Friday, April 28, 2006

It's Not What's On Your Head, It's What In It That Counts

General Issue Punk

The One And Only Dali

It's juxtapositions like this that make me agree with P. J. O'Rourke: The more violently someone vandalizes his appearance, the greater confirmation it is that there is nothing interesting about that person. Salvador Dali did survive into the rock era, but even then, posing with Alice Cooper & such, you could tell he was thinking, "Don't try to out-weird me, you clown. I get weirder things than you in my breakfast cereal."

Carl Van Vechten photo of Dali via Terry Teachout.
Post inspired by the constant sight of over-pierced, pink-haired tatterdemallions who drift from the exurbs into Little Five Points, and mistake each other for urban hipsters.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Updating The Blogroll

Time to bulk up the blogroll. Once again, these are not all of my favorites, because I myself do not use my blogroll for my own navigation, most of the time. I don't want to build one of those eye-glazing lists that no one reads carefully. So here they are; hover your cursor over the blogroll for more information:

About Last Night -- The blog of drama critic, biographer, and compulsive scribbler Terry Teachout.

Arts & Letters Daily -- The web's premier portal for middle-brow opinion journal articles.

Chicago Boyz -- Insert Windy City jape here.

Islam The Religion of Peace -- The distasteful truth, in distasteful daily doses.

Patanjali -- Of all the personal reflections type blogs out there, I don't know why this occasional one sticks out (other than he was one of my first commenters). Give him some encouragement (rhymes with traffic), and he might be inspired to develop this blog more fully.

Samizdata -- Chronicling the conquest of Britain by the Safety Nazis.

Sci-Tech Daily -- Same as Arts & Letters Daily, only drawn from the popular science magazines.

The Cafeteria is Closed -- Catholic orthodoxy, without a twist.

The Panda's Thumb -- The best popularized evolution blogging on the net. Indispensable this past year, especially, in beating back creationism's latest assaults on the schools.

Give 'em a try!

Habitat For Humanity Relocating Administration To Atlanta

[Herewith is a painstaking though disappointingly maudlin recreation of a spontaneous, heartfelt post that I composed earlier, and that Blogger promptly erased. Grrr. ]

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due places. Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives alien among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search of something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
-- W. Somerset Maughham, in The Moon and Sixpence

Looks like the transition of HFH from a founder and his mission into a big, anonymous NGO is proceeding apace. Habitat For Humanity will move their front offices to Atlanta, to be nearer the rest of the world than they had been in Americus. It's been mulled for years now, but now they're going to do it. Click the link back there, to see why it matters.

The most spiritually enriching passage of my young adulthood, apart from some stretches in college, was the 18 months, cumulatively, that I spent as a live-in volunteer in Americus, Georgia, working for Habitat For Humanity. There I was, young, open-hearted, half-formed, not a clue as to where in life I would go, but still most impressionable. Not to sound saccharine, but I loved everyone I met there. The wonderful retirees, motorhoming around the country as itinerant do-gooders, or preparing to go overseas for two years and work. The wonderful widows and divorcees, newly cut loose and making for unknown shores. The wonderful Mennonite volunteers, doing their service obligations through their church's mission bureau. And the wonderful small city of Americus, not so very different from the one I grew up in.

At the time I was there, Habitat was beginning to break out into worldwide prominence. But the facilities were still quite humble. The offices were just a row of houses converted into offices, festooned with lengths of data cable strung in between. The warehouse and media center were in an old tumble-down auto repair shop, which it was one of my first jobs to paint with an airless paintsprayer. The site where apartments for volunteers would later go up was the truckyard of a peanut drying barn. And every morning before work there would be devotions and a pep talk delivered by the founder, Millard Fuller. A strong sense of "we merry few", a strong sense of mission and purpose, pervaded the days.

But no organization can be up-and-coming forever. As Habitat grew and succeeded, inevitably professional managers were brought in. These were good people, as inspired by Millard Fuller's vision as we volunteer laborers were. But the necessity of dealing with growth, and the simple tick of time, gradually changed Habitat's character. HFH always stayed on message--affordable housing for the poor--but the time finally came that the founder decamped back to Koinonia Farms, where it had all started years ago, and formed a new housing ministry. And Habitat's administration is moving to Atlanta, coming to a glass tower near you. And best of luck to the both of them.

As the years roll on, my time at HFH increases in spiritual significance for me. It's become a touchstone, by which I measure my current spiritual...whatever a touchstone is supposed to measure! Authenticity, I suppose. Worth. True-ness.

The work will go on, though we'll none of us be that young again. But lordy, what memories...

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Judas and the Cult of Malevolent Mendacity

The Anchoress muses that treachery is afoot and close to ascendant in the land, in this rather link-happy post.

Betrayal is one of those things mixed up with our flawed and faulty humanity - it is what gets served up when a stew has too much of the sweetness of ego, and not enough of the salt of discipline. It is often served on a platter of golden nobility, thus it blinds many who indulge. It is many-times regretted and regret leaves an opening for shame, and who knows what happens in those infinitisimal moments wherein one is making the transition from life into death, death into life? If God is Merciful as well as Just, He can be trusted to sort it out.

But mendacity - particularly when it is spat out from the sharp teeth of the malevolent - there is something beneath it that speaks of more than simple human weaknesses and missteps. Malevolent Mendacity arrived with a serpentine hisssssss - a flick of the forked tongue and a satisfied, superior sort of smile. It hisses still, but its smile seems plastered on, and it fails to persuade.

Of course, we never needed a Gospel of Judas for all this to happen. Richard John Neuhas had this to say about Cold War traitors, years ago.

Still today many subscribe to the infamous assertion of E. M. Forster that, if he had to choose between betraying his country and betraying his friends, he hoped he would have the guts to betray his country. Forgotten is the reality that one is betraying one's friends by betraying one's country. Forgotten, too, is the fact that those who are the friends of tyrants and mass murderers should not be counted as friends.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Scene From The Jihad, VII

RPG rockets streaked over his head and bullets cracked all around him as Petithory used his laser range finder and GPS to target the Taliban 4x4s.

Dust rose on the horizon as the remaining Taliban picked up the pace. Master Sergeant Davis had already nailed the lead portions of the Taliban columns, creating chaos as the Taliban tried to deploy its forces over the sides to surround the village. As the Taliban was finally stalled, with its lead echelon burning and dozens of wounded terrorists writhing in pain and covered in blood, Sergeant First Class Petithory went to work eating up those who paused in the open.

This was a target-rich environment, which meant they would have no problem using lots of ammo and making it count. SFC Mike McElhiney, the team's weapons sergeant, looked over at Yoshita and his buddies and smiled. He stared back at the burning Taliban column and, in his Dirty Harry voice, said through clenched teeth, "How do you like New York now, motherfuckers?"

-- Robin Moore, The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger,

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Officials: Remilitarized Germany Is "Years Away" From Posing Threat

Bleurters News Service
London, April 21, 1936

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler's surprise remilitarization of the industrial Ruhr region of the Rhineland does not pose an imminent threat to peace in Western Europe, said various officials. The entry of German troops into the former industrial heartland of western Germany has prompted warnings about the dangers of Nazi Germany gaining the means to start a general European war. Other commentators say that such fears are disingenuous and overblown.

In a statement released after the entry of German troops into the Ruhr valley, Chancellor Hitler seemed to suggest that he would abrogate the Treaty of Versailles. "The German Government have continually emphasized during the negotiations of the last years their readiness to observe and fulfill all the obligations arising from the Rhine pact as long as the other Contracting Parties were ready on their side to main­tain the pact. This obvious and essential condition can no longer be regarded as being fulfilled."

Former French prime minister Pierre Laval said Monday that Germany is a least five years away from developing an offensive military capability, leaving time to peacefully negotiate a settlement.

"But there is a chance that the Western powers will use bombs or artillery against several sites in Germany," he was quoted as saying. "Then, the reactions would be strong, and would contribute to increased war fever."

"We have time on our side in this case. Germany can't have a revitalized Wehrmacht ready in the next five years," Laval was quoted as saying.

Others voiced a more concerned note. "Right now the ball is in the League Of Nation's court, and I think they must take some action, fairly strong action, in the reasonably near future," said former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker.

Chancellor Hitler in an interview insisted that there was no longer any cause for conflict between France and Germany despite "very bad things about France" in Mein Kampf. "You want me to correct my book, like a man of letters bringing out a new and revised edition of his works. But I am not a man of letters. I am a politician. I undertake my corrections in my foreign policy, which aims at an understanding with France. If I succeed in bringing about the Franco‑German rapprochement, that will be a correction which will be worthy to be made. I enter my correction in the great book of history!"

The Unbearable Brightness of Being

Ready for takeoff

If you want to touch the past, study rocks. If you want to touch the present, pick flowers. If you want to touch the future, teach a child. (I'm too lazy to look up who said that.)

From time to time I get to musing about the Interconnectedness Of The Generations. I can trace a branch of my ancestry back to Tudor times, as can a lot of other descendants of this particular gentleman. The earliest ancestors of which I have photographs are only at the great-grandparent level, though. There are certain photos of grandparents that I have grown up with, even though I never knew those particular grandparents. (My last grandparent died when I was 16.) I sometimes get a weird time-slip feeling, as if the present moment is really happening 100 years ago, and I'm just a mute, fading image in a few dozen surviving photos, same as them, and some unimaginable descendant is trying to read my personality across the void of years.

Maybe it won't be photos. Maybe it will be some other medium, like, oh, this blog, preserved as is or in some yet to be invented format. (You think Thomas Edison could have imagined his wax cylinders being played digitally over a world wide web of computers? Or Eduard Manet, that his Bar At the Folies Bergere would adorn pc desktops?) Well, that'd be more informative than a photograph in some ways, I guess. But posterity rarely cares to read things directly addressed to them. They prefer to eavesdrop. Well gang, if you're reading somewhere down the road, the pair in the picture up top mark a major milestone, since our known story began in the 16h century. I guess by the time your era rolls around you'll know just how major.

But back to you, dear contemporary visitor. I became a parent at an old enough age to know that I had better cherish the bejabbers out of every day I have with these two, especially while they're small. So, to that end, I always wrap up their day with a set beddy-bye routine. It ends with a little prayer of my own composition:

May God bless the living,
And the memory,
Of these days.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Iran: The Gathering Storm...

...or the stormy gathering, or something like that.

Clayton Cramer ticks off a list of melancholy likelihoods here.

Jeff Goldstein poo-poos the poo-pooers here.

I get dismissed as an alarmist tool here and here.

And my current mood is Threat--Elevated.

Have a Henry James quote:

Black and hideous to me, the tragedy that gathers and I'm sick beyond cure to have lived on to see it. You and I, the ornaments of our generation should have been spared this wreck of our belief that through the long years we have seen civilization grow and the worst become impossible. The tide that bore us along was then all the while moving to this Niagara--yet what a blessing we didn't know it. It seems to me to undo everything, everything that was ours, in the most horrible retroactive way--but I avert my face from the monstrous scene.
-- Henry James, letter to Rhoda Broughton, Aug. 8, 1914

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Iran and Nukes and...and...what else?

National Public Radio, specifically All Things Considered, offered a bafflingly oblivious interview with an expert on nuclear weapons recently. The audio is here. It was about nations such as South Africa and Argentina, which had pursued nuclear weapons programs but then gave them up. Towards the end, Mitchell Reiss offered this explanation of why Iran was not backing off its own nuclear program:

MONTAGNE: In what ways is Iran different from these other countries?

Prof. REISS: Iran believes itself to be the inheritor of a great culture, a great civilization: Persia. So, there is a sense of nationalism, a sense of cultural pride that believes that it deserves to have a seat at the top table and that nuclear weapons are part and parcel of what makes a great power.

In addition, it also believes itself to be in a tough neighborhood, to face security threats on its borders, to have a hostile relationship with the worlds leader power, the United States, and therefore, have some real security concerns that need to be addressed.

And, therefore, the factors, the incentives, that some of these countries, like South Africa, Argentina and Brazil had, to integrate themselves into the community of nations, may cut the other way for the leadership in Tehran, and thats a particularly difficult conundrum; and I think you could make an argument that the Iranians can look to what India and Pakistan did in 1998 and what, more recently, North Korea has been able to do in terms of increasing its nuclear competence, (unintelligible) ask themselves what penalties have these countries really had to pay. That, in fact, they havent paid very many penalties for this and, in some cases, they've actually been rewarded.

And so, yes, they're different. Each one is unique. But, again, the Iranians may feel that theyre going through a particularly tough time right now. They simply have to brazen it out and that when they get to the end of the tunnel, theyll be fine and theyll be a nuclear weapons state at the same time.

To ward off a possible objection, I should point out that I understand that Prof. Reiss is not advocating these motives, merely interpreting the mullahs' motives. But what's missing from that analysis? What reason other than the ones given could be spurring the program? Why, the one the mullahs have been most vocal about, is all: to exterminate Israel. No link, there's too many soundbites easily available. So why the needless omerta here on NPR? Beats me.

William Sloane Coffin, RIP

Via Miriam, I learn of the passing of William Sloane Coffin.

Dennis Prager had his number, thus:

People who believe in moral relativism, who therefore cannot ever determine which side in a conflict is morally right, understandably feel incapable of determining when violence may be moral. Those who say violence never solves anything have confused themselves in other ways as well. They have elevated peace above goodness. Therefore, in these people's views, it is better for evil to prevail than to use violence to end that evil -- since the very use of violence renders the user of it evil.

He did do a fair share of good during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, more than I probably would have done had I been an adult then. But negative faith in America The Bad was his hallmark, as with so many progressives. The disasters that befell SE Asia after the Communist conquest of that region never dented that faith. His was a career, again like so many others, which proved that you can't argue with an epiphany.

There was an inherent fudging of the line between the political and spiritual spheres in his ministry. For example, from this address last year:

Arthur Miller, of blessed memory, once wrote “I could not imagine a theater worth my time that did not want to change the world.”

I feel the same way about religious faith; it should want to change the world. The “blood-dimmed tide” loosed in the last century claimed more lives than all wars in all previous centuries, and the present century is filled with violence and cruelty.

And where did most of that blood come from? From the work of Coffin's fellow, though secular, social engineers. From the bloody counterfeit of Christianity, communism. People who still assert that communism and socialism--once they are properly implemented--are simply the Christian ideal in action should remember a few simple facts:

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Acts 2:43-45

Note that it does not say "at gunpoint" anywhere in there. In socialist schemes, there's always a juncture where the guns have to come out.

Nor was there lacking the Left's profound indifference to the everyday dilemmas of ordinary people, much preferring the drama of high politics:

What is so heart-breaking is that, in a world of pain crying out for change, so many American churches today are basically down to management and therapy.

He was a minister, for goodness sakes. Didn't he ever have occasion to dry anyone's tears?

Coffin was an inspiration to many, so RIP to him and consolations to them, for the sake of that inspiration. But may the totalitarian temptation that shadowed his writings finally RIP, too.

Gospel of Judas and Other Ancient Quasi-Scriptural Manuscripts

If it's news to you that there are ancient Gospels that didn't make it into the Bible, you may also be interested in knowing about these:

The Nag Hammadi Library, which I linked to some time back. It's the largest surviving collection of ancient gnostic writings.

Though their authenticity has been questioned, there survive ancient pagan references to the growing Christian sect in the Roman world. Especially see the purported exchange of correspondence between Pliny the Younger and the emperor Trajan.

There's even a spurious Letter Of Jesus, which was popular in places from the Dark Ages up to the Middle Ages or so. It's a rather scolding exhortation to keep the Sabbath.

A good one-stop source for much of these writings is here, at the Early Christian Writings website.

The History Of Art Featuring Mr. Potatohead

What hast Photoshop wrought?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Watch This Space

A heads-up to regular visitors: I frequently keep some posts in draft form, and post them after I post other other stuff. So, newer posts may not always appear at the top. Have a quick scroll down and make sure you don't miss anything--wouldn't want that to happen, now would we?

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Somewhere, in some financial biome high, high above me, dwell people who don't get what they deserve. They get what they negotiate.

Last I checked, that isn't a crime in America, yet.

Gospel of Judas on National Geographic Channel

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word "orthodox." In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox. He had no pride in having rebelled against them; they had rebelled against him. The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law--all these like sheep had gone astray. The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right. If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man; he was a church. He was the centre of the universe; it was round him that the stars swung. All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical. But a few modern phrases have made him boast of it. He says, with a conscious laugh, "I suppose I am very heretical," and looks round for applause. The word "heresy" not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word "orthodoxy" not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong.
-- G. K. Chesterton, introduction to Heretics, 1905

I finally watched the tape of the NGS Gospel of Judas. It's a good show, the story of the codex's shadowy career being especially interesting.

Elaine Pagels, though she is the foremost popularizer of ancient gnosticism, lacks critical distance from her subject--objectivity, if you prefer. She likens the early church's opposition to gnosticism to American opposition to communism in the Forties and Fifties--a shallow and frivolous assertion on both counts. But she is one of several experts, and a picture of the ancient church and gnosticism emerges that I would have to say is fair enough. Anyone so intrigued can dig deeper, if they wish.

Here, for example, in the online Catholic Encyclopedia. The verdict:

Gnosticism died not by chance, but because it lacked vital power within itself; and no amount of theosophistic literature, flooding English and German markets, can give life to that which perished from intrinsic and essential defects. [...] A just verdict on the Gnostics is that of O. Gruppe (Ausführungen, p. 162): the circumstances of the period gave them a certain importance. But a living force they never were, either in general history or in the history of Christendom. Gnosticism deserves attention as showing what mention dispositions Christianity found in existence, what obstacles it had to overcome to maintain its own life; but "means of mental progress it never was".

It's not hard to see how a religion of achieving salvation by pondering one's own intrinsic wonderfulness would find a ready audience in modern-day America. (I think that's one reason there are so many Buddhists running around the Left Coast. (The most despicable person I've met in the past ten years is a Buddhist, but that's another post.)) But like the man said, there's no vitamins in it. Eventually, one needs spiritual food that will stick to your bones...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Happy Easter To All ROFTers

Have a Thomas Merton quote, on redemption:

The Voice of God is heard in Paradise:

"What was vile has become precious. What is now precious was never vile. I have always known the vile as precious: for what is vile I know not at all.

"What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed Jonas with My mercy, and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe without end, because I have never known sin.

"What was poor has become infinite. What is infinite was never poor. I have always known poverty as infinite: riches I love not at all. Prisons within prisons within prisons. Do not lay up for yourselves ecstasies upon earth, where time and space corrupt, where the minutes break in and steal. No more lay hold on time, Jonas, My son, lest the rivers bear you away.

"What was fragile has become powerful. I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing. I touched what was without substance, and within what was not, I am."
-- Thomas Merton, _The Sign of Jonas_, 1953

And a blessed and joyous Easter to all.

Two Books

I'm reading two big books presently, which I will review properly at my Amazon page later. But I'll go ahead and recommend them to you now, if you haven't already heard of them.

One is Jung Chang's Mao: The Unknown Story. How stomach-sinking it is, to read how this malcontent, half-educated nobody chanced and then schemed into a position of power, dragging China's oft-mulcted peasantry into previously unthinkable nightmares of mass horror. The revelations are compiled from surviving acquaintances of Mao, or their descendants.

The other is Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale. I expected it to be merely a popular work of comparative zoology, but it is much more. Loosely modeled on The Canturbury Tales, he surveys current thinking in paleontology, genetics, and so on. It does get tedious, having to wait out him snarking on about creationists and American politics, but the meat of the book is fascinating.

Springtime Yard Fun

It's probably all to the best that living things in the front yard don't have a way of wondering why human children do to them the strange things they do.

A worm is contentedly wriggling about in the soil. Daddy's edger turns it up, he calls the titches to come see, and it's friendship at first sight. The elder titch scoops it up with her sand shovel, carries it off and places it on a church bulletin, and balances it carefully, to take inside and show Mommy. After being told that it can't come inside, and that it needs to stay moist, she brings it back outside. With that praiseworthy but vaguely disquieting intensity small children bring to their self-imposed little tasks, she carries it to the front stoop, spreads out some dirt from her bucket, places the worm thereupon, and carefully spritzes it with water from Mommy's squirt atomizer.

A wild strawberry is growing in a patch in the lawn. The titches discover them, but are told that they should not eat them. Soooo.... The titches picked a handful, went and got some water balloons they had earlier made out of latex gloves, asked me to untie them, dropped the strawberries inside, asked me to tie them back up, and scampered off to show Mommy their new toys.

Water balloons out of latex gloves are fairly obvious. But who except a small child would think of putting strawberries in them? Such are the workings of childhood wonder.

Beatles Via Legal Downloads At Last?

As Paul Harvey says from time to time about medical research, the most important news today may turn out to be this: Apple Corp. may finally release the Beatles catalog for legal downloads. And, the music is getting a tune-up, being remastered (although oldtime Fabs purists who insist that mono is the only way to Meet The Beatles may not like what they hear). And Michael Jackson may sell off his stake in the Beatles catalog, to pay off his debts.

Who says good things don't come in threes?

Another dead rapper

And what a stupid way to go. According to this account,

Proof and Bender were playing pool, and Proof was losing. Words were exchanged, and Proof grabbed Bender by the face, shoved him and then hit him. As Bender tried to defend himself, Proof pulled a handgun and "pistol whipped" Bender, then shot him in the temple.

"As Proof stood over him with the weapon, someone came to Mr. Bender's aid and someone shot Proof," Upshaw said.

The account is disputed later in the article; innocent until proven guilty; no fair trial in the court of public opinion, $ etc. So all I've got to say is that this post of mine from a few weeks ago would fit nicely at this time.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Black Hole Super-Computing

NASA Announces Black Hole Merger Breakthrough

NASA will hold a media teleconference 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18, to announce a breakthrough in simulating black hole mergers and predicting their gravitational wave signatures. The finding is based on the largest astrophysical calculation ever performed by a NASA supercomputer.

To participate reporters should call: 1-800-369-3196 or: 210-234-0005, passcode "NASA." Images and graphics supporting the briefing will be posted at the start of the event at:

Audio of the event will be streamed live at:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Too Awful To Listen To

San Francisco Chronicle blogger C. W. Nevius doesn't want to hear, or hear about, the Flight 93 recordings.

What's the point? Is it to stoke the fires of righteous indignation against the terrorists? Frankly, it is hard to believe there is any more stoking to be done. Regardless of how you feel about the war in Iraq, to see what has happened, on the daily basis, to our troops — and to the people of Iraq — is to be reminded of what those evil fanatics can do. No more rabble-rousing needs to be done.

Unfortunate choice of a phrase there, that last bit. Just because he doesn't want to have his mellow harshed doesn't make the rest of us "rabble". And if it does, then maybe Shakespeare is "rabble", too:

O thou well skill'd in curses, stay awhile,
And teach me how to curse mine enemies!

Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;
Compare dead happiness with living woe;
Think that thy babes were fairer than they were,
And he that slew them fouler than he is:
Bettering thy loss makes the bad causer worse:
Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.

My words are dull; O, quicken them with thine!

Thy woes will make them sharp, and pierce like mine.


C. W. Nevius is also disgusted by the idea of commercial exploitation of Flight 93:

While the producers of the "Flight 93'' movie insist it is a tribute to the passengers, there isn't any question they are doing all they can to create a heart-rending, tear-jerking conclusion.

It is hard not to think that their hope is that people leave the theater sobbing, and then tell their friends that they have to go see it and have a breakdown moment of their own. After all, this isn't a public service. They are trying to make money here. And for some a movie like this, or listening to tapes like these, may make them feel better, or give them a sense of perspective and reflection.

Not me. I don't want to hear them. And I certainly don't want to pay money for a ticket to help anyone raise money from the raw emotions of that terrible day.

The story of Flight 93 is an instant classic, to use an unfortunately shopworn term. It will be told and retold for a long time to come. If United 93 the movie doesn't do them justice, then another movie or play or novel or something someday will. The "raw emotion" of their sacrifice will attract artists, genuine artists, for years to come. And so long as their sacrifice is remembered, the resulting works of art will find an audience. I won't begrudge someone a fatter bottom line if one of those works plumbs the depths, scales the heights, hits the nail, pushes our buttons--that is, if one of them is a classic worthy of the art of story-telling.

Thus far, and no farther.

Never forget.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Release of Flight 93 Flight Recording Transcripts

The actual audio is still embargoed, owing to the objections of victims' families. But after four and a half years, they've finally released the transcripts.

Further proof, if proof can have any effect on certain people at this late date, that evil exists, and good exists, and they will always clash, and sometimes good wins, and the fact that it does so can be an inspiration to people and times far beyond those immediately concerned. "Plains of Marathon", you know.

This evening I also watched a tape of that Discovery Channel docu-drama from last autumn The Flight That Fought Back. I got so jacked up with helpless rage I had to switch it off three quarters of the way through.

I remember being at work on 9/11, stunned and barely functioning. I had the radio on, listening to the horror. By early afternoon, the broadcast was mostly anchors treading water with experts from the rolodex. The local station would stay with one network, and then switch to another whenever some new grist seemed to come along. I clearly remember the announcement that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, no immediate details, and I clearly remember taking no especial notice of it--if that makes sense. I was becoming numbed. Later I would boil over with impotent fury. I've said elsewhere many times that, if I had been in charge that day, the world would look like a half-eaten apple inside of two weeks. Thank God the grown-ups were in charge...

As for Flight 93, whatever happened on board, they are heroes. They always will be, no matter how obscenely political correctness perverts their memorial. I would love to see memorials that have more of a tone of anger and defiance, and not shrines to some feng shui idea of grief therapy. Well, to that end, have this stirring example of air force nose art:

In Search of the Perfect Euphemisms

If the International Commission on English in the Liturgy had written the Gettysburg Address:

Eighty seven years ago our parents set up on this continent a new nation, programmed in Liberty and based on an egalitarian model.

Now we are involved in a big interpersonal confrontation, trying to discern if our nation, or any nation structured on the same value system, can last very long. We are meeting on the scene of a significant dialogue in that process of discernment. We have come to dedicate a part of it as a memorial park for those who became deceased so that our important government agencies can continue to do their good work. We are doing a good thing.

But when you look at the bigger picture, we cannot dedicate or bless this ground. The brave human persons, living and not living, who dialogued here, have made it special, far better than we are able to do for better or worse. The media will not publicize our remarks very much, but everyone will remember what these human persons did here. It is up to us who still are alive to finish what those human persons who dialogued here started. It is for us to take up the big job still remaining – so that these human persons who have passed on will inspire us to finish what they started – and that our community will promise not to treat them as useless – in order that our government made up of human persons and run by human persons to promote authentic justice and peace for human persons will not be discontinued.

One must keep up with the times, but lordy the reformers do have a way of turning wine into warm lemonade.

Via On The Square.

Monday, April 10, 2006

In Which I Come To The Notice Of An Opinion Journal Columnist

Reason columnist Cathy Young mentions my Pianka Affair retraction at her blog, and implies that I'm letting him off too easily. Well whatever, at this point. Even if Dr. Pianka's talk really was what Mr. Mims represented it to be, I still wrote more than I could back up at that time. I got the word originally from the Acton Institute, which is surely one of the soberer websites out there. Had I seen this first at the abode of we conservative bloggers' dread sovereign, the Emperor Darth Misha, then of course some yellow flags would have gone up.

I hope I have an opportunity to recycle that Mencken quote I used, as well as the Coleridge. But I'll leave this kerfluffle to the real citizen journalists from here on.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Contrast In Courage

Over at the Progressive, Howard Zinn takes President Bush's falling poll numbers as his cue to lay out, once again, his view of America as no more than the sum of her misdeeds. Familiar stuff, oft-rebutted. "Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery," as our old pal Clayton Cramer once said.

Only reason I mention it is because it reminded me of an issue in The Progressive back in 1980, containing a review of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's samizdat proto-blog The Oak and the Calf. The review was fair enough. It granted him his courage at his long struggle with the Soviet juggernaut, and bristled at his lumping Western progressives in with his oppressors. But I had read the book, and the huge impression it had made on me made me think The Progressive was damning it with faint praise. Here was a man recording his adventures in composing, hiding and publishing the most explosive manuscripts ever written inside the Soviet Union, most notably The Gulag Archipelago. Discovery would mean instant incarceration, probably death. He wrote about his arrest after the first foreign publication of Gulag, when he did not know what would happen to him, and yet he turned this passage into a savagely witty comedy, with himself as the butt of it all. "Dolt! Where are your wolfish camp instincts?" It ended in Switzerland, IIRC, his first stop in his long exile. It was as rousing a tale of heroism as I'd ever read.

And in the back of the same issue was a closer by somebody named Milton Meyer, louding praising himself for his courage in flouting the new mandatory seat belt laws.

What I Saw At The Revolution

I turned to [Berthold] Brecht and asked him why, if he felt the way he did about Jerome and the other American Communists, he kept on collaborating with them, particulary in view of their apparent approval or indifference to what was happening in the Soviet Union.

[...] Brecht shrugged his shoulders and kept on making invidious remarks about the American Communist Party and asserted that only the Soviet Union and its Communist Party mattered. [...] But I was the Kremlin and above all Stalin himself who were responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of the oppostion and their dependents.

It was at this point that he said in words I have never forgotten, "As for them, the more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot." I was so taken aback that I thought I had misheard him.

"What are you saying?" I asked.

He calmly repeated himself, "The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot." [...]

I was stunned by his words. "Why? Why?" I exclaimed. All he did was smile at me in a nervous sort of way. I waited, but he said nothing after I repeated my question.

I got up, went into the next room, and fetched his hat and coat. When I returned, he was still sitting in his chair, holding a drink in his hand. When he saw me with his hat and coat, he looked surprised. He put his glass down, rose, and with a sickly smile took his hat and coat and left. Neither of us said a word. I never saw him again.

--Sidney Hook, Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century

Update: I decided to change the header. I'll probably make a series of this, like with the Jihad posts.

More Generational Forgetting?

A ruling intelligentsia, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa, treats the masses as raw material to be experimented on, processed, and wasted at will.
--Eric Hoffer

Enlightened people seldom or never possess a sense of responsibility.
-- George Orwell

It was as if an intellectual Iron Curtain of highly sophisticated mendacity had been erected in anticipation of the fall of the actual Iron Curtain in order to forestall any prospect of a moral reckoning. With the idea of truth reduced to the status of a mere social constuct--and thus dismissable as a malign instrument of power-- history itself had been rendered absurd. Our culture was no longer in command of the moral intelligence that was needed to measure the scale of human suffering and loss that had been incurred as a consequence of eighty years of totalitarian terror. We can only hope that the price to be paid for such a self-willed ignorance and complacency will not be as high in this century as it was in the last.
-- Hilton Kramer, Twilight of the Intellectuals

Lauren Langman has a review of Russell Jacoby's Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age over at Logos Journal. I haven't read the book, and thus don't know how accurate the review is, but a number of bits there prompt these reactions below:

Jacoby argues that the classical texts of Huxley and Orwell were not simple anti-Utopian treatises as taught in most American high schools and colleges. Rather, these authors attempted to point out certain inherent dangers in modern societies. [...] Orwell feared the potentials of total domination by the State, but Orwell was a life-long socialist who was concerned that his work was used to discredit socialism.

Orwell was famously described by someone as the conservatives' favorite socialist, and the socialists' favorite conservative. So it isn't hard to marshal blocks of his writing to underscore either emphasis. But Animal Farm and 1984 were solidly based on the human disaster then existing in the Soviet Union. The allegorical content they had was just that--allegorical, though this is lost on people who wonder if 1984 is "finally" coming true, whenever the latest American election doesn't go their way.

Jacoby is reported to reject the conflation of communism and fascism, and the conflation of both with idealism. On the first score, a definition of terms is in order. My favorite in recent times is this:

The Communists gathered up all the corporate heads and took them out to be shot; the fascists gathered up all the corporate heads and took them out to lunch -- where they were told to obey orders or be shot.

"Fascist" has long since become the Left's all-purpose epithet of choice, with even less meaningful content than "racist", blasted about like birdshot, simply denoting the person, association of persons, or idea that you the reader are meant to disapprove of. So if Jacoby has come up with a sensible distinction, then all to the good.

As for decoupling the monstrosities of communism and fascism from idealism, it'd be interesting to read how he does it. It seems obvious to me that idealism was the fuel for communism and fascism, as it is for most any -ism. Further in the review he's reported as wanting to revive idealism as a free-floating...well, a free-floating ideal, not shackled to any socio-political program, and not susceptible to being hijacked by tyrants.

Utopian thought yearns for the future, but will not chart the shape the future society will take. Yet at the same time, that vision must be shaped by legacies of the past and realities of the present; containing pain, frustrations and hope.

Mmhmm. And I want a pony for my birthday.

Sure, "without vision the people perish." So let's spend some effort to come up with--or, wonder of wonders, rediscover--the best vision, one that doesn't come with oceans of misery to be of-coursed aside.

Moreover, unlike dreams, Utopias are shared and offer promises of actual realization. But such Utopias are not likely to be perfect, rather they are times and places that wisely accommodate the imperfections of people and their societies.

Sounds quite a lot like plain ol' America to me, if we leave it at that. But no. All this seeming coyness is finally revealed to be no more than another call for the revival of the conventional Left, under some new garb or other:

The present age of cynicism and withdrawal from the society is not conducive to Utopian thought. What is left of the left is highly fragmented. The narcissism of “petty political differences” often precludes a united stance so as to weaken all. Similarly, the demoralized academic left has had to weather a number of storms beginning with the marginalization of leftists from the disciplinary mainstreams. The fall of the USSR was alleged to discredit Marx and Utopianism.

Quite convincingly so, to some. Actually the existence of the Soviet Socialist State was the most discrediting thing about those ideologies, for the rest of us.

This has led many academics to question the legitimacy of the academic left. Moreover, the late and not very great postmodern fad rejected any kind of grand narratives as totalizing, which in turn left little space for Utopian imaginaries of a just world and good life. Finally, while progressive academics may support social movements, most such movements seek limited reforms rather than the “better world [that] is possible” as proclaimed by the WSF. Still, such movements proclaim goals of freedom, equality, democracy, justice and plenty that do remind us of the realities of the present and the possibilities of that better future.

And here we encounter the hard cyst of willful ignorance, willful forgetting. How high must the butcher's bill climb before we can finally put "paid" to this dream of achieving cosmic justice through political means? What will it take for the ghastly lesson to stick for a single generation, let alone longer? Must we stand on guard against the totalitarian temptation, in Jean-Francois Revel's phrase, forever?

I don't think the Left has an honest way back from the wilderness without a thorough-going self-accounting of its part in the political horrors of the prior century; something like what Eugene Genovese did years ago. Simply declaring the slate to be clear, re-labeling their program as utopianism, and trying to salvage that label won't do it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gospel of Judas Finally Released by NGS

The most welcome news to me about this codex is this:

The material will be donated to the Coptic museum in Cairo, Egypt, so it can be available to all scholars, said Ted Waitt of the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, which helped finance the restoration.

No knock against National Geographic or their team of scholars, but I still think that the most valuable studies of this ancient manuscript are still to come. The power of aggregate expertise and all that, you know.

In the meantime, National Geographic has a quite cool interactive feature on the Gospel at their website.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wedded Blisters

No one forms character in a vacuum. Absent contact (rhymes with "friction") with other people, one hardly knows whether one is honest. I would probably never know what a lazy, inconsiderate fool I am, if I didn't have a wife to remind me.

But from time to time a second opinion intercedes. For the past year, on a blog I run under another name, I've been helping a woman in another country translate a Catholic work of pop-theology into her language. What I do is, I explain the unfamiliar idioms and slang that don't show up in her dictionaries, unsnarl run-on and ungrammatical sentences, and explain the stories behind picturesque metaphors, that aren't obviously metaphorical at first reading. This woman is an old friend of my wife, and she frequently gushes thanks and praise about me to her. This is good for putting me up on a small pedestal at home, for a spell!

My wife also hears about other people's domestic troubles from here and there, and I tend to benefit from the contrast. Yet, I don't think there's anyone in my life that I contrast with quite as starkly as this.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Scene From The Jihad, VI

Almanzor, to show his true blue mettle, went north again, this time to the most revered western shrine of Christendom, Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle Saint James is reputed to be buried. Of all Almanzor's campaigns, this has remained the most famous and retains, even to this day, the full flavor of the Jihad. To quote a Muslim scholar, Compostela was to the Christians what the Kaaba is to the Muslims. The Muslim crusader marched out of Cordova on July 3, 997, advanced north Portugal, reached Compostela on August 11, found the town empty and all the inhabitants gone save for an old priest kneeling by the tomb of St. James. "What dost thou do here?" asked Almanzor, puzzled. "I am praying to St. James," replied the old man, not at all impressed by the Muslim soldiery. "Pray on," said Almanzor, who ordered his soldiers to leave the old priest alone and to respect the shrine, but to burn the town.
-- Paul Fregosi, Jihad in the West, 1998

Monday, April 03, 2006

Socialism is the Religion People Get When They Lose Their Religion

"Generational forgetting" is a buzzword in the sphere of drug addiction treatment. It purports to explain how drugs like heroin cycle back into vogue, as younger users do not see all the wastoids of previous generations, who ruined themselves on it during a previous wave of popularity. Absent the cautionary sight of the earlier drug casualties, young users experiment with dangerous drugs and start the tragic cycle anew.

Perhaps that's what's happening nowadays with socialism. Professor Ronald Aronson writing in The Nation says that the Left needs more socialism. It's an attempt to de-stigmatize the word "socialism"--the concept has of course never gone out of favor with the Left, instead becoming the Ideology That Dared Not Speak Its Name. Socialists have always insisted that they are different from communists, but the defeat of Soviet communism by the free, democratic, capitalist West tarred them by association anyway. Socialism retreated to the cultural front in the Nineties. Now we hear the siren song, "another world is possible", wafting our way once again, from the rocks.

Take away the contemporary references, and Professor Aronson's piece could have been written 100 years ago. Some of its more obvious refutations are almost that old, too. Too much capitalism? As G. K. Chesterton said, that doesn't mean that there are too many capitalists. It means that there are too few. Latin America doesn't need socialism; it needs a middle class. And even 100 years ago Prof. Aronson's remark about "faith in the market" would have been a fallacious cliche. As Thomas Sowell said, you don't need "faith" to believe in the benefits of the free market--the concrete proof that it works is everywhere. Humorist P. J. O'Rourke observed that the state-run agricultures of Eastern Europe were so mismanaged that he could see the boundary between capitalism and socialism from his airplane window, en route to Warsaw. But to believe in socialism, that's what takes faith.

It's faintly nauseating to read the veiled self-congratulation Prof. Aronson ladles on, in his lauding of socialism:

Socialism's values continue to nourish community life.

The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism's values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.

Socialists have conceived a society that provides for the needs of every individual, including adequate means to live a decent life and develop each person's capacities.

No. All of these virtues which are alleged for socialism are borrowed from elsewhere. The English idea of fair play; the Christian ideals of charity and compassion, the Jewish example of community, all are the true coin of which socialism is the counterfeit. Government expropriation of society's high achievers, on the presumption of their unworthiness to possess their own wealth, is no recipe for justice, never has been, and never can be. Deracinated intellectuals, as ignorant of their blessings as fish are ignorant of water, who've never lost a loved one to the gulags, never lost a livelihood to rampaging rent-a-mobs--indeed, probably never missed a meal--really have some nerve in calling for the revival of the idea that immiserated so many people in the last century, and whose remnants hold back so many today. As Jean-Francois Revel once said, so long as there is a single rock in the world's oceans without socialism, there will be boat people.

Your First Things tie-in is a gimme. Richard John Neuhaus, from 1994:

The socialist revisionists we will have always with us, for the desire becomes more demanding as the prospect of its satisfaction recedes. The idea, like a bird, escapes all the closing traps of historical fact. There must be, they insist, an alternative to this-to the paltry, striving, bourgeois, thus and so ness of democratic capitalism. There simply must be. And there is of course. But those who do not know the alternative of a new heaven and new earth of ultimate promise have no choice but to cling ever more desperately to socialism as the name of their desire.

And what the hey, since I'm blathering on at such length, have this Sidney Hook quote, too. Same low price:

I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.

Don't let me catch you waltzing with the goalposts like that, all right?

Addendum: What with the recent brouhaha about a plagiarist over at NRO, I'd better divulge that the line "socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion" is not original with me. It is of course a great quip by our fearless FT leader Richard John Neuhaus. I even used it some time back, in a post of his quotes, too lazy to look up the link, sorry.

Academic Misanthropy

README: I have received satisfactory proof that the events that this post treats are not supported by facts. Read the updates at the bottom first. I'm leaving the post up as a standing caution to myself and like-minded passersby. Thanks to commenter The Polite Liberal for the links. What a waste of perfectly serviceable purple prose...

Second-hand word of mouth, aka this fine piece of improptu citizen journalism, has it that a prominent scientist wished for the extermination of most of humanity by means of the Ebola virus.

There's certainly no law against getting old and sour and disaffected. It happens all the time--look at Mark Twain, or Kurt Vonnegut, in our own time. Some people can turn this sort of attitude into a well-compensated, influential, but mostly harmless career, of course. Like H. L. Mencken:

The existence of most human beings is of absolutely no significance to history or to human progress. They live and die as anonymously and as nearly uselessly as so many bullfrogs or houseflies. They are, at best, undifferentiated slaves upon an endless assembly line, and at worse they are robots who leave their mark upon time only by occasionally falling into the machinery, and so incommodint their betters.

And Dr. Pianka may be harmless, too. I do not know what kind of clout he wields in the greater scheme of things. This fellow thinks Dr. Pianka may be another Charles Manson, but don't ask me.

Much could be said of middle class intellectuals who do not want the great unwashed to get ahead. They're all for it in the abstract, but just watch when the McMansions and strip malls start going up in their areas. They fall back into the familiar reflex of "there's just enough of me, but way too many of thee." It's when snobbery like that gets coupled to radical environmental politics, like a warhead atop a missile, that the potential for massive grief becomes imminent. Radical politics always devalue human life, because life must be lived in the present, and radicals are usually disinclined to find much of value in the present. Especially radicals who hate their fellow man in the name of the greater good (if that isn't redundant).

There are people who view humanity as hearts and minds, and there are those who view it as mere mouths and stomachs. In some eras this split can fall along the political right/left divide. In the terror societies of High Communism an individual's worth was strictly tied to his or her usefulness to the Party, usually with murderous consequences. In our own day we have eco-grouches, misanthropes for whom humanity is a blight, the sooner eradicated the better. (On the right, we have what used to be called super-patriots, who love their country but hate 90% of the people in it.) The misanthropes who regard people as practically invaders from outer space cannot harbor any genuine love for nature, since they have miscontrued what nature is.

To my mind, one of the most precious things about human life is the given-ness of it. (That's also why I dislike the idea of designer babies.) People are born, they tread out the measure of their days, and then they die. To what purpose? It's for no fellow being to dictate. To have one generation finally appear and be told that their tread is too heavy for the earth, well that's just arrogant. I thought so when I first started hearing this stuff, decades ago, in college. Back then the talk was malthusian warnings, now the doomsayers are actively wishing for a malthusian finish. Whether it stems of misanthropy, or nihilism, or what have you, such a creeping death wish needs to be resisted.

Resisted how? Well, how about with the Christian faith?

The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection

H/T The Acton Institute

UPDATE: Commenter The Polite Liberal says I've been had by an Intelligent Design activist's hatchet job, and directs me to the text of Dr. Pianka's talk, here. Well, if that's so then it certainly makes applesauce out of this post. Long-time readers of Atlanta ROFTERS know that I adamantly oppose Intelligent Design. But I don't immediately see an ID connection to Citizen Scientist. I'll look further and update. Right or wrong, I'll leave this post up, as an example of the self-correcting power of the blogosphere.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Well, THAT Was Embarrassing...

First time since college that I've missed setting my clock forward. Usually the airwaves are full of advance warnings, but not this time around. I team-teach a Sunday school class for kindergartners and first graders, so I was sorry to stand up my partner. He said it was no problem, since only one child showed up.

I like "fall back" much better...