Monday, February 27, 2006

The European Union Caves

Now there's a Dog Bites Man headline for you. The European Union ponied up one hundred twenty million euros, about US$142,000,000, for emergency aid to the Palestinian Authority. Now that the PA has elected Hamas to lead their government, the EU wasn't quite sure what to do with their murderous mascots. That's why it took them, oh, (click, clickety) almost one month to cough up the danegeld. You've just gotta wonder to what extent the Continent's Muslim minority has slipped a ring through the nose of the European governments.
It is the EU's first financial aid to the PA since the January election.

However, the organisation insisted the package was "independent from any future decisions on support for the incoming Palestinian Authority".

The next one and the next one probably will be, too.

South Dakota Abortion Ban Proceeding

Well, that didn't take long. Justice Alito, the swing vote on the U. S. Supreme Court has barely got his diplomas and family portrait unpacked in his new office, when along come some I-dare-you-to-stop-me legislation from South Dakota. This particular law, if it does become law, may get slapped down before it reaches the Supremes. But it surely seems like it's a sign of things to come.

I've long resisted coming down on one side or the other of the abortion issue, much preferring to cling to the nice, cushy fence rail. This is one of those mercifully few issues where our American standards of liberty are in direct conflict with our nation's deep-rooted Christian values. On the one hand, one's own body should surely be inviolate, so far as the state is concerned, unless you're actually incarcerated. On the other, I heartily seconded Michelle Catalano's incredulous disgust at a guest op-ed that appeared in the NYT a couple of years ago, wherein a "mother" nonchantly aborted two of her unborn triplets, so as not to have to give up her urban hipster lifestyle. Peering into such a moral void nauseates me, like unexpectedly biting down on a rotten part of a fruit.

Anyway, your First Things tie-in. Here's a poem from several years ago, no link:

Extra place set at your mind's table
like Ezekiel's empty glass, clean spoon.

Hands that never pointed out the moon,
laid the baby in the Christmas stable,

dried dishes. Voice that doesn't call
downstairs that he or she will be there

soon. In steam behind a bathroom door,
no one puts on makeup, leaves a towel

for you to find. No hairdryer.
No C in French. No midnight curfew,

no slamming door, no not-speaking-to.
When was it you began to hear

silence? They don't tell you
about that voice, clear, insistent, steady

as a heartbeat, asking, How weren't you ready?
-- Sally Thomas, "Choice"

Friday, February 24, 2006

Shuddup 'n' Play Yer Guitar

Before he was felled by his stroke, H. L. Mencken was working on his autobiography. In it, he recounted an episode where Ezra Pound, well into his brownshirt phase, was firing angry letters at Mencken for not publishing Pound's stuff in Mencken's magazine. Mencken replied:

You made your great mistake when you abandoned the poetry business, and set up shop as a wizard in general practice. You wrote, in your day, some very good verse, and I had the pleasure, along with other literary buzzards, of calling attention to it at the time. But when you fell into the hands of those London logrollers, and began to wander through pink fogs with them, all your native common sense oozed out of you, and you set up a caterwauling for all sorts of brummagem Utopias, at first in the aesthetic region only but later in the regions of political and aesthetic baloney. Thus a competent poet was spoiled to make a tinhorn politician.
-- H. L. Mencken, letter to Ezra Pound, Nov. 28, 1936

That is as good a description as any of artists--and academics--who get the idea that their eminence in their own specialities translates into political perspicacity. You can name a half-dozen such immediately, the same as I can. Maybe the same half-dozen.

The Persistance of a Meme

For a spell in 2004, Ontario considered the idea of allowing Canadian Muslims to settle their legal differences under Islamic Sharia law. The idea was rejected, but that was not that. Just as few people read the corrections in the newspaper, so few observers stay with a story to see how it ends up. So there are a lot of people out there who still think that the multi-cultis are obliviously offering Canada up to Islamic totalitarianism. Mercifully, so far it's not true.

You can keep your finger on this issue via Google's news aggregator, with this keyword search.

Catching Up With Lebanon

Remember the people power demos in Lebanon last year, against the Syria-plotted murder of Rafik Hariri? Well, part of that uprising was a little blog called Ya Libnan, to co-ordinate rallies and get word out to the outside world.

In the year since then, Ya Libnan has become a full-featured news portal and online community. Check it out; there's still plenty of heartening developments going on over there.

And it must count as one of the more encouraging trends of recents years, seeing Mediterranean, sophisticated, cosmopolitan Lebanon finally shaking free of hick, beetle-browed Syria. Having Syria rule Lebanon this past quarter-century is as if the Clampetts were dictators of Beverly Hills.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Multi-Culti Mush in the Ancient World

I attended a meeting of the local chapter of the G. K. Chesterton Society tonight. It was a welcome, refreshing hour of intelligent conversation (especially since my job is quite the shit-shower this month).

Here's a pull-quote from Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. As with so many other cultural errors and historical dangers that didn't even have names then, GKC was spot-on about the ills of what Canadian pundit David Warren called "The Great Zero", multiculturalism.

... a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon. It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting. It was an awful and an appalling escape. Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realise that the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.

I Never Thought I'd Ever Feel Sorry For The Shia', But...

In Memoriam: the Askariya shrine of the Golden Mosque, Samarra, Iraq.

What an astounding atrocity... If this doesn't bring the oft-rumored "moderate" Muslims out and on our side, then they don't exist.

And yes, this is an atrocity. It's a blessing no one was killed and everything, but the destruction of this 1100 year old artifact is an atrocity against civilization and history. The Abbassid civilization is not my civilization, of course, but it is, or was, a civilization. So vandalism like this gives me a sympathetic shiver. I got the same second-hand chill with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, six years ago. It is the mark of the barbarian to destroy what he cannot comprehend, said Arthur C. Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And Samuel Johnson said that it was a poor soul indeed who could not feel a surge of patriotism on the plains of Marathon, or of piety among the ruins of Iona. I rather like pondering the grand mosques of the world. It's a good way of appreciating the highest aesthetic achievements of the Islamic vision, without having to deal with the messy rest of it.

At least now maybe we won't get so much sanctimonious flack from the left-wing Voices Of Compassion®, whenever our troops ding the plaster of minarets from which they are taking hostile fire.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Indian Bounty on Heads of Danish Cartoonists Update

Well, this is kinda sorta heartening, except for the disheartening parts. An Indian Islamic legal council, citing Koranic precepts, denounced the Uttar Pradesh state minister who offered gold for the heads of the Danish cartoonists. But their main beef is that the proper authority for calling for such things does not lie with the secular government, but with the Islamic clergy. And the minister's fellow pols are sticking up for him.

This is not the kind of People Power I'd like to see loose in the world.

Monday, February 20, 2006

It Isn't Just Raving Street Mobs Anymore...

Behead Danish cartoonist; Indian minister tells crowd

New Delhi (ICNS) -- Minister of a northern Indian state has announced a 510-million-rupee award for anyone beheading the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Muhammad.

Haji Yaqoob Qureshi, Uttar Pradesh state's minister for for Haj and Minority Welfare, declared the award at a public rally in Meerut, a town with considerable Muslim population in the state.

"Any person who chops off the head of the cartoonist from Denmark who dared to make a caricature of Muhammad Sahib and brings it to me shall be rewarded Rs 51 crore in cash and given gold equivalent to his weight," Qureshi said according to media reports.

Protestors then burnt an effigy of the cartoonist and courted arrest demanding that India sever diplomatic ties with the Scandinavian country.

Rajnath Singh, head of the Hindu-based federal opposition party BJP, sought a clarification from the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav on the issue.

Singh also said the minister, who declared the award, either should resign or be suspended.

However, the state government has not moved against Yaqoob saying the statement was made against someone living in a distant country.

Do note: this is an official in the largest democracy in the world--the largest democracy in history, fa' Chrissakes! This seemingly minor news of a possibly idle threat is still a dismaying blow to the idea that democracy can defuse The Jihad.

Let's be fair and see what kind of followup this incident gets, whether the minister gets brought up short by the Uttar Pradesh government. But I gotta confess: reading this story made me gulp. If we lose India, then it's hard to see how we can avoid checkmate in the WOT in South Asia.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Oh Yeah? Well, Come and Get Me, Big Boy!"

William Tucker bids defiance to the cartoon jihad in The American Enterprise.

Meet The Beatles

One of my favorite critics, Terry Teachout, has an interesting article about The Beatles in Commentary magazine.

The music theater-steeped Teachout notes that "Yesterday" is The Beatles' only song which could be considered an old-style "standard". Me, I'm most impressed with the songs that are the most fecund. "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey" is raw proto-punk. Michael Stipe of REM is on record as saying that The Beatles never meant anything to him when he was starting out. Then it's a sign of The Beatles' pervasive influence then, that all of REM's output sounds like it's descended from a single Beatles song, "Rain".

My earliest rock memory is of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. It made such an impression that, even though I was barely out of diapers at that time, when I saw the same footage decades later, I recognized which section of film I had been remembering for all those years. Same when I heard the music and was old enough to really hear it. I was a child, visiting my grandparents' farmhouse, and my cousins were taping some Beatles songs via microphone to another tape player. I was down the hall playing, but whenever a different song would come on, I would jog-trot back to their room, to grin and gape. The songs evoked such a response in me that I felt that some thitherto unused faculty or sense within me was being awakened, (though I didn't phrase like that at the time, of course.) Even today, I still feel an anticipatory thrill at the opening Whangg!! of "A Hard Day's Night".


The historical significance of these achievements, however, cannot be overstated. After the Beatles, rock-and-roll would never be the same. What started out as a stripped-down, popularized blending of country music and rhythm-and-blues intended for consumption by middle-class teenagers evolved into a new musical dialect in which it was possible to make statements complex and thoughtful enough to seize and hold the attention of adult listeners.

This is not to say that rock in general has always repaid such close attention. Unlike jazz, which developed with great speed from a purely functional accompaniment of social dancing into a full-fledged art music of the highest possible seriousness, most rock has remained as commercial as the simplest-minded pop music of the pre-rock era. But between the late 60’s, when rock became the lingua franca of the baby boomers, and the late 90’s, when the disintegration of the common culture brought its stylistic hegemony to an end, the best rock groups had much to offer the serious music lover.

My Blogroll

Before I sweep up the confetti here, let me extol the websites on my blogroll to you. My blogroll is nowhere near "complete", since I myself don't use it for navigation. I use my browser's Favorites folder instead. But all the noteworthy sites I enjoy could easily double the size of my blogroll, and maybe I'll get crackin' to bulk it up soon. But in the meantime, here's who we have so far:

Alt.quotations: Just about the last civilized newsgroup left in usenet.

Bound By Gravity: If you only have time for one Canadian current affairs slash general interest blog, Andrew's would be the one to pick. By sheer chance, I was the first commenter on his blog. I left a snarky bit of abuse in response to some skepticism about the US WOT--and he's had a soft spot for me ever since, like a successful businessman keeping his first earned dollar in a frame!

Paul Cella: A fellow Atlanta ROFTER, (whom I hope to actually meet soon), a columnist at Tech Central Station, and a notable "big think" blogger on the theme of the fate of the West.

Donald Sensing: A Methodist minister with a military background, a son in the service, and all the wisdom and patriotism you can digest in one sitting. It's people like him who make me feel better about remaining in my old-line denomination.

Instapundit: All rise.

Little Green Footballs: The place to go when you're finally ready to face the facts about the global jihad.

Midwest Conservative Review: Christopher Johnson's ongoing autopsy of the American Episcopal Church. A good place to go to see what happens when a church gets to be so liberal that they refuse to impose any morals or values even on themselves.

My Amazon Review Page: My collection of reviews over at Amazon. I used to have more time for this sort of thing.

On The Square: The blog of the editors of First Things. It's only about fifteen years overdue, and well worth the wait.

Papa Ratzi Post: News and doings of the current pontiff. The host Michael S. Rose recently authored a biography of him. He also wrote Goodbye, Good Men, an account of how the Lavender Mafia took over American Catholic seminaries.

Protein Wisdom: Just your ordinary humor/political blog by a writer/linguistic theorist/stoner Rocky Mountain Jew.

ROFTERS: The original First Things blog, run by a Briton named Roger. The direct inspiration for this blog.

Sand In The Gears: Diary blogging from a thoughtful and sensitive California Christian.

The Anchoress: A pre-eminent Pajamas Media blogger with an appealingly medieval Catholic schtick.

The New Pantagruel: A Rabelaisian online journal of culture and media based out in the Midwest somewhere. Of especial interest to people who recognize when something is "Rabelaisian"; just plain good reading to everyone else.

A Scene From The Jihad, II

The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within. The Hindus ……had failed to organize their forces for the protection of their frontiers and their capitals, their wealth and their freedom, from the hordes of Scythians, Huns, Afghans and Turks hovering about India's boundaries and waiting for national weakness to let them in. For four hundred years (600-1000 A.D.) India invited conquest; and at last it came….. The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry.

-- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, 1930

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Evelyn Waugh, Curmudgeonly Catholic

Some of my favorite articles from First Things are profiles of interesting Catholics. This double book review by George Weigel from 1993 is on the British novelist and Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh. Some quotes from Waugh about his faith, taken from the article:

I always think to myself: "I know I am awful. But how much more awful I should be without the Faith." One of the joys of Catholic life is to recognize the little sparks of good everywhere, as well as the fire of the saints.

Civilization-and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe-has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. . . . It is no longer possible, as it was in the time of Gibbon, to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis on which it rests. . . . Christianity . . . is in greater need of combative strength than it has been for centuries.

And this biographical gem:

In 1940, Waugh was charged with neglecting his duties during a training exercise; part of the charge filed against him was that he had been seen smoking a cigar and drinking claret. When pressed on this during a Court of Inquiry in 1945, he admitted to having been smoking a cheroot and drinking Burgundy, but demanded of the Court why he should be "run-in by an officer so ill-bred that he could not distinguish between these totally different things."

Happy First Blogoversary Atlanta ROFTERS, Take Two

Okay, let's stuff all the toothpaste back into the tube, and try writing my lost post out again.

Coincidentally, this is roughly my tenth year of being online, too. I started out in usenet, which even back then was becoming degraded with spammers and chest-thumping toilet-stall defacers. But I honed what ability I have for pithy editorializing there. I still participate in some ngs, such as alt.quotations.

I discovered blogs via James Taranto's Best of the Web feature at Opinion Journal, in the mid-1990s. From time to time he would link to a site called Instapundit, and away I went. Through him and his prodigious linking, I quickly discovered most of my favorites on the blogosphere, including those who offered space to comment. Well! As an old usenet hand, becoming a comments regular at a dozen or so blogs came naturally to me. And I could always be sure at least one other person was reading my pearls of wisdom.

So why did I start blogging? I guess I just finally caught the bug. I actually started blogging before this, with Sorry For Not Blogging. But that was just a way of easing into blogging, never a serious enterprise. My photoblog is just a way of putting the more interesting pics in my photo collection online. And this blog started out as a running reflection on articles in the conservative Catholic journal First Things. Since then, I've branched out a little, and have had three notable hits:

A Parisienne Posts From Rioting France.

Cobb County Evolution Stickers Have Their Day In Court

American Islamic Leaders Warn Of Anti-Muslim Backlash Following Next Month's Nuking Of Tel Aviv

A first-hand report I found on usenet, a bit of citizen journalism, and a news satire collectively account for the bulk of my traffic. But I've had fun writing all of it. I've especially enjoyed going back through the First Things archives and rediscovering favorite old articles. So thanks for visiting, and thank you Jody Bottum and Richard John Neuhaus for all the food for thought over the years.

Happy First Blogoversary to Atlanta ROFTERS

I just lost forty-five minutes of my life typing up some reflections on the first year of this blog, and Blogger ate it without a crumb leftover. Thanks a diaper-full, Blogger!

Maybe I'll try again, after I walk off my frustration.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Word Cloud

Word Cloud

A neat applet from Snap Shirts-- it scans your website and creates a "word cloud" design, suitable for T-shirts, mugs, and the like.

Via Davids Medienkritik.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Look Who's Ba-aa-ack!

One of the better warbloggers known to me was a fellow named Ryan Boots, who first conceived of and hosted several Carnivals of the Liberated at the now-defunct Sound And Fury blog. It was from those Carnivals that many of us were first introduced to the now-teeming Iraqi blogs. He signed off, but recently included me in a mass-mailing announcing his return. He's actually been blogging anonymously for a year on Hispanic issues, at Gringo Unleashed. Seems he's landed a full-time blogging gig at an organization called The Alliance For School Choice. Good for him! It's nice to see him back, and also nice to know that it's still possible for someone to actually make a buck out of this blogging thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Scene From The Jihad

While I was standing thus Saladin turned to me and said: "I think that when God grants me victory over the rest of Palestine I shall divide my territories, make a will stating my wishes, then set sail on this sea for their far-off lands and pursue the Franks there, so as to free the earth of anyone who does not believe in God, or die in the attempt.
-- Ibn Shaddad, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, 13th Century

Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln

I was hoping to find Carl Sandburg's biography of Abraham Lincoln online as an e-text or something, but I didn't. Here's the gist of what I was going to post, though. Most Americans don't now realize what a world figure Lincoln was, but this second-hand anecdote from Leo Tolstoy gives an idea.

In 1908, in a wild and remote area of the North Caucusus, Leo Tolstoy, the greatest writer of the age, was the guest of a tribal chief “living far away from civilized life in the mountains.” Gathering his family and neighbors, the chief asked Tolstoy to tell stories about the famous men of history. Tolstoy told how he entertained the eager crowd for hours with tales of Alexander, Caesar, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon. When he was winding to a close, the chief stood and said, “But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock…. His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man.”

“I looked at them,” Tolstoy recalled, “and saw their faces all aglow, while their eyes were burning. I saw that those rude barbarians were really interested in a man whose name and deeds had already become a legend.” He told them everything he knew about Lincoln’s “home life and youth … his habits, his influence upon the people and his physical strength.” When he finished, they were so grateful for the story that they presented him with “a wonderful Arabian horse.” The next morning, as Tolstoy prepared to leave, they asked if he could possibly acquire for them a picture of Lincoln. Thinking that he might find one at a friend’s house in the neighboring town, Tolstoy asked one of the riders to accompany him. “I was successful in getting a large photograph from my friend,” recalled Tolstoy. As he handed it to the rider, he noted that the man’s hand trembled as he took it. “He gazed for several minutes silently, like one in a reverent prayer, his eyes filled with tears.” [In Sandburg, the chief goes on to remark on Lincoln's sad eyes, and how terrible it was that he was killed by a "villain".]

Tolstoy went on to observe, “This little incident proves how largely the name of Lincoln is worshipped throughout the world and how legendary his personality has become. Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not such a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skilful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.

“Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together.

“We are still too near to his greatness,” Tolstoy concluded, “but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.”

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

Happy 197th to Charles Darwin. The Darwin Day Celebration details are here.

UPDATE: I corrected the b'day.

Those Blasphemous Danish Cartoons...

...I won't be publishing them here. I've never felt comfortable with insults to religion (parody is another matter). Won't say I've never done it, but in this case I've settled for putting a support Denmark banner on the site, and buying some havarti cheese.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"The Noblest Man Alive" Is A Prime-Time TV Smash

Probably the most formative book I ever read in my entire life was The Gulag Archipelago. I read all three massive volumes of it the summer before my senior year in high school. Of course I couldn't absorb it all at that age, but it stretched my spiritual horizons far beyond what they had been. It proved to be a political inoculation against the more egregious leftisms I would encounter in my otherwise rewarding and enriching time in college, too. As Solzhenitsyn himself said, it was not just a secret history of the Soviet prison camp system, but an intense meditation on the soul's suffering and warpage under the heel of socialism:

So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now. If only it were all so simple? If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

There had been plenty of other testimonies about the realities of the Soviet regime, of course. Even Stalin's personal assistant, one Boris Bazhanov, bolted to the West and published in the 1920s. But none of these ever made much of a dent in the aura of progressivism and inevitability that Soviet power enjoyed with such wide swathes of the Western Left. But Solzhenitsyn's work, from One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich to Gulag, was different in a couple of crucial respects. His books were published inside the Soviet Union, putting him and his family and friends at immediate risk of arrest at any time. Andrei Sinyavsky, Yuli Daniel, and Boris Pasternak all got into hot water for their work, but not even Dr. Zhivago was as explosive as the work Solzhenitsyn was surreptitiously working on throughout the Sixties. When The Gulag Archipelago was finally published, he was too big of a cause celebre to kill or imprison, so the Soviets exiled him. Having published everything while still inside Russia made his name a by-word for courage.

And also, Solzhenitsyn embraced the Russian Orthodox faith, costing him the support of Western progressives. So long as they could flatter themselves that he was just a dissident in the Soviet Union, just like they were dissidents in the Western democracies, then fine. But for him to embrace Christianity and Russian nationalism, to attribute the nation's catastrophes to the notion that "men have forgotten God", was just too much for them. He was denounced as a bigot, a chauvinist, and an anti-semite. He finally returned to Russia in 1994 amid some fanfare, but quickly became typed as an anachronism, a spent force. His books gathered dust, and his talk show was canceled with a message on his answering machine.

But in Russian culture as in American, everything old is new again. His novel The First Circle is now a hit TV mini-series in Russia. If it's true that a generation scorns its parents and makes friends with its grandparents, then a whole new audience is discovering Solzhenitsyn.

MOSCOW, Feb. 8 — A grandfatherly figure, his bearded face wrinkled into a smile, peers down from billboards around town.

In a scene from the televised version of Solzhenitsyn's "First Circle," an inmate in one of Stalin's "special prisons" is played by Aleksei Kolubkov, center. The work deals with some of the Soviet era's darkest episodes.
It is surprise enough that the man is Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the once-exiled writer, Nobel Prize winner and, of late, octogenarian scold. It is even more so that the billboards advertise his adaptation — broadcast on state television, no less — of one of his fiercely anti-Soviet novels, "The First Circle."

Solzhenitsyn has been called the conscience of the nation, but his reputation has risen and fallen as tumultuously as Russia itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "First Circle" has once again placed him on the national stage, reaching an audience that would have been inconceivable to him four decades ago, when he smuggled the book out of the Soviet Union.

Now that's must-see TV! Wonder if there's a foreign category in the Emmy Awards?

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Few Thoughts On Marriage

Funnily enough, when I search the First Things archives for articles on marriage, I don't find many that just meditate on marriage per se. This John Witte, Jr. essay is meaty, if a little academic. But most everything else is of the "center cannot hold" type, or concering same-sex marriage (which I prefer to call "imitation marriage", but that's another post). So let's set up with a George Eliot quote, instead:

What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life--to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?
-- George Eliot, Adam Bede

When I consider my marriage, I'm pretty sure I've succeeded in my search for Real Love. But you know what? I think I am more blessed not so much by the fact that it's Love, but that it's Real. It's not imaginary; it's not counterfeit; Lord knows it's not perfect. Every season of joy and sorrow, every passing mood of affection and discord, every minor trial and tiny triumph has its residue, and all that residue floats down and forms a stratum, and all those strata create the ground under our feet. You just hope you're creating enough solid bedrock to sustain both partners for the long haul. But in my case, it could so easily have all been just nothing. Here's a rare personal glimpse into the private life of your humble host:

* Out of four years of university, the most fateful moment was a ten minute conversation with an acquaintance about three months before graduation.

* Further down the road that conversation took me, out of all the wonderful people I met, one became like a brother.

* Another chain of encounters led, much later, to a message in a bottle washing up to my particular desert isle.

* A long-distance storybook romance that had no business existing in the Twentieth-frickin'-Century led to my marriage. Break any link in the chain, and I shudder to think where either of us would be now.

Yet simply heaving a sigh of relief on having "escaped" into marriage is not the attitude I'm trying to put across. Somebody once said that young love was like a beautiful theatrical set, whereas mature love was the same set seen close up. And there is truth in that. But seeing through is not the same as seeing into. I see what's been done for me, and I see how and why (sooner or later at least), and I am always very grateful, and I hope I show it enough. As with anyone with an active imagination, it's always something of a jar for me when the real thing turns out to be substantially other than I imagined it. But, just like someone bopping his head against a wall to reassure himself that he's alive, I receive the high and low moments alike, for they are all reassuringly solid and real to me. It may sound like a rather minimal thing to be grateful for to you, kind reader, and if it is, in your case, then congratulations. You've got blessings oozing out your pores.

Have some more quotes:

Marriage has in it less of beauty, but more of safety, than the single life; it hath not more ease, but less danger; it is more merry and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but is supported by all the strengths of love and charity; and those burdens are delightful. Marriage is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills cities and churches, and heaven itself.
--Jeremy Taylor

One should believe in marriage as in the immortality of the soul.
--Honore de Balzac

All the molestations of marriage are abundantly recompensed with the other comforts which God bestoweth on them who make a wise choice of a wife.
--Thomas Fuller

Each one of an affectionate couple may be willing, as we say, to die for the other, yet unwilling to utter the agreeable word at the right moment.
--George Meredith

A great proportion of the wretchedness which has embittered married life, has originated in a negligence of trifles. Connubial happiness is a thing of too fine a texture to be handled roughly. It is a sensitive plant, which will not bear even the touch of unkindness; a delicate flower, which indifference will chill and suspicion blast. It must be watered by the showers of tender affection, expanded by the cheering glow of kindness, and guarded by the impregnable barrier of unshaken confidence. Thus matured, it will bloom with fragrance in every season of life, and sweeten even the loneliness of declining years.
--Thomas Sprat

A person's character is but half formed till after wedlock.
--Charles Simmons

Thought Experiment For Liberals

Here's a thought experiment for whatever readers of a liberal persuasion may happen by. Take a number of standard liberal disclaimers, the sort of statement that normally prefaces a criticism of Bush, the WOT, Israel, conservatives, etc.

"I support the troops, but..."

"I'm against terrorism, but..."

"I'm not anti-semitic, but..."

Change the "but" to "therefore", and then finish the sentence.

How 'bout that, eh?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In Sickness And In Health

My family's sick this week. I was sick back in January, and had my wife hovering over me the whole time. Now the wife and kids are sick, so I'm magnanimously ignoring the dishes, toys, and clothes piling up everywhere. Wouldn't want to add to her suffering by kvetching about what a mess the house is falling into, now would I?

Seriously, I'm doing what I can, which I'm painfully aware is little enough. Counterintuitively, the strain and friction makes me feel closer to her. In the course of talking about the perseverance of the Gospel in Soviet Russia, Malcolm Muggeridge puts it thus:

Along the straight paths through the pine trees I tried afterwards to sort it out in my mind. How suffering, rather than pleasure, should be the sacrament of love. The imperfection of the flesh so much more crucial than its imagined perfection; the transports of tending it in sickness far transcending those of coupling with it in health. A contradiction, a mystery. Peeping in through a broken window of the little church with the newly painted front, I saw that it was used now for storying tools, as well as some of the fallen slogans from the nearby clearing, neatly piled up for use the following summer. Yet at the back where the altar had been there was still the faint outline of a cross to be seen. Another statement of the same proposition. In its survival I read the promise that somehow this enlightenment through suffering, this assertion of the everlasting supremacy of the gospel of love over the gospel of power, would never be obliterated, however dimly and obscurely traced now, and however seemingly triumphant the forces opposed to it might seem to be.
-- Malcolm Muggeridge, of Moscow in 1932-33, _Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick_, 1973

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reflections on Coretta Scott King

Like her husband, she was no plaster lawn saint. She was a real, flesh+blood human being, like anyone else. Which, when you think about it, was pretty much the whole point of the civil rights movement: getting the white majority to accept blacks as fellow human beings, fellow Americans.

She had a petty side. Rumor had it that she would glare at seated Atlanta policemen she encountered along her way, until they respectfully stood up. She wasn't above tampering with juries. (I heard all that on the local talk radio over the years, so make of that what you will.)

She, through the King Center, called the U.S. Park Service Klansmen and lynchers, no different from her husband's murderers. This because of the Park Service's overtures to run the Center as a historical site, given its chronic lack of cash. She, along with her brood, descended into the fever swamps of conspiracy theory and became allies of her husband's murderer, James Earl Ray. She ended up in a quack clinic in Mexico, seeking a cure for her cancer. What, you think Atlanta doesn't have top-flight cancer treatment right here in town?

And yet she is a heroine. She always will be. She was so much more than that insipid cliche, an "inspiration". In the heyday of the civil rights movement she played the familiar yet probably under-appreciated supportive role by which we know her best. In the Seventies and beyond she had a hand in the decidedly less glamorous and more thankless detail work of getting civil rights expanded and entrenched in American life. She succeeded: there are no legal barriers for blacks any longer to full participation in American life. (To my mind, the civil right movement is over, seeing as how none of the problems plaguing the American black community stem from any unjust laws. But that's another post.)

Fortune rarely accompanies anyone to the door, as the saying goes. And indeed her reputation took some rude knocks in her final decade. The "Ka-ching" family, they were called in their grabbier moments. But I am extremely grateful, every day, for the good race relations this country enjoys today--which I enjoy, in my daily life. It wouldn't have been possible without her. I wouldn't have grown up the same without her. In some ways, I am one of the seeds that she broadcast in her life's work. However much I loathe the phonies and shakedown artists that call themselves the civil rights leadership nowadays, there's no denying the solid bedrock of accomplishments they're perching on.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
-- Psalms 116:15

UPDATE: The quack clinic doesn't seem to be drawing a lot of media attention, so here's more about it. Desperate people are not skeptical people; please don't let crooks swindle your ill loved ones.

Funeral of Coretta Scott King

Well, it wasn't anywhere near as classless as the big campaign rally at Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone's funeral. But it did have its tacky partisan moments. I salute President and former President Bush for showing up, being gracious, and honoring Mrs. King's legacy on behalf of all Americans.

I went out to lunch today and saw the funeral on the TV in the dining area of the restaurant I frequent. I only saw two or three hymns, sung by the enormous choir and overflow crowd. Judging by what I've read in the news, I'm glad I didn't see the rest of it, given the crass display put on by the Democrats.

The MLK holiday has become an occasion for the Dems to bugle, thrash their antlers, and spray-mark, laying claim to their possession of the black vote. Witness Hillary Clinton's plantation remarks on the one just past. Sad, but a fact. But was it really too much to expect for them to swallow their venom for just one itsy-teensy afternoon? Nope, not with all those TV cameras around. For the zillionth time since 9/11--no, since GWB declined to pursue the adolescents from the previous administration who trashed the White House on their way out--I breathed the same little prayer: Thank God the grownups are in charge.

UPDATE Feb. 9: Commenter The Polite Liberal points me to a story in Salon, which reports that the Trashed White House story was severely overblown. Thanks to him for that clarification.

Space Shuttle Challenger

My tardy commemoration:

I was in store in a small town in south Georgia when I bumped into my supervisor's wife and kids. The young daughter told me what had happened. I saw the video footage of the explosion replayed on the news that night.

By chance, a housemate of mine at that time was the son of one of the engineers at Morton-Thiokol, the makers of the O-ring seals that had failed. From him I learned of the deep shock that the senior engineers and management fell into. I remember the palpable relief I felt at not being them.

Rand Simberg is my go-to guy on space matters, and here is his anniversary post.

May God rest their souls.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cosmetic Changes of Conscience

I've made two changes to the site:

1. Out of protest at Google collaborating with the Chinese government to censor that country's internet experience, I've ditched my Google ads. Yes, I'm willing to sacrifice the, oh, forty-eight cents I've amassed during the time I've had them here.

2. I've added a banner in support of Denmark. I picked the wrong size and have shrunk it down too far, but hey! it's my first time trying this. You can choose from a number of buttons and banners here, at

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Born 100 Years Ago, Feb. 4, 1906

Not astonishingly, Bonhoeffer has been written about in First Things many times over the years. Here's your easy portal link.

To cherry-pick:

In Bonhoeffer's view, the radical-whether Nazi, Marxist, or of some other apocalyptic obsession-always hates the created world. "The radical cannot forgive God His creation. He has fallen out with the created world. . . . It is Christ's gift to the Christian that he should be reconciled with the world as it is, but now this reconciliation is accounted a betrayal and denial of Christ. It is replaced by bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for men and the world." He repeatedly asserts that "our responsibility is not infinite but limited." Each of us is "appointed to the concrete and therefore limited responsibility which knows the world as being created, loved, condemned, and reconciled by God."

Bonhoeffer was no simplistic basher of modernity. He understood the impossibility of undoing the Enlightenment and recovering the premodern world. But he believed that we could tame and chasten modern profanations-including the notion that human beings are sovereign masters, unencumbered in their sway. The key seems to be a recognition of the ironic reversal that follows the enthronement of reason. The Enlightenment proclamation of man as the rational master and unlimited sovereign of his own fate contrasts oddly with Nazi invocations of "the irrational, of blood and instinct, of the beast of prey in man," but the Nazi invocations succeeded, in part, primarily because appeals to reason, human rights, culture, and humanity-appeals that "until very recently had served as battle slogans against the Church"-could not succeed in Nazi Germany. For such appeals depended for their success upon a culture upheld by the very Church that had been weakened and compromised. The uninhibited "Will to Power" that constitutes totalitarianism is born from sovereign and unlimited reason, but reason itself gets battered and bloodied when sovereignty goes too far-when it refuses to acknowledge a limit.

Blasphemous Cartoons Timeline

Here is a good timeline of the Mohammed cartoons flap, over at Sign and Sight, the German punditry portal.

Apparently this all started out with an author looking for an illustrator for a children's book on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. "He wanted to see how deep the self-censorship in Denmark lies", an interview in Die Zeit says.

Depends on who gets to do the censoring, it seems.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Muhammad Cartoons In Newspapers Across Europe

PARIS (Reuters) - European leaders called on Friday for restraint as Muslims staged growing protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad they consider blasphemous and more newspapers reprinted the images in the name of press freedom.

This is something of a surprise, I admit. The bowing and scraping to their foaming Muslim minority, I can understand. But reprinting the 'toons, as a reaffirmation of Western freedoms?

Maybe we've found what will finally get Europe to show some spine. Tell them that they aren't allowed to sneer at something!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Black History Month

Well, one thing I can contribute is this: Over on my other blog, I have what I think is the web's largest collection of family-friendly Freaknik photos. They're spread out over a dozen or so blog posts, but this linked post is the closest I've got to an entry page.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Intelligent Design Is No Longer Just a Controversy...'s becoming a mass mania. The resounding defeat of stealthy creationism in the Dover PA case may not have a deterrent effect on similar sneak attacks on the science curriculum after all. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford:

"The idea of there being a, you know, a little mud hole and two mosquitoes get together and the next thing you know you have a human being is completely at odds with, you know, one of the laws of thermodynamics."

Set aside the old journalistic smear tactic of leaving in the quoted person's ums and ahs. The man is either actually that dumb, or he's calculated that there is considerable political gain to be had by carrying on like this.

The Charlotte Observer has a guest op-ed from an astronomer, explaining yet again why science cannot factor God into its theories, and why ID is therefore not science, and therefore does not belong in science classes. Lotsa luck! As the saying goes, you can't reason people out of convictions they were never reasoned into.

And memo to Jody Bottum and Richard John Neuhaus: I applaud Vatican astronomer Fr. George Coyne. And after all the dishonesty perpetrated by ID proponents this past year, I hope never to see Dembski & friends inside the prestigious covers of First Things ever again.