We are excited to offer in the next issue of First Things an essay by the baseball player turned theologian David Bentley Hart on the metaphysics of baseball. If baseball does indeed possess metaphysical qualities, one wonders whether the perfect game stolen yesterday from Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga by a blown call with two outs in the bottom of the ninth reintroduces the problem of theodicy.
Arakawa, the architect and artist whose buildings were supposed to help one live forever, has died. His wife and long-time collaborator, Madeline Gins comments:
“This mortality thing is bad news,” Ms. Gins said by phone from her studio on Houston Street. She said she would redouble her efforts to prove that “aging can be outlawed.”
The Rev. Kenneth Dupin, a Methodist minister in Salem, Virginia, might just revolutionize the way our country deals with its ever increasing elderly population. After an emotional encounter with a woman confined to a nursing home, Dupin decided to develop a novel, if not controversial, alternative to sending our loved ones to living facilities that are often over-crowded and under-staffed: the MEDCottage—a small, self-contained living space that can be placed in the backyard.
The MEDcottage would be equipped with the latest technology to monitor vital signs, filter the air for contaminants and communicate with the outside world via high-tech video. Sensors could alert caregivers to an occupant’s fall, and a computer could remind the occupant to take medications. Technology could also provide entertainment, offering a selection of music, reading material and movies.
The dwelling would take up about as much room as a large shed and, like an RV, could connect to a single-family house’s electrical and water supplies. It could be leased for about $2,000 a month, a cost Dupin hopes will be borne by health insurers.
Some wonder, however, whether such a plan would undermine residential zoning laws and create an untenable precedent:
“Is it a good idea to throw people into a storage container and put them in your back yard?” said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee). “This is the granny pod. What’s next? The college dropout pod?”
Such temporary shelters might work in rural and sparsely developed parts of the state, McKay said, but the impact could be enormous in crowded urban and suburban areas.
“This basically sets up an opportunity to do something legally which, prior to this, had been illegal—which is to set up a second residence on a single-family property. It turns our zoning ordinance upside down,” McKay said.
If societies are judged by the way they treat widows and orphans, the weak and the helpless, will this kind of solution—and our response to its implementation—be able to withstand the judgment of posterity? Are we willing to sacrifice our well being for loved ones that have done the same for us? And what is an appropriate level of sacrifice?
The federal government—with, disturbingly enough, the help of Madison Avenue marketing firms—has set up a program teaching fourth through sixth graders how to read and respond to advertisements. One wonders, however, whether today’s children—who have been targeted by advertisers practically from birth—really need the government to tell them how to react to marketing. Case in point, a game developed by the bureau to teach kids:
The bureau is especially pleased with the online game, Mr. Vladeck said, adding that he has played it himself. “I was not able to get past Level Two,” he said, laughing. “My 12-year-old nephew, in 45 minutes, was already on Level Four.”
From Slate today:
Like a birth doula, the abortion doula uses deep breathing and visualization while talking the patient through the procedure. “We are there before, during and after the abortion,” says Mahoney. “We hang out with them in the pre-op waiting room, accompany them to their procedure and stand with them during [it], and then spend time with
them in the recovery room.
Abortion, it seems, really does invert every good act.
Forty years on, Earth Day in New York City no longer brings a million people to Central Park or shuts down Fifth Avenue. But it might bring in millions for corporations looking to cash in on a public that wants to feel good about its relationship with the planet:
Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.
For this year’s celebration, Bahama Umbrella is advertising a specially designed umbrella, with a drain so that water “can be stored, reused and recycled.” Gray Line, a New York City sightseeing company, will keep running its buses on fossil fuels, but it is promoting an “Earth Week” package of day trips to green spots like the botanical gardens and flower shopping at Chelsea Market.
F. A. O. Schwarz is taking advantage of Earth Day to showcase Peat the Penguin, an emerald-tinted plush toy that, as part of the Greenzys line, is made of soy fibers and teaches green lessons to children. The penguin, Greenzys promotional material notes, “is an ardent supporter of recycling, reusing and reducing waste.”
Read the rest at The New York Times, which even ran a special section in today’s print edition called the “Business of Green”—a move that, for the more cynical among us, could be seen as an attempt to, well, cash in on Earth Day.
At Philanthropy Roundtable, Christopher Levenick profiles non-Catholic benefactors of inner-city Catholic schools. The schools’ long record of success among low-income and minority populations has not gone unnoticed by such non-Catholic philanthropists as Peter T. Grauer:
“I’m not Catholic,” says Grauer. “I grew up in a household that was Presbyterian and Episcopalian. My mother was one and my father was the other. I don’t really remember who was which. I went to Sunday school at both places, but these days I don’t spend a lot of time in church, I’m ashamed to say.”
“But,” Grauer quickly adds, “what I care about is the kids. I want to make sure they have an opportunity to get a good education. I believe that the delivery mechanism in Catholic schools is really good. It equips these kids to ultimately go on to higher education and become productive citizens—maybe even work for Bloomberg. I don’t think too much about whether a school or a donor or a student is Catholic or non-Catholic. I just think about rallying the troops to raise as much money as we can to make sure these kids have a decent opportunity.”
Over at the Jewish magazine the Tablet, David Goldman examines how America’s conservative Jews blew it on Iraq and Iran:
Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command and former commander of the multinational force in Iraq, next month will receive an award from the American Enterprise Institute named for Irving Kristol, the so-called godfather of the neo-conservatives. Petreaus made his name with the 2008 surge of U.S. forces in Iraq, for which the AEI takes some credit; the organization’s website describes resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan as “one of the intellectual architects of the successful ‘surge’ strategy in Iraq.” As the general who appeared to validate the Bush Administration’s ambitious nation-building scheme in Iraq, Petraeus earned the adulation of Jewish conservatives. “It took Lincoln three years to find Sherman and Grant. It took George Bush three years to find Petraeus,” Norman Podhoretz wrote in his bestselling book World War IV.
And so, it was perhaps not the best time for reports to emerge that Petraeus had blamed Israeli intransigence toward the Palestinians for endangering the lives of American servicemen in the Middle East—at a reported Pentagon briefing early in March and again in congressional testimony on March 16. Jewish conservatives—including Max Boot—quickly scampered to defend Obama’s top Middle East commander.
This is a grand miscalculation, I believe, on the part of the American Jewish community’s conservative wing: While the Obama Administration works to prevent Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear capacity, Jewish conservatives are battling over whether they were right in 2005, when they urged the United States to take responsibility for Iraq’s political future.
Yes, Joe, Anwar Al-Awlaki has committed treason, and treason is a crime punishable by death. As you note, the constitution is explicit in this regard. But in the chunk of Article 3, Section 3 that you cite, something else is also quite explicit:
No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Now I realize that anyone watching CNN could be considered “witnesses to the same overt act” of Al-Awlaki’s treason. (Whether you could find two people actually watching CNN—now that is a completely separate question.) But the point is that no one has given testimony—that is to say, there has been no trial. And, while Al-Awlaki has certainly confessed to treason, he hasn’t done so in an open court. So, Joe, while I agree with you that the “preponderance of the evidence is clear that Al-Awlaki has committed treason,” I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of “convicting” Al-Awlaki without even the attempt to satisfy due process. As Americans, that’s something that all of us, including Al-Awlaki, are guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
Over at NRO, Kevin D. Williamson is asking important questions about the Obama administration’s most recent foray in the war on terror, permitting the killing of American citizens targeted for their terrorist activities:
I hate to play the squish, but am I the only one who is just a little bit queasy over the fact that the president of the United States is authorizing the assassination of American citizens? . . . Surely there has to be some operational constraint on the executive when it comes to the killing of U.S. citizens. It is not impossible to imagine a president who, for instance, sincerely believes that Andy McCarthy is undermining the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute the war on terror on the legal front. A government that can kill its citizens can shut them up, no? I ask this not as a legal question, but as a moral and political question: How is it that a government that can assassinate Citizen Awlaki is unable to censor Citizen McCarthy, or drop him in an oubliette? Practically every journalist of any consequence in Washington has illegally handled a piece of classified information. Can the president have them assassinated in the name of national security? Under the Awlaki standard, why not?
If worrying that the president might be overstepping his authority in approving the targeted killing of American citizens makes you a squish, Mr. Williamson, well, that makes two of us. Oh, wait. Make that three. Conor Friedersdorf is squishing out as well:
Is our polity losing it? In proposing that middle-aged citizens be counseled by medical advisers to prepare for end-of-life decisions, the president is widely accused of supporting “death panels”—a charge trumpeted loudly by select conservatives and repeated endlessly by the national media, though avoided by many serious Republicans.
Mere weeks later, it is revealed that President Obama presides over an actual death panel, shrouded in mystery except for the fact that it literally orders the killing of United States citizens, absent any oversight. Existing hit lists include at least three Americans.
And the response?
Sorry, make that four:
I suspect I am not alone in admitting that I was initially uncomfortable at the thought of seeing the Book of Genesis depicted in a comic strip—or, as it is commonly called today, a “graphic novel.” Scripture shouldn’t be dumbed down, and the Bible should shed light on our culture, not the other way around. Despite my initial misgivings, however, Gary Anderson, in his fine review “The Bible, Rated R,” was able to convince me that, while it’s obviously no substitue for the original, R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated is able to creatively emphasize aspects of the Bible that might otherwise go unnoticed:
Crumb shows deep attention to the biblical text at many other points along the way. For example, he handles the various “begats” by listing the family members in a style that resembles a photo album of classmates or family. This is a beautiful way to depict a part of the Bible that many readers simply skip over because they are bored. But the family trees that are so basic to Genesis are anything but boring. They show us the relationships basic to the family God has elected to change the course of human history. For the Christian or the Jewish reader, this is a story about our ancestors.
Readers of First Things will no doubt be interested in an upcoming event featuring longtime contributors and board members David Novak and George Weigel. The good Rabbi will be at Georgetown University on January 21 to discuss with Weigel, Tom Farr, and William Galston his latest book, In Defense of Religious Liberty. From the event’s website:
William James once quipped that “in this age of toleration,” no one “will ever try actively to interfere with our religious faith, provided we enjoy it quietly with our friends and do not make a public nuisance of it.” Unfortunately — at least for the privatizers and the secularists — religion is a very public matter for a simple reason: most religions make definitive moral claims that implicate the common good. So says Rabbi David Novak in his new book about religious liberty, why it is endangered, and why it should be protected. His is not, however, a book about attacks on religiousfreedom in Saudi Arabia or China. It is about liberal democracies such as the United States and Canada, where religious actors andinstitutions are increasingly vulnerable because of their public dissent to emerging laws and norms on issues like same-sex marriage. Novak, a Professor of Jewish Studies and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, will discuss the perils and the remedies – including the need to ground democratic religious liberty once again (as did America’s founders) in divine law.
You can register for the event here.
For First Things‘ own discussion of Novak’s important book, be sure to check out Rick Garnett’s review, which appeared last month.
Valérie Boyer is 47, a member of the French parliament and a divorced mother of three. She is tall, fashionable and, dare we say it, slim.
But she has also created a small furor here and abroad with her latest proposal: a draft law that would require all digitally altered photographs of people used in advertising be labeled as retouched.
Some think such a law would destroy photographic art; some think it might help reduce anorexia; some say the idea is aimed at the wrong target, given that nearly every advertising photograph is retouched. Others believe such a label might sensitize people to the fakery involved in most of the advertising images with which they’re bludgeoned.
To those who fear such a law would “destroy photographic art”: really? What do you think “photographic art” is, exactly? Digitally shaving pounds off Kelly Clarkson to sell a magazine promising “total body confidence”? Or shrinking a 120-pound model’s waist down to the width of her head to sell blue jeans? If that’s the sort of thing the word would be deprived of if people were alerted to an ads’ airbrushing, well, I say good riddance.
I’m a huge fan of Jon L. Breen’s recap of the best crime and mystery novels of 2009. Breen displays a magisterial command over the genre’s canon, and, along the way, he helps less knowledgeable readers such as myself sort out the wheat from the chaff:
Few writers today attempt the kind of multilayered puzzle common in the Golden Age of Detection of the 1920s and 1930s. Writers of cozies may like to be compared to Agatha Christie, but they rarely even try to duplicate her deftly deceptive plotting. Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile, the third in a series, rather unpromisingly follows an overworked current trend in making a historical figure into a fictional sleuth. But it does go against the contemporary grain in challenging the reader with impossible murders and fairly given clues, all of which lead to a final summation of which Hercule Poirot or Ellery Queen might have been proud.
You’re right, Joe, President Obama’s speech at the Fort Hood memorial service was moving and well written. But not everything Obama has said about the recent tragedy merits our approval. On the contrary, one thing Obama suggested about the shooting deserves outright condemnation:
President Obama invoked the Fort Hood shootings in an emotional appeal to Democrats to pass health care reform today, contrasting the sacrifices of soldiers with political positioning.
The impassioned pitch to the entire Democratic caucus came hours before the House vote tonight on the signature issue of Obama’s presidency, with Democratic leaders struggling to keep members from conservative districts on board.
“He was absolutely inspiring. In a very moving way, he reminded us what sacrifice really is,” said New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews, estimating the persuader-in-chief turned several votes.
“Sacrifice is not casting a vote that might lose an election for you; it is the sacrifice that someone makes when they wear the uniform of this country and that unfortunately a number of people made this week,” said Andrews.
“It made a lot of people feel a little less sorry for themselves about their political problems,” he added. “This is an emotional time for a lot of our folks politically, but this is politics and I think he correctly pointed out what’s a heck of a lot more important.”
Using a national tragedy in which 13 of our bravest men and women lost their lives to pressure Democrats in congress into passing a completely unrelated piece of legislation is, in a word, revolting. What really surprises me though, is that such politicians as Rob Andrews were completely uncritical—and even supportive—of the president’s tactlessness. As Ann Althouse pointed out earlier this week:
I’m trying to imagine the political environment that Washington Democrats occupy. A President glibly lays out that analogy, and it is received—without any wincing or taint of disgust—as awesome inspiration. These are the minds that will be making decisions for us for quite a while.
Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Laurie Fendrich, professor of fine arts at Hofstra, sarcastically longs for a return to the pre-Christian, pagan past:
When all is said and done, I think we might have been better off if the great monotheistic religions—Islam, Judaism and Christianity—had never gotten off the ground. Beautifully lucid and full of solace as the idea of one, just God is, imagine for a moment if history had gone a different way, and we’d all remained pagans of, say, the Greek sort.
As modern-day pagans, we’d each be lovingly maintaining a little altar in the corner of our living room that would be dedicated to a particular god or goddess. Our closest friends and neighbors would most likely have altars honoring the same god or goddess, but not necessarily. All of us, no matter the particular deities we chose to honor in our own little homes, would honor and respect all the others because they belonged to the pantheon that expressed all of Nature. . . .
With hundreds if not thousands of deities being worshipped and a nearly infinite variety of pantheistic expressions throughout the United States and the world beyond, people would find it difficult to wage war over any particular gods. How would anyone figure out who wasn’t religiously the same, since all the gods would in one way or another be overlapping all the other gods, and honored by everyone?
Oh, yes. Let’s imagine a world without the Judeo-Christian command to love one’s neighbor. Let’s imagine a world in which every individual is not made in the image and likeness of God. Let’s imagine a world in which the gods can be even more capricious and wicked than their own worshipers. Let’s imagine a world in which wars were neither just nor unjust, but instead just a fact of life. And let’s also remember—because we don’t have to imagine—the Peloponnesian War, a war that needed no competing Gods to produce a casualty rate unimaginable today. (It would be as if 44 million Americans had been killed in the European and Japanese theaters of World War II.)
It might be interesting to imagine what the world would be like if the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never broke into history and supplanted paganism. But it’s also helpful, because it reminds us that the reality—that God loves us, created us in his image, and wants us to love each other—is so much better than the alternative.
Last week, Randy Cohen, “The Ethicist” at the New York Times, asked that very question:
Etiquette holds that religion, especially another person’s religion, should be treated with deference or, better still, silence by nonbelievers. Hence the familiar dinner-party injunction: don’t discuss religion or politics. Even at a table full of co-religionists, feelings can run high, and there is a reluctance to combine digestion with discord (particularly where knives are nearby). To the observant, a nonbeliever’s comments on church doctrine can feel less like a discussion of theology than a personal attack.
Yet despite the risk of provoking the ire of believers, we should discuss the actions of religious institutions as we would those of all others—courteously and vigorously. This is a mark of respect, an indication that we take such ideas seriously. To slip on the kid gloves is condescending, akin to the way you would treat children or the frail or cats.
If only Cohen would follow his own advice. Instead of discussing the actions of religious institutions “courteously and vigorously” and taking “such ideas seriously,” however, Cohen suggests something altogether discourteous and unserious: that the Vatican’s recent decision to grant Anglicans a personal ordinariate within the Catholic Church was tantamount to “bigotry.” Later, Cohen complains that more news sources did not “castigate the Vatican’s invitation to misogyny and homophobia.”
But does childishly and dismissively admonishing the Vatican for its supposed appeal to misogynic and homophobic Anglicans really amount to “talking about religion”? I can’t see how it does. I’m supportive of much of what Cohen has to say here. The media do shy away from stories on religion for fear of appearing ignorant. And our society would benefit from more vigorous and substantive discussion of the religious tenets and traditions on which this country was founded.
But it seems to me that instead of wanting to “talk about religion”—instead of investigating and writing about the historical and theological causes and implications of the latest religious headline—what Cohen really wants is the freedom to unfairly and reflexively beat religious institutions he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t understand with the stick closest at hand.
So, yes, let’s talk about religion. But let’s do it in a way that is reflective and thoughtful and doesn’t simply repeat hackneyed and unhelpful stereotypes.
At the Telegraph, Philip Womack reviews Paula Byrne’s new book, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead:
Brideshead Revisited must surely rank as one of the best-loved novels of the 20th century. Aloysius the teddy bear, Sebastian Flyte being sick through Charles Ryder’s window, Anthony Blanche declaiming TS Eliot through a megaphone—these images offer us a glimpse into an Arcadia we can never hope to enter. Evelyn Waugh believed the novel to be his masterpiece—only later did he come to disapprove of its sentimentality.
People have always tried to pinpoint the “sources” for Waugh’s characters. While acknowledging that Waugh’s supreme artistry lay in his ability to create originals out of composites, Paula Byrne has written a highly accomplished book about the family that came to inspire the Flytes of Brideshead: the Lygons (pronounced Liggon) of Madresfield. It was the family with whom Waugh fell in love, one that had more than its share of tragedy as well as laughter.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says Obama’s health-care plan is racially discriminatory. The House health-care bill backed by Obama is filled with “sections that factor in race when awarding billions in contracts, scholarships and grants” and give “preferential treatment to minority students for scholarships.” Taxpayers of all races will end up paying more because of these arbitrary racial preferences. The Civil Rights Commission has concluded that this racial discrimination is unjustified, and that it will neither “reduce health care disparities among racial and ethnic groups,” nor “improve health care in underserved areas.”
Tucked inside a sweeping House bill to overhaul the health system is a provision that would require Medicare to pay physicians to counsel patients once every five years. During those sessions, doctors could discuss how patients can plan for such end-of-life decisions as setting up a living will, obtaining hospice care or establishing a proxy to make their health decisions when they are unable to do so.
The end-of-life counseling provision in the House bill is expected to cost a few billion dollars over the next decade. But health policy experts say it could lower medical spending by reducing end-of-life medical care that patients don’t want. . . .
But growing complaints over the provision are leading key lawmakers to conclude that the health overhaul should leave out any end-of-life counseling provisions. A group in the Senate Finance Committee that is attempting to craft Congress’s only bipartisan health bill has decided to exclude such a measure, Senate aides said this week.
Let’s hope lawmakers can be persuaded to change other alarming aspects of the proposed reform.
Nina Shen Rastogi at XXfactor on a new abstinence campaign:
Just $15 plus shipping and handling gets you a tight tank top with the slogan “I’m SEXY enough . . . to keep you waiting” emblazoned across the chest. Waiting until when, exactly—after dinner and a movie? I would never argue that a woman is “asking for it” with her wardrobe choices. But you’ve got to admit, having the word sexy displayed across your breasts in bright pink capital letters . . . well, it encourages people to look at your breasts and think about sex. If you really wanted to make a tank top that encourages teenagers to take it slow, why not make one that says, “HEY, WHY DON’T YOU TRY LOOKING ME IN THE EYES?”
A storm’s a’ brewin in the mommy blogosphere:
With book deals, TV appearances and thousands of readers, moms who detail every moment of their domestic lives online produce some of the Web’s most well-read blogs.
Many of these “mommy bloggers” even draw the attention of companies that send them free product samples—everything from toys to baby strollers to video game consoles—in the hopes of getting positive coverage.
But to some, these freebies aren’t necessarily a good thing. Readers have complained they can no longer trust their favorite blogger’s advice. Veteran women bloggers grumble that newcomers sully the genre’s reputation by demanding free products and trips. Newsweek.com published an article last month headlined, “Trusted Mom or Sellout?”
“There has been a turn of goodwill [against mommy bloggers],” said Liz Gumbinner, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks. “A year ago, bloggers were rising stars. Six months later, really big marketers like Wal-Mart got into the game and started backing bloggers.
“That created a new paradigm: An A-list blogger was not the one who wrote the best and had the most influence, but had the most marketing attention and free products,” she added. “It created a new generation of bloggers who blogged to get free stuff.”
So Gumbinner and other women bloggers are taking steps to become more transparent and stem what they fear is a backlash against their profession.
What do you think? Should there be a code for mommy blogging, or is it every woman for herself? And does this kind of thing apply to blogging in general? Is blogging only “real” when there are no perks involved?
In his latest column, Bill McGurn looks at the Obama administration’s unwillingness to entertain debate on healthcare reform:
“President Obama says that both sides agree we need to lower costs, promote choice and provide coverage for every American,” says Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a free-market health-care think tank. “But he never confronts the simple fact that the measures he’s supporting achieve none of those goals. Instead of debating, the White House attacks anyone who raises a question.”
Of course, when fundamental human rights are at stake, it seems churlish to worry about little things such as the price tag. Or higher taxes. When it comes to the Holy Grail of universality, liberal intentions are far more important than actual outcomes. . . .
In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama dinged his predecessor when he asserted that his administration would “restore science to its rightful place.” The implication was unmistakable: In place of rigid religious orthodoxies, Team Obama would be clear, cool and pragmatic.
It turns out that the president has his own orthodoxies. These may owe more to his liberalism than to his faith. But they help explain the tenor of the attacks on those who dare question them—and the growing prospects for a major defeat in Congress on the president’s signature issue.