The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the Year

2012 was quite a ride for us here at Anglocat Central. We had the joy of la Caterina really making a difference in fighting for victims of foreclosure fraud, my being accepted as a postulant for the diaconate, of la C's growing cat colony (and the wonderfully generous support provided by our friends over at Balloon Juice, the same ones who found a home for Sanders). Add to that my publishing two new articles, and, most of all, daily life with the extraordinary woman who has consented to share her life with me. And, of course, the kitteh friends inside the home.

We had, in matters sacred, a new bishop with a new vision of renewal for our diocese, the retirement of an inspiring rector--succeeded by an equally admirable priest. In all this, I found some time to celebrate the great Anglican theologians of the past, not to mention the Poet Laureate of Anglicanism, and his runner up for the title. I even appeared in the pulpit.

In matters profane, we had a food fight to filk for, and gratuitous Who-age. So gratuitous that I even recycled the same clip.

We celebrated fencing, storytelling,a cat of rare quality, theater, and the specialness of old books. And of the mentors who write and sometimes inscribe them. We marked the centenary of the end of the Edwardian Dream, and mourned a loss, far too soon.

We fought an election, and tried to remember the virtues, or at least the humanity of the other side.

All this, plus the usual mix of law, anglican wars updates, historical scraps, and snarkery. Thank you for coming on the prowl with me this year, everyone who has read, and especially those of you who let me know what you think about what I write. Have a blessed 2013, and, when you have time, come on the prowl again...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thomas Becket and his Times

Today, the Feast Day of St Thomas Becket, presents a poser: On the one hand, Becket was clearly a man of great courage and of belief. On the other hand, as I note in my latest article (the JLR final version is greatly improved in my opinion, over the working paper), Becket and Henry fell out over clerical immunity from secular jurisdiction for criminal behavior, including rape. Becket's defense of his position, as set forth in his letters, is not persuasive to modern ears, and was controversial even then:
It is certain that kings receive their power from the Church and the Church not from them, but from Christ. . . . You have no power to give rules to bishops, nor to absolve or to excommunicate anyone to draw clerks before secular tribunals, to judge concerning breach of faith or oath, and many other things of this sort which are written among your customs which you call ancient. . . .
God wishes that the administration of ecclesiastical affairs should belong to his priests, not to secular rulers, who, if they are of the faith, he wishes to be subject to the priests of his Church.
. . . God Almighty has willed that the clergy of the Christian religion should be governed and judged, not according to public laws and by secular authorities, but by bishops and priests.
Christian kings ought to submit their administration to ecclesiastical prelates, not impose it on them . . . Christian princes should be obedient to the dictates of the Church, rather than prefer their own authority; princes should bow their head to bishops rather than judge them . . .
(Quoting W.L. Warren, Henry II at 513-1. A complete text and translation of these letters appear in Anne J. Duggan, 1 The Correspondence of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury 1162-1170 (2001) as Letter 74 (at 292-99), and Letter 82 (at 328-43).

Becket's intransigence on this issue led to a tradition of immunity that, even after secular law ceased from recognizing it, remained enshrined in canon law. It contributed, I argue, to the culture of clericalism that led the Roman Catholic Church to refuse to cooperate with secular law enforcement investigating sexual abuse by priests for decades. In the context of the undeniable failure of the Courts Christian to adequately address criminal misbehavior by clergy, it would be all too easy to agree with Becket’s contemporary, William, canon of Newburgh, that Becket and his supporters brought the crisis on themselves “since they were more intent on defending the liberties and rights of the clergy than on correcting and restraining their vices."

So why did Becket take this stand? I suspect (and argue in the article) that Becket believed that defending the land, prerogatives, possessions and dignity of the Church were all implicated in defending God’s honor. Any yielding on his part regarding any of these would be a sin, which would not be made right unless restitution and something more, to erase the perceived derogation of God’s honor, were done. Hence his penance after the Council of Clarendon and his dramatic resignation of the archbishopric into the hands of the Pope.

A complex belief, rooted in medieval notions of kingship that the early church would not have applied to God, and one which has outlived its time, if indeed it properly ever had a time. Becket's tragedy was that of his age--and has had repercussions down to the present day.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

There is Nothing Like A Dame

as Dame Maggie Smith demonstrates in Downton Abbey:

How did I miss this program for two years?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy St. Stephen's Day

Today is the feast day of St Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr. As is not unheard of for deacons, obliged to bring the world to the church and the church to the world, he could be, as Bernard Shaw noted, overzealous. Of course, Shaw, no Christian, put it rather harshly:
But it requires the most strenuous effort of conscience to refrain from crying "Serve him right" when we read of the stoning of Stephen; and nobody has ever cared twopence about the martyrdom of Peter: many better men have died worse deaths: for example, honest Hugh Latimer, who was burned by us, was worth fifty Stephens and a dozen Peters. One feels at last that when Jesus called Peter from his boat, he spoiled an honest fisherman, and made nothing better out of the wreck than a salvation monger.
As a proto-deacon, I resent that remark. I find it humorous, and admittedly the speech in Acts is a tad over the top, but, as he was one of the first of the order I hope to join, I have a fondness for Stephen. And his forgiveness of his persecutors gallantly followed Our Lord's own example. Just this once, GBS's wit led him astray, sez I.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

So, Christmas. The Feast of the Incarnation. Of late years, it has, for me, been structured around a line from Robertson Davies' A Mixture of Frailties (1958),in which a young writer enjoys a Christmas in Wales:
If I were at home, I would have finished my Christmas shopping a full two weeks ago; I would have wrapped everything up in elaborate paper, and tied it with expensive twine. I would approach the great festal day prepared for everything but a good time.... [F]or the first time in my life, I have got Christmas into focus. Tomorrow, I shall worship, I shall feast, and--quite incidentally, I shall give and receive.
(P. 176-177)

I've tried to learn form that, to make the worship central, the good times with family and dear friends central as well, and the giving and receiving a pleasant incidental. The joy is in the celebration, the music, and the day, not in the "stuff."

The worship at St Barts is especially hallowed by music, from beautiful settings of the Mass to familiar carols. Yesterday, I had a family lunch, was an acolyte at the 7 pm mass, enjoyed dinner at St Barts with my friends there, and then was a crucifer at 11. I've done it several years now, and it combines all of those elements Davies urged be at the heart of Christmas celebrations, and centers the festal day for me.

Today, a family Christmas after a much needed lie-in.

And, of course, the Doctor Who Christmas Special. After all, tradition is important.

Um, yes, that carol does always seem to get special treatment:

May all of you who celebrate the day have a joyous and holy Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Feline Navidad!

As we move from Advent into Christmastide, I'm hoping to lay the politics aside at least for 48 hours. But, hopefully in the Franciscan spirit, I thought I'd give an update on some of our friends at the Navy Yard. La Caterina and I went there today, to feed, and then afterward I prowled around Dumbo.

Here are Black-eyed Susan greeting us on arrival, along with Little Midnight and, to the far left, Katy the Tailless (as always, click to embiggen):

Here's a better look at Katy, an affectionate little thing, and one of our charmers:

After la Caterina went off (for some Christmas shopping to which I was not invited, hmmm...?), I wandered through Dumbo, visiting PS Books, where a minor haul was made--copies of Bridenbaugh's Mitre and Sceptre (a study of Anglicanism in the American colonies 1689-1775), Jessie L. Weston's Romance, Vision and Satire, a nice first edition of the great, if eccentric, Arthurian scholar's "new renderings" of medieval epic poetry both Arthurian (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), for example) and not ("Belshazzar's feast, for example), and the 1893 SPCK Life of George Herbert of Bemerton.

After that, I went to Jacques Torres, to stock up on Wicked Hot Chocolate that La C and I enjoy in the winter, and saw that those suggesting the end of the Mayan calendar foretold darkness were not, in fact, all wrong:

If they'd have guessed milk chocolate, and not dark, they'd have had it right...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Canard of Complementarianism

The notion that women and men are inherently "complementary" and that this has significant theological and ecclesiological ramifications is getting quite a workout these days.

As evidenced by the General Synod speech of Church Society General Secretary, the view was one of the rationales upon which those opposing women bishops grounded their votes. Similarly, Pope Benedict grounded his opposition to equal access to civil marriage for same sex couples in complementarian terms
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.
Equal marriage, to Benedict, is an attack on the structure of the family, and those who do not conform to their "natural" roles are flouting their own nature.

There are several observations to be made about this viewpoint:

1. It assumes, absent any data, consideration, or analysis, that the cultural components of gender and gender roles are as predetermined as any physical or physiological aspects. (Oh, is there science suggesting the opposite? Why, oddly enough, there is!)

2. It also, of course, abjectly fails to address individual differentiation. I mean, at all. Men are men, women are women, and if you're a woman whose interests and abilities happen to fall on the "male" side of the biblical/traditional divide--or for that matter, a man whose sphere of interests and abilities happen to fall on the "female" side--well, tough. Now, complementarianism has been read to include male "headship" in the home, too, and so those roles are prescribed, as well, even if neither party has the slightest interest in playing as cast.

3. Complementarianism does not meet individuals where they are; it tells them where they are required to be, and actually tells them that, to the extent that they are not conforming, they are not living an authentic life. This is the worst kind of false consciousness--an authoritarian demand that the individual eschew her or his own experience and feelings as "intrinsically disordered" for failure to conform to a promulgated"true consciousness" that is axiomatically defined as self-realization. It's a psychic Bed of Procrustes. It's a sad reflection on the hidebound nature of complementarian thinking that it has failed to learn the lessons of Procrustes as well as has secular management:
It's important when faced with a problem to consider it carefully and find a solution that fits it, rather than forcing it into a premixed solution, a Procrustean bed. Templates and models are useful, but it is they that must fit the empirical circumstances, not the other way around.

A skillful manager makes the bed—the solution—fit the wayfarer's needs. That takes a lot of knowledge, but more. It also takes craft and art. Making the bed fit the sleeper means listening carefully to the dimensions of the wayfarers' problems. What are the real dimensions? Have we obtained enough measurements? Have we made the right measurements?
....Sometimes the bed fits. But be careful, because often it doesn't, and the results of trying to fit the facts into our preconceptions can be misleading and dangerous to our companies, our jobs, our co-workers, and ourselves.
Ultimately, complementarianism is a way of asserting dominance and compelling obedience by shaming others into not fitting in with the cultural presuppositions of the ancient world. It's cruel, in that it requires those who do not fit the presumed norm to maim themselves in the name of self-actualization. In short, another example of Christianity on the Cheap.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Leviathan, the State of Nature, and the NRA

In Genesis 16, it is said of Ishmael that "his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."

I thought of that today as I watched this:

From the transcript:
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,.... Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them ... in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk....

Now, I can imagine the shocking headlines you'll print tomorrow morning: "More guns," you'll claim, "are the NRA's answer to everything!" Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools. But since when did the word "gun" automatically become a bad word?

....With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school? Even if they did that, politicians have no business — and no authority — denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.
Now, the lunacy of this suggestion has been noted by others, but leave that aside. (Other than to note that LaPierre wants to curtail the First Amendment to protect his extremist vision of the Second, that is.)

Because the sheer nihilism of that view is what I'm getting at. It's at one with the nihilism of Megan McArdle's otiose suggestion that the prospective victims should rush the shooter--both LaPierre and McArdle assume a world in which the citizenry must adapt to the presence of gun-toting would-be mass-killers, and counter that force with force of their own.

In other words, LaPierre and McArdle (ok, much more LaPierre and much less McArdle, to be fair) assume a world that is straight out of Thomas Hobbes:
[I]t is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.....

[I]n all times kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators, having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbours, which is a posture of war. But because they uphold thereby the industry of their subjects, there does not follow from it that misery which accompanies the liberty of particular men.

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind.
That is the world of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA: one where the force of the Other must be anticipated and countered at all times, where we are constantly on guard, never free to enjoy what Franklin Roosevelt called the "Fourth Freedom"--Freedom from Fear. Even at primary school, our small children will learn to spend every day under the ever-present Leviathan of armed guards to protect against danger. Indeed, especially at primary school, as children are the future, right? And since mass shooting take place in movie theaters, shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases, well, all those areas will need the protection of what LaPierre calls "good guys with guns." (Of course, the failure of guards at said military bases undermines LaPierre's theory at the most pragmatic level.) So all public spaces will be under the protection of, and under the constant surveillance of, gun-toting guardians.

Life under constant surveillance, oneself ready to blow away any suspicious or threatening character--that's the NRA's vision of freedom. The freedom to kill (or at least to try) is the highest freedom; all other freedoms must yield to it. How very unfree it sounds to me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Doubting Thomas and the Courage of Conviction

I write this just an hour before it is the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle. St Thomas is, of course, commonly thought of as "Doubting Thomas" based on John 20:24-28.

But I'd like to point out a different aspect of Thomas tonight. In John 11:7-16, when Jesus is called back to Judea to Lazarus's death-bed, the following takes place:
Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
Think about that, because to me it's the flip side of Thomas' doubt. Thomas believes that Jesus is going into danger--his death--and that this danger will engulf them all. He answers with a fatalistic courage that would do a Norse saga hero like Skarp-hedin proud, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." Pretty good, that. St. Thomas may have been slow to accept the tale his friends told of the Risen Lord, but he had a clear-sighted vision of what was to come in the return to the environs of Jerusalem, and of what it might cost him.

And walked in with eyes open, and no expectation that he would walk out.

Bork: Printing the Legend, Forgetting the Facts

Now, I don't mean to be uncivil, but the death of Robert Bork has proven to be yet one more opportunity for people who know better to spout arrant nonsense about his failed nomination:
There were many legitimate ways to discuss and criticize Bork's radical judicial philosophy, but the demagoguery deployed against him was a smear campaign of almost unprecedented ferocity. Ted Kennedy was among the crudest. (Wally Olson has a fascinating column on how Bork was also borked for not being a religious man.) The consequences are still with us, along with the deep polarization that event intensified in Washington. Reagan need not have nominated Bork, of course - and he deserves some of the blame for such a radical move. But the smear campaign from Bork's opponents dwarfed everything else, in my view. It helped create the poisonous atmosphere we now live in. Because it worked.
I like Sullivan, except when he dons rose-colored lenses to wax warm and runny about 80s conservatism, but this is just laughable.

Do you know what makes the difference between the "Republican Nihilsm" chronicled in a series of posts by Sullivan and the critique of Bork? The critiques on Bork were, quite simply, true.

Sullivan picks Ted Kennedy's famous denunciation of Bork as "among the crudest," so let's take that as our sample. Here's the video:

The text:
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids.
Let's do them in order:

1. Women Forced Into Back-Alley Abortions?

At the time, On abortion "Bork had said that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion nationwide was 'an unconstitutional decision, a serious and wholly unjustifiable judicial usurpation of state legislative authority.'" Now, to be fair, Bork's opposition to Roe was less emotive prior to his failed nomination than it was ; still, this charge of Kennedy's accurately reflects the consequences of Bork's views as of 1987, and the substance of his views thereafter.

2. Blacks Would Sit at Segregated Lunch Counters?

Bork didn't just oppose the Civil Rights Act; in 1963, while the Act was up for debate, he published an article in which he acknowledged that racial discrimination was "ugly", but termed the use of law to prohibit discrimination by private entities dealing with the general public "a principle of unsurpassed ugliness." Far uglier, in context, than the racial discrimination of Jim Crow. Kennedy wins this round, hands down.

3. Rogue Police at the Door?

Bork disbelieved in the rationales underlying the exclusionary rule, finding neither the deterrence argument nor the argument that the courts should refuse countenance breaches of the law by the State argument supporting it credible. It is also true that he never provided, so far as I am aware, an alternative means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment. So, Kennedy wasn't wrong; the law as Bork would interpret it, provided no recourse for those whose rights had been violated, and no negative incentive to prevent police from violating those rights. Bork's defenders mostly claim that he didn't approve of that consequence, but that it flowed from his understanding of teh Constitution. While there was in 1987 at least one anecdote that Bork tried as a prosecutor to obey the Fourth Amendment, the fear that as a judge, that understanding would have gutted enforceability of the Amendment seems well founded.

So what Sullivan is taking umbrage is not the gravamen of Kennedy's charge, but its tone.

I should add that my primary reasoning against Bork at the time of his nomination was his subjective approach to the Constitution--how his private, amateur historian's interpretation of the Framers' intent allowed him to constrict or even remove the very texts he was engaged in construing. As I wrote Five years ago:
Bork was rejected--to my mind quite rightly--because of his philosophy. Not because he was conservative--William H. Rehnquist had just been elevated to Chief Justice, after all--but because his conservatism led him to discard whole sections of the Constitution based on his personal ideological committments.

So, for example, Judge Bork contended that the Ninth Amendment, reading that the "enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people" could not be a source of rights which were enforceable, and that only those explicitly enumerated in the text could be. He described its meaning in The Tempting of America, as indeterminate as an "ink blot", and claimed that the judiciary should simply ignore the Amendment, which would give effect to the intention of the Framers. As Bork himself said, "the only recourse for a judge is to refrain from inventing meanings and ignore the provision, as was the practice until recently." (“Interpretation of the Constitution,” 1984 Justice Lester W. Roth Lecture, University of So. California, October 25, 1984).

However, the Framers had originally not included a Bill of Rights because, as recounted in The Federalist Papers, the enumeration of rights might be used as a means to claim that those not named did not exist. Federalist No. 84. Madison addressed this issue in explaining his addition of the text that became the Ninth Amendment:

It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution." (3 Annals of America at 354-363).

So the text of the Constitution, and Bork's own claimed ultimate goal of interpretation--effecting the actual original intent of the framers--both demonstrably preclude his reading of the Ninth Amendment out of the Constitution. Nevertheless, for his own policy-based reasons, Bork argues for such a reading-out. As an equation, if T means text, for Bork T=0, absent any reference to original intent, structure, or any other ground.

Similarly, with the First Amendment, Bork argued that the scope of speech protected by the First Amendment should be limited to purely political speech, despite the text of the Amendment which carries no such limitation, providing only that "Congress shall make no law ....abridging the freedom of speech." (Bork's article, "Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems" is published at 47 Indiana L.J. 1 (1971). Again, Bork's resort to the intention of the Framers over the text was unconvincing to the say the least. Because of the lateness of the addition to the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, there are very limited legislative history materials to use in interpreting the text, but neither Madison's notes, nor those of the other members of the Constitutional Convention support Bork's reading of the Amendment. Nor does the early practice; the Supreme Court in Permoli v. First Municipality, City of New Orleans, 44 U.S. 589 (1844) and United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875) twice held that the effect of the First Amendment was to completely disable Congress in dealing with regulation of speech and religion. (For more detail, see my First Amendment, First Principles at pp. 20-23).
Bork was a major player in the culture wars over the Constitution, and his influence shaped a generation of American conservatism. The Right understandably grieves his loss, as, no doubt, do his family and friends. I grudge them none of this. But I do grudge those defenders of Judge Bork's nomination their skewing of the facts, and their printing, absent historical warrant, the legend that Bork was "borked."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Choice

In the wake of the mass-murder at Newtown, there are some signs that all may not be as before. Conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough reversed his own long-held belief in the sanctity of a maximalist reading of the Second Amendment, calling now for common sense regulation of guns, and for a change to our culture:
"You know me. I am a conservative Republican who received the NRA's highest ratings over four terms in Congress. I saw this debate over guns as a powerful symbolic struggle between individual rights and government control. And you know what? In the years after Waco and Ruby Ridge, the symbolism of that debate seemed even more powerful to me. But the symbols of that ideological struggle — they've been shattered by the harvest zone from violent, mind-numbing video games and gruesome Hollywood movies that dangerously desensitize those who struggle with mental-health challenges. And then add in military-styled weapons and high-capacity magazines to that equation, and tragedy can never be too far behind. I've always taken a libertarian's approach to Hollywood's First Amendment rights and gun collectors' Second Amendment rights. I stood by those libertarian beliefs [...]
"But last Friday, a chilling thought crossed my mind as I saw the Times Square ticker over ABC spit out news of yet another tragic shooting in yet another tortured town by yet another twisted son of that community. How could I know that within seconds of reading that scrolling headline that the shooter would be an isolated, middle-class white male who spent his days on his computer playing violent video games? How did I know that it was far more likely that he had a mental condition than a rational motive? And how did I know the end of the story before the real reporting even began? I knew the ending of this story because we've all seen it too often. I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want — that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. It's time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas while we're losing the war at home.
Now, as I previously wrote, I am not advocating for a repeal of the Second Amendment. I am advocating for a constitutional amendment that overrides the Supreme Court's extension of the Second Amendment to limit the states' power to regulate guns, an extension that effectively deleted the opening line of the Amendment itself, to create an individual right untethered to the Constitution's clear language.

As to Scarborough's call to in some unspecified way curtail the First Amendment, I don't believe that is necessary or proper, to borrow a phrase. What is needed is counter-speech. Not everything that is legally permissible should be socially acceptable. Criminal law merely sets the bounds at what acts deprive you of your standing as a good citizen; civil liability sets the limit at which you have to pay for your acts in cash. But the Framers and their children (and, especially, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the Victorians) knew the value of a good shunning, and of social disapproval.

Add to that the power of the purse. Eliot Spitzer has a fine article out proposing that the bulk buyers of guns (police, the military) institutional investors in the holders of gun manufacturers should use their financial leverage to pressure the manufacturers to act responsibly:
Cerberus’ investors are indirect owners of Bushmaster, the company that made the weapon that brought evil to Newtown, Conn. It is time to determine pension fund by pension fund who has invested in Cerberus and bring pressure on those investors either to get out of Cerberus or have Cerberus change the way it runs the gun industry. If a major union pension fund or university endowment has an investment with Cerberus, it surely doesn’t want to be tarred as a passive owner of the company that sells semi-automatic weapons with no background checks or concern for the use of the weapons. Those investors have enormous leverage over the Cerberus. And all those investors collectively, if they spoke with one voice to the management team at Cerberus, could wield vast power. Ownership has both responsibility and power. It is time for every comptroller and pension fund manager with an investment in Cerberus to use that power.
You may ask, is all this really necessary. Well, check out the marketing of the semi-automatic rifle used in the Newtown murder spree; the "landing page" of the website has a series of "man-card" revocations, including one for "avoid[ing] eye contact with tough-looking Fifth graders", and one for "Adam L," and allows you to revoke someone's man card, or take a test to earn your own. And what could be more manly than buying a gun, after all?

Well, treating and consoling the wounded, advocating for a cessation to violence, and countering this toxic testosterone stereotype by a life of humanity all seem more manly to me, but what do I know.

This is precisely the sort of hyper-macho lunacy that infects our culture, and must be firmly rejected, scorned and shamed. Not banned; the power of the purse and of social isolation are the tools at hand, and they should be used.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Second Amendment Remedies

Today, December 14, 2012 is is a day that should live in infamy:
A gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between ages 5 and 10, in a shooting on Friday morning at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., about 65 miles northeast of New York City, the authorities said. The gunman, who was believed to be in his 20s, walked into a classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where his mother was a teacher. He shot and killed her and then fatally shot 20 students, most in the same classroom. He also fatally shot five other adults, and then killed himself inside the school. One person was also injured in the shooting.

Another body related to the case was at another scene in Connecticut, the authorities said, declining to be more specific.
Twenty dead children, aged between 5 and ten years old. Today should be a day that will live in infamy. But it almost certainly won't. Because we would need to change, if we keep it alive in our memories. We would need to change our laws, our political and moral cultures. The memory hole is much easier. And others pay the cost, too.

According to NBC News, "he weapons used in the attack were legally purchased and were registered to the gunman's mother, two law enforcement officials said."

As the data rounded up by Ezra Klein shows, that's the norm. In the 61 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982 analyzed by Mother Jones, in about 50 of the cases, at least some of the guns used were legally purchased' in other words, "Of the 139 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns.... Just as Jeffrey Weise used a .40-caliber Glock to massacre students in Red Lake, Minnesota, in 2005, so too did James Holmes (along with an AR-15 assault rifle) when blasting away at his victims in a darkened movie theater."

The killers are disproportionately white males: "Just under half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (11 and 19, respectively); the other 31 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases. Forty three of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman. (See Goleta, Calif., in 2006.)"

As the links gathered by Klein show, more guns correlates with more murders, and stricter gun control correlates with fewer murders. (See here and here.)

Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated legislature of Michigan passed a statute yesterday that liberalized the gun permit process, and opened up previously "gun free zones" to concealed carry permits, including:
• Schools and school property
• Child-care centers
• Bars
• Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or other places of worship
• Entertainment facilities that seat 2,500 people or more
• Hospitals
• Dormitories and classrooms of a community college, college, or university.

There, now, don't you feel better?

The gun-fantasist response to all this mayhem, of course, is to claim that more guns are the answer--that if only the teachers had guns, they could have acted to protect the students, or perhaps even the older students were packing heat, the gunman would have been taken down. Gary Trudeau's spectacle of Uncle Duke calling for a "return of gunplay to our once-proud schools" has come true.

Former Governor Mike Huchabee claims that we dirty liberals brought it on ourselves, that "We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools; Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

This is, of course, madness. To answer Huckabee succinctly, I can find no better retort than that of John Milton to Calvinist theories of predestination: "Though I may be sent to Hell for it, such a God will never command my respect."

But it is equally madness to say that this situation isn't worsening--Klein shows that of the 11 deadliest shooting sin the US, 6 have happened from 2007to the present. This is a political matter, too, because the NRA has wielded outsize influx over both parties for four decades. And in election 2012, the NRA spent over 1.5 million dollars seeking to portray President Obama as scheming to take away citizens' rights to own guns, because he wanted to reinstate the Clinton Era assault rifle ban. And the Supreme Court, after correctly (if regrettably) finding that the Second Amendment to the Constitution limited the ability of Congress to restrict an individual's right to own guns, foolishly and rashly extended that ruling to the states, despite the very language of the Second Amendment, which provides the reason for the right: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

So what's to be done?
First, and hardest, the Supreme Court's ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which effectively abrogated the State's right to regulate gun ownership needs to be overruled, which would require a constitutional amendment. A very difficult thing to do, but necessary. I know that doesn't address the Michigan problem--the problem of states being governed by idiots. But it does allow for federalism and local control to play a role, and, rather than abrogating the Second Amendment in its entirety--something that cannot be envisioned in American political culture--and is limited to overriding a single bad decision by a split Court.

But that is not enough. We need a cultural shift, and this is not something the law can do, and that politics can only help a little bit. We need to stop glamorizing guns, and gun culture. We have to not accept that guns are cool, and that killing is manly, or strong, or sexy, or whatever the hell it is that explains our long-term love affair with guns.

We have to cut it right out.

Let me tell you something; I don't hate guns, per se. I played with toy guns as a child; my Uncle Bill taught me to shoot a pistol one summer up in Rhinebeck. It was fun; I enjoyed it. I understand that implements of death can be domesticated.

I fence. Fencing is an athletic discipline that takes what used to be a perversely beautiful, skill-intensive way to kill somebody, and reimagines it as a fun competition. It has not brought back the sword as a major weapon of mayhem. Gun owners, you want to sever that link between your hobby and death. Step up. Draw lines of what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Don't be afraid of bucking the NRA, and keep guns out of places where they don't belong--schools, churches, etc. Shame people who think it's ok to bring guns where they don't belong, and those among you who feel that the omnipresence of guns is the only way to be sure your rights won't be taken away.

As to those who say guns don't kill people, people kill people? Cut it out. Do you have any idea how inane that is? Guns make the difference between working hard to kill one person, or two, and being able to, without discernible skill, talent, or physical or mental stamina, indiscriminately slaughter. It's the difference between retail and wholesale murder, and if you don't know the difference--why, I just don't want to know you.

And remember the murdered.

Earth, cover not their blood!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bringing the Con

So, for tonight, a little note about one of the few TV shows I watch with some fidelity, Leverage. (Or, better, go here.)

Especially as the show is in limbo as to renewal, and the crew are airing their intended series finale, I thought I would just look back on the show, which is far more than the sum of its parts. Each episode is an entertaining, fast-paced caper flick, in which the Team use their con artistry to steal from those whose wealth insulates them from punishment for their misdeeds, and achieves a measure of justice for the victims.

The cast is uniformly excellent, and two of my favorites Gina Bellman (who killed in Steven Moffat's Coupling) and Timothy Hutton (who owned the role of Archie Goodwin in A Nero Wolfe Mystery, dammit!) This is without disrespect to the rest of the cast--Beth Riesgraf, Aldis Hodge, and Christian Kane have become favorites of mine through their work in Leverage, but I wasn't familiar with them before.

The character writing, and the witty, allusive scripts, with a plethora of shout-outs to geek culture, genre fiction, and even the cast's past work keep you guessing and laughing--the writing is at once light as a feather, while being dense with in-jokes. An example: The ex-wife of Hutton's Nate Ford is played by Kari Matchett. This is especially apt, as Matchett also played Julie Jacquette in "Death of a Doxy" to Hutton's Archie Goodwin, and also played Archie's steady love interest, Lily Rowan. In "Death of A Doxy," you can see the embryo of Nate Ford as Mastermind, as well as what showrunners and chief writers Dean Devlin and John Rogers treat as the backstory between Nate and his ex-wife Maggie:

The characters' relationships over the five seasons (thus far) have gradually but pleasingly evolved, with Nate nearly toppling over into darkness as Bellman's Sophie watches horrified. Bellman, as the Team's main grifter, gets to assay a myriad of roles, often broadly comic, often suavely charming. Her long pas-a-deux with Hutton has been a great screwball comedy slow-burn romance. The rest of the Team, known as "the Kids" in distinction to Nate and Sophie, the "parents," are great fun as well. Thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf) and Geek Hardison (Hodge) have drifted together, as they grow, and Eliot (Kane), the Team Hitter, portrays a loner who has found friendship in the Team. Leverage is gifted at swinging from suspense, to character driven drama (Hutton and Kane especially) and comedy (Hodge and Kane have great Matthau-Lemmon -style bits).

A slight taste:

I get that showrunners Devlin and Rogers are preparing for non-renewal and are taking us out with the series finale they always wanted to do. I'm good with that; finish the story, rather than go away incomplete. But if they are renewed--Leverage II, the Sequel--I'll be watching.

[ETA video from Season 4 finale that I thought I had added. Whoops.]

Service Note

You may have noticed that I haven't been commenting on the Anglican Wars (South Carolina or UK versions). There's a reason for this: I've said my piece on matters foreign and domestic, and matters are too much in flux as to both situations for me to go beyond what I then said. (I'm thinking my way through the Establishment issues presented by the UK situation, and have strong views on the underlaying discrimination in the name of adherence to Scripture that I think unites both matters.

But these current squabbles need to hang fire for now. The legal issues are complicated and warrant study, not opinionating in a spasm of indignation. And, so I'm turning to the lighter side for now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Myth, Poetry, and Mystery

By sheer chance (I am an occasional reader of the admirable if unfortunately titled Blog of a Bookslut), I stumbled on Roger Bourke's 1999 essay on Robert Graves' tome The White Goddess. The White Goddess, subtitled "A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth," is dense, difficult, and highly counter-intuitive to any student of English literature. It asserts that the "language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honor of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age, and that this remains the language of true poetry..." Or, as Graves describes the premise in a letter written prior to the book's publication, quoted by Bourke:
I have been worried about thinking about poetry and finding that all the poems that one thinks of as most poetic in the romantic style are all intricately concerned with primitive moon worship...This sounds crazy and I fear for my sanity but it is so. The old English ballads ... are all composed with a sort of neurosis-compulsion for arranging things in threes ... which is the chief characteristic of the Moon Goddess Triple Goddess ritual and the 17th-century Loving Mad Tom poem which is generally regarded as the most purely poetic of all anonymous English compositions is a perfect compendium of Ashtaroth-Cybele-Hecate worship not a single element omitted.
In the book itself, Graves describes what he calls, unironically, I'm afraid, "the Theme" of all true religion and poetry:
The Theme, briefly, is the antique story, which falls into thirteen chapters and an epilogue, of the birth, life, death and resurrection of the God of the Waxing Year; the central chapters concern the God's losing battle with the God of the Waning Year for love of the capricious an all-powerful Threefold Goddess, their mother, bride, and layer-out. The poet identifies himself with the God of the Waxing Year and his Muse with the Goddess; the rival is his blood-brother, his other self, his weird.
The notion took an increasing hold on Graves' imagination, and became the leitmotif of many of his novels and much of his later poetry. It is only fair to note that it may have played a part in his personal myth, and rationalized some aspects of his personal life.

Graves, an extraordinary novelist, and one of the premier novelists and poets of the World War I generation, saw in the lesser known poet Laura Riding a severe and brilliant authority figure to whom he turned over control of his literary and personal life for 15 years. Thereafter, he spent much of his life trying to find a less volatile, more satisfactory, reprise of the relationship, if his biographer Miranda Seymour is correct--and she makes a compelling case. Graves, in Seymour's telling, became fixated on finding the perfect muse, a goddess to lose himself in--and thereby find the poet in himself. (See, e.g., Seymour, ch. 33).

But explaining away Graves' fascination with the "White Goddess" as an intellectual justification for his own emotional needs doesn't really do him or the book justice. As Bourke points out, Graves actually underestimates the poets and poetry that fits his thesis, concentrating more on the obscure, and ignoring many examples of better known poets. Bourke keeps his examples tightly focused, and chronologically clustered, but anyone who has ever read Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae can supply quite a few more. (Paglia's brief references to Graves, by the way, are helpful in distinguishing her project from his, if a little ungenerous to Graves, although her caustic (but accurate) description of him as "addled by homophobia" is one of the great academic putdowns.)

Graves, who called himself a "fox without a brush" as Seymour notes, was another unaffiliated scholar--The White Goddess itself, not to mention his work on Greek mythology, his lively translation of Suetonius, and indeed, the profound expertise that underlines his Claudius novels, in which he seamlessly melds the disparate sources on the early Roman empire into a coherent and compelling narrative witness that Graves was a serious man, especially when it came to poetry and its mythic roots. And yet, this gifted amateur does seem to me to have one flaw: An unshakeable confidence that all the evidence must add up to a single coherent whole. While that served him extremely well in his Claudius novels, in other places--King Jesus, for example--it can seem like he is too eager to explain away all the difficult portions of his story, like a Golden Age mystery carefully and reasonably accounting for the inexplicable bits. Graves in The White Goddess similarly believes he has found the key to understanding all poetry and religion. That he has not does not meant he from has not found anything; the Oresteia and the many poets and spiritual seekers from antiquity to the present day who have been drawn to the themes Graves explored argue to the contrary.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Javert Off the Track?

When I was in college, I found an old copy of Les Miserables--this very translation, by Isabel Hapgood, which I have always found more fluid and more moving than the more often cited Charles Wilbour translation. I was and am fascinated by the novel, which has brilliantly written antagonists--each of whom struggles with the demands of his ideals, and each of whom manages to live up to them at a terrible price. Valjean, of course, has the higher, better vision, one of love as the source of justice, and law as its pale shadow. Javert only discerns this too late; he does what he can to live up to it (releasing Valjean at the end, writing a final memorandum in which he points out various abuses and petty cruelties that his fellow police officers are guilty of--but he a way forward through the chaotic thicket of moral choice:
To be obliged to confess this to oneself: infallibility is not infallible, there may exist error in the dogma, all has not been said when a code speaks, society is not perfect, authority is complicated with vacillation, a crack is possible in the immutable, judges are but men, the law may err, tribunals may make a mistake! to behold a rift in the immense blue pane of the firmament!
That which was passing in Javert was the Fampoux of a rectilinear conscience, the derailment of a soul, the crushing of a probity which had been irresistibly launched in a straight line and was breaking against God. It certainly was singular that the stoker of order, that the engineer of authority, mounted on the blind iron horse with its rigid road, could be unseated by a flash of light! that the immovable, the direct, the correct, the geometrical, the passive, the perfect, could bend! that there should exist for the locomotive a road to Damascus!
God, always within man, and refractory, He, the true conscience, to the false; a prohibition to the spark to die out; an order to the ray to remember the sun; an injunction to the soul to recognize the veritable absolute when confronted with the fictitious absolute, humanity which cannot be lost; the human heart indestructible; that splendid phenomenon, the finest, perhaps, of all our interior marvels, did Javert understand this? Did Javert penetrate it? Did Javert account for it to himself? Evidently he did not. But beneath the pressure of that incontestable incomprehensibility he felt his brain bursting.
He was less the man transfigured than the victim of this prodigy. In all this he perceived only the tremendous difficulty of existence. It seemed to him that, henceforth, his respiration was repressed forever. He was not accustomed to having something unknown hanging over his head.
Up to this point, everything above him had been, to his gaze, merely a smooth, limpid and simple surface; there was nothing incomprehensible, nothing obscure; nothing that was not defined, regularly disposed, linked, precise, circumscribed, exact, limited, closed, fully provided for; authority was a plane surface; there was no fall in it, no dizziness in its presence. Javert had never beheld the unknown except from below. The irregular, the unforeseen, the disordered opening of chaos, the possible slip over a precipice—this was the work of the lower regions, of rebels, of the wicked, of wretches. Now Javert threw himself back, and he was suddenly terrified by this unprecedented apparition: a gulf on high.
What! one was dismantled from top to bottom! one was disconcerted, absolutely! In what could one trust! That which had been agreed upon was giving way! What! the defect in society's armor could be discovered by a magnanimous wretch! What! an honest servitor of the law could suddenly find himself caught between two crimes—the crime of allowing a man to escape and the crime of arresting him! everything was not settled in the orders given by the State to the functionary! There might be blind alleys in duty! What,—all this was real! was it true that an ex-ruffian, weighed down with convictions, could rise erect and end by being in the right? Was this credible? were there cases in which the law should retire before transfigured crime, and stammer its excuses?—Yes, that was the state of the case! and Javert saw it! and Javert had touched it! and not only could he not deny it, but he had taken part in it.
Alas , this edition is a bit more--er, stylized than my copy, a slightly revised edition, but it gets across the point; Javert, previously content to rule his life by the Code, is confronted by the morality of the God whose existence has not been relevant to him, and cannot stretch to renewal of life. He can only stand by his lawless but good act, grasp the paradox--and die. Valjean too has a struggle which ends in his death--he starts by learning not to commit serious (stealing the bishop's sliver), then petty crime (stealing from a waif); then he is called to ever-increasing positive obligations and renunciation, ultimately dying because he has done his part. He succeeds more fully than does Javert, but it isn't easy--he does not like Marius or approve of him as a suitor for Cosette, but risks his life to save the young man anyway, and resigns his foster-daughter to him, renouncing his self-centered desire for her company for her benefit.

This makes the book sound more programmatic than it is. There's much humor, much melodrama, and much action. But at the core, two men, sorely tested in the story's crucible, both of whom pass, but each of whom died, ultimately, at his own hand (Javert more overtly, Valjean resigns life more passively).

The musical adaptation, of which a film version is being released in a few weeks, was very popular at that time (a quarter century ago!), and the members of the theater group I was cast in a small singing role with in the summer between college and law school would occasionally do some of the songs, among many others, at post-rehearsal parties. (I was a passable Thenardier for the comic leading lady's excellent Madame.)

The problem with this quite singable, slightly dated, show, though, was that it knocked off these rough edges. Valjean sings of Marius "He's like the son I might have known/If God had granted me a son," when in fact Valjean in the novel dislikes the little snerp and resents Cosette's interest in him. Likewise, Javert is portrayed in the play as seeing his authority as coming from God, where in the novel the Code is his only God. Javert is Hugo's depiction of a secular man who seeks his righteousness in irreproachability. Thenardier, like Fagin in Oliver! is considerably more funny and less threatening. &c.

But I wish the film well. The show enlivened an already lively summer for me, and led me to read that big, meaty novel, and encounter those two flawed heroes, Valjean and Javert in their complexity and their failures, as well as their more easily captured facets portrayed on the screen.

The Media Misfire

So today, Dan Froomkin reports on Thomas Mann and Norm Orenstein calling out the media:
Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital's media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become "ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media's fear of being seen as taking sides.

"The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties' agendas and connections to facts and truth," said Mann, who has spent nearly three decades as a congressional scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.

"I saw some journalists struggling to avoid the trap of balance and I knew they were struggling with it -- and with their editors," said Mann. "But in general, I think overall it was a pretty disappointing performance."

"I can't recall a campaign where I've seen more lying going on -- and it wasn't symmetric," said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who's been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, "but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top."
I admit that this gave me a sardonic chuckle, because I was being driven slowly mad by this exact phenomenon through the whole campaign. That said, the need for "balance" and the importance of "both sides do it" to the press's narrative is as critical as the focus on the horserace aspects of elections. In sum, we are pretty much still dwelling in the Land of Kabuki Theater Jon Stewart encountered when he visited Crossfire:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Amateur Eye

So, in the wake of having published a new scholarly piece, this time in the Journal of Law and Religion, I have to ask myself: Just what am I playing at?

I mean, I'm an "unaffiliated scholar"--that is, someone who writes articles, occasionally guest lectures or appears at the odd conference, but has no institutional backing, minimal access to scholarly libraries, and basically follows the will-o'-the wisp of my own nose. In short, as C.P. Snow might say, an academic manqué.

By this point, I've come to terms with the fact that I won't have the academic career I foresaw for myself when I was younger. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, mind you; legal academia seems to be in a pretty bad state these days, and I'm not sure I'd even want in now. And yet, I find myself, whenever I get really interested in a subject, writing about it. And not journalism, or fiction, or even blog posts necessarily; I dive in depth and write monstrously long, carefully researched (if a tad discursive), heavily footnoted pieces. And, so far, they've all found homes.

I'm not sure what this says about me--is it stubbornness, or wish-fulfillment, or just something about how I learn and organize my thoughts? Regardless, it's what I do.

But now the big question: What is the use of an unaffiliated scholar, or, less charitably phrased, an amateur. And does not make me an example of what Andrew Keen attacked in his The Cult of the Amateur?

Well, maybe.

But, as to that, two thoughts.

First, as a great admirer of many Victorians, I can't help but note that today's unaffiliated scholar is not entirely unlike the Victorian Amateur, who pursued an avocation--whether science, sport, theft, or lexicography--often making great contributions. And, of course, often falling flat on his or her face. But an amateur interest can see threads the professional misses, sometimes because the professional sees through the prism of received wisdom--even when it is flat out wrong. (A great example of this is James Gairdner's risible biography of Richard III, so thoroughly and deliciously roasted by Josephine Tey in 1951, only to have his conclusions reaffirmed by some modern writers.) Of course, amateurs can be just plain, full-out wrong.

Second, the modern unaffiliated scholar isn't as amateur as all that; many have degrees in the fields in which they publish, and are published in peer-reviewed journals. So there are often institution-based credentials and quality checks on the output of the unaffiliated. (Indeed, my own latest effort was peer-reviewed,as was my book.)

There is always, of course, the risk of going beyond one's competence; in law, this is often shown in crossing the blurry line between appropriate efforts to understand the evolution of legal thought and decisions and the kind of special pleading from isolated data points disparagingly known as law office history.

Perhaps we are not so much academics manqué as we are later day variants of Matthew Arnold's Scholar-Gypsy:
Come, let me read the oft-read tale again:
The story of that Oxford scholar poor,
Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
Who, tired of knocking at Preferment's door, 35
One summer morn forsook
His friends, and went to learn the Gipsy lore,
And roam'd the world with that wild brotherhood,
And came, as most men deem'd, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more. 40

But once, years after, in the country lanes,
Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
Met him, and of his way of life inquired.
Whereat he answer'd that the Gipsy crew,
His mates, had arts to rule as they desired 45
The workings of men's brains;
And they can bind them to what thoughts they will:
'And I,' he said, 'the secret of their art,
When fully learn'd, will to the world impart:
But it needs Heaven-sent moments for this skill!'
Or, y'know, not.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christianity on the Cheap

A good friend of mine recommended the writings of Fr. Robert Sirico, who as described by the NCR at the link is a defender of free-market capitalism as consistent with Christ's and the Church's social teaching. (You can read Fr. Sirico in his own words here, and here.) As the NCR summarizes his oevre:
Sirico said he co-founded Acton in 1990 to "help bring sound economics to good intentions," a mission that includes advising theologians and religious leaders. Even with the best intentions, he said, "ignoring economic realities" can lead to the "unintended harm of other people."

For instance, he argues, the church's teaching that all people should have access to good health care does not necessarily translate into support for government health insurance. Making the government the main health care provider, he said, "cuts out the knowledge base (of) a competitive pricing market," raising the costs of services.

Sirico also suggests that dangers to religious freedom -- such as the Obama administration's requirement that the health insurance plans of Catholic institutions cover contraception and sterilizations, in violation of the church's moral teaching -- are inherent in "welfare-state" social service programs under government control.....

"The church doesn't uphold or endorse or canonize any economic model," Sirico said, making it clear that in his own value system, faith trumps economic philosophy.

He calls the work of Ayn Rand, one of the most popular and influential proponents of free-market economics, a "false gospel" of "radical individualism."

"She's looking for Jesus Christ but she rejects all of the fundamental principles of Christianity, such as human solidarity, even a clear sense of human dignity," he said.

On the other hand, Sirico cheers the recent decision by the U.S. bishops to endorse the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day, whose holiness he finds manifest in her service to the poor and her reverence for the sacraments. Never mind that the founder of the Catholic Worker movement hardly shared his enthusiasm for the benefits of capitalism.

His arguments for a free-market economy and market-based approaches to social problems are not articles of faith, Sirico says, but merely contributions to the church's larger effort to serve the common good.

"What's happening right now in the Catholic Church in the United States, and to some extent around the world, is that there is a new way to speak about Catholic social teaching, and that's exactly what Catholic social teaching allows us to do," he said.

"On issues of life, on issues of marriage, those are critical non-negotiables," he said. "On the other questions, you see bishops, you see laypeople, you see academicians having this vibrant debate."
Now, Fr. Sirico's views are easily caricatured, but, to be fair, he rejects the Randian exaltation of selfishness and calls for "strong moral formation to ensure that the right values, rather than the market's supposed dictates, determine their investments and other choices."

Let's stick, though, for a moment, with Fr. Sirico's "non-negotiables." Marriage, and life issues. By this "issues of life" he clearly means only abortion, contraception and assisted death; Fr. Sirico has described "going to war and the death penalty, in Catholic theology, as matters for prudential judgement," contrasting it with "Abortion [which] is seen as an intrinsic evil."

In other words, Catholicism fits in just fine with the conservative agenda, and does not challenge the social order at all. Which brings me back to my problems with Robert George; the "life fully begins at conception" doctrine is a 19th Century development, contrary to the theology of Thomas Aquinas by which Canon Law was defined until the 1980s, and yet this is now a "non-negotiable." Likewise, marriage, which is only fleetingly addressed in the Gospels, and grudgingly endorsed by Paul ("It is better to marry than to burn" is hardly a rave) is core. The bulk of Jesus's teaching? Optional.

I'm afraid I have to agree with Charles Gore, who, revolted by the view of many of his colleagues that laissez-faire economics was divinely ordained, sardonically explained that:
It must have been expressed originally in sublime unconsciousness that the whole industrial system, then in its glory, had been built up on a basis of profound revolt against the central law of Christian morality, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” There are few things in history more astonishing than the silent acquiescence of the Christian world in the radical betrayal of its ethical foundation.
Fr. Sirico's version of Catholic teaching is soothing syrup for those as to whom Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for them to be saved. I think Christianity is harder, and more reality based, than that.