David Mills is former executive editor of First Things.

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While We’re At It - Pt. XIX

From the March 2014 Print Edition

  •  “Imagine Living in a Socialist USA” demands the cover of the latest issue of the Indypendent, a lefty paper published in Brooklyn, and besides the ­articles on that subject and transgender rock bands is one on the paper’s “all-time NFL ­non-conformist team—­rebels, idealists and iconoclasts who . . . remind us that there’s more to life than winning.”
  • Among the eight players it includes is . . . you won’t expect this: Tim Tebow. He’s “a devout fundamen­talist,” the paper explains, but “in the hedonistic world of the NFL, Tebow has stood out for being such a square. What other NFL quarterback, for instance, would proudly acknowledge he was still a virgin who was saving himself for marriage?” Speaks well of newspaper and player. Continue Reading »

    While We’re At It - Pt. XVIII

    From the February 2014 Print Edition

    • As a couple, casually but well dressed, the man in his forties and the woman in her thirties, walked by, the woman said, “Well, at least my breasts are firmer.”I would be interested to know in what world that’s a plausible sentence.• “Hillel International expects all campus organizations that use the Hillel name to adhere to these guidelines,” the president of ­Hillel ­International wrote to the student board of the group’s chapter at Swarthmore College. “No organization that uses the Hillel name may choose to do otherwise.”The group’s “Israel Guidelines” prohibit working with those who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders” or in other ways seek to harm the nation. The college’s chapter had declared that since the guidelines “privilege only one perspective on Zionism, and make others unwelcome,” they will join anyone they want to, ­“regardless of Hillel International’s Israel guidelines.”­“Let me be very clear—‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the ­Hillel roof, under any circumstances,” explained the president, Eric Fingerhut. Would that Catholic institutions were so jealous of their identity.• History, wrote Whittaker Chambers in 1954, shows that “the rock-core of the Conservative Position, or any fragment of it, can be held realistically only if conservatism will accommodate itself to the needs and hopes of the masses.” This he called “the Beaconsfield position” after the first earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli, noted for his “one nation” conservatism.Not that other conservatives liked the idea. “Inevitably, it goads one’s brothers to raise their knives against the man who holds it. Sadder yet, that man can never blame them, for he shares their feelings even when directed against himself, since he, no less than they, is also a Tory. Only, he is a Tory who means to live. And to live is not to hold the lost redoubt. To live is to maneuver.”• It apparently looks like the usual Bible, but the Holy Bible as produced by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin includes pictures, taken from the files of the Archive of Modern Conflict in London and printed on top of the words, designed to show how out-of-step it is. As the Village Voice’s reviewer explained, “Throughout, photos of levitating magicians and circus performers challenge the credulity necessary to accept the Bible as literal truth.” In one picture, a man wearing a Hitler mask performs an alternative sexual act, which “perhaps satirizes all the begetting, incest, and rape to be found within these hallowed verses.”The Voice’s reviewer seems to think this Bible strikes some kind of blow against religion—“This is disconcerting stuff, guaranteed to rile fundamentalists everywhere”—but the observant Jew and Christian will be thinking, yes, the Bible tells about a lot of bad people doing bad things, because it’s about human life, and people often act badly. In other cases such a book would be praised for realism, or even for magical realism.The Bible’s a safe target for such treatment, as even the reviewer notes at the end: “If you really want to plumb the limits of secular aesthetics? Try doing this to the Koran.” Continue Reading »

    Sentimental Rounding & the Hall of Fame

    From First Thoughts

    “In cases like Craig Biggio’s (74.8% of the vote) should the Hall of Fame round up to the required 75%?” asked an ESPN poll of its readers. And as you may have guessed, a big majority of 69% said yes. Which only proves that 69% of people who vote on baseball matters on the ESPN . . . . Continue Reading »

    The Rite of Blessing Automobiles

    From First Thoughts

    Fr. Joseph Wilson has let us publish his “Rite of Blessing Automobiles,” or rather the rite produced some years ago by Diocese of Ostergothenburg as a addition to the Book of Blessings, of which the assiduously document-collecting Father Wilson had a copy. Here, thanks to him, is . . . . Continue Reading »

    New York Encounter

    From First Thoughts

    For those in or near New York City, I commend this year’s New York Encounter, beginning on Friday evening, January 17th with a talk and a concert and ending on Sunday evening with a concert. I went to most of last year’s Encounter, as did a couple of our junior fellows, and was both taught and . . . . Continue Reading »

    Oriented Dogs

    From First Thoughts

    The world has its mysteries, and one of them is that dogs seem to know where magnetic north is, as shown by their orientation when they relieve themselves. The Cinch Review has the report. It includes at the end an interesting discussion of dogs’ intuitive knowledge of basic . . . . Continue Reading »

    While We’re At It - Pt. XVII

    From the January 2014 Print Edition

    • In France, lawyers defending twenty-­seven Roma, or Gypsies, charged with selling child brides and teaching children to steal added to the usual mitigating circumstances argument—they’re poor, so they have to steal, and so would you—the claim that France couldn’t apply its laws because the Roma didn’t recognize them. They said (this is the New York Times’ summary) “in some cases they [the Roma] were simply following age-old Roma traditions and generally operate outside the norms of society in ‘the style of the Middle Ages.’”

    “It is very difficult to interpret their behavior based on our own twentieth-century standards,” one of the lawyers told the Times. “This community crosses time and space with its traditions, and we in Europe have trouble to integrate them. Yet they have preserved their tradition, which is one of survival.”

    The court, culturally insensitive, or culturally imperialist, or just French, found twenty-six of the twenty-seven guilty.

    • The prosecution was having none of it. Finding evidence that the Roma enjoyed expensive luxuries and had used modern criminal techniques, like tossing cell phones away after using them, the prosecutor said: “Someone in the Middle Ages would not be able to launder money amassed by children. They may have grown up in Eastern Europe. But they perfectly understood Western values. They were criminals.”

    Yes, they were, but not for the reasons the prosecutor presented. (I’m assuming the court was right in convicting them.) Their use of ­modern techniques does not suggest they understand Western values. It only means they understand Western laws and what they have to do to evade them. 

    The prosecution was trying, we suspect, to find an objective basis by which to convict the Roma, that is, a way of disproving the defense’s claim on grounds the defense couldn’t contest. Because in a secular and pluralistic society the alternative is saying “This is right and that’s wrong, whatever your culture tells you,” and no one wants to say that out loud. Continue Reading »

    The Hobbit in Yiddish

    From First Thoughts

    Today’s eccentric item: How The Hobbit Learned Yiddish from Jewniverse. Computer programmer Barry Goldstein translated the book for fun, the work being “much less stressful than wrestling with a recalcitrant computer.”“This translation marks the book’s . . . . Continue Reading »

    T. F. Torrance and Orthodoxy

    From First Thoughts

    The latest issue of Participatio takes up the relation of the work of the Scottish theologian T. F. Torrance and Orthodoxy. The very rich (and thick) volume includes a biographical essay, a personal memoir by one of Torrance’s students, now an Orthodox priest; nine substantial papers on . . . . Continue Reading »