Thursday, July 31, 2008

Just My Cup of Tea

Now, don't get me wrong. I admire Danielle Bean tremendously. And I think the new "Faith and Family Live!" website is a terrific idea.

But when I read this post, which features a link to an article titled 50 Ways to Boost Your Energy Without Caffeine, all I could think was--sure, you could do that. But why would you want to?

Of course, intellectually I know why. The reason this blog is "And Sometimes Tea" (well, aside from the literary reference to my favorite poet) instead of "And Sometimes Coffee" is that there's just no "sometimes" about coffee. It's always, or never, at least for me. I've now reached the point where it is possible for me to have a rare treat cuppa joe and then not need one the next day, but it took a long time for me to wean myself off the stuff to get to that point--so I'm careful about it.

But that's coffee. Tea is my friend.

Tea seems to have moods and circadian rhythms all its own. There's morning tea, rich and black, a cup full of wakefulness; there's afternoon tea, perhaps a green tea or a flavored variety with a little less caffeine and a little more meditativeness; there's herbal tea for cold winter nights, all the delicious warmth and none of the instant wake-up chemical that my brain likes so very much but definitely doesn't need in the minutes before midnight.

A slow morning, a drowsy afternoon, and I'm much more likely to think of a cup of tea than a nap (ha!) or desk-variety yoga. A few minutes with a cheap electric kettle and a pottery mug, and I can be on the road to alertness in no time.

I'm not saying that there aren't some times and places where one of the things on the list of fifty caffeine-alternatives might come in handy, and I know not everybody tolerates caffeine even in small quantities. But for the most part, if my eyes are drooping and my head nodding at 4 p.m., I'm not going to "examine my emotions" (number 3 on the list) or "look at my accomplishments" (number 50)--at least, not until after I've had a cup of tea.

Turning Back the Clock

It's bad enough that we Americans are facing the prospect of a serious recession, a continued hike in gas prices, and other reminders of the not-so-recent past. But now, apparently, the Democrats in Congress would like to resurrect another relic from that era: the Fairness Doctrine:
A bill to permanently ban the “Fairness Doctrine” – a dormant FCC rule that says broadcasters, mainly talk radio, must grant equal air time to opposing viewpoints – probably will not be voted on this year in Congress, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told on Wednesday.

Hoyer also joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in strongly suggesting that he would support reactivating the Fairness Doctrine, telling that he is interested in “ensuring the availability of fair and balanced information to the American public.” [...]

“There is a real concern about the monopoly of information and the skewering of information that the American public gets,” said Hoyer. “First, is to the monopoly.

“Obviously, if one group, or a large group, controls information and only allows one perspective to be presented, that’s not good for democracy. That is not good for the American public. That is, of course, what the Fairness Doctrine is directed at, and it can have great merit. But there are obviously complications involved in that as well,” he said.
Now, you can say what you like about right-wing talk radio--and I'm not really a fan of very much of it. But you can hardly say that it's a monopoly controlling all the information that the American people receive--to do so is to ignore the huge amount of information available to the American public through television news, newspapers, and this nifty little thing called the Internet.

The truth of the matter is that Democrats--and liberals in general--aren't all that good at providing the kind of insightful opinion/commentary programming that conservatives have tended to excel at. You could come up with all sorts of explanations as to why, but it's true--liberal attempts to create liberal counterparts to conservative talk radio have tended not to do very well. Now, it's fair to suppose that liberals will eventually find their niche in these formats--but it's not fair, "Fairness Doctrine" notwithstanding, to force conservative broadcasters to offer "equal time" to less compelling liberal voices in the interim.

The Fairness Doctrine is one of the many examples of liberals seeking to apply a government solution to something that isn't even a problem, let alone a dire situation needing immediate relief from the government. There are no laws preventing liberals from starting and hosting their own talk shows, and no unfair or discriminatory efforts to exclude them from doing so. But they have to play by the same rules as everybody else, and come up with something interesting, insightful, compelling, and unique to say--and then draw in enough listeners to start attracting advertisers, as well. If they can't do this, then nobody owes them a platform or a microphone--least of all one provided by government mandate.

Plain Dumb Fun

It's really nice to have Roger Ebert writing movie reviews on the Internet. I hardly ever got to see his reviews on TV, and would thus only see the one nice sentence he might say about some otherwise terrible flick, carefully carved out of context and plastered across the back of the DVD case.

I hardly ever go to the movies anymore. Let's face it, homeschooling moms--by the time we arrange for a babysitter, arrange for an easy dinner for the kids, arrange for the house to be clean enough that we're not embarrassed for the babysitter (in my world, always a family member) to come over (and by "arrange" I of course mean clean it personally) and arrange to have something clean and relatively non-frumpy to wear, the last thing we want to do is waste all that effort on a two-hour "date" that lacks the one thing we can't get enough of: conversation.

My husband enjoys going to the movies, though, and looks forward to my being less tentative about doing so more often at some point in the future. The handful of movies we have seen at theaters since the girls were born have been carefully selected for maximum entertainment (with one exception) value, and have nearly always lived up to the hype--since one of the things I will do is ask lots of people if the movie's worth seeing in the theater before I'll even consider it.

Since one of those movies was, indeed, one of the "Mummy" franchise, I really enjoyed reading Roger Ebert's review--his superb writing ability and keen insights made the review glitter with passages like this:

The emperor is a shape-shifter, able to turn himself into a three-headed, fire-breathing dragon, which coils, twists, turns and somehow avoids scorching himself. He speaks in a low bass rumble, just like Imhotep, the mummy in the two earlier pictures (whose name continues to remind me of an Egyptian house of pancakes). But moving the action from Egypt to China allows a whole new set of images to be brought into play, and the movie ends by winking at us that the next stop will be Peru.

Now why did I like this movie? It was just plain dumb fun, is why. It is absurd and preposterous, and proud of it. The heroes maintain their ability to think of banal cliches even in the most strenuous situations. Brendan Fraser continues to play Rick as if he is taking a ride at Universal Studios, but Mario Bello has real pluck as she uses a handgun against the hordes of terra-cotta warriors. The sacrifice of the sorceress in relinquishing not only her own immortality but that of her daughter permits love to bloom, although would you really want a bride who was 4,000 years old, even if she was going to die?

I think I've figured out why I'd so much rather rent movies than go see them in theaters, most of the time: the movies I like to see in the theater are "plain dumb fun," and alas, that's a dying genre.

I can, and do, watch serious films at home. My husband (should I start calling him "Mr. M." now, or will that be confusing?) is a movie enthusiast, and he'll rent everything from documentaries to blockbuster hits to little-known indie flicks. I'll admit that I've seen a lot more challenging, interesting, meaningful and relevant films because of him.

But as a character in one of my favorite mystery novels says, "I don't go to the theater to be crushed by gloom." Given how rarely Mr. M and I go out alone together, and given how rarely those evenings out include a movie, I want to be sure that the ticket price is going to include some entertainment, some laughs, and some plain dumb fun. I'm all for movies that have social themes and conscious-raising efforts and literary qualities and moving stories based on real life and documentary/docudramas and so forth--but for those, we have Netflix.

So maybe we'll go see the third "Mummy" offering on a big screen with plenty of surround-sound and the full impact of all the special effects--though if we do, I'll probably still be chuckling over Mr. Ebert's "pancake" joke on the way into the theater.

Starring: Obama and McCain

The McCain campaign has decided how they want to cast Barack Obama--as an inexperienced young man attempting to garner celebrity status in order to avoid having to address, with any substance, the issues of the day:

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters Obama's overseas swing was "much more something you would expect from someone releasing a new movie than running for president."

He said the Obama strategy was to develop a fan base "that allows him to get a lot of media attention and avoids him having to address the important issues of our time." [...]

"Like most celebrities, he reacts to fair criticism with a mix of fussiness and hysteria," spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "In the face of an energy crisis, Barack Obama's plans to raise taxes on energy and opposition to offshore drilling show that he fundamentally lacks judgment and experience, and is not ready to lead."

While I think these are fair points to make, I have to question the wisdom of this approach. When one lives in a glass house, after all...

I'm not saying John McCain can't afford to question Obama's lack of experience. But judgment is a different matter, and McCain is giving voters the opportunity to remember that his hasn't always been all that sound--and that he has a long track record of making decisions in opposition to the general will of the average Republican voter.

Further, sniping at Obama for his star quality seems a bit ill-advised in a campaign where McCain has already spent quite a bit of time making the late-night television rounds. Any notion that the presidential candidates ought to be dignified, elevated, mature statesmen ended when the first of them decided to show up on late night TV; the addition of weepy daytime women's fare to the candidates' schedule pretty well put an end to the idea that presidential candidates aren't really just a different kind of celebrity than the sort that adorns the tabloids.

If the McCain campaign is really worried that Obama's going to get the plum four-year star contract (with a renewal option, of course) while their man is going to end up hawking less than dignified products on commercials that run during those same late-night programs--well, it's not paranoia; it's precedent.

But it's not really Obama's celebrity approach that worries the McCain campaign--it's that the vast majority of the country's voters will see McCain as the likable but unimportant elderly character actor who rounds out the scenes, instead of the leading man.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Priestess Connection

Patrick Archbold at CMR is a genius. I'm just sayin'.

Here's my humble contribution:

The Priestess Connection (with apologies, sung to the tune of the Muppets' song, The Rainbow Connection)

Why are there so many
Stoles made of rainbows
And vestments that are tie-dyed?

Rainbows are symbols
Of womyn's confusion
And yet represent gay-pride

Get on the boat and wrap sheets all around you
Mu-mus and trinkets and sea
Someday they'll find it, the Priestess Connection
Athena and Isis and me.

Who said that only men
Could stand at the altar?
(God did. But we just don't care)

Somebody told us that
And some may believe it
We say it just isn't fair

We've gone as far as we can with star-gazing
Tarot cards, crystals, and tea
We want to find it, the Priestess Connection
Demeter and Freya and me...

(...all of us can cast a spell
Though mostly we're just comi-tragic...)

Have you dozed off at lunch
And heard mystic voices?
Calls to the priesthood for dames,

Was it the voice of fate
Or maybe the pizza?
Where can we place the blame?

I think Dan Brown is the one who began it
Or people who think God is "She"
Someday we'll find it, that Priestess Connection,
Minerva and Lilith and me..., excommunication...
la la la I cannot hear youuuuuu......!

Warning: Technology Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

Hard on the heels of last week's warnings about cell phones and cancer comes this new report from USA Today on the dangers of texting while doing just about anything:

Obama aide Valerie Jarrett fell off a Chicago curb several weeks ago while her thumbs were flying on her Blackberry.

"I didn't see the sidewalk and I twisted my ankle," Jarrett said. "It was a nice wake-up call for me to be a lot more careful in the future, because I clearly wasn't paying attention and I should have."

Jarrett got off easy and didn't need medical attention. [...]

Still, ER doctors who responded to a recent informal query from the organization reported two deaths, both in California. A San Francisco woman was killed by a pickup earlier this year when she stepped off a curb while texting, and a Bakersfield man was killed last year by a car while crossing the street and texting.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has no national estimate on how common texting-related injuries are. But among the reports it has received: A 15-year-old girl fell off her horse while texting, suffering head and back injuries, and a 13-year-old girl suffered belly, leg and arm burns after texting her boyfriend while cooking noodles.

Our kids are going to grow up among the most wired generation ever to set foot on the face of the earth--that is, if they can set foot without being distracted by the ringing of the cell phone, the beep of the pager or text message device, or the blare of music from the tiny portable music player resting in their pocket. And while some of these devices are helpful or nice to have in certain circumstances, too much time and attention focused on them can do more than cause stress--it can actually be dangerous.

Abortion and Division

I don't know if you saw this Seattle Post-Intelligencer piece from last week, about the role abortion plays in national politics. It's interesting, if only for the tone of extreme detachment it takes throughout:

That abortion has such resonance in American politics is remarkable on several levels: It's not an issue of top-tier importance to voters, and very few elections anywhere have been determined by it. It's the province of a small clique -- devout believers and political opportunists -- on both sides of the debate. [...]

"Abortion is only of concern to the ends of the ideological scale," says Susan Pinkus, the polling director for the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey.

It is striking that public attitudes about abortion have remained steady for three decades. A majority of Americans consider it a necessary evil, are uncomfortably pro-choice, and don't wish for abortions to be either difficult or easy to obtain. [...]

There are small groups of great conscience on both sides; those who believe life begins at conception and that, therefore, abortion is murder, and those who believe no one has a right to dictate to a woman what she may do with her own body.

More, however, use the issue as a fundraising or organizing device. Although the numbers are small, there is intensity that often provokes irrationality.

Some feminists are culpable, as are some of the conservative elements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America. There are few instances of a Catholic politician being denied communion on the basis of his views on war, hunger or capital punishment. Yet a bishop in Erie, Pennsylvania, once denied Ridge, a Vietnam War veteran and devoted public servant, the right to speak at Catholic-sponsored events solely because of his pro-choice views.

I realize that to people who don't care much about the abortion issue, abortion must seem unnecessarily divisive. I'm sure people who didn't care much one way or the other about the morality of slavery wondered what all the fuss was about, in the decade or so before the Civil War. But that doesn't change the fact that the toleration of an unjust or evil law creates an untenable position for a nation, and whether it is abortion itself or all the other evils that have followed in its wake, at some point the evil must be addressed.

Until then, the issue will remain divisive in a way that other issues of lesser moral gravity will not. And no amount of chiding editorials that try to equate a politician's support with abortion with his views on "war, hunger, or capital punishment" will change that fact.

We Did It Really Well

Did you see this over the weekend? It's pretty amazing to read candidate Barack Obama's assessment of his World Tour concert--er, campaign initiative.

First we have some criticism by John McCain:
McCain also sought to turn Obama's trip against him, suggesting it was a slight to U.S. voters.

"With all the breathless coverage from abroad, and with Senator Obama now addressing his speeches to 'the people of the world,' I'm starting to feel a little left out. Maybe you are too," the Arizona senator said in a Saturday radio address. [...]
And then Barack Obama strikes back:

Obama told the journalists McCain had visited Mexico, Colombia and Canada recently.

"I was puzzled by this notion that somehow what we were doing was in any way different from what Senator McCain or a lot of presidential candidates have done in the past. Now, I admit we did it really well," he said.

"But that shouldn't be a strike against me. You know, if I was bumbling and fumbling through this thing, I would have been criticized for that," he said.
Where to begin?

In the first place, sure, some presidential candidates have visited foreign countries. Few have done so overtly as part of a campaign, though, addressing campaign speeches to people who can't actually vote for one.

In the second place, do you notice that Obama seems to think he's being criticized mainly for doing well? How odd is that? And then the justification--well, if I'd done a bad job I'd be the target of critics, too.

Obama seems not to notice that the reason he's being criticized at all has nothing to do with how "well" or how "badly" he campaigned in foreign countries, but that he is being criticized because he campaigned in foreign countries! As I said earlier, the only reason a candidate could possibly justify spending an important week abroad is because he either believes, or wishes to create the illusion, that he's already won the domestic election, that nothing remains but the formality of the actual vote.

And that takes a certain amount of--I almost said "audacity," but I'm getting a little tired of that word. We'll call it "bravado," instead--the persistent attempt to reframe the narrative so that the voters of this country are swept up in the tide of the story, and can't quite bring themselves to spoil the heroic and significant and quasi-messianic ending.

Obama knows, I believe, just how scripted and artificial this whole thing is. So the take-away line has to be, "We did it really well," not "We left people wondering what we were doing abroad in the first place," or "We gave lackluster speeches in front of historic settings we had no right to use as backdrops in the least." Let either, or both, of those ideas form the conclusion of even the slightest majority of American voters, and the whole dazzling hollow artifice comes crumbling down, like the airy nonsense of which it is constructed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Massachusetts: The Las Vegas of Gay Marriage

Remember this post? Well, now the Massachusetts House of Representatives has voted likewise, which means that as soon as the Governor signs this change into law same-sex couples from all over the country can go to Massachusetts for their dream weddings. Doesn't matter if gay marriage is illegal in your home state, people! Come spend tons of money on a lavish gay Massachusetts wedding extravaganza!

When Mitt Romney was governor, he apparently thought, erroneously, that the 1913 law would be strong enough to guard against the eventual danger that this would happen. From the second link:
Romney ordered municipal clerks to enforce the 1913 law after gay marriages began in Massachusetts in May 2004.

Romney said the law was need to prevent Massachusetts from becoming "the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage." Former Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly also supported the 1913 law.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for heterosexual couples in Massachusetts: the phrase "Massachusetts marriage" has just become a national joke, on par with the "Las Vegas Wedding" and the "Reno Divorce."

(One wonders which county in Massachusetts will become the gay-marriage counterpart to Reno. They're going to need one, you know.)

In fact, if I were a citizen of Massachusetts, I'd be looking for a new home state right about now. Why wait around to become an employee of the gay wedding/gay honeymoon industry, which will be the biggest employer in the state before long? Why wait to have more freedoms and rights taken away by this new vocal group, which has already ended Catholic Charities' ability to place children for adoption, and will be seeking to shut down as much of the Catholic Church's ability to continue to oppose gay marriage as it possibly can? Why wait to have one's children forced to recite gay fairy tales like "King and King" from kindergarten on?

Massachusetts has declared war on the traditional understanding of marriage in every other state of the union with this decision of theirs. The gay rights activists are determined to redefine marriage in America and then redefine anyone who refuses to accept the new definition as a bigot. And in Massachusetts, they're not content with tampering with the lives of only their own citizens--they'd like to bring Massachusetts-style marriage to your state, too.

Obama and the Faith-Based Initiatives

I found this Amy Sullivan piece in USA Today to be an extremely interesting read, even though my politics are probably the polar opposite of Ms. Sullivan's. She argues that Democrats used to be the party of coalition between religion and politics; certainly many previous-generation Catholics thought that being a Democrat was part of the Catholic American's cultural identity (and while, sadly, some still do, they do so in spite of the Church's repeated discussions of issues the Democrats have made their own, like abortion-on-demand and gay marriage, which are counter to the Church's moral teachings).

From the article:

It's fair to say Democrats were expecting a presidential nominee who would vow to overturn the faith-based initiative once he reached the White House, not one who doubled down on the program. But there are a number of reasons for Obama to stray from the party line when it comes to faith-based politics.

For one, by embracing the idea of partnerships between government and faith-based institutions, Obama isn't moving to the right so much as reclaiming an issue Democrats used to support. For decades, religiously affiliated organizations like Lutheran Social Services and United Jewish Communities received, without a hint of controversy, government funds to provide social services. [...]

The Democratic Party made a key tactical error in 2000 by not rebutting Bush's attacks on Clinton as a secular liberal who discriminated against religious communities. Instead, Gore's supporters took the bait and charged that Bush's support for faith-based initiatives was an inappropriate mixing of religion and politics. At the same time, Gore's advisers persuaded him to back away from promoting partnerships between government and religious non-profits.

By the time Bush established a new White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in his second week after moving into the Oval Office, many liberals had forgotten the idea ever had bipartisan support. Bill Moyers decried the office as a tool to funnel money to Bush supporters — "slush funds." That was at least less frightening than the other popular liberal belief: that the faith-based initiative was evidence of a creeping theocracy.

In Obama's faith-based speech, he noted that his early work as a community organizer in Chicago was partly funded by a Catholic group called The Campaign for Human Development. That experience is another reason for his support of faith-based initiatives: He actually believes in them. (Emphasis added-EM).
So we have the Campaign for Human Development, an organization which really shouldn't be allowed to be even marginally associated with the Catholic Church, to thank for Obama. Why am I not surprised?

If you don't know about the CHD and its troubled history, especially its connection to the radical Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), you should read this expose written by the Catholic weekly The Wanderer. It's a few years old, but as far as I know none of the key points have changed: the CHD is still more interested in promoting liberal, Marxist-style politics than doing anything specifically Catholic.

Another interesting look at the "Catholic" Campaign for Human Development comes from this 2000 article by Kathryn Lopez: excerpt:

Every year, usually on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Roman Catholic parishes around the country take up a special collection to fund CCHD. A national office in Washington, D.C., awards grants to more than 250 projects each year. Most dioceses keep 25% of the collection to fund hundreds of smaller local projects.

Through CCHD, unwitting Catholic parishioners have often funded leftist groups and causes, some already amply blessed with federal funding. Despite CCHD's promise to "help people help themselves," grants never go to "direct service programs" but to "poverty groups which work toward systemic change, economic strength and political power," according to CCHD materials. CCHD says funded "projects" must concern "a distinct constituency (e.g., a neighborhood, seniors, Blacks, Hispanics, women, handicapped) and/or a distinct issue or series of issues (e.g, hazardous waste, housing, tribal recognition, community development)."

In the past, some CCHD grantees have been involved in projects that are clearly contrary to what Catholics believe. Yet every year Catholics give millions to CCHD.

If the Campaign for Human Development--sorry, I refuse to call it Catholic--is an example of the kind of faith-based initiative Obama likes, the kind that rakes in donations from unsuspecting religious believers and uses the money to fund Marxist, leftist organizing tactics and all manner of left-wing politics, then I'll pass. Such initiatives aren't faith-based at all; they're faithless exploitation of religion and religious believers for the good of the government.

The Blessing of Daughters

Well, the weird summer cold/flu virus that's been working its way around the country and around the blogosphere apparently decided that yesterday was my turn. You knew I had to be sick, right? I always post on weekdays, otherwise. :)

To be fair, I had some warning, in the form of mild cold symptoms that started late last week. My SIL warned me that my brother's bout with this thing started that way, too, and then ramped up to much worse after a few days. I took the warning seriously--I went out and bought actual juice! I even drank some of it. That's enough, isn't it?

Wrong. I woke up yesterday wondering how I'd gotten stuck to the bed, why my head was pounding and my back and neck aching, speculating on the origins of the waves of bitter metallic nausea that were taking all the fun out of being in bed, and wishing I knew who had packed my sinus cavities with C-4.

I decided to remain in bed, and by "decided" I of course mean, "accepted the inevitable after realizing that a mere trip across the room left the room spinning like a drunken sailor and made those waves of nausea threaten to crest in a most disturbing way." I'd love to tell you that I quickly remembered to offer the whole thing up, but I think it took a few of those dizzy weird dozes complete with strange sick-dreams before I was coherent enough to do so.

I did have a lot of time for reflection, and one of the things I reflected the most on is what a blessing it is to have daughters.

Now, I'm not saying sons aren't also a huge blessing, as I'm sure they are--I just don't have any, myself. And having three girls means having three born nurses, three natural nurturers, three sets of concerned eyes and helpful hands, which all comes in pretty handy when Mom is sick.

They brought me ice for the pounding head, and soda and crackers for the nausea. They made sure I took aspirin at appropriate intervals, and checked in on me often enough that I knew they were fine, but not so often that I couldn't sleep. They kept each other entertained and out of trouble, and when it was time to start making dinner they made, with minimal directions, a complete meal: Kitten made baked chicken with Cajun seasoning, Bookgirl used the vegetable steamer to make broccoli, and Hatchick manned the rice cooker to provide fluffy white rice for the meal. I was so proud, even though I couldn't join them in eating any of it.

During dinner Kitten came back in to make sure I didn't need anything. I tried to tell her that I was fine, but she gave me a knowing look, and walked over to the bookshelf next to my bed where the most recent glass of soda, mostly untouched, was standing.

"Mom," she said decisively, "this is warm. And flat. You can't possibly drink it." And she marched out to replace it with a fresh cold glass, glistening with condensation.

I murmured to them last night that they were wonderful helpers, and that I was proud of them. I said it again this morning, though I think they're all glad that I'm feeling well enough to be out of bed again. I'm glad I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at just how well they're all going to do some day in their own vocations, whether they are moms or nuns or called to the single life. For now, though, I think they're equally glad that they only had to be mom for a day.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Aura of Inevitability

I like Rod Dreher's take on the Obama/Berlin moment from this morning, and I especially enjoyed the link to this splendid bit of writing. Political satire at its finest; I've read it a couple of times to savor the brilliance.

If the mainstream media decides that there's too much derision surrounding Obama over this Grand Tour of his, they may turn on him yet; while many of them are fiercely partisan, their first and deepest loyalties lie not with any particular candidate or party, but with their own self-interests. This is why Dukakis was defeated, among others--the media will go to bat for a credible Democrat, but not an incredible one--and it's also why they've been so gosh-darned excited about Obama, who has thus far avoided the stamp of ridiculousness that has destroyed the dreams of dozens of Democrats.

So this trip, this jaunt about Europe and the Middle East, has been fraught with peril from the start. Away from the lapdog press in America, amid bickering over speech scenery and backdrops, unable to hide the two deepest realities that define him so far (that he's still just a candidate, and that he has nothing particularly important to say), Obama has been risking his campaign on a singularly chancy roll of the dice. Why, some have begun to wonder, would he choose to campaign outside the United States at all? Did he run out of aptronymic U.S. towns to visit? Was he tired of having his campaign stump speeches relegated to--well, not section B, the media's not that unbiased--but at least the relative obscurity of the inner front page, after all the news about mortgage failures and gas prices and grumbling discontent? Why not campaign in America, among people who can actually vote for him?

Unless you're seriously going to argue that he's after the expatriate vote--you remember, all those angry B-list celebs who vowed to shake the dust of Hollywood from their feet if Bush were re-elected, unless somebody hired them to do a feature film in which case All would be Forgiven--you have to ponder this a bit. Considering how much could go wrong, and how little the payoff would be even if all went right, why would Obama go overseas for an extended campaign session?

I think the answer may be that he's trying to create the aura of inevitability, that mystical mantle that envelopes the successful and makes people begin to speak of him as if the office he covets were already his.

Consider the "mock presidential seal" his campaign affixed to his podium not all that long ago. Surely they realized that such an audacious move would backfire, right? Perhaps they did--but perhaps they thought it was a risk worth taking, if even just a few people subliminally internalized the message: "President Obama."

And this tour seems part of the same strategy. Americans are quite used to their president flying overseas to meet with foreign dignitaries, give speeches, gather crowds. By doing this now, while still the candidate, I think Obama wants people to start thinking of him right now as their only possible future president, the one to whom the people of the world are flocking with interest and admiration.

His meeting with General Petraeus, which I blogged about earlier, was cut from the same cloth--Obama didn't meet with him as a candidate for President, but in a way that clearly left the message, "I will be your next boss." It was arrogant beyond belief, but I think Obama knew the American media would give him a pass on that, and the message would be sent not only to Petraeus but to millions of potential voters, as well.

His speech in Berlin was quite possibly the first event in this scripted and results-driven tour that didn't go quite as planned. Not only did he not get the location he had hoped for, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the speech was mediocre at best, words without an obvious purpose, mere fluff that said little and meant less. From Obama's perspective, though, as long as Joe and Jane Average Voter saw crowds of foreigners grouped eagerly around some historically significant cosmopolitan location, the speech may have been a success; if the point of this trip is to make it seem inevitable that our next president will be President Obama, it matters little what the people who heard the speech actually thought of it.

But it does matter what the media thinks of it; I think Obama's making the same miscalculation that led him to try the "Unity, N.H." trick more than once. The press is not nearly as much in his pocket as he thinks they are--they're always something of an unknown quantity, capable of conducting sympathetic puffery interviews one minute and morphing into journalistic Rottweilers the next. I think they know perfectly well what he's up to on this trip, that he wants, with their help, to create the illusion that it is quite simply inevitable for him to be elected president. And many of them may be quite willing to go along with that, too--but not if Joe and Jane Average Voter catch on, and start to laugh at the whole idea.

Because the media is willing to do a lot of things for someone like Barack Obama--but share the hysterical laugher, and the aura of ridicule, is not one of them. Let that mantle cross his shoulders for a moment, and the press Obama's been able to count on for the most part until now will display an entirely different face.

Chris Matthews' Plea

I wouldn't ordinarily link to the Huffington Post website, but theirs was the only one I found which had this story, which I'd heard about from my husband, in print.

As the link will illustrate, Chris Matthews begged older voters to lay aside their racism and vote--well, to be fair, he didn't come right out and tell them to vote for Obama. From the site above, these are Matthews' words:
I hope for one thing when people go to vote: that they look at [Obama's] background, that they look at the age of the two candidates, that they look at their abilities and really open up their hearts and say "what's really good for my kids," who don't have any color awareness.

Kids don't think about race. Think like your kids for once. Think the way they think. It would be great if the older people in the country, the 70 year olds, the 80 year olds who are suspicious of change to say, "you know, why don't I think the way my kids are thinking and think about the future."

Whatever they decide, just open up your heart to this prospect of something different. That's what I hope we do.

This is a pretty amazing thing to say. In effect, Matthews is assuming that anyone over a certain age will reject Obama for the presidency solely on the basis of race--and, by extension, Matthews is assuming that the only reason for anyone to reject Obama is going to be a racially motivated reason.

And there's even a subtle jab at McCain's age in Matthews' words--it's as if he's telling the octogenarian crowd that they should vote for someone closer to their children's ages than their own, for the sake of "the future."

One of the most frustrating things about liberals is that they really do assume that the only way people can disagree with them is by being irrational, biased, bigoted, uninformed or uneducated. It never seems to occur to people like Chris Matthews that some seventy and eighty-year-olds aren't racists at all, but won't vote for Obama because they are pro-life conservative Christians who find Obama's policies as obnoxious as they do his messianic complex.

Humanae Vitae Anniversary

Today, of course, is the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, and Joseph Bottum at First Things has a lovely piece on the subject. Excerpt:

It’s hard to remember all the joys we were told that contraception would bring, back in the day. For generations, from Victoria Woodhull all the way down to Margaret Sanger, birth-control activists had insisted that abortion would cease if we allowed access to contraception. In the 1965 decision Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court placed decisions about birth control at the center of the marriage bond. The smutty theaters, the back-room racks of pornography, the venereal diseases, the crushing down of young women into a life of timidity, the out-of-wedlock births, the masturbatory shame—all the sicknesses of a repressed culture would be swept away in the free love that contraception allows.

Free love—forty years on, the phrase has a marvelously musty sound to it, like the fragile violets of a Victorian spinster’s girlhood, pressed in the fading pages of her remembrance book. Things didn’t work out quite the way we were promised. In fact, the results were pretty much what the pope had said they would be. A funny thing happened on the way to the orgy, and—as Mary Eberstadt notes in her superb essay in the current issue of First Things—if there’s a joke buried in Humanae Vitae, the joke is on us.

The Sexual Revolution was supposed to solve all of the world's problems, it seems, when one looks back at that period of history. "Make Love, Not War!" sloganeering, casual sterile relationships comprised of assorted people with no commitment beyond a temporary physical one, a nation finally free of "hang-ups" about sex in its various iterations--that was the dream, and the people dreaming it were, by and large, the baby boomers who now at sixty are in denial about their aging, and in another decade will be demanding free Viagra as clamorously as they once demanded free condoms.

As Mr. Bottum points out, all the things that Pope Paul VI warned us would be the result of contraception have been the result of contraception: disrespect for women, destruction of marriage, coercive population control, and the objectification of the body as if it were a mere possession. We can find evidence of the societal decay caused by widespread use and acceptance of artificial birth control everywhere we look--no other weapon of modernity has been so socially and culturally destructive as this one, leading to untold oceans of human pain, sorrow, suffering, emptiness and regret. Abortion on demand is a result of contraception; staggering divorce rates are a result of contraception; exhausted women trying to be rivals to their husbands in career fields while still 'handling' the chores of home and children are a result of contraception; men whose attitude towards women is that marriage isn't necessary, and that women who want to have children are selfish, and women who want to stay home and raise those children are lazy is a result of contraception; in fact, all the little fissures and fragmentations that have led to the shattering of the American family are the result of contraception, the result of the notion that love has nothing to do with marriage and that marriage has nothing to do with children and that children can be just as easily raised by unrelated, low paid strangers as by a family member, so long as Mom and Dad are free to be "sexually fulfilled" beings, not only in regard to each other but also in regard to anyone else they feel like "connecting" with.

And we see how that has worked out. We see how impossible it is to create stable, happy, healthy families comprised of fully autonomous individuals who insist on controlling every aspect of their lives, refusing ever to put family first, but always looking out for number one.

Prior to contraception, a young man and a young woman who were in love knew certain things. They knew that failing to respect the power of sex could lead to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy; they knew that being ready for marriage meant being ready for children; they knew that the division of labor in the home would ordinarily result in the husband assuming the role of provider-in-chief, while the wife became the nurturer-in-chief. Before they ever walked down the aisle at church, they had to be mature, responsible grown-ups, potential parents as well as soon-to-be spouses. They were younger in age than many of us were on their wedding days, but so much older in terms of the ability to make that commitment, to promise that for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death did they part they would be together, and be ready to handle all of the joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, happiness and suffering that would be theirs--and to care for the children who would impact all of those potential realities.

I know that the past wasn't perfect, and unhappy and even disastrous marriages could be made. But there's a big difference between preparing for marriage as if it's a lifelong voyage together, and preparing for marriage as if it's a short plane trip, keeping one hand on the ripcord of the parachute the entire time just in case. Contraception encourages the latter view; many couples enter marriage determined to avoid having children for a few years, in case things don't work out--it's so much easier to divorce when children aren't involved. But what kind of commitment is that? What kind of marriage is that? Is it a marriage at all, or just an excuse to have the big lavish white-dress party that all one's friends have had?

So much of the sickness that infects our culture can be traced back to the wide acceptance of contraception, the view of sex that sees it as a random pleasurable act with no spiritual reality behind it, and the despair and loneliness both of these things have left in their wake. Pope Paul VI's prophetic wisdom continues to shine like a light on a hilltop, beckoning to its warmth and joy all who have eyes to see it. In the end, none of the political battles we fight will do us much good if we can't restore the integrity of the family--and the greatest enemy to that integrity is artificial contraception.

Before You Do Anything Else Today... this post. Excerpt:
"I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world." Barack Obama 7-24-08.

Is anyone else completely sick and tired of this "citizen of the world" garbage. Look, I'm in the world but I'm certainly not a citizen of the world. If I was I wouldn't know who to root for in the Olympics next month.

Hey, at least he's a citizen of this world. We're still trying to figure out where Dennis Kucinich came from.
Read the whole thing: it's golden. (One minor point, though, Matthew--did you really mean biretta wearing snobs? I thought only clergy members wore those.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Michael Savage and the Bob Newhart School of Psychology

I've been meaning for days now to get to the Michael Savage/autism story; I tend to agree with Rod Dreher about the matter, generally speaking:
What an embarrassment this troglodyte Savage is. But an appropriately named one. Poking fun at autistic children and their parents -- good grief! An old friend and reader of this blog is living with three young sons who are all autistic. It's either going to make him and his wife into saints, or drive them insane. The comments of a Michael Savage really are beneath contempt -- and I encourage all conservatives to say so.
Now, I'm not sure I'd call Savage a troglodyte, but it's pretty hard to justify this:
Michael Savage, the incendiary radio host who last week characterized nearly every child with autism as “a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,” said in a telephone interview on Monday that he stood by his remarks and had no intention of apologizing to those advocates and parents who have called for his firing over the matter.

“My main point remains true,” Mr. Savage, whose radio audience ranks in size behind only those of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, said in the interview. “It is an overdiagnosed medical condition. In my readings, there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism.”

On the July 16 installment of his program, which is broadcast every weekday, Mr. Savage suggested that “99 percent of the cases” of autism were a result of lax parenting. He told his audience: “They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life.’ ” Among the other admonitions he felt children with autism should be hearing, he said, were: “ ‘Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.’ ”

Someone--I don't remember who--offered Savage the best possible lifeline on this, suggesting that maybe he'd confused autism with ADHD. Unfortunately Savage insisted he meant autism, which is frankly incredible.

Let's take a hypothetical example. Suppose at a family Thanksgiving meal your six-year-old nephew whines about sitting at the table, kicks the rungs of the chair, spills some water from his glass onto the tablecloth, and starts poking his fingers in the mashed potatoes. You might be forgiven for assuming general brattitude, even if the child has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; you might even be forgiven if you wonder whether ADHD is overdiagnosed, though from the small samples of your nephew's behavior you ever see there's no way for you to know if other behaviors and some learning disabilities combined have caused his doctor to diagnose ADHD.

But the parents of an autistic child, from everything I've read and from those parents I've encountered, would be pretty pleased with this level of behavior. A six-year-old autistic child might refuse to sit at the table altogether and peer out at the company from the floor beneath it; he might decide the mashed potatoes look like soap bubbles and smear them on his face, chin, and arms, or climb on the table to sit in them; he might insist that everyone's water glass ought to contain a salad fork for reasons he can't explain; he might leave his coat on and grow agitated when anyone tried to remove it or suggested he might be more comfortable without it; he might not speak a word, or might speak the same word seven hundred sixty three times in the course of the evening--and all of that would be relatively mild autistic behavior.

How anyone, let alone a grown and reasonably intelligent man, could believe for a second that this sort of behavior is an "act" that can be "cut out" with a little discipline, is beyond me. Clearly this man has no awareness whatsoever of psychological ailments, most of which also can't be "definitively medically diagnosed." What's the "definitive medical diagnosis" for depression, after all? We don't go around suggesting that clinically depressed people should just "snap out of it and lighten up," do we?

Clearly, Michael Savage must ascribe to the Bob Newhart school of psychological understanding. Autistic kids are just putting it all on, the repetitive behaviors and incapacity for speech and strange toilet habits and uncontrolled speech. They just want attention, and their parents are too busy shopping at trendy stores and voting for Democrats to give it to them.

Unfortunately, Savage's view was once the prevalent one: that autism was just bad parenting, particularly bad mothering. The "refrigerator mother" theory was one of the most egregiously insulting and traumatizing psychological theories ever invented as a way of blaming mothers for their children's problems, so it's pretty disheartening to see it resurface, even in a milder and more gender-neutral form. Parents of autistic children should take comfort, though--no intelligent person will give Mr. Savage's "Just Cut It Out" theory any more credibility than it deserves--which is none at all.

My Response To Myers' Claims of Desecration

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.
Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.
In supremae nocte coenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.
Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.
Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.
Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.
Amen. Alleluia.
Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law's command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.

The Church of the Hunting Lodge

Why don't American men go to church?

This article takes a look at the question:
Churches nationwide are fretting and sweating to reel men into their sanctuaries on Sundays.

Women outnumber men in attendance in every major Christian denomination, and they are 20% to 25% more likely to attend worship at least weekly.

Unfortunately, the solution that's being recommended is a little---well--:
Although every soul matters, many pastors say they need to power up on reaching men if the next generation of believers, the children, will find the way to faith. So hundreds of churches are going for a "guy church" vibe, programming for a stereotypical man's man. [...]

One church, 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, outside Dallas, was even designed with dudes in mind, from the worship center's stone floor, hunter-green and amber decor and rustic-beam ceilings to woodsy scenes on the church website.

No pastels. No flowers. No sweet music. No sit-with-your-hands-folded mood. Women are welcome, but the tone is intentionally "guy church" for a reason, says Ross Sawyers, founder and pastor of 121. [...]

If you've got a minute, read the whole thing; it's interesting, to say the least.

Interesting, but ultimately misguided.

For one thing, the notion that men always used to go to church every Sunday with the family until the very recent past is not really accurate. For Catholics, where Sunday Mass attendance isn't optional, the percentage of men at Mass may have been a bit higher in the past than the percentage of non-Catholic Christian men at their services. But a psychological survey I once saw from about the 1930s or 40s gave a different appearance to the "men at church" notion, the idea that until practically yesterday men went with their families to Sunday worship as a matter of course.

The survey was designed for marriage counseling, and women were asked questions about whether they attended church and took the children to Sunday school--good qualities in a wife. But the women were also asked whether they understood their husband's need for rest on Sunday mornings, and let him sleep in while they attended to the family's spiritual needs on their own! A man's obligation was simply to arrange for his family to get to church, and not to stop them from attending--there was no particular notion that he needed to go, himself.

So the problem of men not going to church goes back farther into our nation's habits and practices than we like to think. The earliest Americans took worship obligations seriously, and even Pa Ingalls seemed to be involved with his family's Sunday services, whether a church was available to him or not--but just how soon after the late nineteenth or early twentieth century this cohesion started to fall apart might surprise us, accustomed as we are to thinking that the world was roughly perfect until sometime between 1949 and 1970, give or take.

But if the problem of men at church goes back as far as it does, we might want to rethink the notion that it's pastels and flowers and sweet music that drove them away (not that sweet music isn't a problem, but that's a subject for another day).

It is very true that men's spirituality is different from women's. Certain devotions and practices, even in Catholicism, have always appealed more to a woman's notion of spirituality than a man's. But sometimes I can't help but think that devotions which are perfectly manly in themselves end up being falsely labeled "girly" or looked at with suspicion by the man's man.

Take the rosary, for one. There's nothing especially feminine about praying the prayers and reflecting on the mysteries. There's nothing particularly girlish about the structure or arrangement of the beads, and if one can find pastel rosaries, one can also find wood or hematite or other manly materials being employed in their manufacture. (My sister who is a nun once met some religious brothers with truly awesome fifteen decade rosaries swinging from their habits; when asked, they enthusiastically shared that the beads were made from wooden dowel ends purchased at Home Depot.) The men fighting at Lepanto went into battle with their rosaries wrapped around their arms--so why do so many people think of the rosary as not only a woman's prayer, but the prayer of a rather elderly woman at that?

I think the problem goes way beyond what is or isn't feminine, and speaks to the heart of a deeper problem that gets in between men and God, sometimes, especially in America.

Prayer and worship, no matter what the church, are always acts of humility and submission.

I'm certainly not going to say that women have an easier time with either of these concepts, or are "better" at them (how can one be "better" at humility?). But what makes these concepts particularly difficult for men is that they are traditionally the ones who have the authority, not only in society and so forth, but also within the family. Even today a traditional family understands the role of the husband as being one of both authority and protection, and while I've written before on the difference between accepting one's husband's lawful authority and being a doormat, I'd still say that most healthy families have some agreement with the concept.

At one time, a man understood that his authority within the family worked in concert with his willingness to do two things: accept all of his responsibilities in regard to his family, and himself submit to those in authority over him. His failure to do either one of those things was going to lead to a breakdown of his authority over his family, and he knew it.

In a democratic society, especially one as broken as ours, the "submission to lawful authority" side of the equation begins to falter. It's not uncommon for some traditional men to see the government as an enemy and a rival for their authority in the family--and to be fair, in this day and age, they're often right about that. But the less a man has to accept any restraints on his behavior, whether those restraints come from law or culture or society or even religion, which demands less and less of him, the less he is comfortable in the need to enter into the proper spirit of humility and submission from which all true worship of God will flow.

In fact, he may start to see both humility and submission as essentially feminine qualities, which have nothing to do with him. After all, he's a man! Why should he do all that bowing and kneeling and hand-folding? He should be thumping his chest and chanting war-chants! Onward Christian Soldiers!

Real soldiers, though, tend to get the notion of authority. It's not demeaning to salute one's commanding officer, after all. It's not demeaning to march in parade or take orders without question. It's not demeaning to obey--and it can save your life. Or your soul.

Building some giant "Church of the Hunting Lodge" and equipping every seat with symbolic remotes, or hosting parking lot barbecues which give a wholly different meaning to "Game Night," might be a tempting idea to attract men back to church. But when the problem has its roots in the unfamiliarity for the modern man of submitting to the authority of God in all things, these methods will only work to the extent that they are novel, and will fail in that they are ultimately unsound.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking the Plunge

Okay, here goes.

First of all, I know that this decision to put my real name out on this blog is a way bigger deal to me than it is to any of you. There are, after all, lots of wonderful Catholic moms who write, who have used their real names on their various blogs from the get-go (and some of them have even made their own names a Shockingly Clever Title).

So for me to step out from behind the "Red Cardigan" mask is really not all that important. In fact, if you're not even remotely interested please feel free to skip the rest of this post and get to the (hopefully) more interesting stuff below.

I'm pretty sure that those of you who might still be interested in knowing my name fall into the following three categories:

One: people who've never encountered me elsewhere on the Internet under my real name.
Two: people who have encountered me elsewhere on the Internet under my real name, but who have already figured out who I am, or who know because I've told you (or you're related to me).
Three: people who have encountered me elsewhere on the Internet under my real name and have not realized that I'm also posting here (and anywhere where I have to use a Blogger account to comment) as Red Cardigan.

By "elsewhere on the Internet" I pretty much mean one place: Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog. Where I not only post under my real name, but have become such a regular participant that on two separate occasions (so far!) Rod has let me guest-blog for him while he and his lovely family have taken some much-needed vacation time.

Which means, of course, that I am Erin Manning.

And it's awfully nice to get to 'fess up to it!


The Evil of IVF

Last week the world's first IVF baby, Louise Brown, celebrated her thirtieth birthday.

And since then, countless numbers of children have died, created as surplus embryos or found to be "defective" and eliminated or accidentally thawed before they could be implanted into a uterus or, perhaps most ghoulishly of all, selectively aborted so that "mom" wouldn't have to give birth to multiples.

It's one of the dilemmas of an increasingly illogical world: how do we oppose IVF without, in effect, telling Louise Brown and others like her that they really shouldn't be here at all?

For the person who has been formed in some sort of moral theology, there's really no problem. We can be happy that Louise Brown is here, and even wish her a happy birthday, without losing the moral ground to insist that IVF is always a grave moral evil. And there's an easy example to illustrate this--throughout history some children have always been conceived as a result of rape, but we can oppose the evil of rape with all the force of our laws without in effect telling those kids that they shouldn't be here.

God can, and does, bring good out of evil. Children whose parents used IVF to bring them into the world aren't at fault for the sins of their parents. We can welcome them and love them, while remaining clear in our opposition to this terrible practice.

And it is a terrible practice, in every respect. The injury possible to the mother whose ovaries must be forced to release eggs, the death toll for those embryos who fail to implant properly or who are unnecessary and unwanted once the desired number of pregnancies have resulted, the objectification and dehumanization of the unborn baby who is no longer an integral and expected result of his parents' marital embrace, but a laboratory product to be brought to birth or destroyed at the whim of others--there is no moral ground that can justify this practice, and no way that it ever ought to have been done.

That God does allow some children, like Louise Brown, to be born as a result of this evil is a sign of His great mercy--but for every child who comes into the world this way, how many more children must die?

A real respect for human life, for nature, for God's will is an intrinsically important element of any society. Once a society begins to commoditize and objectify human lives, manipulating them, creating and destroying them, removing from them their inherent mystery and dignity, that society is doomed to fail as surely as the family which no longer protects its members will be erased from the face of the earth.

They All Have the Same Thoughts

I thought this article about what the Arab world thinks of Barack Obama was a very interesting read. Excerpt:

From Baghdad to Beirut, people said in recent interviews that they are unfamiliar with his policies, except for his plan to move quickly to pull US troops out of Iraq.

In general, they said they prefer Obama over the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, whom they view as unsympathetic to Arabs.

But even those who like Obama's personality are not expecting him to initiate major turnabouts on US Middle East policies, particularly on the most contentious one of all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The only way that Obama will be better for us is that he will try to suck the life out of the Arabs through diplomacy, while Bush tried to do it through war," says Fathy Tantawy as he inspects a small carburetor on the table next to his tea cup in a Cairo cafe.

"When they look at the Middle East they all have the same thoughts, whether it's Obama or Clinton's wife or Bush or … who is that other guy on TV?" He pauses to think. "Oh yeah, McCain."

An interesting observation, don't you think?

One of the widespread perceptions about Obama in this election is that he will do a better job than McCain in bringing peace to the Mideast (along with making the oceans recede, re-freezing the polar ice caps, singlehandedly solving our economic woes, raising the tone of network television, and rooting out corruption in New Orleans, though every sane person knows that last one is too silly to consider). So it's refreshing to hear people who live in that region express some skepticism and doubt about Obama, especially given the rather uncritical treatment he keeps getting from the press, despite the fact that his policies so far seem to be a jumble of vague generalities, wishful thinking, and oratorical flourishes.

Would McCain be any better in ensuring peace in the Mideast? Or is the man in Cairo right? Do all our elites, when they look at that troubled but oil-rich region, really have the same thoughts?

How Much Carbon Does it Take to Make Superglue?

Anybody can talk about climate change, but it takes a special sort of person to do something about it--especially when that "something" involves attempting to superglue yourself to the Prime Minister:

As Mr Glass, 24, was introduced to the Premier, he laid a glue-covered hand on his sleeve.

He also took the opportunity to urge Mr Brown to change his mind on the Heathrow airport expansion.

Mr Glass told the assembled guests: 'Do not worry - this is a non-violent protest. We cannot shake away climate change like you can just shake away my arm.'

Mr Glass, who had smuggled pouches of glue into the event in his underwear, added later that Mr Brown laughed off the protest.

'He was just grinning about it,' he said. 'He didn't seem to take me seriously.'
I'm not convinced that anthropogenic global warming is the threat some seem to believe it is, and I appear to be in some good company. I think we'll eventually have enough information to decide whether or not global warming is anthropogenic--but there's no question at all that stupidity is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No Comment

From the Associated Press:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Continental Airlines flight carrying former presidential candidate Ron Paul and six other members of Congress to Washington, D.C., made an emergency landing in New Orleans on Tuesday after a loss in cabin pressure.

The seven congressmen, all from Texas, were trying to get back in time for a Tuesday night vote on an aviation safety bill when the flight landed without incident, a spokesman for one of the representatives said. No injuries were reported among the 128 crew and passengers. (Emphasis added-RC).

Like I said in the title: no comment.

Arrogance, Abroad

What an odd headline chose to put on this story: "Obama Survives Iraq, Looks Ahead."

Before I get into the substance of the piece, can I just say that the strange, if subliminal, fixation the news media apparently has for the notion that somebody might try to assassinate Obama is in the worst of taste? Not only are they fueling a thriving conspiracy theory with these sorts of headlines--and yes, I know they intended the language to be symbolic, but still!--they're also showing rather plainly that they've cast Obama in the lead part of romantic hero in a story yet to be told--rather as if when these Serious Journalists go home at night, they're writing secret Obama fanfics on the Internet wherein the Great Leader 'o Change dons a cape, dodges bullets, saves the planet from Evil Republicans and global warming, and then flies home to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It's a little embarrassing, don't you think?

But on to the Time article:
In his first news conference following his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama acknowledged that General David Petraeus had argued in their private meeting against Obama's 16-month timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. But Obama said that if elected, he would persist with that plan so that additional troops could be sent to Afghanistan, which he again called "the central front in the war against terrorism."

"As commander on the ground, not surprisingly, [Petraeus] wants to retain as much flexibility as possible in terms of accomplishing their goal," Obama said in a 52-min. question-and-answer session atop a mountain overlooking the Jordanian capital. "What I emphasized to him was that if I were in his shoes, I'd probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for President and a potential Commander in Chief extends beyond Iraq." Later in the press conference, Obama added, "The notion is that either I do exactly what my military commanders [say] or I'm ignoring their advice. No, I'm factoring in their advice, but placing it in the broader strategic framework that's required."
Let's take a look at that, shall we? Particularly at this sentence:

"But my job as a candidate for President and a potential Commander in Chief extends beyond Iraq."

What, exactly, does that mean?

My job as candidate? As potential Commander in Chief?

Forgive me, but isn't one's job as a candidate for President first and foremost to get elected? And isn't there a whole lot of difference between a "potential" Commander in Chief and an actual general who has lots and lots of practical on-the-ground experience in Iraq?

One would think so, unless one is so besotted by the candidate in question that one is off writing giggling paragraphs about how darn cute he is, and how you think he smiled particularly at you during the press conference. Real, grown-up journalists would have been all over the dripping arrogance and condescension on display here, directed toward a widely-respected, highly-intelligent and much decorated military leader, wouldn't they?

Alas, the cheerleaders at are far from being alone in this election. And every time it seems like some hard-hitting reporter is going to have a field day with the latest evidence of Obama's rather exalted opinion of himself, we get, instead, another sympathetic puff-piece that carefully avoids saying or doing anything to make their favorite candidate look bad.

Fortunately for those of us who aren't so enamored of the guy, he's starting to do a pretty good job of that all on his own.


I know I'm late getting to this, but among the many wonderful things to come out of the most recent World Youth Day were Pope Benedict XVI's words challenging the impulse toward materialism that has become a feature of so much of the modern world:

He called on Roman Catholics to lead a "renewal of faith" against the secularism that was threatening the Church.

"In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair," he said.

He also issued a strong call to young Catholics to join the priesthood.

One of the lies of materialism is that all of our happiness can be found in tangible goods. If we just had a bigger house, a nicer car, a more dazzling wardrobe, better jewelry, more expensive shoes or handbags, more, more, more--why, then, we would truly be happy. Right?

There's a reason "As happy as a billionaire," has never been an acknowledged simile. "As happy as a king," maybe, but then kings were said to hold their office by divine right, and to have as much in the way of responsibility as they did in money. Though the super-rich may be philanthropists, it says something pretty sad about their interior lives when some of the charities they choose to enrich exist to stop the spread of humanity.

Pope Benedict didn't juxtapose the material paradise against the spiritual wasteland at random. The two often go side by side. Consider Christ's warnings about rich men entering the Kingdom, or His parable about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. Consider St. Paul's stern warning that the love of money is the root of all evil. And then consider our materially prosperous society, and what Mother Teresa once said about it:

I was surprised in the West to see so many young boys and girls given to drugs. And I tried to find out why. Why is it like that, when those in the West have so many more things than those in the East? And the answer was: 'Because there is no one in the family to receive them.' Our children depend on us for everything - their health, their nutrition, their security, their coming to know and love God. For all of this, they look to us with trust, hope and expectation. But often father and mother are so busy they have no time for their children, or perhaps they are not even married or have given up on their marriage. So their children go to the streets and get involved in drugs or other things. We are talking of love of the child, which is were love and peace must begin. These are the things that break peace.

But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. [...]

When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread. But a person who is shut out, who feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person who has been thrown out of society - that spiritual poverty is much harder to overcome. And abortion, which often follows from contraception, brings a people to be spiritually poor, and that is the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome.

The things that give us the greatest happiness often require us to give up our notions about happiness, and start over. The things that give us the most joy are things that require from us the most sacrifice. The things that lead us to Christ will always lead us away from the world and its glittering toys and empty pleasures. These things are not, strictly speaking, "things" at all--they are truths beyond our experiences of the material, they are spiritual realities unseen and unknown except by the eyes and minds of faith.

No man who has this gift of faith, this pearl of great price, will ever be truly poor. And no man who lacks it has any riches that matter--for what is his today will be someone else's tomorrow, and when his name has faded from the ornate tombstone on which it was artistically chipped his wealth and possessions will show their true value: they are worth nothing at all.

The Irreligious Left

According to this Pew Forum survey, the less religious you are, the more likely you are to vote for a Democrat. Not that they put it that way, of course:
The Democratic leanings of the religiously unaffiliated population have become even more pronounced. In June 2000, 46% of the unaffiliated supported Gore while 40% favored Bush - a six-point advantage for the Democratic candidate. In June 2004, however, Democrat John Kerry had a 36-point lead over Bush among the unaffiliated (65% vs. 29%). Today, more than two-thirds (67%) of the unaffiliated favor Obama while 24% support McCain - a 43-point difference. By contrast, among those who are affiliated with a particular religion, the candidates are running virtually neck and neck, with 43% favoring McCain and 45% supporting Obama.
Did you get that? Sixty-seven percent of those who aren't affiliated with any religion are supporting Obama.

We hear an awful lot about the Religious Right in politics--some of the more hysterical or shrill voices in the political sphere have even used terms like "theocracy" and "Christianist" to describe their opponents.

So what I want to know is, why don't we hear more about the irreligious Left?

It's a valid question, isn't it? Why should a block of people who aren't affiliated with any church, synagogue, or other religious organization have so much clout and so much power to redefine the world according to their ideas about reality?

I think one of the reasons this question rarely gets asked is that many of those in the media who cover political stories actually share these irreligious views and tendencies. Certainly the way that religious matters are covered in the press tends to give the impression that many in the media are describing these things from the perspectives of outsiders looking in at strange and primitive rituals which don't relate in any way to the lives of actual twenty-first century people. So it is, perhaps, not all that surprising that the voices in our print or radio or television media are more likely to be warning us against the dangerous rise of a Christianist theocracy than to notice the cesspools of rot forming around the pillars of militant irreligious secularism propping up our morally faltering society.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Testing the Waters

My friends (and I do think of many of you in that way, believe me!) I've been considering something.

I love writing this blog, and I've been even more happy with it in the recent past. This new format is working well for me, which will probably make it possible for me to keep up the pace even when the kids start school again--and that's a good thing.

Change can be very beneficial, after all.

But one thing that hasn't changed is that my ultimate goal in writing at all is to get more of my writing published. It's been a while since I've talked about that particular ambition, but I've reached a point where I'm starting to get a manuscript together for submission to some publishers. The book is young-adult science fiction, so hopefully I'll be able to succeed in this goal, even if I have to amass several large shoe boxes full of rejection letters first.

So, like I said, I've been considering something.

Oh, I'm not considering ending my blogging days. I'm rather addicted to this form of writing, at this point. If anything, meeting my self-imposed daily goals and deadlines has been a good habit to form, one that has carried over into fiction writing and other pursuits.

But what I am considering is ending the anonymity of this blog, putting my real name out here, and eventually, hopefully, being able to share with you any news I might have about other writing projects, ventures, and adventures.

Now, I could wait until I've actually got news to share--but that seems rather opportunistic in some ways, waiting to tell you my name until it's printed on a book that I'll obviously hope people, including maybe some of you, might buy. And of course there's the reality that that day might never come--but in the meantime there are other things I sometimes end up keeping quiet about on the off chance that somebody I know is going to recognize me out here.

So one day soon you might see a post that tells you a little bit about me, including my name--and then a little after that I'll probably modify the blog slightly to include some of that information. I'll still post as "Red Cardigan" because I've become extremely fond of that nickname, and because it's my Blogger name and address.

Comments are closed on this one--but as always, please feel free to contact me via my "gmail" address if you'd like!

Sign of the Times

From the daily-must-read blog Creative Minority Report comes this post on a hideous act of vandalism directed at a pro-life poster. Click the link to read the post and to go to the original blog where it was first reported, SoCon or Bust:

When I saw the vandalism on the second sign below, it reminded me of my own experiences with the pro-abort thugs during my election campaign last September.

While elections signs are usually the target of vandals, the vandalism is directed at ideologies and not actual persons. In the case of my signs, it was not merely a matter of simply trashing them. On the contrary, in addition to spray painting and defacing the baby, one particular sign was subject to knifing. They knifed a picture of an innocent human baby.

As I stood there inspecting the sign, I just started to weep. What future, I wondered does this society have when it not only refuses to care for children but openly advocates for their destruction? We cannot be that far off from open infanticide. That kind of gives you an idea of where we are going.

Note the last two lines, in particular. Who could possibly disagree? After all, one of our two major presidential candidates in this election is on record supporting infanticide for babies who survive being aborted; the other is considered "pro-life" because he only supports embryonic stem cell research.

We will get to the point where it will be all but mandatory to abort babies known or suspected to have certain physical and/or mental disabilities. Once that happens, what are the odds that pressure will mount to allow some kind of "post-term abortion" for those babies whose illnesses are undiagnosed in utero, or who are more ill than was suspected, or who were "damaged" by some aspect of the birth process? Why, the argument will probably go, should some parents be "punished" with a less than perfect child just because their child's imperfections weren't caught early enough for "termination" to be offered as the most acceptable choice?

When a poster featuring an elderly man holding a precious baby and containing a quite gentle, non-confrontational message about the value of human life can be the target of such a vile and vicious attack, can anyone argue with the notion that real human babies will be the future targets of similar acts of violent hatred?

A Clanging Symbol

Poor Barack Obama. He just wanted a nice quiet pre-victory trip to Europe, where some new photo-ops could be carefully orchestrated to showcase his leadership posture, that noble head-toss in the face of Destiny, that solemn pose of excruciating thoughtfulness, made all the more poignant, of course, by some exquisite and meaningful scenery.

But it hasn't been that easy:

Obama is planning to address what organizers expect will be huge crowds at the Siegessäule, or Victory Column, which is located in the center of a long and busy intersection that straddles the lush, public Tiergarten gardens and stretches up to the Brandenburg Gate.

The choice of site was made after Chancellor Angela Merkel made it known to Obama's team that she did not approve of him campaigning at the Brandenburg Gate, both the symbol of the Cold War that divided the two Germanys and later, in 1989, the symbol of German reunification. Other conservative politicians said Obama had no business choosing a site before he was even elected president and using it for election purposes.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, in contrast, said he would welcome Obama speaking there.

After days of back and forth between the chancellery and the Obama campaign, the Victory Column was selected.

But Andreas Schockenhoff, deputy leader of the conservative bloc in Parliament, said Sunday that the choice of the Victory Column, also known as the Golden Angel, was an "unhappy symbol" since it represented so much of Germany's militaristic past.

Rainer Brüderle, deputy leader of the opposition Free Democrats, said Obama's advisers had little idea of the historical significance of the Victory Column. "It was the symbol of German superiority over Denmark, Austria and France," Brüderle told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Not only are the Germans beginning to dislike the Obama campaign's rather transparent opportunism, which is as clunky as some of the photo-ops Bill Clinton arranged during his presidency, but add the insult of the audacity not of hope but of premature celebration, but last week Charles Krauthammer penned this exquisite evisceration on the subject (Excerpt:)
Who is Obama representing? And what exactly has he done in his lifetime to merit appropriating the Brandenburg Gate as a campaign prop? What was his role in the fight against communism, the liberation of Eastern Europe, the creation of what George Bush 41 — who presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall but modestly declined to go there for a victory lap — called “a Europe whole and free”?

Does Obama not see the incongruity? It’s as if a German pol took a campaign trip to America and demanded the Statue of Liberty as a venue for a campaign speech. (The Germans have now gently nudged Obama into looking at other venues.)

Americans are beginning to notice Obama’s elevated opinion of himself. There’s nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?

Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted “present” nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with the savvy use of symbols in one's presidential campaign. There is a problem, however, with the appropriation of symbols which do not even remotely connect to a person in terms of his achievements, successes, or even identity. The problem becomes acute when people start to pay attention to the disparity between one's more grandiloquent public gestures and one's relatively low level of experience or accomplishments.

Words, Words, Words

Satan is the father of lies, and a liar from the beginning.

Ordinarily, we read that sentence, nod, and move on. We know this from our earliest childhoods, even if we can't express it that way. Lies are wrong. It's bad to tell a lie.

But what if people started to lie more by omission than by commission? What if a whole generation of people began to lie, simply by believing that no such thing as truth existed, that everyone creates his or her own reality, that nothing is absolute, and that concepts such as "truth" and "falsehood" are outdated concepts which have nothing to do with anything that is empirically real?

We have reached that point in America: reached it, claimed it as our own, and worked toward perfecting it and elevating it to a near-art form.

How does this work? It's simple, actually. The process can be described in steps, which seem to me to be as follows:

Step One: Redefine some long-held truth to be a lie, or at least an opinion which can't bind anyone who doesn't agree with it.

Step Two: Declare that some lie, which is opposed to that long-held truth, is actually true, at least for more people at the present time (thus reinforcing the idea that "truths" are mutable culturally-conditioned concepts rather than timeless principles).

Step Three: Insist that everyone embrace this new "truth" and isolate those who don't, stigmatizing them as rigid, fundamentalist, closed-minded, or by some equally pejorative term.

We can see how this works by examples:

Example A:

Step One: It is not murder to kill a pre-born human.
Step Two: Abortion is a fundamental human right.
Step Three: Pro-life fanatics are all religious zealots who are opposed to reason.

Example B:

Step One: Two men or two women can marry. You don't have to have opposite genders for a marriage.
Step Two: Andrew Sullivan is married. (Or Rosie O'Donnell, etc.)
Step Three: Anyone who insists that same-sex couples can't marry, or aren't really married, is just a rigid, mean-spirited, religious zealot who refuses to accept the new reality.

Example C:

Step One: Women can be Catholic priests if they want, regardless of what the Church says.
Step Two: Any woman who says she's a Catholic priest should be considered one, written about as if she had really been ordained, and made to look like a heroine fighting a patriarchal backward institution.
Step Three: Anyone, including the official Catholic Church, who says the women in question are not priests now, have never been priests, can never be priests, and are in fact no longer even Catholics in good standing, are just a bunch of mean patriarchal people trying to force their rigid narrow view of the truth onto the rest of us.

Satan is the father of lies, and a liar from the beginning. And in the twenty-first century when anyone who believes that truth is absolute can be marginalized and defined as an undesirable, he barely even has to lift a finger to gain the souls not only of the wicked, but of their duped counterparts, the easily deluded who think that it's more important to be nicey-nice and give everybody whatever spiritual pabulum they want than to guard and defend the truth from the relentless assaults of error.