Thursday, June 17, 2010, 3:04 PM
President Obama’s oil spill speech Tuesday night was a disappointment to most and was positively trashed by the Olbermann-Matthews cheerleading section at MSNBC. Ostensibly in crisis mode after the speech’s poor reception, CNN sought an alternative narrative from Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, who explained that Obama missed the mark on account of his “professorial” tenor and linguistic constructions too sophisticated for his audience to understand.
The president’s use of 19.8 words per paragraph, Payack explained, “added some difficulty for his target audience.” Payack singled out one such difficult sentence:
“That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge—a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s secretary of energy.”
While I flip through my dictionary to sort that one out, I’m beginning to wonder why CNN didn’t make use of Paul Payack’s talent back when George W. Bush was talking about “misunderestimation” and “working hard to put food on your family.”
Thursday, June 17, 2010, 9:30 AM
In May of last year, Joseph Bottum gave account in “At the Gates of Notre Dame” of the perfect storm set in motion by the University of Notre Dame’s public veneration of President Obama, which brought preexisting tensions between public Catholicism and university life to a head. Notre Dame’s heavily symbolic gesture to the pro-abortion president was the embodiment of scandal, and, as Bottum argued, Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins presumed to play American Catholics with his agnosticism towards the right to life as the “signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life.”
In a story broken by Catholic Culture.org, it appears that in the case of John H. Garvey, Catholic University of America’s new president-elect, there remain a few stones that will soon need overturning, with the memory of the Notre Dame scandal a mere year old. In 2007, as dean of Boston College Law School, Garvey presided over the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Rep. Edward J. Markey, whose strongly pro-abortion views were a matter of public record. Garvey praised him as a model politician and friend of the Law School, even in the face of Markey’s open dissent from Catholic teaching.
After a bit of digging, a few more items of concern come to light. According to the Washington Post, Garvey authored a law review essay in 2003 arguing the Church has “no credibility” in its policies aimed at eliminating sexual abuse. Another more egregious moment demonstrated what appears to be a lukewarm angle on the culture war. Last September, when B.C. Law professor Scott Fitzgibbon’s appearance in a pro-marriage television spot caused anger amongst some B.C. Law students, Garvey penned a decidedly cool response, defending Fitzgibbon on free-speech grounds, but failing to mention that Fitzgibbons’ view was in line with B.C.’s (neglected) foundation in Catholic tradition.
Time will eventually test Garvey’s intellectual fortitude—perhaps with a ‘Notre Dame moment’—but it would be of great benefit to Catholic University to administer a Jenkins-proof litmus test with a view to avoiding another scandal.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 1:42 PM
It seems a covert operative of the PC police, or perhaps just a mischievous photoshopper, has infiltrated London’s Britain at War Museum, unceremoniously airbrushing Winston Churchill’s cigar from one of his most famous wartime candids on display there, to the chagrin of the museum’s curators. This doesn’t make Churchill the first figure in history to have his smoke censored, but we might well ask the censors: While you’re at it, why not airbrush Winston to appear taller and thinner as well?
For a more detailed account of the metaphysical issues at stake here, take a look back at Michael P. Foley’s piece, “Tobacco and the Soul” in the pages of First Things’ April 1997 issue.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 9:00 AM
As if their motives needed further corroboration, some of the media’s most influential reporters continue to prove that their pouty jockeying with the Church is little more than a game. After demanding a personal apology from Pope Benedict, the press seemed to be holding its collective breath, hoping the pontiff would pull a Jimmy Swaggart, though, clearly, that glove wouldn’t have fit. Now that those demanding a public apology have gotten one—infused with inspiring pastoral theology, I might add—they now claim the pope’s words are merely symbolic, and declare his promise of remedial action unsatisfying. With time, some of that dissatisfaction may abate. But what seems unquenchable is the impulse on the part of religion journalists to downplay or ignore the apology on account of its lack of melodrama.
After registering his rejection of the pope’s apology, one writer featured by CNN couldn’t quite put into words his additional demands for the pope, except for his hope that diocesan websites would post mug shots of offending ex-priests. He went on to describe the successor of Peter as a sort of spiritual dictator. Others complained the pope’s homily lacked sufficient detail on the Church’s policy toward sexual abuse claims, which, one might conclude, stems from their misapprehension of what a homily is. CNN’s Kyra Phillips strangely denied the pope had offered any form of apology at all, citing a distinction without a difference: “there are two simple words we haven’t heard: I’m sorry.” MSNBC’s Savannah Guthrie was barely able to acknowledge the pope’s words, steering her remarks away from the pope’s obvious sincerity towards voices critical of the Church.
Something tells me that, instead of the rather unassailable, “Pope begs forgiveness” headline, these people would rather see a title page reading, “Pope begs forgiveness, seeks settlement with faithful by declaring Sunday Mass optional.” Or something like that.
Friday, June 11, 2010, 9:30 AM
In the current edition of The Atlantic, Pamela Paul pens an unsettling essay disputing social science evidence on the unique role of fathers, and advocates a gender-neutral approach to child-rearing, highlighting a recent study on lesbian parenting. It’s hard not to connect her line of argument to the efforts by same-sex marriage proponents to divorce the concept of gender from the concept of family. With Paul’s radical idea of parenting comes an understanding that parenting is a generic human activity—disconnected from gender identity—which can be assessed soundly in quantitative terms, in the manner of a performance review.
On the other hand, there’s an almost opposite view in today’s New York Times, in Katrin Bennhold’s profile of Mikael Karlsson, a Swedish civil servant who, along with 85 percent of his male counterparts in Stockholm, takes paid parenting leave from his office, in keeping with an emerging Swedish culture in which women have “equal rights at work—and men equal rights at home.” It was a first when, back in 1974, Sweden redubbed maternity leave “parental leave,” leading male takers to earn the title “velvet dads.”
It remains an open question why the solution to imperfect parenting is to seek the most radical alternative—turning parenthood on its head.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 3:27 PM
The Department of Homeland Security has released a Public Service Announcement suggesting vigilance as an antidote to terrorism, with a slogan that will, no doubt, strike some as a bit too politically correct: “There are no suspicious people, only suspicious behaviors.”
Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 3:23 PM
Whatever your theory of justice and fairness, you’ll be fascinated by a study published last week in the journal Science. “Fairness and Development of Inequality Acceptance” found that younger children favor socialist impulses toward wealth distribution, but grow to accept a more meritocratic worldview as their cognitive abilities develop. Studying 500 children between the fifth and thirteenth grades, the study found that older children were more comfortable with differences in wealth owing to productivity and luck. The highest proportion of strict egalitarians was found among the fifth graders (63 percent) but had fallen to 40 percent by seventh grade and to 22 percent by thirteenth grade; similarly, the proportion of meritocrats rose from five percent in the fifth grade to 42 percent in the thirteenth grade.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 9:00 AM
His report card indicates he’s a “pleasure to have in class,” but ninth-grader Jason Laguna was recently suspended from his high school in Haverstraw, New York for insubordination and endangering the “safety, health, morals or welfare of himself or others.” His offense? A rosary around his neck. One school official cited the worry rosary beads might imply a gang affiliation, despite Laguna’s mother’s insistence that worry was moot. In other news, after reading this story I realized I may be something of a Marian gang member myself.
Monday, May 24, 2010, 5:18 PM
Hunting for logical fallacies in the daily news is like fishing in a well-stocked pond—it’s easy and glibly rewarding. When criticizing a politician’s record, the fallacy of Tu Quoque is particularly useful; the New Atheists seem to find the Straw Man fallacy quite efficient when characterizing Christians; and when reporting on sex-abuse scandals, Selective Attention has done its part to portray the Church as morally monstrous. Poisoning the Well is, alas, alive and well when affixing political prefixes to conservatives; the Congress’ discourse was rife with False Dilemmas when arguing the partisan points of health-care reform; and Guilt by Association has long been a popular choice for dealing with Supreme Court nominees. We can instantly recall dozens of recent instances of Appeals to Emotion, Appeals to Ignorance, and Question-Begging.
Besides misadventures in informal logic, philosophical jargon is often co-opted for less precise purposes. “Logical” used to mean “related to logic,” but now it seems to be a synonym for “reasonable.” To “refute” an argument used to mean to defeat it decisively; now it seems only to indicate counterargument. “Justifying” something, if I recall, used to mean giving a sound line of reasoning to excuse an action. But in today’s New York Times, a headline reads, “U.S.-Born Cleric Justifies the Killing of Civilians.” Does he now? Anwar al-Awlaki’s utilitarian argument, the Times reports, is that American civilian deaths are merely “a drop in the sea” compared to the plight of Arab civilians in war zones. Some justification.
Thursday, May 20, 2010, 11:39 AM
Steve Jobs can, as one commenter said of his 2007 iPhone debut presentation, “sell ice to an Eskimo.” What’s more interesting than what he can sell, though, is what he chooses not to. After his well-publicized decision not to sanction adult-themed applications on the new iPad, reactions from technology experts were mixed, though few seemed shrill. Once, when asked about the possibility of smut on Apple’s mobile devices, Jobs replied, “You know, there’s a porn store for Android….You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go, so we’re not going to go there.” It effected a guilt-by-association that does—quite effectively—make the Google smartphone sound rather dirty and corrupted.
In the same breath, interestingly enough, Jobs let out his belief in “a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” But does this lead us to believe Jobs has been skimming Mary Eberstadt’s most recent essay in First Things, and restitching Apple’s moral fabric? Maybe, maybe not. Phil Schiller, Apple’s vice president of marketing, has said that Apple continues to allow applications authored by the R-rated Playboy and coffee table-unfriendly Sports Illustrated, as they originate from “more reputable companies.” I suppose that’s possibly true as a matter of degree, but it’s hard to deny that all these “companies” capitalize on the same untoward impulse. Given this apparently non-purist stance on smut, perhaps Apple wishes not so much to purge its products of adult-themed material, but to distance themselves from the internet-dominating sexual profiteers of San Fernando Valley, for business and ethical reasons.
Stepping back, it’s instructive to take a look at how much restraint Jobs used in his decision to keep smut off Apple products. He didn’t, mind you, effect a China-style censorship of Apple’s Safari browser, nor censor anything extrinsic to his company. This kept the libertarian police at bay. And Jobs’ ability to sanitize the iPad is, after all, inherently limited to the variables he controls—iPad applications and other programs, such as his products’ use of Flash software.
The most significant fact about Jobs’ announcement will be, I suspect, his introduction of moral language into the sterile domain of profit-oriented, competition-driven technology. Jobs’ refusal to surrender to the internet’s dominating force—pornography—makes his claim of “freedom from porn” quite plausible. Any such exceptionless moral claim requires grit, and can drive away business. Cynicism is easy, and, rather than interpreting this as a mere mercenary appeal to the pocketbooks of family-friendly homes, it’s reasonable to think Steve Jobs has simply taken a hard line on smut.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 2:21 PM
There’s a strangely nonchalant line at the beginning of yesterday’s New York Times profile of the thousandth US troop to die in Afghanistan:
He was an irreverent teenager with a pregnant girlfriend when the idea first crossed his mind: Join the Army, raise a family. She had an abortion, but the idea remained. Patrick S. Fitzgibbon, Saint Paddy to his friends, became Private Fitzgibbon. Three months out of basic training, he went to war.
Monday, May 17, 2010, 5:34 PM
Those of us who catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building each day—just about everyone in First Things’ New York editorial office—can’t help but notice its nightly evolution, with a new color scheme illuminating the top third of the tower each evening. A billboard to the entire city, the building surprised a good number of us late last year when its iconic flanks appeared bathed in red and yellow, marking the 60th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s 1949 Communist Revolution. Presuming only the best of motives, we concluded the Empire State Building Lighting Partners must have laid off their resident historians, who would otherwise have notified them of Mao’s responsibility for the murder of some 77 million people.
That fact alone makes it, well, somewhat curious that the Empire State Building has denied a petition by Catholic League president William Donohue to illuminate the tower in blue and white to commemorate Mother Teresa’s centenary, along with her continuing legacy in the Missionaries of Charity, with their recognizable blue and white habits. Turned down without explanation, Bill Donohue has started a new petition, now claiming over 20,000 signatures, to reverse the building’s decision. As Donohue remarked in an interview,
Mother Teresa received 124 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Freedom….She built hundreds of orphanages, hospitals, hospices, health clinics, homeless shelters, youth shelters and soup kitchens all over the world….Not surprisingly, she was voted the most admired woman in the world three years in a row in the mid-1990s. But she is not good enough to be honored by the Empire State Building.
So how do we square this snub of one of humanity’s best with the honor given one of its worst? A line from the first moments ofMacbethseems hauntingly appropriate:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Monday, May 17, 2010, 1:35 PM
There must still be a few geniuses at The Onion—America’s finest news source, yes—and perhaps a few disaffected intellectuals as well. Mustering as much cynicism—but with humor—as the academic himself, a recent Onion musing on Noam Chomsky read:
Describing himself as “terribly exhausted,” famed linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky said Monday that he was taking a break from combating the hegemony of the American imperialist machine to try and take it easy for once.
“I just want to lie in a hammock and have a nice relaxing morning,” said the outspoken anarcho-syndicalist academic, who first came to public attention with his breakthrough 1957 book Syntactic Structures. “The systems of control designed to manufacture consent among a largely ignorant public will still be there for me to worry about tomorrow. Today, I’m just going to kick back and enjoy some much-needed Noam Time.”
“No fighting against institutional racism, no exposing the legacies of colonialist ideologies still persistent today, no standing up to the widespread dissemination of misinformation and state-sanctioned propaganda,” Chomsky added. “Just a nice, cool breeze through an open window on a warm spring day.”
One of the best things about The Onion’s humor is its subtle but unforced reference to serious points in the midst of utterly irreverent wit. As Chomsky’s much-parodied attitude suggests, there’s something conspiratorial about comprehensive academic theories that renders them outlandish to those outside the gothic towers. Chesterton called them maniacal, and had little patience for rationalistic ‘theories of everything.’ Critiquing determinists unappreciative of the free will paradox, Chesterton gives a strikingly pertinent word to Chomsky’s mode of thought, in Orthodoxy:
Friday, May 7, 2010, 12:43 PM
Two new polls on Catholicism’s favor in the United States have just been released, presenting mixed results. The first, conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post, finds that unfavorable views of the Catholic Church have risen by an astonishing 25 percentage points among Americans since February. Whether that’s a bad statistic or an accurate measure of the nation’s unique religious fickleness, it’s hard to cast in a positive light. In the calm after this year’s Long Lent, the study also finds that 76 percent of all Americans disapprove of the way instances of sexual abuse were dealt with in past decades. Given that prompt’s aim to assess episcopal response—not the subjective culpability of bishops who caused scandal—one might expect the figure to be higher, with most bishops finding themselves within the 76 percent. As for practicing Catholics, “as would be expected,” ABC’s Dalia Sussman unironically notes, “views of the church are most positive among regular churchgoing Catholics,” 82 percent of whom have a favorable disposition towards the Church.
A poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times found, similarly, that 77 percent of practicing Catholics say the most recent reports on Vatican politics have no bearing on how they “feel about the Catholic Church” and nearly all Catholics (86 percent) reported that leaving the Church over sex abuse scandals was out of the question. Overall, practicing Catholics appear to align with the Church’s outlook, while lapsed Catholics—a group given significant weight by the CBS/Times pollsters—align themselves more closely with non-Catholic Americans in their views on the Church. One particularly concerning finding was that Pope Benedict’s ‘approval rating’ (no, he’s not a politician) has fluctuated by as much as 16 points in the space of a month. It’s as if the Catholics polled have had two fingers on the pulse of the New York Times, eager to believe the worst, even when sensation obscured doubtful evidence. Worse, the trend among Americans to view the pope as a spiritual politicker is only reinforced by the poll’s entirely unnuanced view towards the non-political purpose of Church leadership. Though 62 percent of practicing Catholics have a favorable disposition towards the episcopacy, the news media, alas, still seems unwilling to view the Church through anything but a political lens.
Thursday, May 6, 2010, 5:43 PM
Calvary Episcopal Church of Danvers, Massachusetts, has just announced it will begin offering a monthly worship service for dogs. Besides being driven to the service by Starbucks-jittered suburban elites in trademark Volvo station wagons, the canine faithful will enjoy the unique pleasure of being lived through vicariously. “Perfect Paws Pet Ministry,” as Calvary officials call it, will include a form of communion and prayers offered for the pets. While surely a natural outgrowth of American Episcopalianism, what really bugs me about it is the rank discrimination involved. Calvary Episcopal has announced that only well-behaved dogs may attend, and feline and equestrian companions are roundly excluded from the economy of salvation. Why not invite the local strays, or, better, invite them to preach?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 3:44 PM
According to a study released by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark, the brain’s executive network—the portion of our neural circuitry devoted to complex problem solving and truth seeking—is less active during certain modes of religious experience, especially those wherein supplicants perceive spiritual charisma in a spiritual leader and receive intercessory prayer. Uffe Schjødt, the study’s head researcher, is on Aarhus’ religious studies faculty, and in his research, scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostal Christians and 20 non-believers as they listened to prerecorded prayers. In addition to the modified functioning of the believers’ executive networks, Schjødt also found that—at least when induced remotely—the believers’ mental reaction correlated not with the spiritual status of the prayer readers, but with what listeners had been told about them. The “religious experiences” sought after by Schjødt were had by those who believed the recorded voices to be those of faith-healers:
Friday, April 30, 2010, 4:46 PM
Two Canadian parents aiming to exempt their children from a state-run religious education program are seeking recourse to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum, developed under Jean Charest’s government, is mandatory in both public and private schools, and replaces traditional religious education with a catechism on political correctness. One of the curriculum’s central ideas could otherwise hardly be found outside radical humanities departments and, as sociologist Joelle Querin puts it, it proposes that values taught by parents “are relative, and [students] are free to develop their own ethical life.” Except the values of parents who align with the Canadian government’s educational philosophy, of course. All this comes as the Quebecois are quite open on the question of religious education, with 76 percent saying parents should choose freely between Ethics and Religious Culture and alternative programs.
Besides striving to produce reactionary children and miserable parents, the Canadians have also brought a measure of sanity to their state curricula, with parental pressure pushing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to scale back his proposed sex education program, which would have forced Catholic schools to teach the gospel of free love, including graphic how to’s for deviant sex acts and a radical redefining of gender and family structure. Sometimes the very existence of these debates makes one wonder if even our hallowed liberal democracies can come to believe that the formation of children’s moral compasses is a project entirely divorced from family life.
Friday, April 30, 2010, 4:46 PM
After 160 years, St. Vincent’s Hospital, the last Catholic general hospital in New York City, has shut its doors for good. As we’ve said before—it’s a sad, sad thing.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 4:28 PM
The occasional signs and wonders can, well, do wonders to keep faith alive. In some cases, they actually keep you alive. An Australian newspaper reported just recently that a man who attempted suicide at a notorious cliff in Sydney was saved from death by a rogue wave which—by at least one reporter’s account—shortened the length of his otherwise 600-foot fall and immediately washed him onto the shore below, where he was found unharmed by a rescuers. Quite a second chance indeed.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 2:09 PM
Located close to Lincoln Center and aligned with a row of handsome buildings on Central Park West, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church represents both the traditional and the novel in mainline Protestant Christianity. The church’s interior—with its stained glass, mosaics of saints, Gothic reredos, and rose window—might pass, to the untrained eye, for a Catholic church.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
The traditional vestments and altar vessels, too, might give a similar impression. Liturgically, the service at 11 A.M. on Sunday, April 25, retained many orthodox elements, from portions of the Introit and Kyrie to the psalmody between readings and the sequence after the Gospel. The church’s preaching and affiliation, however, fit within a somewhat different tradition, as this congregation’s leaders are known for a progressivist approach to Christian social doctrine. This Sunday, the service was led by pastoral associate Rev. Dr. David G. Burke, with pastoral associate Rev. Z. Ann Schmidt preaching the sermon.
The first reading was an account, from the Acts of the Apostles, of Peter’s miraculous raising of Tabitha from the dead. The second, from Revelation, included a particularly memorable passage: “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 9:00 AM
Over at USA Today’s Faith and Reason blog, a suspiciously told story of a high school graduation ceremony held at a public auditorium . . . err, megachurch. The organizers say it doesn’t look churchy enough to violate the separation of church and everything else. USA Today thinks “five crosses greeting visitors” makes the case pretty clear. Amidst other speculation about what makes a church a church, legally speaking, the voice of Faith and Reason seems to think it’s all a subtle attempt by pesky Christians to infiltrate public life:
First Cathedral is a showplace of what’s known in evangelical circles as “relational evangelism.” You don’t clobber people with the message. You befriend them. You draw them into Christian activity circles and setting and then slowly begin your witness. Their web side mission statement is, like most evangelical churches, about reaching the world for Christ. It’s vision: “To win souls, make disciples and create A Church For All People so that everyone will experience God’s love.”
Sounds like a conspiracy to me—perhaps even Dan Brown material. Then again, one church member sounded relatively commonsensical with this observation:
Religious centers have always taken seriously their role as community resources. Traditionally, they have been a sanctuary in times of natural and human disaster. How many newcomer clubs meet in local churches? How many synagogues host day care centers? Should Christians stop exercising at the Jewish Community Center? Or Jews stop sending their children to YMCA camps? Should Jews, Muslims or others avoid going to St. Francis, a Catholic hospital, when ill? Of course not.
Thursday, April 22, 2010, 4:47 PM
Anyone who attends the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. can’t help but see the plain fact that the pro-life movement is young, enthusiastic, and as varied in social makeup as any group that marches on Washington. Perhaps this is the reason the nation’s media perennially fail to show up to the event; It’s just not possible to put credible spin on a tranquil but energetic crowd of 400,000 assembled on a rainy day in January—only to acknowledge their belief that abortion is the greatest moral tragedy of our generation.
Always seeking to outdo themselves, though, some commentators’ spin efforts verged on the positively batty. CNN’s ever-agitated Rick Sanchez, amidst wide-panning shots of thousands of pro-life demonstrators, nervously asked his producer which side of the debate was better represented: “Do we know?” Only later did he admit regretfully that “the bulk of the protesters that we have seen here—that doesn’t mean there aren’t others, because we haven’t gone out and counted them individually—seem to be anti-abortion activists.” Other media outfits avoided this awkwardness by ignoring the event entirely. One notable exception was CNN, which inexplicably placed a headline photo of the half-dozen pro-choice protesters present, doing its best to portray the event as two-sided. Still worse was Krista Gesaman’s article in Newsweek claiming the March’s route was shortened this year due to the advancing age of the pro-life crowd, most of whom, she alleged, are sexagenarians. Her source? A Washington, D.C. police officer planning March logistics. Gesaman then went on to claim that young women are, on the whole, not oriented toward activism, instead taking debates to Facebook and online chat rooms. Her source for this? Kristy Maddux, a professor of historical feminism at the University of Maryland. Gesaman’s piece went on to insinuate, without evidence, that on account of these posited social trends, the March for Life has a noticeable lack of young female participants. All this mendacity might have been avoided if Gesaman had simply attended the March.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 12:10 PM
We were sad to hear recently of the passing of prominent atheist-turned-deist Antony Flew, whose obituary can be found at the London Times. He was, among a multitude of accomplishments, the author of There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. A piece he penned in response to Richard Dawkins’ polemics appeared in the pages of First Things just over a year ago, in our December 2008 issue.
Monday, April 12, 2010, 11:59 AM
Amidst other drivel in the British press today is Richard Dawkins’ and Christopher Hitchens’ effort underway to set up a legal ambush for Pope Benedict when he makes a state visit to England in September. Drawing a patently absurd comparison to Augusto Pinochet’s 1998 arrest in London, Dawkins and Hitchens no doubt took heart in United Nations jurist Geoffrey Robertson’s recent demand that Benedict be prosecuted under “universal jurisdiction” procedures similar to those deployed to indict Slobodan Milosevic for his crimes against humanity.
Perhaps these two unruly fellows—Ditchkins in the First Things stylebook—simply think the moniker “village atheist” insufficient. But more astonishing than their overwrought public tone is their total lack of self-awareness and tact. How is it possible these two born again religion abusers expect a hearing as disinterested parties in the fight, following nothing more than a thirst for justice? It doesn’t require an iota of cynicism to see that the motivation in play is the sheer thrill of putting a pope in shackles, and that the Ditchkins monstrosity cares more about the trial than about the children. Sometimes atheism poisons everything.
Friday, April 9, 2010, 8:02 PM
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I’m keen on your mention, Joe, of the role of fascination and wonder in driving young Americans to choose careers in science (and, accordingly, the role of NASA’s periodic monotony in creating apathy among astronauts-to-be). Noted astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently addressed this issue at a conference of the University of Buffalo, saying that while America is “fading” in its enthusiasm for innovation, a renewed space program might revive the strengths of the NASA of the 1960’s, which made heroic figures of astronauts and continuously advanced the space frontier:
The current plan…promotes commercial access to low Earth orbit, [but] low Earth orbit is no longer a space frontier. The original Space Act of 1958 says NASA needs to advance a space frontier. Low Earth orbit is ‘to boldly go’ where hundreds have gone before; It’s not a frontier any more.
Without a plan to go somewhere outside low Earth orbit, we’ve got no force operating on the educational pipeline of America. NASA is a force of nature like none other. With all due respect to other federal agencies, I have never seen eighth graders sit up in their chairs and say ‘when I grow up, I want to be an NSF researcher or an NIH researcher.’ They do important scientific work, but they are unknown and invisible at the age when people choose what they want to be when they grow up.
When NASA is properly funded, Tyson says,
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