Saturday, March 29, 2008

Readings: Ascent qua Assent?

We interrupt this hiatus to offer some complementary thoughts to those presented in this previous post, from The Ascent to Truth by Thomas Merton:

The big problem that confronts Christianity is not Christ’s enemies. Persecution has never done much harm to the inner life of the Church as such. The real religious problem exists in the souls of those of us who in their hearts believe in God, and who recognize their obligation to love Him and serve Him – and yet do not!


The fact that the Communists used to be in revolt against everything “bourgeois” imposed on every serious Communist the obligation to practice a strict and almost religious asceticism with regard to practically everything that is valued by the society he hates. I say that this used to be the case, because it is clear that the Stalinist empire has rapidly reached a cultural level in which everything that was basest in bourgeois materialism has become the Stalinist ideal. If Christianity is to prove itself in open rebellion against the standards of the materialist society in which it is fighting for survival, Christians must show more definitive signs of that agere contra, that positive “resistance,” which is the heart of the Christian ascetic “revolution.” The true knowledge of God can be bought only at the price of this resistance.

A couple of things come to mind here. First, while Stalinism and the Soviet Union have been laid to rest, this has not been brought about by any triumph of enhanced spirituality. What has triumphed, rather, is the bourgeois materialism by which the original Communist asceticism – of which Stalinism was a corruption – was ultimately destroyed.

The second thing that comes to mind is to wonder whether the word “ascent” in the book’s title was meant to be a conscious play on its homonym, “assent?”

Now, if you'll excuse me...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Readings: Quote(s) du Jour

The following are excerpts from the Introduction of the book in question, which is all that I’ve read of it to-date. The book is clearly of the type belonging to the “quest for the historical Jesus” genre, and the reader reviews range from high praise to outright dismissal. I have generally stayed away from books of this kind for several years, but this one came to my attention and I thought I’d give it a shot. Regardless of what comes after, these words from the Introduction strike a responsive chord with me:

[Jesus’] basic issue, still basic today, is that most people have solved the human dilemma for themselves at the expense of everyone else, putting them down so as to stay afloat themselves. …

…Jesus came to grips with the basic intentions of people. He addressed them personally, as to what kind of people they were. He called on them – he did not just teach them ideas. When we take his sayings and distill from them our doctrines, what we have really done is manipulate his sayings for our own purposes, first of all, for the purpose of avoiding his personal address to us. Without realizing it, we reclassify his sayings as objective teachings to which we can give intellectual assent, rather than letting them strike home as the personal challenge he intended them to be. The issue is not what we think about them, but rather what we do about them.

~ James M. Robinson, The Gospel of Jesus

Are we just intellectual Spin Doctors and armchair disciples?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reflections: Ray of Hope?

Is there in this some indication, however slight, that sanity might be breaking out?

Or will I soon be doing WWWtW-Watch #8 on the theme of alleged Muslim treachery and lies?

The Saudi king asserts that Christians, Muslims, and Jews all worship the same God. What is the truth quotient in that assertion?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #7: Credit Due

Dedicated to the proposition that nobody can be wrong all the time.

Kudos to WWWtW author, Lydia McGrew, for posting the poem "Seven Stanzas at Easter" by one of my favorite writers, John Updike, to celebrate this joyous day.
Thanks, Lydia


Friday, March 21, 2008

Reflections: What's In a Word?

Let us now all parse the Obamaian sentence that deployed the term "typical white person".
(I've just about had it with the parsing.)

My co-worker, a good, solid, white liberal, with whom I just got done arguing about Obama's usage, insists that Obama should have said "many" where he said "typical." I disagreed. I maintain that: a) "typical" accurately reflects both reality and Obama's attitude toward that reality; and, b) Obama used the word deliberately; because, c) Obama has no interest in being America's House Negro.

It is my contention that Obama will not pander to the White population's pathetic need to have their deep-seated stereotypes and bigotries treated as if they weren't there. I think Obama is saying vote for me, but don't expect that by doing so you're getting a "good Negro." He's saying: I will hold up the mirror in which you will see your white self undistorted, perhaps for the first time. If you don't like my use of the word "typical"--go vote for Hillary and get your politically-correct rocks off by electing the first woman.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reflections: Quo Vadis?

Regardless of what any of us thought of THE SPEECH, on the morning of this first day of springtime in America, the polls show clearly that it did Obama more harm than good. America wanted the Rev. Wright under the bus. America did not want White Granny under the bus.

That's the beautiful thing about America (outside of her spacious skies and amber waves of grain, I mean)--her stability! Her inertia! It's Baseball, White Granny, and Chevrolet, Ũber Alles, forever! (Actually, Chevy ain't doin' that good. Better stick Apple Pie back in there.)

It is hard to imagine that there will ever be an African American more talented, more intelligent, more personally attractive, or better positioned to make America's case to the rest of the world, than is Barack Obama. Nonetheless, my friends (oops, I just threw up a little in mouth there!), Barack Obama has proven TO BE NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME.

So, really--Quo vadis?

Monday, March 17, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #6: You Say Re-van-chist, I Say Re-vahn-chist

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

What follows will not be a radical criticism of the WWWtW post cited below, but will rather ponder the implications of the use of the word “state” in that post by author, Maximos, and how it relates to concepts of “society” and “government” and “nation.” I will be attempting to combine here my intention to initiate some talk about conservative guru, Russell Kirk, with my on-going critique of the concept of a “public orthodoxy” as proposed at WWWtW. Don’t be expecting a whole lot of coherence, as my thoughts are all over the ballpark.

In the comments section of WWWtW-Watch #5, Tom said:

I'd say it's reasonable to distinguish between "society" and "government”.

I'd also want to distinguish between a "public orthodoxy" enforced by the society and one enforced by the government. (Come to think of it, I want everyone else to make that distinction, too. Especially the government.)

My reply was that I did not see how “society” could enforce a “public orthodoxy” without resort to governmental power.

But, exactly what is meant by “society” in this context? The United States of America is a nation that has been characterized as The Great Melting Pot. In many respects, this has been a valid description. But America also remains, due to continuing waves of immigration, a nation comprised of a number of subcultures in various stages of assimilation and coexisting in an often uneven state of mutual acceptance. That being the case, what forms the core of American society? I would say that it is the Constitution, and only the Constitution.

In the excerpt below, WWWtW author Maximos seems to indicate that the crucially operative dichotomy is not that between society and government, but rather that between “nation” and “state.” Maximos, I surmise, is an avowed nationalist. Those individuals who disagree with his favored policies, whether foreign or domestic, one gathers, are “statists.” That which is identified as the “nation” seems to be an amalgam of “society” (presumably the entity that would embody any “public orthodoxy”) plus the geographical entity found within our national borders. The ”state”, then, would be an unholy alliance of the political and economic powers-that-be. Maximos writes:

A decadent state, inclusive of the political and economic establishments of a country, will war against the nation over which it rules, seeking to efface the world-image that has nourished and sustained it - and will employ the nationalisms of others in the process.

Maximos, as I understand him, is speaking here of the lack of will on the part of “the state” to stem the tide of illegal immigration across our southern border. He characterizes these elements as Mexican “revanchists.” Presumably, it is “society’ that is most at risk from this invasion; and as goes society, so goes “the nation.”

As a benighted lefty attempting to get all of these conservative ducks in a row, the better to conduct an accurate taxonomy of them, I have been looking into the thought of that ideological saint of the WWWTW team (see archives, April 24, 2007), Russell Kirk. In the opening chapter of his seminal work, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (entitled “The Idea of Conservatism”), Kirk outlines his “six canons of conservative thought.”

In the first of these canons, Kirk provides magisterial authority for the WWWtW call for a “public orthodoxy” by positing a Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.” He goes on to say: “Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.” In the second canon, Kirk decries egalitarianism and utilitarianism. We may return to those issues in a subsequent post. But in the third of his six canons, on which I want to focus here, he adds another layer of meaning to the mysterious term “society,” by asserting his “Conviction that a civilized society requires orders and classes. As against the notion of a “classless society.”

Hmmm. It would seem to me that, in America, the horse is pretty much out of the barn in terms of any kind of permanent caste system. What would be the basis of that which Kirk has in mind here? Economic level? Educational/cultural attainment? Heredity? A combination of all of these? Don’t we have that now, pretty much? Isn’t the opportunity for upward mobility both the pride of our nation and the aspiration that every father has for his son? What’s the beef?

I have to ask here: wouldn’t some kind of economic egalitarianism that would eliminate the extremes of both wealth and poverty, still leave open the possibility of a de facto “class system” based on educational and cultural attainments, especially in the sciences and in the fine arts?

And, to get back to WWWtW and the idea of a “public orthodoxy”—I ask again: why does a class system—even though it admits of a hypothetical cultural/moral elite--automatically empower that elite to decide what the “others” may read, think, and discuss in a public forum? I don’t find such a power anywhere in the Constitution. In fact, I believe that the Constitution proscribes any group having that kind of power.

I’m not sure that I’ve connected many dots here... Any thoughts?

Oh, the title of this post? I was amused at the horror expressed by Maximos at the revanchism expressed by the Mexican official in the video clip embedded in the post in question, as compared to his strident endorsement in the February 22, 2008 post, "Reflections on Kosovo, In the Wake of Independence” (you’ll need to scroll down to it in the archives) of the instantaneous Serbian revanchist aspirations with regard to Kosovo. I guess it’s all a matter of whose Christian ox is being gored by what Muslim bull?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Interlude: Stick a Fork in It, It's Done

The "it" being the Democratic party in the 2008 election. This will be short, not sweet.

My last post was the beginning of an examination of the proposal that the establishment of a "public orthodoxy" would be a good thing. I opposed it.

That said, it must be admitted that we already have a public orthodoxy of sorts in effect. This unformulated, but universally recognized, public orthodoxy regularly raises its ugly head above the surface of the mud in which it wiggles during political campaigns. Its bite is lethal, and Barack Obama has been bitten--big time.

Obama does not survive this Rev. Jeremiah Wright flap. The reason for this is that he has, at least to the perception of any reasonable person--lied about it. That is a violation of the public orthodoxy, which states that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Obama's assertion that he is only now hearing Wright's anti-White rhetoric for the first time just doesn't pass the sniff test. I don't believe him when he says that, and I've been supporting him ever since the Clintons started using his race against him.

The implication of this is that the Democratic party is now moribund. Unless Hillary Clinton can catch Obama in the both the delegate count and the popular vote prior to the convention, the Democrats, if they want to win the general election, will have to dump Obama -- ostensibly the People's Choice -- through the actions of the Super Delegates. But it won't work. McCain will win either way; either because Obama has discredited himself by lying about what he knew about Wright and when he knew it, or because the Democratic party has split itself right down the middle and Democratic voters stay home on election day.

It's over. Get used to the idea of another inarticulate, uninformed, jingoistic, war-mongering, Republican sitting in the Oval Office. Gear up for the war with Iran. And don't be trying to unload your house any time in the near future.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 3/18/08
Barack Obama gave a major speech on race today, in an attempt to rectify the situation on the basis of which I pronounced the eulogy for his campaign above. It was a great speech; so say at least 90% of the pundits and talking heads on cable TV. It is being praised by both the left and the right. In my opinion, its greatness resides primarily in its uniqueness. Who else--ever--in American politics could have given it? No-body. Case closed. It was a speech we haven't heard before. I think that he probably recouped his losses among voters on the left, like myself, who may have been prepared either to switch (too late!) to Hillary, or just sit it out in despair. But voters like me are not going to be the issue in the national election, should Obama win the nomination, as it seems all but certain that he will. The voter Obama most needs to win over is the same voter who will have been most put off by the down-home, nitty-gritty, tell-it-like-it-is, filled-with-the-Spirit, over-the-top, rhetoric of the Rev. Wright. Did his speech today do anything at all to mollify the guy who lives in that vast Albania West that lies between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh? I'm talkin' about the guy who believes Budweiser to be good beer. The guy who thinks a man is gay if he smokes anything but Marlboros. I mean the dude who thinks pro wrestling is for real; the guy who is intellectually challenged by watching souped-up stock cars go in circles hour-on-end. I don't think so.
It is said that black people know all about white people. After all, they've been washing our sheets for a few hundred years. We have no secrets from them. But most white people know almost nothing about black people that they haven't learned from the media. Oh, they know that black guy at work. The thing is, they think that the white guy in the next cubicle to their right is a fool because he's stupid. But they think the fool in the next cubicle to their left is stupid because he's black. That's the truth of it.
Obama probably retrieved the intelligensia. Nobody since Mary Lou Retten has nailed a dismount like Obama nailed his today. But Joe Sixpack ain't a gymnastics fan.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #5: First We Burn the Books...

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

…then we come for the readers.

Yes, just as you may have feared, Fire Marshal Maximos, not content with having burned every book he and his troopers found to be effervescent of liberalism, is now out to get the readers of those books:

For, while we may speak somewhat jestingly of consigning certain works to the flames, what we are doing, if we do so reflectively, is expressing the conviction that there either is, or ought to be, a public orthodoxy, and that it is preferable that this orthodoxy be explicit when necessary.

Maximos proposes a public orthodoxy, because:

No society is obliged to extend its protecting shelter, nor the dignity of "right", to its own subversion, and the means thereof.

Oh, really? What about this?:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…

Well, there you go: there’s the right to subvert it, no? And the Second Amendment to the Constitution—or so I am told by my local patriot-slash-biker-slash-militia man-slash-yahoo--is there to protect one of the means--should Hustler magazine prove inadequate to the task, that is.

Maximos continues to wax eloquent in defense of thought control, by stating that

the singular and salubrious virtue of actually consigning to the flames some pernicious piece of writing is that of honesty: the declaration that there obtains, if fact, an orthodoxy which we mean to uphold. [How do you mean to uphold it?] That act announces that there shall be no confusion, no ambiguity; certain ideas and the practices they sustain are excluded [How do you plan to exclude them?] as inimical to a way of life.

Does this mean that he’s stopped “jesting”?

Was it not to uphold a public orthodoxy that Torquemada did his funky thing during the Spanish Inquisition? And was it not for the sake of a public orthodoxy that John Calvin consigned Michael Servetus to the flames? To bring things closer to our day and age, what were The Great Purge and the Moscow Show Trials of Joseph Stalin meant to perpetuate, if not a public orthodoxy? Ditto, the Cultural Revolution, and the trial of the Gang of Four, perpetrated by those Maoist Red Guards, so very zealous in the cause of a public orthodoxy. In the good ol’ U.S. of A. we had our own pale version of that in the kangaroo court that tried the Chicago Seven for inciting the police force of the Windy City to riot.

A public orthodoxy, you see, is just a gaudy rhetorical vestment, to be pranced around in by a poseur—unless, of course, he has the both the will and the means to enforce it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Readings: The Eyes Have It

Another recently departed (February 18th) writer whose work I am therefore sampling is French novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet. I own a used copy of his first published novel, released in English as The Erasers. I began it, but never finished. Rather than start that one again, I borrowed his most acclaimed novel, The Voyeur, from the library.

Robbe-Grillet is an interesting writer, but to my taste, not a very entertaining one. His work is formulaic and rigidly structured by a technique that is described in the Wikipedia article on Robbe-Grillet as constructed of, “Methodical, geometric, and often repetitive descriptions of objects [which] replace the psychology and interiority of the character”. The article goes on to say that, “Timelines and plots are fractured and the resulting novel resembles the literary equivalent of a cubist painting.” As Wikipedia points out, Robbe-Grillet’s fiction is clearly influenced by the philosophical school of phenomenology, which, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.” The Stanford article continues, “Phenomenology has been practiced in various guises for centuries, but it came into its own in the early 20th century in the works of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and others. Phenomenological issues of intentionality, consciousness, qualia, and first-person perspective have been prominent in recent philosophy of mind.”

While devoid of the usual plot devices that move a more traditional novel along from point A to point B to point C, usually while delivering some philosophical message of the author’s, either through a narrator, or in the words of the protagonist, Robbe-Grillet’s fiction instead embodies the philosophy with which Robbe-Grillet is concerned, presenting it without “editorial” comment.

Wikipedia sketches the “plot” of the novel thusly:

The Voyeur revolves around an apparent murder: throughout the novel, Mathias unfolds a newspaper clipping about the details of a young girl's murder and the discovery of her body among the seaside rocks. Mathias' relationship with a dead girl, possibly that hinted at in the story, is obliquely revealed in the course the novel so that we are never actually sure if Mathias is a killer or simply a person who fantasizes about killing.”

In a passage that is characteristic of the novel’s technique, Mathias here observes the movements of the barmaid in a café where he has stopped to have a drink:

Having reached a point near him—less than a step away—within reach of his hand—she leaned over to put the bottle back in place—presenting the nape of her neck from which, where it was exposed by her dress, protruded the tip of a vertebra. Then, straightening up, she busied herself drying the newly-washed glasses. Outside, behind the glass door, beyond the paving-stones and the mud, the water of the harbor sparkled in dancing flashes: undulating lozenges of flame forming transverse gothic arches, lines which suddenly contracted to produce a jagged flash of light—which as suddenly flattened, extending horizontally until it formed a line that broke once more into a brilliant zigzag—a jig-saw puzzle, a seamless series of incessant dislocations.

Already, at this point, only 46 pages into the text in the edition I’m reading, there has been enough repetition of the “nape of the neck” image, in both real-time and in the imagination of Mathias, to lend an ominous air to these visual images. The effects of light on the surface of the water have been subject to similar repetition.

Film buffs may also know that Robbe-Grillet wrote the celebrated filmscript of Last Year at Marienbad, one of the most acclaimed European films of the 1960s.

I am not able to predict, as of this writing, whether this will be the occasion upon which I finish a Robbe-Grillet novel, or not.



I can now report that I did finish The Voyeur--just today, March 29th. The plot tension builds too slowly for me, but I must say that the last 25% of novel is a very satisfying read. In the interim, I also read all of a very good novel by Pat Barker, entitled Blow Your House Down. It is the story of a group of prostitutes in a town in northern England who are being hunted by a serial killer. Recommended.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Readings: Buckley, Full Circle

My few, but faithful, readers will perhaps have noted my frequent practice of reading from the oeuvres of prominent men and women of letters who have recently “left the building” and posting some of their words. (Those would be the posts that you didn’t read, but never mind that.)

I think that all, or most, of those writers whom I have so remembered have been individuals at least one of whose books I had previously read. William F. Buckley, Jr. was not such a writer.

Until now, I have known Buckley strictly through television and journalism. With his passing, and since--even though both his ideology and his religion were antithetical to me--I have to admit his importance relative to the era of American political history most of which we have shared, I decided to read one of his books. With so very many to choose from, I decided that the thing to do was to begin where he pretty much began. So I borrowed a copy of God and Man at Yale from the library. I have thus far read the opening chapter, “Religion at Yale.” On that topic, here are a few of Buckley’s own words:

Before leaving religion in the curriculum, brief reference should be made to the substantial contribution to secularism that is being made at Yale and elsewhere by widespread academic reliance on relativism, pragmatism, and utilitarianism. The teachings of John Dewey and his predecessors have borne fruit. And there is surely not a department at Yale that is uncontaminated with the absolute that there are no absolutes, no intrinsic rights, no ultimate truths. The acceptance of these notions, which emerge in courses in history and economics, in sociology and political science, in psychology and literature, makes impossible any intelligible conception of an omnipotent, purposeful, and benign Supreme Being who has laid down immutable laws, endowed his creatures with inalienable rights, and posited unchangeable rules of human conduct.

If only we could all agree on what those “unchangeable rules” are, what a wonderful world it would be.

We are poor little lambs
Who have lost our way.
Baa! Baa! Baa!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Readings: on Out of Egypt

On February 23, 2008, Tom, the Keeper of the Keys at Disputations, posted a review of the recently-released novel about Jesus by that renowned retailer of vampire sagas, Anne Rice. The novel, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, is the second offering in what is sure to be at least a trilogy, and perhaps more. I had seen the first novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, on the new book shelf at the public library when it came out. I picked it up and riffled the pages briefly, then put it down. As Tom phrased it in his review of the sequel, “Writing in the voice of the Son of God seemed like a case of trying too hard, and I gave Out of Egypt a miss.” My thoughts were akin to his. Jesus at age seven just didn’t engage my imagination enough to devote the requisite time to it. Then I read Tom’s brief review of The Road to Cana.

Knowing Tom to be a ruthless critic with the highest conceivable standards, I began reading, fully expecting the review to be a hatchet job to make the ghost of Carrie Nation moan with envy. I was very much surprised to be completely wrong. You should read Tom’s piece for yourself (you’ll have to scroll down to it, as I can’t figure out how to link to specific posts on Disputations), but his bottom line is: “The Road to Cana is easily the best -- the best written, the most Catholic -- of the handful of novelizations of Jesus's life that I've read.” No shit, sez I. This dictated the necessity of reading The Road to Cana. But since we’ve obviously got a boxed set building here, and I’m more than a little anal about completeness, I knew that I’d have to read Out of Egypt first. And so I am.

As of this writing I’m not even half-way into the novel. But you must understand that I’m not publishing a cyber-mag here; I try to make Rodak Riffs a true “weblog”—that is, a log of what I’m doing. As I tool down the road, I stop for hitch-hikers; if you want to grab a copy of Out of Egypt and read along, please do so. My opinion of the novel so far is positive.

As the novel opens, Jesus is seven years-old. Joseph has had a premonition that Herod is about to die, and has resolved to return to Nazareth, after stopping at Jerusalem for the Passover. The family is living and working in Alexandria. The whole, extended Holy Family is there, working in the family business; Uncle Cleopas, the several Marys, the cousins of Jesus, his half-brother, James, some other uncles, etc. For Protestants, such as myself, who have been skeptical of the prominence given the Holy Family, and particularly Joseph, by Catholics, Anne Rice here provides a very convincing portrait of Joseph as the patriarchal head of the clan. His word is law.

Tom says of the Jesus of The Road to Cana, “…as he waits for whatever it is that he's waiting for, he's regularly pecked at by those around him who are getting on with their lives.” This is already going on in Out of Egypt. But it is more that Jesus is trying to figure out why he’s treated as so special by all the others—particularly his uncanny cousin, John.

This is already getting longer than I had intended for it to be. Therefore, briefly, some things that I like about the novel:

1) It stresses the historical fact that Jesus was born and raised in a Greek-speaking civilization. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all of the other characters speak fluent Greek, as well as Aramaic. Rice actually has Jesus beginning his formal education under the tutelage of Philo. One of the reasons for Joseph removing the family back to rural Nazareth, despite their material success in Alexandria, is that he wants Jesus to be educated where they read the Scriptures in Hebrew, rather than in Greek.

2) Rice stresses the violence of the world in which Jesus lived and delivered his message. It is so easy for us to imagine Jesus strolling through a tranquil countryside, delivering his speeches to a care-free people. The first thing that happens when the clan arrives in Jerusalem is a massacre, conducted by the palace guard of Archelaus, successor to Herod, of the Jewish pilgrims arriving at the temple to celebrate the Passover. Once the clan has fled from Jerusalem, staying with relatives in the vicinity of Jericho, their temporary dwelling is invaded by Jewish insurgents who are intent on looting their possessions in order to carry on the fight against the Roman occupiers. The family puts up no resistance, behaving as cowering and penniless peasants, and are not harmed by the rebel band. After the bandits have left, Joseph instructs his family thusly: “Remember this, “ he said. He looked from James to me and to Little Joses, and to my cousins who stared up at him, and to John who stood beside his mother. “Remember. Never lift your hand to defend yourself or to strike. Be patient. If you must speak, be simple.” The pacifist in me likes that touch.

3) At the point in the novel where I have stopped reading in order to write this, Elizabeth has just announced that she will soon die, and that John will be sent to live with the Essenes, in the desert. This clearly opens up room for some very interesting speculation about an interesting group, and I look forward to seeing how Rice develops this theme.

Enough. Get it. Read it, as I shall now go and do.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #4: BYO Weenies!

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

Oh, boy! Hey kids! Guess what?! A virtual book burning! What fun!

In your heart, you know they’re right. Sure. You know that you don’t possess the intellect, the discretion, the maturity, or, at long last, bubba, the class, to decide on your own what to read. Well, happily for you, your moral superiors at WWWtW have undertaken the task of protecting you from your own so very apparent shortcomings. A list is being drawn up of those books which should be removed from the shelves and incinerated before intellectual dwarves
such as yourselves incur irreparable harm by reading them.

Look, it worked in 1933, and it can work again today.

In the words of Fire Marshal, Maximos:

There are books that, by virtue of their publication and continued existence, so corrupt, distort, and occlude the perception of reality that they decrease the sum total of knowledge in the cosmos; these are books that function as intellectual black holes, actively negating knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, leaving the void of ignorance and depravity in place of these. It would have been better for all the world had they never been written, or, having once been written, that they had been consigned to the flames, so that we could discuss the temperature at which ignorance burns.

And, maybe, if we’re all real good, they’ll make us virtual s’mores!


UPDATE: Kyle R. Cupp of Postmodern Papist had the temerity to visit WWWtW’s crypto-fascist bonfire and to there suggest:

Not into burning books myself. If an author's ideas are wrong or dangerous, let them be shown as such in open, hospitable discussion. Those eager to burn a book may even have something to learn from the author.

This polite and in my opinion, civilized, point of view on the subject of book burning was requited thusly:

Go wring your hands somewhere else.

Posted by thebyronicman March 6, 2008 11:56 PM

Evidently, at WWWtW, not only are the blog authors empowered to quash dissent, but it would seem that every undergraduate sycophant in residence is also equipped with a hook. Caveat emptor.



It's nice to be remembered. And they even spelled my name right:

Apparently we've agreed to burn Rodak's computer (wink).
Posted by Michael Bauman March 7, 2008 9:19 AM

Reflections: Connect the Dots

In concluding his victory speech after sewing up the GOP nomination, Senator McCain promised:

[We] will fight every minute of every day to make certain we have a government that is as capable, wise, brave and decent as the great people we serve.

Good God! I thought--I was hoping we could set the bar a bit higher than that!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Reflections: Drawing Analogies

As I was driving into town this morning on my way to work, I was listening to a mix tape that I had put together years ago. Just as I was crossing the city limits, the Joni Mitchell song, “A Case of You” came on. I like that song.

As I was listening, the verse that I will quote below struck me in a way that had nothing to do with its context in Mitchell’s song. For it occurred to me that if we lukewarm Christians; we whose faith perhaps glows like molten steel while inside the church, but so quickly chills out to gun metal gray when we hit those mean streets; we who are so easily beguiled, coddled, and hummed to sleep in the soft arms of easy grace; that if only we, I thought, would apply these words of Joni Mitchell, not to some transient lover, but to Jesus Christ, what a difference it would make in our lives:

Go to him,
Stay with him if you can--
But be prepared to bleed.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Reflections: The Golden Age of Television

This morning, as I made my regular visit to the site of cyber-friend Anthony, these observations, inspired by the death of William F. Buckley Jr., suggested the topic of this post to me. While Anthony’s main purpose, in the spirit of let us now praise famous men, was to eulogize Mr. Buckley, he made this observation at the end of the post:

The great social critics on both sides [i.e., the political right and left] are either gone (Buckley, Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson) or old (Chomsky, Buchanan). And yes, most of them are annoying (Mailer was a psycho and Thompson probably insane). But they were intelligent and thought provoking. In their place we have mediocrities.

There is some truth in that. When I thought about it, though, the following also occurred to me, and I commented on Anthony’s post thusly:

Let it be noted that despite the supposed "liberal bias" of the MainStreamMedia, figures on the true left are never seen on mainstream television. If not for C-SPAN, figures like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn would never be on TV at all. All of the neocons, and the rest of Wm. F. Buckley's spawn, by contrast, are on constantly. There are still left-wingers alive in the wild, but you have to seek them out for yourself; they are not brought to you free of charge by the MSM, as are the generations of Kristols and Podhoretzes.

Whatever happened to the days when Gore Vidal could serve as a color-man for a major network on the coverage of a major party convention? When will a figure like Fidel Castro again appear on a popular entertainment program? Why, in the words of the immortal Rodney King, can’t we all just get along?

WWWtW-Watch: #3 - Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

Here is a rather unique tactic employed by Paul J. Cella, Editor of WWWtW (and the man who ultimately silenced me permanently), to stifle dissent on the site: statistics.

In this instance, I was the third person, following Lydia and Maximos, to make a comment on this post, authored by Steve Burton. Those interested can read Burton’s article, but briefly, he was responding to an author--referred to below as “WW”--who had written on the immigration question, in favor of open borders, stating that:

"[C]hauvinists" oppose open borders, because they care more about relatively small losses to themselves and their countrymen than they do about relatively large gains for non-countrymen - which violates the principle of the "fundamental moral equality of human beings," thereby "getting morality fundamentally wrong."

My initial comment, based on this idea, was:

If WW is saying something like, "Your need creates my obligation and my responsive sacrifice on your behalf benefits us both" then I have to agree with him. I take it that WW's "chauvinism" means "self-interested action in disregard of the need of the other." It would seem to be patent that such behavior is immoral, even if it is "just" by the standards of secular law. Charity, too, is justice--but tempered by love.

That was my position, and I continued to defend it. Finally, Editor Paul J. Cella had had enough of my recalcitrance in the face of the self-righteous opposition of the WWWtW staff and hangers-on, and he came out with this:

Through 44 comments to Steve's post, we have 23 from Rodak and maybe 10 actually answering Steve's question.

Well, two can play that game. I counted the total, when I went back though the thread, as 43 overall comments, including 22 made by me. That’s close enough, as they say, for government work; we won’t quibble over that, or demand a recount. I then tallied up exactly how many separate individuals I was responding to, in making what adds up to about half of the comments on the thread to that point. The total was seven (7). My points were addressed by: Lydia, Maximos, Steve Nicoloso, Kurt, Paul J. Cella, Booton, and Royale. Another commenter, Step2, did not respond to anything I wrote.

So, dividing my 22 (or 23) comments among seven people, all but two of whom were addressing me to disagree with my points, it is hard to see how the quantity of my comments was out of line with the demands being made upon me to respond to points made contra my position by other commenters. All these seven people would have needed to do, at any point, was stop responding to my responses and I would have gone on to other threads, or to other blogs: my total would have stopped mounting.

It is also hard to see how I was not “answering Steve’s question”—whatever that was. Nonetheless, Editor Paul J. Cella, in a fit of pique, wrote:

So you think we […blah, blah, blah…] and Christianity is not for the sentimental. Etc., etc.
Fine. We heard you, man.
May I now ask that you to refrain from a further repetition of these views, especially in Steve's next post, so that the rest of us might carry on our discussion in peace.

In other words, if we can’t convince you that you are wrong, we will simply demand that you shut the fuck up. I did comply with this demand, despite that fact that some commenters continued to address my points after I was asked to stifle myself. (This was also the case on another thread, after I was permanently 86’d.)

Number Four on Umberto Eco’s List: Disagreement is treason.

As a footnote to the above, to “Steve’s next post” as referred to by Cella above, (entitled “Universalism” vs. “Chauvinism” Part II) which I was asked to butt out of and obediently complied, exactly 17 comments have been made to-date in the 18 days since it was posted. So I guess that the faithful were well able to “to carry on [their] discussion in peace.”

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Readings: Last Thoughts on The Road

In her introduction to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: the Original Scroll, entitled Rewriting America – Kerouac’s Nation of “Underground Monsters”, author Penny Vlagopoulos notes that, “Kerouac felt too deeply the gaps between what life was supposed to be and how people actually lived it.” And, “Kerouac felt a profound sense of loneliness; this stemmed partly from a spiritual understanding of human suffering that was so embedded in his Catholic upbringing, and partly from his artist’s interiority, which heightened the sense of his difference even as it produced solidarity between him and people who were “mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.”

It must always be remembered, in reading Kerouac, that—as he said of the character, Dean Moriarty [Neal Cassady]—“He was BEAT—the root, the soul of Beatific.On the Road, beneath the surface level of drugs, sex, and endless “kicks”, is a spiritual work.

The “road” in On the Road, is perhaps not exactly the road taken by Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, or the road taken by the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; but it is, in a very real way, related to both. Or, perhaps, On the Road is better understood as the record of a quest; if not for the Grail, then for life Itself—life in the Now.

All of this is most evident in the passages below. At the end of Kerouac’s stint behind the wheel, concerning which I posted below, the whole mad crew ends up, blasted on weed, in a Mexican whorehouse. Kerouac here confesses that,

I was trying to break loose [from “another gal…who clung to my neck like a leech”] to get at a 16 year old colored girl who sat gloomily inspecting her navel through an opening in her flimsy dress” [p.387]

As he continues to observe, At one point the mother of the little colored girl—not colored but dark—came in to hold a brief and mournful convocation with her daughter. When I saw that I was too ashamed to try for the one I really wanted. [p.388]

Kerouac’s meditation on the girl ends with this:

I couldn’t take my eyes off the little dark girl…and the way, like a Queen, she walked around and was even reduced by the sullen bartender to menial tasks such as bringing us drinks. Of all the girls in there she needed the money most; maybe her mother had come to get money from her for her little infant sisters and brothers. It never, never occurred to me to just approach her and give her some money. I have a feeling she would have taken it with a degree of scorn and scorn from the likes of her made me flinch. …Strange that Neal and Frank also failed to approach her; her unimpeachable dignity was the thing that made her poor in a wild old whorehouse, and think of that. At one point I saw Neal leaning like a statue toward her, ready to fly, and befuddlement cross his face as she glanced coolly and imperiously his way and he stopped rubbing his belly and gaped and finally bowed his head. For she was the queen.

This is the key: …her unimpeachable dignity was the thing that made her poor in a wild old whorehouse, and think of that.

And think of that, indeed. Think of it in terms of Kerouac’s deeply ingrained Christian sentiment. This dark girl, whom he loves--in the midst of what can only be understood as a hellish scene--without being able to approach, is worthy of such respect and devotion because she is able to be in the whorehouse without being of the whorehouse.

May I, through the gloom of my personal whorehouse, be granted the grace to see--as did Kerouac--that beautiful child as an exemplar.