Saturday, November 30, 2002

A LOT OF PEOPLE have noted a cheering quote from this story on the attacks in Kenya: "Kenyans in the village this evening said the carnage would deliver a devastating blow to their already weak economy. It is unfair, they complained, that innocent Kenyans would again have to die for causes they had nothing to do with. Then they started shouting against Arabs, some of whom have settled here and own stores in the city: 'We love America,' they yelled. 'Go away al Qaeda.'"

But they might check out this less-cheering opinion piece on How Mombasa Got Hot: "I grew up surrounded by mosques full of imams and scholars who oozed wisdom and dignity. Their discourse was love-based and God-centred. Today, the sermons echo a message of anger, frustration and hate. As president of the Muslim Students Union at the University of Nairobi, I was obsessed with so many local concerns that Palestine never made it to the top five. Today, Israel and the plight of the Palestinian people is on the tongue of every Kenyan Muslim you speak to. Then it was only us young people who admired the Islamic revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini: today, young and old, men and women, they all adore Osama bin Laden."

And there are notes from the wrong kind of globalization: "Perhaps western tourists by themselves could be tolerated, up to a point. But US soldiers visiting town, most seeking 'entertainment', have become particularly unacceptable. They are associated with gambling, prostitution and excessive alcohol. Especially detested is the Americans' attitude towards the local population.

"...Mombasa has always had strong links with the rest of the Muslim world, particularly the Arabian peninsula. But the arrival of satellite technology, combined with the impact of migrant workers returning from the Middle East, has helped spawn a new world view.

"Most households in Mombasa -- where substantial numbers are of Arab ancestry and understand Arabic -- are keen followers of events through the al-Jazeera satellite channel. The effect has been to focus discussion on the Palestinian issue above most others.

"The activities of the American intelligence services following the Nairobi bombing in August 1998 and September 11 have also greatly contributed towards the pervasive anti-American and anti-western feelings. People have been infuriated by the habit of CIA and FBI agents, accompanied by Kenyan intelligence officers, of barging into people's homes and searching them. To date, the whereabouts of at least 20 people arrested by the intelligence services remain a mystery."

Both these reports may well be true. Kenyans may be rallying behind America and against Al Qaeda in the aftermath of brutal attacks, even if they were willing to express big-talk-no-action pro-Osama sentiments when he wasn't all up in their faces. But the grievances discussed in the Guardian piece are long-term, simmering resentments. Those resentments will sap any pro-US sentiment if helping us requires sacrifice (or even, as the memory of these attacks fade, work). US companies and military leaders might think about what they can do to turn down the heat.
I'M OFF GIVING THANKS. Will return to real blogging tomorrow, which may turn into Answer Arthur Silber Day--aesthetics and reason, homosexuality and politics, and some stuff about religion and the free market that I'll probably post on Q's for O's. And, of course, whatever else wafts across the transom. For now, have a blogwatch. It's all I can do on too much turkey and too little caffeine.

The Agitator: Miss Manners, friend of freedom.

The Cranky Professor: Seminaries: How did they start? Are there better alternatives?

Dappled Things: Typically good sermon on Saint Andrew the Apostle; and Confucius links.

The Edge of England's Sword: Interesting post, with typically informative and argumentative comments box, on crime in NYC as vs. London--causes, solutions, and whatnot.

Electrolite: Michael Crichton does not write science fiction.

El Sur: If you read InstaPundit you already know this guy is all over the action in Venezuela.

Noli Irritare Leones: Catholic Workers and Dorothy Day's autobiography. I volunteered with the Catholic Workers here in DC a handful of times--including my first-ever babysitting gig, taking care of I think five kids; Play-Doh + carpets = bad--and found it a mixed experience. Some of the work they did was amazing, especially the way the house took in needy families. I wanted more vivid or obvious Catholicism and more DC natives (or at least people who seemed at home in the city, rather than kind of tourist-y, always ready to exoticize others' everyday lives) and less p.c. punk attitude. Everything I wanted, I think, was found in the CWs' mainstays, the people who kept the house running; but some of the younger volunteers reminded me too much of the reasons I'd soured on the punk scene. Anyway, the point is, the house did a lot of terrific things, and still does. A friend gave me Day's autobiography when I was Confirmed. It's been a big influence, I think. Very much worth your time. "Read the Catholic Worker! Romance on every page!"

Oxblog: Cease-fire in Colombia; and this column by one of the gay Arabic language specialists dismissed from the military.

Stuart Buck: How fair was the "Fairness Doctrine"? "The former head of CBS, Fred Friendly, describes the real effects of the fairness doctrine in his excellent book The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment (1975). Friendly recalls an extensive monitoring scheme set up by the Democratic National Committee for the very purpose of stifling right-wing broadcasters by issuing fairness doctrine demands. ...Something else Krugman ignores -- the empirical evidence shows that while the fairness doctrine was in effect, it actually resulted in less diversity of opinion, not more. The reason is fairly obvious. If by expressing an opinion of any stripe on the air you open up the floodgates for other people to demand 'equal time,' you become wary of taking on political issues at all." And Matt Evans, a Buck co-blogger, says abortion-rights groups are much better at getting the word out about political "action alerts" than pro-life groups; that's why he subscribes to NARAL lists.

The Volokh Conspiracy: Two non-Volokh conspirators are discussing how civil libertarians should regard Total Information Awareness. Scroll around for posts from "Philippe de Croy" and Orin Kerr.

And: Evil things Catholics did (via Body and Soul).

A "second revolution" in Iran? (via InstaPundit)

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

AMAZING ARTICLE ON RELIGIOUS REPRESSION IN CHINA. "China is in many ways freer than it has ever been, and it's easy to be dazzled by the cellphones and skyscrapers. But alongside all that sparkles is the old police state. Particularly in remote areas like this, police can arrest people and torture or kill them with impunity, even if they are trying to do nothing more than worship God. Accordingly, Washington must press China hard to observe not only international trade rules, but also international standards for human freedom.

"Secret Communist Party documents just published in a book, 'China's New Rulers,' underscore the grip of the police. The party documents say approvingly that 60,000 Chinese were killed, either executed or shot by police while fleeing, between 1998 and 2001. That amounts to 15,000 a year, which suggests that 97 percent of the world's executions take place in China. And it's well documented that scores of Christians and members of the Falun Gong sect have died in police custody."

The piece includes the stories of several of today's saints and martyrs. And it closes with this:

"To his credit, President Bush has emphasized the issue of religious freedom in China, and there is progress. Last month a court overturned the death sentences of the South China Church leaders, replacing them with long prison terms. Increasingly, a historic change is visible: Citizens of China are becoming less afraid of the government than it is of them.

"I had assumed that Ms. Ma,, like all the other church members I interviewed, would not want her name published. 'No,' she said firmly, 'use my name. I'm not afraid. The police are afraid of foreign pressure, but I'm not afraid of them.'"

Link via Oxblog.
Blogwatching the detectives
Don't get cute...

Body and Soul: Afghan women making French documentaries.

Brink Lindsey assesses the nifty Bush trade proposal. His take? "Signs point to yes!", basically, but he has a few caveats. He also has notes from his trip to Tokyo and Seoul.

Noli Irritare Leones: Defending Courage. Eloquent and fierce.

Oblique (and permalinkless) House: Story that truly illustrates the meaning of "it's the thought that counts"--how a Jaguar commercial this year snidely echoes a sweet family story. Scroll down to "Ooooh, noooo."

Regions of Mind: Scroll around for a rich series of posts on the Confederate flag. (Including a Confederate/Clash anecdote from 1982!)

Sed Contra (blog of David "Beyond Gay" Morrison) is back!

Unqualified Offerings: Artists against art subsidies; excellent post on the luckless Kurds.

...when they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot...
"The dynastic temptation was very real. The country was lucky that there was so little material for temptation to work with. Of the first five presidents, only John Adams had sons who survived to adulthood. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, whose administrations covered the first quarter of the nineteenth century, were known as the 'Virginia dynasty,' but if the seducing channel of immediate (male) offspring had flowed from any of them, the dynasty might have extended into a second generation. How much more likely would this have been the case for literal sons of Washington. None of these men would have tolerated a son becoming president by any means except election. But a gaggle of junior Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, and Monroes could have crowded the political landscape intolerably. As it was, John Adams's eldest son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth president."
--Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

"EX-GAYS": IS THIS THE CHURCH'S ANSWER? My first Register column.
THE DIVINE AND MISS M: The previous post talked about what manners do well. But Miss Manners' The Right Thing to Say also exposed what manners don't do well. For example, she notes, "Here is a list of topics that polite people do not bring into a social conversation:

"Sex; religion; politics; money; illness; the food before them at the moment and which foods they customarily eat or reject and why; anything else having to do with bodily functions; occupations, including their own and inquiries into anyone else's; the looks of anyone present--especially to note any changes, even improvements, since these people were last seen; and the possessions of anyone present, including their hosts' house and its contents and the clothing being worn by them and their guests, even favorably.

"These are only the traditionally banned topics. Miss Manners has been steadily adding to the list of what is likely to be explosive or soporific."

These stringent rules are meant to keep people from leaving a party in tears or falling asleep at the table. In attaining that end, they do quite well. That's the "social" in "social conversation": The purpose is to form and maintain social, amiable connections between people who do not know one another very well and don't yet know if they want to know one another well. Conversations with a different purpose--such as philosophy, the love and pursuit of truth, say--need not and cannot adhere to these rules.

My college debating society eats together most nights. We used to joke that we'd reversed the rules of manners--all we talked about at dinner was sex, politics, and religion. (Generally not in that order, thank goodness.) That's because the purpose of our conversation was not the same as the purpose of most of the conversations people enter into at parties. One of the deals you made when you came to our group, one of the things you needed to be ready for, was that we would expect you to (as a friend put it) bring your sacred cows to the dinner table. We aimed at personal transformation in the service of truth (we joked that we were "a cult--but it's a cult of the good!"), and so our dinners necessarily were unmannerly insofar as they favored searching and tenacious philosophical (and personal) questioning over social conversation.

That didn't mean they were rude. Blogs also join in conversations that are not social conversations, and do not follow Miss Manners' restrictions on social conversations, and yet, as Eugene Volokh points out, it's perfectly possible to blog without making oneself obnoxious. "Blog manners" don't forbid most topics, but they do exist; generally they act as a damper on invective and personal insults, and there are also some mores having to do with linking and with quoting emails. Because we a) haven't entered a group that seeks personal transformation, and b) generally don't know one another in real life, bloggers can't spot and gently, privately point out personal hypocrisy. But we can point out, politely, contradictions in stated worldview. So again, we can "get away with" something that is outside the bounds of social conversation--in fact, we have to transgress those bounds, it's why people read us.

This suggests that there are situations above manners as well as below them. Now, everyone wants to use this idea as an excuse for rudeness--"this [my feelings, for example, or my desire to know whether my seatmate on the Metro has accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior] is so important that manners don't matter!" Miss Manners is a useful corrective to this idea; she points out that for the most part, importance isn't the criterion. Something can be of consuming importance, and yet disrespectful to bring up in certain situations. For example, she counsels that it's perfectly all right to smile vaguely but remain silent when accosted by proselytizing strangers on the Metro. The proselytizer, though well-intentioned, has invaded your privacy and broken the implicit social contract of the city-dweller; fine, so do telemarketers and for much less reason. You don't get to be rude to them, but neither are you obligated to stay on the line if you're not interested.

But throwing in questions of final importance, like the existence and nature of God, highlights the fact that there are situations "above manners." The saints, for example, tend to be notably uninterested in social conversation! Miss Manners doesn't go there, because it's not within the scope of her work; she's trying to maintain the societal harmony that gives us peace of mind and rest from questions of final importance. In some cases that harmony strengthens us, makes us trust one another more, and thus eventually makes us more open to considering personal transformation. But in other cases societal harmony is preserved at the expense of witness to the truth, and that's wrong. The trick is to be a witness without being a moralizing jerk.

There are no rules for that--it's a stance toward the world, a "Preach the Gospel without ceasing; if necessary, use words" thing, not something that can follow set guidelines. There's a Miss Manners' Basic Training: Eating, but there can't be a Miss Manners' Basic Training: Witness. Study of the lives of the saints is one good way to go about the thing. Practicing charity and humility--traits often exemplified by manners, as Miss M emphasizes--is another. I do think it's possible to act according to Miss M's guidelines in the social situations for which they were designed, while also acknowledging that there really are moral and religious emergencies as well as the physical ones for which we all know manners can be suspended.

To put it another way, I don't think Miss Manners would require us to respond to St. Francis's decision to give all he had to the poor by saying either, "How nice for you!" or, "Oh dear."
THE DIVINE MISS M: I've taken a little break from Brookhiser's biography of our first president in order to immerse myself in the wonderful world of Miss Manners. Miss M is truly fantastic--witty ("It seems that telephone books are shrinking. As ever more people request that their numbers be unlisted, it is going to be increasingly hard for small children to reach their dinner plates"), vehemently (with a dainty kind of vehemence) pro-privacy and anti-snobbishness, compassionate, adaptable, and focused on manners as a vehicle for charity and humility. (She casually uses phrases like, "It is, after all, a duty of mercy to..."--and means it.)

Miss M is also a traditionalist in the Edmund Burke school. Not a nostalgia-conservative, carping about The Good Old Days--Miss M is firmly of the opinion that TGODs were not so good for women and for those considered "inferiors." But like Burke, she believes in the value of tradition-as-such, prescription, and the time-honored. Manners, for her, are one of the ways we show respect for others, mind our own business, and maintain a peaceable and kind society. Here's a ringing defense, from the excellent Miss Manners' Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say:

"In the heady era of believing that we are all born bursting with creativity, the conventional phrases society uttered for marking the conventional events of life were cast aside as insufficient and insincere. It no longer seemed enough to say 'Congratulations' to the happy, 'I'm terribly sorry' to the sad, and 'Get well soon' to the sick. Something more inspired seemed necessary.

"But what? The suggestion--not a noticeably original idea, by the way--was that people should consult their feelings and then improvise remarks based on their emotions. Uninhibited by the unimaginative dictates of etiquette, they would produce fresh heart-to-heart communication--a veritable flow of uniquely personal empathy that would make the world a better place.

"Only they didn't and it isn't. Searching their hearts, most people came up with the idea of talking about themselves or of critiquing others."

She and her readers, who write in with examples of etiquette dilemmas, proceed to supply examples of the latest in rude politeness. In The Right Thing to Say, Miss M defends euphemism, refusing to spill one's guts to everyone who pressures you to express how you feel, and talking about the weather. It's great. I strongly recommend the book for anyone who thinks manners are boring, deadening constraints on their individuality. (And here's a post on some problems with viewing emotions as "truly authentic" rather than in many respects conventional.) The book is also great, of course, for people who want to know how to respond to thoughtlessly cruel remarks; turn down unwanted invitations; or cover for an elderly relative who's just said something unforgivable.
THE JANE GALT TAX PLAN. In case you somehow missed it. Very much worth your time.
You've been watched.
You're going to get blogged.
No uniform is gonna keep you warm...

(I've been on a big Elvis Costello/Violent Femmes/Mendelssohn kick over here. Hope the neighbors don't mind.)

Body and Soul: Important post on DynCorp crimes (although she doesn't draw the natural conclusion that free enterprise doesn't do all the things she talks about at the beginning of her post when governments ally themselves with corporations, because free market pressures no longer apply). Plus a long series on liberalism vs. multiculturalism (scroll down), which I haven't read yet.

Julian Sanchez: Why does pain feel bad? (Cue Daffy Duck: "I'm not like other people. I can't stand pain. It hurts me.")

Unqualified Offerings: House concerts, a.k.a. "Mom, is it OK if we have a few people over in the basement while you're out of town?" UO is mistaken if he thinks REALLY REALLY LOUD bands never do house concerts.... One thing I can definitely counsel against, is hosting a "house art show" as a friend of mine did in high school. People have some really messed-up ideas of what constitutes art these days. Just don't ask, really.

And yes, this Washington Post piece by a guy whose son is in the Marines is great.
"DEAR MISS MANNERS--I go to church for some peace of mind. I don't understand why people bring their beeper/phones to this sacred place. These go off in the middle of the prayers, and one loses concentration. I have approached the minister, but with no success. Am I being unreasonable? One lady even accused me of being hostile towards her husband because he carries a beeper.

"GENTLE READER--Miss Manners has heard many a claim of why it is more important to talk to one person over another, but this is the first time she has heard God's place in the hierarchy. ..."

--The one, the only, Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Basic Training: Communication

Monday, November 25, 2002

HBO "CATHOUSE" REALITY TV: Not a joke. Note the way the ABC "news" story is basically a smirking commercial for the show. Click here for some stuff about a Nevada brothel (not the one on the show). Click here for some words from our sponsor, Poly Styrene.
D.C. ETHNIC DINING GUIDE, which I think I got via the Volokh Folkh, and which includes the headings "Cajun-Thai" and "Chinese-Peruvian." This list is much better for people who have cars--I have no clue how I'd haul myself to many of these places--and I've eaten at very few of even the DC restaurants listed. But the ones I can verify seem to be quite accurate; the reviews are witty (though laden with a bit more food-attitude than I can handle); and hey, I need some variety in my dining life. Or, given my bank account right now, my fantasy life. And the one-line fondue review (scroll down to "Fondue") is great.
A VOLOKH CONSPIRATOR writes, "I am tempted to go farther and say that for an idea to conquer the world, it usually needs to be a metaphor, or to be presented as one; but this is not the place to develop that possibility." I agree with him/her (this conspirator is pseudonymous), and would add that for an idea to conquer the world, you must be able to sing about it, in a robust drinking-song kind of way. I developed this theory after listening to an excruciating lecture in college by a guy whose big world-shaping idea was futzing around with the tax rate in order to pay for everyone to go to college. Sing that, I dare you.
WHAT WOULD C.S. LEWIS SAY? (Uh, the title there is in reference to the stuff from The Problem of Pain about animals being perfected, thus attaining Heaven, via their masters. Lewis gets a bit weird there although much of the book is excellent. Sigh... if you have to explain the reference you probably shouldn't make it. ANYWAY, it's a picture of a chick with her head in an elephant's mouth. Via The Rat, like the link below.)
YOU KNOW, THE PIGS WERE NOT THE GOOD GUYS... "Animal Farm" being performed in the People's Republic of China. Click if only for the funny costumes.
REPUBLICS ANCIENT AND MODERN: The third volume was good. Not quite as nifty as the first one (on ancient Greece). Haven't read the second one yet. (Thhhppppttt to order! Rah to chaos!) Rahe is definitely pushing a thesis--several, in fact. For example, he argues fairly explicitly that Alexander Hamilton's desire for a more centralized government--more national, less federal--would indirectly have strengthened economic ties in the US to the point that the Civil War might well not have happened. Many libertarians point to the Civil War as a moment of major state (as in The State, not as in states' rights) expansion--war is the health of the state and all that; many also shy away from Hamilton because he seems like a precursor of today's bloated federal government; Rahe's argument is intriguing because Rahe also believes the current federal government (especially the judiciary) has way too much power. Thus he's saying, If you'd just chilled out and given Hamilton his way, yes, you would have had a stronger federal government in the short term, but potentially a much smaller one in the long term, plus no civil war. (He doesn't try any alternate-history stuff about whether slavery would have expanded, collapsed, persisted, or what. The people who do those What If? books should get him to write one about this.)

Anyway, that's one thread of argument in the book. A more implicit claim is my old favorite, Ideas Have Consequences. (No, I've never read the book.) Rahe writes unabashedly intellectual history, the sort of thing that gets caricatured as "great man history."

Perhaps the feature that most struck me as I finished the book was the extremely short time-span. Rahe highlights this by opening and closing his book with Winston Churchill, suggesting that liberal democracy is imperiled in our own time due to apathy and judicial oligarchy--Churchill faced a hard enemy whereas we face a soft one, and yet one can lose a republic by internal collapse as well as by military defeat. Rahe points out that "some fifty years after the ratification of the American Constitution, the twenty-eight-year-old state legislator [Abraham Lincoln] delivered a lecture to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. He had evidently been reading The Federalist; he had apparently paused to reflect on the death pf James Madison less than two years before; and he quite naturally took as his subject on that occasion 'the perpetuation of our political institutions.' ...He doubted whether the task of perpetuating America's political institutions would soon require resistance against an aggressor: the United States was too far distant from its potential rivals and much too strong. 'If destruction be our lot,' he concluded, 'we must ourselves be its author and finisher.'

"Lincoln raised this possibility because he perceived 'something of ill-omen' amongst his countrymen: 'the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country.' ...

"Lincoln's rhetoric in 1838, like Churchill's almost exactly a century thereafter [with which Rahe opened the book], must have seemed to his listeners greatly exaggerated."

There's something startling about those raw numbers: 1787 to 1838 is almost 50 years, 1838 to 1938 is 100, the Constitution's bicentennial was in 1987--and two hundred is, in the greater scheme of things, a very short time. By linking the Founders, Lincoln, and Churchill in time, Rahe was able to make me feel the fragility of a system that we're conditioned to think of as solid and time-tested. By first making readers realize that the American republic is very young, he prepares us to consider that perhaps it is not so time-tested after all, perhaps it is still an experiment and thus not yet a success; and that, I think, prepares readers to question whether we have lived up to Benjamin Franklin's famous challenge that the authors of the Constitution had given us "a republic, if you can keep it!" I commend this compress-time-through-biography approach (Churchill was 8 when Mary Todd Lincoln died, to give you a sense of how short a century can be) to history teachers if you think it will help.

Rahe is a fluid and convincing writer. Even his index is fun.
"During the Washington administration, a Secretary of State was forced to resign under suspicion of treason; other members of the cabinet carried on private dealings with foreign diplomats wich failed to disgrace them only because they remained unknown. A congressional leader was stabbed in a political argument. The year Washington retired from office, the Senate expelled a Senator for treason, and a Republican journalist accused Hamilton of scheming with James Reynolds, a small-time criminal, to speculate in Treasury certificates. Hamilton replied that the only reason he knew Reynolds was because Reynolds had been blackmailing him for having an affair with his wife. A duel between Hamilton and Senator James Monroe, who had leaked the tale, was only averted by Aaron Burr. A year after that, two congressmen fought on the floor of the House."
--Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington

Saturday, November 23, 2002

JAILHOUSE ROCK: Victims protest VH1's "Music Behind Bars" show

"A VH1 show featuring rock bands behind prison bars has some local people livid that hardened criminals are being given a forum on national television.

"A rock band out of Greaterford Prison, Dark Mischief, is one of the bands being featured on VH1's 'Music Behind Bars.'

"Dark Mischief members include convicted killers and rapists from Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester and Northampton counties.

"Backup singer Chris Bissey killed Mary Orlando's daughter at Lehigh University's lookout point in 1995. Orlando wants to stop the VH1 show.

"'I don't think they should get rewarded by going on TV. That's telling the kids go out and murder somebody, go to prison and you'll be on TV and be able to play in a band. It bothers me. I just can't see that,' Orlando said.

"...The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said in a statement that they never intended to cause grief for families. They said that the program never glorifies the inmates.

"VH1 representatives said the program shows the brutality behind bars and the power of music."

Good grief, that's creepy. Talk about trash TV. And I would be amazed if the show didn't glorify criminals. C'mon, do I look stupid? Ugh. This would count as "not my idea of prison reform." Oh, here's the usual contact list--VH1 execs, the show's ad sponsors, etc. Gah.
REGARDLESS of what you think of the state of Israel, or my take on it (see below), I do think Avineri's "Zionism as a National Liberation Movement" brings some intriguing and hopeful possibilities to the table in discussions of whether and how America is a "Christian nation."

Father Neuhaus (more on him below too) has defended the "Christian nation" idea against critics, including Jews who are threatened by that kind of talk and Christians who see a "Christian nation" as a way of assimilating and taming Christians, putting Christ to service for Caesar. For example, Father Neuhaus writes, "It [his analysis of the 'Christian nation' idea] further assumes, with Irving Kristol and many other Jewish thinkers, that 'Christian nation' is shorthand for saying that it is a nation in which the Judeo–Christian moral tradition is accorded normative status. As the immigrant Muslim community matures, it seems likely there will be Muslim Irving Kristols who will similarly affirm the shorthand of 'Christian nation.' To say that America is a Christian nation is like saying it’s an English–speaking nation. There are not many people who speak the language well, but when they are speaking a language poorly, it is the English language they are speaking. There is, finally, no alternative to the English language, as there is no alternative to Christian America in a country where nearly 90 percent of the people think they are Christians. Goodness knows, alternative religions have been proposed by some intellectuals, but they have had few takers. Such alternatives purport to be universal, but they are universal in much the same way that Esperanto is a universal language. Like speakers of Esperanto, the adherents of these alternative religio–moral creeds are an elite sect, a cult without a culture.

"...We can have endlessly interesting conversations about what a Christian society might look like, only to have our speculation rudely interrupted by the reminder that one of the largest and certainly the most influential of Christian societies looks like the United States of America at the beginning of the third millennium. Admittedly, it is not an entirely edifying sight. 'Christian America' signifies a description under the judgment of an aspiration."

Many of Father Neuhaus's points about America are fine as far as they go (although the "Christian is a shorthand for Jewish and Christian and maybe soon Muslim" thing is very weird and very Christ-for-Caesar-sounding), but I think Avineri points to a better self-understanding for American Jews and Christians alike--a self-understanding that links the two groups rather than separating them.

Both Jews and Christians are spiritual exiles. Avineri writes, "At the root of Zionism lies a paradox. On the one hand, there is no doubt about the depth and intensity of the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel: there has always been a Jewish community, albeit small, living in Palestine, and there has always been a trickle of Jews coming to live and die in the Holy Land; much more important is the fact that during eighteen centuries of exile, the link to the Land of Israel figured always very centrally in the value-system of the Jewish communities all over the world and in their self-consciousness as a group. Had this link been severed and had the Jews not regarded the Land of Israel as the land of both their past and their future, then Judaism would have become a mere religious community, losing its ethnic and national elements. Not only their distinct religious beliefs singled out the Jews from the Christian and the Muslim majority communities in whose midst they have resided for two millennia, but also their link--tenuous and dubious as it might have been--with the distant land of their forefathers. It was because of this that Jews were considered by others--and considered themselves--not only a minority, but a minority in exile.

"On the other hand, the fact remains that for all of its emotional, cultural and religious intensity, this link with Palestine did not change the praxis of Jewish life in the Diaspora: Jews might pray three times a day for the deliverance which would transform the world and transport them to Jerusalem--but they did not immigrate there; they could mourn the destruction of the Temple on Tish'ah be-Av and leave a brick over their door panel bare, as a constant reminder of the desolation of Zion--but they did not move there. Here and there individuals did go to Jerusalem; occasionally messianic movements swept individuals or even whole communities in a fervour of a redemptive Return--but they fizzled out sooner or later. The belief in the Return to Zion never disappeared, but in terms of historical praxis one can safely say that on the whole, Jews did not relate to the vision of the Return in a more active way than most Christians viewed the Second Coming: as a symbol of belief, integration and group identity it was a potent component of the value system; as an activating element of historical praxis, changing reality, it was almost wholly quietistic. Jewihs religious thought even evolved a theoretical construct aimed at legitimizing this quietism by a very strong skepticism about any active intervention in the divine scheme of things. Divine Providence, not human praxis, should determine when and how the Jews will be redeemed from exile and return to Zion."

My goal is not to champion that hands-off understanding of the return to Zion over an understanding that allows for human intervention. That's really not my business; it's for Jews to decide. My goal is simply to point out that for Jews living in America, this exilic and spiritual understanding of Israel is necessarily going to persist, even among Jews who also support those other Jews who live in and fight for the state of Israel.

And this self-understanding as a people in exile is native to Christianity as well. One of the more famous expressions of it occurs in the Letter to Diognetus, in this section: "To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world." The description Mathetes gives to Diognetus, of Christians in exile in the world, often scorned by the world, yet acting as "the preservers of the world," actually sounds a lot like the way many Jews understand the role of the Jewish people.

Exile, longing, love of the stranger--these are common to Christianity and Judaism, and they are better bases for our understandings of ourselves and one another than the idea of America as Christian nation, which too easily slides into Christianity as American civic religion.
THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY: My friend Mike sent me a good packet with essays on different aspects of the founding of Israel. The packet didn't say all that much that I found totally new and surprising (with two exceptions: lots of awful anecdotes about the treatment of Jews by Muslims and Christians during the long centuries in the Holy Land, unsurprising but saddening; and I definitely had no idea how many European countries have laws similar to the Law of Return), but it was nonetheless helpful. I won't say it clarified my thinking, since I don't think my position is clear even now, but it did give me more to work with, at least. And my friend was right that it gave me more sympathy for the founding of Israel, though I already had some pretty serious sympathy for it. So here follows a rambling post about the relevance and irrelevance of the founding of Israel for Israel today.

Two facts were hammered on by the packet, in the essays, Shlomo Avineri's "Zionism as a National Liberation Movement" and David Landes's "Palestine Before the Zionists": 1) Zionism began much more as a 19th-century nationalist movement than as a Jewish religious movement; and 2) There has been, basically continuously since Biblical times, a religious Jewish presence in Israel. Other pertinent facts: Many Palestinians currently living in Israel or the Occupied Territories moved there after Israel's founding; and many Arabs fled Israel without/before getting their land taken by Jewish settlers. (The essays, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn't really clear up whether the Arabs fled in anticipation of getting their land stolen, or simply because they didn't want to live in a Jewish state, or what. If people have reading recommendations on that I'd be interested.) Thus the population of Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories now is very different from what it was in 1947.

So I don't actually have a huge amount to say about this stuff. Only two things, really. The first is that if the Israel/Arab clash, today, is mostly the clash of 19th-century nationalism with post-1970s pan-Arab radical Islam, well, the latter force seems like a much stronger motivator right now. Brink Lindsey is almost certainly right that dictatorial Islam is doomed to failure as a basis for society. But does that mean that half-Islamist projects like the intifada are equally doomed? I think radical Islam, for all its obvious drawbacks as a basis for a sustainable society, does just dandy at keeping a bloody terrorist insurrection going ad infinitum.

I may well be wrong about that, in the long run. In the short run, in the foreseeable future, grandmothers are getting murdered at bar mitzvahs, Arafat and his cronies have invested everything in the continuing war against Israel (meaning that they've invested everything in the continuing existence of Israel, everyone's most useful enemy), and I certainly have no solution for any of this. But the nature of the founding of Israel, the nature of Zionism, makes me more skeptical of its ability to cease to be a US client state and be instead a self-reliant and healthy society, than I would be if Zionism had not been a product of a now-dissipating style of nationalism. However, having said that, I should emphasize that a) this is extremely speculative on my part, and b) I do think Israel can re-understood itself as primarily a liberal democracy a la the United States rather than primarily a secular Jewish national homeland a la France or Italy, and that is likely to be a stronger self-understanding than the nationalist one.

The second thing is that "Zionism as a National Liberation Movement" gives strong cause to believe that Father Richard Neuhaus's reasons for supporting Israel, as laid out in this month's "Public Square" (not online yet), are inaccurate. Father Neuhaus rightly says, "However inarticulate they may be about it, American Christians intuit that there is a divinely ordered entanglement between Christians and Jews that is not there with any other people." But then he argues that this entanglement requires the support of Israel, and that, therefore, Israel's Jews should reconsider desires for secularism, since secularism would undermine Israel's whole claim to support from the US (or from other Jews, as far as I can tell from his essay).

I wonder what he makes of the long Jewish centuries, pre-nationalism, in which Israel was seen as a spiritual though not a physical homeland. Does he have to argue that the Jews who chose to immigrate to the US, or Canada, or South America, instead of Israel, thus sustaining the exilic and spiritual understanding of the Jewish relationship to Israel, were wrong? Or making a less-good or less-Jewish choice than the Zionists? Does it matter that the relationship he supports of the Jewish people to the geographic territory of Israel was not developed as a primarily religious understanding, but rather as a secular nationalist one?

If Father Neuhaus supports Israel because it is the closest thing in the area to a liberal democracy, or because it is a US ally in a hostile region, that's different. I've laid out my take on that in my previous big post about Israel, and so far I haven't changed my mind or resolved my confusion about those justifications. But if he supports Israel because as a Christian he believes he must support an authentically Jewish relationship to Israel, then I don't know if he's accurately assessing either Judaism or Zionism.
This heat is hotter than the sun
These people got no clothes on
They eat in the shade of trees
Because they don't use frozen peas
Will you blogwatch their fire?
So that they freeze...

Oxblog: Adesnik takes control with three good posts: fables of Afghan reconstruction; Putin is playing Bush; and why we needn't fear Asian nerds.

Unqualified Offerings: Excellent post on moderate Muslims of the blogosphere (go there if only for the links); and dirty Saudi money. UO says he hasn't run across any moderate Muslim chicks yet: Try here for deep thoughts and such, or if you want a kind of teen IM chat "you go girl!" atmosphere, here.
"In Kovach and Rosenstiel’s first woe-is-media tract, 1999’s Warp Speed, fellow Concerned Journalist David Halberstam set the tone in the introduction: 'The past year has been, I think, the worst year for American journalism since I entered the profession forty-four years ago.' It’s hard to distract men so despondent with news of such salutary post-1955 developments as female editors, 24-hour cable news, alternative weeklies, business journals, and fingertip access to 10,000 faraway newspapers."
--Matt Welch on the Chicken Littles of journalism

Friday, November 22, 2002

POETRY POST-WEDNESDAY: I'm lame. This isn't. From Gerald Manley Hopkins. I generally don't like his style but it works here:

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.
I AM OBSOLETE: First Yglesias explains why Jonathan Chait is so wrong to believe that any postwar Iraq would be better than the status quo. Then, in his comments box, a reader discusses "blood for oil" in almost exactly the terms I was going to use. Except probably more succinct.

Edited to, like, add the actual link.
NEAT STORY BY MOTHER OF NINE KIDS, via Amy Welborn: "Not everyone wants so many, but having children early and close together not only means that one can concentrate one’s youth and energy during the time when one needs youth and energy, but also that one is left with a long span of life still to fill. It can be done, but not if you set out on the rigid, traditional career path. Above all, it requires support, and the most important support doesn’t come from family-friendly policies or more childcare. Women want families, and for that we need good men. IVF or frozen eggs are no substitute. We need husbands for ourselves, to complement and fulfil us, and we need fathers for our children."

Italian men don't come off especially well, though, in the last line of her opener: "‘Complimenti, signor,’ the Italian customs officer breathed as he grasped my husband’s hand and practically stood to attention. My spouse of 27 years gave a deprecating little wave to the group of officers who had come over to gawk after the word had gone around that he was ‘il padre di nove figli’ — the father of nine children. Meanwhile, behind this prince of manly virtue, I lumbered along with assorted plastic bags and Bob the Builder backpacks. As I herded the youngest through, the customs man called out, almost as an afterthought, ‘E brava la signora!’"

Anyway, a good basic piece, well worth the read.
WHAT'S ON MY WALL?: I'm slowly, slowly making my apartment look like a human lives here. Slowly covering the vast expanses of blank white wall. Here's what I've got so far:

Wall I'm staring at: Drawing of two men climbing a ladder in the middle of the night. Not sure why--I just really like this picture. The men are Beckettlike, furtive and isolated.
Still from "The Philadelphia Story"--Jimmy Stewart reaching out toward Katharine Hepburn, who is looking away
Two illustrations from The Wind in the Willows--the Mole frolicking, and the Water Rat being happy
A Lee Miller photograph that serves as the wordless summary of What I Believe About Life, the Universe, and Everything. I haven't been able to find it online, but it shows a young opera singer, in silhouette, singing in what I think are the bombed-out ruins of the Dresden Opera House.

Wall behind my head: Postcard-sized print of a faun-type critter and a farm family
Cover from a zine done by a high-school friend
"'And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceive that this also is vexation of spirit.'--Ecclesiastes"
Poster from Mardi Gras, 1986, in what I think must be New Orleans
Still from "Gilda"--Rita Hayworth gambling
Photo of a palm tree from the Rat's hometown
Cel from "Duck Amuck," probably my favorite Looney Tune
Photo from the Yale Daily News, showing members of the Committee for Freedom re-enacting the arrest of Wei Jingsheng in the main college dining hall
Scene from "Love and Rockets" depicting a young and mean-looking Luba
Postcard-sized print of a painting of two women looking out over a windowsill
Poster from "Vertigo"
Assorted holy cards
Palm leaf from Palm Sunday

...Now you know.
"The contemporary failure of fatherhood is perhaps the subtlest barrier to our understanding of Washington, the greatest source of the distance between us and him."
--Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Gotta run today, but tomorrow I will be posting on: what Israel's origins can tell us about today's Israel debate; why has homosexuality become a major political issue?; why did I say that aesthetic judgments are non-rational?; and, of course, tomorrow is Poetry Wednesday.
LIBERTARIAN JOURNALISM CONFERENCE: I can't go to this, but maybe you can. If you can, reply NOW! or forever hold your peace--the relevant email address is at the end of this post. I got this info from cool libertarian artblogger Kelly Torrance:

I am pleased to invite you to a networking and career development seminar for young journalists sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. The all-expense paid conference will run from Friday, December 6, to Sunday, December 8, 2002, in the Washington, DC area.

The Institute for Humane Studies' mission is to help build a freer society by helping to develop talented intellectuals interested in the
ideas of freedom. Journalists, as you know, are crucial to changing the current climate of opinion to one more congenial to liberty.

To that end, we are launching a new program of career development and networking for young journalists. We want to help you in your careers and, at the same time, encourage communication and collaboration among journalists sympathetic to classical liberalism. The first step is a seminar gathering together aspiring and established journalists for a weekend of advice and networking.

The conference will begin with a reception and dinner at 5:30 pm on Friday and conclude with lunch on Sunday. Jonathan Rauch, senior writer at the National Journal and author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, will be our opening speaker Friday night. All day Saturday and Sunday morning we will hear from other journalists and discuss issues such as the pursuit of journalism, bias and objectivity, and networking. You will have some free time Saturday afternoon.

The seminar will be held at the Crystal City Courtyard by Marriott in Arlington, VA. IHS will pay for your hotel room, meals, and discount coach airfare to the seminar.

Please let me know by Wednesday, November 20, whether you will attend.

A schedule and some short readings for some of the discussion sessions will be mailed to you soon. When you RSVP, please let me know your preferred mailing address.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I look forward to seeing you next month.


Kelly Torrance
Program Director
Institute for Humane Studies
She used to be happy
She used to be
Such a loving blogwatch
She used to be...

Agenda Bender: Excellent post on my contest and drag and Rand and such.

Regions of Mind: Interesting excerpts on Byzantine rule and welcoming your conquerors. (Snippet: "for a number of centuries Christians remained the majority in much of what was nominally Muslim territory.")

Julian Sanchez: Very cool post on "War of the Worlds," the effect of the Internet and the remote control on how we think about sources of information, and "nested" storylines. I may post on that last point soon.

Amy Welborn: The usual Catholic news clips and comments, plus if you scroll down you'll find a series of reports on Good Things Nuns Do. (Besides fly.)
"AND DON'T FORGET TO DUCK." Typically helpful column from Glenn Reynolds on how to make yourself more of a pack animal and less of a herd animal. Nothing you probably couldn't figure out for yourself, but a good reminder of things you can do to be prepared for emergencies, whether of the mugger or the terrorist variety. One feature of contemporary warfare is that many major targets aren't military or even governmental: The WTC is only one example. For all the recent articles about how no cyber terrorism has yet occurred, I think such attacks are pretty much inevitable. They're just not that hard to do, and they're perfect "asymmetric" war technique. And among the top targets are stock markets, telecommunications systems, and basic stuff like dams, power grids, and 911/emergency response systems. Anyway, the point is, if we're all going to be targets, we might as well all be defenders as well.
No quote today, since nothing super-quotable has been said in the pages I read since yesterday, and, like I said, I am sick of typing that three-part title. The book is very good though.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

DC METRO BLOG MAP. This is neat. Via DCBlows, who was unaccountably nice to me. Bizarro. Anyway, I am proudly upholding the Farragut North blog flag, or something.
RANDOM THOUGHT ABOUT PERSONAL SIN: I was re-reading some recent posts, and ran across the line, "The Church is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." For various reasons that really stopped me in my tracks and made me thank God for His mercy, and, specifically, for making Saint Peter the rock on which His church was founded--Peter of the three denials. Praise Him.
SPAM SCAM + LEGAL SYSTEM + TEPPER = HILARIOUS. Seriously, click that link, you'll be glad you did.
FACE-OFF: DO MY CONTEST IDEAS SUCK AS MUCH AS TEPPER'S? So I posted a contest, suggested by Dave Tepper and focused on intrablogosphere gossip. So far, I have received exactly no responses. So I'm going to propose a countercontest. If you a) think my contest is fun, or b) just want to make Tepper feel non-ominous, send entries to! You have a couple weeks. Or so.

Anyway, the contest is: philosophical drag queen names. Sort of inspired by Glenda Bender, Amber Waves, et fabulous alia. If you were a Neo-Platonist drag queen, what would your name be? If you were an Objectivist drag queen, what would your name be? ("Ayn Rand" doesn't count!) Send me names for Burkean drag queens, anarchist drag queens, Thomist drag queens, Nietzschean drag queens, etc. Win fabulous nonexistent prizes!
IRAQ DEBATE NOTES. Scattered, and scattershot, comments from yesterday's American Prospect/New Republic debate on war with Iraq.

First, Julian's right--Barber and Chait were cartoony versions of the anti- and pro-war camps, whereas William Galston and Kenneth Pollack were nuanced and hard-hitting. Like Julian, my position didn't change much based on the debate--I left the room about 75% anti-war, which is about where I started.

Questions for Kenneth Pollack: So... this is a war for oil. (Pollack pretty much said so.) Is that justifiable?
Pollack operates on the assumption that it is possible to stop nuclear proliferation. I think the strong anti-war arguments assume that it is not possible to stop proliferation. Saddam Hussein will get nukes if he a) wants to, which he manifestly does, and b) lives long enough, which is only slightly dicier. But the strong anti-war argument is that a world in which states accept the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emption is much more dangerous than a world with nuclear proliferation but without pre-emption. Basically, the claim is that "pre-emption" changes the "rules of the game" and creates major incentives for aggressors to strike first. (Here, have a cartoon.) Also, unlike Mutually Assured Destruction (which has major just-war problems, by the way, but leave that aside since frankly I have no clue what to do with that fact), both "sides" in any conflict can't adopt a policy of pre-emption. Two hostile powers can agree to MAD, but once either one of them shifts to a policy of pre-emption, all bets are off, and the "game" becomes much less predictable.

Pollack stated his opposition to pre-emption, but, as Julian points out, he really didn't make clear what he meant by his opposition, since he clearly favored some kind of prophylactic war--hit Saddam before he hits us. My best guess at the moment is that Pollack supports war only if it is (publicly) based on a preexisting casus belli like Saddam's violation of the UN resolutions that ended Gulf War Classic. But that's weird, since Pollack's own reasoning is based on a very pre-emption-sounding understanding and not primarily based on the "we're STILL at war with Saddam" non-pre-emption understanding. So if I'm right about how Pollack squares support for war "sooner rather than later" with Saddam and opposition to pre-emption, he seems to require a "noble lie" in which we pretend that we're not pre-empting but really we are. Hmmmmm.

Galston thought the following would make war acceptable: 1) "significant Iraqi violations of UN resolutions acknowledged by nations other than the US"; 2) a war "to enforce disarmament, not regime change" ; he noted that the former might well require the latter but the latter should not be the stated goal of the war; 3) reasonable probability of no major collateral damage to other regimes (more on this in a moment); and 4) the war should not impede the war on Al Qaeda and allied agents of terrorism.

Galston also pressed hard on the possibility that war with Iraq would destabilize the Middle East and provoke a coup or revolution in Pakistan. So in order to keep one dictatorial freak-show from getting the Bomb, we would have sparked a war that would lead to a radical Islamist dictatorial freak-show taking power in a country that already has the Bomb. Pollack lamely answered that there were "things we could do to minimize unrest in the region." Pleasant dreams, America!

Chait noted that Bush pere and Clinton both tried to stop Saddam's weapons programs via threats and bombing but no full-scale war, and, in his view, that strategy has failed. He pointed out that the UN is not necessarily going to acknowledge violations of its own resolutions unless pushed, since France and Russia both have economic and political (domestic in France's case--lots of Muslim immigrants, sucks to be an ex-empire doesn't it?--and geopolitical in Russia's) interests in making nice with the Iraqi regime.

Barber's best line was a quote from Dick Cheney in 1991: "If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shiite regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?" Barber asked what had changed since Cheney said that. Chait, after noting that he had never claimed to be a Cheney fan, lamely replied that just about anything would be better than Saddam.

Interestingly, both sides (by which I mean Galston and Pollack) agreed that: 1) The Bush administration's case for war had significantly improved since this summer, moving in a more multilateral and less pre-emptive direction, but Bush had only been able to wring major concessions from both Saddam and the UN because of his summertime war-cries. More noble lie?

2) We're screwing up Afghanistan, and if we don't get our act together we'll screw up Iraq even worse, to the point that the war might be a terrible idea even from Pollack's perspective. (Chait flatly denied that postwar Iraq could be worse than status quo. Another big hmmmm to that.)

3) Everyone--all four participants--claimed to be generally against the "Bush Doctrine," pre-emption, and the more aggressive of the Bush administration's various justifications and plans for the war. The anti-war team argued that you can't separate opposition to the Bush administration's current understanding of war aims from opposition to the war generally--you can't be pro-war-on-Iraq but anti-Bush's-war-on-Iraq. This sounds persuasive, but I thought Pollack actually made the better case here. He pointed out that major shifts in rhetoric and action have already occurred, moving the administration closer to his own perspective; he argued that vigorously pressing (what he considered to be) the correct case against Saddam would change the terms of public debate and essentially corner Bush into building a better war. Given my propensity to believe that shaping public debate really does change history, I'm naturally sympathetic to Pollack's position here, especially since he could point to actual changes in Bush policy. On the other hand, Bush's new emphasis on UN resolutions and inspections was a more natural shift than the shift to long-term postwar "nation-building" that Pollack wanted. (I note that in the presidential debates, Bush counseled against nation-building, but in context he was discussing nation-building not as the endgame of a war for American interests but as an end in itself, a la Haiti, Kosovo and assorted Clintonian whatnot.)

4) Everyone--all four participants--agreed that whether or not Saddam had some tenuous, faint, tangential connection to Al Qaeda, that's not the point. Neither Pollack nor Chait argued the "linkage" thesis; both said Saddam should be defeated alongside the war on terrorism, not as part of that war.

Random note: To the extent that I could read the audience based on mutterings, laughter and so forth, the most obvious adjective was not "hawkish" or "dovish" but... "anti-Israel." The moderator noted that the audience had submitted "about five questions" asking variants of, Isn't Israel just as bad as Iraq? Bah.
YALIEN LIFE FORMS, and others: Oxblog's petition opposing the drive to get Yale to divest from companies doing business with Israel. I signed it. I oppose attempts at economic isolation in general and this one in particular. You'll soon see (probably tomorrow) that I am not a Zionist--here's an earlier, fairly hopeless post about Israel, and here are a couple follow-ups--but the attempts to make Israel a pariah state strike me as completely wrong. And divestment is the worst of the possible strategies for shaming Israel, even if shaming Israel were what I wanted to do.
SANCHEZ ON THAT IRAQ DEBATE. I don't have too much to add, but will do a brief postmortem late tonight.
THOUGHT OCCASIONED BY AN EMAIL FROM THE SHAKESPEARE THEATER: If I were two actors, I'd really want to be named "Ziemba and Snook."
FAMILY TIES: My JWR column on "Malcolm in the Middle." After a disappointing season premiere, MITM is back to greatness.
"[John Adams] had pored over Machiavelli, Bacon, and Descartes; he had reflected on the arguments advanced by Hobbes, Harrington, and Locke; and he was therefore inclined to associate erudition and intellectual acuity with a heightening rather than with a diminution of the force of the passions."
--Paul Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern, vol. 3: Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime

I had better finish this book soon. I'm already sick of typing that title.

Monday, November 18, 2002

"THE COUNTRY'S GOING TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. I BLAME THE MEDIA-BLAMERS" ("King of the Hill," last night): A column on the New Republic's site blames the Democrats' election losses on the GOP's big bucks and control of the media (=talk radio and FoxNews). Democrats are cast as Sen. Jefferson Smith of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" fame--they're standing there valiantly telling the truth, but no one in their home states can hear them because the Syndicate controls the means of news-production! Some thoughts:

1) Why do people like FoxNews? I mean, it's not like political ads, which assault you televisually even if you'd prefer not to see them. In order to hear Rush Limbaugh, or see Brit Hume's baggy bulldog face, you have to choose the right-wing wackos over the TNR-approved voices on National Public Radio or CNN or CBS or ABC or NBC or PBS or... etc. So "the Right controls the media!" isn't really an explanation, is it? You still have to explain why people tune in.

2) Campaign finance reform. If a relatively loophole-free version could be both devised and passed (which almost certainly won't happen, but whatever), it would make the major media organizations proportionally more powerful, since they will be among the few unfettered, unrestricted political voices. When ads become less important, op-eds and talking heads fill the vacuum, becoming more important. If the media is biased against the left and/or the Democrats and/or your favorite candidates or positions, isn't this a bad thing? Now, it may be that the GOP has a "structural advantage" in both advertising and media (I think this is bogus, but hey, it could happen), and if the advertising advantage is bigger, then CFR might be politically fruitful for the Democrats despite the GOP media advantage. But it'd be worthwhile to see more pro-CFR people acknowledging the extra weight their proposal would give to major media. (Public funding of campaigns also falls prey to this problem--or "feature" if you want the major media to have more sway!--and has other defects I don't want to tussle about right now.)

3) I know the New York Times is not typical. (Just stereotypical, which is different.) But I wanted to comment on this post from Charles Murtaugh, because I think he makes a good point but it's not quite the point he seems to make. I'm going to quote the whole post, sans permalinks: The varieties of religious experience.

Here's an interesting study in contrasts: yesterday's New York Times ran an article, "Bishops Pass Plan to Form Tribunals in Sex Abuse Cases", with quotes from two Church critics, and another article, "Bishops Fail to Heed Calls for an Audit", quoting another critic of Church policy.

So how many Church critics were quoted in the yesterday's Times article entitled "War on Iraq Not Yet Justified, Bishops Say"? How about in all of the articles pulled out of the Times by LEXIS-NEXIS, using the search terms "catholic, bishops, death penalty"? Care to guess? Go ahead and do the search yourself. Then try "catholic, bishops, abortion" and see how that works out.

Now, on the face of it this doesn't seem like a good point. After all, if you compare the three stories Murtaugh links, the two in which Church critics are cited are actually in-depth stories reported by the NYT itself about breaking news, whereas the non-Church-critical Iraq story is a quickie Associated Press clip that's basically a reprinted press release from the bishops' conference. Thus the stories that quote Church critics are: more inherently newsy, better-reported in general, and reported by a different media organization. The real journalistic crime in the Iraq story is that the AP was essentially reprinting a press release, an uber-annoying journalistic shortcut.

But as soon as the real problem has been identified, it becomes clear, I think, that Professor Murtaugh is right: When would the Times puff a bishops' conference press release on abortion? I would argue that it shouldn't puff any such press releases, but as long as we're talking about Who Controls The Media, Murtaugh's post is a data point suggesting that either a) the TNR piece is wrong, or b) the NYT is a lot less important than it thinks it is.
WELCOME TO THE WORKING WEEK: Best thing about being unemployed--I mean, freelancing--is that I can play my music while I work and nobody can stop me!!!

Oh, PS: Do you have a publication? Do you pay money? Make me write for you! Email, and do it fast, because my rent goes up next month....
"Had Hamilton been fully successful in his quest to strengthen and render more vigorous the national government and to subordinate the states to it, the Union might never have been rent asunder and the nation might have escaped the horrors of civil war."
--Paul Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern, vol. 3: Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime

Sunday, November 17, 2002

JANE GALT looks different. The Cranky Professor looks different too. It is all very confusing.

Also, Oblique House has a lot of fun, random stuff... "Ixnay on the erretfay," a beauty hint for the non-squeamish, and more homeschooling personal-blog-type flotsam.

Armed&Dangerous has this discussion of different views of military life in science fiction, which I found super-interesting even though I have not read any of the books under discussion.
"These references to past history are not simply an idle exercise in scholarly interpretation. They are, as the recent debate on the anti-Zionism resolution in the United Nations shows, the weapons of political warfare. Thus the Jordanian ambassador, contrasting European guilt for persecution of the Jews with the good conscience of the Arabs: 'There was no situation similar to this in the East, particularly with the civilization where for centuries the majority of Jews lived happily and productively and to which they contributed in every way, namely, the Arab civilization.' And Mr. Al-Sayegh of Kuwait, stressing Muslim hospitality to Jews and reverence for Judaism, charged Zionism with destroying a harmonious relationship: 'It was only when the Zionists came, and instead of the Jews saying, 'I should like to live with you,' the Zionists came saying, 'I want to live in your place.' It was only when the Zionists came that our hospitality turned into hostility for the Zionist....' To which that veteran of the UN wars, Jamil M. Baroody of Saudi Arabia, added that Zionism was not the work of 'our Jews.' 'It was the European Jews who started this movement'--those Khazars 'whose forebears came from the northern tier of Asia' and now claim Palestine as their own. 'If this is not tantamount to racism and discrimination, what is?'

"These compliments to Judaism and to some Jews at least are not the language Arabs ordinarily use to one another on these matters; but they sound good and plausible to many Western ears."

--David S. Landes, "Palestine Before the Zionists" (yes, I am working up to another big post about Israel, sometime this week)

Saturday, November 16, 2002

St. Bonaventure on what scholars must avoid: "reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God."
MATTHEW YGLESIAS points out an obvious huge problem with campaign finance reform, a.k.a. the New York Times/FoxNews Empowerment Act.
KIKKOMAN!: Stolen with love from Charles Murtaugh: An amazing link. link. No, just so you don't miss it, here it is again. Click. Wow. You've seen the Viking kittens, right? This is better.
"Anti-Semitism, then, is not the answer to the emergence of Zionism: it can explain why people left Russia and other countries for other shores: it does not explain why a small minority--which later changed the course of Jewish history--opted for the Zionist solution."
--Shlomo Avineri, "Zionism as a National Liberation Movement"

Friday, November 15, 2002

WHAT DO SCIENTOLOGISTS AND THE GOVERNMENT OF KAZAKHSTAN HAVE IN COMMON? They're really, really lame; and they try to suppress people who disagree with them. Diana Hsieh is getting sued; as for Kazakhstan, here's an excerpt from today's Keston Institute bulletin:

KAZAKHSTAN: HOME BIBLE STUDY ENDS IN POLICE RAID. (11 Nov). On 8 September police and officers of the National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB) raided the apartment of a Baptist church leader Kormangazy Abdumuratov, where Baptists were studying the Bible. After taking details, searching and videoing the flat and those present, the Baptists were taken to police headquarters, where all were interrogated. After between one and two hours of interrogation, everyone was released except Abdumuratov. The police told him to write a statement declaring that he would stop holding religious meetings in his home. He refused and was
threatened with imprisonment because he had been caught three times taking part in unregistered religious meetings. One policeman even hit him, but after six hours he was released. Subsequently, hostile TV footage was shown on the Baptists and Abdumuratov was expelled from the Institute where he was a student, as he was said to be a traitor to the Kazakhs and to have been bought off by foreigners.
I HAVE NO MORE FUNNY MOVIE QUOTES! I used the last one yesterday. So from now on, I will start every blogging day with a quotation from whatever I'm reading at the moment. Maybe something funny, maybe something insightful, whatever. Today's quote comes from Telford Work's paper, "Divided Loyalties? Christian Identity in Wartime America" (PDF file).

"The New Testament appropriates every age of Israel's history: the patriarchs (at Jesus' annunciation and his calling of the Twelve), the exodus (in Jesus' return from Egypt and his crucifixion and resurrection), Sinai (in the Sermon on the Mount and at Pentecost), wilderness wanderings (in Jesus' temptations and Johannine crucifixion), Conquest of Palestine (in Jesus' baptism and subsequent enrty into the land as its restorer), Davidic Monarchy (in Jesus' ministry, Triumphal Entry, and crucifixion), exile (in the Church's dispersion and perhaps even in Jesus' ascension), and Messianic Age (in the Kingdom present in Jesus and his Church and in the promise of Jesus' return). All of these chapters in Israel's history are paradigmatic for Chrisians, especially the last."
THE MOST COMMON AND THE BEST: This post and the next two are cross-posted at Questions for Objectivists.

My main problem with Diana Hsieh's essay/lecture "The Philosophical Underpinnings of Capitalism" actually doesn't have anything to do with capitalism, or libertarianism, or even underpinnings. It's instead a problem of method, though I do think this method-problem affects the philosophy. (Since this post has some fairly pointed criticism, I should note up front that I got some good, chewy food for thought out of the atheism lecture discussed below.)

Throughout the lecture, Hsieh makes claims about her philosophical opponents that strike me as wildly out-there: "The committed paternalist likely knows that banning drugs and gambling creates and encourages violent crime, but argues that such is a small price to pay for protecting our children." "Again, the economics of redistribution is unimportant for many egalitarians. Even if the egalitarian state makes us all poorer, at least we are all equally miserable." "Intellectual and spiritual matters are considered [by proponents of various kinds of regulation of businesses] to be wholly separate from and far more important than simple materialistic concerns. So the government recognizes rights and freedoms in the intellectual and spiritual realms, but not in the materialistic realms of business and property. The regulation of the material world of business, as with affirmative action or environmental regulations, is justified on the grounds that it serves a higher spiritual and moral purpose, such as a colorblind society or a healthy earth."

Hsieh doesn't actually quote anyone who disagrees with her; she doesn't find representatives of the arguments she opposes. She doesn't allow her opponents to present their case in their own words. I think this makes her essay much less convincing. The actual socialists I know (for example) would read her descriptions of their beliefs and exclaim, "Wait now hey now! That's not what I believe! Don't go setting up that old straw man!"

In order to responsibly address a philosophical argument you disagree with, I think you have to at least attempt to refute: 1) the most common reasons for the position you disdain. You may think, "But ten children die each day in the US because of guns!" is a lousy argument for gun control, but if it's popular you should address it.
2) the best arguments for the position you oppose. This is one of the reasons I wanted to work for the Register: I was impressed by how often they quoted anti-Catholic spokespeople saying sensible or at least understandable, intelligent, or sympathetic things.

In order to do both 1) and 2) it's necessary, or at least extremely helpful, to quote your opponents directly rather than relying on your own ability to summarize their positions or understand their psyches. That way you'll get a better sense of what they believe, and they won't be able to claim that you're just setting up a straw man (assuming you're quoting with sensitivity to context, of course).

Relying on secondhand accounts and impressions of what "the opposition" thinks means you often get it wrong. Like I said, none of the socialists I know would agree with Hsieh's characterizations of their views. They would charge her with creating straw men. Self-proclaimed egalitarians like Matthew Yglesias and Ampersand simply don't think what Hsieh says they think. (For example, they don't think that equality is the only good!) Hsieh may argue that Yglesias and Ampersand don't represent the most common arguments for egalitarianism; OK, but she should show us who does make the arguments she thinks are most common. (Ralph Nader? John Rawls? Karl Marx? Bueller? Bueller?)

And again, even if the "equality is one good among others, and some equality can be sacrificed to promote prosperity just as some prosperity can be sacrificed to promote equality" (sorry for cartoonish simplification there) position isn't popular, it's fairly obviously a better argument than "I don't care if everyone starves as long as we're all starving TOGETHER!" And so it would be useful to know which arguments against her position Hsieh thinks are non-insane or non-idiotic or non-laughable (though wrong).

Anyway, so arguing against positions that are neither the most common nor the best statements of the Opposition leads to two problems: 1) You get it wrong, thus you don't convince anyone who doesn't already mostly agree with you. You're preaching to the choir.
2) You get it wrong, thus you think your opposition is stupider or baser than they are, which is a depressing thing to believe. If the people arguing for a rise in the minimum wage actually don't care if we all suffer and want as long as we suffer and want equally, that really sucks, that's just an awful view of the world and it would be saddening if there were this organized bloc of people who thought that way. Note the use of the subjunctive; such a bloc does not exist.

The atheism essay is better but would still benefit a lot from direct quoting of the Bad Guys.
FIDES ET RATIO: Last night I read Diana Hsieh's essays/lectures "The Philosophical Underpinnings of Capitalism" and "Why Be an Atheist?". I'll get to the capitalism one in a moment; for now I just want to address the atheism one. Hsieh is a good, clear, fluent writer, and I found many of her analogies both helpful and entertaining.

As far as convincing me of stuff, the lecture didn't do much, simply because the arguments she presents for belief in God are arguments I don't believe anyway (first cause argument--why can't the universe be the uncaused thing?), arguments I don't even pretend to understand (argument from order, which she calls the argument from design but which I think would be more familiar to Catholics under the other name), and arguments that aren't arguments ("I had a personal experience of Jesus's presence").

I don't know that there are "knockdown" arguments for God's existence. I do think that a) reason can point out extraordinarily difficult choices, cf. the "Dostoyevsky meets Plato in the Richard Rorty Bar & Grill" stuff I do here (in case you're wondering, yes, that is the SAME LINK that you have seen a million times if you read this blog a lot), and b) theistic, specifically Jewish or Christian, and Christian most of all, explanations of the world better fit our experience of things like wrongdoing, love, and beauty than atheistic explanations. So basically, Hsieh's lecture simply didn't touch on the philosophical paths that led me to pray, to ask with an open heart and mind whether God could be found (while trying not to indulge in wishful thinking, trying not to "have an experience of God's presence" simply because it would be interesting!), to "ask, seek, and knock." That's not her fault, of course! It's just the reason that engaging her actual arguments isn't super-exciting for me. If my scarily scientifically-minded Catholic friends want to take her up on the argument from order, y'all can be my guests, but it's really not a subject I feel qualified to treat confidently. Oh, and Occam's Razor is a lot more complicated than she makes it sound, to the point of not being super helpful in this discussion, but whatever, that's not something I want to blog about just at the moment. Maybe I'll get into my problems with common uses of the razor later.

The one thing I did want to write about (after all that, now we finally approach the point of this post!) is a casual phrase toward the end of the lecture. Hsieh says, "Since people claim to know that God exists and that Jesus loves them for other irrational reasons (like faith)..." and in the margin I have written ARGH!

Rereading the paragraph, I'm honestly unsure what Hsieh means by "faith" here, so let me set out a few thoughts on faith and the non-rational. Faith, at least for Christians, does not mean "believing stuff at random." The proper understanding of the faith/reason relationship is one I should hold off on until I've reread Fides et Ratio, but first let's clear away some underbrush.

There are good but non-rational reasons for believing things. (I take "irrational" to mean "anti-rational, contrary to reason," and "non-rational" to mean "not using the processes of syllogistic reasoning but not contrary to such reasoning.") "Non-rational reasons" may sound like an oxymoron, but let's take a look at one important example: aesthetic judgments. What process of syllogistic reasoning can lead us to conclude that Hamlet is a greater work of art than The Long Goodbye, or that Goodbye is nonetheless a terrific book? Beauty and sublimity are encounters, not conclusions of philosophic reasoning (although the conclusions we draw from reasoning may make it easier or harder for us to see or accept beauty or sublimity in certain places--for example, I'm not sure I could have found El Greco's "Saint Sebastian" sublime rather than horrible before my conversion; I was very anti-depictions of Saint Sebastian in general).

So I think it might help clarify matters if, when we talk about "faith," we cash out a little more clearly what the term means. Loving trust in someone's promises--for example, God's promises? (That's a fairly standard Christian definition of one kind of faith.) Non-rational beliefs that nonetheless can be discussed, justified, or convincingly described? Everything that isn't based on evidence of the senses + axioms of logic ("A is A")? Random belief in whatever toxin happens to be flowing through the culture-stream? Many Objectivists write as if Christians themselves believe that faith is basically irrational rather than nonrational, leading the Objectivists to assume that faith is necessarily either random or a capitulation to an evil cultural trend. Cashing out the meaning of "faith" may be helpful for Objectivists who want to talk to Christians and other theists rather than simply about them. (I do realize that Hsieh's speech was given to an Objectivist group, thus it wasn't necessarily intended to speak to theists as well as about them; nonetheless I suspect that even essays directed toward explanation rather than persuasion will explain better if they take into account the self-understandings of the people being explained.)
ZORAK's post about her journey to the Catholic Church has gotten me thinking about my own bizarro path to Rome. I'm not going to blog about it now, because I haven't got the mental energy (operating on four hours of sleep, blah)... but I did write a table of contents! So you can experience some small portion of my ongoing wigginess.

EARLIEST MEMORIES: Consciousness of personal sin. I wrote a bit about that here. Didn't name it as sin because Christianity was not really on the radar screen except as something for dumb televangelists/right-wing political hacks/my inexplicable classmates.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Superstition/Credulousness/Imagination/Creativity (the latter term should be taken in the not-very-complimentary, Allan Bloom on Nietzsche sense).
But also, honor and self-sacrifice, gleaned from the fantasy books I read incessantly.

ADOLESCENCE: Disillusionment
Relativism/Queer activism
Disillusionment again (Riot Grrrl did some good stuff, but there's only so long you can ponder your navel and cultivate white guilt before you want to KILL something), and a retreat into Shakespeare
Obsession with Falstaff

FRESHMAN YEAR OF COLLEGE: Falstaff or Hamlet? (ultimately, neither.)
Startled by Christians. Including the Mantis and her Mate. The first conversation I ever had with the Old Oligarch included a section where I tried to convince him that philosophy sucked, and only literature had value. I was, at the time, reading Sistah Souljah's autobiography. Build your own poem.
Startled by Christianity: sin, justice, the body, and honor again. In which I learn what Christianity actually says (for example, the human body is important and good). I read St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo, take a class on the history of Christian doctrine and find myself defending the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, and try to figure out why art matters and why physical things matter.
Christianity is frighteningly realistic--but is it true?
Stumbling blocks: contraception, homosexuality. Boring, I know.
Yeah, it's true. D'oh. Probably. Argh.

SOPHOMORE YEAR: Upset and uncertain catechumen. I get confirmed despite feeling truly lousy about the whole thing. Fortunately, praying during the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) kept me relatively sane and reminded me of the reality of the Incarnation and the promises of Christ.
Nietzsche: loyalty and the Crucified

SINCE THEN: I've been trying to get my act together. Learning about all the immense treasures of prayer and devotional life that the Church offers. Trying to live a Christian life, not just think about it. Went through a brief "Is Christianity evil?" spate of worry and serious unhappiness (alluded to here, last paragraph), got over it, worked out the basic shape of the post-Platonic arguments I make here (and in the two posts below that).

Mostly, right now, I'm just trying to deepen my faith--Duc in altum!