Friday, July 12, 2002

If I write a random post, like this one, and publish it, do you think Blogger will let me publish the more exciting and fun post below it? Let's find out!

Take #1: Nope!

Take #2: Nope!

Take #3: Nyet!
That's great, it starts with a wedding cake, birds and bees and birthrates. Baudelaire is still clich├ęd. I want a hydroplane, listen to the Adverts, Roark serves his own needs but doesn't know his own needs. Welcome back to Oxblog, grunt, no, strength, China starts to shatter with fear fight down spite. Patsy Cline's on fire, is the government for hire, in a downed website--where's my archives? Coming in a hurry with the furies blogging down my neck. NYT reporters baffled when the food drops, look at that low plane. Fine, then. Uh, oh, overthrow, Overman is coming through but it'll do. Sara talks, Dogan heeds, world serves its own needs, listen to the heartbeat, dumb lyrics in "Rapture" and the Reverend isn't right, right. Monty Python semaphoric Wuthering Heights, "Bright Lights," feeling pretty psyched.

It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it and I feel fine.

Eight o'clock TV hour. Visas let in hostile powers. Sing the blues, hard truths, listen to the bad news. Locking in, uniforming, book learnin', "Bloodletting." Moe Szyslak, Kaczmarek, Daleks and Les Volokh. Light a candle, light a votive. Step down, step down, watch your hare crush Fudd... uh-oh, Pope says no fear, cavalier, Renegade steer here. Eternal love, eternal life, or tournament of lies. Cause and solution, offerings unqualified and rodent minds.

It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it and I feel fine.

My thoughts are all a case of knives, subcontinental drift divide. Nietzsche in a conga line, nihilist sunshine. Allan Bloom is Ravelstein, Lenny Bruce and Chester Himes. What's a star? thus spake Zarathustra, boom! You disaffected, patriotic, punk rock girl, right? Right.

It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it and I feel fine.

Now I've finally got a phone…
Timon of Athens is alone
I love it 'cause it's my home…
I will write a giant tome…
Spires are nice, but so are domes
Where'd they put that garden gnome…

OK, that was deeply satisfying to me. Compare with lyrics here. And now I'm gone 'til Thursday. Meanwhile, enjoy the links to your left.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. So there's a vast, several-posts-long thing about pacifism right below this post. But I also want to ask a non-pacifism-related question: The "sexual revolution" is often justified on the grounds that now we can have sex for fun. I make no claims about male sexuality or psyche, but as far as women are concerned, this doesn't seem to be how things have worked out. I think it's a useful exercise for everyone, male or female, to think about why you or people you know are having sex, and why your partner is having sex with you. I think you'll find that women in sexual relationships outside of marriage are more often having sex to prove something to themselves ("I'm a big girl!"); to get back at their parents; to prove something to their peers ("I'm not a prude!"); because they feel like they have to; to keep their boyfriends from leaving; because they can't figure out how to say "no" in a way their partners will respect ("safe sex" having removed the old excuses of fear of pregnancy and disease); because it seems inevitable; to get away from home; and many, many more reasons that have more to do with emotional upheavals and dependencies than with "fun" or "liberation." Or "love."

In the sexual revolution, it's not clear to me that sex won.
IN LOVE AND WAR: The sequel to this post. First, some caveats: 1) Professor Work is, as his title might indicate, a professor (and a rigorous, discerning, and thoughtful writer). I'm a journalist (at best). He's probably forgotten more about this stuff than I'll ever know.

2) I misspoke in that previous post. Pacifism and celibacy, although I do think the parallel between the two is illuminating in a lot of ways, don't "actually hold strikingly similar positions in the New Testament." There are some parallels in the New Testament, but the more striking similarities are in Christian history, thought, and community.

3) As should be blindingly obvious, I'm Catholic and Work is not. Work thinks (I think) that Scripture issues an unequivocal call for all Christians to be pacifists. I disagree, for reasons explained below. Because I don't think citing Scripture ends the discussion, I will look to history and sacred tradition, including but not restricted to specific Catholic teachings. I think both Work and I are relying on the traditions of our Christian communities, but I will necessarily be placing a heavier emphasis on those traditions because a) I think the Catholic tradition shows unity of the faith from its earliest days, b) I think Catholics generally tend to view Scripture, saints' lives, and Church teachings as more intertwined than Protestants do (though of course that's a broad generalization), c) I don't think Scripture can be read outside of an interpretive tradition, and I have other reasons for going with the Catholic tradition unless I find some irresolvable conflict within it, and d) most importantly, like I said, I don't think Scripture alone answers this question. However, because I'll be talking about aspects of Christian faith and history that many Protestants either don't share or don't emphasize, there's necessarily going to be a sectarian turn here. I know next to nothing about Work's own tradition, and so instead of trying to engage it (which I don't think I'd do very well), I'm just going to present the world as I see it. A collision from the side rather than head-on, you might say.

4) I'm only going to address one point right now--the possible analogy between pacifism and celibacy. I may blog a bit later about the way Work reads history, and I'll definitely blog about a) whether/why/how Christian soldiers compromise Christian missionary activity and what our response should be when missionary activity is compromised, and b) the specific types of Christian witness that a cop, a prison guard, or a soldier can make (and have made in the recent past--this isn't just a hypothetical possibility). But both of those questions are subordinate to, and dependent on, the answer to the simple question of whether Jesus calls us to be pacifists, so I'm doing this first.

5) This will be long and rambly. Forewarned is forearmed. So to speak.
SCRIPTURE: I think there are (at least!) four aspects of Scriptural teaching on violence, resistance, and war that have come up so far in the discussion. First, there's the way in which a Christian is supposed to respond to personal insults and attacks. Second, there are various passages that can be interpreted as either allowing violence as a last resort or rejecting it. Third, there is the fact that the "fruits of the Spirit" must be manifested by all Christians. And fourth, there's the response of Christ and his disciples to actual soldier-converts in the New Testament.

As for the first, there is of course the famous "turn the other cheek" passage, as well as many other injunctions to love one's enemies and return good for evil. You can read a quick discussion of whether turning the other cheek is actually a form of defiance, and if so, what the Christian's next step would be, by clicking here and then here. But honestly, I don't think these passages are either conclusive or necessarily relevant to pacifism vs. war, which is a question about not self-defense but defense of others.
Second--these are doubtless not all the passages that could be cited, but I think they make a representative sample:
Matt. 26:51-2, "And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
Luke 22:36-8, "Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough." [You can find Prof. Work's discussion of this passage, which rings true to me, here.]
John 18:10-11, "Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"
Rom. 12:18, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
Rom. 13:4, "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."
Rev. 13:10, "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."

OK. I am absolutely not a scholar of Scripture, so I'm going to speculate and throw out questions rather than pronouncing here. So: Those who take the sword will die by the sword. This is said twice, once by Jesus Himself and once in Revelations. But there are a lot of possible things that could be going on here. The context of the Revelations verse strongly implies that the one who "leads into captivity" and "kills with the sword" is, if he is to be identified with any earthly power at all, then certainly an earthly power in league with the beast, who in the preceding verses has it "given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations." However, there is no explicit connection--the verse about captivity and the sword may serve as a divider between two passages about beasts, rather than a connective statement. Professor Work glancingly refers to Revelations as "a pacifist text," but doesn't expand on that, which may mean that he is (in my view appropriately) leery of drawing political/ethical conclusions too quickly or directly from an extraordinarily wild and woolly prophetic book.

Jesus's statement, it seems to me, may mean any of the following (or more than one, of course): 1) He did not come to start a violent uprising but to die on the Cross; to incite a riot would lead to the deaths of His followers and would stand as a rejection of the Crucifixion, in which many prophecies were fulfilled. This is the most "limited" reading, placing this statement in the context of Christ's mission on earth and the fulfillment of particular prophecies, as with the passage in which He calls the disciples to get a sword. In this reading, and possibly in the Revelations passage as well, "those who take up the sword die by the sword" is descriptive rather than prescriptive–it tells what does or will happen when violence is used at certain crucial historical junctures. 2) Those who mete out only justice, rather than mercy, to their fellow men will receive only justice rather than mercy from their Father. Theologically this seems to separate God's justice and His mercy in a way that is incoherent and wrong. Moreover, it's not clear (see below) that warmaking actually does require meting out only justice rather than mercy. 3) It's possible there is no parallel construction in the statement--the first "sword" could be the literal sword of battle whereas the second "sword" is condemnation from God. This is the best pacifist reading, but I don't think it's required by the text.

A smaller question: Why all the qualifying phrases in Rom. 12:18? This actually does sound rather like "It is better to marry than to burn," of which more presently. To my mind, this sounds like pacifism as a vocation for some rather than for all. Why am I wrong?

Basically, I believe that very little in Scripture is transparent. Sola Scriptura is simply impossible (more on this presently!). Different passages require different degrees and kinds of interpretive infrastructure. There are passages like the one in which Christ tells His followers to get a sword, in which Jesus pretty much says, "Hey! Interpret this in light of prophecy!" There are passages like John 6:53, "Unless ye eat the flesh…", in which the whole surrounding context (Christ repeats this, emphasizes it, loses followers over it, etc.) screams, "Take me seriously! This is a huge deal, and it probably means something enormous and robust!" (That context, more than the simple citation of Jesus's words, makes me believe that the Real Presence in the Eucharist is not just philosophically and symbolically justified–it's also hammered on in Scripture.) However, most of the Gospels' text does not come with this kind of built-in interpretive framework; we need to look to theology, and to the interpretive traditions of Christian faith and practice that should shape and correct that theology, in order to figure out what's going on.

On a personal note, I have this strong sense of reliance on tradition and its handmaid theology because I first read the Bible before I became Christian. The Bible alone, shorn of explicit traditional frameworks (though every Bible has an implicit framework, simply because some books are included and others excluded), is a confusing jumble. Readers are likely to interpret it in one of three ways, or some combination: "The Bible says what I want to be true," "The Bible says what my culture tells me it says," or, "Every word of the Bible must be taken absolutely literally in the strictest fundamentalist sense." The "fundamentalist" interpretive method produces as many rejecters of God as fundamentalists, since the transition from the latter to the former is swift and clear. The weirdest example of that transition: An atheist friend of a friend claimed he had "converted" a Christian to atheism by pointing out that "the mustard-seed isn't the smallest seed!" Similarly, there are sites all over the Web that claim to "debunk" the Bible, generally by refusing to allow any subtlety or interpretation on the part of believers. This is why "fundamentalism," in my view, is basically a modern movement, sprung as much from Enlightenment atheists as from Bible-thumpers. (And "fundamentalism," of the Christian or atheist variety, represents a sharp break from the Jewish traditions of Biblical understanding.)

I don't think Professor Work disagrees with any of that, actually. He's stated, "I still trust the Church that wrote, received, trusted, and canonized Matthew and Luke" more than he trusts some hypothetical Ur-Gospel and more than he trusts the non-canonical books of Thomas, etc. I'm saying all this about Biblical interpretation in order to put in perspective my reliance on the tradition of the Church. I also very much agree with Peter Nixon's comment, "In the end, it is precisely because of the complicated nature of this dispute that I am drawn back to my faith as a Catholic in the Tradition of the Church." I think that the Catholic-style "just war" interpretive tradition is stronger than a pacifist tradition for three basic reasons: a) I'm Catholic for other reasons–this is the unhelpful reason!, b) I think the supporting theology is good, of which slightly more presently, and c) most relevantly, I disagree with Professor Work that there's a sharp break at the advent of Constantine, after which the Christian tradition fractures or becomes corrupted when it comes to the use of force. I'll explain my reason for c) below, under the heading, LIVES OF THE SAINTS. C) is the place where I think dialogue might most fruitfully proceed.
Now, back to Scripture. Professor Work cites Gal. 5:22-3, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." He says, "While I have heard many Christians defend Christian violence, I do not remember hearing anyone explain how the specific spiritual gifts distributed in the Church are being properly used when Christians take up the sword of civil authority."

I note with interest that justice is not named among the fruits of the spirit. But then, neither is hope, nor mercy, so that particular "argument from silence"–like most such arguments–doesn't really go anywhere.

I do think Prof. Work is wrong that just-war theology has not relied on the categories Paul names. I'm not going to rehash the claims of Augustine, Aquinas and the rest, since Prof. Work has read 'em and you should read them directly rather than getting cheap knockoff versions from me. But if memory serves, the Catholic just war tradition (and like I said, I know virtually nothing about other traditions on this question) sees war (/policing) as an obligation of charity and (I think) a means toward peacemaking. (This is why "possibility of victory" is one of the criteria for a just war.) The charity is directed primarily toward the victims of unjust aggressors, but I think a case can also be made that justice serves the aggressing soldiers themselves as well. If I were in an unjustly aggressive army, it would be to my benefit, I think, that I be stopped before I can do as much harm as I might want to do. That's a pretty speculative claim and I need to think more about it, but it's equivalent to the claim that if I had done some particularly awful thing I would feel that I deserved punishment, even capital punishment. (There might still be all kinds of reasons not to mete out that punishment in particular situations.) Just as I don't think Prof. Work would argue that forgiveness toward thieves, murderers, or rapists means we can't lock 'em up, so forgiveness and mercy toward hostile powers might mean, for example, always making some kind of declaration of hostilities (rather than a sneak attack; the purpose here is to allow people to reconcile themselves with God before death if they choose to do so), offering repeated opportunities for change rather than attacking at the first unjust act, and seeking to minimize harm to the population and restore a more just order. But my main point here is simply that the just-war tradition can and does discuss the fruits of the spirit–it disagrees on what those fruits entail, and it is reluctant to separate a discourse of love from a discourse of justice.
Finally, there's the fact that both Christ and his disciples have the opportunity to tell Roman soldiers who believe in Christ to leave their positions. Neither the centurion in Matt. 8, nor the one in Acts 10, are told, as far as we know, that their soldiering is incompatible with Christian life. Nobody brings it up. This is pretty different from what happens with the woman taken in adultery ("Go and sin no more") or the rich young man who is told to leave his wealth behind. This is, of course, another argument from silence, and so I don't want to put too much weight on it; but it's striking nonetheless, and becomes more striking when you look at some of the stuff I'll discuss below under the heading LIVES OF THE SAINTS.

Professor Work's take on these matters: "During his ministry, Jesus doesn't seem overly concerned about discipling Gentiles. (John the Baptist's request in Luke 3:10-14 for centurions not to be corrupt belongs to an even earlier stage of eschatological pre-fulfillment, so it is no use either.)

"Now Cornelius the centurion might be another matter (Acts 10). However, we never learn what becomes of him after the Holy Spirit falls on him and he turns into a Pentecostal (Acts 10:44-48). He drops off the radar. We'll have to wait to see whether he became a Mennonite or a Constantinian. With Pentecostals, you never can tell."
"EUNUCHS FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN": I thought of the parallel between pacifism and celibacy for a number of reasons. First, they are somewhat parallel within the Catholic tradition. Aquinas discusses his reasons for believing that the clergy should not bear arms. Second, both pacifism and celibacy are extraordinary ways of giving oneself solely to God, and serving as an eschatological sign of the eternal life in which there is no marriage or giving in marriage, and (pace Milton!) no violence.

And third, I think it is too easy for contemporary Christians to forget how much earlier Christians struggled with the Church's teaching on marriage and sexual love. We are so used to strong Christian theological and cultural defenses of marriage, against an anti-marriage culture, that we forget how much marriage looked like a snare and a "sloppy seconds" option to many Christians. Marriage–like all intense personal loyalties–was seen as an obstacle to love of God. Two fantastic books on this: C.S. Lewis's Allegory of Love and Etienne Gilson's Heloise and Abelard.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS: So in order to understand how Christians should approach the use of force, as I said, I think theology and tradition must be relied on since Scripture is not transparent. And in looking at tradition, one of the absolute best places to go is the lives of the saints, which are like a treasury of more wisdom and truth than a hundred libraries of theological treatises.

I don't know what the role of saints and martyrs is in Prof. Work's tradition; I assume there isn't the same degree of certainty about who's canonized and who isn't, and I also assume there's less emphasis on saints and martyrs in general. However, even outside more saint-focused traditions, I think there's a place for examining the lives and witness of deeply holy and revered people.

And there are saints who took up arms. I'm not talking Joan of Arc here, or St. George, etc. I'm talking Sts. Julius and Hesychius (and their companions), and St. Sebastian–there are probably others I'm not remembering or couldn't find, but those three are startling enough in themselves. Click on the links for their stories. Not only were these men Christian martyrs who apparently saw no contradiction between their faith and their occupation (and St. Sebastian was said to have chosen to become a soldier in order to aid those who suffer). Perhaps more importantly for our understanding of Christian tradition, these men were revered as martyrs and heroes of faith by the Christian community. And all this happened before Constantine's conversion to Christianity. It seems to me that a line can be drawn from the convert-centurions of the New Testament to these three soldier-martyrs of the third century.

Some might say, "Well, these guys were martyred–that shows that their profession and their faith were incompatible!" I disagree. I agree with Prof. Work's statement, "Since the American military does not allow recruits to participate conditionally in military actions or to be discharged when war takes an unjust turn, this pretty clearly precludes faithful Christians from American military service, unless they serve willing to face courts martial and dishonorable discharges when the time comes to withdraw." Given that fact, there could easily be Christian soldier-martyrs in our own time, people court-martialed or executed for refusing to obey an unjust order. The soldier-martyrs, and the communities that praised them, did not believe that their faith was in conflict with soldiering, even though there might be scores of unjust acts (like, say, being required to deny Christ!) that they would face martyrdom to avoid.

So. That's my (admittedly very rambly) take on the matter. I'll revisit what seem to me to be subordinate questions of practicality and how to be a Christian soldier/cop/prison guard later.

Finally, I should say that if Prof. Work's presentation of R. Neibuhr's thought is on target, I'm not a Neibuhrian–it's entirely possible to accept Christian soldiering without relying on weird "Everyone sins, at least I sin for justice!" stuff.

And I should call attention again to Work's calm, faithful, and challenging witness–I think it's awesome, even though I still disagree, and his site should be of interest to all of my Christian readers (and perhaps non-Christians interested in ethical questions of peace, war, and religious believers' relationship to the state). I'll try to print out several of his essays on pacifism (I tried one earlier and it crashed my computer!) and read them while I'm away, so perhaps I will be able to comment further then. ("Is that a promise or a threat?") Anyway, go take a look at him.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

SO TODAY KIND OF GOT AWAY FROM ME, and after tomorrow at 5 p.m. I will not be posting ANYTHING until next Thursday. But I do have some cool stuff stored up for tomorrow--pacifism and celibacy (this time I mean it...), Shakespeare and rock'n'roll conservatism, sex and/or fun, and something I think you'll really, really like, but that is a secret for now. And I will do the whole vast-camel-of-blogging thing while traveling (New Haven then New York then Boston then New York again), so when I return you all will get lots of good stuff. I hope. But ignore this site Saturday through Wednesday.
"You're not very tall are you?"
"Well, I, uh, I try to be."

–Martha Vickers and Humphrey Bogart, "The Big Sleep"

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

RUSSO will get on my case for this, but the other night I caught a snippet of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and it reminded me yet again that the only real Star Trek is the one with Kirk & crew.

The moment that summed up the boring, Eurocrat-ness of it all? This fiery exchange (they're talking about whether they should release a weird, genetically-altered 12-year-old from cryonic suspension, not that it matters; Picard is anti-thawing, the lady doctor is pro-thawing; this was by far the most heated exchange I saw):

CAPTAIN PICARD: But the risk is--

Those are the real lines. Patrick Stewart, and whoever the chick was, had to wring emotion and drama out of those lines. I assume they're great actors, but this is simply impossible. At least when The Original Series was embarrassing, it was campy....
STRAIGHT SURVIVORS ARE PROTESTING JULY 18. Link via The Agitator; click here to learn what a "Straight survivor" is, if you haven't been following this.
I NOTE that although I said (or strongly implied) that I did not write "a long post about [surrogate motherhood], with much quoting of Maggie Gallagher and such," in fact I did write a long (long, long, long post a-winding) post about etc.

Apologies. The Rat will know which dead famous dude (Pascal??) apologized for writing such a long letter, saying that he had not had time to make it shorter.

Meanwhile, why not enter my contests?
THE BEAUTY MYTH: A while ago, I skimmed Naomi Wolf's well-known book. Wasn't super impressed with it. I assume some of the stats that have been attacked by Wolf-detractors are bogus (e.g. how many women die of anorexia in the USA per year). Haven't really looked into it.

But I do think the language of "the beauty myth" might be useful. Not as an attack on female beauty or beautification techniques. Most women are beautiful most of the time; and that beauty is comprised of as much art as nature. ("Art" here includes not just obvious stuff like clothes, makeup, and hairstyle, but also habits, demeanor, and carriage--do her eyes express curiosity, languor, amusement, or stoicism? Is she relaxed, or intense, or careworn?)

But it's worth pointing out the ways in which social expectations and pressures warp our ability to notice and appreciate beauty. (And I'm speaking of female beauty here; the social expectations surrounding male looks are different enough that I'm not sure it's helpful to speak of both together.) Women are (in general) divided into those who are encouraged to be vain, and those who (because they can't meet cliched, conformist understandings of beauty) are encouraged to hold themselves in contempt. Meanwhile, guys are divided into those who are encouraged to be lustful, and those who (because they can't or don't "get girls") are similarly encouraged to hold themselves in contempt. This seems like a situation that a Christian should rebel against as much as a feminist would--if not in the same way, and not with the same solutions.

Personally, I would address these problems in a range of ways--for example, encouraging kids to spend more time with art and/or literature, where their thirst for beauty and for role models will be slaked in a more complex, generous, and fulfilling way; teaching kids about the lives of the saints, which are so different that they provide potential role models for pretty much any personality type; pointing out that vanity and lust are, hello, wrong; and accurately naming tendencies in our culture and behavior that encourage vanity or lust. Just some random thoughts there.
QUESTIONS ON SURROGATE MOTHERHOOD: I thought about writing a long post about this, with much quoting of Maggie Gallagher and such, but I don't have time for more than some scattered thoughts.

How is surrogate motherhood better than infidelity? A man is using a woman for pleasure--in this case, the pleasure of children, not the pleasure of sex. But sex and reproduction can't be so easily unhooked. The Church identifies a unitive and a reproductive purpose for sex--it unites two people, shows their love for one another, and it also makes babies. But actually the reproductive function of sex flows out of the unitive purpose. When we give ourselves to one another in sex, a child can be produced, who further unites his parents and stands as a visible symbol of their unity. The man who procures the services of a surrogate mother is creating a lasting union with a woman whom he does not want to act as the mother of his child. His tie to her will last longer than most adulterous liaisons. We have created a hygienic separation (in our minds, but not in the real world!) between sex and reproduction--but they're both about the union of two people.

What happens if the surrogate changes her mind? What if she signs a contract saying she'll hand the baby over, but then refuses to relinquish her child? What if she decides she wants to abort the child? What if the father and his partner decide to move or cut off contact between mother and child? Gallagher discusses the 1986 "Baby M" case, in which a surrogate mother reneged on her agreement to relinquish her baby after the child was born. Cops had to come to wrest the baby from Mary Beth Whitehead, the mother. She was allowed to see her baby for two hours twice a week, but she could not breast-feed the child even when the baby sought her milk. At one point, right after the birth, and right after Whitehead's decision that she could not part with her child, the childless couple who'd bought her services came to get the baby; Whitehead's husband fled with the child out the back window; the cops pulled up; Mary Beth, still recovering from giving birth, blood running down her legs, rushed out to plead with the couple. "Look at me," she begged.

Some excerpts from Gallagher's Enemies of Eros: "Behind the logic of valorizing contract in this case is an attempt to escape the messy, fleshy reality that we are not only gendered, we are embodied. 'Nobody, including [Mary Beth Whitehead], ever intended her to be the mother,' said Gary Skoloff, the Sterns' lawyer. 'So you're not terminating a mother.' If intention is the key, then, parenting is no longer a thing of the flesh, subject to involuntary processes, outside of our control. Reason has tamed its most stubborn opponent, not, of course, by actually controlling the body, but by the simple expedient of refusing to recognize anything that falls outside reason's domain. Our bodies cannot make us parents, we make ourselves mothers and fathers in the most respectable of all fashions, by making deals.

"...Intent would be a practically fool-proof defense in paternity suits, for example. After all, the average guy rationally intends only to put peg A in hole B. Or maybe, if he's a really nice guy, he intends to express his deep affection and to give his woman rapturous pleasure. In other words, put peg A into hole B. If a baby comes out nine months later, that's not his fault, is it?...

"If surrogate advocates are correct about the source of parental obligation, then it is not only difficult, but also morally wrong to impose financial buderns on the growing ranks of absent fathers. If it is choice that makes parents of us all, then it is wrong, unjust, and unnatural that a man should suffer for a baby he did not will and to whom therefore he is unrelated."

The father of these children wanted a surrogate mother so that he could be the kids' biological father. He clearly believes that there's something unique about physical generation, physical fatherhood--DNA, in short. He maybe wanted kids that looked something like him, or had some of his traits. That physical connection would solidify his fatherhood. So OK, if his DNA is so important, why isn't the mother's DNA important? Why is he the father while she's, what, an aunt, or a friend of the family? If physical fatherhood is important, isn't physical motherhood at least as important?

It's funny (sorta) how many people are willing to pretend--or, I don't know, maybe they really believe this--that getting pregnant and giving birth are just like any other job. After all, don't they call it "labor"? When I work for a temp agency, or wherever, aren't they "renting the use of my body"? Isn't it all the same thing really?

I've never given birth. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer to these questions isn't really "No, it's not the same," but more like, "Are you out of your ever-loving mind????" "Renting a uterus" means paying a woman to undergo a biological process that is designed--or evolved, or whatever, it really doesn't matter--to produce emotions of bonding, mother-love, and intense, tigress-like passion for her baby. But the surrogate mother is expected to repress this tidal wave of emotion as easily as if she were turning off a tap. Because she's not really the child's parent. Because she and the people who recruited her didn't want her to be the child's parent, and she put her signature on some papers. The people who recruited her are the real parents, because they "conceived" the child--they thought it up. She merely provided temporary housing and DNA.

How can we rely on ferocious, constant, necessary mother-love--the fact that women usually fall in love with their babies--to sustain society, but then expect surrogate mothers to shut it off because they signed a contract saying they would?

How is attempting to base family life on contract any better than Antioch "Can I unbutton your top button? What about the next one?" College's attempt to base heavy petting on contract? Obviously, sometimes contract-type arrangements are needed to form families--adoption papers are the most obvious example. But isn't that contract-model a sign that something's broken down in the family, a last resort done for the best interests of the child, not a model that we should emulate in cases where the best interests of the child clearly aren't the driving force (since no child even exists before the surrogate contract is signed)?
USES OF THE POSE: Was thinking more about the Twain/Borges post below, and realized that I'd overlooked one of the major benefits of the human love of poses. A pose can be a stance we take on while we're trying to work out the kinks in a worldview. We often intuit some kind of connection between seemingly disparate* positions--especially in the realm of aesthetics. Political and philosophical movements often have some style of art associated with them--socialist realism, romanticism, the Fugitive poets, etc. The connection between the politics or the philosophy and the style often seems strained or arbitrary at first, but when you dig deeper, you discover that the aesthetic choices usually do signal something about the corresponding philosophical stance. People developing a response to the world often begin with inchoate longings, guesses, leaps in the dark, and stylistic quirks, which come together to form a pose--which may or may not be the beginnings of an actual coherent worldview.

I think rock'n'roll conservatism is in this stage right now. Lots of guesswork, lots of attempts to reconcile seemingly opposed stances or elements through sheer force of personality; but ultimately, I think coherence will emerge.... Watch this space!

* Extra points if you know why I associate the phrase "reconciling the seemingly disparate" with the phrase "Get tough with Sugar Puff!"
POETRY WEDNESDAY: The Oligarch contributes; De Feo protests too much. And what about me? I give you Seamus Heaney, "The Skunk":

Up, black, striped and damasked like the chasuble
At a funeral mass, the skunk's tail
Paraded the skunk. Night after night
I expected her like a visitor.

The refrigerator whinnied into silence.
My desk light softened beyond the verandah.
Small oranges loomed in the orange tree.
I began to be tense as a voyeur.

After eleven years I was composing
Love-letters again, broaching the word "wife"
Like a stored cask, as if its slender vowel
Had mutated into the night earth and air

Of California. The beautiful, useless
Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absence.
The aftermath of a mouthful of wine
Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.

And there she was, the intent and glamorous,
Ordinary, mysterious skunk,
Mythologized, demythologized,
Snuffing the boards five feet beyond me.

It all came back to me last night, stirred
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.
"I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog."
–Kirk Douglas, "The Big Carnival"

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT. THEY HAVE MORE MONEY. There's a frustrating clash of polemics, between (roughly) the American right and left, about whether and to what extent poverty is a result of behavior. The Nation crowd accuses the right (and fellow travelers on this question, like Kaus) of blaming the victims; the right plays into that criticism by, uh, blaming the victims, and, at times, acting as if poor people are a different species from the blow-dried, first-pew, well-upholstered upstanding conservative.

But it seems to me that identifying behaviors that lead to poverty ought to evoke empathy in people who aren't poor. Why? Because so many of the poverty-causing behaviors are prevalent among the rich and the middle-class, as well. Divorce often plunges women and children into poverty, or knocks them from striving-middle-class to they're-shutting-my-electricity-off. And divorce is anything but unknown among the wealthy and almost-wealthy--flip through the address book for my high school if you want proof, and try to figure out how many of the kids lived with both parents. The behaviors that lead one man to homelessness may lead a man who started out in a better situation to become the standard-issue "functioning alcoholic" who comes home from his 9-to-6 and hits his kids. Almost everyone I know exhibits some of the behaviors that, in more desperate starting situations, draw people into poverty. For a trivial example, I can't keep track of anything--bills, checks, due dates. I've only been overdrawn once. If my finances were generally less stable, my scatterbrained-ness would become a huge problem, and I'd need to work on fixing it pronto if I wanted to avoid major headaches.

It seems to me that poverty is caused by a complex interplay between starting-out-situation, personal history (how your parents treated you, whether you were ever raped, etc.), health, and behavior. Behavior really does play a pretty big role in making people poor--and, even more so, in keeping people poor. But the response to lousy behavior is the same for poor and rich--everyone is challenged to change their wrong behavior. Some behaviors will be more urgent for poor people or people already on the edge of poverty; some behaviors, like my woolly-brained-ness, aren't actually immoral, but become irresponsible when finances are really tight.

It's necessary to identify (and even harp on) things people do that keep them poor for a host of reasons: People need to take responsibility for their lives--they need self-determination. Behaviors can change, whereas starting-situation and personal history can't, so focusing on behavior is actually the most hopeful strategy. People need to know what they're doing that's keeping them down, and they need (as all of us need) lots of support in switching from doing the wrong things to doing the right things. And I'll add that focusing on behavioral causes of poverty, as I said above, should remind people who aren't poor that the poor are a lot like us. Lots of poor people have self-sabotaging behaviors--like me. They screw stuff up, continually repeat their mistakes, make a lot of wrong choices--like me. Poor people who are making those wrong choices need to be challenged and helped--like, once more, me.

Honestly, if you were screwing up and it was making your life (or, more so, your children's lives) unnecessarily miserable--wouldn't you want someone to point it out? And for the people "on the right" on this issue--wouldn't you take advice better if it was presented with empathy? Aren't you pretty likely to just stop listening if the "advice-giver" makes you feel like an alien, or like scum, or like an incurable screw-up? A lot of people have done phenomenal work pointing out behaviors that keep people poor--poke around in the archives here for some good stuff--but, as always, more needs to be done to ensure that the behavioral-change message is a message of hope and empathy, not one of self-righteous indignation.
"ALL OF LIFE IS A QUOTATION" (Borges): Also from Life on the Mississippi (in fact, from the same page as the previous post): "Immediately after the war of 1812, tourists began to come to America, from England; scattering ones at first, then a sort of procession of them--a procession which kept up its plodding, patient march through the land during many, many years. Each tourist took notes, and went home and published a book--a book which was usually calm, truthful, reasonable, kind; but which seemed just the reverse to our tender-footed progenitors. A glance at these tourist-books shows us that in certain of its aspects the Mississippi has undergone no change since those strangers visited it, but remains to-day about as it was then. The emotions produced in those foreign breasts by these aspects were not all formed on one pattern, of course; they had to be various, along at first, because the earliest tourists were obliged to originate their emotions, whereas in older countries one can always borrow emotions from ones predecessors. And, mind you, emotions are among the toughest things in the world to manufacture out of whole cloth; it is easier to manufacture seven facts than one emotion."

It is one of the more startling facts about life that most people spend most of their time playing a role, quoting from someone else's life. No one poses all the time, and only a few never pose at all; most of us are somewhere on the poseur spectrum. This is at least as true of self-professed non-conformists as of the rest of us.

It's a standard conservative game to expose the imitation and conformity practiced by soi-disant rebels. More interesting is the way in which roles sustain us when our philosophy fails, wavers, or threatens to lead us into ruin. "I wouldn't lie/cheat/steal, I'm a good person!" says the man whose beliefs (his real beliefs, even if he is a professed Christian or whatever) justify all kinds of lying, cheating, and stealing. He plays the role so well that the mask has melted into the skin, and he no longer even wants to lie, etc., or at least he is not conscious of wanting this. Similarly, people who profess a nihilistic philosophy can stroll along the street in their (depending on the generation) Russian-anarchist/Marlon Brando/tormented-artist/whatever pose, without actually doing anything more transvaluing of all values than kicking the occasional puppy. You can see the benefits of humans' love of roles and poses; but the spiritual dangers of complacency, falsehood, and self-righteousness are great.

An example of the pose: A friend once recounted the story of a freshman she met, after she herself had already graduated from college. The freshman didn't believe in God, and/or hated Him; after all, God had made a world where people suffer. "So, what do you do about it?" she asked him.

"Rrrrooonnkk?" he said in a suitably Scooby-Doo-like manner.

"What do you do about the poor suffering people? Do you volunteer at a homeless shelter? Or do you just sit around and not believe in God?" Which turned out to be the case.

I forget how he ended up--but the pose (I Am Tormented By The World's Suffering) had been shattered, maybe permanently, for good or ill.

It's when people become conscious that they're posing that the real danger sets in. That's when they have to stop quoting their emotions. They have to choose between conforming their lives to their philosophy, or jettisoning the philosophy, because the pose no longer holds them in its liquid suspension.
DANCING IN HEAVEN?: I just finished Life on the Mississippi, which was fun, and you'll get several posts springing off from various Twain statements. But Twain falls into an annoyingly common trope when he writes, "The loneliness of thiws solemn, stupendous flood is impressive--and depressing. League after league, and still league after league, it pours its chocolate tide along, between its solid forest walls, its almost untenanted shores, with seldom a sail or a moving object of any kind to disturb the surface and break the monotony of the blank, watery solitude; and so the day goes, the night comes, and again the day--and still the same, night after night and day after day--majestic, unchanging sameness of serenity, repose, tranquillity, lethargy, vacancy--symbol of eternity, realization of the heaven pictured by priest and prophet, and longed for by the good and thoughtless!"

Not quite. "Blackadder" had a hilarious bit about this cheap-atheism view of heaven--"No; you see, the thing about Heaven, is that Heaven is for people who like the sort of things that go on in Heaven, like, uh, well, singing, talking to God, watering pot plants." Even this, of course, is more energetic than Twain's sly caricature! But it's common for atheists to deride heaven by saying things like, "One eternal church service? Borrrring!" If said atheists were raised Christian, this judgment should cause their childhood ministers some concern--and maybe the ministers should learn some rhetoric, just read from the majestic Bible some more, or maybe hit the coffeepot Sunday morning--but there are at least three things to say about this portrayal of heaven:

1) When the reality of what's going on at Mass has truly struck my heart--which happens rarely, as it's so astonishingly easy to get distracted and self-centered--it's as powerful, as ecstatic, as seeing the face of your beloved suddenly appear in a doorway. It's as awe-inspiring as any ice-hung mountaintop. At the Mass at which I was confirmed, I was sick (due to stress and doubt) and couldn't really focus, but after we'd all received Communion I glanced over at the woman next to me and saw that she was crying with joy. If that's what heaven's like--that piercing realization of God's love and Jesus's sacrifice--sign me up! The sudden understanding that the Communion wafer, breaking between your teeth, is the body of Christ Who was broken on the Cross for you and for all mankind--how terrible, how exalting--a realization most of us simply can't sustain, emotionally, for more than a few seconds.

2) In heaven we will see God face to face. Deriding this act of contemplation as "boring" is as silly as deriding other contemplative ecstasies--the mathematician lost in the beauty of the labyrinth of numbers, the reader who looks up from her book and stares out the window in distracted meditation on what she's just read.

3) There is singing in heaven. We don't really know what that means--I expect all our metaphors will look wan in the face of eternal life--but I do think we can gather that eternity is not the same as stasis; that heaven is not a stagnant pool or a mummification.
MAILBAG: Capital punishment, WWJD?, and Seattle. As always, I'm in plain text and others are in bold.

Good points from KairosPerson: I'm not going to take on the whole issue of the death
penalty, largely because I am somewhat muddled about it. I think I'm in favor of it, because the basic moral compass inherent in us all points towards it, and we are supposed to listen to that compass. (We are also supposed to educate and service that compass,
which is why I remain uncertain.)

But I will take on one piece of your argument, that I have much more clarity on. You write: "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...I don't see how they can responsibly claim that the view that "death is different" is an anti-Christian view."

The calculus involved in discerning which among rape, torture and murder is "worst" is impossible to measure by human standards, and so irrelevant to the discussion. But murder *is* different, as a category, because it is the one crime that cannot be undone, nor
made up for, and, most importantly from a Christian point of view, it denies the victim the chance to forgive.

Of course, an extraordinary person in the final seconds of his life may forgive his killer, but most ordinary people need at least a little time to reflect on something before offering forgiveness. That we are called to forgive unconditionally and automatically, but often do not, makes it very much worse, as a moral matter. Though I don't for a moment believe it to be true, it is possible within our theology (because there are so many mysteries in it) that the bank teller gunned down swearing at the thief would be damned on the spot for not forgiving the killer. The victim of rape or torture at least has the time and opportunity to consider forgiveness. (I believe--hope--that the merciful God can create a way in which the victim of a murder is really given a chance to forgive, but there is little comfort on this
sunject to be found in Scripture.)

This does not apply to those who are executed, at least in this country, because they are always given at least months, and often years, to prepare themselves, to repent, and to seek forgiveness. A killer may choose not to do so, but it *is* a choice, one his victim was denied.

And it cannot be undone. Of course, rape and torture cannot be "undone" in a literal sense, but there is a moral way in which the healing that sometimes comes about "undoes" the harm--think of the slave-trader-turned-abolitionist who penned "Amazing Grace." The years of slavery he sold people into could not be given back to them, but he could and did spend his post-conversion life redeeming slaves, some those he had sold in the first place.

All of these facts can be used either for or against death as punishment (further reason for my muddledness). But murder, as a moral act, really *is* different from any other crime, and so limiting death to a punishment for murder alone is not, ipso facto, inherently humanist, nor does it make a fetish of life.

As I said, good points, though this description of why murder alone merits the death penalty would seem to judge murderers who confine and torture their victims less harshly than those who just shoot fast. We know that victims have forgiven their captors while imprisoned by, for example, serial killers. (At least one victim wrote a letter to her parents, hoping that it would be found after her death--which it was--in which she professed her faith in Christ and her forgiveness for her soon-to-be-murderer. This I got from either John Douglas's Journey Into Darkness or Steven Michaud's The Evil That Men Do--I forget which.) So I, like Kairos, am not sure "where this goes" in terms of the death penalty.

A reader, on WWJD?: I was thinking over the weekend about your WWJD entry, and had a couple of thoughts. (a) Isn't asking "What does the Church teach?" a specifically Catholic rendering of the right question? [Yes. But I hope the quotation from First Things, which distinguished between "what Jesus did" and "what He wants us to do," cashed the statement out in a way accessible to Protestants as well. --Ed.] (b) Even with respect to Catholics, but even more with respect to Protestants, can't we understand the question to be a shorthand for: "What should I do after getting into communion with other congregants/the Church, under circumstances where actually getting into communion is as a practical matter impossible?" That is, "WWJD?" is an effort imaginatively to construct the answer to the right question under imperfect circumstances, i.e., under circumstances where one can't actually ask the right question of the right people.

That last statement was later clarified as something similar to, "WWJD? is a starting point prior to acceptance of any
particular Christian tradition (to the extent that such a "prior" moment exists) and therefore an aid in approaching various divergent
traditions?," but actually less sophisticated -- I imagined someone located in a tradition but (say) away from home and not knowing where to find folks in that tradition, confronting a problem that needed immediate attention and using WWJD? as a way of getting his/her mind to focus on the right questions.

That absolutely makes sense to me.

And finally, Unqualified Offerings dug my Seattle/Pittsburgh post, and took it in an interesting direction that I agree with, but two Seattle natives thought I was overpraising their hometown. One wrote, "I'm glad you had a nice time here. It is, of course, completely different if you live here and are the least little bit conservative, of course. It is vibrant and lively only if you agree with the prevailing leftist orthodoxy."

Another added: First: Catholic culture. One must never reduce the faith to culture, but one must also never forget that one of the points of faith is to inform and transform the culture. Catholic culture is something like an essential accident to Catholic faith. A Catholic culture supports and encourages the faith because it supports and encourages holiness, which leads to virtuous action and strong witness. Unfortunately, it seems that a cohesive, vibrant culture is possible chiefly while under persecution.

Which leads me to my second point.

Second: The Church in Seattle. It is unlikely that one will find a more dismal religious situation anywhere in the country (which, to my eyes, explains why Seattle's suicide rate and abortion rate are so high -- though beautiful and exciting on the outside, Seattle is a city of despair). My aunt, after working for the Church in various capacities for the last thirty years, remarked to me that Catholicism in Seattle is something like Catholicism in Japan. The people seem to have no capacity to actually get it. They don't know what to do with it. The woman you met at the wedding was probably from one of the wrenchingly rare parishes that are on fire. Most of the Catholics in Seattle would look at a parish on fire for Christ like most people look at Trekkies. Everything that is bad about AmChurch
that you've seen in D.C. is ten times worse in Seattle.

Hmmm... well, as people always say when the facts on the ground prove less than maximally helpful, my larger point still stands...! Actually, it's hard to imagine that Seattle is "the worst in the country"--and I know zero about Catholicism in Japan, so no comment there--but more importantly, I really don't believe that a vibrant Catholic culture is only possible under persecution. (And I doubt Harmon means that as strongly as it sounds.) My main purpose in the Seattle post was to point out the ways in which a culturally-Catholic city can actually be a place with less faith than habit, less love than repetition; and the effect that that ingrown culture can have on Catholics seeking something more vivid. Our culture, and its "creative class," may over-value things that are in motion and that have the appearance of liveliness. But if our parishes don't have that appearance of liveliness, the creative-class types are right to think something's wrong. The answer is not to reject the parish but to infuse it with the Gospel... obviously.
We were born to be princes of the blogosphere...

(More on that song presently!)

Ted Barlow is back!

Istanblog: Vast amounts of interesting reading matter, from an American (? I think) blogger in Turkey. Link via Unqualified Offerings.

Mark Shea: Nicaea has no future!

Sursum Corda: Post on pacifism. (I have not forgotten that I promised more on this. It's coming. I got dispirited when Blogger ate a post I spent way too long on. But expect post tomorrow-ish.) I don't really sign on to all of Nixon's reasoning (Christian ethics, like rabbinically-shaped Jewish ethics, are radically different from how people behave in e.g. the Book of Joshua, and I think Nixon is downplaying that; I'm also not sure he's accurately characterizing Christian pacifists' view of the role of the Christian community in salvation, though that's super-interesting and not something I'd thought about). But this sentence rings very true to me: "In the end, it is precisely because of the complicated nature of this dispute that I am drawn back to my faith as a Catholic in the Tradition of the Church." I've been doing a lot of thinking and praying about this question (uh, a lot for me, that is--I'm no Aquinas), and you will soon see whether it's borne fruit.
"Imagine a dish like this married to a mug like Benny McBride. The naked and the dead."
–Don McGuire, "Armored Car Robbery"

Monday, July 08, 2002

SHAMED HAS THE BEST REVIEW of that Brookhiser George Washington documentary, which I hope to see soon.
"I DON'T HAVE A CHOICE." Heartbreaking, infuriating NYTM story. Parents bully daughter into unwanted abortion.

Over the weekend, I read Frederica Mathewes-Greene's terrific book Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion. Don't read it on the bus unless you actually like crying in public. The odd chapters are women talking about why they had abortions, while the even chapters are Mathewes-Greene's advice to pregnancy center volunteers. A lot of things stood out--Mathewes-Greene's adamant refusal to demonize men, her insistence that even creeps and $#@!s can transform themselves and become part of the solution; her obvious compassion; her gentle rebukes to pregnancy centers (we focus on the easier, practical matters, instead of the extraordinarily difficult emotional obstacles that are more likely to lead a woman to consider abortion). But most of all, what stood out was the fact that these women aborted to preserve relationships. They got abortions to avoid disappointing their parents. To keep a boyfriend. Because their husbands wanted them to do it. Because their mothers wanted them to do it. Abortion was not about autonomy; it was about dependence. (And yes, Mathewes-Greene makes no pretense that the women she quotes are some kind of scientifically representative sample; they are women who were involved in various post-abortion counseling groups; but if you think these reasons are unique to a few unhappy women I'm sorry, you are wildly wrong.) Many of these women's abortions--like many of the sexual relationships that preceded them--were the result of self-hatred, or just a kind of self-ignoring or self-contempt. The woman's needs, beliefs, loves, desires were downplayed in favor of her parents' or her man's. Welcome to freedom.

I'll post more about this book later, but you should really go read it. No matter what you think about the legality of abortion. (Which Mathewes-Greene notes is nowhere addressed in her book--she's just not about that.) No one who cares about women can deny that many abortions are the result of emotions and beliefs that are deeply, agonizingly harmful to women.
THE "CREATIVE CLASS," AND THEIR CREATOR: Seattle is also a "creative class" city. This means that it's got lots of techies, artists and assorted similar beasties; it's tolerant and diverse and all that sort of thing; and it's gaining in population. Richard Florida, professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, came up with the term "creative class" after investigating why so few of his students wanted to stay in Pittsburgh after graduation. He tried to figure out why some cities are booming and others are slumping, and hit on a combination of night life, artsiness, gay-friendliness, lots of jobs, and a general sense of excitement and openness to change.

According to his students, Pittsburgh flunked. "People with new ideas in both Pittsburgh and Detroit were shunned," he told Salon.

Florida's research seems to contradict theorists like Robert "Bowling Alone" Putnam, who hypothesized that tight-knit civic groups led to economic success as well as personal satisfaction. Florida says when he asked "creative class" types, they said, "No, that's not what we want. We want to be quasi-anonymous, we want a community in which we can be ourselves, we want a community which we can define ourselves, we can create our own identities." This may be part of the reason that the growing cities usually had lower church attendance rates and lower rates of involvement in community groups than the cities whose populations and economies were stagnating. Florida's research, frankly, makes the "creative class" sound like self-centered jerks, like baby birds hanging their mouths open waiting for people to drop in little entertainment-worms. But while there are all kinds of questions that can be raised about how much his theory actually explains economic trends, I think it's pretty clear that the "creative class" (which has strong overlaps with the "bobos") is a real phenomenon. Seattle does feel vibrant, eccentric (if often in a safe, hygienic kind of way), and full of stuff to do.

But at the wedding reception, I was seated next to a woman who offered a different perspective on creative vs. stagnant cities. I can't recall whether she worked, or where, but her husband was a programmer for Microsoft--one of Florida's techie creatives. Like Florida's students, she had left Pittsburgh (I can't remember if she grew up there or just lived there for a time as an adult), and she found Seattle much more alive and exciting--because of the vivid Catholic community she'd found. She acknowledged that Seattle "isn't as churched a region"; but where Pittsburgh's Catholic parishes felt (to her) ingrown, insular, their Catholicism a matter of inherited culture and habit rather than heartfelt, passionate belief, in Seattle she'd been able to find a parish full of people who were on fire for Christ.

I say this not to knock Pittsburgh--for all I know, there are similarly invigorating and springtime-like parishes there. But I present this woman's Seattle vs. Pittsburgh experience in order to a) warn of the dangers of making Catholicism a culture rather than a faith, and b) point out that the creative class's preference for neon nightlife and artsy coffeeshops may bear the seeds of a deeper longing for an evangelizing, hopeful, active Christian faith. The creative class wants something alive, and doesn't place a high value on familial ties or duties. Too often, when it comes to faith, they've been offered a choice between ossified cultural Catholicism (or Lutheranism, etc.) and church-as-entertainment. The Seattle vs. Pittsburgh contrast can perhaps be thought of in Jaroslav Pelikan's terms: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Perhaps ossified cities should take the "creative class" theory as a spur to transform the latter into the former. If the creative class is looking for something lively, there's nothing like spiritual renewal.
SEATTLE was a strange place. The mountains were beautiful, like giant monuments to aspiration and challenge; but they also looked fake, like mountains painted on a scrim, to people like me who ordinarily don't see anything taller than the Washington Monument. The colors were very "West Coast"--more neutral, more dark greens and maroons, less grime and beat-up-ness. There seemed to be a lot of money sloshing around that city. Everything we saw was Georgetown-esque. No doubt there are less fancy parts of town, but we couldn't manage to get lost in them despite some valiant efforts. The pine trees and mountain landscape reminded me, eerily, of the drive-up-the-mountain scenes from "The Shining"--yet another sign that I'm East Coast bred. The people were bizarrely, floridly, Midwesternly friendly.
PART FOUR: The fireworks on the Mall were fantastic. Security was less than maximally tight, but whatever, nothing happened. The smiley-face, peace-sign, etc. fireworks were lame and tacky, but in general, the weeping willows and spouts and arches of light were just amazing.

Best moment: Four songs were played during the fw's. Two were marches, the kind of thing you recognize immediately but (if you're musically illiterate like me) can't name; one was a breathy and unsatisfying "God Bless America." But the fourth was--so perfect, so longing, so American--"Moon River."

Two drifters, off to see the world...
PART THREE: Shamed, on the other hand, actually had an intriguing idea, as vs. my daft one. Why not draft Ben Ali for mayor? (Or an Ali son.)

Are you with me here, people?
PART TWO: At the potluck, I realized that I really really want Marion Barry to run for something again. Not because I think he'll be good for the city--no way, I like snowplows and semi-competency--but because I have come up with a terrific campaign slogan.

Marion Barry: Rock the Vote.
NOTES FROM THE FOURTH OF JULY, PART ONE: Had a great time. Consumed much potluck with Russo, Shamed, Tepper, Sanchez, and several blogless but no less worthy individuals. Russo decorated the apartment with quotations about America or Americans--ranging from, "On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed" (Thomas Jefferson) to, "Drugs have taught an entire generation of American kids the metric system" (P.J. O'Rourke). And this, from Tom Wolfe: "Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America -- that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement." Here's a page with many quotes from Jefferson; ditto for O'Rourke. Enjoy.

(While I was in Seattle I jotted down ideas for 21 posts, of which this is the first. The other 20 will seep out over the course of the next several days. Expect the less think-y ones first; I'm still a bit jetlagged.)
Wasting away again in Margaritaville,
Searching for my lost watcher of blog...

The Agitator: Nifty Bush/Gore Coke/pop/soda thing you've probably seen on InstaPundit already; but if you haven't, click here, it rocks.

The Chickpea Eater: Filioque update.

The Rat: Wedding scoop (congratulations Michael and Monica!!!)--the wedding is part of the marriage, not a separate weird insanity-fest. See E-Pression for more on the same subject.

Unqualified Offerings: Hedayet speculations; precrime copycats (and OK, I have now added Thomas Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of to the incredible expanding reading list); anthrax update that actually mentions the media anthrax!!! (though even I forgot that Tom Brokaw got some thraxmail); excellent, justly Insta-blogged post on anti-Americanism right and left.

Los Volokh: Two interesting posts on recycling (I don't bother--it's not as if DC is going to get its act together enough to actually turn my trash into something useful...), and a hilarious look into the mind of Sasha Volokh. I can't remember any super-funny dreams lately. National Review ran a little blurb a while back about some study that found that conservatives had more nightmares than liberals; and, well, I've been pretty conservative these past months. But I'm sure The Rat (who once had a dream about smuggling cheese!) will remember some of my more exciting nocturnal wanderings.

Matthew Yglesias: Why aren't we even trying the rhetorical defense of freedom/hearts-and-minds angles we worked back in the Cold War? It's a good and necessary point. Rhetoric is not only powerful in domestic affairs; it is, if anything, more important in international politics, where the differences between competing factions are greater and the stakes higher. We should be making the case for liberty, justice, and hope, and against Islamo-fascism. Jay Nordlinger mentions Radio Free Europe's switch from the post-Soviet nations to the currently-Islamicizing ones. If anyone has info on what kind of thing RFE actually broadcasts, that would be great. In WWII, the British had George Orwell on the air slugging for England and anti-fascism; in what we might as well call WWIV, what do we have?

And a good what-if-no-1776? column from Jim Bennett; and what the dictionaries say about Joseph Stalin, statesman, and his pals.
"Did you go to your high-school reunion?"
"Yes, I did. It was just as if everybody had swelled."

--John and Joan Cusack, "Grosse Pointe Blank"

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

POETRY WEDNESDAY. From Love's Labours Lost:
When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl:
Tu-whit, Tu-who'- A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl:
Tu-whit, To-who'- A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
AAAAUUUUGGGHHHH. Blogger just ate a post I spent a lot of time on (about celibacy and pacifism). OK. Grunt. I will try very hard to reconstruct this dratted thing eventually--and post it on Monday.

But for the moment I am signing off, and I almost certainly will not be posting anything here until Monday. I'm gonna soak up some fireworks on the Mall with Russo and Shamed; then I'm off to Seattle for a friend's wedding.

But fear not. All weekend I will be storing up posts in my hump, like a vast camel of blogging (although they tell me that blogging a camel is not kosher), and I will unload these posts on you Monday. Expect the worst!
Well I met her in a club down in old Soho
Where they drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry blogwatch
B-L-O-G, blogwatch...

Chickpea Eater's Bookblog: From Ayn Rand to St. Augustine. Good stuff about the Trinity, and a very interesting question about the filioque. (To my readers for whom there is no such thing as "a very interesting question about the filioque": Humor me. That's all I ask.)

Discriminations: Good post on pretty-vacant battles against Bush judicial nominees. I think I got this from Los Volokh.

Unqualified Offerings: Good debunking post on Who Sent the Anthrax?--though I note he doesn't say anything about the anthrax sent to American Media and the New York Post. Seems to me that any "theory," no matter how speculative, ought to account for all the anthrax mailings, which few if any of the more hysterical rumor-mongerers bother to do.

Julian Sanchez: Excellent post on "sin taxes." (And could that term be more indicative of our culture's worship of health and material goods?)

And I've already received a few Stalin Malone suggestions... maybe someone can hook me up with a recipe for making Almost Beaten to the Punch?
"Hi. I'm, uh, I'm a pet psychiatrist. I sell couch insurance. Mm-hmm, and I -- and I test-market positive thinking. I lead a weekend men's group, we specialize in ritual killings. Yeah, you look great! God, yeah! Hi, how are you? Hi, how are you? Hi, I'm Martin Blank, you remember me? I'm not married, I don't have any kids, and I'd blow your head off if someone paid me enough."
--John Cusack to mirror, "Grosse Pointe Blank"

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

NEW CONTESTS: ELVIS LIVES. Two new contests, because the first one is likely to be somewhat, ah, insular.

1) Elvis Costello contest. The only rule is: Make me laugh, with something in some way related to an Elvis Costello song or lyric. (Not the man himself, mind, just song titles or lyrics, mostly because I think the contest will be funnier this way.) How-many-x's-does-it-take-to-screw-in-a-lightbulb jokes; fake blogs; limericks; drink recipes; devil's dictionary entries; If Elvis Were Morrissey; Elvis Costello as Captain Kirk or vice versa; anything, as long as it's Elvis-inspired and funny. Extra credit to anyone who can turn a Stalin (port + vodka) into a Stalin Malone by somehow insinuating an Irish element into the mix without making it taste utterly awful.

2) Handicapping the candidates. Give me the reasons any of the many potential candidates (Dems, GOP, assorted others) will or will not attain the presidency in 2004. The funnier the better. This might be a model--my take on the 2000 campaign.

As always, please send entries to As always, winners get fame and fortune so tiny as to be effectively non-noticeable; and nothing else. My contest is its own reward. Results will be posted in, uh, a few weeks or so.
CONTEST RESULTS!!!!: As Lt. Uhura would say (if she had been transported to the evil mirror-universe and had to fight off the advances of a dashingly scarfaced Sulu... again), "I've changed my mind--again." You get the contest results now.

Your task was to suitably sanitize works of literature for use on the NY Regents exams.

THIRD PLACE: (Five-way tie; first four from Roy A. Sheetz) Moby.

Thus Suggested Zarathustra.

One Bible Among Others.

Ethics That Worked for Nichomachus And You May FInd Useful on Your Journey.

"Sing." (For explanation and author click here)

SECOND PLACE: Long, but great, from the Kairos Guy: The First Letter of the tentmaker formerly known as Saul to the Greco-Romans, Romano-Greeks, Hebraic-Grecians, Afro-Romano-Grecios, LGBT Community, and other residents of Corinth.

The first division retroactively imposed by redactors

1 Paul, caused by a concussion to be a strong supporter of the historical persyn commonly known as Jesus [ed. note: deleted by ABC] through a messiah complex, and Sosthenes our male-gender-identified sibling, 2 Unto the cult of one of many Near Eastern deities which is at Corinth, to them that gain self-esteem through the self-actualization of [deleted] Jesus, called to be tolerant, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus [deleted] our Guru, both theirs and ours:
3 Understanding be unto you, and peace, from the Near Eastern deity our parent/helper-guide, and from the Guru Jesus [deleted].
4 I thank the Near Eastern deity always on your behalf, for the diversity of the Near Eastern deity which is given you by Jesus [deleted]; 5 That in every thing you are actualized by her, in all utterance, and in all cultural-specific premises. 6 Even as the supposed philosophy of the so-called Messiah was passed to you through a male-dominated oral tradition:
7 So that you receive a living wage; waiting for the coming of our Guru Jesus whom some believed long ago to be a king chosen by the Near Eastern deity, while others supposed him to be a wise teacher of philosophy, and then there are the Muslims, who thought he was a great prophet, and don’t get me started on David Koresh, who actually thought, because of a childhood trauma at the hands of an abusive aunt, that he really was Jesus. Who shall also affirm you unto the ending of what we perceive as life, whether by natural causes, accident, or euthanasia, 8 that you may be feel good about yourself and follow your conscience in the day of our Guru Jesus [deleted].
9 We suppose that the Near Eastern deity or our tradition is faithful, by whom our tradition teaches (without excluding other possibilities) that you were called unto the interpersynal relationship with its allegorical child Jesus the Teacher, whom we have
historically constructed into our spirit-guide.
10 Now I beseech you, comrades, by the name of the historical persyn Jesus the “Messiah”, that you all speak whatever your values allow, and that there be diversity among you; that you be perfectly joined together in tolerance and understanding of each other’s uniqueness as autonomous individuals.
11 For I perceive it to have been declared unto me of you, my metaphorical family members, by them which are of the house of the female Chloe whose role the patriarchy has suppressed, that there is intolerance among you.
12 Now a little bird told me that every one of you saith, I am of [S]aul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of the “Messianic Event Enabler.”
13 Is the Messianic Event Enabler divided? Was [S]aul crucified for you? [Ed. note: Because Paul was a citizen of the Hegemonic Power of the Day, he was given a form of capital punishment considered less “cruel” by the primitive standards of the day; our
postmodern understanding asserts that there was no difference] or were you immersed in water as part of a ritual which evolved out of the Babylonian and Assyrian traditions to assert membership in the cult in the name of [S]aul?
14 I thank the Near Eastern deity that I ritually bathed none of you, except Crispus and his partner Gaius, 15 lest any should say that I had ritually reenacted the annual flooding of the Nile in mine own name.
16 And I symbolically represented the purity rituals of early Hebraic/Philistinian [Ed. note: ancestors of today’s Palestinians, whom the Israelis are still trying to crush] cultic tradition also with the household of Stephanas. I know not whether I used water to create an allegory for the circle of life to any other crew.
17 For the dead persyn Jesus my concussion caused me to have delusions of sent me not to use water as a means of metaphorically washing away violations of the dominant cultural paradigm, but to share the values of our tradition in a non-threatening way: not with
judgementalism, lest the means of state-sanctioned murder of the so-called messianic persyn should be made less effective than a culturally imposed “ideal.”
18 For the preaching of the murder-device is to them who have other values different from their own no less valid for us; but unto us which values are our own it is the power of the Near Eastern deity, which does not mean there is only right answer.
19 For it is written in the Hebrew Bible “I will think outside the box of culturally-imposed values, and will not tolerate intolerance.”
20 Where is the wise female-gender-identified and/or male-gender-identified persyn? Where is the culture-transmitter? Where is the judgmental persyn of this world? Hath not the Near Eastern deity thought outside the box?
21 For after that, the culturally imperialistic values of those who believed in the values ascribed to the followers of the Near Eastern deity no longer knew the values of the Near Eastern deity because of the values of those people, our culture evolved a myth about the
Near Eastern deity saving them that believe as a way of improving the self-esteem of its followers.
22 For the residents of the now-defunct country of Judah ascribed cultural significance to naturally-occurring phenomena, and the
Greco-Hellenists attempt to explain the world through a Rationalistic eschatology.
23 But our values mythologize the “Messiah” murdered by an external empire interfering with the right of self-determination as an outgrowth of the Mithras cult, unto the polity of the citizens of Judea a buzzkill, and unto the Grecio-Americans a purely symbolic tale with no basis in observable, and hence reproducible, phenomena.
24 But unto them which seek to exclude others on the basis of belief, both Hebraio-Romano-Hellenicians and Non-Hebraio-Romano-Hellenicians, Jesus the symbol of the ancient worldview of anthropomorphic deities, and the intolerance of same.
25 Because our values teach (without imposing this on others) that the metaphorical foolishness of our Near Eastern deity is wiser than persyns; and the apparent weakness of the N.E.d. is stronger than persyns.
26 For consider your calling, allegorically adoptive family members, that no persyn knows any truth; 27 but the myth is that anthropomorphic Ned has chosen the things of the world that its values give lower priority to than others to raise awareness about the
intolerance of the knowledge-hegemons, and Ned’s philosophy is that strength is weakness.
28 The things I perceive through random chemical reactions to be a part of the world and the oppressed Ned’s followers use as a means of speaking truth to power, the things that are not perceived, so that it may empower the things that are, 29 so that no patriarchalist may deny the essence of Gaia before Ned.
30 But by its doing you metaphorically join with Jesus-as-resurrection-symbol, whose story is like so many shamanic tales throughout history, and who represents tolerance, diversity, openness and awareness.
31 So that, just as it is written in the Qumran texts, "IF YOU DON’T HAVE SOMETHING NICE TO SAY, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL."

GRAND PRIZE: Titus Androgenous. (Kathleen Wagner)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Moby Body-Part. (Sandra Meisel)

"Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with low-sodium relish the fully-cooked inner organs of free-range beasts and fowls, plus a variety of other choices from each of the four food groups. He liked homemade carrot juice, nutty sunflower pate, roast jicama with a little balsamic vinegar, organic multigrain bread, and cholesterol-free egg substitute. Most of all he liked textured soy protein breakfast patties, which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented simulated maple flavouring." (Jane Wangersky)

Not-quite-honorable mention: This entry from the Talking Dog of Brooklyn doesn't actually fit the rules of the contest, but it was pretty funny, especially the last line...

Although it appears that even mentioning the 10 commandments in public school is right out, perhaps this version from Bensonhurst area parochial schools may be useful in considering future "voucher approved" new curricula:

Da Ten Commandments.

I'm God-- fugeddabout it.

Don't you be taking my name in vain.

There ain't no substitutes for me-- fugeddabout it.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

Be nice to your mother.

Don't kill nobody.

Don't give 'da salami to your neighbor's wife.

Don't steal nothin'.

Don't squeal on your friends or say nothin' to nobody.

Don't be coveting thy neighbor's house, wife, or nothin' else of his.

Dat's ten.
VOUCHERS: So I'm feeling really lousy, and plan to knock off work at five and spend the evening lying in bed moaning, instead of doing all the fun posting I had planned. When I a) recover and b) get enough work done, expect posts on celibacy and pacifism; surrogate motherhood; Shakespeare; contest results (really); a new contest; and fandom. I'm not promising anything in the way of timelines because, like I said, I feel lousy, and I have many phone calls to make tomorrow. Grunt.

For now, I will only note that if you're arguing against vouchers, you might want to be careful not to argue against the legality of any private or religious schooling. Unless you're actually going down that fun Blaine Amendment road, of course.

Here are some voucherrific posts from Eugene Volokh: balkanization; church 'n' state; pressure to secularize.

Oh, and this is a really interesting post on Israeli settlements; this post rightly criticizes my lack of nuance (in my defense, I didn't intend to slam all historical-Jesus scholarship, though I can see that I didn't make that clear; I just meant to point out the particular trap that I thought House of David was falling into); and the final word on the "Do the crime, do the time" thing from the Lord Mage of Good.
MALVEAUX AND ME: So apparently Julianne Malveaux will not be celebrating on Thursday. Instead, she will be angrily reading Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"

That's actually kind of cool. So I think I'll re-read the essay too. And then I'll go watch fireworks on the Mall (whatever, terrorists, talk to the finger 'cause the hand ain't listening) with the sons of former slaves, and the sons of former Slavs, and assorted whatnot; and I'll remember how hard freedom is won, and how different things are from when Douglass penned his essay. And I'll celebrate.
AND THEY'LL SOON BE KNOCKING DOWN THE LITTLE PALACES: So last night I went to the grocery store. Heard that "Let's Get Married" song that Kaus claims is a sign of the victory of welfare reform. Got into the checkout line. Heard a very familiar voice on the radio, slurring over the "t"s in "sentimental," and aspirating all his vowels.

Oh Allison, I know this world is killing you...

Then hoisted the groceries and schlepped to the bus stop. The sunset was making with the umbrella-drink colors, the low-rent-tropical stuff. Kids in the apartment complex next door had finally been hauled out of the pool by their tired parents. I was reading articles from the 2000 City Paper "Crack Issue" ("the history of rock"). It was hot. A guy on the street was unaccountably polite to me.

Just another day in the beat-up, broke-down, beautiful-loser, best little city in the world.
"Funny, how gentle people get with you once you're dead."
--William Holden, "Sunset Blvd."

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.