Sunday, February 28, 2010

"It's bigger on the inside than on the outside."

Thanks again to my friends at Three Massketeers for this one:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big Fat Greek Catastrophe

What the disclosures about scientific fraud on the part of the top global warming scientists was to the AGW enthusiasts and the Copenhagen conference, the bankruptcy of Greece -- soon to be followed by other European Union welfare states -- is to the Obama administration's domestic economic policy.

For more on the looming European catastrophe go: here, here, here, here, here, for starters. That roaring sound you hear is the waterfall toward which all welfare state societies are drifting on currents that are suddenly flowing ever more rapidly.

Meanwhile, for all its limitations, and by an order of magnitude, the free market has lifted more people from poverty to relative comfort to prosperity than any political or economic alternative in history. I say this, not as a free-marketeer, but because it is factually true, and it stands in stark contrast to the mindlessness of the current drift toward catastrophe. Greece is the morality play of the moment. It is in light of this that George Wills' remarks that I posted below (though dealing only with the U.S. political and economic situation) should be seen.

Whee the people . . .

Typically dense though this Philip Rieff observation is, it provides a key to the liberal incomprehension in the face of a spontaneous political reaction against the cultural abrogation of traditional morality. According to the liberationist presuppositions of the (increasingly illiberal) liberal order, such a thing should not exist. Therefore, when it occurs it must be racist, neanderthal, fascistic, in other words, a political pathology. 

... transgressiveness that is popularized in the modern social order as freedom and creativity, generating the energy for a break through the social order, is in fact itself the course of the popularity of the term "charisma" -- completely reversing its meaning in the inherited structure of our culture, as the reassertion of authority "from above." The modernist assertion of "charisma" from below is not of authority but of the destruction of authority. The term "charisma" has become literally meaningless, for it covers an endless assertiveness against authority as such -- i.e., against culture in any form.
Like René Girard, Rieff provides an Archimedean point from which to peer into the social turmoil of our time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Road to Hell still paved with them.

In order to be progressive, one must keep up the appearance of helping the "less fortunate," pay no attention to the effects of said help, and soak up the feel-good one gets when the world praises the wonderfulness of one's intentions.
So says physicist and former high tech executive, Chuck Rogér, in a piece for the American Thinker. It's worth reading.

George Will

George Will is a pubic intellectual who deserves a hearing. His mordant sense of humor, delivered deadpan, makes these three short videos entertaining as well as a penetrating analysis of the current state of the American experiment in self-government. In an exchange with xxx, Will said this about the accusation that the Republican party was the "Party of No."
GEORGE WILL: The Republican Party elected its first president because he said no to a bright idea a Democratic Senator had which was, "I'll solve the problem," said, Stephen A. Douglas, "of expansion of slavery into the territories. Let's have popular sovereignty. People can vote it up or vote it down." A lawyer from Springfield, Illinois, named Lincoln, said, "No. That's bad. That's a bad idea. We're going to stop that idea." Now, was the Republican Party the Party of No? You bet they were. And it's a good thing.
Saying "No" to something that will do massive harm -- politically, economically, and culturally -- to our children and grandchildren is hardly obstructionism. If citing Will's remarks seems partisan, it is so, not in the party affiliation sense, for I belong to no political party, but in the moral sense that Will intended it. Nor in quoting it do we abandon our commitment to the "faith and culture" issues. In the post on Saturday I alluded to Fr. Michael Sweeney's reflections on the laity in the Church. In it he wisely said:
The human person can never belong to Caesar, but only to God; human life can never be "secular". This truth is also the foundation of democracy: because we belong to God alone it is necessary that we be consulted concerning the way that we are governed. There is really no other justification for the democratic process than this. Our deepest aspirations are centered more in God than they are in ourselves: we are destined for immortality and we have an appetite for divine things. We are bigger than the world is, and therefore our worship belongs to God alone. This is the foundation of the equality that pertains between persons: every human person has aspirations that the world cannot contain.

There are also things that are not ordered to God directly, but to the human person -- to man and woman. These are the things that are "secular": political and economic life, health, education, the arts, the sciences are not for the sake of God, but for the good of the human person. Such things are not profane; indeed, they have divine significance because of the divine dignity of the human person whom they serve. These secular pursuits have their own proper independence and competence. When I require heart surgery I am not so much concerned that the surgeon is a Catholic as I am that he or she is competent at surgery. 
To which I would add: if you want an expert on our national pastime, baseball, who is also an expert -- by my lights -- on the meaning of the American political experiment, you could do a lot worse than to turn to George Will. His remarks are decidedly secular, and appropriately so, albeit when someone refers as he does to the seven deadly sins it is because he is a legatee of Catholic Christianity's moral patrimony.

If you take time to listen to what he says, you will be glad you did. 

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

If you need a graphic that provides circumstantial evidence of what Will was saying, here's something about how valued in the current administration are those who have had private sector experience.

The Feast of the Chair of Peter

This is old news by the standard of today's 12-hour news cycle, but today's liturgical calendar prompts it.

I doubt if Harry Knox, president Obama's appointee to the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will be celebrating today's feast. Knox is the director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith Program. The HRC is a homosexual activist group with a history of slurs about the Catholic Church and its moral teachings.

Mr. Knox did make it into the news lately (if by "news" one means reports on critical developments in our public life and not the karaoke media lip-syncing from the White House hymnal). Mr. Knox was asked whether he stood by a published remark to the effect that Pope Benedict XVI was "hurting people in the name of Jesus" for insisting that at the heart of the AIDS crisis is the breakdown of the family and the third-world adoption of the promiscuous sexuality promoted by the West's sexual revolutionaries, matters which are only compounded by the distribution of condoms and the implicit message about the recreational nature of human sexuality that accompanies such distribution.

Mr. Knox's answer, of course, was yes indeed he stood by that statement. As for the fact that reputable scientists had substantiated the pope's assertion, Mr. Knox dismissed the suggestion as breezily as though he were a member of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The data these scientists quoted indicated that where condoms have been tried in one place and abstinence education combined with a campaign to reinforce the virtue of marital fidelity in another place, the incidents of AIDS dropped in the latter not the former.

For his troubles, Benedict XVI (and the Catholic Church) received (who would have thought it?) a tsunami of morally sanctimonious contempt by the sexual revolutionaries, their international enablers, and (in more muffled tones) their colleagues embedded throughout the Obama administration.

The point, however, as many have stressed, is that -- once again -- the Obama administration has let its ideological mind-set and political agenda show. For the White House operatives, the choice between 2000 years of unbroken and unanimous Christian moral teaching and homosexual activists is a slam dunk in favor of the latter. 

Meanwhile, count me among those whose hearts are filled with gratitude for the great gift to the world of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Happy Feast of the Chair of Peter.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cardinal Arinze with Sunday Morning Thoughts

I had dinner with Francis Cardinal Arinze in Dallas a couple of years ago. It was a great privilege. His faith and his charm was truly touching. Here he is fielding questions about the liturgy, his great love.


Hat Tip: American Catholic

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Lay Apostolate - Fr. Michael Sweeney OP

Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP

Once again, our friend Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, the president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, provides wise counsel on the question of the role of the laity in the Church. With the deftness of a man steeped in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas, he threads the needle, beginning with the principle problem: "Catholics tend to speak of the Church as something other than themselves."

In the course of his exploration, he quotes John Paul II's encyclical, Redemptor Hominis:
The Church wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life, with the power of the truth about man and the world that is contained in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption and with the power of the love that is radiated by that truth (13).
The lay vocation, Fr. Sweeney goes on to point out, is precisely to the secular world: "the task assigned to the layperson is the fundamental work of the Church, which is the work of Christ himself to redeem the world."

Inasmuch as the prevailing understanding of the word "secular" -- a word given philosophical significance by the Church's recognition of its value -- is a shrunken parody of what it once meant, some clarification is necessary. Citing John Paul II again, Fr. Sweeney points out that the barren separation of faith and public life is "one of the greatest evils of our age." It is necessary, Fr. Sweeney insists, "to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ -- to proclaim the good news -- to a world in which any claims to truth are regarded as hostile to public life."

(If you doubt that, take a look at this piece by William Murchison on the Battle of the Textbooks.)

This distorted secular intolerance in the name of tolerance, Fr. Sweeney argues, is the formidable task facing the Church, the task for which the laity is uniquely qualified.

Read Fr. Sweeney's whole article here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Our First Podcast

We would love to have you subscribe to our occasional podcasts.  Click on the image below. You can listen to the podcast by clicking "play" and you can subscribe by selecting either the iTunes or RSS links at the top of the page. We hope you will want to subscribe. If you do, anytime we post a podcast it will show up in your iTunes or RSS queue and can then be loaded onto your iPod, iPhone, or other MP3 player. It's all free, and you can terminate your subscription with one click of the mouse.

 Click on this image.
 Easter in the Meantime
Occasional Reflections on Faith and Culture

Given my schedule for the next few months, the podcasts will likely be short and intermittent, but this is a beginning, and we hope it will help us carry out our mission and stay in touch with our friends, collaborators and supporters. 

With gratitude,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Three Years Ago Today . . .

Liz Bailie, 1954 - 2007
May she rest in peace.

Liz died three years ago today, at 4:50 p.m. EST.  She remains and always will remain in my heart. Here is what I said at her funeral.
We are here to commend Liz to God’s mercy and care and to thank God for the privilege of having known and loved her, and not to drown these our bitter-sweet Christian responsibilities in a sea of reminiscence. We will have an opportunity to reminisce later today. But if a grieving husband can be allowed a reminiscence or two, I would like to say a few words about Liz.

To keep from rambling, as you can see, I have taken the precaution of organizing my thoughts; I hope you will not think them less heartfelt for that. I hope as well that you will forgive me for not being excessively morose. As a Christian I am enjoined by the apostle Paul not to grieve as the pagans do. I hope what follows will be an example of what Saint Paul calls “godly grief,” that is to say: grief suffused with the light of Easter. Liz would surely have it no other way.

Anyone who knew Liz knows what a unique person she was. No one who knew Liz at all well will ever be heard to say: “Ah, yes, Liz … Liz reminds me of so-and-so.” There are no so-and-sos out there bearing even a remote likeness to Liz, and all of us who knew her realize this. Liz was in a category of one. One of the unique things about Liz, however, was the fact that she neither particularly admired uniqueness nor ever aspired to it. If she aspired to anything, it was social invisibility. To be the object of social attention was one of her greatest fears. No, Liz acquired her uniqueness the hard way: though the experience of sadness and suffering and the intimacy with God that sadness and suffering can make possible.

The first thing that struck me about Liz when we met was that she had a depth that one only finds in those who have been brought to their knees by heavy crosses, so I was not surprised to learn, as we got to know each other, that hers had not been an easy life. Her mother’s long and distressing illness – and its lingering emotional repercussions in Liz’s life – the tragic and untimely death of the younger brother to whom she had tried to be both sister and mother, and an adult life plagued with frequent devastatingly painful migraine headaches … Liz was someone who knew suffering.

Of all the images of the Virgin Mary that Liz treasured, the one she revered most was Mary the Mother of Sorrows. In her last days on this earth, she gazed long at the Mother of Sorrows icon that she asked me to hang at the foot of the bed in which she spent her last weeks.

John of the Cross, the great Carmelite whose religious writings Liz loved, once said: “The deeper the wound the greater the healing,” a mystery that the contemporary poet Leonard Cohen expressed when he wrote:

There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

When I first met Liz at a retreat I was giving in Connecticut, in addition to sensing that she knew suffering, another thing that struck me was her love for the Church. I move in circles where one occasionally bumps into people who love the Church, but Liz’s love for the Church had a special quality about it. It was not so much that she loved the Church – in the perfunctory way we often love old familiar things – rather her love for the Church was spontaneous, unaffected and, most remarkable of all, entirely unproblematic. She loved the Church with the kind of love that has been all but eradicated by the spirit of our age, a spirit which is so antithetical to the Catholic sensibilities which were so alive in Liz.

Sensing how remarkable Liz was, how uncontaminated she was by the spiritual toxins of our time, I found myself wondering: Where has this woman been keeping herself, that her Catholic sensibilities are so fresh and alive?

Where, indeed, had she been keeping herself? As I was soon to learn, Liz’s love for the Church had a local habitation and a name: St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, which had been her spiritual home all her adult life. In the aftermath of an early life altering religious experience, and thanks to a suggestion by her friend Michael Boover, Liz discovered the Abbey in her early 20s and shortly thereafter almost literally shoved her foot in the door long enough to get a few minutes with Fr. Mark Delery. The few minutes turned into a few weeks, then a few months, then a few years, then a few decades. Fr. Mark, the senior concelebrant at today’s Mass was Liz’s spiritual director all her adult life.

Since there is nothing not to love about St. Joseph’s Abbey, Liz’s love of it was not as extraordinary as her love for that great gargoyled wonder we call Mother Church. Nevertheless, as C. S. Lewis once said: heaven is an acquired taste, and not everyone has the patience and poverty of spirit it takes to be nourished, as Liz was, by the Cistercian life of prayer and worship.

But as Liz and I corresponded after that first meeting, and as I was occasionally on the East Coast and could stop by for a visit, I discovered something even more astounding, namely that Liz actually loved God. I mean, she actually loved God.

Now, like most of you, I had learned from my sainted mother to believe in God, and I had been taught by the Sisters of Mercy to pray to God, and I had heard the first of Jesus’ two great commandments countless times, and I even fancied that I was more or less obeying it. It was not until I met Liz that I realized how extraordinarily rare it is to find someone who actually does what Jesus commands, who actually loves God. Liz loved God. The more I realized this, the more astonishing it was to behold.

As Liz’s friends and family probably know, having a friend or family member who loves God the way Liz did can be confusing and sometimes exasperating. God’s ways are not our ways, and those who passionately love God are often a complete puzzle others. Jesus’ friends and family thought his behavior more than a little strange if you’ll remember.

Befriending someone who loves God is a little like taking a walk in the woods with a hound dog. Every now and then, the dog stops dead in his tracks – his nose to the ground, panting for no apparent reason – or he darts off frantically in a direction perpendicular to the path on which his companion is trudging. Repeated attempts to convince him to give up his foolishness are useless. The dog has found something far more interesting than whatever hum-drum plans for the day his companion might have had. If the dog had one ounce of attention to spare – which of course he wouldn’t – he would probably feel pity for the poor creatures who have to slog through life with noses that are almost entirely useless.

Irreverent as it may be to say so, that’s the way it is with people who love God the way Liz did. The Spirit blows where it will, and long experience teaches them to be prepared to go perpendicular to the flow of things – or vertical to it – on a moment’s notice.

This is one of the reasons why those who love God often do the world the courtesy of going off by themselves – as Liz did – or huddling together in some remote spot, as the monastic lovers of God do. I’m sure my friends the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey who are with us here this morning will forgive me for saying so but monasteries are asylums for the lovers of God. If these extraordinary and exasperating people were allowed to roam the world un-chaperoned , they might frighten the natives. By staying on their reservations these lovers of God can inflict the idiosyncrasies of their vocation on each other, leaving the rest of us to our sundry distractions. Liz, bless her heart, had the soul of a monastic without an explicit monastic vocation. She had to carry her monasticism around with her the way a turtle carries his home on his back.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the 20th century’s towering theological giants, says somewhere: “The only part of earthly love to survive [death] will be the heavenly love that has become incarnate in it.”

If there was a laboratory in which Liz and I transmuted earthly love into heavenly love, it was what we came to call our “port time.” The whole time we were married, unless I was off on one of my travels, at 5 p.m. sharp, we would stop whatever we were doing to pray together and chat quietly for while. It was more prayer time than port time, but it almost always included a glass of port, thus its nickname. Each evening we prayed the Divine Office and a few other prayers. We prayed specifically for those we loved and those we felt were in special need of prayer. We often prayed for those who suffer the worst poverty of all, namely those who have no one to pray for them. We then talked for a while about what we were working on during the day: Liz’s poetry or the memories she was collecting, or some lecture I was preparing or piece of writing I was struggling to get right. Often we read passages to each other from things we had read that day that had left an impression on us.

By beginning our day with Lauds and Mass at St. Joseph’s Abbey and ending it with these unforgettable moments of “port-time,” the earthly love Liz and I had for one another became the vessel in which we distilled – drop by daily drop – a heavenly love of the sort that survives death.

I will continue to begin my day at the Abbey as Liz and I always did and end it, as we did, with “port time,” but especially at port-time I’m sure I will feel, in addition to Liz’s spiritual presence, her physical absence. It is then that I will most miss the truly amazing and utterly unique woman who was for a few short years my dearest friend in all the world. May she rest in Christ’s peace.

And may God bless all of you for being here today and reward you for your many kindnesses to Liz.

Politics, Culture, and Righteous Indignation

Let me preface this rather rambling blogpost with two quick clarifications, to which I may return for further explication when there's time.

First, my concern and that of the Cornerstone Forum is with culture, not politics, and our concern with culture has to do with the enormous role it plays in preconditioning our lives and predisposing us to live and thinking and behave in one way or another. Culture -- or at least one significant aspect of culture -- was what St. Paul was talking about when he warned the Roman Christians to "be not conformed to the spirit of this age." Or, to turn to the trope with which the Book of Revelation begins, every institution as a "presiding spirit," and those who participate in the life of that institution as significantly influenced by that spirit.

SO . . . culture matters. And politics -- especially today -- matters precisely because it shapes and gives legal and moral legitimacy to cultural trends in sundry ways.

That's one point, the second is that in a prior post I followed Rich Lowry's suggestion that some today "desperately need to believe" in certain crises, such as the global warming one. Believe me, I have no such need when it comes to the crises that haunt me: the moral crisis of millions of children been killed in the womb; the religious indifference and renunciation of natality that is sealing Europe's fate; the anthropological absurdity, moral incoherence, and cultural recklessness of destroying the institution of marriage in the name of extending its definition. The list could go on, but my point is that I would be overjoyed if these crises disappeared tomorrow and I could get back to reading and thinking and writing and speaking about the interrelationship between theology and anthropology -- which is what the Cornerstone Forum and I has as our mission.

That said, what follows is a little sampler of thoughts on one of the most troubling features of the spirit of this age.

Ken Blackwell, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, had a piece in the American Spectator today. Here’s part of what he had to say:
President Obama is big on civility. He talks a very good game. But his nominee for a top slot at the Department of Justice -- Dawn Johnsen -- is a leading exponent of incivility. Johnsen worked with the ACLU for years. And she joined ARM -- the so-called Abortion Rights Mobilization -- to strip the Catholic Church of its tax-exempt status because of its pro-life advocacy. The Catholic Church eventually won that case -- but not until it had spent years and millions of dollars defending itself. The Catholic Church was just the biggest ARM target. If it had succeeded against the Catholics, it surely would have come after the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod. . . . 
In North Carolina, the Catholic college Belmont Abbey is threatened with closure for its refusal to dispense contraceptives. Radicals are not impressed with the college president's response: We don't give contraceptives to women staffers -- or to the monks! Here, the local branch of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission smells discrimination. 
In Washington, President Obama's nominee to the federal EEOC, Prof. Chai Feldblum of Georgetown University, is blunt: If there's a clash between the gay agenda and religious liberty, your liberties lose. If confirmed, she would be in position to pursue the pogrom nationwide. . . 
On the West Coast, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) is under assault from the Hastings Law Center of the University of California. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Christian Legal Society v. Martinez this term. Radicals are trying to force CLS to accept officers who are openly homosexual. David French, speaking for the pro-family Alliance Defense Fund, says: "The Left is trying to create a right that destroys a right. . . .
Creating rights to destroy rights. That sums it up well. . . .
In Great Britain the same screws are being tightened in the same direction. Matthew Hanley reports:
In the United Kingdom, a sweeping piece of proposed legislation known as the “Equality Bill” sought to install various homosexual “rights” and cast opposition to them as discrimination. Benedict XVI said it would have imposed “unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.” Here in northern California, one cannot go far without also encountering that same code word – Equality – on lawn signs and bumper stickers. 
It is no coincidence that the same word is employed to further the same broad agenda. It should not be surprising to learn that Spain’s socialist government had “equality” in mind when it recently imposed an educational curriculum that openly states that “nature has given us sex so we can use it with another girl, with a boy or with an animal.” 
It keeps getting worse. Jim Hoft has a piece today in his Gateway Pundit on the “Safe Schools Czar.”
The democrats in Congress are moving closer to passing the most radical anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-family bill through Congress that we have seen in decades. . . . 
HR4530 is a radical Safe Schools Czar’s dream come true. 
Forget reading, writing and arithmetic, Democrats have more important subjects in mind for your child. Democrats are working to push HR 4530 through Congress. This bill will force educators to prohibit harassment, violence and discrimination faced by students based on their sexual orientation. That doesn’t sound so bad, but that’s not all it does. The bill will also allows educators and education officials like Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings to push their radical agenda in the classroom. And, if you don’t like the new policies or object to the program, the bill authorizes the federal government to cut off the educational assistance to schools that fail to enforce the new rules.  Critics of the bill understand the law would give the controversial Safe Schools Czar, Kevin Jennings, almost unlimited authority to mandate sexual indoctrination in public schools at taxpayer expense. It won’t matter what your child is taught at home, this bill will allow radical educators to push their agenda in public schools despite your possible concerns. . . . 
According to Metro Weekly
The bill would require that no student in public schools be “excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” based on the student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also would prohibit harassment based on either characteristic. 
It sounds innocent enough until you look at its real intent. 
The purpose of this bill is not what is being stated, but is quite simply to mandate in public schools one acceptable viewpoint on the issue of homosexuality, using purported violence or harassment as the rationale, and the power of the feds as the hammer. The goal is to silence those who may warn about or object to student expression of homosexuality or gender confusion… The federal governmental intrusion and sweeping new unregulated powers in what are local and state matters are proposed in this bill. Enforcement will primarily be through federal agencies, which will craft new regulations to back up this bill’s provisions with the President’s approval. . . .  
In other words, if you oppose radical sexual material detailing sex between first graders or promoting S&M but the Safe Schools Czar or some other official believes it is appropriate- tough. If you disagree with books romanticizing child rape or books with pictures of men having sex- tough. If you oppose weekend student-teacher seminars with fisting lectures and gay bar guides- tough. If government officials want to promote this in your child’s classroom then you’ll just have to get used to it. 
No one wants to see a child picked on, harrassed or ridiculed, but this bill takes government control to a whole new level. It is a radical’s dream come true. This bill is a direct assault on our nation’s moral fabric.
Which leads us, logically, to these reflections by Mary Eberstadt:
Truth isn’t always stranger than fiction. Sometimes, the facts just run obscenely ahead of one’s darkest fantasies.
Consider the matter of Kevin Jennings, the Obama administration’s positively Orwellian choice to head the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. 
Even the worst pessimists watching Washington, D.C., these days could not have predicted that the ostensible goal of keeping America’s children “safe” in school would come to this. A homosexual activist with a vigorous public record of loathing the religious right — including in words that cannot be repeated in a family newspaper — he is also the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the single most effective activist group working to sexualize the next generation of America’s children at ever-younger ages. 
By “sexualize,” to be specific, I mean what anyone in GLSEN would approve: the proposition that teaching children from kindergarten on up about sex, especially the varieties of homosexual sex, is a good and empowering and liberating thing for kids. Like the consequences of telling kids not to put beans in their noses, the constant bombardment with such sexual material cannot help but put ideas in impressionable minds. 
Yet such bombardment is this Education Department official’s life work. Whether in his activism or in his books like “Telling Tales Out of School: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Revisit Their School Days,” Jenning’s work has consistently aimed at two objectives: forcing not only the normalization but also the celebration of homosexuality on captive public school children from the baby-tooth set on up; and creating an atmosphere in which any children whose parents and churches teach them otherwise are afraid to say so. 
Eberstadt then reflects on the difference between what Thomas Aquinas termed “righteous anger” and the vengeful and impotent forms of venting and ad hominem slurs for which the blogosphere is such a convenient outlet. However important and virtuous it is to avoid the latter, doing so is no excuse for suppressing a legitimate outrage at the massive attack on conventional moral and cultural norms and traditions that, if unchecked, will imperil the emotional, moral and spiritual lives of our children's children. 
Meanwhile, bloated with the wrong kind of anger, we stint on the kind that might actually do some good: “Everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster,” as W.H. Auden observed in a poem on Pieter Breughel’s painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” 
And so it is in Washington as the founder of GLSEN continues to bring his sexually charged messages to the public schools. Many people saw something incredible — an activist who wrote the forward to “Queering Elementary Education,” which details “the importance of including (homo)sexualities in elementary schools,” now put in charge of the well-being of children. 
And instead of getting angry in the right way, many simply moved on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

 Perhaps the message of Ash Wednesday is that we have each been given a very few short years during which to learn to love selflessly, and that the greatest sadness we will ever know will be at the moment when those years are over and we look back on how many opportunities to love we passed up or betrayed. This sadness is synonymous with what the Church calls purgatory. To look back with no remorse at all would be hell, the self-condemnation of a hardened heart.

Ash Wednesday is a reminder that a little remorse now might make us less likely to miss the opportunities to love that await us in this life.

Bye, Bye, Baby . . .

In the previous blog I said that the "population bomb" panic of the last quarter of the 20th century was a major contributing factor in the death of "Europe" -- that is, of the culture represented by that word. Here's why.

As Benedict XVI has often pointed out, the single most reliable indicator of the hope that a culture is able to awaken in its population is the willingness of that population to invest itself in, and make sacrifice on behalf of, the children who will inherit the culture.

Desperate to Believe . . .

Climate alarmists conjured a world where nothing was certain but death, taxes, and catastrophic global warming. They used this presumed scientific certainty as a bludgeon against the skeptics they deemed “deniers,” a word meant to have the noxious whiff of Holocaust denial.
So begins Rich Lowry's piece in the National Review Online about the demise of the "settled science" of anthropogenic global warming.

I suppose I can take some small satisfaction in the fact that I went on record (here and here for instance) as a "denier" prior to the exposé of the massive manipulation and suppression of the scientific data contradicting the AGW dogma. Be that as it may, what I find interesting in Lowry's article is this sentence: "Too many of the creators and guardians of the “consensus” desperately wanted to believe in it."

An example of this is the reluctance on the part of the Pom-Pom Media to even cover the new and shocking revelations. Here, from NewsBusters, is how that stacks up:
[Dr. Phil] Jones [head of the British Climatic Research Unit] also admitted that he and his fellow scientists manipulated figures to hide a decline in crucial tree-ring data thereby questioning the validity of the entire global warming theory.
Despite the seriousness of these revelations, much as what happened when the ClimateGate scandal first broke, with the exception of Fox News, America's media have almost totally boycotted this amazing story:
  • No mention by the New York Times
  • No mention by the Washington Post
  • No mention by USA Today
  • No mention by ANY major U.S. newspaper EXCEPT the Washington Times
  • No mention by the Associated Press
  • No mention by Reuters
  • No mention by UPI
  • No mention by ABC News
  • No mention by CBS News
  • No mention by NBC News
  • No mention by MSNBC 
For its part, CNN FINALLY got around to covering this story with a very brief mention Tuesday.
So we're back to the guardians of the "consensus" needing desperately to believe it. The obvious and most important question about this is: Why did they (do they) so desperately need to believe it? Many have pointed to how lucrative the global warming "crisis" proved to be for research scientists who were willing to toe the line. 

Tom Bethell chimes on that point here:
Those who promoted the bogus certainties of global warming not only sought to upend a whole way of life but came close to doing so. They have been aided by hundreds of well-known politicians, writers, reporters, and politicized scientists. Among politicians, Al Gore is only the best known. In the last category, James Hansen and Michael Mann are among the major U.S. culprits.
Christopher Booker, who has long covered these issues for the Sunday Telegraph and is one of the few British journalists to have done so, calls climate fraud “the greatest scientific scandal of our age.” He notes that the Royal Society, a once great institution founded in 1662, has become “a shameless propagandist for the warmist cause.”
Government funding has been the major subversive force. If you read Science, as I do, you see that the issue the magazine cares about above all others, and editorializes about week after week, is funding. Government funding. The constant concern about money means that Science and other journals feel obliged to keep up a drumbeat of articles that sustain the mood of crisis surrounding a given issue. 
In support of this argument, Bethell adds:
Recently, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University has been the leading promoter of bogus global temperature claims. He manufactured the misleading “hockey stick” temperature graph that eliminated the Medieval Warm Period by cherry-picking tree-ring data. He accuses dissenters of being funded by oil companies and has garnered $6 million in government grants for Penn State. As a climate dissenter rather than a distorter, he would have been vilified, not remunerated. He’s an enemy of science.
One can never overlook venality and careerism, but there were very many people who apparently needed just as desperately to believe in global warming who had no such reasons for their desperation. Something to which Bethell alludes when he writes:
The prolonged deception about warming, and the silence about nuclear power, shows that the warmists’ real interest is in a revolutionary change in the American way of life, not the reduction of emissions.
 A corollary to the search for why so many were so desperate to believe the global warming claims is: Why can we say with a very high degree of certainty that the vast majority of those with no financial or career stakes in the question but who nevertheless "desperately needed to believe" the global warming story were political liberals? Was it, as Bethell implies, that their real interest was "in a revolutionary change in the American way of life?" That, it seems to me is clearly a part of it. But it may be connected to another motivation, perhaps an even less conscious one. So here is another version of some thoughts on this that I have earlier and elsewhere proposed.

To be human is to be a moral creature. We are each endowed with a moral sensor; call it conscience if you like. As we all know, it can be malformed and therefore unreliable, but it cannot be shut down entirely without destroying our humanity. Like a muscle in one's body, the moral sensor needs to be exercised. When it is confronted with morally odious events or realities, it stirs from its slumber. If, however, we learn to subordinate this moral impulse of ours either to some selfish craving of our own or to some ideological censor, then we will have to find something on which to exercise our moral imaginations and about which to feel a moral urgency and perhaps moral outrage. This is so, if for no other reason, because all but the most hopeless nihilists among us do not want to either be or appear to be suffering from moral autism. Now, politically correct multiculturalists will tend to avoid any expression of moral urgency that either calls into question the sacred cows of the left (like abortion) or in any way gives aid and comfort to conservative concerns (like Islamic fanaticism). Moreover, the more one's righteous moral indignation can be indulged without incurring either personal danger or lifestyle inconveniences, the better. If the burden of the moral campaign is that the West bears the greatest responsibility for the moral offense, all the better. Put two and two together and you've got global warming, or, as it came to be called once word got out that the globe was not warming, "climate change," which has been happening for roughly four and a half billion years. 

Which brings us to the second reason the global warming phenomenon had such appeal. (cheery optimist that I am, I speak in the past tense here.) As I noted in an earlier post, one of the global warming alarmists is John Holdren, now president Obama's "science czar." Holdren is typical, however, in that he managed to segue effortlessly to his global warming alarmism from his earlier population bomb alarmism. In the name of each of these causes, he has sounded so extreme an alarm that he has suggested that governments must seriously consider setting aside human rights scruples -- especially with regard to reproduction -- in order to avoid disaster. (As I suggested here, the population bomb scare, and the credulity with which it was adopted all all levels of our public life, massively contributed to the death of Europe as we know it and its eventual Islamization -- no small unintended consequence that.)

Which is related in some way to what many have noted, namely, that Green is the new Red. With the collapse of communism and the tarnishing of communism-lite, the resentment that fueled the latter had to find someplace else to be expressed. The new crisis -- which it would be a "shame to waste" (in the odious words of president Obama's chief of staff) -- and which could be used to stampede a reluctant electorate into re-engineering political and economic life -- was an environmental one. This is what Bethell was suggesting above. 

Anthropogenic environmental destruction can be primarily blamed on those cultures which have the technological wherewithal to have significant environmental consequences. (The native Americans were at least as environmentally destructive as Communist East Germany, and far more so than Exxon, but they lacked the technical capacity to make the destruction consequential.) That being the case, ecological crises are an opportunity for those in high moral dudgeon to fulminate against "enemies" as abstract and as personally non-threatening as corporate greed and the middle-class lifestyle, all the while justifying, in their minds, their indifference toward the far more culturally troubling (aforementioned) symptoms of moral degeneration which had been ideologically immunized from scrutiny by the secular left.  The result was a "cause" in support of which they could feel morally sanctimonious toward western culture and its market economy, coincidentally two things that the Leftists of old (the Reds) always despised. 

Whether the planet is heating or not remains to be seen. If it is, whether this is due to human factors or not also remains to be seen. If and when either issue is truly settled, I will be happy to know the truth and try to accommodate to it. In the meantime, the warnings of those who "desperately need to believe" the worst should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reading the Runes of Rieff's Oracular Prose

"A mixture of transgressive and therapeutic parodies of personal devotion, without intensifications of the interdictory form, now dominate both our cultural and political life," wrote Philip Rieff in his posthumous Charisma, the first draft of which was written in the 1970s:
... as all true discipleship becomes impossible, under these theatrical conditions, so all charismatic authority becomes false, which is the same as to say transgressive -- against the interdictory form rather than an intensification of it. The gimmick itself becomes a masking affect, hiding the absence of genuinely personal authority in the older sense, an absent superiority.
The result?
... the decorum and deportment slowly built upon charismatic authority by credal elites gives way to the therapies of effervescence produced to create action all the more responsive for being without the old weights of conviction. The leader himself becomes weightless, a flickering shifting image. There is nothing of the old monumentalism about him ....
Think about it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Wake Up Call . . .

We have for decades muddled about in the middle, compromising, being bipartisan, and working the hell out of the smaller worries, and we haven't taken a moment to see that we've incrementally gone from Tocqueville's empowered citizens in get-things-done communities to neutered whiners in a nanny state that has a banana-republic future.
So says R.H.J. King in an article today at The American Thinker online.

The Twilight of the Interdicts

Philip Rieff was one of the most original minds of the late 20th century. He often had to forge his on distinct vocabulary in order to address matters that seemed invisible to other scholars. To dip into his work in media res is like falling into Alice's Wonderland, except that what appears to be topsy-turvy world is under the strict control of Rieff's lucidity. Often one doesn't need to parse his prose in order to feel the power of his core insights. As in this passage from his posthumously published Charisma:
Far from offering less and less in which to "believe," Protestantism, at the end of its tether, began to offer more and more, good and evil; thus, in late Protestant culture, the condition was created for the emergence of therapeutic movements, which disbelieve in nothing and practice everything. . . . the interdictory form itself became not merely ridiculous but sick -- moralizing became neurotic. How horrible to have all our post-Protestant immoralists ... setting the tone in a culture destroying itself by the less sophisticated approving of all transgressors as creative, or at least not "uptight."

Left with Platitudes

 It's not always about social justice.

 Those who have paid any attention at all to the Obama administration's religious shell game will not be surprised by a word of it, but the British journalist Adam Shaw takes a look at the code words that are routinely used to wrap the secular left's contempt for religion in religious-sounding rhetoric. 

Shaw writes:

Once again the National Prayer Breakfast has taken place, and again the Obama administration has taken a swipe at religious belief.

In line with last year's address, where his speech consisted almost entirely of issues of social justice, President Obama used this year's address to speak of brotherhood and civility. An atheist may object, "Wait, but you don't need to be religious to understand brotherhood and to be civil." He would be correct. Obama's address exhibits a characteristic of the left's view of religion: sacrificing the vertical axis of faith (the praise and rightful worship of God) for an exaggerated emphasis on a vague understanding of the horizontal axis of faith (love of neighbor).

In order to have a coherent religious belief, the two axes must be balanced equally. If not, the result is either an irrelevant set of ideas that don't change anything or, in this case, a doctrine of social justice wrapped up in sentimental spirituality. The president, a man firmly rooted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright's version of the socio-political Liberation Theology, entrenches his address in the horizontal axis, declaring that the all-important civility we seek can be attained only by "stretching out of our dogmas." 

Obama's implication is that dogma is a restriction, a shackle to be broken out of, yet for most religious believers, the opposite is true. For example, Christian dogmas from the belief that Christ is the true God to the inherent dignity of the human person, from the belief in heaven to the Resurrection, are sources of great joy and truth for Christians.

If we replace the word "dogma" with "principle," which is what a dogma is, then we see how bizarre it is that Mr. Obama would call for religious believers to jettison them. Why should President Obama call upon people to drop their beliefs unless he sees them as intrinsically bad and restrictive?  To see dogma in this way is to consequently see religion itself as nothing but a negative force that one must shake off in order freely join Obama in his land of civility. This distrust of dogma and the religions that proclaim them leads to the address of Hillary Clinton. . . .
Mrs. Clinton jumps on the bandwagon of contrasting faith with religion, stating that "across the world, we see organized religion standing in the way of faith, perverting love, undermining that message."

Certainly there are some individuals and some religions that will attack people and their rights, but Mrs. Clinton does not say "some religions" or "some people." She says "organized religion." To blame such acts on "organized religion" in general is a grave but unsurprising generalization that the left frequently makes. By using a syncretistic approach and grouping all of the varied religions together into "religion," the left then places them at odds with the vaguer "faith," painting faith as good and religion as violent. . . .

The left has always had contempt for "dogma" and "organized religion" and has tried consistently to reduce religious belief to little more than spiritual wrapping for social justice. Leftists consistently attack those who refuse to comply. Nancy Pelosi sought to reinvent the history of the Church's teaching on abortion, Obama adviser Harry Knox recently reaffirmed his statement that the Pope is "hurting people in the name of Jesus," and Martha Coakley implied that Catholics who aren't prepared to drop their principles (or should that be "stretch out of their dogma"?) shouldn't work in emergency rooms.
The problem isn't just that this shows a profound ignorance of both the constitutional order and the religious tradition which inspired it, but also that it blinds those holding these absurd views to the true nature of the American experiment while beclouding their capacity to recognize the religious threats to that experiment at home and abroad.
Shaw's whole piece is here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Morning Thoughts for Valentine's Day

In his book on the theology of Romano Guardini, Hans Urs von Balthasar has this to say about the Resurrection:
Everything depends on this breakthrough, on the raising up of the whole human being from the grip of death and into the eternal life of God -- which incidentally, is why Christianity is the one universal religion that is not hostile toward the human body. And precisely this is the decisive criterion: the ultimate truth about God the Creator and about man is decided by the position one takes toward the human body. [my italic emphasis]
This, of course, is the same von Balthasar who elsewhere has written that sexuality "stands somewhere in the center of Christianity." And speaking of sexual intercourse itself, he goes on to say that the more it is trivialized in the post-Christian world "the more precious it is to Christians." 

For another view of things, one can look to the Islamic world. For example:
Saudi Arabia's religious police have banned anything related to the lovers holiday and warned store owners not to sell such merchandise. (Los Angeles Times
Hundreds of people have gathered in the Pakistani city of Karachi to demonstrate against Valentine's Day. (ABC News - Australia
Indonesian Muslims told don't mark Valentine's Day (Taiwan News) 
A council of Muslim leaders in Russia's Nizhny Novgorod region released a statement Wednesday calling for a "ban" on celebrating Valentine's Day, which is growing in popularity in Russia although it is not an official holiday. (Google News
Jamie Glazov gives a broader overview: 
Christian overseas workers living in the Kingdom from the Philippines and other countries are taking extra precautions, heeding the Saudis’ warning to them specifically to avoid greeting anyone with the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” or exchanging any gift that reeks of romance. A spokesman for a Philippine workers group commented: “We are urging fellow Filipinos in the Middle East, especially lovers, just to celebrate their Valentine’s Day secretly and with utmost care.”
The Iranian despots, meanwhile, are trying to make sure the Saudis don’t outdo them in suffocating Valentine’s Day. Iran’s “morality” police order shops to remove heart-and-flower decorations and images of couples embracing on this day — and anytime around this day. In Pakistan, the student wing of the fundamentalist Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami has called for a complete ban on Valentine’s Day celebrations. Khalid Waqas Chamkani, a leader in the party, calls it a “shameful day.”  -- Glazov's whole piece is here.
I am as wary and weary as many of the tawdry way the mystery of nuptiality has been exploited by the West's sexual revolutionaries, but both the antipathy for Valentine's Day in the Islamic world and its subversion by the sexual revolutionaries in the West are reactions against the very idea of sexual complementarity that Valentine's Day properly celebrates. If Islam rejects sexual complementarity because it presupposes the equal dignity of men and women, postmodern relativists reject it because it presupposes as indispensable to the mystery the communion of one man and one woman.

The Church, as always, is the sign of contradiction. Which von Balthasar fully recognizes when he is bold enough to say: 
Because of her unique structure, the Catholic Church is perhaps humanity’s last bulwark of genuine appreciation of the difference between the sexes.  In the dogma of the Trinity, the Persons must be equal in dignity ... [and] ... in a similar way, the Church stresses the equal dignity of man and woman, so that the extreme oppositeness of their functions may guarantee the spiritual and physical fruitfulness of human nature.
Happy Valentine's Day. May we all come to our senses.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We could use more judges like this.

An old friend just forwarded something to me that I want to pass along. It is the record of the sentencing the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid by Judge William Young. It reads as follows:
January 30, 2003 United States vs. Reid. Judge Young: Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you.
On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General.
On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutive with the other. That's 80 years
On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years consecutive to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 for the aggregate fine of $2 million.
The Court accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines.
The Court imposes upon you the $800 special assessment.
The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further.
This is the sentence that is provided for by our statues. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence. Let me explain this to you.
We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect.
Here in this court , where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice, you are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.
And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.
So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.
In a very real sense Trooper Santigo had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and he said you're no big deal. You're no big deal.
What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing. And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know.
It seems to me you hate the one thing that is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.
Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely.
It is for freedom's sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We are about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden, pay any price, to preserve our freedoms.
Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done.
The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.
See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. You know it always will.
Custody Mr. Officer. Stand him down.
This is almost Churchillian, especially by comparison with multicultural equivocations which have become de rigueur today.

Obama's College Radicalism

Dr. John C. Drew knew Barack Obama during his college days at Occidental College. What he has to say is I think important. Not that many don't have opinions in our youths that change later, but in this case the ideological fixation seems to be such that it still has pertinence. If there were no William Ayers and Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Mr. Obama's later years, Dr. Drew's story could be ignored more easily.

I think this story "has legs" as they say, and it is partly because if you listen to Dr. Drew I think you will think, as I did, that he seems a very soft-spoken and level-headed man. He has obviously wanted to tell this story for sometime, but he seems very credible. What he has to say might mean for the country today is what people will have to figure out for themselves.

more about " » The B-Cast Interview: ...", posted with vodpod

If post-partisan doesn't appeal how about post-presidential?

Peggy Noonan's column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal Online began with her musings on president Obama's remark to Diane Sawyer about the possibility that he might be a one-term president. The Noonan piece began this way:
There is, I think, an amazing political fact right now that is hiding in plain sight and is rich with implications. It was there in President Obama's Jan. 25, pre-State of the Union interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, who was pressing him about his political predicaments. "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president," he said. "And I—and I believe that."
Now this is the sort of thing presidents say, and often believe they believe, but at the end of the day they all want two terms. Except that Mr. Obama shows every sign of meaning it, and if he does, it explains a lot about his recent decisions and actions. 
Noonan went on to suggest that Obama's reluctance to move to the center -- even if that were the only way to save his presidency -- was due to his deep and abiding belief in the far left agenda the nature of which he has only slightly managed to camouflage from the American people. But another explanation occurs to me, albeit one that amounts to psychologizing the president.

I think Mr. Obama is, as many have suggested, a narcissist, and I don't mean that in as disparaging a sense as it must seem. I have always had grave reservations about Barack Obama's political views and his honesty, but when I say he's a narcissist what I mean is that he thrives on the rock-star aspect of election campaigns, where (especially with the help of a teleprompter and Chicago-style backroom political hardballers) he can turn mellifluous  phrases and appeal to the collectively primed emotions of his (often self-selected) audiences, reveling in the applause and acclaim.

Compared to this, governing; dealing with legislative and administrative details, conferring with political leaders in working sessions, and all the horrendously difficult and humdrum reality of effective governance . . . compared to the glories of campaigning, governing is, for someone addicted as I think Mr. Obama is to the roar of the crowd, simply boring. I think the job of being president, compared to the joy of running for president, is losing interest for him. So when he speaks of the possibility of being a one-term president, I think he might rather look forward to joining Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as a life-long free-agent celebrity. He may well muse -- and probably rightly so -- that in the days ahead his star status will be vastly greater than the other former Democratic presidents.

There is a reason why Mr. Obama has given vastly more speeches in his first year of office than any two-term president has ever given in eight years. (Correct me if I'm wrong about that.) The reason is, as he rather immodestly said about his famous address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention: in his own estimation at least, he's good at it. Why not long for a life of what you're good at, uninconvenienced by the tedium of having the face a dozen intractable problems every day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Some interesting thoughts on Iran

This morning on the Corner -- a National Review blog site -- Robert Costa had a short piece (here) dealing with Newt Gingrich's thoughts about how to respond to the radical Iranian regime's push toward a deliverable nuclear weapon. Given all the hand-wringing that has been going on about that, I thought Gingrich had two very good ideas. The first of the two is refreshingly new -- at least it's new to me -- and the second one seems workable and practical.

What everyone is looking for is an alternative to a military strike, something compared with which only a nuclear Iran would be more catastrophic. In light of that, here's what Costa wrote about Gingrich's thoughts on the subject:
Gingrich has two ideas for Obama: “We should announce that any person caught on film engaged in violence against protesters in Iran will be brought to trial under a new regime. Let it be known to every Iranian security guard that they are risking their life if they go out and kill a protester.” Second, he says, “if you simply blockade Iran’s flow of gasoline, you can bring the country to a halt in 60 to 90 days, since they only have one refinery.”

Time is of the essence, Gingrich concludes. “Iran doesn’t have to deliver a weapon by some sophisticated missile, but simply could put it in a ship. These are people who will acquire nuclear weapons and will use them. Every day it gets worse and more dangerous. Nothing has changed; nothing will change, until we change the regime.”

Two Men from Illinois: A Study in Contrast

My friend, Keith Ross, has an marvelous and inspiring piece on the moral character of Abraham Lincoln which includes this anecdote from Lincoln's early political life, taken Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals":
Goodwin reports that in February of 1855, after several weeks delay due to severe snow storms, the Illinois Senate was seated to elect the next Senator. After the first ballot, Lincoln led with 45 votes (a majority of 51 was needed), James Shields received 41, and Congressman Lyman Trumbull held 5 votes. Trumbull was aligned with the antislavery party and expected he would eventually have to yield his votes to Lincoln. After nine ballots, Lincoln held a high of 47 votes, but the five voters for Trumbull, led by Norman Judd of Chicago, refused to yield and give Lincoln the victory.
At this point Lincoln realized that the only way for the antislavery coalition to win was to yield his votes to Trumbull and allow Trumbull to be the next Senator from Illinois. According to Goodwin, Lincoln “advised his floor manager, Stephen Logan, to drop him for
Trumbull. Logan refused at first, protesting the injustice of the candidate with the much larger vote giving in to the candidate with the smaller vote.” Lincoln was adamant and said, “You will lose both Trumbull and myself and I think the cause in this case is to be preferred to men.”
Trumbull became the next Senator from Illinois and Lincoln “expressed no hard feelings toward either Trumbull or Judd. He deliberately showed up at Trumbull’s victory party, with a smile on his face and a warm handshake for the victor.” As a young man attempting to forge his career, to step back without resentment and allow a colleague with 5 votes to prevail when he was holding a near decisive total displays a unique ability to put a higher good ahead of personal desires. The point of the vignette is not the outcome, but Lincoln’s bold decision. Yet Goodwin reports a happy ending in that “Neither Trumbull nor Judd would ever forget Lincoln’s generous behavior. Indeed, both men would assist him in
his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1858, and Judd would play a critical role in his run for the presidency in 1860.”
Lincoln's character shines through here and it stands out even more strikingly in comparison with the Illinois politician who has taken such pains to encourage a comparison between himself and Lincoln. But the comparison with the 16th president hardly works in favor of the 44th. For Keith's piece reminded me of some things I read a couple of years ago on the CNN website and some earlier news items related to it. The CNN article is from May of 2008:
In his first race for office, seeking a state Senate seat on Chicago's gritty South Side in 1996, Obama effectively used election rules to eliminate his Democratic competition.

As a community organizer, he had helped register thousands of voters. But when it came time to run for office, he employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers.

The move denied each of them, including incumbent Alice Palmer, a longtime Chicago activist, a place on the ballot. It cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district.

"That was Chicago politics," said John Kass, a veteran Chicago Tribune columnist. "Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right? It is how Barack Obama destroyed his enemies back in 1996 that conflicts with his message today. He may have gotten his start registering thousands of voters. But in that first race, he made sure voters had just one choice."

Obama's challenge was perfectly legal, said Jay Stewart of the Chicago's Better Government Association. Although records of the challenges are no longer on file for review with the election board, Stewart said Obama is not the only politician to resort to petition challenges to eliminate the competition.

"He came from Chicago politics," Stewart said. "Politics ain't beanbag, as they say in Chicago. You play with your elbows up, and you're pretty tough and ruthless when you have to be. Sen. Obama felt that's what was necessary at the time, that's what he did. Does it fit in with the rhetoric now? Perhaps not."
Then there's this from the Chicago Tribune:
In the Democratic primary, Obama found himself the overwhelming beneficiary when the campaign of former securities trader Blair Hull crashed in the aftermath of Hull’s release of court files from a messy divorce. Though Obama has been a passive beneficiary of Ryan’s latest problems, the Democrat’s campaign worked aggressively behind the scenes to fuel controversy about Hull’s filings.
Finally, a blogger at the time wrote:
…..the Tribune finally admitted that it was Axelrod and the Obama campaign that brought pressure on the press to demand the unsealing of M. Blair Hull divorce records, which had had their contents leaked to media outlets by the Obama campaign even earlier. The Obama campaign also helped orchestrate a demonstration by women’s groups demanding Hull’s withdrawal from the race. Coincidentally, this was the same weekend Obama’s first commercials hit the airwaves. Interestingly (or maybe not), the same exact thing happened to another of his rivals–Jack Ryan.
All of us who follow and revere the work of our friend René Girard are keenly aware of the power of mimetic influence. Let's hope and pray, therefore, that future political leaders choose the right Illinois politician as their model.