Monday, July 20, 2009, 10:14 AM
Promoter, promote thyself! Amanda was so enthusiastic about Robert Miola’s piece that she forgot to direct readers to her own thoughtful and elegant review of Paul Mariani’s Gerard Manley Hopkins (subscribers only):
Absent a biblical understanding of sacrifice, a biographer would be left to scorn or pity the poet. Mariani probes deeper. Without trying to plumb the mystery of Redemption or our participatory role, he knows that no gift of love is futile, and he sees this truth manifest in the poet: “There is something in Hopkins that keeps fighting his own extraordinary creativity, keeping it under adamantine compression so intense that it has even affected his physical well-being.” Fire burns, even the fire of love. Yet the flame of sacrifice, he adds, left “behind a scattering of diamonds to be lifted from the ashes of time.”
That is the secret of Hopkins’ life: not the passion of Cupid but the passion of the Cross, not the Song of Myself but the Song of Songs. Three decades after his quiet death—“I am so happy, I am so happy,” were his final words—the power of his verse, with its striding meter and tumbling imagery, would break into the literary world with lasting impact. But the inspiration at its core is something—someone—no creative-writing department can explain.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009, 11:50 AM
Unlike Joseph, I think social conservatism and economic leftism (if “leftism” means willingness to significantly restrict trade) are very easy to reconcile on the level of philosophy and, outside the US (a nation whose rather counterintuitive but seemingly immutable political categories were conjured by a mage named Ronald Reagan), fairly easy to combine in practice. For instance, Joseph includes the encyclical’s concerns about mobility of labor in a catalog of “left-leaning topics,” but in the context of the encyclical its connection to social conservatism is apparent. Benedict writes : “…uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. ”
Social conservatives want to encourage comprehensive virtue, or, to use the encyclical’s terms, integral human growth. Such growth requires strong commitments to other persons (which usually includes commitments to particular places), the patient cultivation of relationships of love and responsibility. It should be clear how the constant movement of goods and persons (and the constant push to do and have more, and the construal of practically all things as consumer options) under real existing capitalism sometimes threatens communities. Consumer societies incentivize displacement and foster psychological restlessness. To the extent that limiting trade can limit this vicious restlessness, the social conservative has a reason–not, obviously, a decisive one–to push for limits to trade.
None of this is original, so I am genuinely surprised at Joseph’s description of the encyclical. The encyclical may be occasionally wrong, or vague, or naive, or what have you, but I don’t see how it is somehow vacillating or incoherent. Of course it’s quite possible that I simply misunderstood Joseph’s point, so I’d be interested to hear more on the subject.
Monday, June 8, 2009, 10:37 AM
“Real disagreement is a rare achievement, because so much of what passes for disagreement is really just confusion.” So said moderator Mary Ann Glendon (quoting John Courtney Murray) at the end of a discussion—it was pointedly and pointlessly distinguished from a debate—between Robert George and Doug Kmiec held at the National Press Club on May 28. Prof. Glendon was happy to announce that the audience had been treated to a real disagreement.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this was true. George’s lucid and helpful analyses kept the event from being a waste of time, but the interlocutors were often talking past each other.
This was Kmiec’s fault for ignoring the (quite restricted) scope of the discussion. The event had been billed as follows: “The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life: Is There a Common Ground on Life Issues? What is the Right Response by ‘Pro-Life’ Citizens?” It was reasonable to expect the discussants to establish a common understanding of Obama’s stance on life issues and discuss whether pro-lifers could make any common cause with his administration on these questions given that stance.
Instead, Kmiec (who spoke first) offered an engaging but tendentious and mostly irrelevant meditation on the proper comportment of Catholic citizens in a pluralist democracy, punctuated by embarrassing hymns to the president.
George, by contrast, dutifully addressed the question. He established beyond a reasonable doubt that there could be no common ground between Obama and pro-lifers either on the basic moral question of the dignity of prenatal human life or on any questions of policy. The president, in contrast to many other pro-choice politicians, does not even claim to regard abortion as a necessary evil. Rather, he thinks it is in itself neutral and in context may be good, much like knee surgery. Furthermore, he is explicitly committed to maintaining and expanding the abortion license. Pro-life citizens (George said) can therefore do nothing but find common ground with each other in fighting Obama’s anti-life policies, pushing him to yield or compromise (and compromising is clearly quite different from standing arm-in-arm on common ground) wherever possible.
Still, even though George’s was easily the superior performance (for arguably only he even showed up for the debate), one important argument, hidden in the tangle of Kmiec’s irrelevant rhetoric, was left unanswered. George made clear that Obama did not share any political ends with pro-lifers qua pro-lifers. There could therefore be no common ground in the sense of (even partially) shared pro-life intentions. Yet Obama’s carefully worded claim that he would like to reduce the number of women seeking abortions (not because fetuses have moral value but because abortions are usually sought by women in straitened circumstances) does open up the possibility of sharing political means. If reduction in the number of abortions is likely to be a collateral benefit of many of Obama’s social policies, then shouldn’t pro-life citizens re-direct much of their energy and collaborate vigorously with Obama to implement them?
Of course, to demonstrate that this is a bad suggestion (which it is) requires something other than the philosophical analysis at which George excels. Is it reasonable to expect Obama’s other policies to compensate for or even outweigh his aggressive pro-choice policies? Such questions can only be answered by painstaking empirical investigation and a complex and unavoidably uncertain weighing of relative probabilities. (George does clearly recognize the general relevance of empirics. He referred, for instance, to studies showing that restrictive abortion laws generally led to fewer abortions. But such findings would matter less if, for instance, Obama waged a successful war on poverty.) A pair of statistically inclined veteran politicos would have arrived at “real disagreement” about these empirical judgments, but that was probably too much to expect from a discussion between a philosopher and a suave shill.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009, 12:08 PM
You make some good points, Nick, but I still support the current journalistic usage of describing pro-lifers as “opponents of abortion rights.”
Of course, it is probably true that the use of the word “rights” both reflects and encourages a bias against pro-lifers. As we all know, our society has a pathological love of anything calling itself a “right,” so describing a position as an opposition to somebody’s right rather weights the dice against it. (I should acknowledge in fairness that most media outlets also talk about supporters and opponents of “gun rights.”)
But it is precisely because I want to attack that cultural
infatuation with rights that I don’t mind being described as against abortion rights. Framing it that way allows one to foreground and frontally attack the mindless individualism at the heart of the “culture of choice” that nurtures abortion in the first place.
I also think that using the word rights is more helpful because it pinpoints what is primarily at issue in the fierce political contest that has been going on since Roe v. Wade. This battle is mainly being fought to decide what the law of the land should be with respect to abortion.
The debate about whether abortion is wrong or right is of blindingly obvious relevance, but it is distinct. It is clear that not everything that is morally impermissible must be banned and that not everything that is morally permissible must be legalized, so what you think about abortion does not determine what you think about abortion rights. There are, famously, people who think abortion is wrong who do not think it should be illegal, and I have met people who think it generally permissible but who think for other reasons that it should be restricted.
What generally matters to political journalists and their readers are the political consequences of an opinion. Whatever your reasons, what do you think should be done, and therefore what will you advocate for, who will be your allies and who will be your opponents in the public square?
Here the major division is between those who believe that the state should try to directly prevent abortions and those who think it should not. It is, to put it more simply, a struggle between the opponents and supporters of abortion rights, not abortion.
Thursday, May 21, 2009, 11:25 AM
A friend sent me this piece by Alain de Botton celebrating pessimism, describing it as “your kind of article.” Leaving aside what this is meant to imply about me, I do think it warrants some attention. De Botton writes:
The modern bourgeois philosophy pins its hopes firmly on two great presumed ingredients of happiness: love and work (more specifically, a healthy bonus). But a vast unthinking cruelty lies discreetly coiled within this magnanimous assurance that everyone will discover satisfaction here. It isn’t that love and work are invariably incapable of delivering fulfillment—only that they almost never do for too long. And when an exception is misrepresented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming inevitable, weigh down on us like curses. In denying the natural place reserved in the human lot for longing and disaster, this philosophy denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages, our unexploited ambitions, and our exploded portfolios, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to make more of ourselves.
We should instead remember the great pessimistic voices of history, of which I cherish two in particular. One is Seneca: “What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” The other is the French moralist Chamfort: “A man should swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead.”
The substance of this argument is not very interesting, but the attitude it expresses is. We have heard it said (and I think David Hart has said it best) that after Christianity there can only be post-Christianity–that is, a pervasive nihilism as total as the Christian affirmaton of being or perhaps a stew of Christian-derived secular chiliasms. There is no question of reverting to “paganism” as though Christianity never happened.
What is interesting about de Botton’s short essay is that it proposes a genuinely “tragic” and therefore genuinely pagan attitude. It is at root a kind of nihilism, but it is the serene nihilism of an Epicurean. De Botton does try to enlist Christianity to the pessimist cause, but the attempt is decidedly weak and unconvincing:
Christianity only reinforced the Stoic message. It pointed out that all human beings find it easy to imagine perfection, but that it’s a problem—indeed a sin—to suppose that such perfection can ever occur on earth. Nothing human can ever be free of blemishes. There cannot be an end to boom and bust.
This is perhaps basically true, but what de Botton omits is of central importance. Of course nothing prevents a Christian from emotionally fortifying himself by expecting the worst in any given situation. But specifically Christian peace in the face of suffering and uncertainty does not rest on any kind of pessimism, but on an overwhelmingly positive belief in God’s providence. Everything is either willed or permitted by an infinitely loving Father so one need give no thought to the morrow. There is a vast difference between “The world is pretty bad—learn to deal with it,” and “The world is pretty bad—but know that it has been dealt with.”
The trouble for de Botton is that post-Christian man may simply lack the resources to deal with unsatisfied yearning for true happiness. As Hart argues, Christianity has permanently destroyed the old coping devices by making the old gods incredible. The gospel has “rendered the ancient order visibly insufficient and even slightly absurd, and instilled in us a longing for transcendent love so deep that—if once yielded to—it will never grant us rest anywhere but in Christ.” As a consequence, modern man without faith “must wander or drift, vainly attempting one or another accommodation with death, never escaping anxiety or ennui, and driven as a result to a ceaseless labor of distraction, or acquisition, or willful idiocy.”
But I suppose we could be wrong about that.
Thursday, May 21, 2009, 9:50 AM
Diogenes proposes an apt analogy:
I see nothing wrong with swatting flies.
Let’s say that you have a different opinion. You think the lives of flies are sacred, and therefore you think that swatting flies is grossly immoral. You hold this view with the utmost sincerity. Unfortunately for you, I’m making the rules. And I say:
* You can’t refer to fly-swatting as “murder.” That would be “hate speech,” inciting others to violence.
* You can’t interfere when I swat flies.
* You must contribute to the purchase of fly swatters.
Now, with those ground-rules established, let’s begin a civil discussion of the morality of swatting flies. There’s no need for anger, recrimination, or name-calling. We have a sincere difference of opinion. Let’s– oh, wait, excuse me a moment [thwack!]– find some common ground.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 2:23 PM
It’s a very odd thing (and many have remarked on its oddness) that in America today “conservatism” suggests both support for families and hostility to the claims of community, both intense opposition to a culture of choice and intense devotion to the ideal of the freely choosing individual, both hatred of consumerism and a quasi-mystical trust in the market.
That way of putting it is of course deliberately tendentious–there are good and plausible understandings of “synthetic” conservative politics according to which these apparent contradictions become tensions at worst and outright corollaries at best. (One thinks, for instance, of Michael Novak’s Catholic arguments for “democratic capitalism.”) Still, utterly predictable “conservative” opinions like this suggest that the prevalent version of American conservatism is simply incoherent:
For many generations—before automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of towns—Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living. And long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America’s “automobile culture,” many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people’s lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this.
I can understand and respect the cautious “conservatism” of one who thinks extensive nurturing community is beyond the competence of the government (and indeed, that seems to be the point of Will’s concluding paragraph). But to mock the goal of community-oriented transit itself as an impious attack on the deity of the American Way of Life “happily” chosen by (presumably sovereign) individuals, and to gratuitously imply that only base desire to control others could explain communitarian transit policies. . . how can such expressions of bargain-basement libertarianism come from the same mind that produced Statecraft as Soulcraft? How can these attitudes be squared with Will’s Aristotelian view that politics exists not just for the sake of life, but for sake of the good life (which often differs from what some individuals happen to want)?
If Will really believes in the politics of virtue, he’d better reconsider his position on transit.
Monday, May 18, 2009, 10:40 AM
In her open letter declining the Laetare Medal, Prof. Mary Ann Glendon worried that Notre Dame’s decision to honor a strongly pro-abortion public figure would create a “trickle-down” effect by which other Catholic schools would become less hesitant to do the same, thus obscuring the seriousness of the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion.
Now I know that post hoc does not mean propter hoc, but I couldn’t help remembering Prof. Glendon’s letter yesterday afternoon as I sat in the audience at Fordham Law School’s diploma ceremony listening to pro-abortion advocate Sen. Charles Schumer wax eloquent about himself for fifteen minutes. The unannounced speech surprised almost everyone—everyone except Fordham’s president, Fr. Joseph McShane (SJ), who introduced Schumer as “a dear friend of long standing.”
I suppose it is some consolation that the powers that be at Fordham Law felt they had to keep Schumer’s speech a secret—it suggests that they expected (and dearly wished to avoid) passionate argument over their decision. Fordham seems to have recognized, with Joseph Bottum, that opposition to abortion is now at the core of Catholic culture in this country. Still, it is at least a little ironic that self-appointed defenders of “openness” and “dialogue” within the Catholic Church so easily act as unaccountable elites making decisions with consequences for the whole Church without even a show of consultation with either faithful or hierarchy.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 11:28 AM
Matthew Schmitz, writing for the delightfully quirky new blog called Plumb Lines, bemoans the proletarian invasion of what used to be the “exclusive club” of reactionaries:
Conservatives have long decried the decline of standards, and rightly so. Nowhere is this decline more evident than in the political sphere, where there have never been more minimal standards for qualifying as a reactionary than there are today. What was once a rather exclusive club occupied by Edmund Burke and his dog (who loyally adopted his master’s political program), is today flooded with all kinds of comers.
In the age of political revolution, one had to have a strong preference for the interests of the rich to be considered a revanchist in good standing. After the passions of upheaval had gone under the surface, one had to sniff out right-wingers by their fond attachment to Brahms and insistence on opening doors for ladies. Today, though, anyone who merely believes that marriage is between one man and one woman is a right-winger, a reactionary, even a bigot. Nearly all of history’s radicals would fall under this definition today.
People who are in no other sense ‘conservative’ are right to feel some discomfort at their new status. What’s worth remembering, though, is that gay marriage is a system pushed by activists who are, despite the presence of some real discrimination, educational and economic elites. Increasingly, marriage will be defended by the poor, who stand to suffer the most in a society where marriage is whatever I damn well please.
Monday, April 20, 2009, 11:19 AM
Here’s a lovely story:
Residents of a northeast Kansas town are mourning the deaths just hours apart of an elderly couple who were married 67 years. Arnita Yingling died in her sleep early Saturday at the family’s home in Troy. She was 93. Six hours later her 95-year-old husband, Lyle, died at a nursing home in the nearby town of Wathena.
At their funeral Wednesday, friends and relatives described the two as inseparable. Some found comfort knowing neither would have to live without the other.
The Yinglings were married in 1941. Both were born on northeast Kansas farms and were active in Troy as members of their church and civic organizations.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 2:34 PM
A novel solution to the economic crisis:
Perhaps the most unexpected beneficiaries of same-sex marriage will be state economies. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reports that extending marriage to gay couples brings tourism, spending on weddings and licensing fees. Same-sex marriage in Iowa, UCLA predicted last year, would bring $5.3m to state coffers and $53m to state businesses. These hard times could use a bit more cash and celebration.
Thursday, April 2, 2009, 12:15 AM
Among high-profile Catholic politicians, dissent from Church doctrine may be a disease that proceeds through predictable stages. Tom Daschle and Kathleen Sibelius, for instance, having both rejected magisterial teaching against support for abortion, now seem to both reject the injunction to “render unto Ceasar” :
Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius recently corrected three years of tax returns and paid more than $7,000 in back taxes after finding “unintentional errors” — the latest tax troubles for an Obama administration nominee.
Update: A reader rightly argues that it was unfair for me to imply equivalence between Daschle and Sibelius, since there is so far no evidence of intentional wrongdoing on the part of the latter. I confess that I found the superficial parallel too amusing to resist. I hereby retract any suggestion that Ms. Sibelius is dishonest.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009, 11:30 PM
Kirsten Powers is rightly offended by NARAL’s claim that crisis pregnancy centers should be shut down because they use the “scare tactics” of showing women photographs of their children in utero. Powers finds this “perplexing and more than a little insulting to women.” It is, she says “like saying it is a ‘scare tactic’ to show a man a picture of clogged arteries to try to get him to understand his health situation. Yes, it may scare him in a certain direction—or not—but it’s an informed decision.”
Even Powers’ apt analogy doesn’t fully demonstrate the absurdity of NARAL’s argument. Better: It is like saying it is a scare tactic to show a teenage smoker pictures of his still-healthy lungs to help him decide if they are worth preserving. As with the fetal pictures, the objective is to inspire enthusiasm for a good, not fear of a repugnant evil. Does NARAL think women too weak to bear the sight of life and health?
Friday, March 27, 2009, 10:50 AM
Fail does it again:
Friday, March 27, 2009, 10:31 AM
Apparently Newt Gingrich plans to enter the Catholic Church this Easter.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 4:59 PM
I really hope this doesn’t become a pattern:
German police say at least one of the identical twin brothers Hassan and Abbas O. may have perpetrated a recent multimillion euro jewelry heist in Berlin. But because of their indistinguishable DNA, neither can be individually linked to the crime. Both were set free on Wednesday.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 2:46 PM
Over at Vox Nova Henry Karison has a question:
Given that the United States, as a nation, has been actively involved with many intrinsic evils (unjust war, torture, the promotion of abortion, et. al), is it appropriate for a Catholic University to fly the American flag? Does that act itself give honor to a nation which supports such intrinsic evils, thereby indicating some sort of acceptance of them?
Plainly, this is an implicit comparison with Notre Dame’s invitation of President Obama to speak at this year’s commencement and to receive an honorary law degree. Many may find the comparison too outrageous to respond to, but explaining the difference between these two cases may clarify and refine the argument against Notre Dame’s decision.
The most ordinary meaning of flying a national flag is proclaiming allegiance to or support of a polity. This does imply a sort of “honor,” since you presumably think the polity worthy of such a commitment. But because polities are not persons, ethical terms are always analogical when applied to them. Strictly speaking, the United States does nothing at all. Only particular persons and groups of persons with authority within the United States have agency, and they often act at cross purposes to one another, both diachronically and synchronically.
Because of this, polities (and associations more generally) have lower standards to meet. In deciding whether to associate yourself with (and thereby implicitly honor) any group, you must judge whether the dominant spirit of its corporate decisions is good or bad. This is easier if the association has a clearly defined mission. It is obvious why a Catholic university should not fly a Planned Parenthood flag and why it is permitted to fly a Missionaries of Charity flag. Arguably, the United States of America is not so loathsome in its founding objectives and has not been so consistently and comprehensively wicked in its acts that no Catholic institution could give it honor.
Unlike polities, persons do think, act, and take positions for which they are responsible. The United States does not and can not reject abortion in the sense that Richard John Neuhaus did, nor accept abortion in the sense that Barack Obama does.
When an institution honors a person, especially in a context that puts a spotlight on its fundamental identity, it seems obvious that the person should, at the very least, not be hostile to any of the institution’s deepest commitments. When institutional identity is relevant, even the strongest claims of merit must be relativized. Even if Richard Dawkins were one of the great biologists of the twentieth century, it would be strange for Wheaton College’s department of biology to endow a chair in his name. One might think Wheaton had abandoned its Christian identity or had somehow crafted a heterodox version of Christianity compatible with militant atheism.
Similarly, when a Catholic university, at the central event of its communal life, honors a public enemy of the unborn, it suggests either that it is not serious about being Catholic or (falsely and scandalously) that opposition to abortion is not an important part of what it means to be Catholic.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 9:55 AM
Russia’s resurgent druzhiniki (volunteer civilian patrols) provide an interesting example of old-fashioned democratic action that has nothing to do with ballot boxes or liberal rights:
Druzhiniki all but disappeared after the Russian government withdrew its support with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but re-emerged in force in Moscow following terrorist attacks on two apartment buildings that killed hundreds in 1999, said Irina Svyatenko, a Moscow City Parliament member.
“At that time, people just decided to start patrolling their neighborhoods,” she said. “They did not ask anyone for permission, and there was no government initiative. People just decided that this was needed.”
Thursday, March 19, 2009, 10:16 AM
Lower living standards aren’t all bad. This MSNBC report on pawnshops contains some pretty good news.
For one thing, with suddenly-less-prosperous people willing to sacrifice their luxury goods for some cash, thrifty people can now expect fancier items when they make their weekly trek to the pawnshop:
The average pawnshop customer has an income of $29,000 and is 39 years old, according to the National Pawnbrokers Association. But in recent months, as the economy has weakened, pawnshop owners report seeing more affluent and older consumers in their stores.
. . .
“The fact that our customer base has expanded more recently because of the economic situation [means] we might be seeing better-quality goods than what we might normally see,” Adelman said.
And then there’s the encouraging uptick in sales of power tools, which suggest that “more customers are being forced to do their own home repairs because they’re strapped for cash.” There was, I’m told, a time that the popular understandings of individual “independence” included wide-ranging resourcefulness, and not just purchasing power. This kind of independence seems a necessary part of what Centisimus Annus calls “the subjectivity of society.” Our newly-minted plumbers and carpenters are probably not doing unimpeccable work, but they’ll get better with practice and may find the sense of achievement addictive.
The spike in gun sales (“We can’t keep guns in stock,” says one broker) may reflect dark premonitions about the coming years, but I prefer to think of this, too, as tending towards the general independence necessary to keep the tutelary state at bay.
But the happiest possibility of all, in my view, is that “increased interest in musical instruments may [mean] consumers [are] looking for low-cost ways to entertain themselves. ‘It’s about simpler times. . . . You stay at home, playing your guitar.’”
It would be totally obscene for me, with my warm gloves and three square meals per day, to claim that this recession thing really isn’t so bad. But I hope it will remind us that we don’t need to outsource our entertainment, and that energetic and creative collaboration with those closest to us is generally far more satisfying than pricier amusements.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009, 10:11 AM
Here’s another dyspeptic observation from the inimitable “Diogenes,” posted under “Onward Christian Facilitators”:
We sang “Lift High the Cross” at Mass on Sunday. Unless I’m mistaken, the “hosts of God” who once combined in “conquering ranks” have now become “glorious ranks.” No doubt that is to reassure everyone that we Christians aren’t in the conquering business anymore. Is anyone out there really worried about being conquered by Christians?
Still, “glorious” doesn’t sound quite right to me. I wonder whether we could combine in “vibrant” ranks.
Better yet, get rid of those “ranks” altogether. The image is far too military. I can foresee: “the hosts of God in dialogue combine.”
Granted, Christian polemicists in the culture war have an unfortunate tendency to forget that our struggle “is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Ultimately, we are to view no fellow human being as an enemy. But Christian life still does involve unrelenting struggle that demands a martial mentality. Departing from military metaphors for our service to the Lord of Hosts doesn’t just affront the literary sensibilities of fogies like “Diogenes” and me (unspeakably wicked as that is) but encourages a truly dangerous spiritual complacency.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 8:52 AM
Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 8:34 AM
Unlike Stephen Webb I quite like soccer (granted, I am a girly crypto-collectivist), but I think we can agree that rugby is a great, manly sport. Why else would The Art of Manliness offer a primer on it?:
Rugby as it exists today is one of the most exciting contact sports in existence, a perfect mix of the speed and movement of soccer and the hard hitting physical nature of American football. The Rugby World cup is the third most watched sporting event in the world, trailing close behind the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. While Americans love our football, the rest of the world loves their rugby. Indeed, the 2003 World Cup had a collective audience of over 3.5 billion, and was broadcast in 205 different countries. Maybe it’s time we Americans see what all the fuss is about. . .
Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 2:49 PM
This is from the “You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department: A friend of mine who is studying in England ordered a book from the library. His order was canceled for the following reason: UNABLE TO FETCH BOOK KEPT ON TOP SHELF IN GALLERY. DUE TO NEW HEALTH & SAFETY MEASURES STEP LADDERS CAN NO LONGER BE USED.
But I’m not too worried. I’m sure that soon enough the library will hire a professional Step Ladder Technician.
Monday, March 9, 2009, 1:47 PM
Here’s a novel suggestion in response to the economic crisis:
I propose a revolution. Our whole social order is flawed because we no longer understand the duty of the sexes. The duty of men is to talk about G-d by the city gates, make speeches and occasionally kill each other. The duty of women is to make sure everyone has enough to eat and to laugh at the men behind their backs.
. . .
The necessary measures are clear: we must revoke all of the political privileges of women, and in turn forbid men from making or spending money of any sort. The 19th amendment must go. Credit card companies and banks will close accounts held by men, and stores will refuse to sell to them or hire them as employees. Only academic, theological, political, sporting and military careers will be open to men, and all shall be strictly unremunerated. If it is necessary for the purposes of democracy to pay public officials a salary, let it be paid to their wives, or to their nearest female kin if they are unmarried.
Schaengold points out that this seems to be “more or less the division of labor proposed in Proverbs 31″ which says (among other things):
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
. . .
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
I don’t know if Scripture is really presenting this arrangement as normative, but a man could get used to it very quickly.
Friday, March 6, 2009, 2:53 PM
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Over at the new group blog, Plumb Lines, David Schaengold offers an elegant and stimulating reflection on “Urban Form as Spiritual Allegory.” It is worth reproducing in full:
I recall walking through a slum once in India, girdled by a wide moat doubling as a sewer, where the buildings were built so close to one another that at times I had to turn sideways to fit between them. Occasionally I had to duck while turning to avoid the naked electrical wires strung overhead. No street ran in a straight line for more than twenty feet without careening off at a random, vertiginous angle.
After advancing through this maze for several minutes, I emerged into a courtyard built up to two stories on all sides, not more than 500 feet square, with a great blue god in the middle, twice the size of a human being. This was the only space in the slum where the watery sun could illuminate the pavement without passing through a trellis of clothes lines, power lines, and architectural promontories, and the only space wide enough to walk with comparable ease for more than a few paces. The effect was intoxicating and over-awing, long before the arrival of the inevitable and cliched am-I-the-first-Westerner-to-see-this moment.
This memory returned to me as I was reading Lewis Mumford’s The City in History, when he discusses the invention of the formal axis terminating in a church or some other monument. This is a familiar form in our age, since it was considered the exemplar of civic grandeur for several centuries in Europe (it is also a natural, if rarely employed form in a gridded city built of skyscrapers—the view up Park towards Grand Central in New York and the view down LaSalle towards the Board of Trade in Chicago being notable examples).
According to Mumford, the axis was the quintessential urban form of the Baroque city, first employed in the approach to Santa Croce in Florence and spreading from Florence like a disease to the rest of Europe. His contempt for the form is obvious, and he laments in particular the “dreary” approaches opened up in front of the old cathedrals, which used to be approachable only by twists and turns, like the idol in the slum. Certainly, even if used in the service of the Church, the linear approach to Santa Croce testifies to the glory of Man, not G-d. Mystery has been conspicuously eradicated; every form is patent and legible. From the formal axis it’s a short step to van der Rohe.
There is much to be said for the beauty of straight lines, and for Baroque urbanism in general, but the slum-dwellers and the medieval Europeans understood religion better than the Florentines. A visitor to a medieval European town looking for its church would stumble suddenly into a small open space in the presence of a tremendous vertical element whose face was a mass of flowers, monsters and saints. Like my sudden stumbling onto Krishna, this slow, difficult approach to the transcendent could be read as an allegory of Augustine’s approach to G-d: a slow, difficult inward movement until you come to the very center of yourself and find G-d pulling you up and outside.