Friday, December 31, 2004

Transatlantic Flight

As usual, Bill Vallicella has a number of great thoughts. Couldn't resist quoting this one:

I am getting close to the point of saying, to hell with Europe. They can't distinguish their friends from their enemies. We are the new Europe. We will carry on as they collapse into decadence. As Hegel says, "The owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk." Well, the sun is setting on old Europe, and the owl is preparing for a transatlantic flight. Perhaps only we can prevent a total Untergang des Abendlandes. On this Spenglerian note, I end.


Let's hope she doesn't have a crash landing . . . . ;)

Happy New Year (II)

Once again, I direct you to the words of David Warren:

So: are we evolving or not? The issue resurfaced this year with the discovery of "Homo floresiensis" -- which is to say, the grapefruit-sized skull of some hobbit-sized being -- in the limestone cave of Liang Bua on the Indonesian island of Flores. She lived perhaps 18,000 years ago. The Indonesian, Australian, American, and Dutch palaeontologists found other bones, too, of her contemporaries nearly as short, but the media flourish was over the "woman" only one metre high.

She has been assigned the name "Hominid LB-1", but let's call her "Flora". . . .

Palaeontologists love to discover new hominid species: it means fame, and big money. So far, more than 50 have been named by them. The discoveries can also be used, as this latest has been in the media, to debunk the religious notion that humans are unique, and illustrate evolutionary hypotheses.

Yet I myself, wandering through the streets of Calcutta seven years ago, in the rain and early-morning darkness, encountered an indisputably adult human woman of about the same weight as Flora (25 kilos), and only slightly taller. She was also blind, and being led through the mire by a man whom I took to be her husband -- himself, though much taller, implausibly diminutive. Malnutrition can do remarkable things to the human form. There is anyway great diversity in race and type: witness pygmies.

. . .

In short: adaptation yes, Darwinism no.

As one of my scientific advisers explains (a certain Peter O'Donnell of Vancouver, B.C.), you have to put your faith in science case-by-case. In his view: "Gravitation looks okay, although the constant-G may have its flaws. Chemistry looks golden. Relativity seems a better framework than Newtonian dynamics, but one suspects a new overturning ahead. Evolution? Probably a pile of crap. It seems to spring from the same faulty thinking reservoir as Marxism and other failed ideological constructs of the early 20th century."

Whereas God, creator of heaven and earth, is a single-case hypothesis, and of a different kind.

There was a huge volcanic explosion on Flores 12,000 years ago, killing who knows how many hominids of whatever description. And this Christmas, an earthquake undersea off Sumatra sent tidal waves racing across the Indian Ocean, drowning hundreds even on the distant coasts of Somalia -- a poignant reminder that a world we did not make, is also beyond our control.

Our science could not yet predict the earthquake, let alone the waves. And nothing we can imagine could ever stop such an event, whose vibrations were felt around the earth, and which slightly wobbled its axis of rotation.

The evolutionary hypothesis is the chief source of the illusion that somehow we can gain control -- and make God finally answerable to man, instead of vice versa. But in wishing you a Happy New Year, "Flora" and I would like to remind you that this will never work.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Freedom Fighter

My good friend the Concerned Catholic recently has been expressing doubts whether the idea of religious liberty is compatible with conservatism (i.e., Catholicism). I'll have a substantive response "soon" (I've been thinking about this issue for a while) but in passing thought I'd share some bits from this National Review piece on Nina Shea:



Shea is the director of the Center for Religious Freedom (part of Freedom House, America's oldest human-rights group), and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She is not your stereotypical "human-rights activist": no leftist hunger-striking protester here. Shea is impassioned yet savvy, an experienced legal mind, and a symbol of how the quest for worldwide human rights and religious freedom is increasingly the purview of the right-leaning. She is known especially for her advocacy in behalf of Christians (rare within the human-rights establishment); in 1997, Shea's first book, In the Lion's Den, won her recognition from Newsweek for "making Christian persecution Washington's hottest cause." Indeed, it was Christianity that prompted Shea to work for human rights in the first place: "I'm a Catholic, and I see it as my vocation."

. . .

While Darfur has loomed large in recent months, it has hardly been Shea's only priority: She has also worked doggedly to ensure the protection of religious minorities under the new Iraqi constitution. On that same afternoon — barely an hour after her Sudan-embassy speech — Shea meets with Eden Naby, an Assyrian Christian and an advocate for the ChaldoAssyrian community.

That community is not faring well. Under Saddam Hussein, many Iraqi Christians were exiled and killed; while the removal of the Baathist regime led to some immediate improvements, these Christians have a long way to go before attaining real security and freedom. Because they are concentrated in the north of Iraq, they face oppression especially from the Kurds, who see the Assyrians as a threat to their territorial control. The abduction of ChaldoAssyrian women is commonplace, the destruction is widespread — and government leaders disavow the brutality while secretly supplying those who perpetrate it.

The plight of Iraq's religious minorities is a familiar subject for Shea. Last fall, when she and her colleagues saw that the first draft of the Iraqi constitution lacked any provision for religious freedom in its bill of rights, "we almost dropped dead," Shea recalls, well aware of what unprotected religious minorities endure in extremist Muslim societies. So they worked through Senate offices — especially with Republicans Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback — to push for religious protections for individuals. But the constitution's second draft included only group rights, which, in the Middle East, are little better than none at all: "For Muslims, it means that the only people who really have rights . . . . to religious freedom are the clergy." Finally, on the third round, at the last minute, Shea & Co. succeeded in having individual religious rights enshrined in Iraqi law.

. . .

Shea sees extreme Islam — especially as manifested in the state-imposed application of sharia law — as one of the largest threats to religious freedom worldwide (along with persecution in the remaining Communist regimes, particularly China and Vietnam). A few months ago, Shea and Center for Religious Freedom senior fellow Paul Marshall completed a book (Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law, to be released early next year) documenting sharia's abuses in seven Muslim countries. They are also attentive to radical Islam here: The center recently concluded a study of pamphlets circulated in mosques throughout the United States bearing the official stamp of the Saudi government — documents disseminating hate and promoting intolerance among America's Muslims.

Happy New Year.

The coming of the New Year seems to afford a look back at the past in order to consider one's failings, and to celebrate one's accomplishments over the course of the old year. In doing so, what might be gained is an appreciable perspective on what it is that we believe makes us happy. I suppose it is right to say that leisure affords us such an opportunity. Anyway, it has occured to me in such an unusual moment of quiet thinking that we live in interesting times, perhaps even moral times. But in order to make this claim I will have to answer my critic. After all, what evidence do I have that we are a morally serious people? To understand how we are a moral people one need only to consider how we are equally alerted to the most hateful of all vices, and indeed the most wretched condition of mankind. We call this wretched condition, hypocrisy. What can be worse than a man who says one thing and does another? (To say nothing of the man who speaks one way so as to deceive, and acts otherwise in private!) Indeed, we judge hypocrisy not as one vice equal to others but as the king of all vices. I offer this as proof that we are moral, if not the most moral people. But I can still hear the voice of my critic, who is a stubborn man that refuses to be satisfied by my account. He asks: "So you say hypocrisy is understood as one who compels others to behave one way, and who has fallen short himself. And yet how are we to judge the correctness of his belief, or the moral quality of his behavior? Furthermore, is a corrupt man who acts according to his corrupt inclinations also moral?" The corrupt man obviously can't be moral! But what of the first question, how are we to judge these things?

Letter from Fallujah

A very interesting letter from a solider who took part in the recent battle of Fallujah, posted at 2Slick's Forum. Some selections:

After all the drills and rehearsals, the day for the attack finally came on Nov 8. Prime Minister Allawi gave the green light and Coalition and Iraqi forces went all the way. . . . Although American forces had not been into the city since April, we had been collecting intelligence on the city for months through unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's), human intelligence, and Special Forces. So we knew exactly where they stored their weapons and where they held meetings, and so on...all of these attacks from the air were precise and very effective in reducing the enemy's ability to fight us before the battle even started. . . .

The enemy tried to fight us in "the city of mosques" as dirty as they could. They fired from the steeples of the mosques and the mosques themselves. They faked being hurt and then threw grenades at soldiers when they approached to give medical treatment. They waived surrender flags, only to shoot at our forces 20 seconds later when they approached to accept their surrender. . . . One fighter came running out of a building that our tanks set on fire...he was on fire and still shooting at us. As our Sergeant Major said, "going up against tanks and brads with an AK-47, you have to admire their effort!" . . .

We were very disturbed to find one house with 5 foreigners with bullets in their head, killed execution style. Marines also came upon a house where an Iraqi soldier in the Iraqi National Guard had been shackled to the wall for 11 days and was left there to die. These insurgents are some sick people and Fallujah proved that more than ever. 2 mosques were not being used for prayer...but rather for roadside bomb making. They were literally IED assembly line factories, with hundreds of IEDs complete or being built. . . .

In Fallujah, the enemy had a military-type planning system going on. Some of the fighters were wearing body armor and kevlars, just like we do. Soldiers took fire from heavy machine guns (.50 cal) and came across the dead bodies of fighters from Chechnya, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Afghanistan, and so on...no, this was not just a city of pissed off Iraqis, mad at the Coalition for forcing Saddam out of power. It was a city full of people from all over the Middle East whose sole mission in life was to kill Americans. Problem for them is that they were in the wrong city in November 2004. . . .

The intelligence value alone is already paying huge dividends. Some of the 900 detainees are telling everything they know about other insurgents. And the enemy never expected such a large or powerful attack and they were so overwhelmed that they left behind all kinds of things, including books with names of other foreign fighters, where their money and weapons come from, etc. . . .

In the fight for Fallujah, our military lost over 50 soldiers and Marines including a sergeant major, company commander, and 8 platoon leaders- along with 40 young enlisted guys, typically between 19 and 23 years old.
I can't even tell you how proud I was to be part of this fight and know these soldiers who were going from building to building to take the fight to the enemy. . . .

I am hopeful that most Americans understand that you have to accept death to defeat evil; all of us soldiers accepted that the day we signed up.There are some things worth fighting and dying for, and making the world and especially America, a safer place, is one of them. For every Mom out there that you read about who turns into a peace protestor when her son is killed in action, there are 99 Moms you don't hear about who are proud and believe in this mission even more.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Making History?

The Belmont club has a few fascinating posts raising questions about the relationship of AP reporters and terrorist 'insurgents' in Iraq. Salon.com dismisses this as a right-wing conspiracy. Given the obvious slant of the AP article quoted, these accusations seem worth considering.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Timely Words

It is the duty of all nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow; yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necesssity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.


Abraham Lincoln wrote this in proclaiming Thanksgiving, October 3, 1863. I think it makes a fitting subject of reflection this Christmas, as we endure all the attempts to suppress the meaning of the "holiday". It's probably a little late for me to post this, but I've decided that by wishing people "Merry Christmas" one does the republic a favor . . .

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!



"When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was" (Matthew 2:9).

Providence

This synopsis of an interview with Michael Gerson, Bush's chief speech writer, says something important about a key component of Bush's religious rhetoric:

Providence. The notion that God is in charge of all things, including the course of America, is a theological doctrine and a long-standing tenet of the nation's "civil religion." Gerson emphasized that in Bush's mentions of providence, care is taken to avoid "the presumption" of "identifying the purposes of an individual or a nation with the purposes of God." Thus, in the 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said: "We [Americans] do not claim to know all the ways of providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life and all of history."


Providence, contrary to what many fear, is a source of humility and responsibility, not arrogance -- unless it is wrongly appropriated, of course.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Iraq

Here's an interesting article from Opinion Journal.com making the case that our soldiers are doing God's work in Iraq. A sample:

However, nowhere is the moral component of public policy more apparent than Iraq. What U.S. troops found when they overturned Saddam Hussein's regime was a society governed by a thoroughly corrupt and manifestly immoral group of thugs. We've heard the tales of rape rooms, mass murder and other despicable and nearly unimaginable tortures. What has not made it into the public debate is the larger impact the rule of these monsters had on Iraqi society. Americans may be surprised by the extent of the insurgency, but we shouldn't be. Being ruled by an immoral elite destroys the fabric of a civil society.

After decades of Saddam's debauchery, it is civilization that has to struggle to reassert itself. While we may fear that a class of clerics will win January elections and write Islam into Iraq's civil law, we should be equally fearful of setting up a government that does not recognize a larger moral system than itself. That was the essence of Saddam's regime--that the ruling elite was above any accountability. . . .

Secularists would like to convince us in America that religion is somehow incompatible with the principles of a free society. And that the display of faith in public is somehow equal to forcing religion on the general public. Yet until a real life Santa Claus steps forward to take the seat of power, the real fear is that governments will fail to recognize that they are not the final arbitrators of right and wrong and that morality matters. That's why democratic elections are so important--a leader who must face the electorate now and again comes to understand the limits to his power.

Are Americans soldiers doing the Lord's work in Iraq? To the extent that they are helping to set up a government that will be administered by a free people, the answer has to be yes.


Another WSJ article offers a bit of analysis on the source of the atrocities still being perpetrated there:

the more we learn about the insurgency, the more Mr. Anderson's analysis has proven true. The latest evidence comes from a batch of intelligence documents reported in last week's U.S. News & World Report. Reporter Edward Pound cites U.S. documents saying "former regime elements" are behind most of today's terror attacks in Iraq. He quotes one document as noting that Saddam and his allies "appear to have planned for an insurgency before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom." Months before the Coalition invasion, members of Saddam's intelligence service and Fedayeen were planning how to build roadside bombs and to target convoys and such soft targets as water plants and oil pipelines.

All of this has strategic and political consequences. One is that the troubles in Iraq aren't a matter of starry-eyed nation-building gone awry, as some conservative second-guessers now suggest. Most Iraqis really do want to build a free country. But they are opposed by an entrenched, ruthless Baathist network that is akin to the Mafia. These elements can't be bargained with, or lured into elections. They have to be killed. Imagine if the Nazi SS still had sanctuaries in Germany in 1947; no one would be thinking it had to be given a place in a future Adenauer government.

This also suggests that the number of U.S. troops on the ground matters much less than the intelligence our forces can get from Iraqis. . . .

When these columns endorsed the war in Iraq, we didn't sign up for a short or easy war. We signed up to support whatever it takes to win. No war ever goes as planned, and Iraq is no exception. But surely we can all admit that when we see those enemy assassins on our front pages, we are staring at what would be the consequences of U.S. defeat.

Haiku Me Too!

You must check out Bill's blog:
Hilarious!
Vallicella's a gas!

This is pretty funny too.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Mercy Mercy Me

David Warren has an excellent article on Vatican diplomacy and the UN. I would want to quote the whole thing, and urge you to read it. But here's a little rundown for you busy executives.

Giovanni Lajolo, 'Recently appointed the Vatican "secretary for relations with states", which is to say, the Pope's foreign minister', ' is trying to get something he calls "Christianophobia" put on the international Index, together with "anti-Semitism" and "Islamophobia", two other Official Bad Things which the U.N. already pretends to discountenance.'

Warren considers the corruption of the UN, and the likelihood of its helping the Church in any way. A few snippets of wisdom:

Christmas is upon us, and we are again reminded that Christians are persecuted in many lands. We need to distinguish between the real, manly persecution, that exists in China, many Muslim countries, and elsewhere -- places where Christians must hide their allegiances, and sometimes fear for their lives -- and the more childish forms with which we are becoming increasingly familiar in North America and Europe. . . .

Italy, the figurative heart of Catholic Christendom, is where the action is, in the West this year. All across Italy, school and municipal authorities have been banning traditional Christmas displays from public property, on the grounds that they must be offensive to Muslims -- even while prominent Italian Muslims repeatedly condemn their "excessive zeal". As they and others have observed, it is the Italian left using the Muslim community as an excuse to advance its own anti-Christian agenda.

"Multiculturalism" is used in the same way here -- as the cover for the ACLU and other doctrinaire organizations to assemble a "crusade" against Christians in particular.

What we don't realize; what I fear even Archbishop Lajolo doesn't realize, is that the enemies of Christianity make competing religious claims. Islam is the most obvious rival, but so is the state ideology in China. And in the West, what used to be called "secular humanism", and is now called "politically correct", has evolved into an alternative religion, with its own credo, its own strange gods and sacraments, its own conception of right and wrong -- which just happen to resemble the old Christian system, but turned upside down.

And the U.N. is their Vatican. Do not expect mercy from that court.


More on Vatican diplomacy and Western decadence will follow, when the last issue of First Things becomes available online. It has great stuff on this.

For coverage of persecution of Christians worldwide, I recommend the Concerned Catholic.

Piraeus quotes a fellow going after conservative Catholics who supported the Iraq war:

Christian conservatives regularly tell us how “barbarian” and “nihilist” we as a culture have become. Over and over again we are told about how debased American sexual practices are. War has always created its own horrors, but when you add soldiers produced in a culture as debased as First Things thinks this one is, Abu Ghraib should be no surprise at all. Surely, when seen through the lens of the conservative Christian indictment of American culture, the events at Abu Ghraib must raise the question of whether America can produce soldiers capable of jus in bello.


A sobering thought, but overextended. Clearly the miliatary has its own culture and were it merely of a piece with our civilian culture one can be permitted to doubt whether we would be winning victories around the world. Also, one need not maintain that civilian culture utterly debased to justify persistent though measured criticism from those who understand the importance of moral foundations. No idea whether the quoted author has a clue about this, but he definitely gets First Things all wrong, as an important part of its premise is the existence of a living Christian culture in America. Finally, fetishizing jus in bello or using it as a replacement for jus ad bello is a form of decadence which could understatedly be called making the best the enemy of the good. It is not moral to give up the right to wage war because we are not perfect beings.

On a related note, some nice reflections by Downto and his father on the flexibility of conservatism or why conservatism and "capitalism" (I will explain these scare quotes in a separate post) need not be sworn enemies (not so obivous as some may think, but necessary to stress in my opinion).

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Freudian Slip

A couple seemingly unrelated items, though they no doubt reveal some sinister conspiracy of which I'm blissfully unaware . . . .

Piraeus has a note on how the ACLU reads the first amendment -- or edits it, anyhow. One might say they are unconsciously revealing their contempt for religion, if the thing were not such an obvious con-job.

Phil muses about Viagra and the roots of our obsession with sex:

Thanks to Dr. Freud, we "know" that we should avoid sexual repression - and, man, some folks have taken that idea and run with it. Sex, in his view, was of the most utter importance. . . Thanks to the evolutionary types, we "know" that what the plebs think of as love is merely strategies for sex, and sex is merely the pathway for genes to continue on their line. Whatever nice language we put on it, we are merely the biochemical machines by which genes perpetuate themselves - the rest is epiphenomenon.

The ideas float around a while, sinking into a nation where the transcendent is severely lacking, and viola! Up comes a society that seeks salvation through the genitals.


This is literally true. If you listen closely to pop lyrics (I do not recommend doing this for protracted periods) you'll see that salvation is from love and love is a code word for the old bump and grind (which lasts "forever and ever" [you could easily add, "Amen"] and is "all you need", etc.).

Very odd, to say the least, that theories reducing us to puppets in the hands of tiny sub-organisms would inspire any kind of poetry, even the worst kind.

Sure, sex has become clinicized and *boring as hell. There is no eros left in it, as Allan Bloom argued. (Can't wait to Google the real thing!)

But still we revere it. This only goes to show the religious nature of man -- that we are inclined to worship and follow whatever seems most permanent and powerful in the world, be it public opinion (everybody's doing it, quite literally) or the expiation of finding our animal nature.

Never mind the effort of brainwashing (and Constitutional clipping) required to suppress our truer, higher selves . . . .

Book Blogging

Looks like the info. at your fingertips is about to go supernova. I'm going to be looking for more erudition than ever in all you bloggers out there . . . .

Monday, December 13, 2004

You and What Army?

James Taranto reports:

A Disarming Proposal

On a Web site called Press Action, Rosemarie Jackowski, "an advocacy journalist living in Vermont," offers an amusingly zany plan for reforming the U.N. Security Council:

The weight of a member state's vote could be inversely proportional to the number of weapon systems of that nation. That system would give nations that lack military power increased voting power. There are two advantages to that proposal. It would discourage militarization and also be one step toward global equity. . . .

Respect for the International Criminal Court is necessary for global order. Membership should not be optional. Any nation, charged with a crime against international law, should be subject to the court's findings. If a nation chooses to not participate, that nation should be tried in absentia. A verdict should be rendered. The rule of law should prevail.


And be enforced, apparently, by countries that have no weapons!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Kofi Fan Club

James Taranto reports:

Democracy, U.N.-Style
Amid calls for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's resignation over the Oil for Food scandal, "FOX News has also learned that a petition the United Nations has touted as evidence of support for Annan was not exactly democratic":

An e-mail was sent to all U.N. staff telling them that a campaign was being waged against Annan and asking them to support the secretary-general. Not only was there no confidentiality for staff--many of whom are on short-term contracts--but there was also only one option to choose from: "yes."

There was no way for a staff member to say "no, we don't support Annan." Only one-third of U.N. staffers have signed the petition.


Are there any limits to the contempt one must have for this organization?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

MBA President

The November 29 National Review (link for subscibers only) contains a fascinating piece by Richard Lowry going behind the scenes of the Bush campaign. Anyone who wonders what it's like to organize the re-election of a president in a nation of 280 mil. should check this out. Some interesting tidbits:

The seedbed for the comfortable victory of 2004 was the near-loss of 2000. Generally how it works, says Mehlman, "is if you win, you learn nothing. If you lose, you learn a lot. If you win by 500-something votes, you probably should learn a lot." The Bush campaign had been confident it would have a comfortable victory four years ago, but it evaporated on Election Day. "We had a clear understanding that we got beat on the ground," Gillespie explains. "We had to be better organized. The AFL-CIO and liberal groups have always had a more mechanical turnout. Our base has been more motivational." The Republicans set about getting mechanical.

From this study, says Mehlman, they came away with the belief that the most important thing in political communications is "personal contact from a credible source." The Republicans built on that basis. Says Gillespie: "It was like a direct-marketing appeal. We built it around personal contacts.

"We acquired a raft of consumer information — do you own a gun? attend church regularly? — that a credit-card company might get," says Mehlman. This helped identify new potential Bush voters. "You might find that someone who subscribed to Christianity Today or lived in a high-income household in an area that typically votes Republican," says a Bush campaign official. They could be added to the target list. Also, the campaign matched up its volunteers with target voters, e.g., a gun-owning volunteer would be directed to other gun owners in his area.

It was especially important to have social conservatives talk to social conservatives. The campaign famously thought there were 4 million missing evangelical voters in 2000. It sought to find them. The issues would be starker in 2004 than in the more consensus-driven election of 2000, which would help. But the campaign still had to find a transmission belt to conservative Evangelicals in the wake of the decline of the Christian Coalition. "We had hundreds of training sessions for pastors and activists," says Ken Mehlman. "People organized 'Citizenship Sundays.' Jim Dobson did great things. We reached out to individual members of megachurches who contacted their fellow attendees."

The campaign exploited new technology. You could go to the Bush website, type in your zip code, and get links to local talk radio, drafts of letters to the editor, and talking points of the day. The site had "virtual precincts." If you typed in your name and your address, you would get five people you could contact in your area and directions to their houses. You could get directions to the polls, and if you typed in ten other people, you could get directions to the polls for them, that you could forward on. "TV created an era of mass communications," says Mehlman. "The effect of the Internet is to return us to the days where local communities are important, or communities based on shared interests."

It was obvious that the media would beat on Bush as much as possible. "The ferocity of the assault was not anything anyone had ever seen before," says a Bush campaigner. "It was clear that we couldn't make any mistakes, we had to be incredibly disciplined, and we couldn't get down." The campaign also had to bypass the national media. "It was extremely critical to be able to communicate through non-traditional media, through the campaign website, through talk radio, through regional media, through blogs, and through the conservative press," says a Bush campaign official. The campaign's e-mail list reached millions — dwarfing the audience of some mainstream outlets. "It was important to remember that if something was on CNN in the middle of the afternoon," says the official, "it was being seen by only a couple hundred thousand people." Campaign officials and surrogates were booked on regional media. The campaign constantly talked to talk-radio producers and aggressively booked talk-radio shows. "The national media believe they are the focus of a presidential campaign's communications effort," says the official. "In certain ways, they were the least important part."


I'm glad they were able to do that! And it's awfully nifty to think of communities being built through the internet. Something makes me wonder, though, what else might be possible with these technologies and techniques.

Merry Deathmas!

From the Family Reserach Council:

The Silent No More campaign has gained tremendous ground by ministering to women who have suffered from abortion and providing the opportunity for these women to speak in their own voices. They were so successful that to counter their message of "I regret my abortion," Planned Parenthood started selling t-shirts proclaiming "I had an abortion." Not only were they selling them on their website, but offering them as a suggested "holiday gift." Gloria Feldt writes on Planned Parenthood's website, thanking everyone who purchased a shirt because they are now sold out and reminding them that, "The T-shirt helps to subvert the insidious silence that surrounds abortion and the shame that anti-choice extremists try to create around these personal choices and women who make them." A magazine in Kentucky has now decided to take the clothing line a step farther by offering "I love abortion" merchandise that includes a baby bib and infant t-shirts. The magazine told LifeNews.com that it's new clothing line for infants are designed as, "a humorous depiction of how far some people take certain issues."


Nothing speaks louder of the nature of evil than hanging a message of death to babies around a baby's neck. Could anyone actually believe in this, or it is not an example of the parasitic nature of evil?

Listen to these wise words:

For all our talk of creating, humanity cannot create in the true sense - nothing we do comes ex nihilo. Thanks to pride, this is intolerable to humanity. So, by attempting self-deification, one can do two things: attempt to create things ex nihilo (an impossibility), or restart from the ground up. In other words, destroy. Whether a revolutionary, an imperialist general, a mobster or a gossip, evil is followed because it is possible. That is why evil, a natureless thing, appears more active. It is more active because it is something different - it is a move to nonexistence. But the agent bringing nonexistence is like a snake eating its tail - sooner or later, the actor ceases to be as well, and his particular march of evil ends. In the end, not only will good/light win, it is an impossibility that it can be defeated.


I don't wish death to these killers, merely repentence, but death is what they're asking for this holiday season!

Hat tip: Concerned Catholic.

Just Pacifism?

Phil reviews a book that "aims to explain the Holy Father's vision of international politics, especially regarding the rights and duties of nations and the like", including a discussion of the phenomenological influences on his thought and his stance toward international realism. I myself have questions regarding the influence of contemporary theories on the Pope's Thomist framework and the effects this has on Church governance as well as its political stances. This is a great contribution to thinking about these issues, which I highly recommend.

Also, Downto has some comments on Cardinal Ratzinger's statements about the Iraq war -- dissapointingly, his eminence seemed ready to assert the supremacy of the UN. Personally, I am unable to think of that esteemed body without wanting to retch.

Iraq

David Warren has an update on the democratic process in Iraq. A selection:

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, working always at one distance through agents and advisers, not merely from personal style but from an essentially Shia notion of preserving polite distance between spiritual and worldly issues, has forged this single party out of a broad range of Shia interests and dispositions. And while the names have not yet been publicly released, I understand they include for good measure at least token Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds, and even a Christian, to provide other regional voices within the ("United Iraqi Alliance") party. Sistani has also used his influence to keep clerics off the list, which is overwhelmingly secular, and includes a sprinkling of plausible technocrats.

He has further completed the co-optation of Moqtada al-Sadr's blackshirt followers, by running a modest selection of radicals, but not al-Sadr nor any of his inner circle themselves. The Shia are thus taking care of their own "evil genies" in their own way -- by means of a very Arab internal reconciliation that would strike most Western observers as naïve. But different things work in different cultures, and in this case, the sheer prestige of Sistani and the "spiritual aristocracy" should indeed pacify the hottest heads, who would turn their guns against "Americans and their servants", but not against their own betters.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gratia plena!

The Lord possessed me at the outset of his ways,
before He made anything in the beginning.
From eternity I was ordered,
and of old, before the earth was made.
The abysses were not yet, and I already was conceived;
neither did the founts of water erupt;
neither were the heavy bulks of mountains established;
before the hills was I brought forth;
the earth was not yet made, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the round earth.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there;
when with certain laws and compass he enclosed the abysses;
when He made firm the air above and balanced the founts of water;
when He encircled the seas with their limits,
and gave laws to the waters, not to surpass their bounds;
when He weighed the foundation of the earth.
With Him I was when he composed all things;
and I delighted in each day,
playing before Him all the time; playing in the round earth;
and my delight is with the sons of man.
Now then, sons, listen to me;
blessed is he who keeps my ways.
Listen to instruction, and bring forth the fruits of wisdom,
And do not seek to refuse them.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
and watches at my gates every day,
and guards the posts of my doors.
He who finds me, finds life
and brings in salvation from the Lord.


Proverbs 8, 22-35

It it truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God: and that we should praise and bless, and proclaim Thee, in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mary, ever-Virgin: Who also conceived Thine only-begotten Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, and the glory of her virginity still abiding, gave forth to the world the everlasting Light, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, and the Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with these we entreat Thee that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted while we say with lowly praise: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are filled with Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

-- Preface of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Monday, December 06, 2004

Egalitarian Nihilism

To respond to, and expand slightly on, that last point:

When all the privileges of birth and fortune are abolished, when all professions are accessible to all, and a man's own energies may place him at the top of any one of them, an easy and unbounded career seems open to his ambition and he will readily persuade himself that he is born to no common destinies. But this is an erroneous notion, which is corrected by daily experience. The same equality that allows every citizen to conceive these lofty hopes renders all the citizens less able to realize them; it circumscribes their powers on every side, while it gives freer scope to their desires. Not only are they themselves powerless, but they are met at every step by immense obstacles, which they did not at first perceive. They have swept away the privileges of some of their fellow creatures which stood in their way, but they have opened the door to universal competition; the barrier has changed its shape rather than its position. When men are nearly alike and all follow the same track, it is very difficult for any one individual to walk quickly and cleave a way through the dense throng that surrounds and presses on him. This constant strife between the inclination springing from the equality of condition and the means it supplies to satisfy them harasses and wearies the soul.

Whatever efforts a people may make, they will never succeed in reducing all the conditions of society to a perfect level; and even if they unhappily attained that absolute and complete equality of position, the inequality of minds would still remain, which, coming directly from the hand of God, will forever escape the laws of man. However democratic, then, the social state and the political constitution of a people may be, it is certain that every member of the community will always find out several points about him which overlook his own position; and we may foresee that his looks will be doggedly fixed in that direction. When inequality of conditions is the common law of society, the most marked inequalities do not strike the eye; when everything is nearly on the same level, the slightest are marked enough to hurt it. Hence the desire of equality always becomes more insatiable in proportion as equality is more complete.

Among democratic nations, men easily attain a certain equality of condition, but they can never attain as much as they desire. It perpetually retires from before them, yet without hiding itself from their sight, and in retiring draws them on. At every moment they think they are about to grasp it; it escapes at every moment from their hold. They are near enough to see its charms, but too far off to enjoy them; and before they have fully tasted its delights, they die.

To these causes must be attributed that strange melancholy which often haunts the inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of their abundance, and that disgust at life which sometimes seizes upon them in the midst of calm and easy circumstances.

Tocqueville -- Democracy in America, Volume II, Part II, Chapter 13, "Why the Americans Are So Restless in the Midst of their Well-Being"


I select this to shed light on the kind of ambition that defines a being who could be anything but is nothing, and who therefore develops a particular resetnment toward being, as Mr. Eaton puts it. The result according to Tocqueville is what one could almost call an erotic desire for equality -- for an abstraction that at this level is a poison. Unlike healthier eros, it leads to unhappiness.

Do Americans today fit this description?

In America I saw the freest and most enlightened men placed in the happiest circumstances that the world affords, it seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought them serious and almost sad, even in their pleasures.


The whole Tocqueville chapter must be read

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Nihilism.

I wanted to respond in turn to my friend's last post 'What is Evil?'. I'm not particularly impressed with the way comments work and prefer to avoid them. Anyway, he said:

This is the kind of man whose soul is flattened, who has looked at what is wrong in himself and his fellow man and called it "spite". Spite in addition to being trivial is the opposite of well-wishing or niceness. The kind of man who calls evil "spitefulness" also thinks that "all you need is love". Forget faith and hope, forget wisdom, courage, moderation, and prudence.


I had left this question hanging in the air, so it was necessary to consider the man's nature who calls evil, spitefulness. The answer does justice to the question. Particularly the point about "niceness" (or benevolence) as the opposite of "spitefulness". Niceness is not a virtue. It is akin to gregariousness, which reminds one of a herd.

I'd only add the following: what is lost here is being. This is what I had intended to indicate, and what I take to be a consqeuence of the timid view that man is adrift in a sea of forces beyond his control. A consequence of this view is a man who boasts about what he could have been (perhaps all things, or anything, had "conditions" aligned in a particular way), so he is a man who claims to be what he is not. What, therefore, is he? Nothing.

Good idea.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

What is Evil?

A question that's been doing the rounds lately. Just as our very own Mr. Eaton weighs in on David Warren's recent piece, we have other friends of the Logos saying seemingly contrary things on the same subject.

Why do the translators prefer the mistaken "spiteful" to the accurate "wicked"? They want to empty our tongue of robust morality, or believe it already has been so emptied. Emptied of what, exactly? Mr. Warren's distinction is between morality and psychology, but Mr. Eaton rightly notes the extent to which Mr. Warren must psychologize thus to moralize. He preserves Mr. Warren's point by pointing to the desire to blame externalities for our misdeeds, so as to shirk responsibility ourselves.

I agree, but I like even better the note Mr. Eaton sounds when he remarks that

spite is a passion that seeks to be satisified through revenge, often petty in character. Can you imagine the kind of man who confounds "evil" with "spiteful"?


This is the kind of man whose soul is flattened, who has looked at what is wrong in himself and his fellow man and called it "spite". Spite in addition to being trivial is the opposite of well-wishing or niceness. The kind of man who calls evil "spitefulness" also thinks that "all you need is love". Forget faith and hope, forget wisdom, courage, moderation, and prudence.

This leads to Phil's autobiographical account explaining the root of his interest in political philosophy, beginning with a visit to then-Zaire and a very visceral sense of the lives lost to torture, tyranny, and genocide. Says Phil,

After a time, these things begin to get to you. The world, always, is a dreadful and tragic place. Action leads to horror, but so does inaction. That with all things, the hideous always appears, as it always has been and always will be.

Another student in Portland asked me about human sympathy and compassion. Yes, I know those things exist. But I am more concerned with the libido dominandi, with hatred, with the desire to destroy. These things seem the more typical, and the more active, elements of a fractured world.


Phil is driven by this glimpse of our human depths to study "the origins of such evil, why is the world fractured, can it be stopped", and also "morality in warfare - when is it acceptable to kill, whom, how, and why". And let me tell you from experience, the results are impressive. Phil has gone back to some of the greatest minds in our intellectual tradition and is reconsidering just war theory from a point of view made fresh from the originality and unconventionality as well as genius of the sources, and the all-too-vivid sense of the issues at stake. Though being human I am sure it will take him a lifetime to complete the project he's now contemplating -- a return to the metaphysical foundations of just war doctrine and critique of those theories that have lost sight of it -- I believe it will be a lifetime well spent and of tremendous boon to his fellow man, who above all requires clarity of thinking if he is to survive the age.

On a different note, Bill Vallicella asks,

Why kvetch about the negative in one’s life when the positive preponderates? Let gratitude for life’s abundance smother petty resentments.


Now Bill is no man to deny the existence of evil. In fact I cite this to make a point about evil's correlate, the absence of which accounts for it in the first place: the love of the good or God. I want to suggest, in other words, that "gratitude for life's abundance" can smother not only "petty resentments" or spitefulness but also evil itself.

Much has been made of the difference between Plato and St. Paul on the question of evil. For Plato, supposedly, there was only knowledge and ignorance of the good; for St. Paul, sometimes I do what I know is wrong. I don't want to pretend to settle this question now and perhaps never will. But I think the classical view of the soul gives us the key to addressing the problem of evil.

By knowledge Socrates was not referring to some intellectual abstraction, but something grasped by a soul that was turned in the proper direction -- toward the true, the good, and the beautiful -- and erotically engaged in that direction. Philosophy or complete interior disposition toward the good is happiness and virtue.

That there are obstacles to this proper ordering of soul -- internal as well as external obstacles -- is so far from news to Plato that it constitutes a chief theme of all his works. In one place he likens reason to a golden cord in the soul -- precious but soft -- while the coarser passions he depicts as iron -- cold but strong, and likely to snap the gold. Socrates, who shows what it means to be a true philosopher, is depicted poetically, "younger and more beautiful" than the real thing, idealized. He walks in the snow barefoot, makes no apparent effort to protect or sustain his body, stays awake philosophizing for 48 hours or more at a time, and drinks all night long without becoming tired or inebriated. Is the perfection of his soul also somewhat exaggerated? Plato makes us wonder.

He does not make us wonder about the common lot of humanity. Every person Socrates meets is non-philosophic. All are confused in their souls, attached to delusions, and hence misdirecting their energies and their lives. And though we don't often see the more concrete manifestations of this dissonance, there is the shadow of Socrates' execution at the hands of angry citizens cast on all the dialogues.

Aristotle makes the point clearly: man is given arms for virtue that he can just as easily use for vice. Therefore without laws and adjudication, man is worse than the beasts: homo lupus hominum is an understatement.

Given the late hour, and being no Socrates, I will wrap this up. What is evil? It is ignorance, if ignorance means turning away from the truth toward falsehood or being duped by the false promises of false idols. It what happens when we forget the virtues or the orientation toward the good that requires habituation and the suppression of our baser selves. The danger of our flat-souled society is that by shrugging off the awareness of good and evil and their opposition, we will stand by complacently while evil gathers arms meant for virtue.

Friday, December 03, 2004

David Warren's article "The demons"

I am impressed with Warren's insight into the translation of Dostoevsky, and in turn the condition of the translator who distorted Dostoevsky's meaning. Consider the following paragraphs (David Warren's words):

"I am a sick man. ... I am a wicked man." This is how Dostoevsky's nameless anti-hero begins his Notes from Underground, the prelude to a series of five extraordinary novels on the fate of modern man.

and...

Previous translators of, for example, the quote above, avoided the word "wicked", and usually put the word "spiteful" in its place. A moral assertion was thus replaced with a psychological one. But Dostoevsky is a moral, not a psychological writer, and the word he used in the original Russian, "zloy", does not mean "spiteful". It is the root of that word, and it means "bad, evil, wicked". The word for "spiteful" is instead "zlobnyi" -- and Dostoevsky, who had some idea what he was doing in the Russian language, did not use it.

My question is, isn't it possible to hold that Dostoevsky was a moral writer who had a psychological insight into man's nature? I ask hypothetically because I have not read Dostoevsky. Put differently, is it true that psychology is simply incompatible with a moral opinion? We can see that it's true that the term "spiteful" denotes a passion. To be more specific, spite is a passion that seeks to be satisified through revenge, often petty in character. Can you imagine the kind of man who confounds "evil" with "spiteful"? Consider the following (Warren's words):

There you have our post-modernity in a nutshell: an unthinking elision of the moral into the psychological, creating a "nuance" where no nuance exists. And by so doing, the previous translators externalized the evil that Dostoevsky's character had discovered in himself.

What kind of writer is Warren? A psychological writer, or a moral writer? I can't make up my mind!

My two cents: I think Warren is showing that men, like the translator of Russian he mentioned, do not believe that evil exists in other men. Put differently, if one is wont to see external forces as the cause of what is evil in men one has only indicated that man is the subject of such forces. This view presupposes that man is good, but is distorted or shaped by his "enviornment" (kind of like a ball of wax!). This has been the view of many on the left, which is a reason why they focus on external forces that they see as "degrading" or "limiting", such as one's birthplace and economic status. Birthplace and economic status are seen as the results of chance, and chance is cause of "evil". The left's response is to soften those forces on men, and for this purpose they utilize the wealth and power of the state, e.g., state welfare. If individuals are weak and dependent on an indifferent world the response of some leftists seems to be: at least we can make the state into a maternal "being" that provides material goods. The assumption is man is free to develop when his needs are met. There is more to it than this, but I think this forms part of the picture. It is interesting to think about this in light of Aristotle's consideration of acquisition as it relates to household management, or more specifically acquisition of human goods in the family. Aristotle shows that men are dependent on goods from the earth. Man, in other words, depends on what nature can provide. But it turns out that what nature provides men is the requirement that men provide for themselves. And indeed, we are left with the picture of a man who works for the sake of his needs.

To clarify, I don't deny that fortune can deal us a bad hand, yet what happens when we see the world this way and only this way, i.e., to see the world as a swirl of chaotic forces that drives us where it will? This, I believe, constitutes the core of Warren's insight. Surely, evil has no place in this perspective, among other things (a sense of one's inner strength for example.) The implications are rather huge. I'd like to point out one consequence of the opinions of the left, which I believe reveals a comic aspect of democracy. Consider the picture of a man who believes he could have been the "king of the world", had fortune been a bit kinder in propping him up. Such a man is ridiculous because he is a boaster; he is therefore the proper subject of comedy, so in this respect is our regime.

Activism I Can Respect

Artist Eats Fox in Political Protest

LONDON (Reuters) - Forget the soiled bedsheets and pickled animals, British art has taken another outrageous turn in an example of the unspeakable swallowing the uneatable.


Forget the Reuter's "news service" editorializing; this is the kind of stand-up behavior we need to see more of if we're to retake the culture!

Performance artist Mark McGowan, who counts among his feats pushing a peanut along the road to Tony Blair's Downing street home with his nose, has eaten a fox, in protest at the public fixation with a government ban on fox hunting.

Too much attention is paid to fox hunting, he believes. "One million people marched against fox hunting and another million marched for it. The housing estate where I live is full of crack-heads but no one marches to help them," he said.

"Everyone gets really worked up about a furry animal, but no one cares about each other."



McGowan plans to repeat the performance at an exhibition in London's Docklands on December 15.


Fox News could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Self-Abuse

No, I'm not about to get raunchy. There are things that make me wonder whether the Left is self-destructing. One is reading John Rawls. Perhaps I'll elaborate some other time, but suffice to say when the most popular liberal of the age spent the better part of his career weaving an artificial fig leaf to cover up the premises of his thought -- and despite their lack of girth never managed to cover them up completely -- you know the idea is on the decline.

On a much lighter note, here's another example. Not sure what I can say about this; you have to read it to believe it. I will only note one thing: consider the premise of the piece.

Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent . . . And watch the Democratic Party leadership walk on eggshells, try to meet him, please him, wash the windows better, get out that spot, distance themselves from gays and civil rights. See them cry for the attention and affection and approval of the President and his followers. Watch us squirm. Watch us descend into a world of crazy-making, where logic does not work and the other side tells us we are nuts when we rely on facts. A world where, worst of all, we begin to believe we are crazy.

How to break free? Again, the answer is quite simple.

First, you must admit you are a victim. Then, you must declare the state of affairs unacceptable. Next, you must promise to protect yourself and everyone around you that is being victimized. You don’t do this by responding to their demands, or becoming more like them, or engaging in logical conversation, or trying to persuade them that you are right.

Sure, we can build a better grassroots campaign, cultivate and raise up better leaders, reform the election system to make it failproof, stick to our message, learn from the strategy of the other side. But we absolutely must dispense with the notion that we are weak, godless, cowardly, disorganized, crazy, too liberal, naive, amoral, “loose”, irrelevant, outmoded, stupid and soon to be extinct.


Methinks I hear the rushing of a certain river in Egypt . . . .

Hat tip: who else but James Taranto?

The European Union

A case study in decadence if there ever was one. Here's a good article by George Weigel describing the recent interrogation and exclusion of Rocco Buttiglione, a proposed justice commissioner who turned out to be just too Catholic for the job.

Meaning what? He refused to promise to take a "pro-active" stand in pursuing "gay rights" or to bash the traditional view of marriage. Being Catholic, you see, he could only get a pass if he openly repudiated the teachings of the Church and common sense. It was radically insufficient to promise to protect the real rights of all citizens, regardless of their sexual behavior.

From the limited firsthand experience I have of Europeans, it seems a territory swarming with "happy nihilists" (and absurdity Allan Bloom associated with the Americanization of Continental thought, but which in some form -- Richard Rorty? -- seems very powerful in the mother country). I'm sure there are many exceptions and pockets of difference over there. But from what I see of its politics, that nihilism is confirmed.

For an interesting take on the EU, try Larry Siedentop. Though his politics are sometimes leftward, he is so in debt to Tocqueville that insights abound. In particular, there is a lot of good French bashing.

The picture he paints of the EU is interesting. A vast bureaucracy designed and operated by the French, who are afraid of having to decentralize on the home front (though they must to survive), and view this as a way of exporting centralization to the continent, and profiting at others' expense. All underwritten by Germany, as an unofficial form of WWII reparations . . . .

Maybe that's a tendentious reading, or maybe not. But certainly something wicked (not merely spiteful) is going on over there . . . .

Vote Your Passion

Over at the Insight Scoop they post an appeal (from CatholicExchange.com's Tom Allen) to visit The People's Choice Awards website and vote for "Favorite Movie Drama". On the list -- Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and some other junk.

Let Hollywood know what people of faith believe is the best movie of 2004. Vote today, and please share this announcement with your networks.
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