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Saturday, February 14


Another cheering article from Europe: Norwegian black metal band shocks Poland. It begins:

Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth staged a special concert that made Janet Jackson's breast-baring look like nursery school antics and left Catholic Poland outraged. A police investigation has begun after a show that included dozens of sheep heads on stakes, a literal blood bath and a naked, crucified woman, newspaper VG reports.
A Norwegian friend writes:

Unkown to most Norwegians one of our "export industries" is black metal bands. The stunning numbers of bands playing on the European scene came to the surface some years ago when a leading black metal band leader — "greven", the Count — was convicted of murder. Yet more shocking, the trial uncovered a link between the black metal subculture and "satanism" dressed up in some sort of Norse mythology. Hence the strange name of the "artists" ["King", "Kvitrafn", "Gaahl," and "Infernus"] touring Poland.

11:52 AM


A reader, Ralph Grabowski, writes in response to yesterday's "Swedish Diversions", beginning with a quote from the article quoted there (the quote is in italics):

Some people are making fun of America over the Super Bowl breast kerfuffle, which, Charles Taylor writes in Salon, "might make us even more of a laughingstock in Europe, where nudity is common on television.

Is nudity not also common on American television? (It's the context, stupid. I'd expect nudity on something called 'Sex in the City'; I would not on something called "national football." )

Commentators love to buttress their points by revealing that something is either common or rare in another country — whether the commentator is American or European. They know that most of us can't confirm or refute the "facts" they are claiming.

It's been five years since I was last in Germany, and I don't recall nudity being common on "European" television, but a majority of German magazine covers did have buxom, topless blonds grinning frantically, to the point where the images no longer have impact. Topless bathing was rare; we saw just two such women all day at a busy public beach, and none at all at a huge public swimming pool complex, both in southern Germany. I don't know if it was significant that each topless bather was at the beach alone.

My German relatives tell me nude bathing is more common the further north you go, which makes sense: as it gets colder, you take off more clothes. They had vacation photos to prove it, and I found that I didn't really want
to see my aunt naked.

My younger German relatives like to think of themselves less repressed than we fully-clothed North Americans, but then I point out that Germans aren't nude away from water. No businesswoman goes topless in downtown Hamburg. Such peculiar hang-ups the Europeans have!

By the way, you may be interested (or not) to learn that it is legal in Canada for women to be topless in public. Some years ago, a group of women marched topless in Vancouver until a few were arrested; the court ruled their actions legal, based on our anything-goes Charter of Rights and Freedoms: men can be topless, so can women, logically. Despite that "freedom," it is not a right that women are choosing to exercise — another example of the difference between theoretical liberals and the practical majority. (Since that ruling, my wife has told me to keep my shirt on in public.)

11:43 AM


That is, in not trying to be God. In yesterday's Breakpoint column, Charles Colson mentioned that

The Wilberforce Forum now has a kit that anyone can use to teach a Sunday school class or small group. It goes through all the key bioethics issues, from abortion and euthanasia through stem cells and cloning. There are short videos and a CD of BreakPoint commentaries, along with a teacher guide and student guides. I’ve teamed up with my colleague, bioethics expert Dr. Nigel Cameron, and biology professor Dr. David Prentice, to get all the key information together in a form that anyone who listens to BreakPoint can understand — and use. The title of the kit is Playing God.
Here is the link for Playing God. The column also includes a list of useful news of and commentary on the South Korean cloning.

11:39 AM

Friday, February 13


Earlier today I posted the response of Notre Dame's provost to someone (or those, as I'm sure it's a form letter) who criticized the university for putting on The Vagina Monologues. An hour or two later someone sent a link to another, alas similar, report. Those interested in the life of Notre Dame will want to look at First Ever Queer Film Festival Screens in February from the university's "What's New?" page and the festival's link.

The news story begins:

The University of Notre Dame Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, Department of English, Department of Anthropology, and Gender Studies Program, along with The Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College (GALA-ND/SMC) are sponsoring the first ever Notre Dame Queer Film Festival, from Wednesday, February 11th through Saturday, February 14th, 2004 at the Hesburgh Library Carey Auditorium.

The festival kicks off on Wednesday at 7pm with the award winning new documentary JIM IN BOLD, a film that addresses the tragic death of a young gay teen and showcases the Young Gay America team who traverse the country to offer support to other gay teens in conservative areas. Members from Young Gay America and Malcolm Lazin, executive director of The Equality Forum and the producer of JIM IN BOLD, will conduct a question and answer session after the film.
I trust believing Catholics are not giving this place any money. Provost Hatch presumably approves of this as well, but I would be interested to know, as I wrote earlier, to what he would object and on what principles he distinguishes the acceptable from the unacceptable.

6:12 PM


More alarming news from Europe, reported in Tuesday's OpinionJournal:

Puppy Love

"Animal sex is not illegal in Sweden, and every year between 200 and 300 pets are injured because of sexual assaults," reports the broken-English service of the Norwegian TV network Nettavisen (quoted verbatim):

*** QUOTE ***

The fact that animal sex is becoming an increasing problem can be indicated by the mere fact that there is an increasing selection of animal porn at video rentals and there an increasingly number of websites with animal pornography is surfacing.

No one knows for sure how many animals that are abused, but a British study from 2001 indicates that every 20th dog or cat that receives treatment at veterinaries, the injuries are not a result of a direct accident, but the animal has been inflicted the injury as a result of a sexual assault.

According to the Swedish paper Expressen, if the same estimate can be used in Sweden that will indicate that 200 to 300 dogs and cats every year are injured as a result of sexual assaults.

*** END QUOTE ***

Is this the result of Sweden being too permissive about sex? Maybe. Animal sex "was decriminalized in 1944 in connection with the decriminalization of homosexual sex," Nettavisen reports. On the other hand, Johan Beck-Friis, a Swedish veterinarian, is quoted as saying, "We have seen an increase since 1999 when child pornography became illegal."

Some people are making fun of America over the Super Bowl breast kerfuffle, which, Charles Taylor writes in Salon, "might make us even more of a laughingstock in Europe, where nudity is common on television." Should anyone really be bothered by being a "laughingstock" to people who didn't think to outlaw child porn until five years ago?
I tend to be a europhile, but really, an American should not worry about being laughed at by Europeans.

6:03 PM


A report from the English Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, that surprised even me, and I keep up on the news:

A woman gave birth to her stepbrother after agreeing to be a surrogate for her mother and stepfather. Carole Moore, 29, used a DIY insemination kit given to her by the charity Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy, to impregnate herself with Harry Knight’s sperm so as to give the couple a baby. The couple have since split up. Nuala Scarisbrick of Life described the story as ‘sordid’ and a form of abuse. [Femail, 13 February]
"DIY" means "Do it yourself" and "Femail" refers to the women's page (an oldfashioned practice, I must say) of The Daily Mail , one of the respectable tabloids.

2:27 PM


I was chided for my remarks on Valentine’s Day by my colleagues James Kushiner and Patrick Reardon, the latter using his greater age to say that Valentine’s Day was once not as it is today. I've always suspected them of being secretly soppy. I just hope I never catch them listening to Barry Manilow.

But let me revise my earlier remark: we have a rule in our house that we don't celebrate holidays that in their present form were invented by greeting card companies, candy makers, flower shops, and a media that has lots of column inches to fill. Another colleague, our new contributing editor Fr. Robert Hart, responded more along my line of thought:

On the flip side of the popular Hallmark, FTD or Whitman's (confectioners) "holiday" of Valentine's Day, is the actual feast of St. Valentine the martyr. People who enter a church on February 14th may notice a priest vested in red, celebrating the Mass. The red is not for the big red candy boxes in the Rite Aids; it is for the blood of the martyrs. See the links and for a little information about the kind of love this feast day is all about. I can't imagine it being commercially successful with its genuine and authentic meaning left intact. Taking up the cross doesn't sell.

2:20 PM


A reader wrote the University of Notre Dame to protest its sponsoring of a production of the play The Vagina Monologues, which is a feminist fad at the moment, probably because it is a work that presents the destruction of modesty and restraint as liberation in a way some young women (and young men who are probably not as altruistically interested in women's sexual liberation as they think they are) find attractive. He received the following response from the provost, Nathan O. Hatch, whom I think is an historian and an Evangelical.

Thank you for your e-mail message concerning the production of "The Vagina Monologues" at the University of Notre Dame. The performance is being co-sponsored by the Gender Studies program and several other campus organizations. As an offering by an academic program we respect their right to present this material. As I have stated before, the University of Notre Dame values open and self-critical discussion of ideas and issues within the context of its educational mission. Differences of opinion on complex social and intellectual questions are to be expected within a diverse community and views will sometimes be expressed that are not endorsed by the University.

"The Vagina Monologues" contains controversial subject matter and the production's frank presentation will offend some members of this community. However, it is precisely in an academic setting that controversial topics can be responsibly discussed, dialogue between differing views fostered, and the distinctive religious and moral commitments of the University articulated.

As in many cases where controversial or challenging issues are presented and discussed in campus, accompanying programming is typically developed in order to allow a full presentation of the issues and to allow as well for differing viewpoints to be presented. This has been the case in the past regarding the presentation of "The Vagina Monologues" and will be case again in 2004. A "Stop the Violence" fair will be presented the same day as the play.

I respect your views in opposition to the production of this material on campus and I am grateful for your bringing your concerns and views to my attention.

Nathan O. Hatch
I enjoyed Dr. Hatch's attempt to describe a "Stop the Violence" fair as allowing "a full presentation of the issues" and allowing "for differing viewpoints to be presented." Oh right, sure, yeah. This is like bluffing when you hold a pair of threes and at least some of the other players can see your cards.

But more to the point, this kind of response always leaves me wondering what the writer's standards actually are. I will grant that a university, even one with a religious commitment, ought to engage a wide range of views and even let some of them present themselves on their own terms on the campus. So far Dr. Hatch and I agree.

The question, which administrators like Dr. Hatch defending this play never, to my knowledge, answer, is: what views do you allow and what do you prevent? Where, in other words, do you draw the line? That Dr. Hatch and the University of Notre Dame has a line we can be quite sure. They would not see every artistic creation as a chance for "open and self-critical discussion of ideas and issues within the context of its educational mission."

We can be fairly sure that in these cases Dr. Hatch would use an entirely different argument invoking the nature of community, respect for others, and the like, to condemn the showing of the plays. We can be sure that a play that is as racist as The Vagina Monologues is feminist would be banned, no matter what department wanted to put it on. We can be sure that a play that is as "masculinist" as The Vagina Monologues is feminist would be banned, no matter what department wanted to put it on. Or, if not actually banned, openly stigmatized and surrounded with "programming" designed to ensure that students do not accept its views.

This illustrates the continual problem with this sort of thing. Provosts and administrators of all sorts never tell you what their principles are, what they think good and bad, what sort of things they think contribute to the intellectual life and what don't — where, as I said before, they draw the line. They use all the impressive rhetoric about the intellectual life — all of which is in fact true, in the right context — to justify the causes of which they approve but never, as far as I have seen, explain their principles in a way that explains why they approve one thing and not another.

10:53 AM


A reader, Don Lourie, responds to Tuesday's "Ambiguous Magi" and Wednesday's "Unwise Magi" with some interesting history:

Some notes about the wisdom of the Magi. Perhaps a bit of history may help my reasoning.

When Herod was a young man he was raised in Rome and was best friends with the son of one of the Caesars. (There were three ruling at that time in the republic.)

One of the military missions for young Herod was to put down the frequent raids by the Persians on the eastern trade on the outskirts of the empire. Young Herod was soundly beaten by the swift Persian cavalry and never went back to finish the job. He became ruler in Jerusalem because of his friendship with the royal family, not because of military prowess.

But let's go back a few hundred years. Daniel was taken prisoner by the Babylonians in 586 BC. His tenure there involved not only serving the king and the nation of Babylon but also the next king and the next empire of the Medo-Persians. Daniel was wise and godly and drew to him many disciples similar to the desert saints Antony and others. These men were versed in the scriptures and in the scientific arts of astronomy and mathematics. The tasks they performed for the governments were those of administration and counsel. This group of men were known as Magi, a Persian word for administrator.

So when the Lord revealed to these Magi about the birth of Jesus they came looking for Him. And they came with cavalry.
This small army traveled from Babylon to Damascus then to Jerusalem with at least 100 mounted soldiers plus baggage horses. It was not prudent to travel with less.

Herod had a mean streak. He had killed his own sons and wives because the thought they were a threat to his throne. And anytime Herod was upset, people died. Not just family members died but hundreds were killed in Jerusalem over the years by Herod when he lost his temper. His soldiers were not good soldiers but thugs dressed as soldiers.

So when the Magi turned up at the gates of Jerusalem looking like a small Persian army. Herod was afraid. He remembered the last time he had met a Persian army. And when Herod was afraid, all Jerusalem was afraid. (People would die.) Herod was so nuts that he even had planned when he died that 600 of the top Jewish leaders of the country would be rounded up and executed in the local stadium so people would mourn Herod's death. These threats were not carried out.

The Magi must have been pretty well armed and sure of themselves to come into the Roman Empire and not be afraid. They trusted in God to seek the new King of Israel.

I think the Magi were wise for three reasons. First, they studied the scriptures and believed them. Second, they acted on their knowledge of scripture and trusted God. Third, the gifts they brought shows they understood the nature of the new King.

10:24 AM

Thursday, February 12


Laura Ahern is the founder and director of Parents for Megan's Law, Bishop William Murphy hired her in 2001 to advise on child abuse. This is what she found that Murphy had done in Boston (NYT):

— Helped create a service to place accused priests in new assignments, and put a priest in charge who was himself accused of abuse.

— Assigned an accused priest to a new parish with the handwritten directive: "Let him serve." The diocese had already paid $35,000 to settle a complaint against him.

— Allowed an accused priest to go unsupervised, resulting in complaints of new abuses and lawsuits.

— Disputed a therapist's assessment of the danger posed by one accused priest and opposed another therapist's recommendation about another accused priest.

— Allowed transfers to Canada and Australia for an accused priest, enabling him to elude investigations by prosecutors and a social service agency.

— Reassigned two accused priests to new parishes without restrictions on their contacts with children.

— Reassigned other accused priests to nonparish posts, like hospitals and nursing homes, without restricting contact with young people who might be volunteers or visitors, or restricting the priests' off-duty activities. One such priest had 13 complaints, admitted assaulting a 12-year-old 50 times, and cost the diocese $500,000 in settlements.

— Worked with a bishop in Wisconsin to try to stop complainants from filing criminal charges against a priest by asking him to apologize. He pleaded guilty to one charge.

— Denied on a federal form that there were issues involving a priest despite warnings in that priest's file that "he fools around with kids" and had "possible over-involvement with boys."

— Proposed a United Nations post for an accused priest who was being defrocked.
Do bishops have no conscience? Is it removed as part of the consecration ceremony? Or do they find it incomprehensible that anyone should object to the sexual abuse of children? "Why," the bishops must think, "doesn't everyone do it?" Bishop Dupre of Springfield, Massacusetts apparently did.

Bishop Murphy disclaims responsibility: it was another Murphy (his evil twin, no doubt).

8:36 AM

Wednesday, February 11


Fr. Robert Hart responds to a question I asked in yesterday's "Ambiguous Magi." I'd asked of the Church of England's decision not to call the Wise Men wise (mine was a rhetorical question) "And really, isn't it proper to call men who did so much to find the Christ child wise?" Fr. Hart responded:

Wise, but not street-wise. Telling Herod that they had come to find him who is born king of the Jews never struck me as being quite practical.
I'd forgotten that. It has also always struck me that telling a typical bloodthirsty ruler of the day that another king had been born in his land was fairly dim. I've always imagined the Wise Men being so excited by this news that it didn't dawn on them others — brutes like Herod not least — would hear it differently.

9:51 AM


According to the latest issue of U.S. News and World Report, the average American will spend $100 on Valentine's Day this year, up from $80 last year. Romance is a good thing, but as we say at our house, "We don't observe holidays invented by greeting card companies."

9:46 AM


Today's trivia question: in what mainstream movie was a toilet not only first shown but first flushed? (The sight of a toilet was apparently considered improper by the censors.) Answer later.

9:43 AM


An interesting for several reasons, from, titled Hazy Conceptions and subtitled "Pro-choice activists are flummoxed by the high-tech baby-making industry." I may comment it on it later. The article shows to what intellectual contortions the fundamental unreality of the pro-abortionist or pro-choice position drives its supporters. That fundamental unreality being the non-personhood of the unborn child until and unless his mother decides she wants her.

9:41 AM

Tuesday, February 10


A useful site you may want to know about: MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute. The site's "About MEMRI" page says:

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) explores the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.

Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization. MEMRI's headquarters is located in Washington, DC with branch offices in Berlin, London, and Jerusalem, where MEMRI also maintains its Media Center. MEMRI research is translated to English, German, Hebrew, Italian, French, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian.

7:45 PM


Our new contributing editor Robert Hart responds to Saturday's "Reading Nature Two Ways":

In addition to the absurdity of drawing conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of a thing by whether it is observable behavior among animals, I would have to add another question: Given the general foolishness about the whole subject of sex, all too often a factor in our day and age, just what is it that these particular scientists are interpreting as being sexual behavior among the animals?

Is it so interpreted due to an over-emphasis on sex that affects even their "scientific objectivity"? Is it really sexual behavior? After all, we are living in a time when several educated, but nonetheless blithering, idiots interpret the friendship of David and Jonathan as being sexual behavior. The problem is in the minds of such scholars rather than in the text. So then, this report on animals; is the behavior really sexual? Somehow I doubt it.

7:35 PM


A rather good summary of Jesus' call, from Jesus and the Ethic of Inclusion by Francis C. Gray, the assistant bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia:

the ethic of inclusion in the gospels could be stated: You can come as you are and leave behind what you can, but you may not stay as you were or do as you will.

7:32 PM


A reader writes in response to yesterday's "On North Korea, etc.":

I was pricked by your posting on Monday, Feb. 9th on the anti-globalism/trade barrier comments by Anne Applebaum. It brought to mind two essays by Alan Keyes from 1999 in which he attempted to argue why family farms should be sustained and how they could be without subsidies.

The Seedbed of Liberty and
Sowing the Seeds of Freedom.

Please consider posting links to any thoughtful approaches to trade and economic policy as a means to improve the Church's ability to speak to such issues.
I am grateful for the links, but would just remark that my posting of the quote from Anne Applebaum did not imply that I agreed with it or had any position on the matter. I would be grateful if readers could send links to articles they would recommend, on whatever side.

6:02 PM


Here is most of a letter from Dr. Davorin Peterlin, the new director of the Keston Institute. It is a work I commend.

My name is Davorin Peterlin, but I prefer to be known as Davor, and I am a Baptist from Croatia. I am a New Testament scholar with a Master’s Degree from Regent’s College in Canada, and a Doctorate from Aberdeen University in the UK.

During the war in Croatia I assisted the refugees and relatives of the departed. Recently I have been teaching in the Jesuit faculty at Zagreb University and I was a member of a largely Catholic committee responsible for the translation of the Bible into modern Croatian.

My appointment at Keston Institute is linked with a Research Fellowship at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, where I am researching the use of the Bible in Eastern Europe in the post-Communist experience. . . . My appointment at Regent’s Park carries membership of the academic governing body and membership of the University’s Faculty of Theology.

. . . My programme is based on the ground-breaking work of Dr Michael Bourdeaux who founded Keston Institute, as the Centre for Religion and Communism in 1970.

During the period of state atheism in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, which Keston researched intensively from 1970 to 1990, a large library and archive was assembled, which is now available to researchers from all countries. Many of those who are in a position to influence and teach are in denial about what happened during the years of state atheism. We need to recollect that period and ensure that materials are available which tell the truth in the face of this denial.

In some of the formerly Communist countries leaders or functionaries commonly exhibit the same reactions to those who have a strong faith as they did in Communist times. People who have faith, or a strong ethical sense, are frequently at the mercy of a corrupt officialdom.

Some countries which abandoned Communism have seen intense national feelings, suppressed under Communist governments. These have led to wars, uprisings and insurrection. We must also remember that a form of Communist totalitarianism is still the official government policy in China, and that North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam and Cuba have Communist governments of varying severity. These matters, where they impinge on the beliefs of their people, must be recognised by Keston and become the subject of research and commentary. Keston is still the voice of the voiceless.

Furthermore, the Communist legacy is often one of bitterness and dissension among people of the same religion, and among those of different religions. This is also the proper subject for research and reconciliation.

When funds become available we shall begin the process of assembling materials from our archive and presenting them in a way that can be easily accessible and understood by the people of Europe and America. We can draw on thousands of documents, films and illustrations to present the case that the policy of state atheism led to untold deaths, widespread persecution and the destruction of millions of religious buildings.
The letter goes on to appeal for support and describe the Institute’s quarterly magazine Frontier. Here is the Institute’s website.

5:57 PM


Our designer has added a search engine to our home page that lets you search the whole Touchstone site, including the archives of back issues and of Mere Comments. To get to the homepage, just click on the bottom half of the banner above. Our development officer, the young and dashing Ken Tanner, offers one caveat, however:

One caveat to the Google search feature is the engine's advertisement of "Sponsored Links." For certain words, it will post — on the side or even at the top — links for advertiser's sites that use that same search word as a "keyword" for putting their site in front of Google's users.

A word like "Catholic" will bring up various Catholic online retailers to the right of the search results, etc.
Other words might bring up other advertisers (this is a warning).

We are trying, as I said a week or so ago, to make the site as useful as possible, as an extension of the magazine's work and ministry. We've been given the chance to publish useful articles, post useful links, and comment on various matters, and we'd like all these to be available to anyone who needs them.

1:01 PM


A light but nevertheless depressing piece from today's New York Times: A close shave from the Editorial Notebook. Somehow, it seems to me, the men who are now waxing are actually waning.

12:18 PM


A friend sends a story from an English newspaper on a recent decision of the Church of England's General Synod to refer in its services to the "Magi" rather than the "wise men" because the Bible does not say there were three of them (only that they brought three gifts) and:

A church report found: "The possibility that one or more of the magi were female cannot be excluded completely . . . the visitors were not necessarily wise and not necessarily men."
I can understand objecting to the traditional "three," but is really likely that such persons, intellectuals as they were, travelling round the world in search of something their studies led them to look for, would be women? And really, isn't it proper to call men who did so much to find the Christ child wise?

12:09 PM


An English correspondent writes in response to the review posted in Sunday's "Books Noticed":

Having been to Calabria as recently as October (not quite in the footsteps of Gissing, but
crossing his path from time to time), I can vouch (happily? sadly?) for the fact that the cuisine and the standard of hotels has improved somewhat since his day (the hotel where he stayed in Crotone — the Concordia — is not a fleapit any more (alas?), but then by the same token the George V in Paris it is not): the concomitant standard bearers of civilised living, air-conditioning and bathrooms, have even reached the Mezzogiorno. Nor do the bandits quite descend from the hills on cue to fleece the visitors (although they do still lurk in the wilder reaches of the Aspromonte away from the eyes of what passes for the Italian government).

It is apparent, however, that the place was indeed the back of beyond until the Cassa del Mezzogiorno poured money into the region after 1945 (as a walk around the darker side of Cosenza will all too dramatically demonstrate).

If you ever get there, there is much to see. It is true that the archaeological sites are by no means as spectacular as Paestum or Pompeii and Herculaneum, but both Scolacium and Sybaris are worth seeing (as is the site of Hipponion overlooking the sea). The little museums on the sites are also quite well done (though remember that virtually nothing will be in English). The big museum at Reggio (where the stunning Riace bronzes live, in a temperature-controlled basement room with their own seismically-sensitive bases) has the best collection, but has been understaffed for years — the second floor always seems to be closed and the first floor (infuriatingly) closes in the afternoons.

But beware: this is the south of Italy. The museum bookshops are/were run by co-operatives independent of the museums: their money ran out on 30th September and so they closed down, leaving postcard- and guidebook-hungry Brits with a vision of empty shelves and locked cabinets. Remember also that tobacconists in Calabria seem to make a virtue of not having stamps at all, and village post offices are little better: I cleaned out the post office in Santa Severina by buying all 11 of the postmaster's Posta Prioritaria stamps.

But that is to carp. There are a wealth of Byzantine/Norman/Swabian/Angevin/Spanish castles
and a number of superbly sited hilltop towns with tiny cathedrals, of which Gerace is the largest and most stunning. (Gerace was the scene of demonstrations in 1954 when that wildest of liberal innovators, Pius XII, decided - radicalism! - to amalgamate the bishopric with that of Locri on the coast.) (The 6th century Codex Purpureus Rossaniensis in Rossano is gorgeous, though you can only see 2 pages at a time, but the facsimile version isn't bad.)

The mountain scenery in both the Pollino National Park and the Aspromonte is also well worth seeing. Add to that the Greek- and Albanian-speaking villages, the castle at Pizzo where Marshal Murat was shot, walking in the footsteps of Stupor Mundi, the thrill of avoiding the snakes in the hilltop ruins of Cossa and the prospect of finding Alaric's gold in the bed of the River Busento (it is still there; the archaeologists still don't seem to be digging in the right place) and you have a perfect week's travel (there is also a Waldensian village, a relic of the Middle Ages, at the thought of which Bill Tighe's nostrils have quivered ruminatively).

The region also has the advantage that there is no-one there (at least in spring and autumn); we were the first visitors to the museum at Locri for 4 days.

Apart from the Touring Club Italiano's green guide, the best vade mecum of Calabria (apart from Gissing, who almost seemed to revel in the poverty and was remembered in the Concordia years after his visit) is probably H. V. Morton's A Traveller in Southern Italy, a snapshot of the region in the late '60s when the money was coming in for the first time.



P.S. I am utterly astonished that the reviewer thinks that the Milanese say that Europe ends at the foot of the Italian peninsula; most of them will tell you with all solemnity that Africa begins in Florence (one of two do concede that it begins just south of Florence) and will gleefully recite the question "what is an instruction in Milan, a suggestion in Rome and a maypole in Palermo?", to which the answer is "a traffic light".

12:01 PM

Monday, February 9


An arresting article about North Korea from The Washington Post: Auschwitz Under Our Noses by Anne Applebaum, writing on the concentration camps of North Korea. See also her perfectly reasonable articles about the space program, pointlessness thereof, Mission to Nowhere and Re: Mission to Nowhere.

In her reflection on the fading out of fashion of the anti-globalism movement, The New Radical Chic, she writes:

Listen hard to Third World activists these days -- Oxfam, say, or the Jubilee Network -- and it is not anti-globalization rhetoric you hear but anti-trade-barrier rhetoric. In the run-up to Cancun, at least a half-dozen people have told me that the average European cow receives $2.50 in daily agricultural subsidies, more money than at least 3 billion of the world's humans have to live on.

These agricultural subsidies are, without question, one of the least-discussed, farthest-reaching of international scandals: Every year, the rich world spends many billions more on subsidies and agricultural tariffs than it does on aid to the countries that these subsidies and agricultural tariffs help impoverish. Despite its traditional help-the-poor rhetoric, even Sweden, Norberg points out, makes sugar from sugar beets instead of importing sugar at a fifth of the price from the sugar cane-producing South.
I don't quote this to make a point about free trade, which is not a subject I am competent to speak on, or to take pleasure in Swedish hypocrisy, but only because it reminded me of something I've thought about from time to time recently: when religious leaders take to speaking on political matters, they never speak out against something like farm subsidies.

The problem isn't that they don't think they should comment on such particular matters, because they do (e.g., the minimum wage) and when they do they have fairly definite if practically extremely vague ideas on the matters they do speak on: for example, that whatever problem they happen to notice, the government should fix. They are definite about who should fix it, though they are usually exceedingly vague about how it should be fixed. Which does not stop them from blaming those they assign to fix the problem if it remains broken two weeks after their pronouncement.

I can see arguments being made on both sides for farm subsidies. But take a matter I don't think I've ever seen anyone call the churches to speak about: planned obsolesence, the making of things so that they will break and need to be replaced. By any understanding of Christian stewardship, to make something badly when you can make it well for the same price, or thereabouts, is bad. It wastes what God has given us to use, for the sole purpose of getting people to buy another version they shouldn't need to buy. This, surely, the politically active churchmen should join in denouncing. But they don't.

I speak, by the way, as someone who drives an old Volvo with 200,000 miles on it. (This is a point for the Swedes. An American car of the same age and mileage would be junk.)

11:11 PM


A reminder that the psalmist was right when he said "Put not thy trust in princes," from John Fund's "On the Trail" column in the Wall Street Journal: an article titled Republican Rot and subtitled "Is Congress's GOP majority becoming as corrupt as the Democrats were?" Christian conservatives who have given their, if not blind at least severely myopic, loyalty to the Republican Party should remember that if you lie down with dogs you will wake up with fleas.

The article begins with the example of Louisana representative Billy Tauzin who guided the Medicare bill through Congress, a bill likely to make the drug companies a vast amount of money at our (the public's) expense, and as the article puts it, "Observers expect he will soon leave Congress to become the chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry at an annual salary that's rumored to approach $2.5 million." I am sure he will say that one has nothing to do with the other, but I see no reason to believe him.

12:05 PM


Three weeks ago, in Johnson awarded, I mentioned that our contributing editor Phillip Johnson had been awarded the Wilberforce Award for 2004. The award was given to him at a banquet in Washington last week. Here is the inscription on the award:

Motivated by his Christian faith to pursue truth, Dr. Phillip E. Johnson, professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley, is one of the founders and most articulate proponents of the intelligent design movement in the academic debate on the origins of the universe. And he has revealed not only to the scientific community, but especially to the Church, that the significance of this issue goes beyond evolution versus creation; it speaks to such ultimate questions as: What does it mean to be human? What gives our lives meaning? And how do we distinguish between right and wrong?

Like William Wilberforce, who battled the slave trade because it denigrated the nobility of human life created by God, Dr. Johnson battles a naturalistic philosophy that demeans humanity, eschews personal responsibility, and promotes moral relativism. His numerous books, articles, and lectures counter naturalist assumptions and defenses with the same keen legal and logical thinking that earned him a clerkship with Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court.

While Dr. Johnson’s stand has triggered controversy and even scorn in the academic and scientific communities, he has consistently responded to his opponents with Christian love and grace, seeking to build bridges rather than dividing walls. As with other “isms” that have fallen when challenged by truth, he believes that naturalism will in due course crumble, as long as the Church understands and is prepared to defend what truly gives us life, significance, and value.

We honor Dr. Johnson for his commitment to truth, and for his courage, conviction, and compassion in making it known…out of love for the Creator and for his Creation.

11:49 AM

Sunday, February 8


An interesting take on The Passion by an Evangelical professor: Three Takes on The Passion of the Christ. ("Interesting," let me note again, does not mean that I agree with it. I would not, for example, call the question "Are the Gospels
anti-Semitic?" a "tricky" question, as if the answer might be "yes.")

11:03 PM


Some reviews of books that may interest some of you, from the latest issue of The Spectator:

-- a review of Stuart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism by Frank Field, who is both an Anglo-Catholic and a Member of Parliament.

-- a review of Death Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's 'Triston and Isolde' by the conservative writer Roger Scruton. It begins:

Wagner’s masterpiece, Tristan, has now a considerable literature of its own, with books devoted to its harmonic structure, its baleful influence on artists of various kinds, its philosophical significance, its sources in the mediaeval literature of courtly love, its phonographic history, and plenty of other things. Roger Scruton’s impressive new book is concerned with its dramatic content, and its relevance to a time when those aspects of humanity which should separate us from the rest of the animal world — the capacity for sacrifice, self-abnegating love, sexual activity seen as the urgent expression of a spiritual need rather than as merely biological or hedonistic — are either denied or ‘deconstructed’: even Scruton now uses that word, and without scare quotes.>
-- And for you Italophiles, a review of a reprint of the English journalist George Gissing's
By the Ionian Sea.

About this style of reviewing: this kind of review is written to give a flavor (or, being English, flavour) of the book more than tell you about it. This makes for an often enjoyable read but a frustrating one as well. The first and third are good examples.

10:54 PM


A short but depressing article from the English magazine The Spectator: Sex and Violence Begin at 12. The subtitle is "Why social workers are powerless to help children in care." The children described are given every right, except the right to be guided when they most need guidance.

10:38 PM

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