Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Scene From The Jihad, V

"Our purpose here is to give you news of what we have just done, to inform you of the utter catastrophe that has befallen you...You would have seen your knights prostrate beneath the horses' hooves, your houses stormed by pillagers and ransacked by looters...You would have seen the crosses in your churches smashed, the pages of the false Testaments scattered, the Patriarchs' tombs overturned. You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars...Since no survivor has come forward to tell you what happened, we have informed you of it, and since no-one is in a position to give you the good news that you have saved your life at a loss of everything else, we bring you the tidings in a personal letter."
-- The Mamluke Sultan Baybars, ultimatum to the Crusader strongholds after the fall of Antioch, 1268

Gospel of Judas

Will National Geographic's exclusive rights to this ancient codex turn into a media circus? NGS may be hoping so. A little showboating can be good for fundraising.

I don't doubt that the Society has had some top scholars working on the manuscript. But as I've blogged earlier, I distrust having scientific revelations made in such a splashy manner. The secrecy is unseemly, and increases the risk that NGS will embarrass themselves, if their inner circle of scholars has missed something that outsiders might have caught. We'll soon see, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


In another lifetime, I was a live-in volunteer for Habitat For Humanity. All of my trades skills, which previously were non-existent and thereafter were merely scant, date from that time.

So, when my wife insisted to take the old medicine cabinet out of the bathroom, drywall over the hole, and hang a decorative mirror in its place, I was unethusiastic but tractable. It's been a loooong time since I've wielded a spackling knife in anger.

I got the drywall patch up, got a couple of coats of mud on it, when I decided I had better take it down. I had shimmed it out too far, and it was not flush. I tried again, and it was still high, but I thought I could blend it in with the 10" blade.

But my wife, who'd never seen drywall before but has a quick eye, put a stop to the job, had me pull the patch out again, and while I was away, prepped the hole herself. She's since acquire another scrap of greenboard, cut it to size, and is waiting for me to shim it out properly. In fact, she's forbidden me to do anymore work on it without her being there to check. Most mortifying to a fragile, overgrown adolescent male ego, ... But, middle age is full of such chastening moments, and the perspective afforded by a number of educational and spiritual advantages makes me less insufferable than I might otherwise be, at such times. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Have a quote:

Alas! it is not the child but the boy that generally survives in the man.
--Arthur Helps, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd, 1835

Ahhh, GKC!

My monthly meeting with the local chapter of the Chesterton Society has become a highpoint in my routine. The talk is not especially profound, most of the time, as we mostly just read snippets and marvel at how terrific the writing is. So, I'll not lard a lot of exegesis on you here, either. We've been reading his 1925 book The Everlasting Man, and here are a few choice passages from this evening.

The statement that the meek shall inherit the earth is very far from being a meek statement. I mean it is not meek in the ordinary sense of mild and moderate and inoffensive. To justify it, it would be necessary to go very deep into history and anticipate things undreamed of then and by many unrealized even now; such as the way in which the Mystical monks reclaimed the lands which the practical kings had lost. If it was a truth at all, it was because it was a prophecy. But certainly it was not a truth in the sense of a truism.

Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they were to his time is perhaps suggested in the end of his story.

We often hear of Jesus of Nazareth as a wandering teacher; and there is a vital truth in that view in so far as it emphasizes an attitude towards luxury and convention which most respectable people would still regard as that of a vagabond.[...]It is assuredly well to remember that he would quite certainly have been moved on by the police and almost certainly arrested by the police, for having no visible means of subsistence. For our law has in it a turn of humor or touch of fancy which Nero and Herod never happened to think of; that of actually punishing homeless people for not sleeping at home.

The pagan world, as such, would not have understood any such thing as a serious suggestion that a child is higher or holier than a man. It would have seemed like the suggestion that a tadpole is higher or holier than a frog. To the merely rationalistic mind, it would sound like saying that bud must be more beautiful than a flower or that an unripe apple must be better than a ripe one. In other words, this modern feeling is an entirely mystical feeling. It is quite as mystical as the cult of virginity; in fact it is the cult of virginity. But pagan antiquity had much more idea of the holiness of the virgin than of the holiness of the child. For various reasons we have come nowadays to venerate children; Perhaps partly because we envy children for still doing what men used to do; such as play simple games and enjoy fairy-tales. Over and above this, however, there is a great deal of real and subtle psychology in our appreciation of childhood; but if we turn it into a modern discovery, we must once more admit that the historical Jesus of Nazareth had already discovered it two thousand years too soon. There was certainly nothing in the world around him to help him to the discovery. Here Christ was indeed human; but more human than a human being was then likely to be. Peter Pan does not belong to the world of Pan but the world of Peter.

And this one really needs to be intoned aloud, by Alec Guinness or someone:

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilization. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask, 'What is truth?' So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility . Yet he stands forever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical bad become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgment-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind.

You can find a hyper-text of The Everlasting Man here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

$10,000 A Year For Life?

Charles Murray, of The Bell Curve fame, is proposing the idea of giving every American adult 10K per annum for life, and eliminating all welfare.

My first reaction is one of deja vu. I remember the 1972 presidential campaign, wherein George McGovern proposed giving every a thousand bucks a year. He was slammed for being a free-spending liberal, for whom money was just something to be tossed from the back of a moving train. Now here is this arch-conservative social theorist, proposing much the same thing.

While searching for confirmation of the McGovern proposal, to see if I was remembering it correctly, I found this think-piece on health care policy in Dissent magazine. It was written before Charles Murray's proposal hit the news, but this passage might still be apposite:

Neither McGovern/Ackerman-Alstott nor a partially privatized Social Security system have gained much political traction in America. And that may be because, at the deepest level, programs like these are unable to tap into either the self-interest or altruism required to mobilize support from those who are better off. A McGovern/Ackerman-Alstott scheme would not appeal on altruistic grounds because the better-off would be getting back just as much as the worse-off would; nor would it be attractive on self-interested grounds, because the better-off would be getting back less than they gave in the progressive taxes needed to fund the program.

Anyway, the pith of Murray's idea, SFAIK, is this:

The Plan returns the stuff of life to all of us in many ways, but chiefly through its effects on the core institutions of family and community. One key to thinking about how the Plan does so is the universality of the grant. What matters is not just that a lone individual has $10,000 a year, but that everyone has $10,000 a year and everyone knows that everyone else has that resource. Strategies that are not open to an individual are open to a couple; strategies that are not open to a couple are open to an extended family or, for that matter, to half a dozen friends who pool resources; strategies not open to a small group are open to a neighborhood. The aggregate shift in resources from government to people under the Plan is massive, and possibilities for dealing with human needs through family and community are multiplied exponentially.

The Plan confers personal accountability whether the recipient wants it or not, producing cascading secondary and tertiary effects. A person who asks for help because he has frittered away his monthly check will find people and organizations who will help (America has a history of producing such people and organizations in abundance), but that help can come with expectations and demands that are hard to make of a person who has no income stream. Or contemplate the effects of a known income stream on the young man who impregnates his girlfriend. The first-order effect is that he cannot evade child support--the judge knows where his bank account is. The second-order effect is to create expectations that formerly didn't exist. I call it the Doolittle Effect, after Alfred Doolittle in "My Fair Lady." Recall why he had to get to the church on time.

Inveterate fault-finder that I am, I usually harbor some trepidation at having the nation get bit by the Law Of Unintended Consequences. For example, the proceeds from the government lottery in my state was originally pitched as being all for education. After a few years, we started hearing about non-education projects that would be funded by "surplus" lottery money. "Surplus"? It's all supposed to go to education! But the temptation to dip one's bucket in a cataract of money is great.

My main problem is simple fear of the new and unknown. But one of my specific problems with Murray's plan--and I have not read his book from which this article is distilled, so factor that in--is that it would seem to require just as huge a government bureaucracy to administer this colossal outlay as the current federal welfare patchwork. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance is not produced in print form anymore, SFAIK, but back when it was...well, you wouldn't want to drop it on your foot! And think of all the personally identifiable data that would have to be collected on everyone in the country. We know that huge government apparatuses can be put to uses other than what was originally intended. William Butler Yeats, a century ago:

The government does not intend these things to happen, the Commision on whose report the bill was founded did not intend these things to happen, but in legislation intention is nothing, and the letter of the law is everything, and no government has the right, whether to flatter fanatics or in mere vagueness of mind, to forge an instrument of tyranny and say that it will never be used.

Another issue about which I'd like to be placated is that of political money-favoring. One of the reasons the tax code is so complicated, so some say, is that it is used to entice and reward the myriad voting blocs in society. A flat retail tax could not be used in this way. In urban areas around here, political candidates frequently campaign on increasing government entitlements to their constituents, and socking it to those eeeevil rich. It doesn't sound like a universal government bequest like Murray's could be manipulated like that. So what politicians would actually vote to enact the thing?

And then there are the standard conservative objections: just let me keep my money in the first place; you're creating a hammock not a safety net; unchaining the economy will float all the boats; this ain't no hippie commune; etc. All of which carry significant weight with me, btw. Let's see where this debate leads. I've been interested to hear them talking about it on the radio.

Your First Things tie-in, a review of Joel Schwartz's Fighting Poverty with Virtue: Moral Reform and America’s Urban Poor, 1825–2000.

Monday, March 27, 2006

RIP Ed Driscoll, Sr.

Ed Driscoll, one of the first bloggers I frequented after I discovered blogs, has suffered the loss of his elderly father. Details here, for now.

The Rise and Fall of the Evangelical University

Over on the First Things blog, Jody Bottum has a post about Baylor University's lack of success in recreating itself as a premier Christian school of higher ed.

Today, the plan is in tatters, and Baylor has apparently decided to sink back into its diminished role as a not terribly distinguished regional school. President Sloan is gone, the new high-profile faculty are demoralized and sniffing around for positions at better-known schools, energetic programs like the Intelligent Design institute have been chased away, and the bright young professors are having their academic careers ruined by a school that lured them to campus with the promises of the 2012 plan and now is simply embarrassed by them.

Well, having the creationist Discovery Institute decamp is a feature, not a bug. But I certainly sympathize with the faculty who have suddenly had the rug pulled out from under them. It makes me appreciate my alma mater more, which concentrated on teaching not research, and hired professors not graduate assistants to do so. There were no hood ornaments on the faculty at my old college.

The Future of Geo-thermal Energy?

Iceland might be on the brink of developing a clean form of geothermal energy. Funny to think, that those hydrogen-powered cars we keep hearing about might be powered by super-heated water from deep within the mid-Atlantic fissure beneath Iceland. Good luck to 'em! Maybe we'll be able to tap some similar form of energy in Hawaii someday.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Scene from the Jihad, IV

What a brave woman this Dutch MP is.

Going forward, there are three challenges:

*Women are not organized or united. Those of us in rich countries, who have attained equality under the law, need to mobilize to assist our fellows. Only our outrage and our political pressure can lead to change.

*The Islamists are engaged in reviving and spreading a brutal and retrograde body of laws. Wherever the Islamists implement Shariah, or Islamic law, women are hounded from the public arena, denied education and forced into a life of domestic slavery.

*Cultural and moral relativists sap our sense of moral outrage by claiming that human rights are a Western invention. Men who abuse women rarely fail to use the vocabulary the relativists have provided them. They claim the right to adhere to an alternative set of values - an "Asian," "African" or "Islamic" approach to human rights.

This mind-set needs to be broken. A culture that carves the genitals of young girls, hobbles their minds and justifies their physical oppression is not equal to a culture that believes women have the same rights as men.

-- Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "Women go 'missing' by the millions", _International Herald Tribune_, March 25, 2006

Abdul Rahman Case Nearing Happy Ending?

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is reported to be intervening in the case of the Christian convert under sentence of death.

As I write, there are about 1200 links to news stories about Rahman in Google's news aggregator. I'm very glad to see this story getting the front burner treatment, and I hope Mr. Rahman is freed.

This reminded me of the case of an Iranian Christian, Rev. Mehdi Dibaj, from about ten years ago. He was imprisoned by the mullahs, released, and then murdered by persons unknown. The Armenian priest who brought international publicity to his case was also mysteriously killed. Here's a link, and an excerpt from his statement to the Islamic court during his trial for apostasy:

They say "You were a Muslim and you have become a Christian." This is not so. For many years I had no religion. After searching and studying I accepted God's call and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive eternal life. People choose their religion but a Christian is chosen by Christ. He says, "You have not chosen me but I have chosen you." Since when did He choose me? He chose me before the foundation of the world. People say, "You were a Muslim from your birth." God says, "You were a Christian from the beginning." He states that He chose us thousands of years ago, even before the creation of the universe, so that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we may be His. A Christian means one who belongs to Jesus Christ.
They tell me, "Return!" But to whom can I return from the arms of my God? Is it right to accept what people are saying instead of obeying the Word of God? It is now 45 years that I am walking with the God of miracles, and His kindness upon me is like a shadow and I owe Him much for His fatherly love and concern.

The love of Jesus has filled all my being and I feel the warmth of His love in every part of my body. God, who is my glory and honor and protector, has put his seal of approval upon me through His unsparing blessings and miracles.

This test of faith is a clear example. The good and kind God reproves and punishes all those whom He loves. He tests them in preparation for heaven. The God of Daniel, who protected his friends in the fiery furnace, has protected me for nine years in prison. And all the bad happenings have turned out for our good and gain, so much so that I am filled to overflowing with joy and thankfulness.

Blogger's Being Sputtery Lately

I think some folks have been trying to post comments, but have been unable to do so. Blogger's status page says that they are moving data from bad servers to good, but that there's still some tidying up to do. So, if it won't let you comment, toss your cookies and try again!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why Would Terrorists Hate On Little Ol' Us?

ABC News is still somewhat unclear on this whole jihad concept:

[Christian Peace Teams] has called for an end to what it still calls the occupation. [...]
All this might have persuaded insurgents and terrorists that CPT should be left alone to work for the withdrawal of coalition troops, but that hasn't been the case for CPT or other foreign groups with similar aims. It is still unclear why four members of CPT were kidnapped four months ago by what the U.S. military has called an insurgent kidnapping cell.

Unclear? Because they're infidels, same as us red state knuckle-draggers. This episode illustrates what I've been telling progressives for years: The jihadis do not care how much you hate Bush or conservatives or AmeriKKKa. They will kill you as quickly as they will the next Westerner, your usefulness for their propaganda purposes aside.

So, dear progressive reader, now that you know that you are as much of a target as anyone else, answer this: what would it take for progressives to lay aside their presumptions of moral and intellectual superiority, and make common cause with their fellow Americans against the terrorists?

No, Bush is not a terrorist. No, you are not living in a theocracy, nor a police state, nor are you in danger of doing so. Trust me: living in a theocratic police state involves much more irksome inconveniences than finding a Bible tract under your windshield wiper, or not being able to hear a shock jock drop the F-bomb on the radio. Striking such postures here at home is no braver than taunting a stuffed teddy bear.

So, what would it take? Having our troops in close combat with our terrorist enemies isn't it. Too often, civilization's enemies are progressives' mascots. 9/11 wasn't it. The fires weren't out before we were reading ridiculous think-pieces in the monthly glossy opinion journals about how we provoked it, how we deserved it. So, tell me. What?

Surviving Christian Pacifists Rescued

This is great news. It takes all kinds to make up a civilization, and these activists are as much a part of the Western civilization that we're trying to defend as, well, as I am! I grieve for the dead American, Tom Fox, in no small part because I used to be acquainted with a lot of people very like him, years ago when pacifism had more of a spiritual appeal to me. If you harbor no such soft feelings as I do for these particular moonbats (and I say that more in sorrow than contempt), at least acknowledge this: They put their beliefs where their necks are, by going to Iraq. Quite unlike those "human shield" phonies during the run-up to the war.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams are a small pacifist co-operative made up of Mennonites, Quakers, and suchlike. The Mennonite Disaster Service is one of the leanest, most effective and dedicated relief agencies in the country. I had occasion to partner with some MDS work camp volunteers about ten years, during some bad flooding south of here. They're the absolute salt of the earth. I have much less personal experience with Quakers, but given their admirable history of being far in advance of popular opinion on issues like abolition and civil rights, they always rate a fair hearing from me.

So, if you don't know your peace activists, trust me: these aren't your stereotypical tenured revolucionarios.

Yet all assertions of moral superiority on their part in the present war against the Islamic Jihad must be soberly and firmly rejected. In addition to their many good points, activists like these also have a long history of being resoundingly wrong about the foreign tyrannies America has had to fight this past century. It's the same in this war, as the peace 'n' justice crowd proves themselves unable to re-adjust their worldviews away from the idea of America as the Omni-Oppressor, and of anyone foreign and filled with hatred of the West as in the right by default.

Christian Peacemaker Teams does not acknowledge that U.S. and British forces rescued the men.

In a statement, the group says, "We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by multinational forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping, and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end."

Rather a short memory they've got, there. (And did you ever notice how leftists' "root causes" are never "rooted" in anything so fundamental as good or evil?) Seems like it was only yesterday that Iraqi children were dying by the thousands every month, due to the Oil For Palaces sanctions.

V. S. Naipaul, though here talking about 9/11, put his finger precisely on the peaceniks' confusion about our jihadist enemies:

I think people have spoken much rubbish about that event. The poor revenging themselves on the rich! It's nothing but an aspect of religious hatred. And that is so hard to deal with, or even contemplate. You can deal with the poor striking out, but you can't deal with the threat of a universal religious war.

The Christian peace activists' reward in heaven may be very great. But their activities may hasten all of our arrivals there, if they get their way.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Secular Jews--Up To A Point

Miriam the librarian has a post at her place on the secular Jews in her life. One bit that struck me was this:

He and my father were religious skeptics, to say the least, although their father was a rabbi. So I was surprised when my cousin (his daughter) called to ask if she could distribute his ashes on a Saturday. In my father's family I am considered the expert on things Judaic, I guess because there are rumors that I fast on Yom Kippur.

I didn't think he would have cared, but she told me that he would not let her get married on a Saturday. The family decided to scatter the ashes on Sunday morning and sit shiva lite on Sunday. It's funny how remnants of religous practice and belief cling to people. Or how people cling to them.

No connection implied, but that reminded me of this:

While the SS were working the apartment buildings, the _Einsatzgruppe_ squad moved against the fourteenth-century synagogue of Stara Bozníca. As they expected, they found at prayer there a congregation of traditional Jews with beards and sidelocks and prayer shawls. They collected a number of the less Orthodox from surrounding apartments and drove them in as well, as if they wanted to measure the reaction of one group to the other.

Among those pushed across the threshold of Stara Bozníca was the gangster Max Redlicht, who would not otherwise have entered an ancient temple or been invited to do so. They stood in front of the Ark, these two poles of the same tribe who would on a normal day have found each other's company offensive. An _Einsatz_ NCO opened the Ark and took out the parchment Torah scroll. The disparate congregation on the synagogue floor were ot file past and spit at it. There was to be no faking--the spittle was to be visible on the calligraphy. [...]

Everyone spat in the end except Max Redlicht. The _Einsatzgruppe_ men may have seen this as a test worth their time--to make a man who visibly does not believe renounce with spittle a book he views intellectually as antique tribal drivel but which his blood tells him is still sacred. Could a Jew be retrieved from the persuasions of his ridiculous blood? Could he think as clearly as Kant? That was the test.

Redlicht would not pass it. He made a little speech. "I've done a lot. But I won't do that." They shot him first, and then shot the rest anyway and set fire to the place, making a shell of the oldest of all Polish synagogues.

-- Thomas Keneally, _Schindler's List_, 1982

Stephen Spielberg adapted this passage for his movie of the same name, although it was not finally included. The screenplay is extant somewhere on the web [click, clickety], here, for example. But in Spielberg's version, Redlicht earns the SS's half-mocking respect, whereas in the novel, he's just a fore-doomed guinea pig.

So, what would your reaction be if things came down to brass tacks? I know what I'd hope my reaction would be, me being a crack soldier in the 101st Keyboard Brigade and everything. But, for real? Hmmm...

Canada Refusing to Offer Asylum to Persecuted Christians?

Whenever you see something like this, it's best to ask if it is a headline in search of a story.

Canadian immigration frequently fails to recognize the claim of refugee status from Egyptian Coptic Christians, reported CTV news yesterday. In at least half the cases, claimants are sent back to Egypt to face increased persecution.

The 2005 Country Report on Human Rights from the U.S. State Department said Egypt is responsible for "numerous human rights abuses," in particular against religious minorities. The report lists numerous cases of "religious discrimination" against Coptic Christians and says there is widespread "torture and abuse" in Egyptian prisons.

Christians who have made refugee claims in the west will almost certainly be imprisoned and possibly tortured if they are sent back to Egypt.

But readiing further, we find:

Since 2000, the Immigration and Refugee Board's records show that about half of the refugee claims of Egyptians were denied. The records don't show how many of those were Christians. Currently there are approximately 20 Egyptian Christians facing deportation from Canada.

Emphasis added.

The lack of religious identification may itself be a sign of creeping dhimmitude, for fear of riling domestic Islamists and multi-cultists. Someone once said that Canada was becoming one big residential motel for Muslim immigrants. But I don't know. It'd be interesting to learn more about how Canada handles these cases, to see how meaningful the statistics in the story are.

The Prime-Time Treatment for the Gospel of Judas

National Geographic is all set to air its findings on its National Geographic Channel. I'm always suspicious when a scientific find gets splashy media exposure instead of (or before) getting peer-reviewed in a science journal. Remember cold fusion? But I'm looking forward to this, although I won't be watching due to not having access to pay TV. There's unlikely to be any connection with the Biblical Judas, but the sheer antiquity of this codex makes it a treasure in itself.

A Victory in the Intelligent Design Wars

S.C. Schools Won't 'Analyze' Evolution
The state Board of Education on Wednesday rejected a state panel's proposal to change high school standards on evolution by calling on students to "critically analyze" the theory.

Science teachers had complained that although critical analysis is part of all science, the wording was really a backdoor attempt to force educators to teach religious-based alternatives. In a 10-6 vote, board members agreed.

The Education Oversight Committee, a school reform panel made up of lawmakers, teachers, parents and other community members, recommended the change last month. Panel member Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, has said it was intended to introduce students to challenges to evolutionary theory.

Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat, has called the effort "a ploy to confuse the issue of evolution so that ultimately evolution won't be taught."

This is in South Carolina, where you'd expect that popular support for ID would be especially strong. So this is a heartening victory.

Petition Dismissed

Remember that Indian state minister who offered a bounty for the head of the blasphemous Danish cartoonists? Here's a followup: The India Supreme Court tossed out a petition for charges on jurisdiction grounds.

Archbishop opposes teaching creationism

The Episcopal church has gotten a very rough ride from conservatives the past few years, and deservedly so, IMO.

But here's a ray of sense, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, hissownself:

Williams described creationism as "a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories."

"And for most of the history of Christianity ... there's been an awareness that a belief that everything depends on the creative act of God is quite compatible with a degree of uncertainty or latitude about how precisely that unfolds in creative time," Williams said.

Asked if creationism should be taught in schools, Williams said: "I don't think it should, actually. No, no."

Vatican Scientist to Lead Dialogue on Intelligent Design

The Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, will present The Dance of the Fertile Universe: Science Does Not Need God. Or Does It? on Tuesday, April 4, at 7 p.m. in the Duquesne Union Ballroom. Co-sponsored by the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, this dialogue on Intelligent Design is free and open to the public.
Among the goals of hosting Coyne’s lecture are to provide awareness and clarification of the issues surrounding Intelligent Design and evolution.

“We want to convey that acceptance of Darwinian evolution and belief in God are not mutually exclusive,” said Dr. Dave Seybert, dean of BSNES. “We want people to understand what Intelligent Design is, the fact that it is really not science and that it really doesn’t belong in science curricula in private and public schools. It certainly does not exist as a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution—it is inherently a religious or theological issue.”

Good for them!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Boosting Productivity in Higher Education

That sounds strange, almost ungrammatical, doesn't it? "Boosting" "productivity" in higher ed. We've heard no end of moaning these past 20 years over what a left-wing loonybin the American university was becoming. But "productivity"...?

Well yes, when you think about it. Tuition keeps rising and rising, standards keep falling and falling. In a century, we've gone from teaching Greek and Latin in high school to teaching remedial reading in college. If "college is for everyone", then it isn't college anymore. It's 13th grade.

And what are the graduates good for? There used to be a rather witty essay on the net, at some lefty collective e-zine, likening graduate school to a digestive system. Students were enrolled, as "food"; some became low-paid graduate assistants, to metabolize everything; and PhD's were excreted as waste, since only a neglible percentage of them would ever become professors in their chosen fields. In real life, when I'm looking through job applications, I'm struck at how many people have degrees in some soft science, and drifted down and out, through internships and other tangental employment in their field, into the retail world. So many newly minted sociology majors are folding sweaters at The Gap eight years later. (Helpful hint: "If an academic discipline has the word "science" in its title, it isn't a science.")

So what can be done? This is from a journal put out by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, of all things -- Stop Paying More for Less: Ways to Boost Productivity in Higher Education

The quality of students-the knowledge and skills they gain from a university education-should be the primary goal of any institution of higher learning. Just how to increase student quality, however, remains unclear to many faculty. One reason for this lack of clarity is that many faculty, especially those at research institutions, see teaching as a secondary responsibility behind publishing in academic journals and acquiring research grants. Another reason is that most faculty members do not have training in good teaching strategies.

"Good teaching practices include encouraging student/faculty contact, encouraging active learning, encouraging cooperation among students, giving prompt feedback, communicating high expectations, encouraging more time on each task, and respecting diverse talents and ways of learning. An important point is that the passive lecture format that is found in most universities does not account for most of these
practices. Even in smaller teaching-oriented colleges, many of these practices are likely to be absent. Furthermore, the use of student evaluations to judge the quality of faculty may lead some faculty to abandon good teaching practices and augment their evaluations through alternative means, such as leniency on grading, on assignment deadlines and on student absenteeism. "

Your First Things tie-in is a bit of a reach, sorry: a parsing of the flap at Wheaton College over the firing of a Catholic professor. There's less there than met the headline writers' eye, apparently.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Persecuted Christians

There are any number of websites devoted to exposing the persecution of Christians worldwide. But I only recently discovered that there is a whole category in Yahoo's directory devoted to them. Sad.

A Scene From The Jihad, III

Tell your master that this is the only territory that I will give him. There lies the land which he may have for his own - provided only that he fills it with the bodies of his Janissaries.
-- Jean Parisot de la Valette, Grand Master of the Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta, referring to the ditch in front of the fortifications of Birgu. 30 June 1565

Good thing all cultures are the same except for headgear and cuisine, right? Else it might have mattered, a lot, who won that battle--the Turks or us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

And While We're At It...

Perusing the list of this year's inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame makes me wonder where it will all end. They're inducting rock acts the way people eat grapes: start by picking the best, and end by picking everything.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Meet The Beatles, II

I see that the Terry Teachout's Beatles article I linked to earlier also landed a showcase at Arts & Letters Daily. It's nothing any Fabs fan hasn't read before, but it is gratifying to see the lads fame enduring so (and fun to see Teachout trying his hand at playing rock critic.) So this is as good an excuse as any to post some more scattered Beatles thoughts.

A favorite Beatles song? Faintly sacreligious to even think along those lines. Yet I'd have to say, at the moment, it's George Harrison's "It's All Too Much". IMO it's one of his most overlooked songs. It's probably his only entry into the mid-Sixties guitar hero sweepstakes, with its screechingly reverbed intro. It's the fieriest, most joyous thing I've ever heard from him. He may have made a fool of himself with the Maharishi, but whatever "enlightenment" he achieved led him to believe that LSD wouldn't help him get there. The song is acid city, sure, but it also points to a spiritual awareness that would not long be fulfilled by getting high.

Incidentally, I've never been much of a fan of Harrison, beyond his work in the mid-period Beatles. The occasional gem aside, I just didn't enjoy his mewling vocals and underachieving guitar work. But "It's All Too Much" is a tornado of psychedelia with balls. It is just a wild, rapturously joyous symphony for organ, trumpets, and whammy bar. Play it really loud sometime. And the lyrics made a fine epitaph for him, too:

Floating down the stream of time
From life to life with me
Makes no difference where you are
Or where you'd like to be.

The Beatles resemble Michael Jordan in this respect: Not only are they famous, but they are so famous that even their fame is famous. And this was widely remarked upon, during their career and after. British poet Philip Larkin said in the early 80s:

When you get to the top, there is nowhere to go but down, but the Beatles could not get down. There they remain, unreachable, frozen, fabulous.

Instrumental firepower became all-important with the advent of Cream. The Beatles' achievement was not virtuosity, but songwriting. This is why, even though someone like Steve Winwood had more instrumental talent than all four Beatles put together, The Beatles were nevertheless a much better band than Traffic.

That's my opinion; I welcome yours...

First Things is "not Beatley enough", in Eric Clapton's phrase, but this article is worth a look.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Porn Sunday

Another Paul Cella link for you, this time one of his guest turns at Red State. It's the tail end of an exchange on pornography, censorship, and small-r republicanism.

Scoping the articles and comments, I see no one's posted the definitive porn quote, from Malcolm Muggeridge:

How do I know pornography depraves and corrupts? It depraves and corrupts me.

If you surfed in expecting, ah, something else, click here or here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

America, Conservatives, and The Enlightenment

Via Paul Cella, I see that our midwestern Rabelaisian friends over at The New Pantagruel have an interesting article up. It's on the supposed disconnect between American conservatism and the Enlightenment, of which conservatives wrongly consider themselves to be heirs, and how to put American conservatism on a surer, more Christian footing. Daniel Larison makes a lot of assumptions, duly noted as such, and proceeds to lay out his case. It's a solid read, and I won't presume to try to summarize it further.

But I've gotta confess: even though I'm as prone to rose-colored nostalgia as anyone else, I don't feel comfortable with the impulse to build a better yesterday.

Where American conservatism could not go, and where its founders did not want to take it, was towards a thoroughgoing repudiation of the entire liberal tradition all the way back to its seventeenth-century champions.

That may not have been a tactical mistake, so much as a function of the blunt fact that All Passes, Nothing Returns. Ideas germinate, grow, spew their spores, and sink back into the loam. Can't reverse the process.

The accommodation of Enlightenment liberalism and Christianity only seems plausible provided that neither is taken to its logical conclusions and only so long as one does not think too hard about what both must imply about the nature of man and society.

But what if this very inconsistency is one of the wellsprings of the dynamic nature of the American character? It seems to me that holding this type of contradiction (if it really is a contradiction) in suspension has produced much of what is valuable and enduring in America.

Besides, just as force should not always be exerted to its uttermost extreme, so ideas should not always be followed to their logical conclusions.

So go read it, and see what you think. I'm too much the moderate Protestant to go along with his prescriptions, YMMV.

The piece did remind me of this great quote, though:

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good..." At this point he is somewhat excusable knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp post, the lamp post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmedieval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, today, tomorrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
--G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1905

That GKC--how does someone so dead manage to stay so contemporary?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Conditioning of Kevin Sites

Spot the liberal conditioning:

From Kevin Sites' Hot Zone blog:
Kevin Sites on camera:
Chechnya has suffered through two major wars in less than a decade — The first: to stop it from seceding from the Russian Federation; the second: under the auspices of combating terrorism. But with 50,000 to 100,000 people killed and the capital city of Grozny left in ruins, it is the civilians here who have taken the worst beating.

Kevin Sites voice-over:
It is nearly perfect in its destruction. A drive through Grozny is like a drive through Dresden after the Second World War.
Emphasis added.

Out of all the horrible destruction of World War II in Europe, he plucks Dresden as the representative example. Not Rotterdam, not London, not Stalingrad, not Warsaw, but Dresden.

How do you figure liberal bias out of that? Well, if you've spent your formative years in J-school, being indoctrinated that America is the root of all evil, you're going to get conditioned--which implies a certain bit of reflexiveness--to see things a certain way. Of that list of horrific destruction, Dresden is the one perpetrated by the Western allies, so America is implicated by association.

Such is the conclusion my conservative inclinations tend to jump to.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Harm and Pain"

Baaaaa-aaa-aaaad juju here....

It should be obvious to all but the most addled-pated of the "reality-based community" that the only purpose of Iran's uranium enrichment program is to build nuclear weapons, and the only purpose of Iranian nuclear weapons is to kill the Jews. I've shuddered about it and cracked wise about it in this space, and now I'm back to shuddering about it again. Seriously, I'm getting all cold and knotty in the chest, thinking about these evil people preparing this impending atrocity, to the hearty applause of our own granola-brained lefties and home-grown brownshirts alike. What. Are. wegonnado?!?!

OTOH, this press outlet is reporting the "harm and pain" statement as proof of the mullahs' humiliation at the hands of the U.S. Hmmm...

More Child-Molesting Priests...

... in Ireland this time. Looks like they are going way, way back in time for this round-up, though.
Latest figures from Dublin's Catholic archdiocese indicate that 102 priests there have been accused of child sex abuse in the 66-year period between 1940 and 2006. Of that figure, 91 face allegations of child abuse while suspicions of such abuse have been raised in a further 11 cases.

Approximately 350 victims have been identified to date, with indications of a possible further 40 who have yet to be identified or traced.

But so far as taking any action against anyone, they seem to be limiting themselves to the past quarter-century. Richard John Neuhaus has gamely attempted damage control for the Church over the past few years, but he's gotta wish that these stink-bombs will stop coming eventually. For now, the effluvia continues to encounter the HVAC...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

NPR Stares Into The Abyss Of Jihad, Blinks

This past Sunday National Public Radio's Weekend Edition aired a segment on the upsurge in Saudi students enrolling in American universities. It was presented as A Good Thing, and a corrective for America's overreaction to 9/11.

BANSE: It's a huge turnaround. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the news that many of the hijackers were Saudi, nearly all the Saudi students studying in the United States went home, for fear of being caught in the anti-Arab backlash.

What anti-Arab backlash?

This segment was probably in the can days before broadcast, but one can't help but juxtapose it with a spot of bad press for Muslim university students that broke about the same time.

Are You A Heretic?

Take the quiz and find out. It's not like you should expect the Spanish Inquisition or anything...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Berkeley City Council's Overreach

One of my "favorite" examples of left-wing sanctimoniousness is the Berkeley City Council. From bringing the hammer down on a Boy Scouts allied organization, to temporarily forcing the fire department to remove Old Glory from fire engines just after 9/11, to opening its own "formal censure" proceedings against the Bush administration, the council is conservatives' poster child for everything about progressives that is simultaneously idiotic and self-congratulatory, the left-wing loonybin of their imaginations incarnate. At minimum, they are certainly way too impressed with themselves. Aren't fixing potholes and mediating zoning disputes time-consuming enough for them?

The biggest piece of overreach they ever passed, or that anyone is ever likely to pass, was their ban on the weaponization of outer space, or that portion that floats over their city. Forget about meddling in national or international politics. As the earth rotates on its axis, and the earth revolves around the sun, and the sun travels around the Milky Way, and the Milky Way pinwheels through space, this resolution will bring most of the entire universe under the jurisdiction of these silly little people. In their dreams.

Portrait of William Shakespeare

Chandos portrait
Grafton portrait
Droeshout engraving

The British National Portrait Gallery has concluded a six-year study aimed at deciding which, if any, of the purported images of William Shakespeare are genuine portraits. According to this news release, the Chandos portrait is the last bard standing.

I'm in no position to gainsay the experts, but I much prefer the Grafton portrait. (I didn't find a good scan of the restored image of any size online, sorry.) It is named after an 18th century duke of that name, in whose possession it first enters recorded history. It was disqualified mainly because the silk and satin wardrobe of the young man would have been too sumptious for someone in Shakespeare's financial condition at the time it was painted. There's also the matter of paying the portraitist. But I'm in the middle of reading Peter Ackroyd's Shakespeare: The Biography, and I'm mightily swayed by his attraction to that image. He persuasively speculates that, instead of being just a struggling actor in 1588, Shakespeare was quite the up-and-comer; At that time he may have been making an impression as a reviser of other dramatists' plays, and also dashing off plays of his own, which are now lost. Even if he wasn't yet well-off, a young man with an initial taste of success might certainly have over-spent his means, by acquiring some fashionable duds. This may well explain why Shakespeare was seemingly so grasping about money later in life, after he learned his lesson.

We can't expect photographic uniformity among portraits of people from that era, of course. Just look at these images of Queen Elizabeth--could you be sure that they were all of the same woman, if you didn't already know? But the eyes and the mouth of the Grafton portrait are a close match to the Droeshout engraving--which itself must have been copied from a portrait, as Shakespeare died when Martin Droeshout was fifteen. Yes, the nose is different, more W.C. Fieldsy than aquiline. But just look at that knowing gaze for a few seconds....

First Things has published a number of good Shakespeare articles over the years. His plays have been deployed as a critique of modern multiculturalism. And the staggering height of his fame has been duly lauded, along with the crypto-Catholic allusions found in his home life and associations.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Gnosticism in First Things

Gnosticism has been treated in First Things many times. Some pull quotes:

Jung's theory of archetypes, when limited to the domain of psychology, provides a brilliant model of the way natural, human personality arises from and organizes its longings around the instincts. It thus helps us to apprehend the different categories according to which people are apt to spiritualize (their own) nature(s), and thus fall into the worship of it. It provides, as it were, a taxonomy of the gods, and hence of human obsession, sin, and idolatry. But unfortunately, the theory itself is all too easily turned into that very spiritualization, becoming in its own right truly a modern Gnosticism. It shares with all Gnosticisms a profound blindness to the true nature of evil, a blindness that could be said to arise from its very brilliance. As Jerome Politzer said about the Gnosticism of the Greek and Roman world, it "was brilliant, extraordinarily spiritual, amoral, and totally false."

The appeal of pantheistic gnosticism was something that [C. S.] Lewis understood and withstood; it lies at the heart of occult "New Age" spirituality, "Deep Ecology," and a good deal of "Eco-feminism" today. Romantic self-absorption and pantheistic gnosticism are targets of Lewis' satire in The Pilgrim's Regress. Much as he criticized radical empiricism and its sterile, truncated rationalism, he was himself too much of a rationalist in the classic, Aristotelian sense to countenance esoteric or occult mysticism and the depreciation of reason. He would not defy science on romantic or gnostic grounds.

To understand what is going on, it is necessary to examine both orthodox and Gnostic attitudes in the second century. Pagels' research was in Gnosticism, and it paved the way for her well-known Gnostic Gospels. There she argued that the diversity of early Christianity was ended when during the second century bishops such as Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Clement of Rome had obtained enough power to drive the Gnostics out of the Christian community. Their primary reason for doing this was that the Gnostics, with their emphasis on internal illumination, rejected episcopal authority. Pagels' interpretation follows the current tendency to reduce all motives to power, though she does grant that the bishops' actions, however politically motivated, were "based on their beliefs about God." The picture of an established orthodox community driving out dissenters misses the dialectic of belief, as though the early church were somehow "Established" from the beginning instead of having to struggle its way toward a viable theology and organization.

Davis is aware that "gnosticism" has become a cussword, and takes some care to distinguish the capitalized "Gnosis" of late antiquity from the gnostic–like movements of the spirit that have appeared in more recent times. Still, it is hard to find a better term to describe the total rejection, indeed the principled total rejection, of the restraints of society, God, and physics that flourishes online. The term "gnosticism" further commends itself because there are so few other kinds of ideology that occasion the literally cosmic paranoia often found on the Internet.

Lots more here.

Gnosticism and the Gospel of Judas

The archaeology world is abuzz with the soon to be translated and published "Gospel of Judas", a Coptic writing from the time of Bishop Irenaeus in the 2nd Century A. D. There is probably no connection with the Biblical Judas Iscariot, but a manuscript of this antiquity is certainly to be prized in and for itself.

The most famous collection of Gnostic Coptic codices is the Nag Hammadi library. I studied it a bit in college, and was most impressed with The Hypostasis of the Archons and The Gospel of Truth. It really is interesting stuff to read, and quite impressive if you are of a certain age. Or of a certain mindset, as was the most famous scholar of gnosticism, Elaine Pagels.

G. K. Chesterton had this to say about Christological apocrypha and esoterica, in his book Orthodoxy.
People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly Chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.

National Geographic seems to have the exclusive rights to the codex at present, and will deliver the goods, no doubt. But for follow-up in the months and years ahead, I suspect Biblical Archaeological Review will have more in-depth analysis. So keep your eyes peeled!

A Scene From The Jihad, III

The Ambassador [of Tripoli] answered us that it was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not answer their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners.

-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Jay and Congress, March 28, 1786, explaining why Barbary pirates were attacking American shipping and abducting American sailors.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rap and Hip-Hop

Can't stand 'em.

I frequently read testimonials about how positive, uplifting, and inspiring the genres are. I don't begrudge other people their heroes, and this music is not marketed to me, so probably I don't have any room to talk.


I think rap music is vile. East Coast, West Coast, Eighties, Nineties, whatever. It's violent and/or salacious shit. Even Run DMC was plagued by fights and riots at their concerts. That kind of music brings out that kind of fan. Yeah, maybe one day it'll evolve into some art form that's oohhed and aahhed over, like jazz did. Or maybe it'll become a frozen-in-time nostalgia art form, like blues is. But right now it is just a sonic shit-shower. Its claims to social relevance make it just that much more potentially destructive. Every aspiring rapper ought to take a look at the autopsied corpse of Tupac Shakur, on the slab in the morgue of the Las Vegas coroner's office, trepanned like Frankenstein and gutted like a catfish.

And what the hell is wrong with the performers? What is this "rivalry" that is resulting in so many killed performers?

Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young didn't kill each other.
Eubie Blake and Jelly Roll Morton didn't kill each other.
Fats Waller and Art Tatum didn't kill each other.
Count Basie and Duke Ellington didn't kill each other.
Otis Rush and Albert Collins didn't kill each other.
Son House and Mississippi John Hurt didn't kill each other.
Miles Davis and Fats Navarro didn't kill each other.
Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge didn't kill each other.
Little Richard and Chuck Berry didn't kill each other.
The Spinners and Tavares didn't kill each other.
Earth, Wind, And Fire and P-Funk didn't kill each other.

So what's the matter with rappers? Why do chest-thumping semi-criminals chanting obscenities over someone else's music tend towards...oh nevermind!

No, I'm not trying to build a better yesterday. I know that the world turns, and vile strains of pop culture cannot be sneered or scolded away. I also know that people used to hate things like jazz long ago, for much the same reasons.

But music can put over a message that is contrary to whatever words go with it. The Wermacht had a marching song called "Erika", IIRC. It sang of alpine meadows and blond sweethearts and such, but the music was all martial tromp-tromp-tromp. So, I wonder how deep an impression some rapper's "uplifting" lyrics make if the music is shouting "muhFUGGuh-muhFUGGuh-muhFUGGuh-muhFUGGuh!" The stupid thuggy music, the stupid thuggy gesticulations, the stupid thuggy attitude,'s a real shame, not that the stuff exists, or that kids use it for an aural buzz, but that it is whooped up as some kind of positive cultural force. "Rap Against Violence?" Makes about as much sense as "Rock Against Drugs", or "Prostitutes Against Fornication."

This rant prompted by this appreciation of rap and hip-hop at the fine blog Booker Rising.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Coptic Christians: The Modern Dhimmis

Are Coptic girls in Egypt being kidnapped to be forcibly converted to Islam? This two part analysis explores the issue. Reading between the lines, it could be more about money than faith, if it is happening at all. Kind of a shadowy set of happenstances...

This, however, is very encouraging. A Muslim professor quits his post at an Egyptian medical university, in protest of discrimination against Copts there.