Monday, September 30, 2002

TWO VIEWS OF COPS VS. PROTESTERS: Julian Sanchez on this year's crop of globonuts; the Old Oligarch on the 2000 protest season. Even though I didn't come close to the actual rallies this weekend, the police presence was notably more imposing than I've ever seen it (and I've lived here all my life). I heard helicopters overhead literally all day Saturday--couldn't look up without seeing one. I note that the O.O. is generally not fond of the D.C. police; I certainly don't trust them to oh, say, find a body. I do wonder why anyone thought this might be a good idea.
"SUITED FOR CHANGE"--interesting.
THE POLITICS OF DANCING, PART FOUR OR SO. Part something-or-other in an occasional series in which I relate pop lyrics to the workings of my own tangled cerebellum. Previous installments include: theological reflections on the Cramps' "Eyeball in My Martini"; Cat Power and postmodernism; and Queen's "Princes of the Universe" and beauty. This time: Elvis Costello's "Brilliant Mistake," as a preliminary to a more in-depth post on America (probably later this week). The song is too long to post the lyrics, but you can find them here. You can find a previous post on America here. For now, I just want to throw out some statements, some of which I mostly agree with, some of which I mostly disagree with, to be riffed on later. Feel free to email me about any of these; your comments will be incorporated into the longer post.

America is the name of our dream.
America is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
The sun never sets on Coca-Cola.
America is a nation with the soul of a church.
America is the great antidote to the poisons of enthusiasm and superstition.
It is the eternal destiny of America to remain forever young.
I feel a blogwatch on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older
Turn the switch and check the number
Leave it on when in bed I slumber ...

The Agitator: Scroll about for lots and lots and LOTS of mail about the Drug War.

Colby Cosh: Did you know Christopher Hitchens testified to the Vatican about Mother Theresa's cause for canonization? Neither did I. Plus more stuff about "Inappropriately Touched by an Angel." Via Relapsed Catholic.

Unqualified Offerings: Yet more war confusion and weirdness. It's fortunate that no one cares what I think about this, since I'm still totally unsure about the whole Iraq thing. Hussein tried to kill our former president. We've been poking him with a sharp stick, and if you do that long enough, you have to either shoot the dog or get bit. On the other hand, I really don't think it's in our long-term best interests to be (and be seen as) jetting around the world knocking off any scuzzball who begins amassing uranium. Don't know that that means we shouldn't act in certain short-term crises, which we may be in/have created/a lot of both. Am now leaning pro-war, but still confused, unhappy, and all the rest. Yeargh. But this was supposed to be a blogwatch; UO has posts on two kinds of anti-war stances; uranium in Turkey, part one; part two, with theories about what's going on over there. Plus he pointed me to this necessary post from Amygdala about unsettling Israeli settlement stats.
"I'd like to take you out in a monster-free city."
"I'd like that."

--Discussion between man and woman as they look out a skyscraper window at a giant flying monster on its nest, "Gamera: Guardian of the Universe"

Friday, September 27, 2002

SO PUT ANOTHER DIME IN THE JUKEBOX, BABY. I said I was gonna talk about "rock'n'roll conservatism." And here it is.

RNRC is the result of a five-way friendship and alliance: The Rat, Shamed, Russo, me, and a blogless law student. We've known each other for six years now: lots of vigorous debate (and french-fry theft) in pizza parlors, lots of common-room discussions lasting 'til the slate-grey hour of dawn. We started in very different places, both politically and philosophically: two Objectivists, two secular Jewish liberals, and a relativist punk feminist. We're still in different places philosophically. One of us is an atheist, one is a Gnostic/atheist, one is a Conservative Jew, I'm Catholic, and I don't know what the heck to call Russo. (Deist? Platonist?) Politically, though, we've converged. Here I'll lay out some principles and some practical applications that I think all five of us could sign our names to. Most of it will probably be pretty familiar to regular readers of this site, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have it all here for easy reference.

Notes: I haven't vetted this with the gang yet; it's the result of lots of discussion with them, but they may well write in to say that actually they won't sign their names to some fool thing I said. In which case I'll let you, the readers, know. Also, although I may not have time to reply as fully as I'd like, I'd definitely welcome your responses on this.

PRINCIPLES: 1) View political questions from the vantage point of the needy, the oppressed, the unwanted, and the poor. This doesn't mean that the least powerful person, or the biggest victim, is right in any given situation. Victimhood isn't a contest and suffering isn't an excuse. Nonetheless, rock'n'roll conservatism focuses on poor people and treats them as agents of their own destinies, not statistics in bureaucratic machinations. (Here's another statement of principle that gets at some of these issues.)

2) Policies that promote responsibility are essential. Personal responsibility is needed as much by the rich as by the poor--and vice versa. Policies that promote dependence or dissolve loyalties should be scrapped.

3) The family--consisting at least of a married couple and their children, with the possible addition of various extended family members--is the foundation of a free society and the best way to teach individuals to love and trust. Not the only way--we're not fatalists, and we know lots of children of divorced parents who have built strong relationships (both friendships and marriages). But the best way.

4) Dynamic, freely chosen, spontaneously organized solutions are, in general, preferable to top-down governmental solutions.

5) Property rights are human rights.

6) Judges should avoid, to the extent that this is possible, making law from the bench. Judges are not to gauge and implement societal "moral evolution" (which somehow always seems to evolve the way the judges want it to!). If popular morality has changed, let the people express that at the ballot box--don't paste Gallup polls, or your own policy preferences, into the Constitution.

7) War is a just and sometimes necessary response to attack. War can sometimes, but very rarely, also be an instrument of liberation that the U.S. should use even when our interests are not directly threatened. We reject imperialism, even when it's cloaked as "nation-building." The U.S. government, and also ordinary citizens, need to think creatively about how we can best protect ourselves, preserve our freedom, and combat jihadist Islam. "Regime change" is needed trhoughout much of the Middle East, but that change must build on an internal liberalizing movement. Ways to promote that liberalization include but are not limited to free trade, human rights activism, negative international publicity, spreading Internet technology, pressuring governments to allow missionary work, arming those internal resistance movements that are pro-freedom and non-terrorist (although this is not something the U.S. has historically been stellar at doing, viz. Aristide, the KLA), and, where prudent, assassination and invasion. The last, especially, is rarely the best option, especially when seeking long-term change.

8) We embrace America--neither grudgingly, as some hyperconservatives do, nor uncritically.

9) We love rock'n'roll. Popular culture is not some vast wasteland clearly fenced off from lush, vibrant High Culture. Not every TV show we like is conservative just because we like it; the attempt to wring wholesome values out of every pop-cult pleasure is doomed to both failure and condescension. But popular culture, from "Malcolm in the Middle" to Nirvana, can offer pleasure, artistic accomplishment, and insight. We're engaged with pop culture because a) we like it, b) it's fun, and c) it's often much more aesthetically and philosophically acute than its detractors acknowledge. In that order.

10) All neighborhoods should be policed as intently as rich ones, criminals should serve more of their sentences, and defendants' and prisoners' human rights (including the right to competent counsel) should be protected (which they aren't now, not nearly enough). We need serious reform efforts against rape and other violence in prison. We need a greater emphasis on rehabilitation. And we need safe streets. These goals are not mutually incompatible.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS: 1) Free trade is the default position, even with dictatorships. Trade is generally preferable to sanctions because it helps expand opportunities, gives people at least one aspect of their lives where they have greater control, and helps build a middle class, often the group most resistant to tyranny. I'm not sure if we all agree as to specific cases like Cuba, China, and Iraq. I oppose sanctions on all three (but have no idea what I would have thought of sanctions on apartheid South Africa--I honestly just don't know enough about it), but I would add that the U.S. needs to seriously step up our enforcement of our laws against importing goods made with slave labor. Oh, and tariffs are beyond lame.

2) Basic policy stuff: Welfare reform should be extended, not curtailed; farm subsidies should be ended as fast as is politically possible; corporate welfare should be scuttled as much as possible. (I'm not naive enough to think that it can be done away with completely.) The government should not prop up ailing enterprises or (especially!) industries. We support school vouchers.

3) Marijuana should be legalized, and the War on Drugs (with all the attendant warping of our criminal justice system--"no-knock" raids and the rest of it) should be ended. I'm not sure we all agree on which other drugs should be legalized.

4) We're all pro-life (even though all five of us supported legal abortion when we met). We may differ on exactly what legal restrictions on abortion we support (I'm not sure whether we differ or not), but the basic anti-abortion stance is an integral part of our advocacy for those in need. If we kill an unborn child because she's "unwanted," how can we advocate for abused children, prisoners, the homeless, the mentally ill, and others who are often deemed "unwanted" by their families or society?

5) Marriage should be strengthened. Although this is mostly not a governmental task, marriage is one of the areas where we're not libertarians--we don't want the separation of marriage and state. You can see one take on marriage reform, which I think all five of us would sign on to (and which doesn't expand state power, by the way) here; most of the proposals in the "how we can save marriage" sections of The Case for Marriage and The Abolition of Marriage also are good, though Gallagher supports some state-run solutions (like marriage counseling) that we don't support.

6) Most of what should be done should be done by private groups--pregnancy centers, prison ministries, immigrant support networks, entrepreneurial-assistance groups, marriage mentoring, helping prostitutes leave the streets, ROSCAs, and much more. Like punk rockers, we believe in D.I.Y.--Do It Yourself.

AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT: We don't agree on the death penalty, war with Iraq, and various gay rights things (I support ending the miltary ban on gays but disagree with most other gay rights stuff). And probably lots of other stuff I'm forgetting.

This post is just a start--I know we'll flesh out many of these points, together and separately, if the Messiah tarries.
TWO BIZARRE ITEMS FROM AZERBAIJAN: Via the Keston Institute (sign up for their e-newsletter! send them money!): AZERBAIJAN: THIRD TIME LUCKY FOR STALLED BOOK IMPORT? (27 Sept) The Baptist church in the capital Baku is hoping its third application to import 3,000 copies of the Book of Proverbs will be successful, but the State Committee in charge of compulsory censorship of all religious literature (see separate KNS article) - has only given permission for 500 copies to be released. It has not explained why the State Committee should decide how many copies of any publication a religious community needed. Pastor Ilya Zenchenko, head of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan, said the Baptists could only speculate as to why the committee had restricted the quantity. "Maybe they don't want it to be in Azerbaijan," he declared. "It's a very beautiful book with nice illustrations. Solomon is very popular in Islam and is respected as a prophet. Maybe they're afraid we'll give out the book to people."

AZERBAIJAN: OFFICIAL OUTLINES RELIGIOUS CENSORSHIP PROCEDURE. (27 Sept) The head of the "expertise" department of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations has told Keston News Service that his department checks between 20 and 30 religious books, magazines and tapes every week before authorising their publication or import, but insists that "This is not censorship. We just give our expert conclusion as to whether each publication is OK or not." Department
officials check religious publications brought in for approval by religious communities, copies of religious books and magazines confiscated from travellers entering Azerbaijan and religious publications sent to them by customs when they open all parcels of books entering the country by post.
Is this last goodbye?
Do you know the reason why?
I really don't watch your double edged blog...

Wow, Slant 6 lyrics look so teen-girl-angsty when you just write 'em out.... On the actual album they sound so hard-edged....

Amptoons: An "open letter blogburst" against war on Iraq. Frankly, I'm still not certain enough of my position to write to the Congressbeasts I don't have. So I'm staying out of this for now. If I make up my mind (speaking of sounding like an angsty teen girl!), I'll take whatever action I can to promote the strategy I think best. ANYWAY, if you are more firmly against the coming war, click there.

Ted Barlow: Harkin weirdness. The comments are a must-read here since there have been a lot of "developments" since we last checked in with our farm-welfare-queen Hawkeye Senator. And there's quite a bit more here if you scroll around.

Unqualified Offerings: Good basic post on Christopher Hitchens's last Nation column. Will read column soon, but must run now.
TAILGUNNER CHUCK SCHUMER: Are there any people over the age of four who could pass this kind of hostile, "We know you're guilty, we just don't know what you did yet" hyperscrutiny? Why not just say you won't vote for any Bush nominees ever, nyah nyah nyah--why drag nominees through this excruciating public humiliation? Oh right--if Schumer said what he was really after, that might cost him votes. I hope voters see through him.

More on Estrada here and here (scroll around, there are several good posts, esp. from Jonathan Adler). Gah.
"You used your own granddaughter to give birth to a race of army elves?"
--Shocked department-store Santa to Nazi scientist, "Elves"

Thursday, September 26, 2002

BUH? SNUH?: Jonah Goldberg says something weird: "I think Dennis Kozlowski, the disgraced former CEO of Tyco, is simply a criminal and, when convicted, he should go to jail for a long time. Anyway, my absolute favorite tidbit from the tales of his looting spree hasn't gotten much attention. At his now infamous birthday party for his wife in Sardinia. The party featured waiters in togas and faux gladiators. And, they had a full-size ice-sculpture version of Michelangelo's 'David' which had vodka flowing from its you-know-what. Can you imagine putting that on your expense account? That's what the era of Clinton-greed brought us."

Whoa there tiger. I'm so very glad Clinton is out of the White House, but in what sense can rich men's risque (a.k.a. idiotic) hijinks be blamed on Bill? In 1991, were high-livin' CEOs typically chaste, dutiful, and unlikely to think a vodka-peeing (or whatever) David was cool? Toward the beginning of Maggie Gallagher's Enemies of Eros, a young woman recounts her surprise and disappointment when she learned that some male execs of her acquaintance had attended a party with--I can't remember if it was a nudie ice sculpture, or a nudie fountain, or maybe some truly dubious thing involving a hired female and whipped cream--but the point is, it was gross. And she was shocked that men she knew might do gross, objectifying, frat-boy things. (This took place during the Reagan years, by the way.) Gallagher concluded that the young woman was naive--she was right to be upset, but wrong to be surprised. And Goldberg seems to be equally naive.
"LIBERAL? WHAT IS LIBERAL?": From the B-movie extravaganza, "Reagan Island." (Scroll down for explanation...)

I just finished writing a freelance piece (about the Middle East) in which I used the terms "liberalizing" and "liberal reform" rather, uh, liberally. I used these as shorthand for "Bill of Rights-type freedoms," basically. Every now and then I'm reminded that this site could be more or less accurately described as "conservative" (the thing in the description box), "liberal" (as in "classical liberal"), or even, at a stretch, "libertarian." (OK, "libertarian-leaning" or "libertarian-influenced" is probably better.) None of them fit perfectly (and why should I expect to find a ready-made political identity waiting for me on the rack at TJ Maxx?), and all give some false impressions. I'm OK with that because I think my writing speaks for itself, and because really, what are my options? I can't make up a word like "jfaoheihah" and use that to denote my political beliefs; I'm stuck with words that already exist, words that people understand.

Partly because of this lack of prefab political identity, I'm always intrigued by people trying to "rescue" or "reclaim" the word "liberal." I usually use "liberal" to mean "classical liberal." One of my big political-philosophy interests/projects is refounding political liberalism (a.k.a. Bill of Rights-type freedoms...) on a basis other than a) Enlightenment rationalism, b) utilitarianism, c) the "Harm Principle," or d) relativism. Father Richard Neuhaus of First Things has written quite a bit about this. Many of the books I list here work to show that liberalism can and should be based on principles like enhancing loyalty, encouraging personal responsibility, and forming close ties between people; here's what you might call a beta version of my current beliefs.

But although politics is not metaphysics, and people with radically different metaphysical foundations can come to the same political views, a liberalism that rejects rationalist (when I say this you should be thinking Voltaire, by the way) or utilitarian foundations will look different from what we typically think of as "classical liberalism." Another drawback of "classical liberalism" as a political rallying cry is that it is musty, turned toward the past and not the future. It is a term that almost screams, "I wasn't made for times like this!" It sounds like a subsection of a political science department, not like a vigorous contemporary political movement. It does not reflect the heavy influence of Hayek and other theorists of spontaneous order or dynamism; it doesn't reflect the heavy Christian and Jewish intellectual influences on my thinking and that of my closest political allies; it sounds like a philosophy that can talk about abstract nouns like "free expression" but not the Internet, "the rights of women" but not marriage, "foreign entanglements" but not nuclear war, and "the people" but not pop culture. The most obvious problem, of course, is that most people who say "liberal" in the US today mean "socialist." (And lots of people say "socialist" and mean "compassionate." And vice versa.) Perhaps the main reason I call this blog conservative rather than liberal is that, as I've said before, I think it will be easier to transform the conservative movement than the contemporary liberal (Left) movement, or even the libertarian movement (which is too beholden to an idea of liberty as license). This seems to be true in part because "conservative" is a much more flexible word in contemporary political discourse--more so than "liberal," and definitely more so than "libertarian."

So why do I feel like I need a name for the thing I think? Well, a movement needs a rallying cry. It needs a shorthand for its principles. In the end, a name will emerge; I'm less concerned about that, more concerned about actually drawing all the principles together under some umbrella so that I can make the connections between them clearer. For the moment, I'm going with "rock'n'roll conservatism," which is weird but provocative. ("You're ugly but you intrigue me," as they say.)

Argh, I meant to make this a post about what RNRC actually is, but I have gotten very little sleep lately, so I'm worried that my head will thunk down on the keyboard. As Nietzsche wrote, "Blessed are the sleepy ones: for they shall drop off." Things will be much less wild and woolly here tomorrow, so I will be back then with a statement of principle. And I should be back to regular posting volume then too. Don't touch that dial!
"HIGH NOON": Saw this last week at the American City Diner. Good movie (and good music, which is still stuck in my head). Very strange to watch right now, since it plays like a pro-invading-Iraq tract. The situation actually seems much more analogous to US vs. Iraq than to the Cold War context in which the movie was originally made. You can find slams on the UN, the US Council of Catholic Bishops (or any other Christian group that can neither condemn the use of force nor muster courage), and people who argue that Dubya is heading to Baghdad to work out his personal issues with his father. Now, I still adhere to the tentatively anti-war-on-Iraq position I held before I saw the movie; I'm just noting that the pro-war message is unavoidable. I disliked Amy Kane; not sure if I was supposed to. Her relationship with hero-husband Will was not fleshed out well--at the beginning, it seemed like there was some pre-existing tension between them (witness his reluctance to embrace her in public), but that was never either explained or played out. The Mexican senora was a stereotype trying to be an archetype, but I took to her anyway. The minor characters aren't as well-developed as in, say, "The Manchurian Candidate" (where even bit players get distinctive personalities), but almost--they're unusually distinctive, which was great. And, obviously, the storyline is moving. Og like.

I thought the City Paper capsule review was odd, though, in that it slammed the movie for its "liberal" cliches. Now, I assume they mean "Cold War liberal," of the Lionel and Diana Trilling stripe perhaps, but still, I didn't see anything especially liberal about the flick. It seems like the position the movie stakes out could be proclaimed by almost anybody except a pacifist or (given its element of political allegory) a contemporary leftist of the Katha Pollitt stripe. (I can practically hear her condemning Kane for using "protecting the safety of women to walk down the street in daylight" as a transparent excuse for his own bloodlust.)
FUN STUFF FROM THIS WEEK'S REGISTER: Did you know this about Archbishop Fulton Sheen? "As bishop of Rochester, Archbishop Sheen fought for jobs for minorities and ministered to the black community, despite having a cross burned on the front lawn of his residence and a car vandalized. He also opened the first black hospital in Mobile, Ala., offering prenatal and maternity care."

And, from an interview with the author of How Not to Share Your Faith: The Seven Deadly Sins of Catholic Apologetics and Evangelization: "Some apologists think faith is simply about presenting strong arguments. They confuse our arguments for the faith with the faith we argue for, so we come to think if our arguments falter, there is something wrong with the faith. There is also the danger of trying to come up with novel argumentation. The danger is that people can come to confuse these ideas with the faith itself. Sometimes the ideas don't hold up."
"Kiss? What is kiss?"
--Scantily-clad island woman to washed-ashore sailor, "Pagan Island"

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

WOW. If you're Catholic, Amy Welborn has some hilarious comments for you.... I want these shows now!!! I nominate Zorak to play the "Scully" figure on "The SSPX Files." "Refute Me Or Be Kicked" is also really great, Zorak could do that too.
MUSLIM COUNTRIES: NEWLY OPEN TO CHRISTIAN EVANGELIZATION? Via Telford Work, who has interesting comments.
IF YOU COVER YOUR BOOBIES, THE TERRORISTS WILL HAVE WON. "Gore criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft for his attitude toward civil liberties. He got laughs when he mocked Ashcroft for spending $8,000 on draperies to cover the bare breast of a statue called The Spirit of Justice at the Justice Department building.

"'He put Lady Justice in a burqa,' Gore quipped."
"The survival command center at the Pentagon has disclosed that a ghoul can be killed by a shot in the head. ...Officials are quoted as explaining that since the brain of a ghoul has been activated by the radiation, the plan is: Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul!"
--TV newsman, "Night of the Living Dead"
YEAH!!! "It’s an Embarrassing Business. Let’s be honest: The so-called independent 'alternative press' died sometime during the Reagan administration. There are well over 100 weekly newspapers in the United States today, but just a handful that don’t take marching orders from the Democratic Party. The exceptions are rare, such as the San Diego Reader (whose owner is pro-life!), S.F. Weekly and Washington’s City Paper." (NY Press)
SO I'VE READ 37 of the el cheapo "most-challenged" books, 34 of the "most-challenged classics," and 47 or 48 of the GRE "recommended reading" list (see below). Classy.

Notes: 1) What on earth is the point of trying to ban Finnegans Wake??? "I'm offended by novels that begin in the middle of a sentence!"

2) Interesting that the American Library Association thinks Gone With the Wind is a classic. So do I (a classic of popular lit anyway), but still....

3) I was assigned, if memory serves, 13 of the challenged books in school. Of those, I actually enjoyed reading 2 and three halves (loved Their Eyes Were Watching God and Invisible Man; was okay with The Color Purple and Huck Finn; mostly loathed the rest). Note to educators: Do not assign Kaffir Boy to junior high school students. The boys will think it's funny. Also, why was I assigned Things Fall Apart twice???

4) I also note, of course, that to remove a book from a public library is hardly to "ban" it. And what was rejected by the libraries that bought Anne Rice's softcore porno? "I'm sorry, we can't afford to stock up on The House of Dies Drear, Agatha Christie, or books on tape. We've spent all the money on American Psycho ."

ALA links via Ciceronian.
PEOPLE UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT: Eugene Volokh offers libel advice to a student newspaper that runs satirical copy, unlabeled as satire, on its back page. Boy does that sound familiar! (Click here for the YFP's most recent back page ad--it's great.)

Volokh's points are all quite reasonable, so I won't talk about them. I just want to relate some fun/scary anecdotes about the phenomenon of the back-page ad. In two cases that I can think of, somebody Didn't Get The Joke...

1) A mid-90s back-page ad slamming "pedophilophobia," using the typical language of the campus gay movement ("love is not a crime!"), garnered the editor a friendly phone call from the North American Man-Boy Love Association. Whoops.

2) The year before I was editor, we ran an ad playing off the tobacco lawsuits. We ran "Wanted"-style pictures of Joe Camel, Toucan Sam, Ronald McDonald, and some other sugary logo-beast (Tony the Tiger??). Basically the point was that if you want to ban Joe Camel because he appeals too much to kids (which was one of the proposals being tossed around), you should ban all these other fun characters who push sugar-loaded cereals and fatty foods. Only a few months later, Yale's own Professor Kelly Brownell, fat-tax guru, stated (paraphrased from memory), "There is no essential difference between Joe Camel and Ronald McDonald"--so we should have a "sin tax" on fatty foods. Real World 1, Satire 0.

Do you like feeling stupid? Then click here to see a "recommended reading" list for the GRE (grad school entrance exams) for English. The Rat is preparing to be whomped upside the head by this test. Personally, I like journalism because it means I never have to take another $#@!ing standardized test ever again.

Saudi censorship of the Internet.

Mmmmm... coffee at midnight. Reminds me of my days with the Yale Free Press--more on that in a moment.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

AYN RAND AND ENRON: I saw this interesting USA Today article on the newsstand, and then found a link via the ever-helpful Agitator. I'll be posting this at Questions for Objectivists also. I find this article interesting because it shows both Rand's admirers and her detractors creating a fantasy-Rand that isn't really in tune with what she wrote--even though the article is about a subject where Rand is relatively straightforward, her defense of capitalism.

The article is about executives turning to Atlas Shrugged in the wake of the various corporate scandals. I thought these two paragraphs were kind of amusing: "After Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and other scandals that have created a public backlash against industry and its captains, the Kansas City group [of Rand-reading execs] has fantasized of a modern-day strike of thinkers and creators, says Neal Patterson, a group member and CEO of Cerner, a big health care information technology company."

"'We are the producers of society,' says Will Koch, CEO of a development company that owns the Holiday World & Splashin' Safari theme park in Santa Claus, Ind. 'We take resources that would be idle and put people to work.'"

So... how would Atlas have read if one of the heroes ran a Splashin' Safari theme park in Santa Claus, Ind.? Providing waterpark fun is A-OK by me, but it doesn't exactly fit the Randian model of heroic production of the beautiful and noble. This gets into a larger question that I pose briefly here: What, for Objectivists, counts as "productive work"?

Also, "Atlas Shrugged fans note that they despise illegal behavior." Yeah, unless it involves blowing up a really ugly building.... (I know, wrong book.)

I agree with the general claims that the corporate scandals are overblown and wrongly pinned on "capitalism" as such (as if corruption or book-cooking in government activities is unknown!). (The Agitator also links to some interesting reports, including one suggesting that big companies do not commit most of the corporate fraud in America [dunno how that's calculated, haven't read yet] and, more notably, that fraud has not increased [EDITED TO ADD THE WORD "MUCH"!] recently.)

This is, in my view, reading too much into Rand: "'Ayn Rand creates a perfect capitalism, which in my mind relies too heavily on individual integrity to work,' says Nicolas Boillot, president of ad agency Hart-Boillot. 'There are those who are looking for a quick buck and willing to compromise their integrity for a price. Perfect capitalism is as attractive and impossible as perfect communism. The greedy and lazy will ruin either system for the rest.'" First, unless by "communism" you mean "sharing," I don't think perfect communism is "attractive." Workers' control of the means of production, material equality as an end in itself, implementing the labor theory of value, historical determinism/materialism, all of this, IMO, sucks a lot, even without all the beatings and shootings. Second, I do think Rand's theories had the resources within them to acknowledge that yes, people commit fraud (even executives--Gale Wynand, while not a defrauder, does commit a lot of rotten deeds), and that laws need to be sharp about catching that fraud. Rand's worldview is much too sunny--but not that sunny!

This is more interesting, although later the guy falls into the same "Rand thought executives were perfect!" trap: "Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Leadership Institute at Yale University, said ...great American industrialists were in fact community-minded, going back to the pioneer frontiersmen who circled their wagons and built barns together. The philosophy of Atlas Shrugged does not explain successful CEOs such as Milton Hershey, who during the Depression provided employees of his chocolate company with free medical care and paid off the mortgages of every church in town, Sonnenfeld says."

There's good stuff toward the end of the article about how restraint on business creates a spontaneous quasi-"shrug" or strike of the producers, though this is often not a choice so much as a necessity--businesses that, in a freer regulatory climate, would be able to expand, can't.
ARGH, gotta run, but work is kicking me around today so I will definitely be back after dinner + movie ("The Searchers"). Eventually, tonight, I hope to post on people who think satire is for reals; the Church and incarnation; "High Noon"; and re-envisioning liberalism. And on "The Searchers," perhaps.
IF YOU WANT MORE BLOGS FROM FUNKY PLACES (including Antarctica!), go here.

If you know of other Iraqi blogs, email me stat and receive much gratitude.
A BLOG FROM BAGHDAD. Only one I've found so far.
"UP THE SOVIET SILK ROAD: Backpacking with the Al-Qaeda, March-June 2002." As far as I can tell, this means "in regions penetrated by Al Qaeda," not "me hanging out with Al Qaeda." Interesting snapshots from a post-Soviet road trip.
I AM A ZORILLA. Which obscure animal are you? Via this random blog which I visited, believe it or not, as part of my freelancing gig.
"SMACK THE NOMINALIST." I have no idea what this is. But I thought you might get a kick out of it nonetheless.

For Eve-tested, Eve-approved nominalist humor, this can't be beat.

UPDATE: Did I mention that I hadn't actually read that site? I just thought nominalist-smacking sounded like tons of fun. But Thomas Joseph writes: In your latest blog entry, you post a link to "Smack the Nominalist" and state that you have "no idea what it is". Knowing personally two of the people who have been parodied by that site (Nimbo - a devoted Catholic, and Metacrock - a devoted Christian apologist) I can unequivocally say that I DO know what "Smack the Nominalist" is. The site is owned by Adrian Barnett, an atheist who runs the "Wasteland" message board. It is home to many atheists, most of whom are hard-core and who express extreme anti-religious sentiment.

"Smack the Nominalist" is but one form of anti-religious rhetoric employed by Mr. Barnett and his friends. They think that employing ad hominem and belittling their opponents they can achieve intellectual superiority and "wish away" the existance of the Almighty. Personally, I think you do a great disservice by freely advertising Mr. Barnett's site on your blog.

[Eve again: Still haven't read it, and don't really plan to--I don't have time. So, there you go, read at your own risk, etc. etc. But do read the other link, which is hilarious.]
CATCH-22: "You can't criticize X, because you've never experienced it!"

"You can't criticize X because your experience makes you too emotional about it!"

Obviously, there are some cases where this is true (esp. #2), but under what circumstances are these types of argument really helpful, persuasive, rational, or compassionate? Too often they're just ways to make your opponents feel like idiots. Just saw a particularly egregious example of #2 (not on a blog) which almost succeeded in getting a woman to shut up and accept that she has no right to an opinion on something she personally went through. Grrrr!
Tell Automatic Slim , tell Razor Totin' Jim
Tell Butcher Knife Totin' Annie, tell Fast Talking Fanny
We gonna pitch a ball, down to that union hall
We gonna romp and tromp till midnight
We gonna blog and watch till daylight ...

On the agenda today: Ayn Rand and Surfin' Safari; "High Noon"; liberalism: what and why?; and grabbing ahold of the Church. For now, a blogwatch.

David Klinghoffer on religion in Seattle. I wrote about that here. Now, Klinghoffer is extrapolating wildly from his own experiences, but he extrapolates in both directions--he makes Seattle sound drenched in piety, which I suspect may not be 100% accurate, and he makes cities like New York and D.C. sound like Galt's Gulch or a New York Times editorial meeting. If you're going to lambast the coastal elites for wearing blinders that prevent them from seeing the country's religious faith, you might want to check whether you're wearing the same blinders yourself.... Klinghoffer lists D.C. as one of the "super-secular" cities, and I really think that shows a narrow understanding of who lives here. D.C. includes, for example, lots of Southern transplants--black families who came here during the '50s or earlier but still retain many Southern traditions, and well-combed white young'uns who came up here to staff on Capitol Hill or work in a Christian lobbying group. Members of both those groups tend to be very Christian. Similarly, D.C. has scads and scads of native black residents, also mostly very Christian. Plus lots of immigrants. Basically, I think Klinghoffer is working off a tired stereotype of life "Inside the Beltway." Just last night my bus driver and another passenger were talking about their faith in God, and exchanged blessings as the passenger disembarked. That's not exactly unusual. I wonder if Klinghoffer's description of the "super-secular" cities isn't just a reflection of the social circles in which he, as a member of the intelligentsia, happened to travel.

My pirate name is Black Mary Bonney. "Like anyone confronted with the harshness of robbery on the high seas, you can be pessimistic at times. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!" Link via E-Pression. Zorak also pointed me to Zorak Action Figures!!! and to a blog by an unmarried teen mother. Can't vouch for the latter's veracity, but it seems on the level and interesting.

Mickey Kaus is right--the Boston Globe's "Ideas" section is pretty neat. Here's a sample: "Listening to Islam": The author of the book on the Koran that sparked all that furor at the University of North Carolina discusses and defends his work. And also offers a compressed history of the human race: "I can't study the genocides without the love poetry, and vice versa."

"'Tisn't": A tour of the Irish Famine Theme Park.

"Generation Expat": Negative review of several new novels starring Americans in post-Soviet nations. Lots of quotable lines, including, "Like many young Americans, I went to Eastern Europe shortly after the Berlin Wall fell. But now that I've read several recent novels about the era by fellow travelers, I realize that key aspects of the experience escaped me. I was oblivious, for instance, to the hot lesbian action," and, "Could there be an inverse relationship between literary standards and the price of a drink as calculated in the currency of a writer's parents?", and, " They hoped to watch totalitarianism crumble, which would have been very grand-bourgeois. But by the time they arrived, of course, it had already crumbled, and they had front-row seats for the struggle over privatization, which turned out to be very petty-bourgeois." And a terrific last paragraph.

Unqualified Offerings: Were you wondering whether a bikini is as oppressive as a burqa? If so, UO's got the definitive answer. Plus, amid some unhelpful sarcasm, there's a good point about Israel here, though I'm not sold on his claim that the EU is corporatist-veering-fascist. I'm not an EU fan, unsurprisingly, but "fascist" doesn't fit the case, especially when your examples of lives destroyed by the jack-booted thugs of the Eurocracy are... the Metric Martyrs.

And: If you are my sister or Sara Russo, you should click here.
"Why is it I always gotta kill somebody to get them to take me seriously?"
--Kevin Dillon, "Misbegotten"

Monday, September 23, 2002

NOTHING TODAY but will be back and on the attack tomorrow--today I am too sleepy to both blog and work. More later!

Saturday, September 21, 2002

FROM BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL: Nietzsche aphorisms I really like. See the next post for comments on a few of them. Unsurprisingly, I don't necessarily agree with them, but I think they're excellent shards of insight or jumping-off points. For the ones on love, see esp. my senior essay (apologies in advance for the formatting).

67: Love of one is a barbarism; for it is exercised at the expense of all others. The love of God, too.

68: "I have done that," says my memory. "I cannot have done that," says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually--memory yields.

70: If one has character one also has one's typical experience, which recurs repeatedly.

85: The same affects in man and woman are yet different in tempo: therefore man and woman do not cease to misunderstand one another.

90: Who has not, for the sake of his good reputation--sacrificed himself once?--

95: To be ashamed of one's immorality--that is a step on the staircase at whose end one is also ashamed of one's morality.

102: Discovering that one is loved in return really ought to disenchant one with the beloved. "What? this person is modest enough to love even you? Or stupid enough? Or--or--"

103: Danger in happiness. --"Now everything redounds to my best, now I love every destiny--who feels like being my destiny?"

107: Once the decision has been made, close your ear even to the best counterargument: sign of a strong character. Thus an occasional will to stupidity.

153: Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil.
SCATTERED COMMENTS. 85: I ran this by a friend of mine, who replied, "Yeah! Women are faster," which I think is right on and quite subtle.

92 and 95: Dignity vs. honor. If it is the indignity of sin that offends you, you still have a standard higher than the standard of goodness--the standard of your own dignity, your own inviolable self. And so if morality were to require the violation of that self, you would feel shame and reject morality also.

103: This I like for its own sake, but also because it is an excellent B-movie line.

107: I try to keep this in mind. Of course, I see it as a bad thing, which Nietzsche didn't.
Un mir zaynen alle shvester,
Oy, oy, alle shvester,
Azoy vi Rokl, Rus, un Blogwatch,
Oy, oy, oy...

(sorry--have that stuck in my head.)

Don't Link to Us--watchdog on sites w/bizarre linking policies, e.g. no deep-linking.

The Homeless Guy: A homeless guy with a blog (via public library computers). For real as far as anyone can tell. Interesting guy. Via InstaPundit, so I'm not sure why I'm pointing this guy out, but there you go.

Amy Welborn's comments are playing host to an interesting discussion on/critique of this Frederica Mathewes-Green article on teen pregnancy. I wonder if Mathewes-Green is focusing too much on the more provocative angle of her case (teen marriage is good), which is only going to be true in some circumstances (economic, personality, etc.). It's 100% true that young couples need more community support (both emotional and financial), but I wonder if fixing some of the educational problems Mathewes-Green touches on will actually do at least as much to change the circumstances promoting late marriage and unwed motherhood. The article makes interesting reading in light of what the Old Oligarch had to say (his stoa is obscured for the moment, but it should be the first post or so when the site returns) about cheating in college. Both the O.O. and Mathewes-Green note the focus on college degrees rather than competency or skills. This focus seems to have gone from a useful shorthand to an obsession. I also suspect we can teach a lot more in high school than we typically do; though I guess that would rely on teaching more in elementary and junior high school. Finally, I note that I'm working on an article on groups that do outreach to street prostitutes, and one woman who tries to help prostitutes get off the streets noted that the child-labor laws indirectly create huge temptations to get into illegal employment (since you can't get legal employment). I wonder how changes in the jobs high schoolers can get would indirectly effect the economic conditions that pressure people to postpone marriage.

She also asks a question about NFP which I'll take a shot at answering. We now have tons of nifty scientific information and tools to make spacing pregnancies via periodic abstinence really accurate; we also have lots of nifty theology and philosophy, another good resource for couples. So the rhythm of honeymoon-courtship-honeymoon that many people praise NFP for providing (what one of Welborn's commenters called the erotic appeal of "Noli me tangere!") is a sweet byproduct of scientific and theological refinement. Why did that refinement happen recently? Because it's only been recently that scientists and (to a lesser extent) theologians poured lots of talent and energy into understanding the various aspects of NFP and the female reproductive cycle. That commitment of time, energy, and talent has been so great recently, and so slight previously, for a whole slew of reasons: People are less likely to view the female body as icky, or an imperfect version of a man's body; child-spacing is a major economic need (this has obviously also been driving the theological explorations); many women hate hormonal contraception and demanded better means of child-spacing, which happened to coincide nicely with Catholic requirements (it's not 100% coincidence--a feminist respect for a woman's body is not totally remote from a Christian respect for a woman's body as part of Creation); Catholic entrepreneurs responded to the "competition" from the contraceptive culture and applied existing tech to Catholic needs; add capitalism, research grants, an individualist strain that leads many women to want a method of child-spacing that also helps us understand our bodies better, lather, rinse, repeat, and eventually you get a very accurate method of child-spacing that is in accordance with Catholic teaching. The comments on Welborn's site get into other worthwhile issues, like the need for support for couples who find NFP difficult, but I figured I'd just address her original question.

Oh, and a pet peeve brought to the fore of my mind by Mathewes-Green's essay and the NFP stuff and a recent counseling session: Why do we talk about teaching "abstinence" (a negative) rather than "chastity" (a positive)? Why does "sex education," whether "safer sex"-oriented or abstinence-oriented, focus so relentlessly on the negative? Why is there so little emphasis on positive aspects like trust, responsibility, or building strong marriages? Here's something I said elsewhere that I still believe: "Both 'safe sex' and [most--ed.] 'abstinence only' education fail to provide people with an ideal, something to hope for, something worth sacrificing for. Instead, these flawed approaches emphasize safety, fear, and rules. Sex and love are inherently unsafe--that's part of what makes them attractive. Harping on safety won't change behavior. And, of course, teens especially are born adherents to the letter of the law--teach abstinence only, and they'll just switch to oral sex. Unfortunate but true." Our emphasis should be on marriage and love, not fear and caution.
"We have a very serious situation on our hands here."
"Situation? What kind of situation?"
"This entire area used to be a toxic waste dump. And not only that, we have a mutant form of killer slug in our water system!"

--Michael Garfield and extra, "Slugs"

Friday, September 20, 2002

MYSTICISM AND CHRISTIANITY: An exchange between me and Brink Lindsey.

It all started with this post of his. Then this one from me. Then him. Then three emails, reprinted here.

HIM: Allow me to elaborate on my contention that mysticism has been peripheral to orthodox Christianity after the Gnostic heresy was suppressed -- a contention you characterized as "a bit odd," and that your reader Christopher Jones slammed as "preposterous" in that intemperate, puerile tone so distressingly common in e-mail prose.

Tallying up mystic saints, in either the Roman or the Eastern Orthodox traditions, doesn't really get to my point. The bottom line is that orthodox Christianity is all about an alleged historical fact – the divine incarnation – and the redemptive consequences it supposedly holds for humanity. If Jesus wasn't divine, if he didn't die to redeem mankind and then rise from the dead, then Christianity is flatly untrue – plain and simple. Christian faith is thus fundamentally a propositional faith: It is faith that this alleged historical fact actually happened. Mystic communion with the divine is at best icing on the cake; you can be a perfectly good Christian without ever going down that path, and exploring that path is perfectly worthless if you don't first accept the truth of the incarnation.

In Gnosticism or Buddhism, on the other hand, the achievement of enlightenment is the whole ballgame – it is the very core of religiosity. No event that happened on the temporal plane is of any overriding significance; the temporal plane is ultimately illusory, after all.

Accordingly, Christian mysticism, as long as it remains orthodox Christian, must pull up short: It must hold to the belief that earthly, historical reality is absolutely real and that a particular event that supposedly happened at a particular time and place in that earthly, historical reality is of overriding significance. Gnosticism broke from that constraint; it moved away from historical Jesus and toward a "living Jesus" that was a guide to personal enlightenment. And it was condemned as heresy and hounded out of existence.

So, I'll stick to my characterization of mysticism as peripheral to orthodox Christianity. Mystic experience is not at the core of orthodox Christianity; propositional faith is. In my book, if something's not at the core, it's at the periphery. And while some strains of orthodox Christian thought over the centuries have indeed flirted with mystic experience, that experience is always tethered to and held down by the core propositional faith – or else it crosses the line into heresy.

ME: "Tallying up mystic saints, in either the Roman or the Eastern Orthodox traditions, doesn't really get to my point."

Preliminary clearing-away-of-underbrush: 1) I took Jones's point to be that Eastern Orthodoxy has been widely renowned for its emphasis on mysticism--he was citing saints only as illustrations, I thought, not as his main argument.

2) Perhaps I read his comments that way because that's why I was citing saints--not as isolated data-points, but as exemplars of a major theme throughout "orthodox" Christianity.

But 3) thinking it over more, I'm not sure I can even imagine what a saint would look like without a strong mystical emphasis. I certainly can't think of any canonized saints who lack such an emphasis. Thomas Aquinas would make a great example here--everyone thinks of him as the intellectual saint par excellance, but he also experienced mystical ecstasy quite frequently, he wrote terrific mystical hymns, etc.

"The bottom line is that orthodox Christianity is all about an alleged historical fact – the divine incarnation – and the redemptive consequences it supposedly holds for humanity. If Jesus wasn't divine, if he didn't die to redeem mankind and then rise from the dead, then Christianity is flatly untrue – plain and simple. Christian faith is thus
fundamentally a propositional faith: It is faith that this alleged historical fact actually happened."

I would say, rather, that it's a response to this proposition. James writes, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (Jas. 2:19). To be a Christian is to respond to the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection with love; to accept Christ as Lord. It's a relationship, not solely an affirmation of certain historical oddities connected with the person Jesus of Nazareth. That affirmation is necessary but not sufficient; a devil could acknowledge that Christ rose from the dead, but since he would not love Christ, he would not be a Christian. (Neat expression of this point: CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters.)

"Mystic communion with the divine is at best icing on the cake; you can be a perfectly good Christian without ever going down that path, and exploring that path is perfectly worthless if you don't first accept the truth of the incarnation."

Maybe it would help here to cash out what each of us means by "mysticism." I mean, "a non-rational (either pre- or supra-rational) practice characterized by contemplation/meditation and an experience of supernatural union with the Divine (either dissolving into the Divine, as in Gnosticism, or achieving a love relationship with God Who is 'other,' as in Catholicism)." If only seeking knowledge of God (or "the Divine," a non-personal God) is mysticism, then yeah, much of what Catholics would call mysticism is defined out of the term. I was sloppy before in not making clear what I think mysticism is; I think I was muddleheadedly switching back and forth from the definition above to a much more restricted definition, hence some confusion. So: I believe that both seeking and expressing love for God are mystical acts.

Under that definition, there are huge swathes of Catholicism (the form of Christianity I know best) that are inherently mystical: contemplative and/or meditative prayers like the rosary; the sacrifice of the Mass (the wedding feast of the Lamb); the attainment of transcendence through submission; the longing for a love-union with God ("As the deer longs for the running stream, my soul longs for you, my Lord"); the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each believer. The fact that some people hide the mystical elements of these practices out of embarrassment/conformity/confusion/shyness/humility, and others go through the motions but in fact are not seeking mystical union, doesn't change the inherently mystical nature of the practices themselves, IMO.

I wonder if there is some lack of awareness of mystical elements in Catholicism (which I displayed in my earlier posts on this subject...) because many of the practices and language de-emphasized by misguided "spirit of Vatican II" types were more obviously mystical: traditional devotions like the rosary, an understanding of the Mass and transubstantiation, talk of submission in Christ, talk of God's otherness. But a lot of that stuff is being revived, thank God!

"In Gnosticism or Buddhism, on the other hand, the achievement of enlightenment is the whole ballgame – it is the very core of religiosity. No event that happened on the temporal plane is of any overriding significance; the temporal plane is ultimately illusory, after all.

"Accordingly, Christian mysticism, as long as it remains orthodox Christian, must pull up short: It must hold to the belief that earthly, historical reality is absolutely real and that a particular event that supposedly happened at a particular time and place in that earthly, historical reality is of overriding significance."

I'm not sure why you view belief in the importance of earthly, historical reality as a barrier toward mysticism--possibly, as I suggested, we're using different definitions/understandings of "mysticism."

"condemned as heresy and hounded out of existence."
Well, I'd say Gnosticism is all around us, cf. Harold Bloom's intriguing studies of "the American religion," but hey.

HIM: Yes, our differing perspectives on mysticism and Christianity are at least partially due to differing definitions of mysticism. As I have been using the term, mysticism consists of the quest for knowledge of the ultimate reality that exists beyond all contradictions and dichotomies. The essential mystical insight, then, is that all is one: I and thou, good and evil, freedom and causation, space and time are all, ultimately, mere shadows on the wall of the cave. Mysticism strives to see the light that
casts those shadows.

From this perspective, Christian mysticism must always either stop short or venture into heresy. For in the Christian scheme, all contradictions are most certainly not resolved: The distinctions between the divine and the temporal, between good and evil, between now (i.e., post-incarnation) and then (i.e., pre-incaranation), are absolutely fundamental and irreducible.

In particular, Christianity’s claimed historicity (its insistence on belief in the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection as the key to salvation) limits whatever mystical tendencies arise within it. Allow me here to quote from Aldous Huxley’s survey of mystical thought, “The Perennial Philosophy” (p. 52): “In the West, the mystics went some way toward liberating Christianity from its unfortunate servitude to historical fact…. In spite of them, Christianity has remained a religion in which the pure Perennial
Philosophy has been overlaid, now more, now less, by an idolatrous preoccupation with events and things in time—events and things regarded not merely as useful means, but as ends, intrinsically sacred and indeed divine.”

So when I was talking about mysticism, I had in mind a particular conception of the divine—a pantheist or immanent (i.e., non-supernatural) conception, to be specific. But let me put aside that narrower definition for now and use yours: “a non-rational practice characterized by contemplation/meditation and an experience of union with the Divine,” however that Divine may be understood. Even under that broader definition, I would argue that mysticism is not central to Christian faith (and therefore it’s peripheral).

No doubt my position is shaped strongly by my Protestant upbringing—and, in particular, by my experiences with family and friends whose Christianity is fundamentalist and literalist. In the Bible Belt, rosaries and chants and the sacrament of the Eucharist are all dismissed as a bunch of superstitious mumbo jumbo. Christ’s divinity and resurrection are understood as plain historical facts, and God’s accessibility through prayer is as straightforward as a long-distance phone call or a child’s letter to Santa. There’s no need, in that version of Christianity, to achieve non-rational states of mind to “get saved” or to have communion with God. (Of course I recognize that there are more mystical strains of Protestantism—namely, Pentacostalism. But mainstream Southern Baptist fundamentalists regard that speaking-in-tongues stuff as wacko.)

Now, of course literalist Protestantism is only one flavor of Christianity—and a schismatic one, no doubt, in your view. But I think their “no-nonsense” understanding of faith corresponds rather well with orthodox Christianity’s original understanding of itself. Christianity as an organized religion was launched by eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.
No need for gnosis or mystic contemplation: The evidence of the senses was all Thomas needed to resolve his doubts. And when the apostles began to spread their message, how did they do it? In the miracle of the Pentacost, they were able to preach the Gospel to the Jews of Jerusalem in all their native tongues. The Christian message is at bottom propositional, verbal, exoteric—not experiential, contemplative, esoteric. In Buddhism or Gnosticism, the highest truths are incapable of expression in words; in Christianity, they can be translated into any language. Thus orthodox Christianity’s conception of a catholic or universal church—one that offers salvation to all believers, not enlightenment to a small group of the spiritually gifted.

ME FINAL: If you're following this discussion with interest, I highly recommend Denis de Rougemont's Love in the Western World.
AN OXBLOG DEBATE on democratization of Iraq. Haven't read yet, will report back when I have, but looks well worth your time.
...AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS?: I haven't seen any explications of how we expect to transform Iraq into a liberal democracy once we've bulldozed lots of stuff. I've seen comparisons to post-WWII Japan and Germany (to which Unqualified Offerings replied by pointing out that we'd just, uh, dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, so they were smiling and playing nice for reasons that are really not relevant to Iraq's situation; plus they were staring down the barrel of not one but two angry superpowers) but I haven't really seen any thoughts on how we go from managerial/imperial-liberalism to actual liberalization. One of the basic points that tons of libertarians will bring up when discussing domestic politics is the need for people to feel like they have ownership of their lives--like they're citizens, not subjects. What we're proposing to do in Iraq, at best, is switch masters. I don't see how that's going to promote the kind of personal responsibility that drives liberalization; it sounds more like colonialism. And contemporary America--conflicted, filled with bad conscience about our role in the world--is likely to be even worse at colonialism than the British.

We need to think creatively about long-term ways of encouraging people in Middle Eastern dictatorships to want, demand, or prepare for liberalization. This article from Sojourners makes an effort, though its pacifist perspective limits it and even makes it somewhat disingenuous--the article talks as if peaceful citizen resistance never fails (Tiananmen...), and as if violent citizen resistance always fails (Ceaucescu? and I thought, contrary to the Sojourners account, Pinochet's removal required the threat of violence?). I've got no problem with violent citizen resistance; I know it's easy for the US government or individual US citizens to get sucked into supporting factions whose disputes and crimes we know little about (like the Kosovo Liberation Army, gah), but I definitely don't rule out governmental or individual support for internal resistance movements. Other things we can promote: trade; missionary activity (obviously this is something for individual citizens to promote, not the Feds, though the Feds can perhaps apply pressure to keep Islamist countries from killing US missionaries); charitable activity; small loans; Internet use; and propaganda (actually just rhetoric--I think "propaganda" implies falsehood) for freedom and justice. I think all those things contribute to giving people, even rigidly oppressed people, some degree of control over their own destinies. And that experience of control is a much better enticement to and preparation for liberalization than the experience of the sack of Baghdad will be.

I hope to be proven wrong, of course.
BLOGFEST 2-3: Was lots of fun. Haven't found a list of attendees (?) yet, but Balko, Healey, The Masked Person, Lex of Files fame, Sanchez, and lots more people were there. I showed up fashionably late (...Metrobus) and missed Tepper. I was antisocial as usual and talked mostly with Jim Henley--will post shortly on some of the stuff we discussed--and Kelly Torrance, who has only just started her site, but she's got an interesting and accurate take on the world, so I expect to check in on her quite a bit if she gets the site up and roaring. We dissed Reason's recent cultural coverage (recent = last two or three years); Henley suggested Liberty magazine as an alternative, so I'll be checking that out.

Today on the site: some short dissents on Iraq; an exchange on mysticism and Christianity; and short takes from Nietzsche. And a brief blogwatch.

Just found an old email with this epitaph, quoted by George Orwell--apparently it's by Skelton, but Orwell couldn't remember the identity of the deceased. I love the gallantry of this:
Sepultus est among the weeds,
God forgive him his misdeeds,
With hey ho, rumbelo,
Per omnia saecula,
Saecula saeculorum.

Orwell was making a larger point about modern and postmodern (though he certainly didn't use the latter term) attitudes toward death, but you can hunt that up on your own.
"Listen. There's a girl out there who might be running for her life from some gigantic turned-on ape!"
"Jack, I know how you feel. I feel the same. But there's a national energy crisis which demands that we all rise above our private selfish interests."

--Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin (Nicky the Parasite!!!), "King Kong" (1976)

Thursday, September 19, 2002

I need a brain cell to go with my other one
That's what comes from decades of having fun
One blogwatch too many
Just a touch too much
My mama told me
"You've had enough of that stuff"...

Sed Contra: Neat excerpt from Beyond Gay, in which he's baptized. But... where are the permalinks??

Charles Murtaugh: Science fiction children part two, with a promise of part three to come.

The Marriage Movement: Criticism of a) the Washington Times and b) pro-marriage welfare initiatives. I'm with the MM on this one. And an excellent post from Elizabeth Marquardt about the spiritual lives of children of divorce.

Eugene Volokh: Interesting post on "nucular," with implications for "libarry" and "Judishyooary Square."

Brink Lindsey takes requests--a post on weapons inspections.

The Edge of England's Sword: Why do people with near-death experiences all seem to see a peaceful white light... rather than a fearsome red-hot Devil light? Murray has some good speculation there. Plus, intriguing "you be the judge" doohickey. Murray revealed as tough on rape. And in the comments to this post, there's a great statement from The Wife of England's Sword. (The permalinks there are confusing, grr, so if I've gotten this wrong, you're looking for a post about fatherless families.)
"Being human is itself difficult, and therefore all kinds of settlements (except dream cities) have problems. Big cities have difficulties in abundance, because they have people in abundance. But vital cities are not helpless to combat even the most difficult of problems. They are not passive victims of circumstance, any more than they are the malignant opposite of nature.

"Vital cities have marvelous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties. Perhaps the most striking example of this ability is the effect that big cities have had on disease. Cities were once the most helpless and devastated victims of disease, but they became great disease conquerors. All the apparatus of surgery, hygiene, microbiology, chemistry, telecommunications, public health measures, teaching and research hospitals, ambulances and the like, which people not only in cities but also outside them depend on for the unending war against premature mortality, are fundamentally products of big cities and would be inconceivable without big cities. The surplus wealth, the productivity, the close-grained juxtaposition of talents that permit society to support advances such as these are themselves prodcuts of our organization into cities, and especially into big and dense cities."
--Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
"[Nature watching] is quite as easy in the city as in the country; all one has to do is accept Man as a part of Nature."
--Botanist Edgar Anderson, quoted in Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
JUST NOW, IN AN EMAIL FROM THE RAT: "I always confuse Ron Paul and RuPaul."
"Richard Lederer's Student Bloopers" and more of the same.
PHONESPELL.ORG is a fun site where you can plug in various phone numbers and learn what they spell if the numbers are converted to letters as on a standard telephone. Here're some fun ones (all area codes are 202):

D.C. Office of Budget and Planning: 727-6343, or PARODIE

Sen. Edward Kennedy's office: 224-4543, or A-BIG-KID

The Embassy of Saudi Arabia: 342-3800, or FIB-3800

The Pleasure Place, an "erotic boutique," location #1: 333-8570, or FEET-570
location #2: 483-3297, or GUFFAWS
FROM ROTTEN REJECTIONS: Actual rejection letters. Great stuff.

(of a book by Harry Crews) "Burn it, son, burn it. Fire is a great refiner."

(of Faulkner's Sanctuary) "Good God, I can't publish this. We'd both be in jail."

(of Fitzgerald's "Thumbs Up") "I thought it was swell but all the femmes down here said it was horrid. The thumbs, I suppose, were too much for them."

(of The Wind in the Willows) "...the form of the story is most unexpected."

(two assessments of Henry James; have only read a couple things of his but this sums up my feelings perfectly) "A duller story I have never read. It wanders through a deep mire of affected writing and gets nowhere, tells no tale, stirs no emotion but weariness. The professional critics who mistake an indirect and roundabout use of words for literary art will call it an excellent piece of work; but people who have any blood in their veins will yawn and throw it down--if, indeed, they ever pick it up."

"It is surely the n+1st power of Jamesiness....It gets decidedly on one's nerves. It is like trying to make out page after page of illegible writing. The sense of effort becomes acutely exasperating. Your spine curls up, your hair-roots prickle & you want to get up and walk around the block. There is no story--oh! but none at all..."

(of A River Runs Through It) "These stories have trees in them."

(of Animal Farm) "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."

(this one is by T.S. Eliot!) "...your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm--in fact, there couldn't have been an Animal Farm without them: so what was needed was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs."

(of "Portrait d'une Femme" by Ezra Pound) "The opening lines contain too many 'r's." (This is true--ed.)

(of Remembrance of Things Past) "My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep."

(of a book by Barbara Pym) "Not the kind of thing to which people are turning."

(of Speck, the Special Sardine, by William Saroyan) "Even if Isaiah, William James, Confucius, Willa Cather and Mickey Spillane were to collaborate on an eleven-page story about a little sardine who didn't like being a sardine, and his little boy who didn't like being a little boy, I don't believe it would be a publishable work."

(of Tristram Shandy) "To sport too much with your wit, or the game that wit has pointed out, is surfeiting; like torying with a man's mistress, it may be very delightful solacement to the inamorata, but little to the bystander."

(of "Lady Windermere's Fan") "My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir."

More such encouragement can be found here (and in the pages that follow).
POETRY THURSDAY: Stuff I found going through old email. From Sappho. (The poetry, that is, not the email.)

with his venom

and bittersweet

that loosener
of limbs, Love

strikes me down


it is clear now:
neither honey nor
the honey-bee is
to be mine again


If you are squeamish

don't prod the
beach rubble
"This criminal must be found. Otherwise, these acts will continue!"
--Cop, "Rock 'n' Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Ape"

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

AND ANOTHER THING: Even when economic needs are taken out of the mix, the question is a lot more complex than "should I work full time outside the home, or should I be a full-time homemaker?" There are all kinds of funky options--part-time work, working from the home, etc. And, as Lisa Powell points out in an aside, this isn't just a question mothers face; fathers too need to consider their work/career choices in light of their families' needs. Anyway, that's just a postscript.
MAILBAG: Working mothers, and exceptional people. Y'all are in bold, I'm in plain text. For once, both readers get the last word! (Mostly.)

From Lisa Powell: Just wanted to add my four cents to the many emails I'm sure you'll get on this subject. The subject of working vs. stay-at-home mothering is a bag of snakes you may wish to close as quickly as possible, but your comments that some mothers enjoy their work and therefore they are doing no wrong by continuing it was striking, and could use some clarification.

It is not in itself morally wrong to work if you are a mother. But it is a sin to abandon your child to the care of others for the purposes of personal gain, tangible or otherwise.

A child receives the best care from a direct and continuous relationship with a person who loves him. If he does not receive this, it is a loss.

Sometimes the loss in unavoidable. My grandmother was widowed, left with four children, when my mother was a baby. She had to work to support her family. The loss of the care of the mother was in this case very much like the loss of the care of the father who had died -- a misery, a suffering, but part of the necessity of life. Those children knew that she worked, in addition to taking care of them when she was not working, because she loved them and because of their needs.

When parents decide to give a child over to daycare, nannying -- any system that entails this loss of loving, direct care -- in order to increase their standard of living or to fulfill career aspirations, they are asking the child to suffer a loss so that the parent may gain. Children understand this. No amount of quality time can make up for the hurt that comes to a child the day he realizes that mom would rather have her partnership, dad would rather have his SUV, than sacrifice so he can have a parent raising him hour by hour, day by day, with love and attention. The child is taught that he is less important than status, than achievement, or than things. The child is taught that he should value status, achievement, or things more than people. This is where the sin lies, not in the suffering of a child -- all children suffer, and we cannot always prevent it, we even should not always prevent it. But that the child is told by the people he most loves and depends on that he is of little value, that people are of little value.

Staying at home with your child does not, of course, prevent you from sinning by putting your own desires above the needs of your child. There are a million ways in which this selfishness manifests itself. For example, my sins tend to anger and pride, I am mean-spirited to my husband in front of my child. This is a wretched thing to do -- perhaps it is a worse sin than leaving her in daycare to earn money for a trip to Hawaii. But if you slap a person, and I beat someone with a fist, you can hardly say that the slap is not wrong because my offense is worse. Abandoning your child to the care of another for the purposes of personal gain is wrong, even if there are greater wrongs.

Of course, for any one individual, I can never judge whether this has happened. I don't know if the child has been abandoned. Many mothers work and yet arrange with their husbands for the full-time parental care of their children -- a very difficult and sacrificing thing to do. I can't know the reason why any mother puts a child into the care of others -- even when the reasons appear entirely self-centered, I cannot know the circumstances of a decision, I cannot know the heart of another person. While I can define the sin and say with conviction that it is wrong, I cannot ever decide for someone else whether they are committing that sin. This is the problem of stigma -- it is moral judgment of a group, and even if the moral judgment is accurate for 80%, 90%, 99% of the members of that group, it is always wrong to punish the innocent, and humiliating one innocent person does so.

Let me, though, try to help you understand why so many people would like to stigmatize working mothers. Stigma may be wrong, but it is universal. Societies choose the traits they wish to promote, and stigmatize those who do not conform. Many nonworking mothers, like myself, would tell you that the stigma lies with us. Our society values people not in themselves, but by their resumes. We value ourselves in this manner. The majority, if not all, nonworking mothers struggle not just with the unintentionally degrading comments of friends and relatives but with the personal, nagging anxiety that they are being irresponsible and lazy when they step off the career path. Most of us figure out eventually that it's something we just have to get over, that we are charged to do the right thing, not the thing that gets us praised and admired. But it chafes, and so our gut sometimes says that as it seems someone must be stigmatized, let it be them. It is also painful to know that the society that you are a part of communicates through its stigmatization that it values wealth and power over love; we do not want our charity towards working mothers to seem to condone that. What we must remind ourselves is that if we live our lives in rebellion against that value system, we do not need to use an immoral tool like stigmatization to attack those who don't.

I realize working mothers was not the topic of your blog, so maybe I received the impression you hadn't considered these things from the brevity of your comments. If so, please excuse the time I've taken.

My reply (slightly edited for clarity): Thanks for your email. I'm afraid I gave the wrong impression--I don't think it's right for parents to place personal enjoyment over their children's needs. (And I do think that mothers have a stronger connection to their children than fathers do, which is why this discussion is cached in terms of mothers who work outside the home.) I tried to point out that I knew women who were working not out of economic necessity, but who were also able to be fantastic mothers. I do think day care (esp. for very young children--putting infants in day care??) is a bad idea and to be avoided if possible, but there are lots of other options--babysitters, family members, etc.

[A little bit about my background here--varying ways my parents made sure I was cared for. My mother has worked full-time for as long as I can remember.] Because of other aspects of my parents' life, workplaces (e.g. both were able to leave work in emergencies, both were able to bring me to their workplaces), and personalities, this worked out terrifically. I can honestly say that I never thought, or even wondered, whether my mom was choosing her needs over against mine--I never wondered whether I "came first" for her. I knew I did. So that experience definitely colors my beliefs about what's possible for a mother who works outside the home. I tend to be very "different strokes for different folks--but here are guiding principles you should keep in mind"-y. The guiding principles rule out sacrificing your kid's needs to your desires, but I don't think employment-by-choice (as vs. need) always entails that sacrifice.

I absolutely agree with you about the problems w/the stigma attached to SAHMs.

Her response: I suspected the fact that your comments were a quick aside might have led to my misunderstanding your position -- your reply to me was unexpected and very much appreciated.

In case I caused offense, let me clarify. It seems self-evident to me that most kids of working parents at some point, perhaps not consciously, must face the question -- why does X take care of me instead of Mom/Dad -- just as my child is probably now asking why Mom keeps writing emails when she's crawling into my lap saying, "I want cookies, Mom!". Is it not probable that you did face this question, maybe early in life, and simply found the answer satisfactory? If not, please excuse my presumption -- sometimes I make generalizations forgetting that I'm talking to individuals with specific experiences.

(Eve interjects briefly: No offense taken, certainly. But to answer your question, it was always kind of obvious to me why my mother worked. Her work is interesting and important, it's something she's really good at, and as I said above, it didn't take away from her relationship to her children. Taken together, those three factors made working outside the home the more obvious choice. Frederica Mathewes-Green, in Real Choices, makes the excellent point that rhetoric pitting babies against careers for women forgets that most women, like most men, don't have "careers"; they have jobs. Jobs that typically provide a lot fewer outlets for creativity and a lot less excitement than caring for a child. But many women do have "careers," and if you do have one, it's definitely worthwhile to try to keep career and kid rather than choosing. Sometimes the choice is forced, just because kids do need a lot; but it's worth figuring out if you have to choose, rather than assuming that you have to choose.)

Powell again: I do believe there are many scenarios which are perfectly loving and acceptable -- I'm a big fan of stay-at-home fathers (talk about stigma!). Just thought you might want to clarify the basic point for readers like myself who might want to know where you stand.

From Robert Dakin: Responding to my post on how art "...advocates for the 'exceptional' over against the majority": So, what's wrong with that? Wouldn't that pretty well describe the activities of a saint, even of Christ, assuming that it refers to the cumulative life choices of the individual. There was nothing ordinary or "socially conscious" about the activities of St. Francis. Isn't to be consciously different ipso facto to be "against"? Didn't Christ set a son against his father, etc.? To me, an exceptional person in this sense is any person whose actions consciously and constantly strive to enact his beliefs, whether it be through prayer and transcendence, or through art. To such a person all is permitted that he permits himself to do; society becomes irrelevant as an aggregate of people: individuals as receptacles of the
Message become all-important.

My reply: There's nothing wrong with advocating for the exceptional--in fact, the second point I was making was that most people are in some important way, or have the capacity to be, exceptional. I was trying to point out the need for the exceptional (note that I didn't deny that this is what art is about) while also adding that focus on the "exceptional" can be deceptive unless people keep a sense of humility and openness to the unexpected. My quarrel isn't with the "exceptional"--it's with people, whether they think of themselves as "exceptional" or as "majority/bourgeouis" (sp?), who hold others in contempt. I was trying to tease out ways in which thinking in terms of "exceptions" can become perverted--though I don't think that those perversions are inherent in the concept of focusing on exceptions. I should probably make that more clear. Hope that helps--

Dakin responds: Yes. Thanks. I fully agree that a self image can be focused on the "self" (the part called the "ego") and morph into its own fetish. I find that to be "exceptional" (in the sense I was trying to express) only as yet another form of self-delusion, however. Jesus seems to have had what can only be called "contempt" (on the worldly level) for lawyers and scribes and hypocrites, for instance--the kind of people that become involved in behaviors that are often attacked by artists as well as saints. These things are difficult to talk about without sounding self-righteous on the one hand, or being judgmental in the wrong way, on the other. It is difficult to deal with "the ways of the world" at all without coming to sudden and unwelcome realizations that you're fighting fire with fire. I guess that's why they have monasteries?