Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Supposing truth is a woman--what then?
Even now truth finds it necessary to stifle her yawns when she is expected to give answers. In the end she is a woman: she should not be violated. (Beyond Good and Evil, 220)
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” This passage, without a reference to its scriptural source (I Corinthians 15:26), appears nearly half way through J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, the final book in her hugely popular series. Deathly Hallows marks a satisfying completion of the series, more dramatically captivating and more effectively orchestrated than any book in the series since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As both the title and the scriptural reference indicate, the book is preoccupied with death. While addressing our peculiarly modern obsessions, the reflection on death and its possible overcoming is hardly morbid. Ultimately, it is not even tragic; instead, it is a comic affirmation of the triumph of life over death, love over hate, and community over isolation.
The early pacing of Deathly Hallows is superb; because the central characters (Ron, Hermione, and Harry) are no longer attending Hogwarts Academy, in the wake of Dumbledore’s death and Voldemort’s takeover of the institution, the plot is freed from having to follow the rhythm of the academic year. Rowling’s formula had been to give us an initial scare in the opening chapters and then slowly to build up to a particular quest and its defining battle. In the middle parts of her books, however, Rowling had developed a bad habit of inordinate expansion and repetition, testing readers’ interest in the daily life of Hogwarts Academy and particularly in the politics of institutional gossip, teen angst, and petty competitions for recognition.
In saving the big battle for the finale, previous plots also delayed until then the deaths of major figures. In Deathly Hallows, there are significant casualties early, middle, and late and important revelations early, middle, and late. Through it all, Harry, much more clearly and forcefully than in the previous books, comes into his own, as he grows in confidence and judgment. What was becoming a bit tiresome in the last few books — the bottomless teen angst and Harry’s internal horrors — here achieves an equilibrium between external challenge and internal preparedness. In short, he becomes an adult and a leader.
Readers of the final book are left to puzzle over, not just the mysterious powers of mercy and self-sacrifice, but also explicit references to the New Testament, the one from Corinthians cited above and a passage from Matthew, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Harry encounters these statements on tombstones and knows neither their source nor their precise import. In that respect, Harry is a stand-in for most modern readers. Although he never explicitly formulates it this way, Harry’s great quest in Deathly Hallows leads him toward an understanding of the meaning of these scriptural passages, an understanding not just theoretical but eminently practical.
Beyond her creation of memorable characters and plots that will likely remain part of the cultural vocabulary for years to come, Rowling has crafted — and this is no mean achievement — a mythical universe at whose center stands the cultivation of the virtues of remembering, and preparing for, death.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Finally, after four terribly long years, we know what works. Or what can work. A year ago, a confidential Marine intelligence report declared Anbar province (which comprises about a third of Iraq's territory) lost to al-Qaeda. Now, in what the Times's John Burns calls an "astonishing success," the tribal sheiks have joined our side and committed large numbers of fighters that, in concert with American and Iraqi forces, have largely driven out al-Qaeda and turned its former stronghold of Ramadi into one of most secure cities in Iraq.
It began with a U.S.-led offensive that killed or wounded more than 200 enemy fighters and captured 600. Most important was the follow-up. Not a retreat back to American bases but the setting up of small posts within the population that, together with the Iraqi national and tribal forces, have brought relative stability to Anbar.
The same has started happening in many of the Sunni areas around Baghdad, including Diyala province -- just a year ago considered as lost as Anbar -- where, for example, the Sunni insurgent 1920 Revolution Brigades has turned against al-Qaeda and joined the fight on the side of U.S. and Iraqi government forces.
Just this week, Petraeus said that the one thing he needs more than anything else is time. To cut off Petraeus's plan just as it is beginning -- the last surge troops arrived only last month -- on the assumption that we cannot succeed is to declare Petraeus either deluded or dishonorable. Deluded in that, as the best-positioned American in Baghdad, he still believes we can succeed. Or dishonorable in pretending to believe in victory and sending soldiers to die in what he really knows is an already failed strategy.
That's the logic of the wobbly Republicans' position. [...]
Wobbly, indeed. Give the general time. If not, then why did you send him there with an 81-0 vote to start this new strategy of the "surge" (counterinsurgency strategy)?
Thursday, July 12, 2007
However, one discussion at The Cafeteria Is Closed led someone to criticize Fr. Fessio et al. for facing "East," for facing the altar, when celebrating Mass, the so-called "regular one," not the Tridentine. Can they do that without explicit permission? Isn't that going against the rules?
Here is what I wrote:
From what I have read, priests are able to celebrate Mass ad orientam [facing East, toward the altar].
Yes, there is a suggestion that the priest face the people, but facing "east" is not precluded. In fact, at one point, it is implied that the priest is facing east since the rubrics say something along the lines of "then turn and face the people."
However, in reading the pertinent documents, I think it is not as clear as could be. Both sides seem to have arguments with strong points.
Which is precisely why the cardinal at the head of the Church's congregation in charge of such matters had to issue a statement on whether or not the GIRM (the Church's manual, if you will, for celebrating the Mass) meant to exclude the possibility of facing east:
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:
Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.
In the explanation, the cardinal explains that versus absidem and versus orientem (toward the East) mean the same thing.
Thus, facing the altar, facing the East is not excluded in the current rubrics.
Fr. Fessio is not violating any Church rubric.
You can read the entirety of the cardinal's explanation here.
Wish more of us had experienced the priest facing the same direction as the people and had also known why. Very deep reasons and reasons which might help some "get more" out of the Mass.
Friday, July 06, 2007
In his new book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore pleads, "We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth." Gore repeatedly asks that science and reason displace cynical political posturing as the central focus of public discourse.
If Gore really means what he writes, he has an opportunity to make a difference by leading by example on the issue of global warming.
Many of the assertions Gore makes in his movie, ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' have been refuted by science, both before and after he made them. Gore can show sincerity in his plea for scientific honesty by publicly acknowledging where science has rebutted his claims.
For example, Gore claims that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and global warming is to blame. Yet the September 2006 issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate reported, "Glaciers are growing in the Himalayan Mountains, confounding global warming alarmists who recently claimed the glaciers were shrinking and that global warming was to blame."
Gore claims the snowcap atop Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro is shrinking and that global warming is to blame. Yet according to the November 23, 2003, issue of Nature magazine, "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit. Without the forests' humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the
strong equatorial sunshine."
Gore claims global warming is causing more tornadoes. Yet the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in February that there has been no scientific link established between global warming and tornadoes.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Immaculée Ilibagiza was born in Rwanda and studied Electronic and Mechanical Engineering at the National University of Rwanda. Her life transformed dramatically in 1994 during the Rwanda genocide when she and seven other women huddled silently together in a cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house for 91 days! During this horrific ordeal, Immaculée lost most of her family, but she survived to share the story and her miraculous transition into forgiveness and a profound relationship with God. Four years later, she emigrated from Rwanda to the United States and began working for the United Nations in New York City. She has since established the Left to Tell Charitable Fund to help others heal from the long-term effects of genocide and war.