Sunday, May 29, 2005

Restaurant Theology

A preening peacock in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

For the first time in years, I ate out at this place called White Fence Farm. It bills itself as a "Family Friendly Restaurant," complete with a petting zoo, playground, and pass-around platters at the dinner table. The food is excellent. But there are quite a few things there that inspire shivers of suspicion.

First, there's an air of self-satisfied self-righteousness. One sign on the way in says "Prayer may not be allowed in school, but it's welcome at our tables." Then there's the Southron Plantation style in the decor. An elderly statue of a manservant greets you as you enter the door to the dining area, looking just like one of those houseslaves from old movies, with the only difference being that the statue is white. There is a cage of peacocks and peahens, which makes one want to rewrite that Blake line about which caged bird sets heaven in a rage. There is a very large gift shop that has a live band, of all things, playing country tunes on a modest stage, behind which runs a tubeslide for the kiddies. But what particularly caught my eye was a small pamphlet of just four pages.

It's funny enough on the first three pages. The cover has a moneybag, a sizable stack of large coins, and two stacks of bills each wrapped with a small paper, looking fresh from the bank. It is titled: The Secret of How To Make Money.

Open the page, and in giant letters one reads:


I grin a bit at that. But when I check out the back of the pamphlet, I find a truly odd exhortation to labor:
If you are poor…work.
If you are rich…continue to work.

If you are burdened with seemingly unfair responsibilities…work.

If you are happy…keep right on working.
Idleness gives room for doubts and fears.

If disappointments come…work.
If sorrow overwhelms you, and loved ones are not true…work.

When faith falters, and reason fails…just work.
When dreams are shattered and hope seems dead…work.

Work as if your life was in peril.
It really is.

No matter what ails you…work.
Work faithfully…work with faith.

Work is the greatest remedy available.
Work will cure both mental and physical afflictions.

Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done whether you like it or not.

Being forced to work, and forced to do your best will breed in you temperance, self-control, contentment, diligence, strength of will, character, and a hundred other virtues which the idle will never know.

As the dining area is in the style of a Southern aristocrat's mansion, such comments are particularly incongruent. Such aristocrats, especially those who admired the ancient Greeks, tended to look down on labor as something one's slaves did. The presentation of work as a panacea--indeed, an opiate!--is quite laughable. Of its list of virtues, only temperance fits into the classical schema, and that is a virtue which even the pagans praised. Oddly enough, work is presented as instrumental and not dignified in itself; normally one's highest praises are reserved for something of inherent value, and not for what the thing does for you. The kind of labor praised here has no liturgical character. I do not think there is any room in this mindset for the Benedictine saying, "laborare est orare," to work is to pray, nor is there room for contemplation in general. It's all Martha and no Mary, but even its Marthaness is circumscribed and incomplete.

The line "Idleness gives room for doubts and fears." strikes me as one of the oddest points in the encomium. For one, sometimes fears and doubts are a sign that things are truly out of whack. For another, St. John tells us that it is perfect love, and not work, that drives out all fear.

And lastly, there is no sense of tragedy "at work" here. It is as though diligent labor puts the strumpet Fortuna on permanent vacation. That is the Baconian project, but I don't think it realistic, and it's not ideal in any case.

I know Michael Novak has been trying to defend capitalist labor systems against foes and arguments both real and imaginary. He's trying to baptize capitalism, but he seems to ignore that sometimes capitalist structures have their own sort of baptism they'd like Christianity to undergo. I think this poem touches on a key problem with Novak's enterprise. Sacred things are not to be put up for sale. That is why prostitution, in its physical and virtual forms, so offends the Christian imagination. However, labor is precisely the thing that is on sale in the contemporary marketplace. I don't see any particular way out of the situation short of monasticism, but Novak's encomia to the status quo indicate he doesn't even realize the difficulty.

Though the food is terrible, I think Casa Bonita is a far more "family friendly" local restaurant. Faux-mexican indoor plazas beat white split-rail fences. Not that I'm going to go all Holden Caufield and whine about Stepford phoniness, but cliffdivers, fire juggling, indoor waterfalls, gorilla chases and mariachi bands beat petting zoos and white-bread country music any day. If only they had a church facade on their fake plazas...

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hackers have their uses!

I smell a topical storyline for Law and Order!

Vigilante hackers use Old West tactics for cyberspace justice

I got one of those paypal phishing attempts claiming a security violation and asking me to log in at their fraudulent site. It even got through the spam filter. I almost fell for it, but the site address was different enough to raise my suspicions, and besides I couldn't remember my paypal password. Amnesia is the greatest security system.

Scammers are also using fake escrow services to steal merchandise from Ebay sellers. Boy did somebody get them back!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Of School Assemblies and Orwellian Paranoia

That post below about my elementary school experiences triggered a few more memories which are about as blogworthy as anything else that I record here.

My final elementary school was big into assemblies. Most every school-wide assembly had a little stereo playing Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" as the various classes trickled in. At the beginning of the school year, we'd have a little chant, saying the school name over and over with the principal's motto, "Learning Safety and Dignity" sprinkled in, sometimes with the boys and girls singing one part or the other. Even at that age, it struck us as cultish, and some of us would sing it as though we were polynesian islanders preparing to sacrifice a virgin Western woman to a volcano.

One day, we had an Earth Day assembly. It had similarly odd chants and songs. One, which caused much jollity on the four square court for months afterward, ran "Earth Day! Earth Day! There is No Away!" The phrase "no away" is probably some sort of pedantic mock-profundity caused by meditating on the phrase "throw it away." Similar to "square" being a hipster insult for those who aren't well-rounded.

That night, I believe, one of the networks ran an "Edutainment" special on the environment featuring the network's star cast. Mother Earth, dressed like a refugee from a Renaissance Festival gone horribly wrong, stumbled into Doogie Howser's hospital. She was placed on the operating table and Doogie played Doctor Exposition, noting everything that was wrong with her(or is it Her?), each diagnosis of one problem gave rise to a ten-minute speech from some actor. I don't remember too much about it. I think there was an appearance from one of those forgotten SeaQuest actors. I do remember that Fred Savage from the Wonder Years gave a little spiel telling us how recycling one pop can would save enough energy to run a television for three whole hours! I still have no idea if that is true or not. This was around the time McDonalds phased out its styrofoam containers. About the only "environmentally friendly" thing it inspired me personally to do was to shut off every light that wasn't in use scrupulously. I continue the practice to this day, but now it's more out of stinginess than anything else. It's my one pinch of incense economically burned to the demigod Efficiency.

Anyway, I read Orwell soon after elementary school, and saw the 1984 movie on Bravo. Being a master of making connections, I reasoned: Big Brother appears on Television Screens to make people follow his political programs. Environmentalists appear on Television screens to make people follow their political programs. Therefore, Environmentalists are like Big Brother!

Good old paranoiac illogic. How the Birchers missed recruiting me, I don't know.

Anyway, it wasn't helped when I saw Ted Turner speak at a conference at CU-Boulder during my junior high years, and noticed the vast herd of people applauding him, especially when he bashed Catholics. Turner did not share my matrix of beliefs, but he shared my juvenile illogic, reasoning that since the local church changed her teaching on abstaining from meat on Fridays, it should do so on abortion as well. The herd of Boudlerites who gave him a standing ovation for that half-thought brought memories of that Two Minute Hate to the mind of a new adolescent. It also sparked intimations that Catholics were enemies of the powers that be, and thus the good guys. If I end up a saint, blame Ted Turner. Or thank him.

Turner started putting out his Captain Planet Enviro-agitprop around that time, and I noticed all the raised fists put up by the heros of that cartoon. Proof that Orwell makes you a paranoiac who sees crypto-fascism everywhere. (Orwell can also make one humorless. Witness Christopher Hitchens.)

Thomas Frank should have included Stan Slaughter, Eco-Troubadour, in his book What's Wrong with Kansas. That link doesn't go to Amazon, but to Stan himself, full of the unintentionally funny emotivist moralizing that is only permitted, aside from the mixed company of governmental and corporate fora, in the company of children. He also has a song guaranteed to give some poor kid nightmares about toxic waste, "Don't let the Goo get You." I can't find the "There is no Away" chant, though perhaps that song is one of the things that shouldn't be recollected until the eschaton.

Note to Self: Read This Book

The Dalkey Archive is a novel by the Irish writer Flann O'Brien. It is his fifth and final novel, published in 1964, two years before his death. It features a mad scientist, De Selby, who tries to destroy the world by sucking all the air out of the world. He has also very many inventions. He has exploited the theory of relativity and invented a kind of time traveling machine, which he uses to age his whiskey, creating brew that has been aged for many decades in a swift hour.

A Punk laments the decline of Punk Culture... And the Decline of the Catholic Church

The enemy of both dying Orthodoxies, Punk and Catholicism, was...well, virtually everything else: the vast hordes of pursuers-of-happiness who lived lax lives full of divorce, abortion and other conveniences, yet felt themselves on a first-name basis with Jesus. Fighting the pursuers of happiness seemed a lost cause then-but Catholics love lost causes.


I didn't see any contradiction. And still don't, really. Oh, I get the surface irony. But in the larger, terrifyingly bland landscape of California circa 1978 there really wasn't much of a contradiction. Punk and Catholicism were virtually indistinguishable, huddling together way over at the dark end of the cultural spectrum. Both were proudly celibate in a culture that still celebrated promiscuity. And both took the heat for their heresy.
("Dead Catholics" by John Dolan)

A commentor where I found this story summed up this writer's character as "contra mundum," implying this guy's closer than he thinks to Athanasius.

But who shall teach the teachers themselves?

In sixth grade, my teacher was teaching us the things she was taught in ed school. We had a whole section on developmental psychology that focused on a couple of prominent thinkers. Lawrence Kohlberg was one of these thinkers. I remember this because when we put on a class musical most of the script was developed from my rough draft and I named one of the characters, also an educator, Kohlberg.

Now I've rediscovered him via Cardinal Pell of Australia:
The endorsement of law as “form” which allows us to reject any determinate “content” and to construct our own content is common to various subjectivists, intuitionists, and Kantians. It is found, for instance, in the still-influential writings of Lawrence Kohlberg.

For the earlier Kohlberg at least, morality is simply certain rational constraints upon freedom; morality is the content-free requirement of form upon our reason. Kohlberg himself equivocated over whether morality is truly empty of content or gives us a little guidance. It is certainly hard to take seriously the notion of morality as contentless logic—a kind of color-in-the-picture-for-yourself ethics. Anyone in a real-life situation that requires moral strength, honesty, and accuracy would surely be repelled by the advice that “morality has nothing to say about the details of your choice; it’s all up to you.” To say this is to abandon people when they most need and expect guidance.

I don't remember if I was taught "Early Kohlberg" or "Late Kohlberg." I do know that a friend of mine who is getting a Masters in Education has studied him, since she brought up one of his developmental progression schemata in a discussion once without naming him. The quality-erratic Wikipedia article confirms my impression that it was pretty wacky.

Kohlberg committed suicide by "walking into the Atlantic in 1987," a sure way to inspire confidence in one's system of ethical reasoning.

Behold the Man

Good old linguistic pedantry sometimes pays off:

"Homo" and "Anthropos" are the general words meaning human being in Latin and Greek, respectively. In English, the generic term "man" can also mean one male human being, which I believe "yeoman" used to signify. Those dopes who rewrite "ad hominem" as "ad feminam" reveal their ignorance in their attempts at self-aggrandizing pseudosophistication. The first isn't sex-specific, but the second is.

I will now keep in mind that it's "Ecce Homo" and not "Ecce vire" every time I see a battered Christ.


Modern natural science aims for precision by bracketing off the most difficult questions and concentrating on what, in principle, everybody can know given enough time and thought by following self-evident methods, often starting from self-evident principles. So, too, modern Liberal political theory bases its system on principles or methods available to every man's reasoning.

Assuming this account is accurate, do certain forms of Christianity do the same?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Puritanism Triggered Name Change for Farm Animals?

Rooster, 1772, from roost (earlier roost cock, 1606), in sense of "the roosting bird," favored in the U.S. as a puritan alternative to cock (source)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Pornocracy at Work?


Porn star and former gubernatorial candidate Mary Carey will be joining her boss, Kick Ass Pictures president Mark Kulkis, in attending a dinner with President Bush in Washington, D.C. on June 14.

Kulkis was invited to attend the event by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which is organizing the event. Over a two-day course of NRCC events preceding the dinner, Carey and Kulkis will be attending a meeting with presidential advisor Karl Rove, giving their recommendations on important national issues.

“I’m hoping to run as Lieutenant Governor of California next year,” Carey said. “Since Arnold {Schwarzenegger} is a Republican, I thought this dinner would be a great networking opportunity for me.”
Source, which I really really do not endorse.

This could be a publicity stunt hoax, so I'm just putting this here provisionally until it is confirmed or denied. If it's true, I blame those damnable South Park Republicans.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I will let you down, I will make you hurt.

Johnny Cash released a music video in 2003, the year he died. Having neither cable nor high-speed internet at the time, I missed the thing. Until last week.

'Hurt,' originally a Nine Inch Nails song, was covered by Cash in one of the best music videos of all time. It's displaced my former favorite, Orbital's 'The Box.'

Think Monica Belluci's Mary eyes at the pieta scene in Gibson's passion play. They drive home what one's own sins do to Christ. This Cash video does the same. It's going to haunt me until the day I die, and I love it.

Faulkner's Nobel Banquet Speech

Yummy Goodness.

Faulkner overwhelms me. I can only read his stuff once every few years.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why doesn't this ever happen to me?

Harvard University is to spend $50m (£27m) on women scientists over the next decade after its president sparked anger by questioning their aptitude.

Harvard to boost women scientists

Monday, May 16, 2005

Another Distributist-inspired organization?

National Catholic Rural Life Conference, via tNP's Caleb Stegall's reference to Luigi Ligutti, a former NCRLC chair.

Distributists tend to treat the suburbs and sometimes even the cities as unredeemable things that need to be removed from the planet. I'm a suburbanite myself, so I like to think I'm not living in Localist Hell. Hopefully I'll find something interesting here.

Viking Rites Controversy

"...they are not to be considered rightly baptized who are baptized in beer."

-Gregory IX, Cum Sicut Ex,

written to a Norse bishop regarding the question of the validity of beer-baptisms.

No wonder I have an affinity for Waugh

"I have been trying to do something about getting a job and am tired and discouraged. It seems to me the time has arrived to set about being a man of letters."

A Little Learning, Evelyn Waugh

via Plato's Stepchild

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Few Thoughts on Donnie Darko

Saw Donnie Darko yesterday. In my mind, this is what a good "Signs" would have been like. All that searcher stuff, sci-fi themes(Time Travel for Darko, Alien Invasion for Signs), but even though both have dumb coincidences that make Divine Providence seem like a bad stage director, Donnie Darko is aware of this and references the "Deus ex Machina" concept a few times. It's not clear whether Donnie turns away from his agnostic flirtations, though I might see something on a repeat viewing. Shaymalan was far too obvious about Mel Gibson's character's return to Christianity. Donnie Darko is to superb Twilight Zone episodes as Signs is to pretty bad Twilight Zone episodes.

I remember somebody on the internet(Kathy Shaidle, maybe?) saying this movie was dead-on about the decline of Catholic schooling in the '70s and '80s. It is a Catholic school that looks like it is either a Jesuit or a former Jesuit school, a IHS being carved beneath the cross, but no priests or nuns, nor even religious pictures are in sight--supposedly this is representative of '80s Catholic schools. The only really smart teachers are either closet atheists, like the physics teacher who knows how not to upset the administration, or are teachers thwarted by the administration, like the English teacher hesitaningly played by Drew Barrymore, who is fired for teaching a mildly-edgy Graham Greene short story. Her last words to Donnie, her prize student? She tells about a great unnamed linguist who declared "cellar door" the most beautiful phrase in the English language, a point reference later in the movie. And that unnamed linguist turns out to be none other than J.R.R. Tolkien, whose name is never spoken in the movie. The writer-director sure knows his Catholic authors.

A "health" teacher passes off insipid pseudo-psychology as great insight that supposedly fits in perfectly well with the great tradition of Catholic self-analysis when it really only fits in with the most bourgeois forms of autoerotic self-improvement and middle-class worries about the economic and psychological, and not spiritual, effects of premarital sex on teens. Students are asked to place themselves on a single spectrum, one side being Fear, the other Love. The inspiration for this ever-so-intricate system is the health teacher's hero, a local self-help guru played by Patrick Swayze, a nice nod to the film's setting in the late '80s.

Donnie Darko gets into trouble after criticizing his teacher for her system's utterly simplistic way of ordering human relations--even more simple than the Enneagram, if that is possible--and gets so infurated he makes a obscene, uncalled-for comment that gets him a suspension. He also declares the self-help guru to be the "f*cking anti-Christ" during the guru's insipid "special" school assembly lecture. I'll have to refer any would-be defenders of the Enneagram to this movie.

Speaking of the Enneagram and bad pop psychology in contemporary Catholicism, the only retreat I went during college was an almost utterly worthless Enneagram-based retreat put on by the university's Catholic parish, redeemed only by the mass and the opportunity for confession. I know one man of the utmost charity and intellect who was kicked out of a Redemptorist seminary for writing a thoughtful and devastating critique of the pretensions of the Enneagram system to good psychology and Christian orthodoxy. (Behold! It is Online! See the Essays in Theology Section) The Enneagram was a favorite of this ex-postulant's superiors, so they booted him for putative rigidity, forever keeping him from the priesthood because American vocations directors generally take the judgement of other vocations directors at their face value.

But I digress. I'm curious about the near-absence of the authoritative voice in the contemporary arts, so I kept looking for the "true guru figure." In the old Twilight Zone episodes, for instance, the authority is always the voice of Rod Sterling and sometimes the weridos. Frankly, there is no such voice that is not in some way undermined by the movie, with the exception of "Grandma Death," the ex-nun turned time travel philosopher turned senile old lady who has no speaking role, only whispering to Donnie a silent phrase later revealed to be the haunting words "Every living creature dies alone." Perhaps the dismissed English teacher is one of the wiser characters, but her dealings with her less bright students show impatience as well as personal and professional immaturity.

So in other words, everybody's human and flawed. Hooray for flaws!

Nice work that looks like it would bear repeat viewings. My greatest reservation is that it is a bit too subtle for the casual viewer. There's also an unfortunate scene where Donnie's pre-teen sister asks the meaning of the obscenity she just witnessed her older siblings fling at each other. Having kids say obscene words in movies is really pervy in my eyes.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Church's Anti-condom Stand is Earth-Friendly

MILWAUKEE - After spending more than $1.8 million for a temporary system to catch stray condoms slipping through a sewage treatment plant, a Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District spokesman says officials are fairly confident a majority of condoms are now being caught before they can reach Lake Michigan.

Bill Graffin commented Thursday, more than two years after a fisherman reported seeing what he called a slick of thousands of condoms floating in the lake following a heavy rainstorm in April of 2003.

Initially, a single laborer armed with a swimming pool skimmer was posted at the chlorine tanks at the Jones Island treatment plant to capture condoms that survived earlier phases of screening at the plant.


A Hollywood "Life of Augustine"

Or: Be Wary of Hollywood "Getting Religion"

A Hollywood movie about Saint Augustine would focus on his coercive suppression of the Righteous Donatists, who will be reinterpreted as contemporary free-thinkers of the utmost virtue and tolerance who cannot stand the hypocrisies of institutional Christianity. They would be allied and/or conflated with the Manicheans and Pelagians, lenient liberals all.

Augustine, portrayed as a fundamentalist, teetotaling, sex-fearing Puritan who believes the earth is flat, will be the victim of even further creative liberties and be shown him keeping a secret mistress, whom of course he viciously beats. Augustine would preside over a book-burning where the works of Cicero, Plato and the erotic poetry of Cleopatra are given over to the flames. He would make a derogatory remark about the only Jew in Hippo, and one of his old friends from his pagan days, conveniently paying him a visit, would chastise him and leave in a righteous huff, making under his breath a snide remark about the love Christians show for mankind.

Adeodatus, Augustine's real-life son from his pre-conversion concubine, would be the hero. Instead of dying young and orthodox, he would rebel from his tyrannical father and flee to the formidable North African forests to join the freedom-loving Donatists. After a "Getting to Know You" montage sequence, he will become a person as honored among the Donatists as their Amazonian woman leader, who is of course revealed to be Adeotatus's grandmother Monica. Augustine's old pagan friend would show up and offer his service, extending his screentime to three whole minutes. The wise, witty, and well-groomed Donatists would overcome their inherent pacifism and march on Hippo where Adeodatus would confront his father, who is in full episcopal regalia leading hordes of hairy illiterate fanatics with bad teeth. It would end in hand-to-hand combat between father and son, with Augustine dying a superficially ironic death involving a completely fictitious episcopal accessory. If the writers feel generous, he'll say with his dying breath that there was something to Donatism, after all.

Following his death, there will be a big party among the rebels. Augustine's abused mistress will hook up with his generous and wealthy pagan friend, and Adeodatus will make a cliche-ridden speech extolling early Twenty-First Century platitudes.

Some op-ed writer in the pages of the New York Times, in a column opposite one of Garry Wills' pieces, will voice confusion and dismay over the controversy surrounding the film. Various Christian groups will use the film as proof that the secular liberal elite is out to get them. The film will become a minor favorite among undergraduate philosophy clubs, and it will be defended on ReligiousTolerance.Org, MTV, various newsmagazine television shows on the stations owned by the conglomerate which also owns the production studio, and, obviously, by Christopher Hitchens. Catholics and other Christians aspiring to sophistication will cite the film as fact, as will a bevy of New Age spirituality book manuscripts presenting Augustine's theological opponents as bearers of True Christianity. The odd Orthodox Christian, most likely one of those former Evangelicals, will claim that Orthodoxy has always taught that Augustine was wrong through and through and, in a fit of overeager optimism, will even assert that the film will lead to mass defections to Orthodoxy from the Roman Church and other forms of Western Christianity. Elaine Pagels will propose to write a book arguing that the Donatist, Pelagian, and Manichean gospel texts discovered at Oxyrhyncus are all more authentic than the canonical New Testament.

Irrelevant webloggers like me will vent their spleen on the internet, looking with "come hither" eyes at Christendom, weeping for the historical fictions foisted upon our country by idiotic scripts.

Then the movie will bomb a week into its release, all Catholics will laugh from joy and schadenfreude. Ten years after its release, will deliver a scathing critique on the completely forgotten movie. Thirty years from its release, somebody will make a good Augustine movie, and will speak one throwaway line in interviews and the DVD commentary deriding the quality of his film's ignominious predecessor.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Kulturkampf in the News at Last

I realized just today that nobody seems to mention the Kulturkampf as an influence on the German Catholic response to Nazism and an influence on the new pope. A bit of googling led to this article by former Clinton advisor Sid Blumenthal that, while mentioning the Kulturkampf's influence on Ratzinger, is so tendentious as to be worthless for all but political reference.
Blumenthal says:

In response, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, launched what he called a Kulturkampf to break the church's hold. He removed the church from the control of schools, expelled the Jesuits, and instituted civil ceremonies for marriage. Bismarck lent support to Catholic dissidents opposed to papal infallibility who were led by German theologian Johann Ignaz von Dollinger. Dollinger and his personal secretary were subsequently excommunicated. His secretary was Georg Ratzinger, great-uncle of the new pope, who became one of the most notable Bavarian intellectuals and politicians of the period. This Ratzinger was a champion against papal absolutism and church centralization, and on behalf of the poor and working class -- and was also an anti-Semite.

"Holy Warriors, originally at

This seems odd, because Georg Ratzinger has an entry in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia which doesn't say a bad thing about him, which one wouldn't expect from that source if its article covered an excommunicated priest. Nor does it mention him working for Dollinger, who also has an entry that does confirm him as an excommunicated supporter of the Kulturkampf. Perhaps there were some creative liberties that fueled this article.

Still, it is telling that an influential Democrat thinks Bismarck's Kulturkampf was all sweetness and light.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

How sweet... Pentagon Daycare!

Daycare and Child Development Centers are apparently located on military bases for our military mothers and fathers.

Think about that for a second.

Daycare centers. On military bases.

Military bases are unquestionably valid military targets in a nation at war, which last I checked is the unfortunate status of our country. And we house children in these targets.

One wonders whether this is an act of incompetence. Maybe ignorance is at work, our country never having been invaded en masse. Perhaps it is even a holdover from the Cold War, when nuclear weaponry was assumed capable of destroying everything nearby, which in the minds of some would justify keeping a daycare on base though not, apparently, keeping military targets as far as possible from concentrated civilian centers.

One would hope that this is only an ill-reasoned attempt to attract and keep parents in the military by making easier the lives of soldiers, many of whom are single parents who are victims of and/or contributors to the decline of premarital chastity, marital fidelity, or responsible fatherhood.

But then one remembers that poor dead girl in the arms of a fireman from the bombed-out Federal Building's daycare in Oklahoma City, a picture plastered far and wide after that act of barbarism. Could it be that someone in the Department of Defense long ago realized that such images have their uses? Did some anonymous offical conclude that, in the absence of government-controlled newspapers, the best one could do was so arrange events to provide the opportunity for propagandistic fodder that would rapidly be spread throughout the press?

I would hope not.

But I recall the various women-in-arms images I have seen throughout my life, from Lady Jane in the GI Joe comics and animated cartoons to the salacious shower scene of Starship Troopers where, in a spirit of egalitarian prurience, the men shower side-by-side with the women, to the GI Jane movie depicting a women being a far more effective a soldier than any man. And I will not mention the various other shows that have had similar aspirations to the elimination of all sex roles in the military and society as a whole by picturing women fighting and killing not in self-defense from some random thug in the park, but in full military garb using military-grade weapons, vehicles, and, let us not forget, hand-to-hand combat techniques.

Which brings us to Private Jessica Lynch. When she was captured, I have little doubt that various editorialists held her up as an icon for the new inclusive army, a sign of how far women had progressed in society. The military made a point of staging a rescue, filming it for popular consumption. (One wonders if they would have released the film, or even filmed at all, had Private Lynch been a male.) There was brief media speculation about whether or not she had been raped, more sadistic than titilating. It came out that Jessica Lynch had indeed been so violated, proving that the privacy of rape victims is one of the other privileges lost for those in the combat support service. I do not say "for those in the military," since the victims of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy were able to maintain their privacy despite much media coverage.

(Not to continue this tangent for too long, but Private Lynch had a forerunner during the first Gulf Conflict. A woman aviator was shot down and captured. I was too young to remember the coverage at the time, but I remember reading her story in a Reader's Digest a few years after the war. And sadly, yes, she too was violated by her captors.)

Should some devastating attack hit one of our daycare-providing military bases in the future, no doubt the victims will receive the Lynch Treatment. Stations will show some enlisted mother weeping over the charred, half-dismembered remains of her baby, or perhaps only show that bereaved woman holding a more tasteful photograph of her beloved, very cute, and very dead child. The footage will run every day for a fortnight, and if the child's name is easily lent to the task, he or she shall become immortalized in a rallying cry, just like Valley Forge, the Alamo, the Maine, and Pearl Harbor. Doubters of our military policy will be shouted down for sympathizing with baby killers. Any surviving children will enjoy, if that is the right word, media profiles at various stages of their surgeries and rehabilitation sessions; perhaps they will have a scholarship fund established for them, plus a reserved spot at any military academy.

Did some Machiavellian civilians on the DoD committee plan for such an outcome? Perhaps not, but few will have any qualms about exploiting such an event when it happens. Indeed, any such exploitation might even be unconscious. But keep in mind just who has built that daycare in harm's way. Do it for the children.

The Long March through the Institutions

Michael Brendan Dougherty discusses a dinner discussion with an Italian:
“Since we are talking about communism, is it still very popular in Italy? Have you heard of Antonio Gramsci?” I asked. I related how I had been reading about Antonio Gramsci by way of right-wing radical theorist Sam Francis, who studied his theories of political strategy and sought to adapt them for a conservative counter-revolution.

“Yes I know Gramsci. He is the most famous Italian communist’” So far, so good. Then without really a trace of irony he related that the building in Italy, out of which he normally works for this giant American accounting firm, was formerly the offices of the Italian communist party. There is still a giant statue of Gramsci in the lobby. “I walk by it everyday.”

I was astounded by this vision.


Scruton on Kitsch: The Sacred on Sale!

This is why the loss of religious certainty facilitated the birth of kitsch. Faith exalts the human heart, removing it from the marketplace, making it sacred and unexchangeable. Under the jurisdiction of religion, our deeper feelings are sacralized, so as to become raw material for the ethical life, the life lived in judgment. When faith declines, however, the sacred loses one of its most important forms of protection from marauders; the heart can now more easily be captured and put on sale. Some things—the human heart is one of them—can be bought and sold only if they are first denatured. The Christmas-card sentiments advertise what cannot be advertised without ceasing to be: hence the emotion that they offer is fake.

-Roger Scruton, Kitsch and the Modern Predicament

via Michael Brendan Dougherty

Every ceremony, every ritual, every public display of emotion can be kitsched—and inevitably will be kitsched, unless controlled by some severe critical discipline. (Think of the Disneyland versions of monarchical and state occasions that are rapidly replacing the old stately forms.) It is impossible to flee from kitsch by taking refuge in religion, when religion itself is kitsch. The "modernization" of the Roman Catholic Mass and the Anglican prayer book were really a "kitschification": and attempts at liturgical art are now poxed all over with the same disease. The day-to-day services of the Christian churches are embarrassing reminders of the fact that religion is losing its sublime godwardness and turning instead toward the world of fake sentiment.

So true. Here's the aesthetic argument against the LifeTeen barbarization of the liturgy and the priests who ride bicycles into the sanctuary during their homilies to "connect with the laity," by which they mean "audience." I suspect this is related to "ovation inflation," where nobody ever boos at a performance; the sentiment that one is a sophisticated and appreciative person is far more important than forming and then expressing one's sense of the aesthetic. Sentimentalists wouldn't be so bad, nor indeed sentimentalists, if it there were somebody there to shoot them every minute of their life.

Preachers and Sunday School teachers are conscious that some of the biblical imagery is not easily recognized: few people have ever tasted a pomegranate, or know what it is like to be a shepherd. Catholic preachers always make sure to clarify what the Gospel meant when it implies that Jesus had biological brothers.

I have yet to see somebody analyze from a local pulpit what Our Lord meant when he told us to become as little children. In many contemporary minds, the child is some sentimental bundle of joy who never sins, a true innocent. Some atheist propagandist, perhaps even a well-known one like Russell or Dawkins, seized on the exhortation to become little children, interpreting childhood in the sentimental sense that has become so widespread in the churches, and cited it as a reason that freethinking was for "adults," and religion for spoiled children. I am told by my betters that Our Lord meant us to imitate the humilty of the child, not his self-centeredness, acknowledging our weaknesses and failures and having a recognition that our desires have not yet reached maturity. Such a child sure wouldn't frivolously modify the divine liturgy, knowing that he does not and perhaps never could understand all its intricacies.

See also: Edward T. Oakes, Icons and Kitsch

Monday, May 09, 2005

Red Green is a Sell-Out!

Red Green becomes Ambassador of Scotch Duct Tape

London, Ontario - 3M Canada and S & S Productions Inc. have begun a three year agreement that will see Red Green take on the role as the "Ambassador of Scotch Duct Tape"...

"Man, I watched his shows before he went commercial, they were a blast, but they just haven't been the same since. Now I know why."
-Raphael Hythloday, USENET://

Boston: Athens of America?!?!?

There is a local coffeeshop/bookstore that calls itself "Paris on the Platte," which because of its stark contrast with the image of the famed French city still provokes snickers even though I haven't visited the place in three years. So having just discovered that Boston is called by some the "Athens of America," needless to say my mental systems of disparagement are in their "target acquired: fire when ready" mode.

Does Boston's moniker refer to the fact that she executes her Socrateses, exiles successful aristocrats, sets up an imperial league to exploit her neighbors and is shamed first by a Spartiate city-state and then an imperial Alexander the Great? Has her populace a particular devotion to the virgin goddess Athena? Where is her Parthenon?

Is Homer taught to every schoolboy and on the lips of every citizen? Are phalanx units trained on the Boston Commons? Do her citizen-soldiers sing martial songs as they march off to war?

Is pederasty widely practiced among her male citizens to help preserve the virginity of her women for the marriage bed?

Do her great geniuses blast democracy as mob rule and the lower classes as willing followers of any demaogue that is not kept in check? Do they laugh at Saint Paul for his assertion that God became flesh? Have they festivials featuring the ritual slaughter of cattle and religious plays about the gods? Who is her Sophocles and Aristophanes?

Are her laws written in poetic form?

For the most part, nope. Boston just has more universities than anybody else. Odd how such a prosaic fact has provoked such a poetic description. Somebody must have really loved that city, once, perhaps "more than his own soul," as Niccolo Machiavelli loved his mother city.

A city known as the "Carthage" or "Sparta" or "Jerusalem of America," that might be interesting. I don't think Rome is a contender, since its glory days lasted far longer than any of the above, and has far too many connotations to confuse even the non-pedantic among us.

Commodify your Dissent!

Thomas Frank is the editor of The Baffler, a journal of cultural criticism, which he co-founded ten years ago as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. Frank has been a contributing reporter to The Washington Post, The Nation, In These Times, and other periodicals. He received a Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago in 1994, with his dissertation, "The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism," becoming a national bestseller. Of "The Conquest of Cool," Geoff Pevere, of Toronto Globe and Mail writes, "Frank makes an ironclad case not only that the advertising industry cunningly turned the countercultural rhetoric of revolution into a rallying cry to buy more stuff, but that the process itself actually predated any actual counterculture to exploit." Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland co-edited "Commodify Your Dissent," with a foreword by Lewis Lapham (1997).

Emphasis mine, from the foreward to an interview with the man: Voice In The Neon Wilderness. via Caleb Stegall at the tNP forums.

Looks like he has written for The Nation. From what I read in the interview, I'd rather conservatives cite this guy rather than that former Nation writer they like to promote for some unfathomable reason, Christopher Hitchens. Or if that's too much to hope for, the Dems could take his suggestions and run with them.

Here he is on labor:

It was a standard reporter's beat—every newspaper had a labor correspondent. Now, it exists only in a handful of papers, mainly business newspapers that want to keep an eye on labor. As a subject of general social importance, it has completely vanished. I have a friend who works for a major newspaper. He was in an editorial meeting in which they were going over their reader demographics. All newspapers in the country are fretting over declining readerships, and particularly among certain demographic groups. They noticed that working class people have basically stopped reading their newspaper. He recommended hiring a labor reporter, and they laughed him out; they looked to better sports coverage.

Addendum 5/17/05
Ugh, just learned this guy is the "What's the matter with Kansas" fellow. I hereby invoke the stopped-clock rule--even those things are right twice a day.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Despondent Dalrymple cites Belloc's Servile State

Denver has a literary scene, after all!

After doing an internet search trying to find any other bloggers out there who, like me, have spent time at Regis, I instead discover many connections to various literary circles in my area.

I stumbled across Len Edgerly's Chronicles, since he has commented on the last two Hopkins Conferences at Oxford and Regis. He also quite truthfully described my cousin as a "legendary Denver politician." For all I know, I have actually run into Mr. Edgerly at past Hopkins conferences without ever knowing of his connections to the Wazee Journal, the awareness of which has fluttered through my ever-oscillating consciousness once or twice.

Via the Wazee Journal, I am directed to an interview with a local book critic who blogs at The Rake's Progress. Time to dig into the archives and see if I like what I find.

High School College Counselors get Free Junkets

Wisconsin counselors have been among the crowd to visit Regis University, a small Jesuit college in Denver.

Although the majority of the one-week trip focuses on the university's academics, the last day gives counselors a chance to ski, snowboard or visit a spa at nearby resorts. Those services could be free or discounted, said Regis spokeswoman Lee Ann Fleming. Showcasing "where students play" also is an important side to the campus, she said.

"We certainly don't have any apologies about where we are," Fleming said. "We want to emphasize the academics and then say that they are situated in one of the most beautiful places in the world."

via this place

A Superficial Jab at the Superficial

Comedy is very important, yes. For one thing, it keeps you sane. But it's not really a conversion. I mean, it's marginally a conversion, because if people tune in or go to a nightclub or even watch television, and hear that a lot of other people are laughing at something you thought was not funny, at least it'll force you to reconsider. I know people who've heard "The Vatican Rag" and then converted, so to speak. They'd think, "Hey, wait. There are actually people who take that as funny. I'm not the only one." I've always done some good along those lines. Many people over the years have said, "Oh, 'The Vatican Rag' changed my life." It's not that they were convinced of something they weren't convinced of before; it's just that now they realize it's okay to laugh. They're not the only ones.

-Tom Lehrer

Ugh. That's one of Lehrer's worst songs. Outsider attempts at parody, especially religious parody, don't have the surgical precision required by good satire, which knows just where to stick the knife and the speed with which to twist it. Witness the satirical equivalents of brain surgery with a chainsaw, Saved! and Kevin Smith's Dogma. (Yeah, Smith claims to have been raised Catholic, which frankly doesn't say much about his grasp of its basics.) Good satire deflates while provoking cringes of recognition, bad satire merely induces cringes for those in-the-know who are embarrased for the idiot who thinks he's making a sharp point and for the cattle in the audience who laugh for similar reasons.

Frankly, if "The Vatican Rag" changed your life, your life must not have been very interesting to begin with. Kinda like if Elvis Presley's song "Change of Habit" made you want to get hip and abandon the squares in the hierarchy for the wisdom of the young and the masturbatory.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hey Progressives: Why not work towards eliminating mind-numbing cant?

A UC-Berkely psych/sociology prof examines the failures of the progressive movement in a Dissent magazine article "Why Don't They Listen to Us? Speaking to the Working Class." It provokes a lot of ire, not so much for its content as for its lack thereof. Here's one selection:
"True, they[the political right] see black and white, while we see a world shaded in grays, which is a much harder sell, especially when people feel a need for certainty in what has become a very uncertain world."

This sentence should be taken out and shot, and ought to have its eyes gouged out and its elbows broken, kneecaps split, and body burned away. Two utter cliches in one sentence. News flash: the world is in color, not some Black and White or, to be more accurate, gray-shaded Pleasantville ignorant of the joys of physical and intellectual self-abuse.

And in case it is overly nitpicky to seize upon such an obvious fact, I'm reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where there were indeed no "shades of gray." Calvin was wandering around in a stark black and white world, somewhat like the cinematography in Sin City. The last panel, reverting to the standard Sunday color format, shows Calvin in conversation with his father, who tells him the tired phrase about seeing the world in "black and white" being a problem. Calvin responds: "But sometimes that's just the way things are!" (I have read this cartoon stemmed from Bill Watterson's clash with his corporate partners over his absolute ban on merchandising, but that's not germane to my whingeing.)

That nonsense on stilts about a need for certainty in an uncertain world deserves an essay of its own, but suffice to say that the proverbiage of crappy pop psychology in the mouth of a UC-Berkely psych prof, like in every mouth, hangs limp like crippled legs. Donning yet again the Captain Obvious hat: Everybody has certainties. There is always an orthodoxy at work in one's thoughts; an explicit orthodoxy is to be preferred to a concealed one.

Good old Doctor Johnson laid the smackdown on empty filler, as recorded by Boswell:
"My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do: you may say to a man, 'Sir, I am your most humble servant.' You are not his most humble servant. You may say, 'These are sad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times." You don't mind the times. You tell a man, "I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet." You don't care six-pence whether he was wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society; but don't think foolishly."

Perhaps Dissent magazine is a society mag and not entirely an academic journal, which might excuse the insubstantial writing on display. But hilariously enough, the author then goes on not to undermine the false truisms she presents, but rather assays a minor deconstruction of the pronoun "we":

But, one might ask, who is the "we" of whom I speak? It's a legitimate question, one I've asked myself as well, since there is no easily identifiable left, no progressive group that can claim to speak for the variety of people and positions that lay title to the left side of the political spectrum, no "we" that speaks with the kind of authoritative and unified voice we hear from the conservative right.

In my eyes, this is a confession that the author needed easy essay filler to introduce herself as a freethinker of no small wisdom. Instead, it resembles somebody playing solitary volleyball who passes the ball to herself, sets up a spike, then spikes the ball over the net, giving out a loud cheer and dancing a celebratory jig after acing her opponent--which is to say, herself--and all on a tennis court no less.

At least the essayist is aware of what drives much conservative ranting and counter-productive progressive politics:

I want to talk about us, about how we promulgated and enforced a politically correct line on a series of key social-cultural issues that played into right-wing charges that we were out of touch and helped to consolidate our virtual isolation from America's lower-middle and working class.


But if there were no pressure to remain silent, how do we explain the many times we sat at meetings wanting to dissent but didn't for fear of being politically incorrect? Or the times we wished for a fuller, more nuanced discussion of the subject at hand but stilled our thoughts because we knew they would be unacceptable, that our commitment to the cause would be questioned?

Ow. I feel like I have just called somebody the ugliest person I've ever seen, then complimented them on the beautiful color of their hair. Consistency, meet hobgoblins. ("Pleased to meetcha!")

I made a note of this article during my mindhaze of late winter, 2005, and I'm only getting to it now. There was something about abortion in this same issue of Dissent, which I don't care to dig up now though as I remember it made some verbal gestures in the direction of maybe loosening up the strict pro-choice orthodoxy, maybe.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Words, Words, Nuns

The twentieth century was dominated by an acute obsession with language. It seems to have begun among the academic-types, whether In the wordplay of Joyce, the ruminations of Orwell on political distortions, or the "linguistic turn" in philosophy inspired by Wittgenstein. It seems this trend was vulgarized via both the advertising industry and the movements associated with politically correct thinking. Various women I know have lamented the unfairness of the term "slut," since they know of no male equivalent. Of course, "philanderer" is a similarly disapproving male-specific term, but it has fallen into disuse. Possibly this is because the word has too many syllables for the regretably Anglo-Saxon-dominated English vocabulary of vituperative slang, but I think the exaltation of the "playa" is the more likely reason.

I am myself a scrutinizer of words, unleashing my preternatural powers of pedantry on most everything that catches my eye. Every so often, I hear a phrase that sticks in my mind forever, just waiting to be analyzed. One such term, "Father What-a-Waste," is the often-whistful description of a handsome priest made a young woman. I first came across the phrase in the first few chapters of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, and a short time later a woman in one of my Catholic student groups also made the remark while reflecting on the students at the local seminary. So it lodged in my brain, waiting an opportunity to be sprung.

Such an opportunity came today in the mail, in the form of a donation request from a Michigan convent. Their vocations crisis is such that they have far too many sisters than they can house and educate. Included was a picture demonstrating that, as the solicitation claimed, the average age of their sisters was indeed in the twenties rather than in the sixties. The picture also brought to my attention that there is no male-usage equivalent for the term "Father What-a-waste." A search on Google, the virtual concordance of contemporary English usage, only reveals one hit for "Sister What-a-Waste," referring to the young actress depicting a nun in the crummy new television show "Revelations."

Perhaps male Catholics simply don't talk about pretty nuns the same way women talk about handsome priests, but frankly it is hard to judge, having been quite difficult for anyone to find a young nun lately. The labeling of some elderly, habitless nun as "Sister What-a-Waste" would be fodder for a tasteless parody.

This in itself isn't irrefutable evidence of the contemporary image of nuns, but I think several discussions in the more argumentative circles of Catholics also bolsters the idea that in the eyes of many people nuns are always old ladies. For instance, I've seen debates about whether or not priests should go about in clericals in which some argued that the uniform helps put off unwanted, yet tempting, advances. I have never seen a similar argument advanced in discussions of whether or not nuns should wear secularish clothes.

So much for my verbose thoughts on word use. Since I have no money to give to the nuns who provoked my ruminations, I'll plug their website: Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

American-born Sixties Radical Tom Hayden Has Become an Irish Nationalist

The New York Review of Books reviews his 2001 book on his "realization" of his Irishness. Radical leftism and contemporary Irish nationalism are closely related. Sinn Fein, I am told, is largely driven by Marxist-Leninist ideology, and speaking from personal experience, in my first semester as a freshman at CU-Boulder I briefly attended meetings of the Democratic Socialists of America which morphed into an Irish Nationalist advocacy group.

I had just visited Ireland that previous summer to visit relations, also visiting both the mass graves of the Famine and the famous gaols where the revolutionaries were held and often executed. I had also been reading the prison memoirs of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, a distant relative imprisoned for fomenting rebellion. With this group, I briefly thought I had discovered a place where I could fit in. Conscious of having spent all of middle school and most of high school in a nearly-friendless, antisocial modus vivendi, at that time social relations were quite important to me as a way of self-improvement.

Fortunately, I was an internet-junkie even then, and a few web searches prevented me from entering any further into the ugly, ugly world of radical chic. I visited the DSA website, which at that time had a youth section, complete with songs. Such songs were removed after people with some sense of decency got wind of them, but they are available through the WebArchive.

Naively enough, I happened across this song page, only to discover a song of such barbarity that I made sure to avoid these DSA types for the rest of my college life. Sung to the tune of the innocent "Frere Jacques," one of my childhood favorites, were these words I still remember today:

Are you sleeping,
Are you sleeping,
Bourgeoisie? Bourgeoisie?

When the revolution comes,
We'll kill you all with knives and guns,
Bourgeoisie... Bourgeoisie...

And so were seeded my suspicions of all republican and nationalist ideologies.

Some years later, I was reading Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor Trilogy, a World War II story. In the denoument, as the war was coming to a close, a minor character, a Central European woman, looks back at the beginnings of the conflict:

"It is too simple to say that only the Nazis wanted war. These Communists wanted it too. It was the only way in which they could come to power. Many of my people wanted it, to be revenged on the Germans, to hasten the creation of the national state ... Even good men thought their private honour would be satisfied by war. They could assert their manhood by killing and being killed. They would accept hardships in recompense for having been selfish and lazy. Danger justified privilege. I knew Italians - not very many perhaps - who felt this. Were there none in England?"

The protagonist replies:
"God forgive me," said Guy, "I was one of them."

Such words hit so close to home.

I can at least brush off my flirtation with radicalism as a "youthful indiscretion," but Tom Hayden is a grown man decades my senior.

May God forgive him.

Novus Bloggus

Via 2 Blowhards, I've discovered a fun-looking weblog called Yahmdallah. He had a guest poster describe why the new pope is a liberal, helpfully exploding many myths along the way.

He also had a reflection on his experiences with and fears of vomit, which I found quite funny considering my present condition. I've heard one account of a writer keeping watch at his father's deathbed. Amid all his grief, there was that little writer's voice in the back of his head saying "I can use this..." Hopefully I can get a funny story or two out of my travails. All I have now are gross funny one-liners.