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June 25, 2006 - June 18, 2006

Monday, April 04, 2005


The Gathering Storm

PSAYINGS.5G.18-19. It seems that only in the case of movie stars do we roll back the clock at the moment of death to see the departed as they were before age and illness eroded their physical bodies. Most of the footage we'll be seeing in the next week will show us John Paul II as an enfeebled old man. This is no conspiracy, in my opinion, but it does serve to undermine one of this Pope's most outstanding attributes -- his extraordinary strength. The image shown above is meant as a small reminder.

Others are much better equipped to discuss his role in history and in the spiritual realm. The first two articles I looked at this morning, by Charles Krauthammer and Richard John Neuhaus, used the same reference point to establish the scale of the Pope's stature: Stalin's dismissal of the power of Rome -- "The pope? How many divisions does he have?" Stalin didn't get an answer in his lifetime, but rather in the posterity that toppled all of his monuments to himself, aided considerably by the strong right arm of Pope John Paul II.

Yet for all the talk of greatness we shall be hearing in the next week or two, I suspect that there are forces at work to make sure that the next pope is not a titan but a mere mortal. Why? Several reasons, both general and specific. Greatness tends, however much we admire it, to abash and even fatigue us. Nature or providence often tenders the relief we yearn for, in the shape of a smaller, less intimidating successor. Washington retires on horseback, bequeathing us the bookish Adams. Lincoln is assassinated to promote the hapless Andrew Johnson. Churchill is rudely turned out of office at the very moment of his supreme victory in favor of Clement Atlee (who?!). Franklin Roosevelt carries his vast Patrician iconography with him to the grave, and his people inherit the decidedly plebeian Harry Truman.

The Catholic Church actually has a saying that captures this phenomenon: "A fat pope is followed by a thin pope." While I'm sure the adage is not meant to suggest that a good pope must be succeeded by a bad pope, it may well portend that a strong pope is often succeeded by a weak pope.

Other, more topical factors -- perhaps in reflection of the larger principle -- also support the notion that the cardinals may move in a different direction this time. It is clear, for example, that the Europeans have developed a preference for leaders who are, in every real sense, impotent. We can see their vision of the future in the presidency of the EU, a revolving door of faceless obfuscators who remain acceptable by saying and doing nothing that could be called brave, let alone strong. Many countries around the world seem to approve the European model; outside the U.S., Kofi Annan's pitiful stewardship of the U.N. has generated enough fondness to make it likely that he can survive the corruption of his administration merely by reaffirming his mild lack of interest in making a difference anywhere on earth.

In contrast, note the ceaseless hateful rhetoric that issues from the worldwide chorus because the United States has contrarily opted for a strong president. Is this a lesson that will be lost on the College of Cardinals? Time will tell, but there are signs that even within the Church, there already exists an academic foundation capable of rationalizing the deep emotional need for relief. In this morning's L.A. Times, there is a column by Michael McGough titled "Should the Papacy be Down-Sized?" McGough cites a book by John R. Quinn, archbishop of (where else?) San Francisco, which argues for a Vatican more along the lines of the E.U.:

Paradoxical as it seems, the larger-than-life pontiff, whose "popemobile" ran up mileage around the world, issued an encyclical in 1995 expressing interest in a quieter papacy, in finding "a way of exercising the primacy, which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nevertheless open to new situations."

The encyclical, "Ut Unum Sint" (That They May Be One), is the starting point for Quinn's critique of Vatican over-centralization. Perhaps its most startling feature is the suggestion that the pope might return to the lower-profile job of bishop of Rome, as it was understood in the first 1,000 years of Christianity, before the schism with Eastern Orthodoxy. In those days, John Paul noted, the bishop of Rome merely "acted by common consent as moderator" when Christians disagreed about beliefs or practices, rather than as an ecclesiastical micromanager.

What would a papacy shaped by the encyclical look like? For one thing, it would be more parochial, more local, with, most likely, an Italian pope who tended to his Roman flock and didn't stride so much on the world stage.

Yup. Us post-modern folks don't much care for lots of striding on the world stage. Slinking and sneaking and drinking tea with visiting despots will do.

Thankfully, I know next to nothing about Vatican politics. So, I'm most likely dead wrong about what's going to happen in the next few weeks. That's the good news.


Jumping on the Bandwagon

THE RIGHT TO REDEFINE RIGHTS. This spring, deep issues seem to be bubbling up from the subconscious depths to burst into public debate. So far, we've had the Gender Thing, the Life Thing, and to a lesser extent the First Amendment Thing. Not much has really been accomplished on any of them. The war between the sexes is likely to continue. The Schiavo affair has come and gone without generating more than one or two points of light amid all the heat. And the First Amendment issue is still awaiting an equivalent large-scale detonation. Here at InstaPunk we've noted the beginnings of an assault from the right, and in fairness we should note that the biggest threat is still the one posed by McCain-Feingold. Professor Bainbridge addressed this bill's newest ramifications not long ago and summarized its spectacular unconstitutionality in a few well chosen words:

Sigh. How hard is it to understand those simple words of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech...."? No law!

This kind of logic is far too simple for the intellectuals on the right and the left who know better than the rest of us what should be permissible expression and what shouldn't. So I'm lining up with them. It's so much easier to stake a particular claim than to try imagining all possible permutations of the law of unintended consequences. I got started thinking about this yesterday. It was a bitter, rainy, windy Sunday, and I found myself torpidly watching a Stephen King miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel. I think it was called "The Storm of the Century." It was a pretty awful Kingish morality tale featuring an omniscient demon who knew everybody's secret sins, and, boy, did everybody have them. But that's not what bothered me the most. I realized a couple of hours in that I had reached the point of wanting to outlaw any screenplay that gives actors an excuse to employ a Maine accent.

Small-minded? Perhaps. But the more I considered it, the more I realized what a public service such a law would be. Not only would it effectively ban all future movie versions of Stephen King's books, it would also set a precedent for banning numerous other obnoxious regional accents actors like spewing. Accents that I'm sure many of you are as fed up with as I am.

Think about it. That horrifying Boston Irish accent we hear from Bruin fans and in man-in-the-street interviews with Boston cabbies. Forbidden by the FCC. That annoyingly over-the-top New York/New Jersey accent that has spread like an audio infection from Martin Scorsese gangster movies to the Sopranos to the nine different versions of Law and Order to... well, it's endless. Except that it ends right here and now. Outlawed.

There's no need to stop there. I'm also silencing the nauseating Chicago accent that began with the Blues Brothers' "Mission from God" and swept the public via the supposedly funny SNL skits about "Da Bearz." And I'm going to be even more draconian about the consonant-swallowing Valley Girl accent used by every teenage girl in the country. If they can't speak like sentient human beings, they'll have to shut up forever. It amazes me that they all talk like Beverly Hills brats whose minds have been destroyed by cell phone microwaves, and yet --when they show up on American Idol -- they all sing like tone-deaf clones of Whitney Houston. That's going to be illegal too. When it comes to singing contests, there's going to be a new diversity-affirmative-action-type regulation that requires some representation of real singing talent, as well as at least a few practitioners of non-Whitney-Houston-type vocalizing -- say, a smattering of perfect-pitch Broadway voices, a handful of boys and girls who sing the actual notes without doing flyovers and snap rolls around them, and at least one superb operatic tenor.

I haven't yet decided if I'm going to ban the F-Word entirely from all movie and TV scripts, but here's what I am going to do: I'm sentencing the writers of Deadwood and the Sopranos to life imprisonment, subject to parole only if they express genuine remorse for not realizing that a dirty vocabulary is not sufficient to make you a trenchant slice-of-life artist with a lifelong permission slip to show up at awards ceremonies in jeans and a five-day growth of beard. There's more to it than that. You also have to get arrested for possession of heroin and beat the rap.

Speaking of rap, it's gone. Regardless of what you may think, we've all heard enough of it to last a lifetime. And think how many lives of automobile speakers will be saved in the process. They have a right to life too.

One more thing. I also listened to a few minutes of NPR yesterday and chanced to hear the most recent Harry Shearer vehicle called "Le Show." It's banned. Permanently. There's nothing worse than a comic who's traded his sense of humor for dull, repetitive sectarian sniping. Adios, Harry.

That's enough for now. Think about what I've proposed so far, while I study matters further and add to the list. Eventually, you'll all be glad I did this for you. Honestly.

Thursday, March 31, 2005


Stray Items

Must-see TV this week

PSAYINGS.5Q.80. Nothing long-winded today. Just a few glancing blows unloaded at random.


The Media Research Council is gloating about a series of new polls and surveys that show Americans -- left and right of the spectrum -- concerned and perhaps even fed up about the vulgarization of popular culture. The speedily reached conclusion:

So much for Hollywood’s cushiest defense: We only reflect society. Society is now responding, loudly and unambiguously: No, you’re dramatically out of touch.

The numbers condemning Tinseltown cascade: 66 percent said there is too much violence on open-air TV, 58 percent said there’s too much cursing, and 50 percent found too much sexual content, the Time poll said. So upset is the public that about 49 percent, [sic] agree that FCC regulation ought to be extended to cover basic cable, which includes raunchy reality shows on MTV and the over-the-top FX shows "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck" on many cable systems.

I wonder how the MRC comes down on the desirability of regulating private cable broadcasts. After all, they're allied to the party of limited government, and the media-regulating FCC was the brainchild of that old socialist devil FDR... Oh that's right: liberty is fine until the wrong sort of folks take it too far. Then it's time for the virtuous to pass some laws that restrict liberty to, well, just the virtuous things.

We'd like to remind the MRC and Mr. Bozell in particular that one of the reasons Republicans continue to draw a distinction between a republic and a democracy is that pure democracy is tantamount to tyranny by the majority. The minority view is still supposed to have a place in the U.S., and I'd further remind them that in a capitalist society like ours there's a very nice profit to be made by marketing product to 40 (or even 30) percent of the populace. Or should we also impose some major new regulations on the markets we normally describe as self-correcting? We could have the virtuous people decide who gets to make money. How about that? You'd probably find some "progressives" who'd like to help. How cool is that?

As a postscript, I'd bet serious money that some of the "concerned" in these polls are mothers who have taken their preteen daughters to the concerts of this young role model (NSFW). (If the video you shouldn't be watching doesn't play right away, hit refresh or reload.) Hypocrisy comes in all flavors.

End of the World

According to a new consensus study of more than a thousand scientists, we miserable humans have used up two-thirds of the earth's resources. Two-thirds? Does the 100 percent figure include all the iron in the earth's core, all the coal buried underground, all the hydrogen in the atmosphere, all the brains of the independent innovators who have always found a new way undreamt of by degreed scientists...? Oh, forget it. More twaddle from the tenured geeks of the academy.

Rectitude Redux

Every so often, the popular culture vomits up an undeniable reminder that even the crudest and most tasteless forms of mass entertainment can give the highest of highbrows something to think about. This week's episode of South Park, "Best Friends Forever," is a sterling example. You must watch it. NB: It's scheduled for repeat showing on the Comedy Channel tonight at 10 pm and 12 am. Warning: yes, it is crude and tasteless. It's also dead on.


PSOMETHING to think about

FORGERS.14.8-11. It seemed fitting to wait till the calm after the storm to offer up some observations about the national melodrama of the past few weeks.

A few catalysts for these observations:

1. A right-leaning Philadelphia talk show host who expressed, if not surprise, the scent of potential controversy surrounding Laura Bush's statement that she and her husband have living wills.

2. The strident claim of many pro-lifers that the court's decision was synonymous with an execution and the corollary claim that murderers on death row receive more consideration for their rights than the victim in this case.

3. The determination of so many Christians -- including, ironically enough, the Pope, now on a feeding tube himself -- that life must be extended by every means possible, to the last possible nanosecond.

I'm not taking up a sword here to question the sincerity of the participants on all sides of this debate. Rather, I'm interested in highlighting what has been, to me, an ironic but almost invisible backdrop to the proceedings. Let's consider the catalysts one by one.

Why should there be any conflict whatsoever between the Bush's Christian pro-life faith and the fact that they have drawn up living wills? Not to do so would be the same as saying that every single life must be extended as long as possible by even the most artificial and technological means. And in using the term "life" note that we are implicitly defining it as the continuing heartbeat and respiration of the human body. How is this definition consistent with the Christian emphasis on the soul as the true life which is housed in the flesh? At every turn, the Christian faith enjoins its followers to defy the demands of the flesh on behalf of the good of the soul. And is not the central act of the Christian drama that Christ consented willingly to the death of the flesh in order to demonstrate the separateness and deathlessness of the soul?

If all must do everything possible to extend the life of the physical body regardless, then every act of sacrifice unto death by mothers, fathers, soldiers, firemen, and other altruists and martyrs automatically becomes a sin. Our Christian duty is reduced to the mission of subsisting in whatever form for as long as possible. This means, among other things, that Christians had better revise their views about the morality of stem cell research. And they'd better cast away that old chapter of Ecclesiastes which begins, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: (2) A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted." Perhaps they'd also be well advised to acknowledge Christ's sin on the cross when he declared, with evident deliberate intent, "It is finished," and "I commend unto thy hands my spirit." In short, Christian life is about breathing and nothing else.

Catalyst number two. The execution analogy and its legal corollary are as flawed as they are belabored. Imagine that a state or federal court had the power to sentence you to this fate: you are to be confined to a bed for the rest of your natural days, so drugged or otherwise incapacitated that you cannot see clearly enough to read or watch television, cannot speak coherently to those around you, and cannot control your body sufficiently to wash yourself or open or close your hands unaided. (Those of you who have some imagination might try this exercise in your own bedrooms for two hours or so -- no radio, no TV, no speaking aloud; then, if you wish to experience a real possibility of this sentence, subtract your own consciousness from the experience.) No court could escape the immediate overturning of such a sentence, which is "cruel and unusual punishment" by any definition. How, then, can the canceling of such a sentence equal an execution, and how can its indefinite continuation represent any kind of victory? How might the pro-lifers have celebrated the restoration of the feeding tube? How much would the party have been enjoyed by the guest of honor?

The Pope. How to interpret his determination to stay "alive" by any and all available means? Has he expanded his convictions about contraception, abortion, and the death penalty so far that he too has conflated the life of the soul with the life of the body? It seems impudent to think so. A more obvious explanation is that in his own case, he deems his continuing physical travails a kind of suffering which he is not permitted to escape through an easy death. But if he is putting himself on the cross, is he likewise condemning all Christians to the same fate? And if he is, where on the scale of compassion does that bit of theology put those who fought so hard to maintain the dutiful Christian "suffering" of Terry Schiavo?

I'm not saying that I have all the answers or that all the arguments above are incontrovertible. What I will say is that it's difficult to find a common thread among the three catalysts that is consistent with Christianity as I have traditionally understood it. The common thread I do perceive is decidedly unchristian -- namely, a deep, irrational, and overwhelmingly terrifying fear of death. That's what I hear in the raised voices of those who have fought so long and hard for an empty objective.

None of us, I'm convinced, would argue that technology is always the handmaiden of the Lord. We have seen it used for good and ill. Not everything that is possible to the hand of man is necessarily a manifestation of the will of God. (Revisit the gas chambers of Krupp.) If we claim to be Christian, we are simultaneously professing belief in the life of the soul everlasting, the beneficence of the will of God, the timelessness of eternity, and the infinite balm of knowing that when the flesh has distintegrated to ash, the spirit lives on.

All I ask is this: if you are one of the ones who has been so charged up emotionally about this case that you regard the death of Terry Schiavo as an unspeakable tragedy, please take a moment to look death squarely in the face. It is coming for all of us. Our faith is supposed to make us unafraid. Where do you stand?

And while I'm at it, I'll ask one more thing. What if the entire morality play whose catastrophe has just occurred is itself the will of God? What if this pitiful circumstance has become a circus for the express purpose of requiring all of us to consider anew our deepest beliefs about the nature of life and the relationship between the flesh and the spirit? In that event, there is real peace in the outcome. Terry Schiavo has served as a direct instrument of God, and whichever way the courts might have decided, the divine intention fulfilled its inevitable end, Terry Schiavo is now enfolded in the arms of her maker, and all of us -- if we will continue to think just a bit longer -- may be the wiser for the experience.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I told you so.

NO MATTER WHO GETS HURT. Yesterday, Instapunk referenced a column by Professor Mike S. Adams of UNC, Wilmington, and asked whether we should care about the feminist silliness he was describing. Today he answers the question for all of us with an account of recent doings at the University of New Hampshire (The "Live Free or Die" state, don't you know.) Here's a sample:

The Feminist Action League (FAL) organized the on-campus event, which featured poetry readings, skits, monologues and an open microphone....

...One FAL member’s monologue follows: “Hello, my name is Mary Man-Hating-Is-Fun. I am 23 years old, and I am what a feminist looks like. Ever since I learned to embrace my feminist nature, I found great joy in threatening men's lives, flicking off frat brothers and plotting the patriarchy’s death. I hate men because they are men, because I see them for what they are: misogynistic, sexist, oppressive and absurdly pathetic beings who only serve to pollute and contaminate this world with war, abuse, oppression and rape.”

Other members of the FAL wore scissors around their necks and sang a song about castration.

There's more, especially on the castration theme. And there's also this:

David Huffman, a writer for the UNH conservative paper “Common Sense” was outraged by the, shall we say, mr-ogyny of the event. Huffman was asked to leave the public university event during the open microphone session. Despite the fact that he wasn’t singing songs about castration, FAL members said he was making women feel uncomfortable....

...After hearing poems that talked about castrating men, read by women with scissors tied around their necks, Hoffman asked “How is this any different than hating African-Americans or Jews?” The answer is simple: It is no different in principle. But, of course, the FAL is not based upon principle. The organization is based upon blind hatred.

But the women weren’t the only lunatics in the audience. Rob Wolff, of the Men Against Patriarchy, said the following: “I hope men are confronted. That's what it's going to take. Events like this are the beginning of a women's revolution.”

I'm sure some of you are shocked. But this has been coming for a long time now. More than five years ago, Shuteye Town 1999 foresaw what Dr. Adams is now writing about. Here's a link (Depending on where you work, it may not be safe for work).

It really is time for men to stop being so damn silent about the excesses and pretensions of feminism. It's also time for men to quit repeating the unexamined propaganda they've swallowed about their own sex -- that men are simpler, cruder, crueler, less articulate, and dumber than women. IT AIN'T SO. And the very worst way of relearning this elemental truth is to put women in charge, which is the real agenda driving radical feminism.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Someone Discovers the Floor of Their Box
You will have to read the headline link today if you want to appreciate the writing of the young Joshua Parker on his home in Tucson, AZ.

Miscellaneous Madness

PSAYINGS.5A.41. It's the silly season. But when isn't it? Every so often it's good to stand back a bit and appreciate the circus and some of its star performers. Call it comic relief.

More Gender Squabbles

Not long ago, we noted, here and here, that relations between the sexes seem to be heating up again -- and not in a good way. The first fistfights broke out on the left, and now they're spreading.

There's a Harvard professor, believe it or not, who hasn't been very impressed with the behavior of women during the Summers fiasco. His name is Harvey Mansfield, and he's a professor of government (a.k.a. political science). Like his university's president, he really should know better than to jump into a catfight, but here's what he had to say in a recent article for the Weekly Standard:

It takes one's breath away to watch feminist women at work. At the same time that they denounce traditional stereotypes they conform to them. If at the back of your sexist mind you think that women are emotional, you listen agape as professor Nancy Hopkins of MIT comes out with the threat that she will be sick if she has to hear too much of what she doesn't agree with. If you think women are suggestible, you hear it said that the mere suggestion of an innate inequality in women will keep them from stirring themselves to excel. While denouncing the feminine mystique, feminists behave as if they were devoted to it. They are women who assert their independence but still depend on men to keep women secure and comfortable while admiring their independence. Even in the gender-neutral society, men are expected by feminists to open doors for women. If men do not, they are intimidating women.

Thus the issue of Summers's supposedly intimidating style of governance is really the issue of the political correctness by which Summers has been intimidated. Political correctness is the leading form of intimidation in all of American education today, and this incident at Harvard is a pure case of it. The phrase has been around since the 1980s, and the media have become bored with it. But the fact of political correctness is before us in the refusal of feminist women professors even to consider the possibility that women might be at any natural disadvantage in mathematics as compared with men. No, more than that: They refuse to allow that possibility to be entertained even in a private meeting. And still more: They are not ashamed to be seen as suppressing any inquiry into such a possibility. For the demand that Summers be more "responsible" in what he says applies to any inquiry that he or anyone else might cite.

Professor Mansfield spends most of his article describing the antics of feminists at Harvard in re Summers. but he closes with some interesting questions about where all this might be headed:

Feminist women rest their cause on "social construction" as opposed to nature. The patriarchal society that has been made by humans can be unmade and remade by humans. But how do we know that the reconstruction will be favorable to women and not a new version of patriarchy? To avoid a resurgent patriarchy or other injustice, society, it would seem, needs to be guided by a principle beyond human making, the natural equality of men and women.

Accepting that principle would require, however, thinking about how far it goes and what natural inequalities in the sexes might exist. This might in fact be a benefit if it induced women to think more about what they want and like, and about what is fair to men and good for children. We do need feminism, because women are now in a new situation. But we need a new feminism conceived by women more favorable to liberty and the common good than the "feminists" of today.

If this reference to "liberty and the common good" sounds abstract, consider this restatement of the issue in a different context by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter:

How many people have to die before the country stops humoring feminists? Last week, a defendant in a rape case, Brian Nichols, wrested a gun from a female deputy in an Atlanta courthouse and went on a murderous rampage. Liberals have proffered every possible explanation for this breakdown in security except the giant elephant in the room — who undoubtedly has an eating disorder and would appreciate a little support vis-a-vis her negative body image.

The New York Times said the problem was not enough government spending on courthouse security ("Budgets Can Affect Safety Inside Many Courthouses"). Yes, it was tax-cuts-for-the-rich that somehow enabled a 200-pound former linebacker to take a gun from a 5-foot-tall grandmother.

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