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April 2011 Archives

April 1, 2011

English exceptionalism

In a previous entry thread, which unfortunately has gone in other directions since then, commentator Jeff Singer raises the interesting possibility that the key to the difference between American and French notions of democracy is religion. As Jeff says:

The French Revolution turned nasty quickly against the Church and against religion in general -- unmoored from faith the democratic mob was dangerous in France. In America a deeply pious people seemed to make better choices when in came time to choose our leaders and vote on legislation.

It is undeniably true that the French revolution was deeply and virulently anti-religious--hanging the last king in the entrails of the last priest, or vice versa, and all of that. The American revolution, whether or not there were deists among the founders, was not virulently anti-religious. That's got to be significant.

But another thing to be tossed into the mix is the British background of the American colonies and the long, long history of representative government in England. For the English, the idea of a House of Commons was old hat. The idea that Parliament should reign and the monarch be more or less a figurehead--whether one is a Tory and hates it or a Whig and lauds it--was not just an idea but a fait accompli in England by the late 18th century. Some hint of that figurehead role could be discerned when the last king to refuse to be a figurehead--Charles I--lost his head. And in 1714, when Parliament rejected the last of the Stuarts and brought in, all on its own recognizance and regardless of any ordinary laws of succession, the House of Hanover, the rule of the representatives rather than the monarch was a done deal. It would have been something of a joke to portray the Georges as devouring their people, with or without the collusion of the priests, and the American revolutionaries were able to make a villain out of George III only because, with the cooperation of Parliament, he was taxing the colonists and disfavoring them in trade to an extent they considered insupportable.

Again, one may hate all of this or love it, but in my opinion it had something to do with the fact that there was never a reign of terror in England and never any thought of one in America. Say what you will for those bourgeois merchants; at least they usually have little taste for mass murder.

And here I would like to say a word for the Father of the House of Commons, Simon de Montfort. De Montfort insisted on the notions of rule of law as applied to the barons in Magna Carta (under which both John Lackland and Henry III chafed), but he also inaugurated the idea of borough representatives in Parliament.

Men die, but their ideas live on. De Montfort was defeated by the young military genius, Prince Edward, at Evesham, and killed by Edward's forces on the field. Edward hated de Montfort and all his house and carried on that hatred to the next generation. But when Prince Edward became Edward I (ruthless conqueror of Wales and would-be conqueror of Scotland), he called a Parliament like the one de Montfort had conceived. It is known as the Model Parliament.

Such are the oddities of history.

Speaking for myself, I think there's a lot to be said for a representative form of government so old-established that it makes guillotines look pointless and silly.

On obtaining two more apologetics talks

I have already posted information about how readers can listen (here) to a talk by my husband, Tim McGrew, on undesigned coincidences in the Gospels. That talk was given at First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA (New Orleans area) in January.

I'm now happy to post information on how you can get the two talks Tim gave that week at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. They are called "Beyond Minimal Facts, Part I: External Evidences" and "Beyond Minimal Facts, Part II: Internal Evidences." Some of the material in the internal evidences talk overlaps with some of the material in the church talk on undesigned coincidences, but there is plenty that doesn't overlap, too.

The audio DVD containing these talks contains a huge amount of audio of other sessions at this year's Defend the Faith Conference at NOBTS--about seventy hours, I'm told, from many speakers. NOBTS is willing to send copies on an individual basis to those who write and send a check with a request.

If you wish to receive a copy of the MP3 audio DVD disc of the 2011 Defend the Faith Conference, please send a letter requesting the disc along with a check for $15 ($10 for the disc, $5 for S&H).

The address is:

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Attn: Institute for Christian Apologetics
3939 Gentilly Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70126

Please make checks out to "Institute for Christian Apologetics" in the amount of $15. Also, please indicate that this is an order for the "2011 Defend the Faith Conference." NOBTS would also like me to convey thanks for your interest in the conference and for supporting the ministry of the Institute of Christian Apologetics through your purchase.

To find Tim's talks on the DVD, go to "Plenary Sessions." His are the first two mp3's under that category. As of now the audio of the two talks is switched on the disc, of which we have a copy. That is to say, right now each of the actual talks is correlated with the title of the other talk. This isn't a big deal, though, and it might be fixed on the master before more copies are burned.

Enjoy.

April 5, 2011

Choice devours itself--George DeLury and the plastic bag

Some of you may have heard something about the case of George DeLury and how he "assisted" the "suicide" of his wife, Myrna Lebov, back in 1995. DeLury eventually got away with a plea bargain to attempted manslaughter and spent only a few months in jail. He was the darling of the assisted suicide movement. Then came the rest of the story, which Wesley J. Smith tells better than I could: How DeLury was furious whenever his wife was happy, how he relentlessly and angrily pressured her into agreeing to take the overdose he had saved up for her by underdosing her on her antidepressant medication, and how he wrote and then showed to her the following,

I have work to do, people to see, places to travel. But no one asks about my needs. I have fallen prey to the tyranny of a victim. You are sucking my life out of my [sic] like a vampire and nobody cares. In fact, it would appear that I am about to be cast in the role of villain because I no longer believe in you.

Husband of the year. Eventually, Myrna caved in and took the overdose.

What I only recently learned (though the information has been available all along) is that that wasn't enough for DeLury. Afraid that she wouldn't die, he put a plastic bag over her head and smothered her. But as this information did not come out until after the plea bargain had gone through, double jeopardy prevented his being charged with direct murder. In 2007, DeLury killed himself.

I have to wonder. What do people who defend Michael Bateman think of George DeLury? Bateman also killed his wife with a plastic bag, but as far as we presently know, she was actually willing to be killed. Lebov was ambivalent and was pressured into swallowing pills by DeLury, who then added the plastic bag for good measure. Do defenders of Bateman recognize the evil of the psychological abuse and eventual killing carried out by DeLury? I'm not saying that's a formally inconsistent position. I'm wondering at what point the alarm bells go off.

Related post.

April 6, 2011

Michigan judge upholds police overreach

Michigan Judge Michael J. Callahan, after (I have been told) a bare fifteen minutes of oral argument from each side, affirmed the conviction of Negeen Mayel (of the Acts 17 group arrested in Dearborn) for failure to obey an officer's order. This ought to be a somewhat surprising judicial decision, as there are extremely serious constitutional problems with Negeen's arrest and procedural problems with her trial. I discuss the Thomas More Law Center's legal brief on the case here. The appeal ought to have been a knock-down. A little googling on the judge turns up this story, which shows at least that Callahan has had a somewhat stormy relationship with laws he considers insufficiently liberal. Whether that's relevant to his casual decision in Negeen's case, or whether he is simply upholding whatever the police do on autopilot, I don't know.

The vexing thing is that, according to David Wood in the comments thread at Answering Muslims, it appears that Negeen cannot demand an appeal through to the Michigan Supreme Court (which might be more reasonable than Judge Callahan). I don't understand exactly how this works, but apparently an appeal can be requested, and the request may be denied.

Meanwhile, Thomas More has a federal suit already filed against the Dearborn police & co. Good. This one obviously needs to be fought on multiple fronts.

Welcome, Tony M.

We at W4 are pleased to welcome a new contributor, Tony M. His author page with his bio. is here.

Tony is a long-time and much-valued commentator here at What's Wrong With the World. You can find many of his comments (interspersed with a few references to Tony Kennedy and Tony Blair) at this google search results page. I believe that on one occasion there was some ambiguity when another commentator named "Tony" briefly visited the site, but most of the results will take you to various useful contributions Tony has already made to the site. He has something thoughtful and insightful to say about a huge array of topics.

Here is his recent guest post on Barack Obama's refusal to defend the DOMA.

We look forward to reading his future posts. Welcome aboard, Tony.

April 8, 2011

The California Time Forgot

As an aficionado of random facts and figures, I was delighted to learn that our expansive five-county region in the upper Sacramento Valley holds only 1.4% of California’s population. (Human population, that is - I would expect the same five counties to represent maybe 45% of California’s livestock.) The cultural obscurity pleases me greatly. I recently blogged about a visit to the local feed store, in which the proprietor’s very young son came out from the back room, with a proud grin on his face, to show me the Daisy BB-gun his father had given him. It occurred to me on the way home that this utterly normal bit of small-town life would horrify nanny-state busybodies everywhere and, alas, was probably somehow illegal. Which pleased me all the more, of course.

Likewise, having lived for 20 years in Sacramento, I still marvel at the fact that Mel at the saw shop loans me his trailer whenever our riding mower needs service. I picked up the machine kind of late this afternoon. Mel told me to take the trailer home and come back at a convenient time after closing, locking it up behind the shop. It’s not like he knows me – he still has to ask my name every time I come in. The trailer is there for the convenience of his customers, free of charge. He’s well into his 70s and comes across as grouchy and gruff, but the man is as straight as an arrow. He doesn’t propose any more work than is really needed and charges much too little. Mel still doesn’t take credit or debit cards, either. Once a few years ago I had overpaid him by three or four dollars, and he called me and asked me what to do. He saved the change at the service desk until I came in a few days later.

I could go on and on. The drive-through coffee stands in town don’t take your money until they have given you what you ordered … and you might easily drive off without paying. The nursery leaves dozens of bags of compost outside by the sidewalk over night without any fear of theft. Other retailers leave their sandwich boards (you know, those A-shaped signs) outside over night without any fear of vandalism. I’ve had mechanics and technicians out to the ranch for some service work and they forget to send the bill. I rented our modular home to a man who, upon shaking hands when we came to terms, placed $400 in my hand and walked away without a lease. While having lunch at the coffee shop on Monday I greeted six people by name. The local printer stamps “In God We Trust” on its outgoing mail. Etc. We have our problems in this town – they’re not small - and sometimes I do feel like escaping back to civilization, but in truth we have a little slice of Mayberry that is worth holding on to.

Sometimes we get noticed in the big cities. San Francisco is two and a half hours to the south and, it seems, a whole world away. But on June 14, 2008, we actually made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle: "A Town Where It's Hard To Say 'Gay'". The woman in the photo pouring the coffee – Fran – is typical of many people around here. She doesn’t like the big city, and once told me that she never goes any further south than Dunnigan.

Appeasing Mohammedan Rage

That the Koran is a book worthy of mass extermination by means of fire cannot be credibly denied by any Christian who takes his faith seriously. I've defended the burning of books many times in the past, and have often made the point that Catholics have no business condemning the burning of books in principle (although specific cases might be condemned on prudential grounds). Indeed, the Church solemnly applauds the destruction of harmful books:

The Church has always taken action to destroy the plague of bad books. This was true even in apostolic times for we read that the apostles themselves burned a large number of books.[23] It may be enough to consult the laws of the fifth Council of the Lateran on this matter and the Constitution which Leo X published afterwards lest "that which has been discovered advantageous for the increase of the faith and the spread of useful arts be converted to the contrary use and work harm for the salvation of the faithful."[24] This also was of great concern to the fathers of Trent, who applied a remedy against this great evil by publishing that wholesome decree concerning the Index of books which contain false doctrine.[25] "We must fight valiantly," Clement XIII says in an encyclical letter about the banning of bad books, "as much as the matter itself demands and must exterminate the deadly poison of so many books; for never will the material for error be withdrawn, unless the criminal sources of depravity perish in flames."[26] Thus it is evident that this Holy See has always striven, throughout the ages, to condemn and to remove suspect and harmful books. The teaching of those who reject the censure of books as too heavy and onerous a burden causes immense harm to the Catholic people and to this See. They are even so depraved as to affirm that it is contrary to the principles of law, and they deny the Church the right to decree and to maintain it.

Continue reading "Appeasing Mohammedan Rage" »

April 10, 2011

Western secularism's bi-polar problem with the disabled

On the one hand, we have the Americans With Disabilities Act. This act puts into the hands of the federal government the determination of how much accommodation an employer (or other business entity) is required to make for a prospective or current employee (or customer) with a disability. It has led to such ridiculous things as a Supreme Court declaration on the essence of the game of golf.

On the other hand, we have the relentless and utterly ruthless pursuit of unborn children with Down Syndrome, the search-and-destroy mission in which the most important thing is that we not miss one, that we decrease the number of babies born with birth defects, which has about the same relation to "eliminating birth defects" that a can of Raid has to eliminating mosquito bites. And then there is all the end-of-life stuff, the message sent that no one should really be expected to live with a disability, and that if you want to have yourself killed, we'll quite understand. As the popularity of Canadian Robert Latimer, who murdered his 12-year-old disabled daughter Tracy, shows, we may even understand if you are the murderous parent of a born disabled child.

I've puzzled about this for a long time. I think I'm finally beginning to figure it out. Some individual liberals may really be motivated in their support for all kinds of programs and accommodations for the disabled by love for the disabled (at least the born disabled, and the ones who don't at the moment want to die). But there is another motivation as well--the control-freak desire to disrupt business, to put the government into the minds of ordinary people and to tell them what their motives may and may not be, and to micromanage their practical, daily decisions. If the disabled can be used for this purpose, well and good. But when it comes right down to it, to matters of life and death, the disabled go to the wall. One wants to believe the best of people, and there's still a huge amount of rhetorical dissonance in all of this. But I think I'm beginning to figure it out.

April 12, 2011

Reprise: Are there any mere symbols?

I've been meaning to re-post this one for a long time. The post below originally appeared right here at What's Wrong With the World on November 29, 2007. The link to that original appearance with all the interesting comments that followed is here. After some debate I've decided simply to re-post the full text but without any links. One of the links (to an old post at the now-defunct Right Reason) no longer works, and the other is to a post here that includes a Youtube video that has been taken down. That's the allusion to "Kent's church." Suffice it to say, to explain the allusion in the post, that "Kent's church" does not appear to be very respectful of anything whatsoever.

It's been about 3 1/2 years, and we have some new readers since then who probably never saw this one. I hope they will give us some new and lively discussion of it.

Are there any mere symbols?

To begin with, I'm going to answer the question in the title. Yes, there are mere symbols. One can make up arbitrary symbols and use them to stand for trivial things. So in the grand scheme of things, there can be mere symbols.

But here's the more interesting question: When people think it is important to say, "Such-and-such is a mere symbol," are the symbols in those cases really "mere"? Herewith, a few examples.

A few weeks back, I got an e-mail from somebody about an old post I wrote at Right Reason that discussed, inter alia, cannibalism. My correspondent said that he doesn't think cannibalism is always wrong, because what we do or don't do with a person's dead body is only a symbolic matter. So, for example, cremation isn't intrinsically wrong but might be wrong if you meant to symbolize by it a disbelief in the resurrection of the dead. He gave as a further example a wedding ring. A wedding ring symbolizes your vow to your spouse, but that doesn't mean that there could never be odd or extreme circumstances in which it would be morally licit to take off your wedding ring and even to hide your marriage. That wouldn't have to mean that you didn't really love your spouse or weren't really committed to the marriage, because the ring is just a symbol.

Continue reading "Reprise: Are there any mere symbols?" »

April 13, 2011

'Something came up, out of the sea, swept through the land of the rich and the free'

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One hundred and fifty years the most momentous struggle in American history began, when Confederate Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard ordered the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. U. S. Major Robert Anderson, after a day and a half of shelling, surrendered and evacuated the fort.

Thus commenced a singular war which would shape American history like nothing else. Most who have studied the war have been instantly drawn in by its haunting power. Here is human history concentrated. Tragedy, heroism, honor, folly, fanaticism, rapacity, cruelty, greatness, heartbreak: the student will find all of it, in abundance, in the four year contest of will that began at Ft. Sumter one and half centuries ago.

What he will not find is a story that admits of easy summary or simple explication. The motives that drove men to wage this war are every year more obscure to the modern mind. The almost absurd picture of one general approaching his opponent under a flag of truce to request advice in the coming battle indicates our distance from the sense of honor that bound so many of these men. Even the basic attachment of patriotism, always essential to any estimation of the war’s import, is occluded by the nationalism that in time supplanted it: few of us today have any real contact with that passion of love and loyalty being fixed by one’s native state.

The America that was torn asunder by the Civil War is long gone. A rebellious section, fancying itself a new nation, failed to make good on its claim of independence by trial of arms. But the victorious North, too, would never be the same; and justice in law for the oppressed in the South would be postponed for another century. Of the men who fought this war, from the private soldier to the general officer, prosopography concerning them forms a considerable part of our literature. Well it should.

I have been most impressed with The New York Times’ blog Disunion, which draws on “contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.” I invite readers to include in the comments their own recommendations for readings on the Civil War.

What the...???

Surfing on by Auster's blog for my daily visit, I came across these three interesting posts about an appalling black-male-on-white-female murder case - the sort of story where Auster excels, if only because nobody else will touch it.

But in that third post, things took a couple of bizarre twists:

Continue reading "What the...???" »

April 15, 2011

The Other Myth of Neutrality

Anyone who reads W4 knows that I instinctively chamber a round when I hear, read, or smell anything like postmodernism. For that very reason I've always been a rampaging opponent of claims like, "Neutrality is impossible" or "Neutrality is a myth," particularly when applied to epistemological issues. "Neutrality in science is impossible," for example, is wimpish relativistic rhetoric, a counsel of despair, and would, if taken seriously, destroy science. When scientists do not even try to be objective, we get nothing but propaganda. And that's not good.

I've come to think, though, that some people (the ones who really aren't postmodernists) make such statements or agree with such statements because they are thinking about the education of the young. The reasoning goes something like this: "If you're teaching children about all kinds of subjects, including history and science, you're going to make evaluations that are going to be influenced by moral considerations and sometimes metaphysical and religious considerations. It would be artificial to refuse to answer Johnny's question about whether someone in history was good or bad because you wanted to be 'neutral'. Educating children involves imparting a unified view of the world, including matters of evaluation and commitment. Therefore it is ridiculous to think that you can just neutrally teach some subject."

If that's what people mean or what people are thinking, locutions like, "History is not neutral" or "Science is not neutral" are pretty confusing ways of expressing that thought.

So I propose that we ditch, reject, and fight the idea that neutrality in knowing facts is impossible. Neutrality in knowing facts is not only possible but desirable--a goal to be aimed for, not an impossibility to be despaired of. Instead, I suggest that we talk about the other "myth of neutrality," which is a myth of neutrality regarding the education of the young.

Continue reading "The Other Myth of Neutrality" »

April 17, 2011

TCR

The newest issue of The Christendom Review is now up. There are poetry, fiction, essays, art, and even music. Yes, really - look for the embed under Signs of Grace, which tells the story, mostly in his own words, of Christian musician Bob Ayanian, a once tenured professor of economics and now a "truebador" for Jesus. In the essay section, W4 readers might be particularly interested in Lydia McGrew's investigation into the case of Julea Ward and whether it portends a gradual purging of the Christian conscience from the professional classes. There are two essays by Jeff Trippe, one concerning the use of T.H. White's Once and Future King in the high school grades, and the other about what he "learned by teaching Hamlet." And then there is editor Rick Barnett's affectionate remembrance of his spiritual mentor, Darius Luchesne, a man of great talent who died too young, and whose remarkable drawings of prominent literary and religious figures follow in the Visual Arts section. Enjoy, as they say.

Thanks, as always, to the indefatigable Todd McKimmey, who has never met a cyber conundrum he couldn't conquer.

April 19, 2011

FYI: Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care aren't just for old people anymore

This is not really an opinion post on a highly controversial matter. (I know, wonders will never cease.) But it is an FYI that I think my readers will be especially interested in. Apparently some health care providers are interpreting HIPAA to mean that even parents cannot have information--and therefore will not be able to make informed decisions--about the care of their young adult children who have been injured.

The irony here is that this will mean that the medical facility will simply be free to make whatever decisions it wants about the patient's care without the input of any family member. And the people in the medical facility have no special knowledge of the patient's wishes. This is protection of privacy? I'm not even alleging some sort of deliberate scheme. I think it may be an accident of bureaucracy together with extra-hyper legal worries. But it's bad, either way. According to this piece by Rita Marker (also linked above), even spouses can be cut out of the decision-making process.

The way to insure that this doesn't happen is to sign a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, designating someone to make your decisions when you can't do so yourself, and preferably also a backup in case the first person can't be reached. Suggest to your children eighteen or older that they do so as well. A DPA document does not have to contain any details about treatment preferences. It is not a living will. Some DPA forms have a blank space where the person can indicate his treatment preferences, but it's actually more important to have a substitute decision-maker you trust than to try to spell out every possible hypothetical scenario.

April 20, 2011

Andres Serrano, Martyr

"Attack on 'blasphemous' art work fires debate on role of religion in France"

First reaction: well, it's about time somebody gave that thoroughly undistinguished piece of ideological schlock the trashing it so richly deserves. Too bad they didn't make a better job of it. (As I understand it, "Piss Christ" was far from "destroyed" in the attack - just slightly damaged.)

Second reaction: oh, crap. The all-but-forgotten Andres Serrano has now been granted another fifteen minutes of fame. And the remains of "Piss Christ" will probably soar, in cash value, far beyond the undamaged original. (I mean, it's not like anybody cares what the thing actually looks like - this is conceptual, not visual "art" - and the attack way ups the conceptual ante, here.)

Sigh.

Third reaction: maybe the attackers can argue that their attack was, itself, a piece of performance art...

Hat tip to Paul, for e-mailing the article.

The age of revolution



Below is a pair of letters between Tocqueville and a political opponent, Victor Prosper Considerant, a utopian Socialist in the tradition of Charles Fourier.

Tocqueville was briefly Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Second French Republic under President Louis Napoleon, during which time these pre-Marxist Socialists, incensed by a military expedition in Italy authorized in secret (before Tocqueville joined the Ministry), attempted an insurrection.

Talk about tumultuous times. Tocqueville, a moderate prepared to serve under constitutional monarchy or republic, had already been elected to the French Assembly after the Orleans monarchy had been overthrown in 1848. This infant Republic had been menaced immediately by proletarian agitation that promised (and on a small-scale delivered) radical social upheaval. The assault on the institution of property united most of France against the Parisian workers, and the latter were defeated. But Socialism was just beginning its rise. As a movement to inspire men, its future was bright in a rapidly industrializing world.

A year later, now in the Cabinet as Foreign Minister, Tocqueville was faced with a new threat of political violence directed toward half-baked utopian schemes. His position was discomfited by folly of the Government he had only just signed on to, which had blundered into the Rome expedition under the pressure of domestic turmoil.

In his Recollections he writes that “It would be difficult to imagine a more critical moment in which to assume the direction of affairs. The Constituent Assembly, before ending its turbulent existence, had passed a resolution, on the 7th of June 1849, prohibiting the Government from attacking Rome. The first thing I learnt on entering the Cabinet was that the order to attack Rome had been sent to the army three days before. This flagrant disobedience of the injunctions of a sovereign Assembly, this war undertaken against a people in revolution, because of its revolution, and in defiance of the terms of the Constitution which commanded us to respect all foreign nationalities, made inevitable and brought nearer the conflict which we dreaded.”

To sit in a representative assembly, as a Cabinet minister in a Republic on the verge of flying to pieces, must have been an extraordinary experience. “The members arrived from every side, attracted less by the messages despatched to them, which most of them had not even received, than by the rumours prevalent in the town. The sitting was opened at two o'clock. The benches of the majority were well filled, but the top of the Mountain [the radicals] was deserted. The gloomy silence which reigned in this part of the House was more alarming than the shouts which came from that quarter as a rule. It was a proof that discussion had ceased, and that the civil war was about to commence.”

Presently the Assembly declared Paris in a state of siege. Martial law governed until the insurrection was put down. In these and subsequent events, Karl Marx would perceive great portents of the future; and pondering these he would coin one of his most famous sentences — the one about farce reprising tragedy in the course of historical events.

It was a formidable time to draw breath under heaven. Europe was in a state of peculiar flux. These were the formative years of revolutionary politics. The ancien regime was no more, but fallen kings and princes stood all about the peripheries of republican power, ready when the opportunity presented itself to take up the instruments of new modern totalizing nation-state. There would never again be mediaeval monarchs ruling by divine right; but there would be autocrats in abundance, ruling by right of lex talionis. Louis Napoleon would soon stage a coup and make himself emperor. Industry and political agitation were making new classes — the working classes at once debased and enthralled by the material benefits of industrial capitalism — first self-aware and then organized. Tocqueville would live to see only the earliest presages of these movements, which in time would shake the earth and form a considerable part of the story of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The letters below offer a very small but intriguing window into this remarkable age. We see the remnants of aristocratic duty, in the social bonds maintained between these men even through bitter political acrimony. We see the shocking rancor of the political quarrels: veiled threats even in personal correspondence, ready reference to political violence: all somewhat softened by a beguiling tradition of rhetoric. We see, in a word, one world dying and another being born.

Continue reading "The age of revolution" »

April 21, 2011

We call this Friday good

Head%20of%20Christ%20with%20Crown%20of%20thorns.png

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

T.S. Eliot, "East Coker"

April 22, 2011

Stabat Mater

Bad precedents make bad law--especially in Dearborn

This is a very, very disturbing precedent. Terry Jones wants to protest--without burning a Koran--in Dearborn, Michigan, on a median strip that happens to be near a mosque. He and his fellow protesters plan to hold signs and give speeches. Dearborn officials denied them a permit to do so and are demanding that they pay a bond (originally a large one, later downgraded to a symbolic one) or face a trial for refusal to do so, because they think the protest might "breach the peace." By this, however, they mean that they are afraid of a riot against the protest. Dearborn officials are telling Jones that he must demonstrate only within "free speech zones" in the city that are not near a mosque.

This is hugely problematic. Though I don't have time to research it right now, I have a strong impression that there is already a Supreme Court precedent on the books to the effect that local official may not demand that people marching or otherwise engaging in normally First Amendment-protected speech pay for extra police protection, because this in effect chills their exercise of their First Amendment rights. (If some reader wants to find that precedent and link it, I'll appreciate it.)

And the attempt to establish "free speech zones" in an American city and to forbid Muslim-offending speech outside of those zones more or less defines "chutzpah."

Jones was arrested late this afternoon for refusing to post a symbolic "peace bond" in anticipation of his protest while continuing to intend to hold the protest. They let him back out again fairly rapidly, which is more than they did for the Dearborn Four. Whether he was able to carry out his anti-Muslim protest I don't yet know. Is this still America?

April 24, 2011

He is risen!

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Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas

Wishing a glorious and blessed Feast of the Resurrection to our readers at What's Wrong With the World.

Feel free to respond to this simply as a "happy Easter" post. Those interested in a little bit more of a content tidbit may look below the fold. (And thanks to Steve Burton who drew my attention last Easter to the Caravaggio painting.)

Continue reading "He is risen!" »

April 26, 2011

Don't pay for a writing class at a secular university

Just don't.

While I am working on a longer post on an entirely different subject, I give you this very, very depressing article on what college writing teachers are all about these days. Talk about educational malpractice. (Link HT VFR)

Not that long ago I was arguing in the course of a thread here at this site that leftists have deliberately destroyed the American academy and that a little huntin' shootin' right-wing anti-intellectualism (or "anti-intellectualism") is nothing, really, nothing, in comparison to the horrific, disgusting, deliberate destruction wrought by leftists on the study--even the possibility of the study--of the good, the true, and the beautiful in higher education. And it isn't getting any better. I instanced this article that recently came out in Intercollegiate Review. The article linked above shows that, if anything, things are getting worse rather than better.

A couple of options: Most colleges will accept English composition AP credit. I have a student who has received that credit. The English comp. AP test is kind of weird and silly in places, but not nearly as crazed as the secular writing classes must be. Get a couple of good preparation books, have your good student work hard on them in the semester or year leading up to the test, and it should be okay--a three is usually enough for credit.

Another option (I'm sure one of our readers won't mind my mentioning): I hear that this small Christian liberal arts college offers distance-learning English composition courses. Home schoolers are welcome, and double-enrolled high school/college students get a great discount. I have an inkling that these are normal writing classes sans insanity.

April 27, 2011

It even happens when Muslims aren't around

I have just learned of a very disturbing video of an incident that took place in Hemet, California, in February.

The full story is here.

Several things are notable: First, the charge against them was "impeding an open business." However, according to the policeman's pretty obviously ad libbed rationale for arresting Mark, the first man, the reason for the arrest was that the audience was "captive"--meaning that they were waiting in line for the DMV to open. By this reasoning, the arrest would not have been made had the DMV actually been open and had there been no line! So Mark was arrested for "impeding an open business" because he was reading to people outside the business when the business was not open. Second, of course, no one was "impeding" a business at all, so the charge was completely frivolous. Third, the other two men were arrested on the same charge when they had done absolutely nothing but accompany the first man and, of course, have the chutzpah to ask the policeman what law Mark had broken by reading the Bible aloud to the crowd at the DMV. This was about as obvious a harassment arrest as it's possible to get. Finally, it seems to me a little ominous that the policeman, who is acting like a complete jerk, starts by telling Mark that he can preach on his private property and even repeats this before finding it in his heart to say that he can preach on a "street corner." Well, yes, he can, can't he? Yet actually, the entire manner both of the security guard and of the policeman gives the impression that they think it pretty outrageous for someone to be preaching in public at all.

The story says that the prosecutor decided to drop the whole thing. Good for the prosecutor, and probably smart, as the charges were completely frivolous. And good for the pro bono group that has brought a suit for first amendment violations. Let's hope they do a good job.

Is it just me, or is there a distinct sense that people in America are starting to think that Christianity must be practiced only quietly, in private? Whether it's Muslims or secularists, there's a definite movement against those pesky fundamentalist types or (in the Dearborn case) missionary types who actually go out and engage people whom they don't previously know. Whether or not that's your style of Christianity, the trend should disturb you.

HT: Facebook friend Letitia Wong

Tim McGrew radio interview, Easter, 2011

On Sunday my husband Tim was interviewed on a New Jersey radio show called Evidence4Faith. He talked about the argument from undesigned coincidences, which he also discusses in talks I've mentioned here and here.

Click on podcasts at this link. If I can get a permalink to the particular podcast of his interview later, I will add it. Tim's interview begins just after the seven-minute mark and goes to about the fifty-one-minute mark.

As I was listening to Tim's examples, I was struck by all the reasons there might be for a real eyewitness not to fill out the explanation for a detail. Think for example how tedious it is to listen to someone who goes back to explain every little detail he mentions in a story. When Matthew (8:16) tells of Jesus healing many people who were brought to him one evening, it would be quite natural, if he were telling something that he really remembered, for him not to pause and explain, "Oh, the reason that it was evening is that this was the Sabbath, so the people couldn't come to him earlier in the day." He mentions that it was evening in passing, casually and naturally, as an eyewitness would do. On the other hand, were someone making up the story, there would be no point in forging the detail that the people were brought to Jesus at evening while leaving that detail hanging meaninglessly, unexplained.

Similarly, as John is telling the story about the feeding of the five thousand, it would be quite natural for him to say that Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread if he were really an eyewitness--that is, because he remembered that Jesus did ask Philip. (Tim talks about why it was Philip in the interview.) But John himself might have had to stop and think for a moment if someone had asked him, "Why did Jesus ask Philip rather than any of the other disciples?" Presumably when John told the story, he wasn't particularly thinking about some special reason for Jesus to select Philip for the question. But if someone were forging the story as fiction, he would have a reason for choosing to use a given disciple as a character at that point in his fictional narrative, and therefore he would be unlikely to choose that character without making the reason clearer to his readers.

All sorts of such things can happen when one is telling a true story, especially a story one has witnessed. One gets caught up in what one actually remembers and drops in incidental references to small facts, which facts are to some extent selected randomly by the memory as one brings the scene back to memory. This is typical of real memoirs but not of elaborate forgeries.

April 28, 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary CRB!

The Tenth Anniversary number of The Claremont Review of Books arrives propitiously for readers of What’s Wrong with the World. The auguries are with us this time. Not only have we a just tribute to the best journal of political philosophy and statesmanship in America; it is our true fortune to have, among many fine essays and reviews, a brilliant and challenging treatment of none other than Alexis de Tocqueville himself, by America’s best political philosopher, Harvey Mansfield of Harvard.

Professor Mansfield gives us a fascinating picture of the great Frenchman. Mansfield’s Tocqueville had a definite and positive teaching on religion in public life. Why it should be left a man who did not himself believe, or at least who struggled profoundly with agnostic indecision, to compose a theory of democracy that owed so much to the private action of religion on public mores, is an example of the caliber of question that Mansfield raises.

Private action: mark that distinction. Mischievous commenters here have of late adduced claims of Tocqueville secret allegiance to the ancien regime, which is how they interpret his steady caution about modern democracy’s capacity for justice; but certainly on this point only a really brassbound fool would insist on contrarianism, and present Tocqueville as pining for the old regime’s iron unity of church and state. He was fully persuaded by Americans on this point. Tocqueville privileged liberty, of conscience above all.

So Tocqueville embraced the modern liberal separation of church and state; but this by no means meant, for him, that religion was out of the game. Far from it. He reproached the Puritans for their theocracy; but he praised their remarkable capacity, in earthy practice, to give religion influence without coercion; in word, their capacity to inculcate voluntary civic virtue. As Mansfield puts it, “They not merely offered an idea but also were able to live it, transforming it into the mores of a social state that could be considered the ‘first cause’ of American democracy.”

So I cannot recommend Prof. Mansfield’s essay more enthusiastically. That I disagree with him on certain points does not detract of the overall impress of the argument. I should feel myself duped or misled for sure if I found myself agreeing with everything in one of these Straussians’ essays.

The rest of this CRB issues is similarly packed with quality writing, sharp analysis, rich review, grounded challenge. Sign up for this one now. Make sure they understand you want this double issue.

Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, R.I.P.

madamenhu1.jpg

Madame Nhu, South Vietnam's unofficial "first lady" during the administration of Ngo Dinh Diem, passed into eternal life on Easter Sunday at age 87 -- just six days before the 36th anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30.

Tran LeXuan was born in the line of Vietnamese royalty, descended from the ninth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Her life would prove to be tragic in many respects. Raised a Buddhist, she converted to Christianity upon her marriage and remained a devout Catholic for the rest of her life. Strikingly beautiful, glamorous and intelligent, she had a tempestuous personality and blunt manner of expression. She became bitterly estranged from her parents for political reasons during the Diem years. Her husband was murdered along with President Diem by American-backed assassins in 1963. After this stinging betrayal, she spent her remaining years in exile in Italy and France, living in seclusion. Her oldest daughter died in an automobile accident in 1967. In 1986 her deranged brother was charged with murdering her elderly parents, with whom she had partially reconciled.

Madame Nhu was permitted to influence public policy in the Diem administration. According to this interesting biography, her reforms were not always well received:

She played a leading role in the moral reform President Diem instituted in South Vietnam, closing down brothels, opium dens and gambling houses. She was at the front of imposing what was known as the "campaign for public morality" on South Vietnam, which included the abolition of divorce, contraceptives and abortion. Nightclubs and ball rooms were also often targets. Even beauty pageants were halted as Madame Nhu believed they simply contributed to the objectification of women. This campaign of decency, while admirable, was met with a great deal of hostility by those who did not share Madame Nhu's view of ethics.

Here's some rare video footage of Madame Nhu speaking to students at Fordham University during the war: "Catholicism, Family, Fordham".

More photos and video below the break.

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April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding

Say this for the British. They are getting a very old (and long repudiated by most Britons) lecture in the Christian idea of marriage. A cutaway to Elton John and his lover in the midst of a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer about marriage being purposed toward “the increase of mankind” leaves something hanging in the air, as it were. A Pauline declaration about those children of increasing mankind being raised in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” cannot but make many viewers uncomfortable, if reflected upon. It clashes emphatically with the trivial pop-culture enthusiasms from the TV anchors.

The Anglican Church abandoned the first proposition 80 years ago; and Western Civilization has hurried to abandon to latter ever since; the revolt is now nearly complete, as witnessed by the lawless impudence of Western youth.

But even in great decline the old formalism of the English Monarchy has a power, and even a Christian power, which is very easy to underrate.

April 30, 2011

Citations from St. Paul--evidence for the early dating of the Gospels

Common wisdom (or perhaps I should say "wisdom") in the world of New Testament scholarship is that, if one is very conservative, one dates all the Gospels between A.D. 60 and 100. Not earlier. Up until then the only record of Jesus' teachings is said to have been an oral tradition, and when we Westerners hear "oral tradition," we usually assume that this means (which perhaps many NT scholars mean it to mean) "something a lot sketchier and more minimal than what we have in the texts of the Gospels."

Near-universal scholarly consensus--not merely among those who are "very conservative" scholars--is that the Apostle Paul died no later than A.D. 68 in the Neronian persecution of the Christians.

What does it say, then, about the common wisdom if we find the Apostle Paul making casual allusions to what certainly appear to be passages in the Gospels, and making those allusions as though he expects his readers to recognize them and accept them as authoritative?

It says that the common wisdom may well be wrong. It raises significantly the probability that at least a synoptic Gospel or Gospels containing the passages Paul alludes to were written significantly earlier than the common wisdom holds. Or at least that we need radically to beef up our notion of "oral tradition." Remember that whatever Paul was alluding to had to have had time to be disseminated to his readers, many of them far from Jerusalem. This is important. If he was alluding to documents, he was alluding to documents written sufficiently long before the date of his own writing that copies of them or accurate reports of them would have reached his readers already and that they would have accepted these copies or reports as true reports of the events of Jesus' life and teachings.

Herewith, a few examples of these Pauline allusions:

Continue reading "Citations from St. Paul--evidence for the early dating of the Gospels" »