixties; and defends the view that education is driven by love, that it is a seeking of another rather than an expression of oneself.

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Everyone focuses on the "gradual change vs. revolution" distinction here, which is, frankly, not that interesting. I found this book fascinating for its explication of loyalty, especially loyalty to one's country, and the ways in which a country can foster personal loyalty rather than relying on impersonal force.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov; Notes from Underground. Confrontation with these books can overturn one's table of values. They're shattering, ferocious, contemporary--and in TBK, there are passages that will make you fall out of your seat laughing. Before the axe falls. Dostoyevsky intimately knew the ways in which compassion can curdle into fury, or self-doubt spiral into hatred of others.

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. Lyrical essays on education, black rural life, and more. Catch Du Bois's pre-Communist reflections on America.

Maggie Gallagher, Enemies of Eros; The Abolition of Marriage; The Case for Marriage (co-author with Linda Waite). EOE is a white-hot, sometimes scattershot tour of contemporary American sexual mores, with a focus on what the sexual revolution did for (or to) women. The chapter "Abortion and the Children of Choice" is a must-read, but there are great insights throughout the book. AOM is a more solid and coherent book, mixing social-science research with inspiring reflections on the nature of love, loyalty, and marriage. TCFM basically updates the social-science data from AOM; it's not nearly as philosophically rich as AOM, but it is a useful and painless read. Lingua Franca called Gallagher's prose "bodice-ripping"; read and learn why.

Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. Fat book, but well worth the time it takes. A history of slavery that treats slaves, slaveowners, and everyone else in the slave states as complex, conflicted, and resourceful human beings rather than cardboard-cutout heroes and villains.

Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. The old war-horse. Many good insights on the mechanisms of socialism, the ways in which it develops into oligarchy, and the ways it betrays its initial, idealistic supporters. Applicable to everything from the AFL-CIO to the Supreme Court.

Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. Workaday, but useful in building good economic intuitions.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed; The Screwtape Letters; The Problem of Pain. Compassionate, philosophically astute, imaginative (well, duh), and truly incisive about the lies we tell ourselves and the contortions we get into trying to justify our worst desires. Even if you're no fan of the Narnia books (I'm not), these are fantastic. They delineate a view of human nature that is neither "optimistic" nor "pessimistic," a view in which man is neither good nor bad but Fallen. This view has, to my mind, fairly obvious political ramifications, which I'll maybe blog about later; but if you don't have an intuitive understanding of this take on human nature, reading Lewis is a great place to start.

Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue. This book was not really my thing, but I do acknowledge that MacIntyre's analyses of why so many political/philosophical arguments seem stuck in a crashing-gears, spinning-wheels stage is brilliant.

Charles Murray, Losing Ground and What It Means to Be a Libertarian. Losing Ground is kind of "welfare reform 101," with all the intro-level glossing over of nuances that that implies; but it's a passionate and very useful book, written back when Murray still thought poor people could be the agents of their own destinies. WIMTBAL is mostly a great intro, since Murray focuses on the dispossessed, the needy, and the regular Joe, and shows how libertarian policies would benefit them. In the "sex and drugs" chapter Murray relies on the harm principle in a totally un-nuanced, unsatisfying way (and basically claims that any regulation of sex, drugs, etc. would lead necessarily to tyranny--a standard high school debating move, and unworthy of his abilities), but the rest of the book is really good.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals; Beyond Good and Evil; The Gay Science; The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music; Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche saw much more of the nature of Christianity ("A creditor sacrificing himself for a debtor?" he cried in baffled rage), promise-making, music, man's search for meaning, and atheism than most people. The one thing he couldn't comprehend was love. TGOM, especially, is a must-read.

Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion. Moves away from the old "state aid vs. private aid" conflict, instead presenting a much deeper critique of impersonal, bureaucratic "compassion." Awesome book. If you've been turned off by his columns (I've only read one or two, but they weren't very good), read this anyway.

P.J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World; Eat the Rich; Parliament of Whores; Modern Manners; Holidays in Hell. O'Rourke is something like a cocktail of George Orwell and a more scathing Dave Barry, with extra gin. All of these books except Modern Manners feature O'Rourke staggering and swearing his way through the messes of socialism and do-goodery in our country and elsewhere; he's an acute observer and a hilarious writer. MM is a much darker book (but no less funny), a black-humor look at life in a world where manners have replaced morals. O'Rourke is also a good journalist, and comes across as a mensch; you might also check out his report from the Philippines in Republican Party Reptile to see both of those qualities on display.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia; 1984; The Road to Wigan Pier; selected Orwell essays. Do I really need to tell you to read Orwell? Ultimately he was at his best in the essays, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the other stuff....

Plato, The Symposium. There's lots more great Plato out there, but this complex, funny, intriguing, and elusive dialogue is the best place to start.

Paul Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern. I'm cheating a bit here, since I've only read the first volume (on ancient Greece), but that volume was like a quick plunge into a world that is starkly alien, yet has left recognizable traces throughout our culture. I'm really looking forward to reading the other two books. Rahe is a brisk writer who knows exactly when to generalize and when to drop a telling anecdote. Even the index is fun.

Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater. An antidote to sunny nihilism and contemporary views of sex. Also, of course, a truly brilliant novel.

The Portable Enlightenment Reader. Lots of good snippets, will help you figure out which people you should read in more depth. Very useful reference work.

Antonin Scalia et al., A Matter of Interpretation.

William Shakespeare, King Lear; Hamlet; Macbeth; Henry IV 1&2; Henry V; Richard II; Love’s Labours Lost; Measure for Measure; A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'll try to blog about why these plays in particular later today.

R.W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages. Fun, quick intro to a crucial and fascinating period of history that, if you were taught in American non-Catholic schools (or probably almost any Catholic school), you were almost certainly not taught about.

Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History. Insightful, if a bit cagey, critiques of modern political philosophy.

Donna Tartt, The Secret History. Stark, terrific book--is there such a thing as philosophical pulp?--about the search for ecstasy and the attempt to return to pre-Christian ways on a modern university campus.
MAKE ME READ BOOKS!: OK, I know I've been promising more posting a lot lately, and it hasn't been happening, for various reasons. I hope to post quite a bit today though. One thing I'll be posting soon is a book list--stuff I've read that I'd strongly recommend to anyone interested by rock'n'roll conservatism, i.e. the political/philosophical worldview of this site.

What this list won't include: foreign policy. You'll notice that I very rarely write about that. You may have guessed that I don't write about it because I don't think I understand it well enough to spout off about it. Sure, I'll occasionally do this, and obviously there are the Keston bulletins, which don't really count as "foreign policy," and obviously all the farm-dole/subsidies 'n' tariffs stuff has major foreign policy implications. But in general, The Rest Of The World is an area I stay out of on this site.

I want to change that. So I'm soliciting recommendations. Write up a description of the books you think I should read--including novels, travel narratives, epic poems, whatever you think would be helpful. Basically, write an ad for the things, telling me why I should read them. I can't guarantee that I'll get to every one, but I will a) post the recommendations I get, and b) try to read at least a good chunk of them. Send rec's to, and do check out the email policy to your left. Muchisimas gracias, y'all.

Saturday, June 29, 2002

"Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?"
--Angela Lansbury, "The Manchurian Candidate"

Friday, June 28, 2002


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The campaign group For Freedom of Conscience has described as “a bolt from out of the blue” the sudden adoption by parliament yesterday (27 June) of a repressive religion bill that only a day earlier had been postponed until the autumn (see KNS 26 June 2002). “Yesterday, when I learnt that consideration of the draft law had been postponed until the autumn I thought that common sense had prevailed among the deputies,” German Rodov, head of the Bible Society, declared in a 27 June statement passed to Keston News Service. “But today I have the impression that in taking these decisions the deputies are completely ignoring the views of tens of thousands of Belarusian citizens. This law is a fiasco for the Chamber of Representatives as a parliament and testimony to its
bankruptcy.” Religious minorities in Belarus now fear President Aleksandr Lukashenko will sign the bill into law today, the last day of the parliamentary session.

Leaders of four main Protestant communities, the Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Full Gospel Church and the Adventists, are planning a press conference to express their concerns later today (28 June).

If signed by the president, the new law would be the most repressive religion law in any former Soviet republic other than Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. It would outlaw unregistered religious activity, introduce compulsory prior censorship for all religious literature; publishing, education and charitable activity would be restricted to faiths that had ten registered communities in 1982; there would be a ban on all but occasional, small religious meetings in private homes (see KNS 17 June and 28 May 2002). While Orthodox and Catholic representatives have broadly welcomed or accepted the bill, Protestants and leaders of minority faiths have sharply criticised it.

On the pretext that the electronic voting on 26 June had gone wrong, the bill was again presented for its second reading in the afternoon of Thursday, and was adopted. “Everything went as if according to a pre-determined scenario,” For Freedom of Conscience declared. “Within an hour and a half, article by article without any discussion, the bill was adopted.” Eighty two deputies voted in favour, with only two against. Within fifteen minutes, the upper chamber, the Council of the Republic, also approved the bill, according to information from deputies. An official of the Council of the Republic declined to confirm to Keston on 28 June whether it had approved the law the previous day or not.

Pentecostal pastor Vasily Moskalenko complained of the way the deputies had handled the bill. “Such lurching from one side to another testifies to the deputies’ lack of competence and independence in adopting the decision,” he declared in the wake of the bill’s adoption.

“We have gone back to 1936 and Stalin’s repressions,” Father Yan Spasyuk, leader of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which has been denied registration, told Keston from the village of Pogranichny on 28 June. “When I heard yesterday it had been adopted by parliament I was struck dumb. Everything has been taken from us. Now I’m no longer a priest, just a layman.” He said he was now considering challenging the new law – if it is signed by the president – in the country’s Constitutional Court.

Father Spasyuk blamed the Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarchate in Belarus for the new law. “It feels its weakness in the face of our Church and the Protestants. That’s why they decided to change the law.” He said he had heard that parliamentary deputies had been taken to the Exarchate a few days ago and shown films attacking minority faiths, especially Protestants. Keston has been unable to verify the claim independently. (END)

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ANACOSTIA, LAND OF OPPORTUNITY?: Does anyone know of good articles updating this 1999 City Paper piece? If so, please email me; thanks. The article is a great read, by the way, despite phrases like "planted a malignant seed" and "pot of pathology" (in the same paragraph!!!).

Tangentially: To journalists: If you find yourself writing the words "ironically," "in an ironic twist," or variants thereof, you can be 98% sure you are wrong. Rain on your wedding day, for example, is not ironic. It just sucks. Sorry, pet peeve, has nothing to do w/CP article.
REAL POSTING will resume tomorrow. For now, here's a sensible article about women's sports that's interesting even to "sports-negative" types like me. (In sixth grade, during the required "mile run" portion of Presidential Fitness Testing, I unleashed my inner adolescent jerk and walked the entire mile reading a copy of Keats's "Hyperion." Or maybe "Endymion." Whichever, it's not as if either one of them is a great masterpiece, but hey, I was in middle school.) Link via The Rat.

And here's a post about (could I make this up?) Red China Panda Porn. I have to admit that I really dig the pandas--when The Rat was here in the fall, we got to see the guy panda soaking up a jacuzzi bath (or zoo equivalent) and looking just like the Japanese businessman in the "Mr. Sparkle" Simpsons episode. We also saw the pandas play-fighting. And it was really cool. But good grief, they are expensive! And freaky. And, of course, Communist. They should defect, that would rock.

And here's an awesome, awesome picture.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

THIS ARTICLE is really good. It's on "environmental justice" and the race card in D.C. From 2001, but a keeper.
Watch, watch, watch your blog
Gently down the stream
Throw your teacher overboard,
Listen to her scream...

So I can't get het up about the Pledge of Allegiance thing. I never said the controversial phrase in school. (I can't remember if I just refused to say "under God," or if I kept silent for the whole thing--if the former, that would be silly since "under God" was hardly my only problem with the Pledge, but hey, I was silly when I was in elementary school.... My middle and high school didn't require the Pledge, and would probably have actively discouraged it!) I really don't care if "under God" gets stripped out of the Pledge. There are good arguments on both sides, as the cliche goes. (Pro-"under God": Reminds us that our allegiance is not to "My country, right or wrong," but to "My country, under God"--keeps us from making an idol of flag or nation. Anti-"under God": The necessary vagueness of the phrase requires an acceptance of "civil Deism," and civil Deism is wrong and distasteful.) If you want a really good take on possible repercussions in much more important, more venerable areas of civic life, check out this post from Eugene Volokh, who also has a couple interesting tidbits in the two posts above it. He is, as usual, commonsensical and helpful.

E-Pression: A very funny anecdote about the Donne poem below.

Gideon's Blog: Says what I wish I'd said about that "more chicks than cats in college" study. Link via InstaPundit, so I'm not sure why I'm bothering with this, but there you go.

Ranting Screeds: A very interesting post on Eastern Orthodoxy, pacifism, and Stanley Hauerwas. This link is for Charles Murtaugh! The Ranter is not as certain of his position as I am (I'm just not a pacifist, end of story), but that makes him a more thoughtful and nuanced commentator; plus this is just a really interesting post in general. Also from InstaPundit.

Amy Welborn: What a surprise, an Amy Welborn post I agree with 100%. It's about that Boston nun who just got booted for futzing around with baptisms.

And I just got my first email of reader praise (for something I did for Crisis, not for the blog) that included the phrases "Huzzah! ook! ook!"

I'm, uh, honored...!
MAILBAG: Israel; monks.

A good friend (who should get a blog!) writes: "1. From a pragmatic standpoint, one can argue that Israel should not have been founded. But from what little I know, I think the founding was legit.

"2. A point about the settlements: many Israelis do not support them, and never have. They were encouraged by conservatives to prevent the Israeli government from ever ceding the land.

"3. I agree, the U.S. shouldn't be in the client state biz. That is, if our military aid to a foreign country is purely charity, that charity
must be done with an exit strategy. But note that this is only relevant if no U.S. interest is served. There have been and continue to be
reasons to support Israel beyond charity. The Cold War, and now as an outpost of western political and economic civilization. The Middle East is in convulsion in part because of jealousy for the riches of the West, and Israel in particular, but eventually I believe that this exposure of the Middle East to Western prosperity (as opposed to the Saudi royal familiy's prosperity) will force the leaders of the Middle East to modernize.

"4. Is the dream dead? No. I believe that Israel will survive for at least my lifetime. Is Israel's existence good for the Jews? Yes. First,
Jews are better off in Israel than they were in Arab countries. Second, the existence of Israel has encouraged some moral growth because it has returned the responsibilities of governance to the Jewish people. It was too easy to be holier-than-thou when Jews didn't have to rule and face the tough choices of politics.

"5. The question 'Is the dream dead?' is tied to the problem of what would happen if the U.S. abandoned Israel. ('If the U.S. abandons
Israel, Islamist terrorists everywhere will rejoice.') That is, the Islamist world can be convinced that their dream is dead. The enemy can lose. Oslo happened because Israel had been winning for years. This is a war of wills, a war of dreams, and if Israel can convince the Arab world it is not going anywhere it can win. This will take decades, but it's already happening. The concessions of the Saudi peace plan are lame, but they are also a sign of progress. Regime change in Iraq might also encourage the Islamist world to change.

"The problem sort of reminds me of the debate as to whether the American people can deal with war dead anymore. I think they can--so long as they believe in a war and they get victories. The Islamists will change their minds once they lose enough. Islamists respect success."

I responded to his fourth point, and he replied in turn. I'm in plain, he's in bold: "I do disagree with the claim that Israel's existence has made Jews politically responsible at last. It's an intriguing argument, but unfortunately recent Jewish history has also led to a kind of 'anything is justified if the Jews benefit' perspective which has made some supporters of Israel (both here and there) wildly irresponsible. There's a sense of 'our turn now'; of 'turnabout is fair play.' I don't know to what extent that attitude outweighs the one you note."
I should also have added that this same attitude of "anything if the Jews benefit" is fostered by American Christian supporters of Israel who believe Israel must triumph for various apocalyptic reasons; and by people who compare Israel/Palestinians to American colonists/American Indians and conclude, "We did it, why can't they?"

Anyway, he responded: "Hmm. The anything goes for Zionism attitude is definitely out there. I may be exaggerating the other effect of Israel's existence, but I certainly see it in several friends in [a Jewish society we know]."

Me: "It's a kind of Israel-based moral relativism. The UN and European condemnations have completely backfired IMO by feeding this sense--'whatever, they'll condemn us no matter what they do so who cares.'"

Him: "This is definitely a problem. The Europeans and the UN have lost all of their credibility amongst my friends who support Israel, at least. In fact, I share a non-relativist (I hope) variant of this view. That is, I obviously think Israel should not do whatever it wants, but I do think that Israel gains nothing by compromising to win the love of the UN and Europe because they won't win it. There is no reason for Israel to go soft unless it is the right thing to do, because it will always be viewed as oppressors by the nations that run the UN's general assembly."

I agree with that.

Now, monks: "Much as I would like to believe it, I doubt that Henry VIII really delayed the coming of the Industrial Revolution by closing down the English monasteries. If the situation in England in the early modern era had any parallels to that in France (and it had some -- though fewer than we might think) then whatever innovations the monasteries introduced were sure to have been offset by the fact that their farms, businesses and industries tended to be less than efficiently managed, thanks to the vagaries of monastic appointments (often dictated by Byzantine power struggles) and other elements of the so-called 'patron/client' system that had replaced the old 'feudal' networks.

"Although it seems counter-intuitive, monasteries and their properties were often not technically owned by the Church itself, but by local magnates (sometimes clerics themselves, but not necessarily) who might decide to take the land back, to withdraw their financial support, or to turn it over to other orders who might have their own ideas about how to make use of the property. Incidentally, monasteries could also be a drain on the parish itself: in Francois de Sales' diocese of Savoie in the late 16th C. one of the major problems faced by parishioners throughout the region was that so much of the land was owned by monasteries that the parishioners who worked it for them could not tithe at a rate sufficient to provide them with money to support parish priests. The money went to the monasteries instead, and the parishioners did without. This was a major issue throughout Catholic Europe.

"Today it is generally accepted by historians of the Middle Ages that Cistercians (and other orders) contributed greatly to the development of agricultural techniques that helped to advance European farming in important ways. But this came at a price: (Male) Cistercians were originally supposed to do their own work as well as to be 'intellectuals' and artists, and to pray, but in the end they found they had to hire men to work the land for them in order to be able to support themselves adequately, destroying their egalitarian ideal in the process. And it was this -- their commercial agriculture -- along with the systematic study of what worked, that helped to improve farming techniques."
MY FRIENDS ARE COOL: Sara Russo sent me this bit of news with the heading, "Kick-ass!"

How true.

Oh, and this link should get you to the actual decision.
"Wait a minute, haven't I seen you before? I know your face."
"Get out."
"You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big!"
"I am still big. It's the pictures that got small."

--William Holden and Gloria Swanson, "Sunset Boulevard"

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

POETRY WEDNESDAY: With credit to Geistbear who came up with this PW idea. From John Donne:

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
but is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor even chaste, except you ravish me.
LABOR PAINS: Don't have time to blog about this now. I have a lot to say here. Here's a more in-depth story that gets at some of the particular weirdnesses, tragedies, and dramas of the situation--"devout" Catholic homosexual couple a) uh, is a homosexual couple; b) procures the services of a surrogate mother; c) with IVF; d) and then--asks for? allows? not totally clear--the abortion of one child when it turns out that the surrogate mother has become pregnant with quintuplets, and carrying them all to term would endanger her health and possibly her life. But all I really want to talk about is b). More later, either tomorrow or Saturday.
Take this blog and watch it--
I ain't workin' here no more!!!...

Actually, I love my job. But right now I'm up to my ears in work, and Blogger is flipping, so, uh, yeah. Here's some stuff to read, assuming this post ever gets published.

The Chickpea Eater has more bashing of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. I especially recommend the bit about redefining words.

The Old Oligarch is reviewing books, rambling, ranting, etc.

Don't Be A Shamed: Get into the groove, boy, you've got to prove your Constitutionality to me...; bomber stricken by conscience.

Dappled Things: Personal memories of the new archbishop of Milwaukee. One can only hope this guy is as good as Fr. Tucker says. He's got a lot to do.

The Lord Mage of Good replies to my post below ("A Cruel Pro-Life Stance"). All I can say is, look. I agree that people need to take responsibility for their lives. I agree that duty, honor, etc. are great things that are often denigrated and certainly not adequately fostered by contemporary society. I understand that many people who say "You do the crime, you do the time" or variants thereof aren't trying to be jerks. But just look at what's in fact being said. Ask yourself whether that kind of rhetoric is effective, or even accurate; what it means when heard by women with unwanted pregnancies; whether there's a more compassionate, hopeful, and pro-child way to promote responsibility; and whether this style of rhetoric is more likely to produce a) responsible, pro-life responses in the women being discussed, b) "whoa, hadn't thought of that, maybe you pro-lifers aren't all woman-hating $#@!s" on the part of legal-abortion supporters, or c) self-righteousness on the part of people who didn't "do the crime." (And again, I'm not trying to say that everyone who's ever said this is self-righteous, etc., just that I think this catchphrase is more likely to foster self-righteousness than not.)

I also noticed, thinking about this, that the equation of abortion with responsibility isn't just confined to some random women I counsel. Even Lauryn Hill's inspiring pro-life song "To Zion" includes the lyrics, They said Lauryn baby, use your head, But instead I chose to use my heart. (The people telling her to "use her head" were encouraging her to abort her son Zion.) The song itself certainly doesn't present abortion as "the responsible thing to do," but it does make clear that the people around Hill were pressuring her to take responsibility by aborting. So again, think about what will be heard as vs. what you intended to say.

The LMOG is right, though, to point out that women say this too, though I personally have only ever heard guys say it. (Once at a pro-life rally at Yale. Not helpful.)
"Do you think beer has food value, Miss Doyle?"
--Robert Ryan to Barbara Stanwyck, "Clash By Night"

Monday, June 24, 2002

FAUX EGALITARIANS: Another problem with trying to sustain an institution (even a small one) while promoting an egalitarian ideology: Real inequalities become hidden behind a screen of egalitarian rhetoric. Here is just one example of this phenomenon, which I saw a lot at college. For a brief period I hung out with a lefty group that supported the local labor unions. (Except for the police union, but that's a different story.) I was quickly turned off by this group (before one meeting, we all had to chant, "Hey hey! ho ho! Oppression has got to go!"--could I make that up?), but I did log a bit of time with them. They were run in a "non-hierarchical" fashion; no one was supposed to be more important or authoritative than anyone else. In practice, of course, this meant that the person with the fastest mouth ran all the meetings. Nobody else could get a word in edgewise. One guy dominated the meeting and basically left no room for other voices. And the great thing about the "egalitarian" system was that no one could stop him! No one could exert authority over him--that would be suppressing him and exerting one's own power-over. So because he relentlessly proclaimed his devotion to the principle of equality, he got to yammer on and on while the rest of us sat there cynically passing notes.

I have yet to see a "non-hierarchical" group that actually had no hierarchy. Some hierarchies are based on charisma (which does not always coincide with good judgment), other hierarchies are based on intelligence (same), others on who is best friends with whom (and frankly, this is the most likely outcome in a small, close-knit group). Often the hidden hierarchies were made all the more problematic because no one could acknowledge them. And often there is no counterbalance--the strongest personalities win every dispute.

I'm not saying that every group should be structured in the same way, of course--that would be silly. Neither do I mean to denigrate equality before the law, responsive leadership, the idea that all members of a group should have rights and a say in its operation, or whatever--I saw hard-core "Do as I say! You have no rights!" petty-dictator groups fail just as badly if not more so, and if I absolutely had to pick one, I'd go for the lefty-group model over the top-down control model any day. But there's a third alternative--authority.
Billie Jean is not my blogwatch
She's just a girl who claims that I am the one...

Blogging will be light this week, like last week (and for the same reasons, argh)...

Radley Balko: Straight update; letters debate on Bono and whether foreign aid can truly be made "transparent."

Dappled Things: Did Henry VIII delay the Industrial Revolution? Fans of A Canticle for Leibowitz (I'm one) will find this especially intriguing...

The Knowledge Problem: Fascinating post on ceramics and economic history (and it takes place at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I will soon be immersing myself in the Hall of Fakes, the Hall of Locks and Keys, and the other wiggy delights!). Link via Virginia Postrel. Also, reducing poverty while shifting the incentives away from killing exotic rare beasties; much other econ stuff; and a link to Salma Hayek vs. Friedrich Hayek (eek!).

Todd Reitmeyer is a deacon now!

And some new blogs (new to me, anyway): Uncertain Principles ("Physics, Politics, and Pop Culture"); and The Politics of Crime (left-leaning, very helpful round-up type site). Links via Unqualified Offerings and InstaPundit respectively.
"Oh, Raymond, what is the matter with you? You look as if your head were going to grow to a point in the next thirteen seconds."
--Angela Lansbury to her son, "The Manchurian Candidate"

Saturday, June 22, 2002

DISPELLING ELVISH PROPAGANDA. Lots of fun. Link via Los Volokh.
A CRUEL PRO-LIFE STANCE: So coming home from the pregnancy center last night I was thinking about something you'll hear at times from the mouths of people who oppose abortion. (Almost always, but not quite always, these people are men.) "If you aren't prepared to do the time, don't do the crime"--in other words, you chose to have sex, so now you have to live with the consequences, i.e. pregnancy, giving birth, and either raising the child or seeing her placed for adoption. Maggie Gallagher rallied some righteous fury against this stance in the chapter on abortion in Enemies of Eros (and you should absolutely read this chapter--it was a catalyst in turning my friend the Rat pro-life). She identified a Naomi Wolf-esque argument for abortion as "morality as sadism"--women can have abortions as long as they feel really bad, conflicted, and mournful about it--but I think that description could just as well summarize this argument against abortion.

There are (at least!) two other huge problems with this kind of thinking: First, any stance that treats children as punishment is anti-family, anti-life, and deeply anti-Christian.

Second--and this is why I was thinking about this last night--many women with crisis pregnancies view the abortion as their punishment. They know abortion hurts. They know it's taking a life. They have friends who have had abortions. They know. And if you tell them, "You do the crime, you do the time," they think, "That's right. I have to take responsibility for my mistakes--by not inflicting those mistakes on a child. So I'll get rid of it." To quote the famous Frederica Mathewes-Green line, "There is tremendous sadness, loneliness in the cry, 'A woman's right to choose.' No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg." Casting her as a Jezebel deserving of punishment only plays into the view many women already have of their situations--and that will push them right onto the abortionist's table.

If you hear someone saying this kind of thing, please speak up, let him or her know that this stance hurts women and denigrates children. It is not pro-life.
VOCATION AND THE "ONE BEST WAY": The Christian notion of vocation means that there is no "one best way" to reach God. This is played out really clearly at the end of Book One of The Faerie Queene, when Arthur and the Redcrosse Knight go their separate ways. Throughout Book One "duality," doubleness, was associated with duplicity and speaking with forked tongue--check out the names of the villainess Duessa and the heroine Una. Yet at the end of the book, there's a forking of the paths, a parting of the ways, and we're clearly meant to see this as right and justified--because Arthur and the Knight have different roles to play in the one drama of life. (Yes, I wrote a paper on this, too!) There can be no contradiction in the object of our love--we must love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. But the paths we take to fulfill that goal, attain that object, are as wildly varied as the lives of the saints. (Cf. "How One Becomes What One Is," below....)
THE POLITICS OF DANCING II: So the Willis book also spurred me to think about the postmodern love of contradiction--holding contradictory beliefs or impulses, and not attempting to reconcile them. And this naturally led me to the Cat Power song "Say." And thus I bring you the second installment of The Politics of Dancing, an occasional feature on this blog in which I relate pop lyrics to the workings of my own tangled cerebellum. (Click here for my exegesis of the Cramps' "Eyeball in My Martini.")

Lyrics: Learn to say the same thing
What defeats people is a double confession
One time they will confess one thing
And the next they will confess something else
Talk to them they will say

Learn to say the same thing
Let us hold fast to saying the same thing...

I used to be really, really into this whole "Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself/I am large, I contain multitudes" shtik. It's a big part of "Third Wave" feminism--many 3W anthologies seem filled entirely with women ruminating on the various contradictions within their lives and their feminism, and then ultimately deciding it's not important--I hate the "beauty industry" but I can wear lipstick if I wanna!, masochism as feminist statement, I'm a Christian but I think God is a She, etc. It was part of my antipathy to purity.

But the problem is that trying to incorporate contradictions into one's worldview and everyday life fractures one's identity. Some bits of your life are lived one way, other bits another, and it gets harder and harder to hang on to a unified sense of "who you are," or even a sense that there's a "you" at all. I don't have time or energy to get into it here, but if you want a really long look at this problem, it crops up again and again throughout my senior essay ("Nietzsche's Rejection of Eros"): Fragmentation of identity, disappearance of identity, means the loss of the ability to make promises, and without promise-making love and loyalty similarly fragment and then vanish. I think this is one reason I have never seen a convincing portrayal or description of postmodern love--postmodernity is about alienation from self, and alienation from self means that promising and giving oneself can't happen.
HOW ONE BECOMES WHAT ONE IS: I recently read Ellen Willis's Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll. It's an essay collection showing Willis's various journeys through rock journalism, psychoanalytic theory, individualist feminism, and what can perhaps best be called post-Judaism. (The final essay describes her stay in Israel, her brush with Orthodox Judaism, and her ultimate rejection of that faith.) There's a lot to talk about there, but I'll just blog about one recurring theme in the book--the relationship between individuality and authority. Willis tends to assume a hostile relationship between the two--authority squelches individuality, rebellious individuals battle tradition in society and its residues within their own minds. This really hasn't been my experience.

I first became aware of a richer interplay between individuality and authority in college. I became a member of a philosophical debating society. (Wow, that description is totally inadequate--better summaries, which we used at the time, include "a party of lovers" and "a cult of the good.") This society is steeped in ritual and eccentric tradition. It is organized hierarchically, and members who have attained the Chairmanship are accorded especial authority. (This is true even when the particular Chairmen are, uh, sub-optimal.) The society was one of six parties in the Yale Political Union (a.k.a. the onion, the bunion, the gorgon, the eunuch, etc.), and none of the others had as much respect for the structures of authority and the historical accretion of tradition. (The ones on the left tended to dissipate their energies into let-it-all-hang-out rulelessness and wandering; the ones on the right tended to oscillate between top-down quasi-dictatorship and egalitarian mocking of their hierarchies.) As a freshman, I never would have expected to be attracted to such an "authoritarian" society; like Willis, I believed that authority was repressive, and actually liking that authority was a sign of psychological imbalance or insecurity.

But I was drawn to the society because of the wild efflorescence of personalities among its members. So many of its members seemed to be more fully themselves than anyone else I'd met. Coming across a member was like finding a jaguar or a gazelle in the dining hall--it was an encounter with someone totally distinct from everyone else around him, including other members. I'd joke that I was drawn to the group because I like "distilled spirits." The other parties certainly sheltered a fair crop of eccentrics--this is the Ivy League, after all--but it was very rare to find someone as intense, and as intensely different, as your average member of my own society.

Why this convergence of authority and individuality? Why this situation in which authoritarian structures seemed to either attract or encourage people who were so intensely themselves? (I quickly learned that both attraction and encouragement were involved--even people who entered the group as blurred carbon-copy Republicans or Objectivists or nice Southern girls were often distilled into strong and startling personalities.)

I think there were a lot of reasons. First, an encounter with a living tradition, in our age, is inherently startling and countercultural; thus it attracts rebels, provokes self-scrutiny, and stirs the imagination. Second, egalitarianism in a debating society typically means that you can't get too deep into any one question--lines of thought are derailed from week to week as different members take the helm. Egalitarianism can lead to a focus on whether or not each member is actually being treated equally; and since that's never true (someone will always make better speeches, have more friends, or whatever the relevant categories of value are), an egalitarian ethos can breed resentment. Third, authority--of both the society's traditions and her leaders--forced people to have respect for institutions or members whom they would otherwise be tempted to dismiss. The society's leaders bore much heavier responsibilities than leaders in other parties, and I think the authority accorded them made those responsibilities much easier to fulfill. And fourth (but probably not last--the longer I spent with the group, the more wisdom I found in its traditions and self-understanding), the idea that authority and individuality are at odds is just, you know, wrong. This is due to the distinction between power and authority. Power is forcing others to do stuff; authority is gaining others' loyalty. Submission to authority always involves a degree of awe; thus it approaches the sublime. And an encounter with the sublime will necessarily draw people out of our usual submission to culture and to whim; it will change us and, under certain circumstances (such as a philosophical debating society that demanded personal integrity and rigorous self-examination), it will make us more our own than we could ever have been without that awe.
IRANIAN WOMEN BLOGGING. This seriously rocks. Via Blogger, appropriately enough.
"Stop calling me Chiquita. You don't say that to girls you don't even know."
"Where I learned Spanish, you do."

--Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum, "The Big Steal"

Friday, June 21, 2002

HERE'S ANOTHER "anti-death penalty, pro-Scalia's recent dissent" article. You've probably seen it, but if not, it's well worth your time.

And I'm outta here. Back Saturday.
"A KHRUSHCHEVITE SMELL": From the Keston Institute, which you should definitely check out: MOLDOVA: "KHRUSHCHEVITE SMELL" FROM NEW CRIMINAL CODE ARTICLE (20 June). Religious leaders and human rights activists have criticised an article in the new Moldovan criminal code lifted almost word for word from an article introduced into the Soviet criminal codes at the beginning of the 1960s during the anti-religious persecution unleashed by Nikita Khrushchev. The Pentecostals and the Jehovah's Witnesses, who learned of the new article from Keston News Service, are particularly concerned. "I grew up with this I know what it means," Bishop Pyotr Borshch, head of the Pentecostal Union, said. In Soviet times this article was widely used against believers, including Pentecostals ("singing in tongues" or prophesying was deemed to harm health) and Hare Krishna devotees (chanting was likewise deemed to harm health). Jehovah's Witnesses suffered under this article because of their
rejection of blood transfusions and their refusal to vote or perform military service.

MOLDOVA: FINED FOR DOOR TO DOOR PREACHING (21 June). For the first time in recent years, a Jehovah's Witness has been fined for door to door preaching. Igor Danile was fined 360 lei (27 US dollars, 28 Euros or 18 British pounds), equal to twenty months' minimum wage, for preaching from door to door.
RANDOM MAILBAG: Exhibitionism, funeral rites, Israel, London:

In response to my comments on blog exhibitionism, a reader sent this quote: "One of America's specific problems is fame and glory... partly on account of its extreme vulgarization. In this country, it is not the highest virtue, nor the heroic act, that achieves fame, but the uncommon nature of the least significant destiny. There is plenty [of fame] for everyone, then, since the more conformist the system as a whole becomes, the more millions of individuals there are who are set apart by some tiny pecularity." -- Jean Baudrillard

On mourning rituals: "The administration of funeral arrangements is alienating and there is confusion about authenticity. But this is perhaps as it should be. One is dealing with one of the great meaning-fraught crises that occur in life -- the death a family member or friend -- and also dealing with maddening and mundane details such as caskets and scheduling and food and who will come to which services and finding clothes for the children to wear, etc. etc. It is perhaps helpful to one's longer life to have all these banalities
intrude, and to be conscious of the roles one assumes. Arrangements that are good are those which include some moments which seem to capture all of one's feelings and hopes -- sometimes a hymn or a remembrance or reading, sometimes (rarely) a sermon, or a gesture at some point. Rare that these are more than moments -- though the requiem mass can be a rather sustained moment... And it is naive or childish to expect the whole thing to roll out as a nice satisfying exercise in reintegration and reaffirmation, though hard to resist that desire. Perhaps that is why there is so much (unseemly) jockeying for position at public memorials like the various WTC things. And it happens at private funerals also. I wonder what your thoughts are about the trend toward a succession of
friends or family speaking about the dead person. Despite frequent off-notes, these are to be encouraged, I think."

I basically agree with this. I'll just add that I was really struck by the section in Why Do Catholics Do That? in which Kevin Orlin Johnson notes that Catholic funerals are set up to echo baptismal rites (the funeral color is white, for example). Baptism involves dying to self and being reborn in Christ, while a funeral also, in a different way, marks the blessed soul's entrance into new life--the next life.

A fellow Yale grad writes from Jerusalem (I think it will be obvious which statements I agree and disagree with here; and I will try to revisit this topic sometime in the more or less near future): "I'm an American citizen and I've been in Israel for more than a year. Counter to what one reader wrote to you, I find this country to be a very pleasant place to live. Very pleasant, that is, to everyone except those citizens of America and a few other developed nations who do not appreciate the paradise into which they were born. To most of the world, and of course especially Jews, Israel is a step up. Even now, there is more immigration into Israel than emigration out.

"I work for the Shalem Center, an American-style think tank, the only one of its kind in Israel. So naturally a million things about Israel annoy, infuriate and dismay me. The socialized economy, the stupid activism of the courts, the disorganization of the government -- all of these collaborate to hold Israel back, and even threaten its very existence. Much of what Israel has accomplished, it has accomplished despite its institutions and even its ideology. However, Israel was making great progress in all these areas in the '90s. Demand for deregulation was growing, the nation as a whole was reassessing the system of elections, and ultimately, I believe, a
constitution would have been put on the table and would have eventually passed. The second intifada froze all those improvements or rolled them back. The threat of physical annihilation will do that. With the problem of the Palestinians solved -- somehow -- Israel could and would get better and freer.

"(Not that the mere fact of having a constitution necessarily makes a country more liberal and democratic. Think of how many constitutions France has blown its nose on. I say this just to rebuke the people who snark at Israel for not having one. There are sound historical reasons why it doesn't, and there are legal mechanisms that plug the gaps. Now, though, the time for a constitution has come.)

"So why even now do people immigrate to Israel? When the Russians started to pour in, hundreds of thousands of non-Jews were among them. Besides the spouses of Jews, they included many who immigrated on their own initiative and got in by hook or by crook. Now they are full citizens. The Jews came because here at least they have a chance at self-defense. The non-Jews came
because Israel is a free country, is tolerant, is liberal, is democratic. The idea that a Jewish state is tainted by racism is absurd and
disgusting. Italy is the Italian state. Holland is the Dutch state and we all know what happened with Pim Fortuyn. Is the problem that Judaism is a religion as well as an ethnicity? Well, the American civil religion, which I believe in with all my heart, makes America one of the most nationalistic democracies in the world, as well as the most free. Judaism does present special problems to a liberal state, but then again so does Catholicism. At any rate, Israel has full citizens of every race and religion, including Arab and Muslim. The
exigencies of living in a state of war are just that: exigencies. They do not stem from ideology, either Zionism or liberalism. Rather, they arise when ideology smashes up against reality, in this case the reality of Arab hatred. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, FDR interned Japanese-Americans, India bulldozes mosques, etc. etc. Israel has yet to do anything so illiberal as that, and if it did, no one would have the right to raise an eyebrow.

"Myself, I scorn arguments about Israel's utility to the U.S. Of course they can be made. But I don't care about them. America should support Israel because our national honor demands it. We should not grovel to dictators and kings, which will only make them hate us more. We should reward loyal allies and not abandon them, even when defending them incurs some cost to ourselves. In Roman terms, America is patron, Israel is client; both sides have obligations and both should meet them. I do not object to, in fact I laud American self-interest; but the idea of calculatedly betraying an ally simply disgusts me. The national honor is the national interest. At one point the U.S. might have let Israel go with no fuss and no shame; but that time is long past, and now vacillation will earn the U.S. nothing but spite and scorn from all sides, including a fair number of its own citizens."

Various London recommendations (I'm only printing the emails with fun tidbits in them): "You wanted to hear about 'unusual fun' places there, so here's the site for a place called Woodchester Mansion, where a nouveau-riche convert tried to create his own little Catholic kingdom in the 19th century. The only thing he didn't quite manage to build was his own palace, so there's this huge old unfinished house. I've never been there, but if I ever get to England again I'd like to. Anyway, I thought I'd pass it on."

From Mark Cameron: "You'll get this advice twenty times over, but the church to go to in London is the Brompton Oratory, among the most liturgically splendid Catholic churches in the world. It was founded by Fr. Frederick Faber, the great hymn composer, and also has many Newman associations (Newman was a member of the same Oratory of St. Philip Neri congregation, but in Birmingham). The Oratorians have maintained Gregorian chant, polyphony, Latin, the whole nine yards, and it is usually packed for a Sunday high mass. They use the new rite, but cunningly disguised as the old. They also celebrate the old rite in one of the side chapels.

"Westminster Cathedral has a very good choir and Mass is celebrated reverently there, as well.

"If you go to the Tower of London, ask to go into the crypt below St. Peter's Church, where St. Thomas More was buried and a memorial shrine may be seen. It is not officially open, but the guards will let you in if you say you are Catholics and wish to pray there. I understand that Thomas More's cell in the tower can now be seen by tourists as well."

Another: "Brompton Oratory. High Mass is at 11:00, I think. I'm sure it's easy enough to find out. Nice church, nice service. Perhaps a bit too Tridentine for my taste (but I'm in my mid 50s and have less than ecstatic memories about the Tridentine Mass and the attendant Catholic culture of those days), but only just. Right next to the V&A. Get there a bit early because it usually fills up. Whenever I've been there, it is a choral Mass -- don't know if they'd have a choir in July, though. Good sermons. You'd probably like it, too, because Alfred Hitchcock got married there. Also the Newman Center at U London on Gower Street, near Russell Square. Simple church in the rear lower level, not quite a basement, lots of natural light, simple ceremony, quiet service, but nice community feeling, and good sermons. Small congregation -- largely foreign (largely Asian) -- during the summer."

After another recommendation for Brompton Oratory: "And high Mass at Westminster Cathedral when the Palestrina choir is in
session. (Do they take the summer off? I don't know.)

"And St. Etheldreda's, Ely Place, the only (I think) pre-reformation Church in London in Catholic hands. There is an 11 a.m. sung Mass in Latin on Sundays."

I know it's a bit of a shank to post just a mailbag and a blogwatch--and I doubt I'll have time for real posting today--but I will be posting tomorrow. Thanks to all who wrote in.
I think we're alone now
There doesn't seem to be anyone around
I think we're alone now
The watching of your blog is the only sound...

First, you'll notice that many but not all of my archives have returned! And there was much rejoicing. However, I'm planning to create a separate "Best of" page in case the archives continue to be blogspotty. This page will definitely include all the Andrew Sullivan replies; the big post on feminism; the second Wendell Berry piece ("I believe that..."); the Israel post and responses thereto (more of which are coming); and the post on providence, if I can find it. Oh, and the best contest results. If there are other posts you particularly liked, please email me and let me know. Don't feel like you have to remember the post's title, the date, etc.--"the one where you..." will do just fine. I want a fairly small but worthwhile selection. Expect this page to appear... uh, sometime before the end of July.

Cacciaguida and Shamed on the Supreme Ct. retarded-prisoner decision. Both make very good points. I add only that if your judicial philosophy means that every law you really wish would pass is actually embedded in the Constitution already, that's a good sign that said judicial philosophy is really lame. C'mon people, what's so hard about passing a law?

Mike Hardy: A very, very interesting letter than should be read by everyone who wants to understand the role of homosexuality in the Church scandals--and everyone who likes the very annoying "Catholic girls start much too late" song....

Both InstaPundit and Father Tucker have blogged this WaPo article on whether sex 'n' violence on TV shows make it harder for viewers to remember the commercials. If they read the Register, they'd know about this already--I either wrote a story on it or put it in one of the little "media watch" sections when I worked there, can't remember which. (I assume my memory is faulty because of all the sex and violence occurring at the Reg offices.)

How English are you? (Via De Feo.) I, unsurprisingly, am not really English at all.

Finally, enter my contest! I'm extending the deadline to next Thursday because, well, because I am. It's very existentialist of me.
"Have you ever noticed if for some reason you want to feel completely out of step with the world, the only thing to do is sit around a cocktail lounge in the afternoon?"
--Lizabeth Scott to Dick Powell, "The Pitfall"

Thursday, June 20, 2002

REASONS FOR RITUALS: I'm reading Yukio Mishima's Death in Midsummer. He's a terrific observer, a distanced, cool eye that picks out the right detail at cataclysmic moments in the narrative and zooms in on it. In that way he reminds me of Hitchcock.

"Death in Midsummer" itself concerns the accidental drowning of two young children and the aunt who was looking after them. It shows the aftermath of the deaths on the children's parents; and it highlights the way that the rituals of grief alienate the couple from themselves and those around them: "The two bodies were found the next day. The constabulary, diving all up and down the beach, finally found them under the headland. Sea bugs had nibbled at them, and there were two or three bugs up each nostril.

"Such incidents of course go far beyond the dictates of custom, and yet at no time are poeple more bound to follow custom. Tomoko and Masaru forgot none of the responses and the return gifts custom demanded.

"A death is always a problem in administration. They were frantically busy administering. One might say that Masaru in particular, as head of the family, had almost no time for sorrow. As for Katsuo [the surviving son], it seemed to him that one festival day succeeded another, with the adults all playing parts."

This picture does not wholly override, but it does complicate, the quick-'n'-easy Anthro 101 explanation that rituals of mourning are meant to help the survivors re-integrate into the community, reaffirm their social bonds, and thereby reaffirm their own identities. Funerals and other forms of ritualized mourning, in my experience/opinion, have also a strong potential to alienate the survivors from those around them, strain their social bonds, and make them feel like their own identities are just a series of masks donned in rituals of grief. It becomes difficult, at least for a time, to tell which emotional responses are real and which are simply called for by the occasion; and whether that distinction matters, or can be drawn at all.
WHAT I TALKED ABOUT WHEN I TALKED ABOUT BLOGS: Last night was fun. Blogging proved to be surprisingly controversial. Best criticism: "So isn't it unconservative to be yammering away about your personal life in public?" (more on this below.) Best line: Gene Healy, on Berkeley's proposal for a j-school course on blogging: "Isn't that like Joycelyn Elders's thing about teaching kids to masturbate? I mean, it's not difficult..."

Joshua Micah Marshall was levelheaded, pointed out that unlike most bloggers he actually does break news and do real reporting on his site, though only because in the course of his ordinary freelancing he comes across lots of interesting tidbits that he shares with his blog-audience.

Noah Schachtman (oy, there's no way I got that right...) described a split between bloggers and journalists (the former cast as resentful right-wingers who perceive themselves as being shut out of Big Media; the latter, an irritable Old Guard annoyed at the pretensions of the upstarts). I don't doubt that this is true--turf battles are a part of human nature--but in my own experience blogging has mostly reinforced or aided my ability to get freelancing gigs. Twice so far I've gotten articles accepted that were based on posts I made here. Because I'm (duh) not very well-known, the blog also helps me get my name out in public--Marshall, I assume, doesn't need the extra promotion. I do worry a bit about whether some of my commentary here will turn off potential editors; but whatever, it's not worth it to me to hassle about that sort of thing.

Stan Evans, of the National Journalism Center, made two excellent and basic points: Bloggers need reporters (and opinion journalists should hone reporting-type skills before they think they can pontificate about the news of the day--I would count assessing the value of a source, cultivating same, finding stuff out, and most importantly spotting the most interesting details or angles of a story as "reporting-type skills"), and vast right-wing conspirators should not huddle in little protected compounds, but should rather seek to infiltrate the major media. To the extent that the conservative or libertarian parts of the blogosphere become ingrown, they fail to do necessary persuasive work.

I said a bunch of stuff (I was definitely not as cool as Marshall--he'd sketched a couple points on the back of a pamphlet, whereas I knew I'd ramble and make no sense unless I had a detailed outline), main points: 1) Bloggers (Marshall excepted of course) almost never report, and that's a weakness. Sometimes a story will boil up out of the earth right next to a blogger (as w/Meryl Yourish and the SFSU Israel protest), but that's rare.

2) Due primarily to cultural reasons, but partly to technological innovations, blogs tend to be less "team-player"ish, less willing to bury inconvenient stories or interpretations, than the major media. I stress that this is only a tendency, not a certainty. But I have found that right-wing bloggers link to, appraise, and even acknowledge the accurate points made by left-wing bloggers, and vice versa, in a way that is simply not found in mainstream journalism. (Two exceptions spring to mind: I think Ramesh Ponnuru is really fair, but he rarely concerns himself with issues on which the left makes good points, so I'm more talking about his relationship to libertarians and supporters of cloning here; and Tunku Varadarajan.)

Partly, this greater tendency to acknowledge what "the other guys" get right occurs simply because blogs have less credibility than mainstream media. The New York Times, rightly or wrongly, enjoys a presumption that it will not bury the facts or report only half the story. A blogger has to earn his readers' trust, and one major way of doing that is by refusing to play partisan games. As some blogs become more popular, and attain that presumption of credibility, I expect some of the more popular ones will stop bothering to respond fairly and accurately to the opposition; to some extent that's already happening.

Another reason, which is somewhere between cultural and technological, is that blog posts tend to be short and experimental. Thus if you say something stupid and someone calls you on it, or if someone points out a nuance you overlooked, it's easy to correct or elaborate without losing face. The NYT can't really do that. (I think that this distinction between old and new media, like most of them, will either blur or disappear with the advent of digital paper--but boy, is that another story.)

The tech reasons for this greater openness to "the enemy" are: a) hyperlinks, of course--if I misrepresent your points, I'll probably link to the article in which you make them, and readers can see that I've played fast and loose with your writing; b) the blogroll--most bloggers maintain permanent links to people with whom they have sharp and obvious disagreements; and c) comments boxes. (Which I don't have, I know. And my blogroll hasn't been updated in donkey's years. We're working on it.)

The final nifty characteristic of blogs that I discussed was the personal nature of the writing. Now, this can be either a bug or a feature. It is just creepy to detail every moment of your life, or worse yet, to air your dirty laundry in public--who is reading your site? Why are you writing it? I think last night I sounded more critical of personal-life blogs than I really am--when they're funny, their appeal is pretty much the same as Dave Barry's. Tepper runs a very cool blog that oscillates between personal and political/legal; the Possumblog is a durned good time. But there are some blogs that really do suffer from exhibitionism, and that's lame.

But when it's presented with a little more care for one's own privacy, the personal aspects of blogging can help other people really understand your philosophy--the underlying worldview that unites your stances on, say, gun control, Bruce Springsteen, and race relations in Milwaukee. Blogs help show that politics isn't--or shouldn't be--some disconnected policy preferences; political beliefs should flow from underlying ethical and ultimately metaphysical beliefs that you live with all day long. (Or try to, anyway.)

That also makes it easier for others to be persuaded--we can imagine what it would be like to live all day as a leftist, a conservative, a pro-lifer, an Objectivist, and we can see that it needn't make us lousy people. So much of contemporary politics is about personal preferences and affiliations--were the leftists you knew condescending? Were the conservatives rich bigots? Who do you want to hang out with--a Gore voter, a Bush voter, or a Nader voter? Blogs show that there are leftists/conservatives/whatever who don't fit your stereotypes--there are people who are kind of like what you might be like if you were a leftist/conservative/whatever. And seeing people who you might want to be like can help you evaluate their beliefs without worrying that if you start agreeing with them you'll turn into a jerk.

Just as Plato wrote dramatic and biographical accounts of Socrates, rather than simply presenting Socrates' arguments, blogs persuade by showing a whole life. At their best, blogs are an act of life as rhetoric.
POETRY WEDNESDAY: Oh, why not this, from the Swan of Avon:
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

And for those who feel that science is the best poetry, here's my results from the MSNBC science quiz. Link via Tepper via Hsieh. Be thankful I'm out there building our country's strategic fiction arsenal rather than, say, our weapons. (If that link didn't work, I got an 89%--all but the last question right.)
You are the blogwatch queen!
feel the beat from the tambourine
you can dance, you can jive
having the time of your life...

Disputations: A necessary point to consider when discussing the fact that more traditional religious orders and dioceses attract more vocations.

Mike Hardy is back, which is good. Prompted by him, I'll probably blog a bit about a few leftover snippets of homo-Catholic stuff, but not right now.

Charles Murtaugh: Murtaugh, like others in the blogosphere, is unhappy that our government allied itself with Islamist tyrannies in order to prevent passage of a UN bill that would name "reproductive health services" (including abortion) as a human right. If you think abortion is a human right, I can see why you'd be against this--but I really don't get Murtaugh's position. He doesn't think abortion is a human right, but he is too fastidious to make alliances with scummy dictators. How does he think anything gets done in the world? It's almost never the case that international alliances--military, diplomatic, whatever--only include nice liberal democracies. I can see, if we were making concessions to the tyrannies, why this would be wrong--"You can kill your Christian converts if we can keep these 'health services' out of the women's rights statement," or, "You vote against abortion rights and we'll vote against a woman's right to separate from her husband [/drive/etc.]" But at least according to what I've read so far, that's not what's happening. So why is it wrong to team up, temporarily, with people who want the particular (very important) thing we want, even if their reasons for wanting it are really bad? Murtaugh's stance seems pristine to the point of ineffectual. But, of course, maybe I'm missing something....

The Rat: More quotes from And Quiet Flows the Vodka. Very funny.

Unqualified Offerings: Petty despotism in Prince George's County. Sigh.

The Volokh Conspiracy: Excellent points on why corporations should enjoy many Bill of Rights protections.

Amy Welborn: I know--I always tell you to read her--but I thought it might be worthwhile, for the few readers who could really use her site and don't already make it a daily stop, to blogwatch her today just to show you what she does. More on that Brooklyn priest who "partied" with teenage boys, and what the bishop knew; acute comments from a (different) bishop; must-read: Ask not what you can do for God, ask what your church can do for you; blackmail in the Church; the Amish, handicapped children, and what it means to be blessed; and a great round-up essay that is, like so much of Welborn's work, inspiring. And there's so much more there. Go!!

And I basically agree with Jonah Goldberg, but I think he's unnecessarily slamming a "literary" mindset and the belief that life has a plot. I can (and do) believe that life has a plot, without believing that Dubya is the Plotter; I would say that paranoid fantasies of the omnipotent and omnicompetent state are attempts to recreate the religious belief in providence without the religious belief in God. (Whether you think that state is evil or good is actually irrelevant here; the fantasy at least gives life a purpose and an explanation.) And like all other attempts to do atheist Christianity, it's a wretched failure. I'll probably write more about the "literary" mindset and its advantages later.
"Shoots me with my own gun, that's what gets me."
--Earl Holliman, "The Big Combo"

Yes folks--I'm back. And, as is traditional, I'm on the attack.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

GIDDY LONDON, IS IT HOME OF THE FREE OR WHAT?: So The Rat and I are gonna hit the sceptred isle for a week in late July. ("Will it hit back?") We found a super hotel-and-airfare deal, so off we go. If anyone has suggestions for unusual fun to be had in London/the English countryside, email me; I'd especially like suggestions on good churches in London. (By which I mean, Mass celebrated reverently, not pretty buildings--I figure it shouldn't be too hard to find the lovely architecture. Kensington Road area would be best.)

And TOMORROW I AM SPEAKING ON A PANEL ABOUT BLOGS. (Sorry to shout. As long as my archives are screwed up I don't want to do too many separate posts.) Speaking will be Stan Evans of the National Journalism Center, journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall (, and up-and-coming me. Also joining us will be Noah Shachtman who recently wrote a piece on blogging for Wired News. Attorney and blogger Gene Healy ( will moderate. The event will take place at the Fund for American Studies (1706 New Hampshire Ave., NW). Drinks will begin at 7:00 p.m., with dinner and discussion following at 7:30. Please RSVP to I've been to these things in the past--fun crowd.

Meanwhile, I'm still up to my eyeballs in work. Why don't you look here, here, here, or here instead?

My new motto, by the way, is: INVINCIBLE ROBOTS CANNOT SUCCEED!!! Click here to learn more.

Tomorrow, if I can dig myself out from under my work, I plan to post on authority vs. individuality; Cardinal Law and the Good People; Agatha Christie. Later in the week: What I said about blogs; men without countries; postmodernism and contradiction. Someday, when I have what we in the business call "time," the blogwatch will return. Don't worry--am not pulling a Lindsey--but must spend a few days immersed in the sublime joy of state budget deficits.

Monday, June 17, 2002

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that my $#@! archives are $#@! missing. I have already tried the interesting but useless suggestion at the PublicMind Blogger site. If people have other fun ideas I will give them a whirl. Argh. ("Move off BlogSpot" does not count as a fun idea, by the way.)

[edited to add that work is uber-hectic today, so I don't think I'll be able to post anything. Sorry--regular posting will resume as soon as possible--Amy Welborn is blogging like a mad thing--here's a Latin Mass in Vienna, VA--and here's a relevant Garfield cartoon--apologies again for light-to-nonexistent posting.]

Saturday, June 15, 2002

CAMP, HORROR, NO ESCAPE: So I read this while listening to this and this. My life is a sitcom. Anyway, yeah, grrrr, lame article. I would've given 'em a quote that would make their hair curl.
OTOH, he just failed to get Grenadine to float.

"Now you're very Sullivan-like." --Shamed
DON'T BE THIS BRILLIANT: Shamed notes that a new terrorist organization has been noted in the U.S.: al-Sharpton.

And he pointed out that we're both the same age as Garfield. Sara is closest.

Friday, June 14, 2002

THRILL OF THE CHASE: Actually, I could get really into this--because I HATE $#@!ING POP-UP ADS so much that I would take huge, huge glee in tracking them down and KILLING them. They cause my computer to crash on an average of once a day. (Admittedly this is partly my fault--I often have too many windows open, blah blah blah--but c'mon people. If we can put a man on the moon...) Anyway, this "search-and-destroy" pop-up sounds like good sick fun.

UO has other interesting stuff too, like: The confusing trail of Czechs mix.
THREE INTRIGUING INITIATIVES: A liberal arts core curriculum open to staff.

St. Luke Productions.

And my contest!

Click and feel the love.