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Saturday, July 17


The following response to our piece "Iraq and the Current European Confusion" comes from Wolf Paul, an Evangelical Christian living in Austria and a longtime friend of Touchstone. He writes in part:

I find much I agree with in your comments on Turkey and Europe, and also in some of the responses posted. Especially the comment on racism being one of the main reasons for opposition to Turkish EU membership seems very pertinent to one living in Austria and also very aware of the mood in Germany -- other EU countries I cannot comment on with any assurance.

At the risk of incurring your displeasure. I would like to at least partly agree with the second comment posted today, fully cognizant that it is not entirely pertinent to your original piece (although not as impertinent as you claim, since you do in it ascribe European attitudes to Iraq to their reducing everything to euros).

As one who -- unlike most Europeans -- appreciates that morality is relevant to politics, I would not put things quite as strongly as the author of the second comment. I am aware that the plight of Iraq's minorities has been an issue in the US, and I do agree that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed. However, in the run up to the Iraq invasion, for reasons which I do not know, both the US administration and the British government were using two main arguments: the even then demonstrably false claim of a connection between the Iraqi regime and Al Queida, and the claim that the Iraqi regime was once again manufacturing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. In the course of that argument they produced "evidence" which by now has been shown to have been manufactured, and not even very cleverly. Some of that came to light even before the invasion started, and now has become very evident.

I also think it is to facile to claim that European political decisions are simply motivated by euros. Just like American political decisions they are motivated by a wide range of factors, and for Austria and Germany at least it is a conviction born out of their own guilt in the first half of the last century that military action should be the VERY LAST recourse. Whether this conviction is rational or logical is another question: seems to me that they could just as easily conclude from it that earlier military intervention by Britain, France and the US would have prevented most of the atrocities committed by their citizens under Hitler's regime, and that therefore a good case could be made for military action against the likes of Milosevic, Karacic, and Hussein. But to claim that European political decisions -- on Iraq or Turkey or anything else -- are simply motivated by euros is as naive and unfair as the claim by Europeans that American policy in the Middle East is motivated by oil.

6:33 PM

Friday, July 16


If this story, Orphans on Trial, from the New York Press is true (and I have my suspicions that it is, sadly), then we have a problem with conventional wisdom (based, supposedly, on science) about AIDS. And what about the forcing of drugs on children described therein? Warning: the site has some graphic and gruesome medical pictures. Some excerpts:

By Liam Scheff
When Christine Maggiore tested HIV-positive in 1992, her doctor told her to get ready to die. But she wasn't interested in dying.

Maggiore was told that the AIDS drugs would make her sick, so she skipped them, instead relying on natural methods to support her health. A year and a half later, she was so healthy that her doctor said there was something wrong and she should retest.

She did retest, several times. The tests came back negative, indeterminate and positive. Maggiore investigated the medical literature and found what was recounted above: HIV tests are highly inaccurate. She also discovered that there are gaping flaws in the HIV hypothesis itself.

Believing that this is the sort of thing people should know, she founded Alive and Well AIDS Alternatives, a resource for people who, like herself, want to make fully informed decisions about their health.

Since testing positive, Maggiore has had two children. Her kids, two and six years old, have never been tested. They've been raised on organic food, with a naturopathic approach to health. They're both intelligent and active. They don't take AIDS drugs. And they're not in the least bit sick. They regularly see their pediatrician, who has no medical complaints about their well-being.

And they're not alone. There are thousands of healthy HIV-positive people who don't take the drugs, who rely on natural regimens to support their immune function.

It was through Maggiore that I met Mona, whose children, Sean and Dana, have tested HIV-positive. By the state's definition, they're not actually her children; Mona is their great aunt and legal guardian. Her niece, a long-time drug user, was unable to act as a responsible mother, so Sean and Dana were remanded to state foster care. Mona took them back to raise as her own.

When I first spoke with Mona, she was stressed and nervous. Sean had twice been sent to the Incarnation Children's Center (ICC), a "home for HIV positive children" located in Washington Heights. First, as an infant, then again four years ago. And Dana was there until June.

….In the 90s, drug companies like Glaxo Wellcome and Abbott Labs began recycling old chemotherapy drugs for the new AIDS drug market. This market consisted of gay men who weren't told that the HIV test was a nonspecific antibody test. They were told, however, that AIDS was an unavoidable outgrowth of testing positive on this test, and that HIV was a fatal condition.

If you look in the medical literature, you'll find that neither of these assumptions is true. Mona's son Sean has lived in a virtual coma his entire life. He was put on AZT in infancy. The drug made him so sick that he couldn't swallow solid food and, as a result, he ate through a tube in his nose until he was three. He had no energy. He was constantly ill. He couldn't play or even walk without becoming exhausted. Sean got sicker every time Mona gave him the drugs, so she cut down the doses. His energy level began to improve. She continued to wean him off the drugs and started taking him to a naturopath.

"For the first time in his life," she told me, "he became a normal boy. He could play with the other children, he could walk, he could run. He smiled and laughed. He was normal."

This would've been good news, except that Sean was born to a mother who once tested HIV-positive. Sean, the recipient of his mother's antibodies, also tested positive.

The Administration for Children's Services (ACS) came down hard on Mona for not drugging him. She was sent to a new doctor, an AIDS specialist at Beth Israel, who put Sean on a "miracle drug," Nevirapine. Within six months, he was on life support due to organ failure.

That's when ACS decided that Sean should be put into ICC. They said he'd be there for four months; he was there for more than a year. Mona had to get a lawyer to get him out.

Mona showed me Sean's medical records. They told the same story: AZT, Nevirapine, the ICU.

"Now they have Dana on the drugs."

Mona introduced me to Sean on a basketball court near their home. He was a cute kid. His jacket was too big for him, and he walked with a little shuffle - and a little wariness. He was small. I have a picture of myself at four years old, oversized denim jacket, swinging my legs a bit as I walked, and I was about the same size as Sean. Except Sean was 13. He weighed 50 pounds and was about four feet tall. An AZT baby. Stunted, his cells damaged from the inside out.

The articles reads like a screenplay for one of those movies about futuristic science gone bad. When I was younger, there was much concern expressed about the dangers of a “military industrial complex.” Now I am wondering the dangers (present?) of a pharmaceutical-medical complex.

Based on what I have read over the last year or so, I suspect we will be hearing more about AIDS misinformation at some point.

3:21 PM


In response to this morning's remarks on Turkey and the European Union, two correspondents have submitted further comments.

The first wrote:

I am in basic agreement with much of your post about Turkey and the EU.

Let me add another dimension to the observations about how Europeans view Turkey. My husband is an executive with a major multinational corporation based in Europe, and has visited Istanbul several times, as well as many Western and Eastern European sites. His observation is that the Western European view of Turks is tainted with racism. In America, we accept immigrants and integrate them into our society. In Europe, they remain outsiders for generations.

My husband recently took a cab ride in Stockholm. The cab driver was a Turk, a Swedish citizen, with an engineering degree, who could not find a job as an engineer in spite of being legally a Swede. This situation is repeated throughout Europe. Europe is taking in large numbers of Muslim immigrants and failing utterly
to Europeanize them in terms of language, education, and identification with their new nations. Many of the Muslim ghettos are explosions waiting to go off.

Perhaps Turkey and Europe could help each other, since each is now a secularized society trying to succeed in the new internationalized business environment.

Of course, I would prefer to see Europe return to Christianity and evangelize its immigrants along with teaching them their new languages.
The second correspondent commented:
No doubt, Father Reardon is right in his assessment of EU duplicity with its decision not to invade Iraq. If Kenneth Pollack was correct in his "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" that EU nations like France and Germany were illegally trading with Saddam's government through Syria, then EU nations that opposed the war are not the peaceniks the media portrayed them to be (see pp. 225-27, plus former UNSCOM's chairman Richard Butler's "The Greatest Threat").
This comment summarizes well the point I had to make, but our correspondent goes on.
Nevertheless, the U.S.'s push to war with Iraq had nothing to do with minority Iraqis either. In the build-up to war in 2002, I heard the Bush administration talking about national security and weapons of mass destruction, but I didn't hear them mention much about what a bad guy Saddam was to his people, and how we needed to save the poor, abused people of Iraq. Of course, All of a suddenly, when the U.S. military didn't find the WMD - the original rationale provided by Bush and Co. for invasion - it was THEN that Bush started talking about the poor abused people of Iraq under Saddam with greater frequency, mainly because he needed a new rationale for the invasion. There is also the suspicious circumstances of Halliburton and other companies connected with the Bush administration winning out contracts to rebuild Iraq, which suggests that Bush andCo. were in it for the money too. Whenever Americans criticize the EU for its decision to not invade Iraq, I am reminded of the scriptural adage, "Take the mote out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your brother's eye.
This latter paragraph is inaccurate, impertinent, and unjust.

With respect to accuracy, I recall at least a thousand occasions, prior to the American intervention in Iraq, on which various officials of the American government, whether in the executive administration or in Congress, listed the sad plight of Iraqi minorities as one of the reasons why the regime in that country should be changed.

With respect to pertinence, I observe that my remarks made no reference at all to the American intervention in Iraq, much less to the reasons given for that intervention. Moreover, I ventured not the faintest criticism of the EU for a failure to invade Iraq. There was never any debate on this question. As far as I know, the possibility of an invasion of Iraq by the EU was never mentioned by anyone in the whole world. I have not the foggiest idea why it is being raised now.

With respect to justice, the idea "that Bush andCo. were in it for the money too" is ludicrous beyond further comment.

12:37 PM

Something movie watchers may find of interest: Spider-Man and the return to the honorable hero by Fred Martinez.

12:10 PM

A friend sent a link to something those of you interested in social thought, and in particular the contrast between Catholic thinking on economics and libertarianism, may find of interest: the long exchange The Limits of Economics. It is an extended debate between the editors of Chronicles magazine and people representing or agreeing with a libertarian thinker named Lew Rockwell.

12:07 PM

Two more responses to the string begun with Reading is not fun-damental and continued here and here. Kevin Brown writes:

Just a quick comment on your reading vs. watching TV thread.  I would submit that an hour spent reading an escapist book is better than watching an hour of escapist television in at least one sense: the television viewer will have been subjected to at least 20 minutes of Advertising during his hour of viewing. In reading, at least, you can spend all of your time actually reading, rather than being constantly interrupted by another attempt to convince you of a need you didn’t know you had.
As it happens, someone had ordered cable tv for my father when he was briefly home before going into the hospice, so we watched a little of it while we were there. I was amazed, and annoyed, at how many commercials even the more weighty channels, like the Discovery Channel ("weighty" being a relative term, remember), offered. It felt like an assault. I quickly decided that the value of most of the programs wasn't worth the trial of endurance.
Another reader writes:
This is in response to the “reading is fun-damental” topic, particularly the comments by a Canadian reader. Like David, I would also like to take an optimistic view on the “democratization of writing” — and reading for that matter — that is taking place in our society through more accessible forms of literature like Danielle Steele and more accessible opportunities to write through email and blogsites. 
Nevertheless, I think the acquired skills of reading and writing need to be accompanied by a moral guidance that is no longer present in our education system. In other words, the school system needs to train the newly literate to be discerning readers — to make judgments on what is good literature and bad literature based on shared cultural values. 
Unfortunately, the post-modernism so prevalent in the English departments at Universities teaches prospective English teachers to reject any notion of shared cultural values. In our narcissistic age, it’s all about me and what I think a particular text is saying, and whenever there is any moral guidance by the professor, it is to renounce the Judeo-Christian ethic that has played a large part in the West’s shared cultural values for centuries in place of narcissism (the new shared cultural value?). 
Teaching someone how to read and write without any moral guidance on how to use those tools for the common good is tantamount to giving a toddler a loaded gun and telling him to use it however he likes. Casualties will result in both situations: in the case of the toddler, the casualty of human life will result; in the case of reading and writing, truth will be the casualty in place of a deadly narcissism made all the more deadly by the deadly weapon of literacy without any moral guidance.

11:57 AM


Europe has lost its way. Having forgotten whence it came, it is unsure where it wants to go, to say nothing of where it is actually going.

At least the first part of my assessment—that Europe has forgotten whence it came—is hardly a new. For years now, its major religious institution, the Vatican, has complained about the failure of the European Union (EU) to recognize that the Christian Church was the single more important historical force bringing about even the concept covered by the word “Europe.”

The Europe envisioned by the EU is a secular enterprise, rather, founded on a secularist philosophy. Inasmuch as its chief inspiration is rooted in the ideas represented by the French Revolution (and found in the French Declaration on the Rights of Man in 1789), we should not be surprised that the current Europe is cut off from its ancient and intriguing past. Indeed, what we now call Europe represents nearly a repudiation of that past.

The present discussion of Turkey’s possible admission into the EU brings this truth right up to the surface. If the culturally unifying force of the Christian Church has nothing to do with what we mean by “Europe,” it should surprise no one that Europe at present considers extending its geographical borders eastward to include Turkey. (Indeed, Israel arguably has more in common with contemporary Europe than does Turkey. We are confident, nonetheless, that Israel will not be considered.)

It is rather easy to make the case for including Turkey as part of the EU, if we leave out those plain and well-known historical considerations of Europe's more distant past. Turkey, after all, is a modern secular and industrial state, with liberal institutions and even an alphabet modeled on the European manner. Moreover, abandoning a Muslim tradition of more than a thousand years, Turkey has also adopted a distinction between divine and secular law, even coining a new word for the latter (layàk, clearly borrowed from laicité, the French word for “secularity”). Though the masses of its citizens are Muslims, the politics of the country are secular and even democratic. According to these standards, Turkey would seem a perfect candidate for inclusion in the Europe of the EU, and quite a number are making the case.

It is significant that the chief argument against the inclusion of Turkey in the EU is not history’s failure to record a “Christian Turkey.” (In fact, the only Turkish saints in the Christian calendar are a few martyrs who were beheaded by their government during the week following their baptism.) It is, rather, that country’s sad history with respect to civil rights, especially the rights of minorities.

That is to say, Turkey’s alleged shortfall with respect to being part of Europe has nothing to do with Europe’s historical identity, but with a modern secular concern about civil rights. Inquiry about these latter will form the subject of this coming December’s meeting of EU leaders to decide whether to open membership talks with Turkey.

Europe’s churches are already taking part in the discussion. For example, the two major patriarchates of the Orthodox Church, Constantinople and Moscow, favor Turkey’s entrance into the EU, on the understanding that that country will clean up its deplorable human rights record.

I hope I may not be thought cynical if I suggest that Constantinople and Moscow don’t care a fig about the EU as such. They are hoping, rather, that Turkey’s membership in the EU would compel it to be nicer to the Eastern Orthodox minority within its borders. (The Patriarchate of Moscow in particular can hardly boast of a sterling civil rights record.) It is surely significant that Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, a leading Orthodox churchman who actually is a resident of Europe, is opposed to the EU’s admission of Turkey.

With respect to this matter, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has declared it necessary to examine how far the Islamic religion in Turkey could be "Europeanised". "The question of whether or not Turkey is a European country is not in the first instance to be answered by reference to geography," affirmed the EKD's governing council, "The key issue is the different conception of humanity which is influenced by religion and embedded in the societies." I believe that this statement may be the closest any church in Europe has come to suggesting that the contours and contents of the soul formed by the Christian Gospel should have some bearing on the current question.

Nonetheless, I think we all know in our hearts that economic considerations will carry the day with respect to Turkey and the EU. When dealing with the governments of modern Europe, simply translate any problem into euros, and you will get the right answer every time. Europe will always find its way to the bank, as it did not long ago with respect to Iraq.

However the matter of Turkey and the EU may be decided, let me suggest that Europe’s current identity crisis will abide. If, as the Vatican has complained, Europe so easily abandoned its ancient religious identity, it will just as quickly modify its recent preoccupation with human rights. Just cite a sufficient price for its conscience, and Europe will concern itself no more about minority Turks than it did about minority Iraqis.

7:13 AM

Thursday, July 15

The Cardinal of Lima, Peru, Juan Luis Cipriani, is accusing another Peruvian bishop of forging Cipriani’s name to letters sent to the Vatican, letters that connect Cipriani to Montesinos, the feared security chief under the previous president, Fujimori (see NCR). The forgery is being investigated by a Peruvian judge
Cipriani also accuses the Vatican of trying to cover up the dirt tricks that the Peruvian bishop is playing against him.

“They prefer, like in the United States, to sweep it under the rug. You see what happened in the States, for not facing the truth."
Cipriani expressed confidence that the investigation would proceed despite the Vatican's efforts.
Latin American politics sometimes turns violent, and the forged letters could easily get Cipriani killed some day. Cipriani is a cardinal and a member of Opus Dei, one of the most self-consciously orthodox and loyal organizations within the Catholic Church. When Opus Dei members denounce Vatican cover-ups, the situation in the Catholic Church has deteriorated far more than any could ever have imagined.

For years Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna has been unhappy with Bishop Kurt Krenn of Sankt Poelten (see below, PUTRID SANKT POELTEN), and has let his unhappiness be known publicly through his spokemen. But Krenn continues to be favored by the Pope.

5:29 PM


Tom Pravda writes in response to item on Darfur I posted this morning to recommend a new website: Darfur: A Genocide We Can Stop. He writes:

We've got signup tools to help people organize protests in their town/city, including a protest we've organized in Washington D.C. on July 22nd.

There's also links to slide shows and video footage.

You can donate to provide humanitarian aid or support advocacy efforts.

And we've got daily-updated news feeds and links to all the best press coverage and NGO reports.

1:20 PM


A reader writes:

I am passing along a link to an article in the recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. As you may know, the NEJM has adopted a policy to give precedence to any research that shows successful experiments using embryonic stem cells.

Of course, this policy calls into mind their scientific objectivity, but the current issue has three editorial articles of interest regarding the use of embryonic stem cells. I have linked to one article which discusses the moral use of embryonic stem cells from a fairly orthodox point of view. The other two ('next' and 'previous' buttons near the banner) use a very utilitarian method of morality along with the typical Orwellian use of language.

The article which I have linked to is quite good and uses an interesting reasoning (beginning in the 8th paragraph) to conclude that the use of nuclear transfer to produce clones for stem cells may be ethically acceptable.

My own view is that the suitability of using these cells cannot rest on their inability to produce viable embryos and later children since that is a quality which would undoubtedly change with the advance of science. Indeed, if his line of reasoning were to be consistent, I believe that we would have to decide that even the use of adult stem cells should be prohibited since they theoretically have the same potential as embryonic stem cells.

1:06 PM


A good article from the Breakpoint site: Andrew Sullivan and Father Joeby Mark Gauvreau Judge. It is subtitled "The Demystification of Sex."

10:48 AM


In yesterday's Breakpoint commentary, Charles Colson examines Alt Churches, those churches popular especially among younger Evangelicals that, um, do things differently. Colson writes in the middle of the article:

One participant told the Times that his “generation is discontent with dead religion . . . ”. They “don’t want to show up on Sunday, sing two hymns, hear a sermon, and go home . . . ”. He added that “the Bible says we’re supposed to die for this thing. If I’m going to do that, this has to be worth something . . . ”.

That’s obviously true. What’s not as obvious is how playing basketball after church or worshiping in a coffee house brings us any closer to that kind of sacrificial faith and the hard demands of the Gospel.

There’s something else that both alt and seeker-driven churches often have in common: Their goals are to create a model church that conforms to the individual’s needs and expectations, rather than the other way around. In other words, people demand a church that will tell them what’s in it for them.

But this isn’t what the magisterial reformers had in mind when they spoke of the “marks of the church”: preaching the Gospel, rightly administering the sacraments, and exercising church discipline. It was John Calvin, not a renaissance pope, who wrote that God desires His children to grow into maturity “solely under the education of the [visible] church.”

10:43 AM


Here is one response to the string on reading and one quote from a writer on responding to a writer in the New York Times. First, Marion Bryant writes:

I am curious as to why you categorize Danielle Steele as trash. Can you define “trash” as it applies to novels? BTW, I don’t care for Steele so I am not asking this in a defensive or accusatory way. I am truly curious as to how trash could be defined.

At one time many people dismissed all novel reading as, at best, a waste of time. Now it seems as if some people consider novel reading, at least the right kind of novels, as almost an act of virtue. I can understand the former position better than the latter. After all, we don’t need to read novels to be good, physically, mentally, or spiritually. But time spent reading novels might be spent more wisely doing things like — feeding the poor, visiting the sick, consoling the sorrowful, cleaning the house, exercising, etc.

Despite the argument above, I am a firm believer in the value of reading. That is not surprising given that I am a public librarian. I support reading of all kinds — magazines, newspapers, novels, non-fiction, the backs of cereal boxes. I even approve of reading internet blogs!

I’m inclined to believe that reading anything, even “trashy” novels, improves a person’s reading skills. And improved reading skills will make it easier for that person to deal with everyday tasks, from filling out a job application to understanding the directions on a bottle of cough syrup. Watching television or movies will not improve reading skills (unless it is a movie with subtitles). For that reason I cannot agree that there is no difference between reading 500 pages of Steele and watching several hours of a made-for-tv movie.

Of course, if someone already has high reading skills a Steele novel would not contribute to any improvement in those skills. So for the well-educated there may not be any difference. But I wonder what difference there is between watching three hours of television and reading three hours of Dickens or Steinbeck. Although works by these authors might be better written or plotted, does this actually lead to any improvement in the reader? I think there is such an assumption behind the urging of the reading of “classics” but I often wonder if there is anything other than anecdotal evidence to support such an assumption.

I was very impressed by The Grapes of Wrath when I read it as an adult, but I can’t honestly claim that I am a better person in any way by having read it. It may be that some people have changed for the better as the result of reading a classic novel, but I’ll bet there are people out there who would claim to have been changed for the better by reading Danielle Steele. The difference is those people will never write an article for the New York Review of Books or Touchstone describing their experience.
Second, on (a subscription service), Charles Taylor writes in Let’s save literature from the literati in response to Andrew Solomon’s article in last Saturday’s New York Times, The Closing of the American Book (the site requires registration and I think the site only carries articles free for a week). Solomon declared “the crisis in reading is a crisis in national health,” “national politics,” and “national education,” and argued:

Readers, in other words, are active, while nonreaders — more than half the population — have settled into apathy. There is a basic social divide between those for whom life is an accrual of fresh experience and knowledge, and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy. The shift toward the latter category is frightening.

Reading is not an active expression like writing, but it is not a passive experience either. It requires effort, concentration, attention. In exchange, it offers the stimulus to and the fruit of thought and feeling.
I think he is right in distinguishing “those for whom life is an accrual of fresh experience and knowledge, and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy,” but then writes as if reading were by nature an act of accruing fresh experience and knowledge, which it is most definitely is not. This is the point I was trying to make in my first entry on the subject.

Reading is not in itself virtuous or valuable: whatever virtue or value it has depends on how one reads and what one reads. (What one reads being a function of how one reads, in that one will choose books worthy of one’s goal.) The scholar who gives St. Matthew’s Gospel a close reading in order to write a paper that will make him famous and surpass his competitors among his peers is acting no better, and perhaps acting worse, than the guy who sits down to what an evening of “reality tv” because he’s hoping to see some naked girls. The guy who sits down and watches some sitcom with real compassion for the characters is (I think I’d argue this) acting better than both, if, that is, his compassion makes him more compassionate in his dealings with others and is not just an easy, sentimental response to the show’s intended emotional manipulation.

Like most advocates of reading, Solomon makes no distinctions between types of reading, which Taylor points out:

Reading, for Solomon, is always, without exception, a good thing. To hear him tell it, no one ever picks up a trashy book to kill time, no one ever gets around to that classic he always meant to read and finds that it bores him silly. Reading will always leave us better informed and better citizens, Solomon would like to think. But the very nature of a democratic society doesn’t offer any guarantees. “Without books,” Solomon writes, “we cannot succeed in our current struggle against absolutism and terrorism.” Where does he think the terrorists got their absolutist ideas from? And what lessons against absolutism will someone who turns to the works of Ann Coulter or Michael Moore learn?

For something that we’re always told is necessary and pleasurable, reading always seems to attract the most hapless proponents. I don’t know that I’ve ever read or heard from one person who took it as a mission to publicly proclaim the joys of reading and didn’t manage to make it sound like the type of virtuous drudgery you’d do anything to avoid. (The ones who have to sell reading face to face and person to person can’t resort to lofty rhetoric. Which is why good children’s librarians have produced more readers than any peroration that has ever drooped out of Harold Bloom.) People stay away from books for a lot of general reasons and one in particular that champions of reading don’t want to confront: because they have been made to feel that books are not for the likes of them.

10:27 AM


from today's New York Times: Sudan's Ravines of Death by John Prendergast.

IN NORTHERN DARFUR, Sudan. While Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations, and several members of Congress were in government-controlled areas of Darfur a few weeks ago, I crossed into Darfur's rebel-held territory. This is the part of Sudan that the regime doesn't want anyone to see, for good reason.

I expected to see a depopulated wasteland rife with deteriorating evidence of the ethnic cleansing campaign pursued by the government of Sudan. The regime, in response to a rebellion begun by primarily non-Arab groups in early 2003, armed the Janjaweed militia, giving them impunity to attack.

10:24 AM


This week our eldest daughter passed her boards and became, like her mother and grandmother, a Medical Technologist. One sits for this exam after taking a B.S. in Medical Technology and a year's internship at a teaching hospital. It's a lot of hard work. But Martha served her internship primarily to fulfill her father's directive that she make herself employable. She may never work as a Medical Technologist, for a large part of her undergraduate career was spent in a research laboratory, the skills and interests of which she is carrying immediately now into a Ph.D. program. Life is precious; time is limited. Did she waste a year of her life in an internship preparing for a vocation which she may very well never practice?

My observation, from a life that has involved many of these apparent byroads, is this: Mr. Muggeridge's chronicle notwithstanding, it is difficult to discern, and impossible to declare, what is wasted time. This is not only because all experiences can be woven into the fabric of one's being in such a way as to increase the man, whatever vocation he may follow, but for at least two infinitely larger reasons:

The first is that ultimately the meaning of our existence is not a matter of our will, nor is its direction in our control except in a qualified way. The many biographies we find in scripture suggest that sub specie aeternitatis our own attempts at self-definition and self-determination may only be tangent, at most, to the active interest our Maker and Redeemer has in our life. Who knows but that from his point of view the principal reason for our creation may have been to speak a single word in the place he wanted it spoken, a word which we may have forgotten in a moment, but for which we were born? Or perhaps our deepest reason for being, as Kierkegaard suggested of himself, was to make a proper fool of one's self, the Lord having formed us while recalling the ape or the onager.

The second and even greater reason that it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to be judges of wasted time in any ultimate sense is because of the redemption of time by its Lord, the way in which all that comes to pass is involved in the apokatastasis pantoon where even evil becomes subject to his perfect will through the death, resurrection, and glorification of the Son of God, in whom, by whom, and for whom all things were created, most particularly those who love him and in whom is found the desire to do his will.

The farmer, doing the reasoned labor of duty, builds a stall for the ox he has purchased from his neighbor. Both the ox and his neighbor die, the stall remains empty, the harvest fails, and the world passes over it all.

God, however, does not only "remember," but the divine anamnesis that is the substance of all things lets no good thing come to naught, and subjects evil to his own will and purpose. "I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I shall surely come again to receive you unto myself, so that where I am, there ye may be also" means exactly this. The Carpenter, who is building even now, does not do it with nothing, but with with the substantial proceeds of redeemed time. It is he who determines its worth, and he alone who is competent to determine what time has been well or ill-spent--which boards shall build the Holy City, and which chips and shavings shall fall to the floor. It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves.

7:59 AM

Wednesday, July 14


Something jolly from last Sunday's issue of The Sunday Telegraph: We must be allowed to criticise Islam by Will Cummins. The government, in the person of the Home Secretary David Blunkett, has proposed a new law "ban incitement to religious hatred," which is being taken to mean, and reasonably, to criminalize criticism of Islam.

The most interesting part comes from the middle of the article:

In a recent television panel, Iqbal Sacranie explained why the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the organisation he leads, had pushed for this legislation. The British should be allowed not to believe in Islam, he said (thanks, Mr Sacranie!), but they should not be permitted to "criticise" it.

Ken Livingstone has gone even further. On Wednesday, the Mayor of London welcomed to City Hall the Qatari divine Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, according to the MCB "an Islamic scholar held in great respect throughout the Islamic world".

Basing his teaching on Islam's holiest texts, Dr al-Qaradawi has urged his fellow Muslims to beat their wives; to use child suicide bombers to kill female and infant civilians; to murder Jews, homosexuals and British servicemen; and to colonise, desecrate and usurp Christian Rome.

Mr Livingstone said that the newspapers that had condemned Dr al-Qaradawi for such views "showed why this legislation [Blunkett's] is necessary". It was the critics of Dr al-Qaradawi's beliefs, Mr Livingstone insisted, who were, as the Muslim Association of Britain put it, "the image of evil". Dr al-Qaradawi, a mainstream figure in a major religion, had endorsed Jew lynching and wife beating: Mr Livingstone seemed to imply that, like Islam, such activities should therefore be above criticism.
The writer argues well against the proposal and is willing to make some obvious but un-p.c. points, like:

This brings us to the nub of the issue: the fact that Islam's teachings are completely unlike those of other faiths. The Government shows no sign of understanding this. Defending his proposed legislation, Mr Blunkett, for instance, said: "It applies equally to far-Right evangelical Christians as to extremists in the Islamic faith." But what "far-Right evangelical Christian" has ever proposed or endorsed anything as horrifying as what the moderate Muslim regards as normal?
My thanks to Kathleen Reeves for the link. This reminds me to mention the blogsite of her husband, the historian Thomas Reeves on the History News Network. Dr. Reeves is the author of the definitive biography of Joe McCarthy and abest-selling biographer of John F. Kennedy, author of The Empty Church, and a sometime contributor to Touchstone.

8:32 PM


Our contributing editor Robert Hart writes in response to the comments from friends I posted last Friday in Advice and Consolation:

I am hesitent to reply to a blog that deals with something as personal, and may I add sacred, as the death of David Mills' father. But, this story from a professor seems to be a perfect illustration of something about the times in which live:

I remember a student who came to me after class one day and said she was still grieving for her mother’s death and she wondered if I recommended she see a psychologist. I asked her how long it had been since her mother died, and she said a year. I replied that my mother had died 10 years before and I still grieved, though less often.

I assured her that grieving was right. Then the student smiled and said she felt very relieved to hear it. I guess in this day of fast food, we try to have fast grief, but our human nature is too ancient and rooted to bear it.

It began with treating guilt as a malady, when the idea of repressing our nature was considered to be wrong in every way, except the repression of the conscience. This is the age of abortion without for guilt or grief, that is in which guilt and natural grief by the mother are forbidden. It is the age of divorce, which is death to families and a crime against the children who are told to "be strong" at an age when nature makes them tender. It is the age when men are forbidden to be men, and women to be women; that is, in which people believe they must rise above the goodness of nature to embrace something alien to it.

This is not an indulgent age; this is the age in which we see just how stoic and ascetic lust makes a culture become. To choose the convenient and self satisfying fantasies of modern culture is the only ethic many people are taught; the highest good they believe that they must embrace. To do so, they must rid themselves of every decent emotion, of every virtuous feeling. They must feel guilt only about having guilty feelings, and feel sorrow only for as brief a time as their stoic and ascetic discipline of pleasure allows.

This is quite a burden and one no Christian need ever carry. Feel grief, feel sorrow, feel guilt and pain; for our Incarnate Lord felt everything we touch (though having no guilt of His own), and sanctified the real world into which He was born, and in which He died. Our hope, given to us by His resurrection, does not mean that we are to rise above natural feeling and decent emotion; for our feeling is enriched by the fact that our love does not die with our loved ones. We love them no less for their having departed.

And, if we continue to love them after they are departed, then we know how more truly they are loved by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

8:27 PM


My invitation at the end of the following item reminds me to say something I've been meaning to say for some time: the people who write for Mere Comments are all grateful to those of you who take the time and trouble to write us with comments, links, suggestions, etc.

We try to post as many as we can, but we don't always have the time. We usually write the items on the fly, and with other deadlines awaiting attention, and don't always have time to put up more items, as even the basic formatting takes a bit of time. And of course there are other reasons we don't post everything we get: for example, sometimes two or more writers write in with the same comment and we have to choose among them which to post.

Anyway, please keep those messages coming, even if you don't always see yours in print.

2:22 PM


Two readers write in response to yesterday's Reading is not fun-damental. From Robert Hart:

I agree with David Mills. To lose fans of trashy literature is not to lose readers. People who cannot appreciate great literature, or important academic works, are better off not fooling themselves into thinking that they are doing something worthwhile, or of intellectual or cultural value. Someone who reads billboards, bumper stickers, and Danielle Steele, is not a reader. Nothing is lost if such people watch TV instead. And, the gain is that less shelf space will wasted at K-Mart and Giant.
From a Canadian reader:

Two things about reading, based purely on personal observation.

First, reading of any kind tends to improve the ability to write. I have noticed that people who read a lot have much better spelling, grammar, and style than people who don't, even if I don't much care for the content of what they read.

Second, reading bad books tends to eventually lead to reading good books, or at least much more so than watching bad TV leads to watching good TV.

Beyond that, I think this is an excellent forum to point out what I think is the more important trend in literacy, which is the tremendous democratization of writing that has been brought about by the internet, especially email and blogs. Ten years ago, how many people routinely wrote anything at all of any substance? Hardly anyone except white collar professionals, and even they wrote much smaller quantities than they do today.

Today millions of people are writing things every day, sometimes tens or even hundreds of times a day. The blogosphere is not always brilliant or literate but it is giving vast numbers of people a chance to write and have their writing read and responded to. This is a profound social change, and I think it is on the whole positive.
I would like to agree with the second writer, but I wonder if he is not a little too optimistic about his two observations and I wonder whether lots of people writing is really quite so good a thing as he thinks. Please weigh in if you have any thoughts to share. The reply button is at the top of the column to the left.

2:16 PM


Or at least I think the writer is a teenager. Kitti Smith Murray writes in with:

My daughter shared with me the following statement she wrote & I would like to share it with you.

If I look on ones I love and see them rejecting truth: the truth of heaven and the exclusive right of Jesus alone to transport them there, the truth that scripture dictates right and wrong about their morality, relationships, sexuality. And if I watch in grief and horror as my loved ones act upon that rejection of truth in their beliefs and their behavior: Oh, how sweet an escape it would be to abandon my grief and horror by simply altering what I believe. If I choose to ignore the truths my loved ones have broken themselves upon; I can avoid such agony. Rather than face my pain in its fullness, I can lessen or obliterate it if I choose to believe God says less than He really does.

I will appear more compassionate, more tolerant, when in reality I am adopting a view that . . .

. . . Is a result of emotional cowardice. I have neatly sidestepped a chasm of suffering. I now need not weep over an erring friend. I need not agonize in prayer. I have reasoned away such investments in them and made my love so much easier.

. . . Asserts myself as more compassionate than God Himself. I am, in essence, redefining Him and His attributes. I am replacing the consuming fire with the soft glow of benign tolerance.

. . . Refuses to identify with the Cross. I am looking on Jesus, the Suffering Servant, and saying to His bloodstained face, I choose not to love as You do. Your love sweats drops of blood and that I cannot do. I will look on both thieves on the cross and casually include them in Your kingdom — it is easier that way. Their rejection cannot hurt me this way.

And if I choose this wide way, limiting my faith to that which makes love easy, may a more noble soul ache over me in prayer and grieve over me in love.
Bravo for Mrs. Smith's daughter.

2:13 PM


In What blocks the Good News?, from The Tablet, the writer makes what I think is a very important point about the clerical mind: that its taste for abstraction prevents it from thinking the thoughts it ought to be thinking. And this is often true, I should say, of clerics I very much admire. Their statements often have a unnerving sense of unreality.

The former Archbishop of Dublin observes, for example, that “For young people struggling with uncertainty created by the contemporary cultural attitude, the challenge must be addressed by the knowledge of Christ as the historically lived and contemporary presence of the revelation of God in his Easter mystery of death and resurrection.” So that’s sorted, then.
Nothing the archbishop said is untrue, but nevertheless one is left asking “But what does it mean? What do all these generalizations look like in reality? Could he define all these terms in some useful way?” One wants to ask the former archbishop if he really thought he was saying anything the least bit interesting or useful. I find listening to or reading this sort of speech makes me very cross — listening especially, since such speeches from leading clerics as I have heard are often delivered with visible self-satisfaction.

The writer goes on, perhaps revealingly, to undermine his own criticism, when he writes:

The Archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, also scores a hit when he recalls how the Church in South Africa responded to the challenge of Pope Paul VI’s classic call for evangelisation, Evangelii Nuntiandi. . . . “What became much more central”, Cardinal Napier recalls, “were efforts to build a more human world in which people would share their resources, leaders would look to the true interests of those they serve, and all would love and value each other, not because of common nationality or race or culture but because all are children of the same Father.” It is enough to make a slave dance for joy.
I don’t see this archbishop’s statement as any less general and abstract than those the writer criticized earlier in the article. It leaves one asking the same questions of it as did the sentence from the former archbishop of Dublin. These abstractions just happen to be abstractions the writer likes.

And abstractions that I suspect are rather more dangerous to Christian life than the first archbishop’s. How many leaders will define “the true interests of those they serve” to mean “What I want them to do, whether or not they want to,” that is, as justifying the exercise of power and ego as “service”? This was, remember, the usual excuse of the liturgical vandals in the Catholic and Anglican churches whose idea of “liturgical renewal” had rather little to do with the actual worship of their parishioners, and indeed attacked it.

10:39 AM


Here a few things from today’s inbox, some I got through e-mail digests and some sent to me by readers.

— From the Daily Telegraph, We’re rocking all over the world, but where is the sound of silence?, a light but amusing reflection on the alleged fiftieth anniversary of the birth of rock music.

— Recommended by a friend, what he calls ”a fine review/summary of a fine book, Werner Elert's Eucharist and Church Fellowship . My friend, a Catholic historian, writes: “The book is one which gives the lie to modern ideas of promiscuous communion.”

— From the reliably leftish English newspaper The Guardian, a story about a new movement of Christian schools that are working very well: The Lesson Today. The reporter is somewhat snide (holding to the Christian view of homosexuality “risks stigmatising children because their lifestyle does not fit in with the Biblical view of their headmaster,” he says) and p.c. (“what about the 200 years of evidence that proves Evolution as fact?” he asks), but proves surprisingly sympathetic, perhaps because the schools are doing so well for children in very poor areas who have been so badly served by the state schools.

— Christian LeBlanc writes about the “numbers disease,” quoting what item I don’t know, as I wasn’t reading the site that closely the last week or so when my father was in the hospice, but the point is worth passing on:

"We can document the harm of larceny in quantifiable figures, put the thing down in columns and trace its direct results in mathematical terms. It is not so easy to do this with blasphemy . . .”.

This is a symptom of what I call the "numbers disease," which has infected the West since Galileo, I imagine. Society underrates things whose value is difficult to express in numerical terms, especially dollar amounts. The easy example of this is children. Dollarwise, they are a huge negative, as the media never let us forget, yet they are properly the most valuable resource there is.

— For movie fans, an interview with Tobey McGuire titled The burden of being Spider-man.

—And for theatre fans, an article on Noel Coward titled The king of comedy I knew, like the previous item from The Daily Telegraph.

— An interesting article on an exception: Worldwide Islam Has an Oasis of Democracy: Mali. It begins:

. . . one country in sub-Saharan Africa is a living contradiction of the skeptics. Islam has been present there for almost a thousand years; 82 percent of its inhabitants are Muslim. They belong to the Sunni tradition, with a contingent that follows Wahhabi rigorism. They are extremely poor, with an average annual per capita income of 230 dollars, and poverty and freedom almost never go together. They belong to various tribes, which in many African countries is the root of incurable conflicts. And yet, democracy flourishes there. The country is Mali, between the Niger river and the Sahara desert.

Among the 47 countries in the world with a majority Muslim population, there are only two that the New York think tank Freedom House classifies as fully “free”: Mali, and neighboring Senegal.

10:35 AM

Tuesday, July 13


The revelation of homosexual activity between priests and seminarians in the diocese of Sankt Pölten does nor surprise me, nor does the presence of 40,000 images of child pornography in the seminary’s computer (see profil 29/4). For almost twenty years I have heard persistent rumors (from horrified conservative Catholics) that “conservative” seminaries in Europe were heavily and actively homosexual.

The bishop of Sankt Pölten, Kurt Krenn, was appointed by John Paul II because Krenn is a “conservative,” as was Cardinal Gröer, the former archbishop of Vienna who was homosexually active with seminarians. (Krenn even after Gröer’s death called his accusers liars, although Cardinal Schönborn believed the accusations.) The pope favored these men because they propagated “traditional” devotions especially to Mary, and the Pope took this as a sign of orthodoxy, stability, and sincerity,

But many "traditional” Catholic devotions to Mary are contaminated by very odd ideas about gender and sexuality, as I discussed in my book The Church Impotent. Men of unbalanced sexuality are attracted by these distorted devotions.

The Anglican Church also suffers from the presence of homosexuals who are attracted by ritual. There may be something in the personality structure of a certain type of homosexual that is attracted by ritual. Perhaps he fears the disorder within himself and tries to control it by a minute ritualism. When he fails to control his sexuality that way, he views the rituals as high camp, as insincere play-acting, as his life is, when he pretends to be a chaste or celibate clergyman while engaging in immoral activities.

Sexual disorders in low church denomination (although roughly as prevalent as among Catholics or Anglicans) seems to be more heterosexual, and motivated in large part by the minister’s anxiety to prove his masculinity, which is called into question by his work in a women’s field – religion.

10:13 PM


Something you may enjoy: The Death of Morality By Benjamin Wiker, which appears in the latest issue of the Catholic magazine Crisis. In his lead paragraph, he declares “The greatest moral crisis is now upon us,” and then explains:

The real moral crisis is this: that we, among all human beings who have ever lived, face the end of morality as such. Abortion and infanticide have existed before. So have homosexuality and pedophilia. Exclusive, lifelong heterosexual monogamy was, largely, a Christian mandate, and therefore variations on the definition of marriage are not difficult to come by historically.

If these ills were all that plagued us, we would only be facing an especially ugly relapse into the darkness of paganism. But underneath these ills lies a darkness against which even the darkness of paganism is light—the rejection of human nature itself, and hence the rejection of all morality.
Judging from the address (“feature2.htm”), I think this may be a temporary posting, so read it now if you think it of interest.

While I’m at it, let me mention his website, He is someone I’d like to write for us. We ran an interview with him: Darwin as Epicurean.

6:40 PM


For those interested in the subject of Western Christianity and Orthodoxy, the Pontifications website has an interesting short essay by its writer followed by a long exchange by his readers in Bad, bad Augustine. Go to your room and don’t make a peep.

6:34 PM


A friend sent me the link to Waiting for the Movie, an article from Newsweek subtitled “Reading's going out of style, even as publishers go wild.” It begins:

You don't usually go to government reports for arresting prose. But consider this sentence: "Indeed, at the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century." Yikes.

And that's not the half of it. According to a report on the reading habits of Americans issued last week by the National Endowment for the Arts, less than half of the adult American population now reads for pleasure. Using Census Bureau data, the NEA found that the number of Americans who say they've even opened a single book of fiction, let alone a poem or a play, over the course of a year has declined by 10 percent, from 56.9 percent in 1982 to 46.7 percent today.

It gets worse. Young adults between 18 and 34, a category that once claimed the status of most-active readers, is now the lowest, dropping 28 percent since 1982. And by literature, "we're not talking about the number of people who reread Proust," says Dana Gioia, chairman of the NEA. "Literature" means simply any books that people read without guns pointed to their heads. "If people read even three pages of a Harlequin romance, it got counted.”
Now, I don’t find this quite as horrifying as the writer does, and as the reader is clearly expected to. I assume the act of reading by itself has some intellectual benefit that watching television does not, but putting that aside for the moment, does it really make a great difference whether someone reads a trashy book or watches a trashy movie?

Is escapist reading any better than escapist viewing? Should we praise someone for reading through 500 pages of trash by Danielle Steele rather than watching several hours of a made-for-tv movie taken from those 500 pages of trash? Does reading a cosy English murder mystery have any greater value for the individual than watching a Yankees game (especially if they lose) or a show on aardvarks or (I’ve actually seen one episode of this) Everyone Loves Raymond? Or, for that matter, the latest disaster movie or the world professional wrestling championships?

The pleasures and benefits of reading, like the pleasures and benefits of any cultural activity, can be had only after some work and usually by working somewhat even as one reads. Relatively few people are going to work that hard. I’m not sure many ever did, even before television. That some of these people now watch television mindlessly rather than read mindlessly does not seem to me a very great change.

6:30 PM


I don't think I posted anything on the appearance of the latest issue, and don't have time to check, so:

The July/August issue is out and in the mail. Here is the table of contents and here is the place to order copies. As always, we offer two articles from the issue on the homepage, to give you a feel for what you'll get if you order the whole thing (hint, hint):

— my Reading the Stars, and

— Jonathan Witt's The Gods Must Be Tidy!.

I don't, by the way, choose which stories we offer on the homepage.

10:01 AM


Related to the following item is an opinion piece from the Daily Telegraph: Nail the lie on the medics’ role in abortion by Kevin Myers. Referring to the legal requirement that two doctors approve an abortion after talking with the mother, he writes:

In Britain each year, 180,000 women annually are inspected by two doctors to check whether having a baby will harm them: and unfailingly the doctors record a 100 per cent opinion that, yes, it will. . . .

Let’s nail the lie. Britain’s existing system of abortion on demand should not be dressed up hypocritically as a “medical” decision. It is a personal decision by a woman, and one I would accept as her right, provided that the foetus is not developed enough to sense pain or, even worse, is already a viable human being.

Moreover, one truth that some pro-choicers really don’t want discussed is the technique of decapitating the developing child inside the womb, so that the aborting doctor is not confronted with the slightly uncomfortable moral dilemma of what to do with a mewling, aborted-infant in the kidney-dish. The loo? The bin? The furnace? The orphanage? Ah. That really is pro-choice.

Medical ethics remains in a horrible mess about how to deal with the start and the end of life.
He goes on to describe the mess. I do not recommend his answers to this mess, by the way.

9:59 AM


From the English Catholic magazine The Tablet comesThe hidden wonder of new life, an interview with the doctor — and former abortionist — who invented “4D scanning” of unborn children. Among his interesting comments:

He says the strength of parents’ reactions is partly down to most people’s ignorance of the life of a foetus in the womb. “Parents come to me and they are so astonished by what they see,” he says. “Most of them have no idea about the life inside the uterus, what the placenta does, what the yolk sac is for, about the growth and development of the baby. When you look at the pregnancy books, they tell you about lifestyle, smoking, what to eat, what not to eat, sex, all that stuff, but not so much about the foetus. In this book I’ve tried to be realistic about that.”

One of the things, he says, that strikes the parents who come to his clinic — one of the few places in Britain that uses such advanced ultrasound scans — is that life in the womb is so clearly a preparation for life outside it. “Many of the things that the baby does once it’s born it has already been doing inside the uterus,” he says, adding: “That’s so exciting to see.”
He has, nevertheless, an inadequate moral understanding of the matter, because he is “realistic,” in his terms, and “pragmatic,” in the writer’s, who describes him as “like most people whose position on abortion does not start from absolute principles.”

I don’t mean “inadequate” in Christian terms — Christians would, among other things, demand compassion for the unborn and for the mother who is committing a serious sin and an act of psychological violence against herself — but in his. He wants to see abortions beyond the point of viability banned, a controversial claim when medicine is steadily lowering the age the unborn can live outside their mother’s womb.

“My views on abortion have certainly been coloured by 3-D and 4-D scans,” he says. “When you see these images you realise that between 18 and 24 weeks the baby is so advanced neurologically, at such an advanced stage of development, that abortion at 24 weeks is just unacceptable.”
And yet, he says later in the interview,

“when women are clearly the victim of some terrible circumstance, there has to be some leeway. There’s a lot of terrible social deprivation out there, women terribly abused. If you hear that side of the story as I do; if, as a doctor, you listen to these women, you feel tremendous sympathy for them as well, so you have to be compassionate.”
But “compassion” as he defines it is, as you all realize, incompatible with “unacceptable” as he defines it. Any limit based on the baby’s neurological development will prevent some women for whom he would urge “compassion” from having the baby killed: the abused woman who, for example, couldn’t bring herself to abort her child till the 25th week, when she goes to the abortionist in desperation, or the woman whose husband leaves her, penniless and with two or three children already born, during the 27th week.

“Compassion” introduces exceptions that his “unacceptable” leaves him no way to address and his “unacceptable” prevents him from approving actions his “compassion” requires him to approve. He is not all that realistic.

9:58 AM


Two good items from the Dawn Patrol, Pop Smear (she’s really good with the titles) and Ron Reagan “Cells” Out. The latter includes a quote from Mr. Reagan in which he accuses pro-lifers of “rather simplistic” thinking and then goes on to prove that he is — how can I say this? — a moral idiot.

In another item, she quotes something I wrote and had forgotten about, but which readers may find of interest: Lewis & Homosexuality.

9:55 AM

Business as Usual in France

Much has been said of late about official French insouciance to the horrors of the recent regime in Iraq.

Indeed, the word "insouciance" hardly covers the case, because it was transformed to true complicity by France's active geopolitical resistance to the American and international efforts to depose the regime in Iraq. Short of actually going to war with the United States, France did everything it could to keep Saddam Hussein in power.

Moreover, there is reason to believe that this despicable complicity in the horrors of Saddam Hussein, prompted by the interests of French economy, was not unique in recent French history.

I cite a notable Frenchman in support of this belief. Jean-Francois Revel, commenting on the way that the world has stood by in relative silence for decades "while the Chinese communists have very nearly annihilated the people of Tibet and their civilization" (Democracy Against Itself, page 43), cites an interesting example:

When the Dalai Lama came to France to receive an award on December 4, 1989, there was not a single French official to receive him. Danielle Mitterrand, wife of the president of the Republic, who was scheduled to make the award, was asked by the government to avoid the ceremony; negotiations were taking place regarding the building of a French automobile assembly plant in China.

7:10 AM

Monday, July 12


Not that anyone doubts the point made in the previous blog by Bob Hart, but just in case, you should note the two examples given below by Senator Frist (sent to me by the Alliance for Marriage):

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist/Marriage Amendment Debate/Statement To The Senate/July 9, 2004 (Excerpt)

As we proceed to debate this serious and intense issue, I urge all sides to accord one another respect. Let us agree at least on this one point: that the Harvard Law Review is wrong and irresponsible when it says that Americans who want to protect marriage are motivated by animus or bigotry.

And Cheryl Jacques of the Human Rights Campaign is wrong when she described Marriage Amendment proponents as "hate-filled people who will stop at nothing to achieve their discriminatory, offensive goals."

Such allegations are neither fair nor true about the vast majority of decent, law-abiding Americans. Nor do they help us understand the issues before us.

Americans of all races, creeds, and parties are coming together to protect marriage as the union of husband and wife. We do so with respect for those Americans who disagree.

Marriage is worth the time, energy and attention of this Senate and of all the American people. And the model of the family bound by marriage to fulfill its attendant responsibilities is a worthy ideal.

The matter before us is critical. The debate before us is essential. Let’s hold it with civility and respect. Let the debate be spirited but substantive. And let it be held now, in this body, the United States Senate, for this and future generations of Americans.

11:51 AM


A reader writes in response to Steven Hutchens' Anatomizing Pests:

The irony is that, as is fitting for our appearances-obsessed culture, anger is simmering below the surface of most people's lives. Some take it out on other drivers; some take it out on a track or racquetball court; fewer, fortunately, take it out on their spouses and children. But to express anger in a debate does often invite the response illuminated by Mr. Hutchens.

It's the tolerance lie again: to tolerate wickedness is to be apathetic. Just because you don't care enough about anything to get heated about it doesn't mean that I shouldn't. We shunned the lukewarm life by taking up our Savior's Cross.

And this response is wholly juvenile. When I was a high school teacher, I would watch my students manipulate each other, dripping passive aggression, for no other reason than to rile or hurt each other. Sad, but instructive at how many of us haven't matured beyond the level of an adolescent.

11:49 AM


Something somewhat amusing from the latest issue of The Spectator: How to get into Who’s Who. It includes a warning against trusting such volumes to get things right. According to Jonathan Glasspool, representing the book's publisher, the editors

can only go by what people tell them. ‘We’ve got 32,000 people in the book, and at least half the records every year are amended or corrected in some way, and a thousand new records a year. It would be impossible for us to check every fact.’

If an error is pointed out to Who’s Who they will raise it with the biographee, and Glasspool maintains that the vast majority of errors are sorted out by agreement in this way. But, to take one example, what if Jeffrey Archer insisted that his entry was correct when it wrongly states that he became a member of the Greater London Council in 1966? ‘We would have to take him at his word,’ says Mr Glasspool.
Mr. Glasspool nevertheless calls the book "the definitive sourcebook of information about people of influence and interest in all fields of UK society," which it isn't, if "definitive" means final, complete, and completely trustworthy.

Anyone who does research knows how amazingly often even the major reference works get things wrong, and not just small details either. This is a lesson I try to get fixed in the minds of my writing students. I tell them to remember the two slogans from the show The X-Files: "The truth is out there" and "Trust no one."

11:37 AM


Something you may find of interest: Why the French lock up immigrants by Theodore Dalrymple from the English magazine The Spectator. (The site requires registration, which is free.)

After arguing that a suggestively high percentage of prisoners in France are immigrants, usually north and west African Muslims, he notes one of the effects of France’s insistence on secularizing the society:

Islamic fundamentalism is not much in evidence among the disaffected young prisoners, and is therefore of not much importance, at least numerically. (The problem is that it has its attractions for the more intelligent, or at least the more intellectual, among them, who seek a total explanation for, and solution to, their predicament. And as we have seen, it doesn’t take many people to disturb the peace of the world.)

The Muslim prisoners in France are not deeply religious, or indeed deeply anything. France has successfully secularised the Muslim younger generation, but without having replaced the religious ethic by any other. They are left in a vacuum, suspended mentally and culturally somewhere between the Maghreb and France, but belonging fully to neither, and therefore at home nowhere. The rigidity of the labour market makes it more difficult for them to redeem themselves by work, and modern culture, which holds out easy enrichment as a solution to existential dislocation, makes crime a permanent temptation.
In his conclusion, Dalrymple notes that prisoners in both English and French jails feel themselves to be the victims of a fundamentally unjust system and justify their crimes

as a revenge upon, or at least the natural consequence of, that primordial injustice.

This resentment is simultaneously a powerful provoker of crime and an obstacle to rehabilitation. What these prisoners need, apart from the passage of time that in itself cools the ardour of criminality, is not what they actually get in prison — antidepressants and tranquillisers by the bucketful — but a Socratic dialogue that will help them to overcome their resentment. If the principal cause of crime is the decision to commit it, then the removal of a justifying sense of grievance is of great importance.

11:31 AM


From contributing editor Robert Hart, in reply to yesterday's blog:

During the years in which Mexico was under the rule of a Communist dictatorship, all clergy and members of religious orders were executed upon being caught, without trial. And, of course we know about religious persecution in all other Communist countries, including that persecution which still goes on. These governments were putting the stated position of Robert Reich into action long before he wrote his article. In light of this, why should we not be offended at Reich's words, and why should those words not be interpreted as an incitement to violence? If someone of any sort of conservative mind were to speak of a group of people as being more dangerous than terrorists, and of the ongoing cultural debate as a war between people instead of a clashing of opposing ideas, it would be treated as such an incitement. The outcries would be all over the media. Reich's words are a perfect example of Hate Speech, real hate speech, not mere insensitivity in stating one's convictions. In light of all the blood that has been shed by people whose position is no different than what he has written, we have every reason to take great offense.

What this buffoon also presumes is that people who believe in "science, reason and logic" cannot believe in Divine revelation. This is nothing but the droning of a bigot, no different in character than a hooded Klansman; and no more able than he to discern what is revealed in science, or understood through reason and logic. A philisophical mind knows that ethics cannot be based upon the data of science; that morality either comes from a spiritual understanding, or it does not come at all. If the 20th Century proved anything, it proved that. --Robert Hart
Of course they know ethics and morals and first principles come from elsewhere, from beyond the bounds of empirical science. They assume they are the ones who know best what is best for mankind. I believe this is why folks like this appear to have no principles upon which they stake their lives. They are in positions of power, and they really believe they know best for good for the rest. They are the arbiters of first principles as they conceive them, but they wish to exclude anyone else from bringing into the public any principles (e.g. respect for the innocent unborn) that might conflict with their own set of ethics. They alone know what the first principles are and no other religious views may be tolerated in the public square. In effect, they hold dogmas of their own to impose on others, and any dissent is dangerous in their eyes.

10:34 AM

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