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Friday, August 13

WHAT THE JUDGES WERE THINKING

A reader response to No Brain Judges from earlier today:

Mr. Kushiner writes, "What were those 2 judges thinking?"

It is as usual very easy to find out what the judges were thinking if one actually wishes to know. The dissenting opinions are found at the end of the court ruling document, which is in many easy-to-find places all over the web, such as here: http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/glrts/lckyrsf81204opn.pdf

The "no" votes were dissents from the complete ruling. By reading the dissent opinions one may determine that the judges in fact agreed that the mayor of San Francisco overstepped his authority and acted wrongly, but disagreed with various other details of the ruling and the opinion. The better news services made some effort to summarize the dissents but most short reports did not.

If I may attempt my own amateur summary, one judge agreed that the issuing of the licenses was wrong and that the supposed "marriages" were invalid but disagreed with the phrase "void from their inception and a legal nullity." The second judge also agreed that the issuing of the licenses was a violation of the law and that issuing of further licenses must stop, but opined that a definitive ruling on the validity of the "marriages" must await the resolution of pending litigation about the constitutionality of California's marriage law.
Well, now I know what they were thinking. Apparently they were unanimous in deciding that issuing the “marriage” licenses broke state law. But not unanimous in voiding them. Well, they at least can see that the state law was broken. But I am still not impressed. If you want to read all 114 pages of the decision for yourself, the link is above.


5:28 PM


TURNING BACK THE CLOCK

You hear it often in the the rhetoric of culture wars: "You can't turn back the clock." This is supposed to an argument closer, a debate finisher. But it is a fair question to ask, to a point, or at least a useful one: do cultural conservatives really want to turn back the clock? What social and moral leftists often mean by that charge is a return to the 1950s, to the "Ozzie and Harriet" liefstyle of those post-war years.

And the features of that stereotype culture include: racial segregation, stay-at-home moms who have no choices other than to stay-at-home, abusive marriages from which one couldn't not very easily escape, straight-laced movie and television codes (the twin beds in the master bedroom suite, for example), and so on. (And let's not forget Senator Joe McCarthy and the red witch hunts.)

Actually, I remember clearly that the adults knew that the real world wasn't even cose to Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver. My mother and her two sisters were entertained by poking fun at Mrs. Cleaver--Mrs. Cleaver was usually drying the last dish in her immaculate kitchen, wearing her pearls and high heels. My female relatives got a kick out of it. They knew it was television. And not real. Which brings me to two observations about today and "you can't turn back the clock."

First, I think today more people take television more seriously than anyone did back then. It was watched as a diversion but real life was real life. Not anymore. The amount of seriousness, cultural anxiety or attention given to "the last episode of X"--fill in the blank: Friends, MASH, Seinfeld, for example, has always bewildered me. TV, once a diversion, like minature golf, has become Reality and is taken seriously. TV has sucked us into fantasy and we buy it. We knew Ozzie & Harriet were stick figures, and funny, like cartoons.

Why that show and others from that era look so weird (and scary?) to today's cultural leaders is they make an assumption that isn't true. They assume folks back then took these shows as seriously as people do today, that people identified with characters in the same way that earnest watchers today really identify with Friends, or Will and Grace. They assume that folks who think things were better in 1960, overall, are really envisioning and long for a world like Pleasantville. In that movie, the main character, really got into that old fictional 50s TV-rerun in a way that only modern viewers seem to do.

The second observation is also based on recognizing a hidden assumption in "you can't turn the clock back." The point is that "turning the clock back" is a coded phrase to block any constructive evaluation of whether or not paths taken turned out to be dead ends or worse. Of course we can't turn the clock back: time moves forward. But the assumption is that time equal progress.

So the phrase is also points to the assumption of inevitable and ongoing progess in society. There is an underlying uptopian appeal in the rhetoric that appeals to "the future" and the (future) sort of society we are "trying to build." The assumption is that we can create, if not a perfect uptopia, pretty darn close (if we could only get rid of all the hateful fundamentalists and other bigots and naysayers).

If progress is indeed inevitable and we can bring in the peacable kingdom with enough political will and funding and programs, then any turning back of the clock, so to speak, is a betrayal of our deepest aspirations. If, on the other hand, we believe that ever-present sin means there will always be wars, greed, dishonesty, and so on, then we can more easily compare and contrast the features of our present culture with one in the not-too-distant past and ask if we were not, in many significant and important ways, better off. It is no betrayal to ask such a question. The 50s were not perfect by any measure, and perhaps other decades were even better. (I have no particular case to make for the 50s, but use them as an example.)

But we should prefer to evaluate real cultures and decades on their merits and learn from them, rather than turn our backs on them because some imagined future is always out there ahead of us. You see, the future has no flaws that we can see, so in our imagination the future really can be perfect. It makes an appealing subject for political promises. No one can sully any bright future that is being promised because no real human beings live in the future to corrupt it.

Remember the bright words we heard from many quarters about "the 21st century"? Well, we're here, and it's clear, they're nowhere near good enough, and we must always look to the bright future that never comes.

But we're better off, not turning clocks back, which can't be done, of course, but rahter living in the present with an eye on the lessons of the past. I prefer to deal with the devil I know in the past, to handing myself over to some bright angel of light whom I can never see in the future.


2:33 PM


NO BRAIN JUDGES

A report from the Washington Times via the Alliance for Marriage on the news many of us heard yesterday:

The California Supreme Court yesterday voided nearly 4,000 "marriages" granted to same-sex couples in San Francisco this year, ruling that city officials broke a state law and a voter-approved measure defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
When someone told me the news yesterday, they said it was a unanimous decision. I said of course it was, this decision was a no-brainer for anyone: No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, it should be obvious that local municipalities, townships, and cities, cannot redefine marriage against the state! The marriage license is a state license, I believe, regulated by each state. But I was wrong:
In a 5-2 decision, the court said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his powers in granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples during a four-week stretch in February and March. The justices steered clear of the question of whether California's state constitution permits recognition of such unions.
What were those 2 judges thinking? There are some unincorporated areas, no doubt, in the State of Utah, with a population of, say, 20, that could set up a municipality and extend marriage licenses for a man to marry as many women as he chooses, even until death doth them part. Supreme Court? Supreme chaos.


1:21 PM


AUSTRIAN SEMINARY CLOSED DOWN

One of Touchstone's senior editors, Dr. Leon Podles recently brought to our attention an infamy better reported in the European press, a sexual scandal centered in the seminary of the diocese of St. Polten in Austria. Those who have been following this story will be encouraged by yesterday's report, included in Catholic World News, that the Vatican has now closed down that seminary. Released from Vienna, that report reads in part:

A Vatican investigator has shut down the seminary in St. Polten, Austria, which has become the focus of a scandal involving child pornography.

Bishop Klaus Kung, who was appointed by Pope John Paul II to conduct an apostolic visitation of the troubled St. Polten diocese, announced on August 12 that he is using his authority to close down the seminary "right away." The seminary had failed in its mission to select and train young men for the Catholic priesthood, the Vatican-appointed investigator said. "A new beginning is necessary," Bishop Kung concluded.

The scandal in St. Polten erupted when a police discovered thousands of pornographic images of children on a computer at the seminary. At the same time, an Austrian magazine published photos of seminary staff members embracing and fondling students. The scandal prompted calls for the removal of St. Polten's Bishop Kurt Krenn, an outspoken and unpopular conservative prelate. Bishop Krenn-- who has received very little support from other Austrian bishops-- has refused to resign.

After his appointment on July 20 as apostolic visitator, Bishop Kung prompted a speedy and diligent investigation. Using the powers that were delegated to him by the Vatican, the investigator promptly called for a halt to all public discussions of the crisis in St. Polten by Church officials. His announcement of the seminary closing is the first major news to emerge from his investigation.

Bishop Kung helds the Feldkrich, Austria diocese.


Some of us trust we do not succumb to presumption by our continuing hope that the Vatican will soon require the resignation of Bishop Kurt Krenn.


1:05 PM


TAX HELP

The telephone ringeth.

"Shalom! This is H. and R. Balak. We treat of taxes, tithes, and tributes. How may I help you?"

"My name is Gideon ben Joash the Abiezrite, and I can't figure out my deductions on the new 1040-ES form."

"Just what seems to be the problem, Gideon?"

"Well, since my income last year was over a thousand talents, I have to itemize, and I am not sure about a couple of items."

"Did you have any extraordinary business expenses?"

"I sure did. That excursion against the Midianites set me back a pretty penny, I can tell you. I wore out both tires on my chariot. Hill country, you understand."

"Yes, the tires are deductbile, and don't forget your mileage. Its three mites to the mile this year."

"Good, that will help. Now what about deducting severance pay for the guys who didn't go with me?"

"I don't think I understand."

"Well, I didn't take them all. I left behind the ones who bowed down on their knees to drink instead of lapping up the water on the tongue the way a dog lappeth."

"Yes, you may deduct that expense. Check page 3, section 6, line 18. Severance pay for sloppy drinkers is listed there."

"Okay, looking good. Can I deduct the expense for my trumpeters?"

"Were they union trumpeters?

"No, in fact they were awful. As soon as they started to play, it completely freaked out the Midianites."

"Sorry, Gideon, if the trumpeters were non-union, you can't claim them as a business expense."

"Oh, drat. Now, then, what about my fleece? I ruined a perfectly good fleece on the trip, and I wonder if I can claim it."

"Fleece?"

"Yes, it got wet one morning, after I left it out all night. The next day it was dry, but mildew had already set in. All my fleeces are insured with Sodom Securities, but the people there tell me that I have a hundred shekels deductible."

"Okay, you can claim the fleece, but hang on to it in case you're audited. Any other questions?"

"Yes, I am currently involved in some litigation, and I wonder if I can claim my legal expenses."

"What sort of litigation?"

"Oh, it's nothing, really. A little matter of casting down an altar to Baal. The police were summoned and took down everybody's name. There was a scene. By the way, I suspect the altar to Baal was not insured. Watch out for these guys. They may claim it as a vandalism expense."


3:04 AM


Thursday, August 12

GRANDFATHERED DISORDERS & JUNK SCIENCE

In the summer 2004 issue of SEED (seedmagazine.com), a fairly liberal magazine dedicated to science and culture, is a short piece ("Couch Trip") about the DSM--that's the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the so-called "bible of psychiatry." The current edition (no. 4) is 943 pages. The DSM has been under growing attack as "junk science." At the APA's annual meeting in May, 100s of "human-rights activists picketed" in T-Shirts saying, "Psychiatry is Killing your Children." The history of the APA and DSM should raise a few eyebrows:

In 1972, a cloaked, hooded "Dr. Anonymous" took the floor of the APA annual meeting, declaring that he and over 200 APA members were gay and that they'd held secret meetings for years. Homosexuality was subsequently removed from the DSM within the year....

In the '70s, psychiatry was losing power and prestige to nonmedical therapists, particularly female social workers," says Dr. Peter Breggin, an outspoken anti-biopsych psychiatrist who also has dispensed with the couch, though he still thinks feelings about one's mother are worth exploring. "Almost nobody used DSM-I and II," he says of the slim volumes published in 1952 and 1968. "So the APA got involved with the pharmaceutical industry to medicalize mental illness. DSM III was rewritten to make things look biological. In part, it was financially driven, to avoid bankruptcy."
That's reassuring. Dr. Michael First, a psychiatrist and associate professor at Columbia University, and is the editor of DSM IV and working on V, says that the DSM is
useful for communication, but is fundamentally flawed because we have no idea what mental disorders are."... But that hasn't stopped the DSM architects from defining mental disorders or concluding that DSM-IV is grounded in empirical evidence--and once a disorder is in, it's hard to get it out. "Most of the DSM-IV disorders were grandfathered in from DSM III; they're rarely dropped," says First. "If we dropped one, what would that say about validity?"
Indeed. What would that say about, say, homosexuality? Or the APA? And we haven't heard the end of news about the pharmaceutical industry. I heard the other day a report that noted some experts think anti-drepessant drugs being given to teenagers might be making them worse, not better, even to the point of suicide. Is "Psychiatry Killing Our Children"? Would you like to hold your breath waiting for the APA to admit it has made major mistakes?


5:57 PM


OBEY DOESN’T OBEY:

A reader sends the link to Obey won’t let archbishop ‘coerce’ him on abortion votes about Wisconsin congressman David Obey, a Democrat and Catholic who insists in the Jesuit magazine America that he cannot vote consistently and coherently pro-life — this is not the way he put, of course — for reasons of conscience. Obey, according to the article,

notes his efforts to balance his religious values with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit what government may do to limit a woman’s abortion-related choices.

“During that time, I have voted well over 60 times for limitations of one kind or another on a woman’s right to choose abortion,” he writes, adding later: “So I suppose it is fair to say that my record on abortion is mixed. I make no apology for that. I believe these issues are complicated.”

Describing his private correspondence with the bishop over about a year, Obey says Burke was concerned about Obey’s votes on five or six abortion-related issues, but that two issues “seemed especially to trouble” him: Obey’s support of stem cell research and unwillingness to limit access to military hospitals.

“The bishop wanted me to vote to deny permission to female military personnel to use a military hospital for abortions,” Obey writes. “I told him that I hoped that no member of the armed services would seek an abortion, but that I was simply not prepared to deny to any woman stationed in Iraq, wearing the uniform of the United States, the use of a military hospital for any purpose.”
A lot of people, including me, have written about (against) Obey’s kind of thinking. He and his peers seem to proceed from two assumptions: “I must be in office” and “I must be a Catholic.” Their application of these assumptions seems to be governed by two other assumptions: “The rules for the first are binding” and “The rules for the second are not.”

I say this because they abandon Catholic teaching when it conflicts with central commitments of the Democratic Party, but they do not abandon pro-choice or pro-abortion positions when they conflict with central commitments of the Catholic Faith, and they react with indignation to any suggestion that as Catholics they should not vote as they do or that if they vote as they do they should not be Catholics. The only way they can say this with any logic is if they hold the assumptions I’ve listed.

They are most annoying when they stand up straight, square their shoulders, look out into the distance with clear eye and furrowed brow, and start lecturing their critics on the separation of Church and state and declaring — the music swells here and the American flag waves in slow motion in the background — that they Cannot and Will Not Impose Their Values Upon Others. There are two problems with this.

First, as legislators who vote on all sorts of legislation covering almost every aspect of human life, they vote to impose their values — a word that in this context means principles — every time they vote. A vote for or against a tax break is a vote for a particular value or principle about the nature of government and the citizen’s rights, in particular how much money a government may take and how much a citizen may expect to keep. A vote for a new welfare benefit is a vote for a particular value or principle about the nature of the collective responsibility for the people served (or disserved).

We vote for our representatives precisely because we want them to impose their values, and we prefer the values of the man we vote for to those of the man he’s running against.

Which suggests the second problem. These politicians don’t have to be Catholics, if they do not hold Catholic values or principles. If they fear imposing Catholic values on others, they can stop being Catholics and live openly by the values and principles they actually hold. One of which is, of course, that those matters the Catholic Church teaches are matters of natural law (that is, not of revelation and thus known to and binding upon everyone) are not so — which is a defensible principle, but an Imposed Value nevertheless.

One would think better of such a politician if he chose to live by the principles of the Faith he professes (which may well be different from the faith he in fact holds) and let the voters decide whether they wanted to be represented by him, or, if he genuinely rejects Catholic teaching, he chose to live by the principles of the faith he holds (though he may well not know clearly what that is) and stopped pretending to be a faithful Catholic.


2:56 PM


FROM THE INBOX AUGUST 12TH 2004:

Two items for today:

— Tim Udd sends the link to What If We Win?, which begins with a discussion of American prospects in the battle against terrorist groups and then switches to a discussion of fundamentalism — a word I should probably put in quotes — and secularism, dealing with the claims of Karen Armstrong and someone named Sam Harris.

Harris seems to have put into words asserts the secularists’ dream: blame religion for so many bad things that you can feel justified in getting rid of it, especially when you can claim that it is intrinsically dangerous. (The fact that the three greatest mass murderers in human history, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, were atheists does not seem to bother the eager secularist.) The article reports:

The Amazon review of Harris’ book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason summarizes his thesis as follows:

Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes. He asserts that in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer tolerate views that pit one true god against another. Most controversially, he argues that we cannot afford moderate lip service to religion — an accommodation that only blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism.

Harris claims that if we seriously subscribe to God in any form we will eventually wind up settling accounts with WMDs; hence we must abolish God.
Of course, if we seriously subscribe to God in the Christian form, we'll wind up setting up hospitals and soup kitchens and shelters, as Christians have done. I don't think Mr. Harris would really want to live in a world where God has been abolished. It will have its own gods and they are likely to be savage.

— A reader writes with a response to the July/August issue, Darwin’s Last Stand?, with a question:

Your current issue on Darwinism is a useful contribution to a continuing dialogue. It reinforced a question I keep coming back to lately relating to the relative ages assigned to geologic strata and the fossils they contain. Perhaps your readership can throw more light on it.

The March 2004 issue of Discover has an article on archaea, a microbial organism so-called because it seems to be the oldest discovered life form, first appearing in the Precambrian sediments. Contemporary archaea were first discovered in the 70s and subsequent research confirms that archaea are not only well-established throughout the world, but seem to be unchanged from the earliest fossils. Along with the horseshoe crab and the coelacanth, they are listed as examples of living fossils.

Though archaea need an anoxic environment and may be found near the surface in mineral hot springs or in the lower levels of the Black Sea, for example, they apparently also populate the deep sea bed (comprising as much as a third of all the living stuff on the planet- Discover) at levels up to a quarter to half a mile below the floor of the ocean.

The question: given that archaea occupy the lower strata of our present earth as our biological contemporaries, what evidence compels us to presume that the supposed Precambrian level is not related to the Cambrian as our current deep sea bed is related to the sea floor? In other words, may not geological strata, specifically here the Precambrian and Cambrian, be distinguished primarily by physical position and not necessarily by time? To ask the question in yet another way, may not life forms appear to proliferate in the so-called Cambrian precisely because there is more diversity in life form above the sea floor than below it?
This is not a subject I know anything about, and if any of you have an answer, please send it and I will post it. Use the button at the top of the column to the left.


2:51 PM


CATCHING UP ON VOTE SPLITTING

I am just back from a brief vacation and catching up on e-mail. This came in from contributing editor Robert Hart in response to last Friday's blog on vote splitting and Alan Keyes:

About Dr. Alan Keyes: I have voted for him many times, and have always been sorry that not enough other people did. It is difficult for him to be elected for much the same reason that John the Baptist would not get a lot of votes. Prophets who cry in the wilderness, and call for repentance, are not popular for the most part. But, should he get into office, he would not be a party line Senator; so, in a sense, I am surprised that the Republicans have sought him out, instead of treating him as an embarrassment to be hidden away, with the help of the Press and its ever willing blind eye. He would be his own man, if he remains true to form (as I expect him to). He would always be Pro-Life, and would make all of his decisions based upon his Catholic mind, his Christian moral philosophy. I am not member of any political party, and do not vote on a partisan basis (even though I cannot ever find any Democrats to vote for- which is their fault, not mine). But, I cannot refrain from endorsing this man; I wish I could move to Illinois long enough to vote for him myself. He is through and through a man of principle and conscience.-- Robert Hart
I share Fr. Hart's frustration about the choices of pro-life candidates.


11:17 AM


Wednesday, August 11

FROM THE INBOX 11 AUGUST 2004:

Just three items today, partly because I’ve quoted enough from some of the items I got today to give them their own entry.

— Steve Breitenbach sends the link to The Media's Fear of God — Bush, Jesus, and PBS by Chris Weinkopf from the latest issue of The American Enterprise.

— Ignatius Press sent a press release announcing a new “content-oriented” website called IgnatiusInsight.com and a new blogsite, Insight Scoop. The new site is edited by Carl Olson, whose has recently written The DaVinci Hoax and written for us as well.

— Dan Knauss of The New Pantagruel writes in response to my note in yesterday’s “From the Inbox” that the site didn’t identify the authors of the two articles I recommended to say that they were working out some kinks in their redesigned website and that:

Contributors who are on the regular staff are listed on the masthead . . . but their individual author links on the front page are not working properly right now. Their links should point to the “about” page/masthead which can also be reached by clicking the “about” button at the top of every page.
He sends the writer’s biographies:
Eric Miller directs the Humanities program at Geneva College. His Ph.D. is in American history. He is currently at work on a biography of the American social critic and historian Christopher Lasch. His essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines, including The Cresset, Mars Hill Review, Christianity Today, Books & Culture, First Things, and Re:generation Quarterly. He, his wife Denise, and their three sons live in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

Jack Heller is Assistant Professor of English at Huntington College. In addition to numerous review articles, he is the author of Penitent Brothellers: Grace, Sexuality, and Genre in Thomas Middleton’s City Comedies.


11:09 AM


STARK ON DARWIN, DYSON ON THE UNIVERSE:

Steve Breitenbach sends the links to an interesting article from the latest issue of American Enterprise: Fact, Fable, and Darwin by the sociologist Rodney Stark.

Stark begins his article:

I write as neither a creationist nor a Darwinist, but as one who knows what is probably the most disreputable scientific secret of the past century: There is no plausible scientific theory of the origin of species! Darwin himself was not sure he had produced one, and for many decades every competent evolutionary biologist has known that he did not. Although the experts have kept quiet when true believers have sworn in court and before legislative bodies that Darwin’s theory is proven beyond any possible doubt, that’s not what reputable biologists, including committed Darwinians, have been saying to one another.

Without question, Charles Darwin would be among the most prominent biologists in history even if he hadn’t written The Origin of Species in 1859. But he would not have been deified in the campaign to “enlighten” humanity. The battle over evolution is not an example of how heroic scientists have withstood the relentless persecution of religious fanatics. Rather, from the very start it primarily has been an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science.
Stark is not, I should note, a Christian. Readers may enjoy the interview with him we ran a few years ago: A Double-Take on Early Christianity.

An interesting interview with the physicist Freeman Dyson appears at the end of Stark’s article. In it Dyson says:
For apes to come out of the trees, and change in the direction of being able to write down Maxwell’s equations, I don’t think you can explain that by natural selection at all. It’s just a miracle.
I would point interested readers to our last issue, which is dedicated to this very subject: Darwin's Last Stand?. We still have a few copies left but the supply is running low. Gratifyingly.


11:05 AM


THE REAL OLYMPIANS’ GLORY:

A very interesting article: What Olympic Ideal? by Daniel Mendelsohn, who teaches classics at Princeton. Noting that this year’s Olympics have two cute little mascots, Athena and Phevos ( = Phoebus = Apollo), he writes that their

demotion from august divinities to harmless cartoons is, if anything, emblematic of the way in which our Games differ from those of the ancient Greeks. This is nowhere more true than in the very engine of the Games: the idea of competition itself. Strangers to Biblical notions of selflessness and neighbor-loving, the Greeks experienced their quadrennial festivals of raw and often vicious competitiveness utterly free of the vague sense of guilt that we feel today when it comes to expressing the primitive desire to utterly crush an opponent — a guilt that expresses itself in precisely the kind of kitsch sentimentality that is, perhaps, the only thing Athena and Phevos really represent.
The Greeks competed the way they did because they understood this world and the next the way they did:

Part of the reason the ancient Games were so uncompromising and often violent has to do with what was at stake. The Greeks, for the most part, had no heaven; with some notable exceptions, good and bad all went to the same gray, characterless, drizzly underworld after death, and that was that. In the absence of a post-mortem reward for moral goodness, the one thing you could strive for was immortal fame — doing something so glorious that men would talk of you in years, centuries, millenniums to come. . . .

It is difficult for us today to conceive of the extent to which a ferocious competitiveness fueled so much of Greek culture, virtually no aspect of which was not somehow organized into a competition; for the inhabitants of a city-state like Athens, civic life was an endless stream of athletic contests, poetry contests, drama contests, beauty contests. For the Greeks, whatever was worth doing was worth competing for — and winning at. . . . [T]he desperate rawness of the battlefield — and its stark, all-or-nothing logic — was never very far beneath the surface.
The article provides another reminder of how different a world we live in because we live in a Christianized world, despite its decadence (the abortion rate and the success of the pornographers, for example). Most secularists would not want to be pagans, and indeed most neo-pagans dancing naked under the moon would not want to be real pagans living in a Greek city of the fifth century B.C. That man hanging on a cross outside Jerusalem changed everything.

I’m a bit distressed to find the Times using “millenniums,” by the way.


11:04 AM


LUTHERAN SITES:

A reader just wrote with a response to the request I made a week or so ago for websites and blogsites dealing with individual denominations, as I knew about several good Anglican sites but not about good Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist sites. He recommends these Lutheran sites.

Pastors:

Joel Brondos: fairly slow at posting, mostly long excerpts from Lutheran classics — food for thought.
Paul McCain: seems to be down now, generally fairly slow at posting, similar to Pastor Brondos.

Layfolks:

Bunnie Diehl: opinionated, sharp, lots of discussion, ardent foe of contemporary worship.
Here We Stand: group blogging by new Lutherans from Reformed backgrounds.
John H: Great blog by an English Lutheran (you didn’t know they exist, huh?).

Discussion forum:

Absolutely unique: This is the place where the hardest of the hard core confessional Lutherans get together to plot taking over the liberal Lutheran denomination — and that means the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod. Not quite my cup of tea, but definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in intra-Lutheran politics.
I would be grateful if readers could suggest similar Presbyterian and Methodist sites and other Lutheran sites as well. Use the button at the top of the column to the left to write me.

Which reminds me, another reader writes to say of one of the Anglican sites I’d listed:

Kendall Harmon’s site is linked to incorrectly on your Mere Comments page, I just noticed. It should be titusonenine.classicalanglican.net. I would feel bad, but it was from his site that I copied the link.


11:02 AM


Tuesday, August 10

WRITING FOR THE COMPUTER:

From the editors of The Washington Post, Making the Grade on the grading by computer of the essay written for the GMAT, the graduate business school's exam of choice. It was developed by the Educational Testing Service, who naturally enough defend it. One rolls one's eyes.


3:35 PM


MORE FROM THE INBOX AUGUST 10 2004:

Something else from today's inbox, Paul Elie's In Search of a Pope from The Atlantic. It's only available to subscribers, but worth looking up for those of you who subscribe to The Atlantic and are interested in the subject. The writer argues that those who read papal elections as merely political events misunderstand the real religious convictions by which the candidates and those who will vote for them live.


3:35 PM


EDWARDS' EXPANSIVE LOGIC:

Randy Estes sends a link to First Lady Bashes Kerry Stem Cell Stance, which includes John Edwards saying:

"If we have a chance to make progress and cure diseases; if we have new medical breakthroughs that could improve millions of lives — then what's stopping us?"
Estes comments: "Hard to argue with the good Senator with logic like that, isn't it. Perhaps once a cure is developed we can experiment on old folks in nursing homes. After all, what could possibly stop us?"

The story also includes a quote showing why some of us are less than happy with the Bush administration in this matter:
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson also defended Bush's policy, saying the administration "opened the doors for the first time to federal taxpayer funding for human embryonic stem cell research." Clinton's policy would have paid for research using stem cell lines created at any time.


12:18 PM


FROM THE INBOX AUGUST 10 2004:

— A press release from Science & Theology News offering a free six-issue trial subscription. According to the release,

In each issue of STNews, leading science and theology groups report about the activities of their organizations, prominent thinkers share their ideas in interviews, and respected scholars review the latest books on the market. STNews also publishes the most accurate and complete calendar of events and conferences in the field. Founded in 2000 as "Research News and Opportunities in Science & Theology" and funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, STNews has a circulation of over 30,000 and an audience of both national and international readers....

To take advantage of the free trial, use our online form or call 1-866-233-2306 (mention code V42240). To access this month's issue of STNews or to sign up for our new e-newsletter, visit our Web site.
— A discussion of social taboos and their application to Israel from the Jewish World Report, which some of you may find of interest: When breaking a taboo means guaranteed self-destruction by Brett Stephens. By posting the link, I hasten to say, I imply no favor to either side in the dispute.

— Mark Steyn, entertaining as always, on Nuanced? Kerry's story just doesn't add up. After discussing Kerry’s revision of his Viet Nam experiences, Steyn writes:
If Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand or any of his other Hollywood supporters got a script like that, they'd send it to rewrite. Either that or they'd figure they'd got an early, rejected draft of the new Manchurian Candidate.

That's what people mean when they talk about how "complex" and "nuanced" Kerry is. They don't mean his positions on the great questions of the day are complex and nuanced.

Quite the contrary: for the purposes of this campaign, his entire political career — 20 years as Senator, Lieutenant-Governor to Michael Dukakis – has been dropped from his CV. If Kerry had exhibited the slightest trace of any interestingly complex view of any policy matter, you can be sure we'd have heard about it. But he hasn't.

So the only "complex" aspect of the Kerry campaign is the man himself, who's complex in ways that don't seem entirely healthy.
— An interesting article from The New Pantagruel: Realism Against Reality by Eric Miller (the article doesn’t identify him). He attacks “realists” (unnamed, which makes it a little hard to judge how accurate is his summary) who say in response to those who name our society’s “mortal sins”:
“Ah,” sighs the Christian realist, “there you go again—failing to affirm the good that we’ve achieved, and expecting too much from a race that is, after all, corrupt. The evil that you see now isn’t such a departure from what we have always been. And the good that you refuse to see is worth more than you know. Behold the wheat; behold the tares: they go together. Besides, would you really choose to live at any other time?”
Miller responds by asking:
What is wrong with this “realism”? It is, most fundamentally, an offense against reality: the reality of our true creaturely ends. In its Christian guise, it denies not that we are made to live in distinct, particular ways, but rather it denies the belief that we can, and should, seek to inhabit them. Its way of honoring the ideal — by placing it far into our past or far into our future —actually removes the ideal from our grasp. If the true task of “civilization” is to guide our corporate life toward the ways in which we as a race were meant to live, “realism” blinds us to those ends by constantly reminding us of what we are not; the effect is to make us aim lower, and lower, and lower, until transcending our current circumstance becomes a mere act of fantasy— if it remains an activity at all.
— Another interesting article from the same source: Christian College Professor Flunks Christian Worldview Tests by Jack Heller (also unidentified). The tests are easy targets — as Miller points out, “both worldview tests is that their makers confuse having a Christian worldview with their own ideologically biased interpretations of American history or political science” — but the article is enjoyable anyway.


12:12 PM


Monday, August 9

FROM THE INBOX 9 AUGUST 2004:

— Ralph Grabowski kindly sends the revealing story, Solar system may be one of a kind. It begins:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Our solar system may be unique after all, despite the discovery of at least 120 other systems with planets, astronomers said on Wednesday.

All the other solar systems that have been found have big, gassy planets circling too close to their stars to allow them to be anything like Earth or its fellow planets, the British and U.S.-based researchers said.

If that is the case, Earth-like planets will be very rare, the astronomers write in the latest issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Mr. Grabowski remarked, “If only Carl Sagan were still alive.”

Multi-culturalizing anti-Semitism: The ADL's fanaticism for fitting in by Julia Gorin.

— And from the Daily Telegraph, The atheist sloth ethic, or why Europeans don't believe in work by Niall Ferguson. (The site requires registration.)

— A useful article from Forbes: Doctors Tend to Ignore Living Wills. It reports:
When given hypothetical situations involving imaginary patients with living wills, nearly two-thirds of 117 doctors surveyed said they wouldn't follow the orders. They were most likely to diverge from the documents when confronted with family members with differing views, or if there were hopeful prognoses for the patients.
My thanks to the weekly digest of the the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity for the link.

— A review from the English Catholic magazine The Tablet of The Turks Today by Andrew Mango. Turkey,
Socially and economically, . . . is still some way behind western Europe but the gap is closing. According to Andrew Mango, the doyen of Turkish studies, Turkey may well achieve the average income levels of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) by the middle of the twenty-first century. If so, it will be an economic giant by European standards. With somewhere between 12 and 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul is already Europe’s largest city. Turkish industry has been competing on equal terms in European Union markets for nearly a decade and Turkey is already the sixth largest external trading partner of the European Union and Britain’s main trading partner in the arc of countries through southern Europe and the Arab Middle East to the Maghrib.
— An interesting essay from The Tablet (which is not to say I agree with all of it) on Feminism, Vatican-style responding to the Vatican’s recent letter on women, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


12:15 PM




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